Category Archives: Fire This Time

Removing the Statue of John C. Calhoun will be easy. Banishing his Ghost will not.

For Juneteenth, I should be completely pleased with the news that the City Council in Charleston SC will be doing its best to dethrone a statue of John C. Calhoun.

The plan was announced in connection with the fifth anniversary of the horrible mass killing of nine black worshippers at the city’s Mother Emanuel AME Church. Its projected deconstruction is part of the swell of collective revulsion after the George Floyd killing that is felling one Confederate monument after another. The removal would also defy a state law protecting such monuments.

[Update: on June 23, The Charleston City Council voted 13-0 to remove the statue. The council said the statue will be preserved in “an appropriate site where it will be protected and preserved,” at an as yet undisclosed location. They did not set a specific date for the removal.]

Maybe here is  where my hesitation is triggered: not over civil disobedience against such a statute; but starting with the seemingly technical point that Calhoun was not a Confederate leader, or even a Civil War figure: he died in 1850, eleven years before hostilities started.

(Once the war began, the rebel government sought to enshrine his iconic status by adding Calhoun’s visage to the Confederate $100 bill {at lower left}. When that plan didn’t work out so well, the Defenders of the Lost Cause turned to more durable monuments.)

The fact that Calhoun was a pre-war actor is not a reason  to leave his monument alone. But it does raise the questions of why it’s there, and why it’s so “monumental” — 115 feet high, and officially venerated since its erection in 1896. As an ode to Calhoun by a local poet, Miss E. B. Cheesborough, crowed,

Float it above the city’s spires,
And o’er the bay’s blue tide,
Tell how he battled for the South,
And battling thus—he died. . . . Continue reading Removing the Statue of John C. Calhoun will be easy. Banishing his Ghost will not.

How to Change your Luck: A note to Millennials

Friends,

You already know the dismal data in this article; “The unluckiest generation in U.S. history,”   in the June 5 Washington Post. Maybe not the detailed numbers, but the reality. This one depressing chart tells the story:

As the article says,

After accounting for the present crisis, the average millennial has experienced slower economic growth since entering the workforce than any other generation in U.S. history.
Millennials will bear these economic scars the rest of their lives, in the form of lower earnings, lower wealth and delayed milestones, such as homeownership.

The losses are particularly acute on the jobs front. A few brutal months of the coronavirus set the labor market back to the turn of the millennium.
In April, the economy bottomed out with about as many jobs as in November of 1999. The economic regression to the Y2K era is a fitting symbol for a generation that — more than any other — has been shaped by recession.
Things improved in May, but the improvement just means we’re back to December 2000 levels of employment.

Many  of you aren’t interested in advice from elders, and I won’t quibble about that. But here’s some anyway. It’s the best I’ve got:

The main chance for rescuing your economic future is to show up in November and turn the election into a huge Democratic landslide.

I’m not referring here to Biden over Trump; that goes without saying.

The crucial point is for a sweep in Congress: clear out McConnell and that crowd, big time.

Then make your demands. Here are the Big Five

1. A massive federal jobs program, starting with (but not only) infrastructure & climate. I’m talking trillions.
2. Cancellation of most student debt.
3. Free (or damn near) public college.
4. A comprehensive version of Medicare for all. And
5. Organize unions, both white and blue collar.

There are some more, but these are the central changes, and you’ll need Congress on board to get any of them.

Those five will bust open the doors to generational wealth that are now barricaded against you.

Also, these five will be of special aid to Americans of color, but they are meant for and will benefit all.

And, no matter what your Fox-watching uncle says, while swilling  beer bought with Social Security and popping Medicare blood pressure pills, these changes will not make America socialist.

There will still be plenty of room for enterprise, and plenty of work required to claim your piece of family capital it will make possible.

Such landslide-fueled times of change have happened before. After the 1932 election. And in  my lifetime, 1964.

It won’t be easy, but it could happen again. You can do it.

Even with all these, you’ll still end up being a tired generation. But also one that changed its luck.

It starts in November.

 

Governor Cooper & the GOP Convention: Keep Carolina Safe!

Hundreds of people said “Yes!”  to my Facebook call for North Carolina officials to keep our citizens safe by standing firm on pandemic safety policies relating to the planned Republican National Convention set for Charlotte in August.

Thank you to everyone who “Liked” or commented on it. Now I have a request for followup:

Please send this message to Governor Roy Cooper. It only takes a moment or two.

Governor Cooper has an online email form, right here.  
F
olks from out of state can also use it (we want visitors to be safe here too!)

I just sent this message myself:

Dear Governor Cooper:

I strongly urge you to strictly enforce all pandemic safety policies applicable to the proposed political convention in Charlotte in August. This health crisis will not be over. Please keep Charlotte and North Carolina Citizens (and any visitors) SAFE.

Thank you.

Use your own words. If you prefer the phone, here is the office number listed on the Governor’s web page: (919) 814-2000.

The pandemic continues to spread in North Carolina. Confirmed cases, hospitalizations & deaths are all at new highs.

The Raleigh News & Observer reported this morning (May 26):

“At least 24,056 people have tested positive for the coronavirus and 790 have died as of Tuesday morning, state and county health departments say.

At least 627 people were hospitalized with COVID-19 as of Monday, the highest daily total state officials have reported since the pandemic began. The number is up from 587 the day before.

The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services on Monday also reported 742 new coronavirus cases as testing ramps up throughout the state. It was a jump from 497 new  reported cases on Sunday.”

This graph, from Reuters, shows the  steady, rapid rise of virus cases in the state, as of Mid-May.  The total has continued rapidly upward since then. Unlike some other states, NC  a peak or leveling off is not yet in sight here.

This worsening situation only heightens the risk of large mass gatherings , both to residents and visitors. And it won’t be over by August. It makes such policies as social distancing and wearing masks even more a matter of life and death.

Republican party leaders have threatened to move the convention from Charlotte unless Governor Cooper lifts pandemic policies from the venue. I believe this would be a very dangerous mistake. Cooper should Resist such threats and pressure.

if you share this view, tell Governor Cooper so. Politely and persistently. And please pass this message on.

The Spirit of Ida B. Wells returns to Memphis?

The May 25 New York Times features a description of  MLK50, a scrappy, pot-stirring news  operation in Memphis.  MLK50 was started by Wendi Thomas, a Memphis native and  veteran journalist.

We unapologetically exist to dismantle the status quo where it doesn’t serve low-income residents in Memphis, the overwhelming majority of whom are black,” Ms. Thomas said. “We’re not a black publication, but we frame the news from the perspective of the most vulnerable.”
(
Below: Wendi Thomas)

MLK50 won awards for an investigative report that exposed how a “nonprofit” local Methodist-affiliated hospital Which underpaid its workers, then sued many for being unable to keep up with medical bills in their own facility.

Continue reading The Spirit of Ida B. Wells returns to Memphis?

Indiana Trainwreck: Trauma in Midwestern Quakerdom

 

It didn’t look or feel like lighting the fuse to a load of dynamite.

But that’s what West Richmond Friends Meeting in Indiana did in June 2008 when they added a minute to their website.

They placed the post without fanfare.  But the fuse, once lit, sputtered and flashed for several years, and the ultimate explosion blew up a yearly meeting that was nearing its 200th anniversary.

A new book, Indiana Trainwreck, is the first to tell the story. West Richmond’s 2008 minute announced that the group had “reached unity” on supporting full inclusion of LGBT persons, concluding to do so was in harmony with their best understanding of the Bible, the thrust of Quaker/Christian history & witness, and the will of God.

News of West Richmond’s minute soon reached the leadership of Indiana Yeatly Meeting, the regional association of which West Richmond was a member. And they soon sent word to the group that they wanted the minute removed from West Richmond’s website.

The meeting pondered this demand, prayed over it, and declined to comply; the minute stayed.

Indiana Yearly Meeting authorities said this was unacceptable. Continue reading Indiana Trainwreck: Trauma in Midwestern Quakerdom

A Catholic Reckoning? How about an Evangelical Quaker Reckoning?

In a time of all-encompassing catastrophe, bad news comes at us from all directions. But insight can comes form anywhere as well. There’s much of this in an editorial in the April 17-30 issue of the liberal Catholic paper, the National Catholic Reporter, (NCR) entitled “Catholics and Trump, a reckoning.” I believe it calls for Quaker attention.

Not that it’s about or for Quakers. But reading it, though, I kept seeing a different name in place of “Catholic” — Quaker.  More specifically, Evangelical Quaker. A sample of the editorial will show why.

But first, a bit of context. Here in North Carolina, much of the evangelically-oriented Quaker population is found in three counties: Surry, Randolph and Yadkin counties. And these three counties have a distinctive record in national politics: twice, in 2008 and 2012, they voted against Barack Obama by a three to one margin. And in 2016, they voted for the incumbent president by three to one. Continue reading A Catholic Reckoning? How about an Evangelical Quaker Reckoning?

Quaker David & Goliath, Cont.: Now David Makes his Case

In late January, a post here described the struggle between the Evangelical Friends Church Southwest (EFCSW) and the small Friends Community Church of Midway City, in Orange County near Los Angeles. EFCSW’s Board of Elders decided to close the Midway City church, and fire its pastor, Joe Pfeiffer.

The Elders acted after several homeless people (from the LA area’s estimated 59,000 homeless multitude) were briefly taken in there. The Midway City congregation has gone to court to stop the closure and keep Pfeiffer and his wife Cara as co-pastors.

Background and initial details re in the blog post and a followup. Court proceedings have been put into suspended animation by the pandemic, likely til late this year (at least). But the theological debate brought to light by the controversy continues. It should heat up after today, with the publication of Quaker Theology, Issue #34. In it, Joe Pfeiffer lays out the theological and historical case for the challenge he and Midway City have mounted against its putative ecclesiastical overlord.

In Engaging Homelessness Behind the “Orange Curtain” By Joseph Pfeiffer, Joe calls sharply into question both the history and theology of the “church growth” & corporate brand model of church structure and governance that now reigns in EFCSW, and its flagship Yorba Linda Friends Church. It is this theology, and the power grab it enables, which Pfeiffer argues have produced the current conflict. Further, this theology is built on presumptions of white normativity and corporate norms that are both unscriptural and increasingly dysfunctional. Continue reading Quaker David & Goliath, Cont.: Now David Makes his Case

Quaker Colleges & another Corona Crisis

A headline from the Greensboro NC News & Record:

With its campus closed, Guilford College furloughs more than 130 employees

Furloughs were ordered in all campus areas except among professors, who are teaching classes remotely through May.

John Newsom. News & Record April 3, 2020

GREENSBORO — Its campus empty through the rest of the spring semester, Guilford College has furloughed 133 full-time and part-time staff employees for the next two months.

Slightly more than half of the college’s 250 non-faculty employees were notified Thursday (April 2) that they would have to take unpaid time off from work through at least June 1, President Jane Fernandes said in an interview Friday.

Guilford President Fernandes, center, with students.

Furloughs were ordered in all campus areas except among professors, who are teaching classes remotely through May.

The furloughs are intended to help the private Quaker college of about 1,700 students save money at a time when the campus is closed because of COVID-19 and the nation teeters on the brink of a deep recession.

“In a sense,” Fernandes said, “it’s a crisis within a crisis.”

The furloughs came about two weeks after Guilford told all students to move off campus by March 21 as cases of COVID-19 started to surge across the state and nation. Fernandes said most Guilford students are back home. Some who couldn’t return home right away are staying locally with college alumni and trustees.

In the past month, Guilford, like most other N.C. colleges and universities, moved classes to online instruction, told employees to work from home and postponed May’s commencement.

“There’s less and less need to be on campus,” Fernandes said. “The work is not being needed in the same way.”
Furloughed employees are eligible for state unemployment benefits and will keep their health insurance and other Guilford benefits until they’re recalled. Fernandes said she intends to bring back furloughed employees “as quickly as possible.”

Guilford may not be alone in looking to cut costs in an uncertain time.

According to a survey of college presidents conducted in late March, more than half expect to have to lay off some employees, and nearly 60% say they probably will furlough some workers. More than 80% of presidents are predicting they’ll see lower enrollments in the fall — a worrisome development for small private colleges like Guilford whose budgets depend heavily on annual tuition revenues. . ..

Meanwhile at Guilford, the work continues.

Fernandes said the admissions office continues to recruit students for its next freshman class scheduled to arrive on campus in August. The advancement office is raising money for a new emergency fund to help students cover the unexpected costs of daily living expenses, medical bills and technology so they can take classes online. Professors and remaining staff members are planning for summer school . . . .

Though campus buildings are locked, she said, the college is not closed.

“We haven’t closed anything. Guilford College is surviving,” Fernandes said. “The college is going to get through this crisis and prevail.”

[NOTE: this is not the first round of layoffs at Guilford  We reported here on the shedding of fifty-plus staff in 2015; Fernandes responded to that report here.]


Some years back, I took a granddaughter on an admissions tour of Guilford.

The grove of trees on the Guilford campus which served as a stop on the Underground Railroad.

The tour was fun, the guides charming, the talk about “enriching experiences beyond the classroom” nonstop, the “amenities” appealing (except there wasn’t enough hot sauce in the au courant Free-range dining hall; tho I figured that was just me).

Continue reading Quaker Colleges & another Corona Crisis

Going Viral: Notes on the plague – March 14, 2020:

Washington Post: “Health
Trump is breaking every rule in the CDC’s 450-page playbook for health crisis

After disastrous communications during the 2001 anthrax attacks — when white powder in envelopes sparked widespread panic — the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention created a 450-page manual outlining how U.S. leaders should talk to the public during crises.
Protecting vulnerable people from a virus that, according to some projections, could infect millions and kill hundreds of thousands, depends on U.S. leaders issuing clear public health instructions and the public’s trust to follow directions that could save their lives.
“Sometimes it seems like they have literally thrown out the book,” said Joshua Sharfstein, a former top FDA official and Johns Hopkins University professor who is using the CDC manual to teach a crisis communication class. “We’re studying what to do — and at times seeing what not to do — on the same day.”
Two weeks ago, Trump said the country would soon have zero cases. This week, there were more than 2,200 and 49 deaths. When asked at a news conference Friday why he disbanded the White House’s pandemic office, Trump denied doing so, saying, “I didn’t do it … I don’t know anything about it.” When asked if he bore any responsibility for disastrous delays in testing, Trump said no, blaming instead “circumstances” and “regulations” created by others. When asked if Americans should believe Trump or his top health official, Anthony S. Fauci — whom Trump has contradicted repeatedly — Trump sidestepped the question.
“For those of us in this field, this is profoundly and deeply distressing,” said Matthew Seeger, a risk communication expert at Wayne State University who developed the CDC guidebook alongside many top doctors, public health researchers, scientists, consultants and behavioral psychologists.

“It’s creating higher levels of anxiety, higher levels of uncertainty and higher levels of social disruption. … We spent decades training people and investing in developing this competency. We know how to do this.”
For three years, the Trump administration has often taken a hostile stance to science and its practitioners, but health crisis experts say it’s not too late and the fruits of their research — like the CDC’s 450-page manual — are waiting, untapped, to serve as a road map to help leaders navigate the growing pandemic.


Washington Post Media columnist Erik Wemple: “Moments of actual news coverage relating to the coronavirus at Fox News don’t receive much attention these days. The work of chief Trump propagandist Sean Hannity and other network opinionmongers speaks much louder. “I’m sure, in the end, the mob in the media, well, they will be advancing their new conspiracy theory and their newest hoax,” said the host earlier this week.
That language overlaps with talking points from Trump himself and his former acting chief of staff Mick Mulvaney, who alleged at CPAC that the media has selectively highlighted the coronavirus to inflict political damage on Trump.
Another ploy of Hannity’s is to compare the coronavirus to the flu, even though experts have noted that the former is about 10 times more fatal than the latter.
. . .
Competition for the most irresponsible televised coronavirus analysis emerged on Monday night [March 9] from Fox Business host Trish Regan, who said, in part, “We’ve reached a tipping point. The chorus of hate being leveled at the president is nearing a crescendo as Democrats blame him and only him for a virus that originated halfway around the world. This is yet another attempt to impeach the president.” After much criticism, Fox on Friday evening announced that Regan’s show — along with Fox Business program “Kennedy” — will be on hiatus “until further notice,” part of a resource realignment to beef up coverage of the coronavirus, according to Fox News.

Compare what Regan said to the remarks of Hannity on Feb. 27: “Tonight, I can report the sky is absolutely falling. We’re all doomed. The end is near. The apocalypse is imminent, and you’re going to all die, all of you in the next 48 hours and it’s all President Trump’s fault,” he said. “Or at least that’s what the media mob and the Democratic extreme radical socialist party would like you to think. They’re now sadly politicizing and actually weaponizing an infectious disease, in what is basically just the latest effort to bludgeon President Trump.”
Though Hannity has indeed insisted that the coronavirus is a serious matter, his other pronouncements have sent a different message. On that same Feb. 27 show, for instance, Hannity knocked the “left” for advocating “extreme” measures, including canceling large gatherings. Yeah, what a crazy idea!
Could we please have a hiatus for “Hannity,” too?”


The Patriotic Pros—
Professional sports is one of the businesses forced to take a leadership role because it is so drastically lacking from the federal government. . . . While other countries were charging to get ahead of the virus, we were arrogantly lagging behind while patting ourselves on the back with Trump’s false claim that “[the number of infected is] going down, not up. We’re going very substantially down, not up.”

So, thank you NBA, NCAA, NHL, MLB and all the other organizations who have put public welfare above their own monetary gain. I never thought I’d see the day when Big Business acted more patriotic and selfless than a presidential administration.
— Kareem Abdul Jabbar, The Guardian


Who Pays When The Games Aren’t Played?

“[Sports attorney Edward] Schauder says the deepest, and most immediate implications, will be felt by those employed by the stadiums, which play host to other entertainment ventures along with sporting events, as well as nearby businesses that capitalize on those gatherings. “Players are going to be fine, the league is going to be fine. The real economic impact are these people who rely on this money, and it’s countless workers: bathroom attendants, ushers, vendors, security personnel, the union workers – it goes on and on,” Schauder says. There are signs that teams are willing to help workers: the Cleveland Cavaliers said they will compensate “our event staff and hourly workforce that is impacted with the changes to our regular event schedule.” Cavaliers star Kevin Love said he would donate $100,000 to compensate staff affected by the NBA suspension.

And Schauder believes that the NCAA could bear the largest brunt of the outbreak. “With the cancellation of March Madness, the NCAA, its student athletes and fans have emerged as collateral damage of the coronavirus. Unlike the professional leagues that have suspended their respective seasons and may still resume their seasons at some point in time … the NCAA tournament has been completely wiped out,” he says. “As a result, seniors will not be afforded the opportunity to showcase their talents prior to the NBA draft and there will not be any of the anticipated upsets and magical moments that would have allowed student athletes to capitalize on under the new ‘pay to play’ laws in certain states. Sponsors may also have the right under force majeure clauses to claw-back on sponsorship dollars advanced to the NCAA.”
— “Finances will be shattered by sports suspensions. But it won’t be the stars who suffer,” The Guardian


Inequality & Mortality Across The Pond

“The British class system is, at its worst, a killer. Men living in the poorest communities in the UK have an average of 9.4 years shorn off their life expectancies compared with those in the richest areas; for women, it’s 7.4 years. If you travel on the Jubilee Line from Westminster to Canning Town, every stop represents a year less in the average lifespan of local citizens. For the poorest women, life expectancy is in reverse.

The coronavirus pandemic is about to collide with this engine of inequality. . . .

Those with underlying health conditions are most at risk from coronavirus, and again, the impact differs depending on which rung you’re condemned to on the British social ladder. Previous research by the British Heart Foundation found that working-class Tameside in the north-west has a heart disease mortality rate more than three times higher than well-to-do Kensington and Chelsea. According to Asthma UK: “Asthma is more prevalent within more deprived communities, and those living in more deprived areas of England are more likely to go to hospital for their asthma.” Diabetes is far more common among those living in poverty, and there is a strong link between lung disease and deprivation. 1.9 million pensioners languish below the poverty line: their health will be, on average, worse than their affluent counterparts’, meaning their lives will be significantly more imperilled.

We know that depression and stress weaken our immune systems, and the research is clear: those on low incomes are disproportionately likely to suffer from poor mental health. Poor diet is another factor, and one that is strongly linked to poverty. . . .
We know the rich look after their own, but these injustices are not acts of God or mere sad facts of life to be shrugged at with resignation. There will be many terrible lessons to learn from this pandemic: one is a lesson that should have been learned long ago, that inequality kills.”
— Owen Jones, The Guardian


Viral Capitalism Is Cleaning Up . . .

Noah Colvin took a 1,300-mile road trip across Tennessee and into Kentucky, filling a U-Haul truck with thousands of bottles of hand sanitizer and thousands of packs of antibacterial wipes, mostly from “little hole-in-the-wall dollar stores in the backwoods,” his brother said. “The major metro areas were cleaned out.”

Matt Colvin stayed home near Chattanooga, preparing for pallets of even more wipes and sanitizer he had ordered, and starting to list them on Amazon. Mr. Colvin said he had posted 300 bottles of hand sanitizer and immediately sold them all for between $8 and $70 each, multiples higher than what he had bought them for. To him, “it was crazy money.” To many others, it was profiteering from a pandemic.
The next day, Amazon pulled his items and thousands of other listings for sanitizer, wipes and face masks. The company suspended some of the sellers behind the listings and warned many others that if they kept running up prices, they’d lose their accounts. EBay soon followed with even stricter measures, prohibiting any U.S. sales of masks or sanitizer.

Now, while millions of people across the country search in vain for hand sanitizer to protect themselves from the spread of the coronavirus, Mr. Colvin is sitting on 17,700 bottles of the stuff with little idea where to sell them. . . .

Amazon said it had recently removed hundreds of thousands of listings and suspended thousands of sellers’ accounts for price gouging related to the coronavirus. . . .

Sites like Amazon and eBay have given rise to a growing industry of independent sellers who snatch up discounted or hard-to-find items in stores to post online and sell around the world.

These sellers call it retail arbitrage, a 21st-century career that has adults buying up everything from limited-run cereals to Fingerling Monkeys, a once hot toy. The bargain hunters look for anything they can sell at a sharp markup. In recent weeks, they found perhaps their biggest opportunity: a pandemic.

As they watched the list of Amazon’s most popular searches crowd with terms like “Purell,” “N95 mask” and “Clorox wipes,” sellers said, they did what they had learned to do: Suck up supply and sell it for what the market would bear. . . .

Chris Anderson, an Amazon seller in central Pennsylvania, said he and a friend had driven around Ohio, buying about 10,000 masks from stores. He used coupons to buy packs of 10 for around $15 each and resold them for $40 to $50. After Amazon’s cut and other costs, he estimates, he made a $25,000 profit.

Mr. Anderson is now holding 500 packs of antibacterial wipes after Amazon blocked him from selling them for $19 each, up from $16 weeks earlier. He bought the packs for $3 each. . . .

Mr. Colvin said he was simply fixing “inefficiencies in the marketplace.” Some areas of the country need these products more than others, and he’s helping send the supply toward the demand.

“There’s a crushing overwhelming demand in certain cities right now,” he said. “The Dollar General in the middle of nowhere outside of Lexington, Ky., doesn’t have that.”

He thought about it more. “I honestly feel like it’s a public service,” he added. “I’m being paid for my public service.”

As for his stockpile, Mr. Colvin said he would now probably try to sell it locally. “If I can make a slight profit, that’s fine,” he said. “But I’m not looking to be in a situation where I make the front page of the news for being that guy who hoarded 20,000 bottles of sanitizer that I’m selling for 20 times what they cost me.”

After The Times published this article on Saturday morning, Mr. Colvin said he was exploring ways to donate all the supplies.

 

Aka, The Holy Grail. [No, I don’t have any. This is just a photo, alas.]

SAYMA: “Born for this”? Or Standing in the Way?

[Note: This post includes strong language.]

Few Quakers I’ve run into are as certain of the divinely-mandated quality of their vocation as Sharon Smith, aka “The Intruder.”

Last July 4, after she was confirmed as Clerk of the SAYMA Uplifting Racial Justice Committee, capping a three-year struggle, she put this with stark certainty in a blog post:

“What are the chances, a birthright Native and Black Friend of color with years of experience at Quaker process, clerking committees, etc., who is also called to ministry to challenge racism among Friends, would be among SAYMA Friends in the southern Appalachian Blue Ridge area, which just happens to be my stolen ancestral land, at this very time. I am also the closest thing SAYMA has to an authority on Critical Race Theory, the exact combination URJ sorely needs if it is to lead SAYMA toward its stated goal of becoming a welcoming multicultural anti-racist faith community.  I was literally born for this.”

Similar statements recur frequently in the blog, called “Mixed Blessing.”

“Born for this.” The declaration carries layers of irony. Because despite this voiced certainty, the four years of her available blog entries, supplemented by other documents, exhibit and underline a deep, unsettling paradox:

On the one hand, Smith is preternaturally sure of her calling.

Yet why does this minister despise the subjects of her ministry so deeply, stridently and divisively?

In fact, there are two kinds of Quakers who have been special targets of Smith’s relentless challenges, so laced with ire and loathing in word and action. They are:

White Quakers. And–

Quakers of Color.

I’ll leave aside here the travails of white Quakers who bear scars from dealing with Smith. Yes, she has a handful of “white friends,” the sort of “allies” she often scorns when claimed by other whites. But their numbers are small, and in any case, the rest of us white Quakers, in the light of her version of “Critical Race Theory,” are – well, let her say it:

News Flash: There are no innocent white settlers in Amerikkka.  No matter how or when your people arrived here.  ALL white people benefit from white supremacy.  Period.  The concept that it could possibly be otherwise, in your particular case, only exists in your defensive imagination.  Get over it.”   and in a July 2019 email to SAYMA activists, she quoted an article that, she wrote,

“Reminds me of you Quakers.  ‘If you’re white and live in America, the smarter you are, the less likely you are to say you agree with racist stereotypes or principles. But you’re not more likely than your dumber counterparts to actually want to do anything about racial inequality.’”  And she linked to an article: “‘Smart People Are As Racist As Less-Smart People–But Smart Enough To Hide It.’”

Not only are we whites thoroughly racist, we deserve every bit of comeuppance and suffering imaginable, and then some. But here we’ll simply stew in these, our own imputed prejudiced juices. That’s because what struck me while reviewing Smith’s blog posts was the large number of Friends of Color (FOCs) she detests equally, or even more.

What is the evidence for this? Good question. Principally, it is her own words. In particular, a blog post, called “Open Letter to SAYMA Friends of Color,” posted Jun 8, 2019. (Unless otherwise noted, the quotes that follow are from this “Open Letter.”)

It’s lengthy, but going through it carefully I was able list fourteen FOCs whom Smith denounced as adversaries and obstacles to her  work of “challenging” racism.

These fourteen Friends were from New England, New York, Philadelphia, Friends General Conference, and later SAYMA. They included influential committee members, yearly meeting clerks and former clerks, staff and former staff; altogether a substantial and weighty company, whose organizational reach stretched from eastern Massachusetts to South Carolina.

And all of them, in Smith’s studied conclusion, were against her, betraying her numerous times, in many places. For instance:

“The so called weighty Friends of color in New England Yearly Meeting were silent,” about what she declared to be a “political lynching” aimed at her there in 2005-6.

“AND, they were so easy with the idea of everyone’s focus being on me as the problem,” she added, “instead of the rampant racism in New England YM. Unfortunately, I’ve seen the same pattern of behavior among Philadelphia Yearly Meeting and SAYMA Friends of color. I have a hard time understanding it.”

And from the New England Yearly Meeting experience, there emerged a pattern, Smith asserts:

“Since that time . . . all other Friends of color, especially those who attended [a 2006 FOC] retreat [on Cape Cod], have acted like they don’t know me.  Including the current secretary of New York YM, who managed the financial arrangements for the retreat on Cape Cod, and the former clerk of NYYM. Whenever I reached out to any Friends of color for support of any kind, they simply ignored me.”

I’m leaving out most of the names on this list, because they don’t deserve to be dragged through the mire again here. Interested readers can find their identifications in the blog post. Yet there’s one exception, for reasons which I hope will soon become clear. As Smith insisted:

“But there is absolutely no excuse for Vanessa Julye. It wasn’t like she did not know who I was, or had never heard of me. I met her several times at Quaker anti-racism events, such as the Burlington Conference in New Jersey, and we attended several Beyond Diversity 101 courses together during that time. She knew exactly who I was AND that I was a target of Quaker racism. Yet she, as the Black FGC coordinator of the Ministry on Racism, always held herself aloof and took a hands-off approach.”

Julye was (and still is) with Friends General Conference. And, Smith says,

“Contrary to what you may have been led to believe, I do not attack her for no reason. We have a long history, going back to The Quaker racial hysteria in Sandwich Monthly Meeting/NEYM (2006). For someone whose FGC recognized ministry is supposedly to support Friends of color and bring Friends of color together, she has done none of that for me, or any other Friend of color I know.”

The ”evidence” in support of these charges is mainly a catalog of times when Julye did not go along with Smith’s intrusions into various events, at FGC and in other settings. One which especially rankled was Julye’s non-response to Smith’s plea for a reference for an unsuccessful application to be a racial justice staffer for a Quaker organization.

Another was a dispute in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting which pitted a newcomer FOC, Avis Wanda McClinton, now on the list, but then a Smith ally, against McClinton’s monthly meeting. Smith wrote that,

“when I arrived on the scene to support Avis Wanda McClinton, in Philadelphia Yearly Meeting, as she suffered from racism at Upper Dublin Friends Meeting/Abington Quarter, we faced massive resistance from Philadelphia YM Friends of color, including Vanessa Julye.

[McClinton’s] Meeting publicly declared themselves an “All white Meeting” [NOTE: This statement is false.] and again, NO Friends of Color stood up to support Avis Wanda, either.

We saw Friends of color stand up in public and say, shit like, “These are good kind people, why are you calling them names?” and “I don’t see the racism Avis is talking about.”

Vanessa was right in the middle of it, as the designated PYM representative of FGC AND the Philadelphia YM Undoing Racism Group–their expert on Friends of color and racism. She knew all too well that what was happening was indeed racist, and still she said absolutely nothing, at every opportunity to stand with and for Avis.”

Smith for a time became Clerk of an informal support committee for McClinton, as the dispute dragged contentiously on until late in 2017.

[The specifics of the conflict are not germane to this post; more details, from McClinton’s perspective, which the meeting vigorously disputed, are in this Friends Journal article from 2014.]

But the lessons Smith argued from the issue were apropos and twofold:

“Remember, Philadelphia YM acquired its wealth through cheating Indigenous people out of their lands and trading in Black and Indian slaves. Now they use that wealth to buy the allegiance of a few desperate and/or despicable Friends of color and to suppress dissenters. I am a witness. I saw so much unFriendly behavior from Friends of color and white protectionism in PYM, I could write a book on that alone.”

Sharon Smith.

“Desperate and despicable” persons of color whose allegiance has been bought (like slaves?) with  white Quaker money.) That is the catchall description for all those Friends of Color on Smith’s long list – desperate, despicable, and cravenly selling themselves for paychecks from the spoils of stolen white wealth. But the saga was not finished with this chapter.

In 2016, SAYMA invited Vanessa Julye to give the keynote at its annual sessions. By that time, Smith was living in Asheville, and had been very controversially active there. She was galvanized by the news:

“Suffice it to say, Vanessa Julye is no Friend to me, Avis Wanda, or any other Friend of color. So, when I heard that the SAYMA Planning Committee had chosen “Unraveling Racism” as its theme for . . . 2016, and invited Vanessa Julye to be Keynote Speaker, I was adamantly opposed. And, when I shared my concerns about Vanessa with the Planning Committee they refused to take my concerns seriously. They also refused to consider any of my suggested alternatives.”

But if she could not quash the invitation, Smith resolved to disrupt it. Which she did, with loud angry questions at Julye’s keynote presentation, which turned the SAYMA visit into a platform for Smith’s airing of her years of carried grudges.

“So please, she wrote later, “do not believe for one minute that I am the person you were most likely told I am. I am not in the habit of cussing’ folks out in public or calling people House Negroes easily. Believe me, Vanessa had it coming.”

Besides this intrusion, Smith was also locked in a long struggle with Asheville Meeting over whether it would be made into a base for her “ministry.” She wanted to live in a guest room in the meetinghouse, have her ministry formally endorsed and financially supported by the meeting. In the midst of much internal turmoil, the Meeting repeatedly rejected these requests. Smith was only able to hear white racism even in the plainest statements of principled disagreement:

“[M]y clearness committee . . . asked to meet with M&N [Asheville’s Ministry and Nurture Committee].  It didn’t go well.  They basically said, the Meeting does not approve of Sharon or her racial justice ministry, and does not want to be associated with it.  My support committee was upset, but, being all White Quakers, they were also unwilling to challenge the Meeting’s racism–because they didn’t want to be contentious?  Whatever their reasons, it goes to White people being unwilling to hold other White people accountable.” 

Thereafter, Smith pursued her quest in SAYMA. Building on her success in disrupting Vanessa Julye’s appearance, she managed to push through creation of an Ad Hoc Uplifting Racial Justice (URJ) Committee in the June 2016 session.

A key characteristic of the new group would be that all its members would be FOCs

This segregated character troubled some white Friends: hadn’t they been called to witness against segregation not many years ago?  Hadn’t some there taken risks, even been arrested in the cause? Didn’t they know of others who gave their lives to end segregation?

But that was then; in 2016, cries of racism, white supremacy and safe spaces elbowed aside these doubts. Smith was added to the initial URJ committee along with several other FOCs.

But the early days of the URJ group did not go well. By summer’s end, the committee was all but dormant: the members feuded with Smith and most left. SAYMA was unable to find Friends of Color to work with her.

The committee stumbled through 2017 and 2018. As SAYMA’s 2019 annual session approached, the Nominating Committee proposed Smith to be the new Clerk of a reconstituted URJ. There was widespread doubt about this, but also much timidity: any questions were met with the cries of “Racism,” “White Supremacy” and ”safe spaces” which terrified some and silenced others. Smith was added to the rebooted committee.

The committee was not only re-formed, but SAYMA also agreed to allocate as much as $18000 of the yearly meeting’s modest budget to it, without meaningful accountability for what would be done with the funds. It seems clear that, despite all the sneers at others who benefited from what she derided as stolen wealth from slavery and native removal, Smith had long wanted just such a sinecure, and now felt that it was now within her grasp.

At this point the story overlaps with some points in our initial blog post. It was during the 2019 session when Smith announced she was going to “shut down” an approved workshop she did not like, and indeed disrupted it thoroughly.

There was however fallout from this foray which becomes significant here: two women Friends, we reported, protested Smith’s intrusion, though in vain. One was a white woman, Robyn Josephs; but after she had spoken, as Smith recalled

“Robyn was still talking, and yes, crying. She said, “I don’t want someone who does not believe in loving their enemies and forgiveness to be clerk of SAYMA-URJ, but I will accept what the body decides.”

As Robyn’s performance shifted from a few pitiful White woman tears to body wracking sobs, Avis Wanda [McClinton] stood up. She walked over, stood next to Robyn and announced, “That Friend speaks my mind.” Avis then said to Smith, “I am probably jeopardizing our friendship by saying this, but I do not think you are ready to be the clerk of SAYMA-URJ” because of your “bad behavior” and “anger management” issues. “Your behavior yesterday was unconscionable. People feel like they are going to be targets.”

And with that unexpected declaration, McClinton moved from the small circle of Smith’s allies to the long list we’ve been examining here, of traitorous Friends of Color, one of the few on the list who not only differed with Smith but spoke openly of it.

Smith’s public response was more patronizing. Rather than “desperate and despicable,” in a December 7, 2019 email she said that Avis,

“is cognitively disabled and not sophisticated enough to understand that what y’all did to me was absolutely about your white supremacy and colonial domination. That you [white Friends] reached out to her seeking absolution for your white fuckery proves the depths of your evil.”

Despite these dramatic moments, Smith’s nomination as Clerk of the re-formed URJ Committee was slipped through in the closing session of SAYMA 2019, and she has since been working to consolidate her success.

But two problems persist: First, she has still been unable to attract any FOCs from SAYMA to the Committee. Her reputation seems to preclude this. As Shaun Davis, a commenter on the first post put it,

“I am a Friend and African American woman living in Atlanta. I joined the URJ committee in 2017 after Sharon recruited me to join. I left in 2018 because I did not like the way people were being treated in the group or the way business was being conducted. I wrote an email to another African American committee member about my concerns, and it so happens that Friend had already decided to leave the committee. I don’t think my letter went much further.”

Smith’s response to similar reports was predictable:

“Interesting side note concerning URJ membership: Ever since SAYMA-URJ was approved as a Yearly Meeting committee which only Friends of color can serve, it has been extremely difficult to find Friends of color willing to do the work of URJ. The prevailing narrative seems to be, “No one wants to work with Sharon ‘Star’ Smith.” When I explained that the reason SAYMA Friends of color are so unwilling to serve as URJ members, is due to the racism they would most certainly experience–exhibit A being the way I have been treated—they [Friends in the representative session] were genuinely shocked.”

The second issue for URJ-Smith, as reported earlier, is that it is now time for SAYMA to consider its next budget, and growing opposition has been voiced to any further funding for the URJ Committee. This reflects the voicing of longstanding and strengthening doubts about the wisdom of Smith’s presence and role. SAYMA’s Representative session is slated to take this up this coming Saturday (March 15) — assuming, that is, its members are not all locked down in quarantine by that time.

Smith is lobbying for continued funding, and warning of “a racist conspiracy” (Email, January 10, 2020)

If the representative meeting actually happens, Smith’s conviction about being divinely directed may collide with SAYMA’s more modest dependence on the Spirit working through the group. We shall see.

Meanwhile, this pandemic-shadowed spring may offer more time to ponder the conundrum posed earlier: “Despicable” means so bad as to deserve to be despised. So which kind of Quakers, given the record explored here, does Smith despise more? Whites? Or Friends of Color?

To this I’d add another: how does it benefit SAYMA, the Society of Friends at large, or racial justice for SAYMA to be paying for this?

Smith, by the way, is not pondering. She has already announced her next target in the campaign to establish her authority to judge and even stop any activity within SAYMA’s Quaker realm which displeases her. And a conference coming up only weeks away is now in her sights.

Details on that here tomorrow.

 

The initial blog post is here.