Category Archives: Passing the Torch(es)

NC Drag Queen Story Hour Goes On; Arrests stop Anti-Pride Riot in Idaho

Blow a kiss and strike a pose: Drag Queen Story Hour goes on as planned at Apex Pride

Raleigh NC News & Observer
BY KORIE DEAN UPDATED JUNE 11, 2022

The drag queen story hour is back on for this Saturday’s Pride Festival in Apex North Crolin, now that Equality NC has taken over after citing “disappointment” with town officials.

Reported by our media partner, ABC11 News. BY ABC11 Stormie Daie arrived at Saturday’s Apex Pride a few minutes late — event organizers said she had difficulty finding parking for her royal carriage — but like any good drag queen, she was fashionable in doing so.

Stormie Daie, a Durham-based drag queen, entered the Drag Queen Story Hour under the cover of her iridescent parasol, wearing a sparkly, light blue dress with puff sleeves. She walked through the crowd, waving to and greeting the dozens of children and adults gathered to see her, then sat down in her purple chair, ready to read.

Out of her rainbow-striped reusable tote bag full of books — one of many perks of the job, she said — Stormie Daie first selected “If You’re a Drag Queen and You Know It,” a sing-along picture book that riffs on the popular kids’ song, “If You’re Happy and You Know It.”

As she read the story aloud, the crowd of listeners joined in, blowing kisses and striking poses, as the book’s words instructed them to do.

Earlier this week, it seemed that Drag Queen Story Hour would not be included in this year’s Apex Pride, as the original sponsors of the event, the Apex Festival Commission, pulled the activity from the day’s line-up due to threats of violence. The activity was restored after another group, Equality NC, stepped in to sponsor Apex Pride in place of the Festival Commission, The News & Observer previously reported.

“It felt really important for us to hold down this space for the community, to work with folks who are supportive of the LGBTQ community, and make sure that the focus was not on the people who hate us, but the focus was on us and having these safe spaces,” Kendra R. Johnson, executive director of Equality NC, told The N&O at Saturday’s event.

Drag Queen Story Hour is a global organization that brings drag queens to libraries, schools, bookstores and other spaces to capture “the imagination and play of the gender fluidity of childhood” and give children “glamorous, positive, and unabashedly queer role models.” The organization’s mission is to celebrate reading “through the glamorous art of drag.”

The Triangle-area chapter of Drag Queen Story Hour organized the activity for Apex Pride, bringing four drag queens, including Stormie Daie, to the event to read stories to children throughout the day.

Elise Chenoweth, director of the Triangle-area Drag Queen Story Hour, said the threats against the activity were “frustrating,” but she was glad the event went on as planned.

“We want kids to be able to take pride in themselves and their neighborhood,” Chenoweth said. “And no matter how different they feel, they can see themselves in someone, if only a book character or one of our readers.”

Stormie Daie read two other books to the crowd during the Story Hour: “’Twas the Night Before Pride,” about the anticipation and joy associated with yearly Pride Month events, and “My Rainbow,” about a mom who creates a rainbow wig for her transgender daughter.

As Stormie Daie read the books, kids and adults alike, many dressed in rainbow clothing, waved rainbow flags and cheered along. Amanda and Zach Prichard, who live in Apex, said they were already planning to attend Apex Pride with their children, Eleanor and Watson, before the controversy over the Story Hour activity. Eleanor Prichard, 7, who wore rainbow ribbons in her hair and had rainbow eye shadow on, was eager to get a photo with Stormie Daie after she finished her reading.

“We wanted to show our support for everybody in the community,” Zach Prichard said. “More importantly, we also wanted to show our kids what it means to support everybody of all kinds. We want to raise them to be very inclusive.”

When they heard about the threats of violence against the Story Hour and its organizers, the Prichards said they doubled-down on their decision to attend the event. “We didn’t want the negativity to win,” Zach Prichard said.


Washington Post: 31 tied to hate group charged with planning riot near LGBTQ event in Idaho

Police in Idaho arrested 31 people who had face coverings, white-supremacist insignia, shields and an “operations plan” to riot near an LGBTQ Pride event on Saturday afternoon. Police said they were affiliated with Patriot Front, a white-supremacist group whose founder was among those arrested.

Authorities received a tip about a “little army” loading into a U-Haul truck at a hotel Saturday afternoon, said Lee White, the police chief in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho, a city of about 50,000 near the border with Washington. Local and state law enforcement pulled over the truck about 10 minutes later, White said at a news conference.

Many of those arrested were wearing logos representing Patriot Front, which rebranded after one of its members plowed his car into a crowd of people protesting a white-supremacist rally in Charlottesville in 2017, killing Heather Heyer and injuring dozens.

The group’s founder, Thomas Ryan Rousseau, was among those arrested, according to jail records. Like the others, Rousseau was arrested on a charge of criminal conspiracy to riot, a misdemeanor. The arrestees were held on $300 bail. Some of the other men arrested also have been linked to the group.

A man is detained with a group of 31 people who were charged with criminal conspiracy to riot, in Coeur d’Alene. (North Country Off Grid/YouTube/Reuters)

In photos and videos posted on social media, a group of men dressed in hats, sunglasses, white balaclavas and Patriot Front’s signature khaki pants were seen kneeling on the ground with their hands zip-tied behind their backs as police officers kept watch. An onlooker taunted the group, yelling, “Losers!”

White said the people were headed to City Park, which was hosting Pride in the Park, an event advertised as a “family-friendly, community event celebrating diversity and building a stronger and more unified community for ALL.” Organizers did not immediately respond to telephone and email requests for comment from The Washington Post on Saturday evening, but they wrote in a post to the group’s Facebook page that it was a “successful” event.

The group, North Idaho Pride Alliance, urged people to “stay aware of your surroundings this afternoon and evening” in the city.

Authorities had been aware of online threats leading up to the weekend, White said, so police had increased their presence in the city’s downtown. Two SWAT teams and officers from the city, county and state assisted in the arrests.

The Panhandle Patriots, a local motorcycle club, had planned a “Gun d’Alene” event on the same day as Pride in the Park to “go head to head with these people,” an organizer said in April during an appearance with state Rep. Heather Scott (R).

The organizer was not identified by name in a video but wore a vest bearing the alias “Maddog” and the insignia of the Panhandle Patriots group. He lamented that the Pride gathering would be “allowed to parade through all of Coeur d’Alene,” saying that “a line must be drawn in the sand” against such LGBTQ displays. Scott did not immediately respond to a request for comment from The Post late Saturday.

In a news release posted on the group’s website, the Panhandle Patriots encouraged the community to “take a stand” against the LGBTQ “agenda.” It also suggested without evidence that “extremist groups” were trying to hijack the event to provoke violence and said the group would change its event name to “North Idaho Day of Prayer” in response.

Reached by phone late Saturday, a representative for the Panhandle Patriots declined to comment on the day’s events, telling The Post, “We are not answering questions right now.”

White did not mention a connection between the Panhandle Patriots event and the arrests. He said those arrested had come from several states “to riot downtown,” with riot gear, at least one smoke grenade and documents “similar to an operations plan that a police or military group would put together for an event.”

He did not see firearms at the scene of the arrest, he said, but emphasized the situation was “very fresh.”

However, firearms were present in the vicinity of the park, White said. Police had been in contact with the FBI “all day,” he said.

White noted that the authorities’ understanding of the situation was still developing and said at the news conference that law enforcement had not yet interviewed those arrested. Representatives for Patriot Front were unable to be reached for comment.

More charges are possible, White said. The first court appearances for those arrested will probably be on Monday, Kootenai County Sheriff Bob Norris said.

Doctor FeelGood: The Unexpected Foster Mother

[NOTE: We’ll get back to troubles & woe presently. Meantime, something upbeat.]

I’m a pediatrician. I unexpectedly became a foster mom to a patient.

I asked my husband if we should put off retirement to become foster parents. He was on board right away.

Washington Post — By Carolyn Roy-Bornstein
 —June 11, 2022

At a recent family wedding, I was asked to give the happy couple some marital advice. I had jotted down a speech on a piece of paper that was now folded up in my pocket. As I listened to the other guests’ toasts, my 2-year-old granddaughter pulled at my legs, begging to be picked up.
“Nana, Nana,” Joli called.

Her mother, Janine, my foster daughter, tried to peel the child’s limbs from mine, her two legs tighter than a stink bug on a stick.
Finally, it was my turn.

Joli nestled her head into my neck, thumb in mouth. I pulled Janine closer with my other hand, kissing her mop of curls.

In that moment, I traded in my carefully written tribute for the succinct maxim that had just popped into my head — and had brought endless joy and meaning into my life.
“Make room for the unexpected,” I said. Continue reading Doctor FeelGood: The Unexpected Foster Mother

Here’s a Great Look at the Quaker “Good Old Days.” Beautiful — But a Lot of Work

[Note: It’s rare that blog material turns up in the real estate section, especially the mainly rather upscale version in the Washington Post, and particularly in the rather very upscale horsey parts of Loudoun County, Virginia, out near where the Shenandoah Valley begins. But for many decades once upon a time, much of Loudoun was Quaker country, and there are still active meetings in the region. There’s also lots of Quaker history to see and explore; and here’s a glimpse at a special piece of it.]

Washington Post

Historical Quaker Farm in Loudoun County for sale

Stone Eden Farm is typical of the small farms owned by Quakers in the 18th century
The stone house was built in 1765. An addition was made in 1817. (Mario Mineros Photography)

By Kathy Orton
 — June 3, 2022

Stone Eden Farm, a historical Quaker farm in Hamilton, Va., with roots that go back more than 250 years, is on the market for just under $1.4 million.

When Lord Fairfax owned what would become Loudoun County, he granted land there to William Hatcher, a Quaker who moved to the area from Pennsylvania. By 1765, Hatcher had built a house on the land as required by Fairfax as a condition of the deed, or patent. That stone patent house has been home to generations of farmers.

Like most Quakers who came to Loudoun County, Hatcher was drawn to its fertile pastureland. Stone Eden Farm was typical of the small farms owned by Quakers in the 18th century. Because of their religious beliefs, Quakers did not rely on enslaved labor, and their farms tended to be smaller than the plantations in eastern and southern Loudoun. Continue reading Here’s a Great Look at the Quaker “Good Old Days.” Beautiful — But a Lot of Work

Will Lucy ALWAYS Snatch Away The Football, Charlie Brown??

AP News: “A Good Man”: Exhibits honor ‘Peanuts’ creator Schulz on 100th

May 27, 2022

COLUMBUS, Ohio (AP) — In a series of “Peanuts” comic strips that ran in midApril of 1956, Charlie Brown grasps the string of his kite, which was stuck in what came to be known in the longrunning strip as the “kiteeating tree.”

In one episode that week, a frustrated Charlie Brown declines an offer from nemesis Lucy for her to yell at the tree.

“If I had a kite caught up in a tree, Id yell at it,” Lucy responds in the last panel?

The simplicity of that interaction illustrates how different “Peanuts” was from comics drawn before its 1950 debut, said Lucy Shelton Caswell, founding curator of the Billy Ireland Cartoon Library & Museum at Ohio State University in Columbus, the worlds largest such museum.

 

“The idea that you could take a week to talk about this, and it didn’t have to be a gag in the sense of somebody hitting somebody else over the head with a bottle or whatever,” Caswell said. “This was really revolutionary.”

New exhibits on display at the Billy Ireland museum and at the Charles M. Schulz Museum and Research Center in Santa Rosa, California, are celebrating the upcoming centenary of the birth of “Peanuts” cartoonist Schulz, born in Minnesota on Nov. 26, 1922.

Schulz carried the lifelong nickname of Sparky, conferred by a relative after a horse called Sparky in an early comic strip, Barney Google.

Schulz was never a fan of the name “Peanuts,” chosen by the syndicate because his original title, “Li’l Folks,” was too similar to another strip’s name. But the Columbus exhibit makes clear through strips, memorabilia and commentary that Schulzs creation was a juggernaut in its day.

At the time of Schulz’s retirement in 1999 following a cancer diagnosis, his creation ran in more than 2,600 newspapers, was translated into 21 languages in 75 countries and had an estimated daily readership of 355 million. Schulz personally created and drew 17,897 “Peanuts” strips, even after a tremor affected his hand.

The strip was also the subject of the frequently performed play, “Youre a Good Man, Charlie Brown,” as well as “Snoopy: The Musical,” dozens of TV specials and shows, and many book collections.

Bill Watterson, creator of “Calvin and Hobbes,” described in a 2007 Wall Street Journal review of a Schultz biography the difficulty of looking at “Peanuts” with fresh eyes because of how revolutionary it was at the time.

Benjamin Clark, curator of the Schulz museum, describes that innovation as Schulzs use of a spare line that maintains its expressiveness.

Schulz “understood technically in drawing that he could strip away what was unnecessary and still pack an emotional punch with the simplestappearing lines,” Clark said. “But that simplicity is deceptive. There’s so much in these.”

The exhibit in Columbus displays strips featuring 12 “devices” that Schulz thought set Peanuts apart, including episodes involving the kiteeating tree, Snoopys doghouse, Lucy in her psychiatry booth, Linus obsession with the Great Pumpkin, the Beethovenplaying Schroeder, and more.

“Celebrating Sparky” also focuses on Schulzs promotion of womens rights through strips about Title IX, the groundbreaking law requiring parity in womens sports; and his introduction of a character of color, Franklin, spurred by a readers urging following the assassination of Martin Luther King Jr.

In addition, the display includes memorabilia, from branded paper towels to Pez dispensers, part of the massive “Peanuts” licensing world. Some fellow cartoonists disliked the way Schulz commercialized the strip.

He dismissed the criticism, arguing that comic strips had always been commercial, starting with their invention as a way to sell newspapers, Caswell said.

While 1965s “A Charlie Brown Christmas” is one of the most famous cartoon TV specials of all time, the characters have also returned in dozens of animated shows and films, most recently in original shows and specials on Apple TV.

Those Apple programs introduced new viewers to the truth of what Schulz drew, his wife, Jean Schulz, told The Associated Press last year. She described that truth this way:

“A family of characters who live in a neighborhood, get along with each other, have fun with each other, have arguments sometimes with each other, but end up always in a good frame hugging each other or resolving their arguments,” she said.

Caswell, who first met Schulz in the 1980s, said one of the exhibits goals was to surprise people with things they didnt know about the man. In that, “Celebrating Sparky” succeeds admirably.

Who knew, for example, that Schulz, a hockey and iceskating lover, is in both the U.S. Figure Skating and U.S. Hockey halls of fame? (Perhaps that isnt surprising, given multiple strips that featured a hockeyplaying Snoopy or Zambonis driven by the little yellow bird, Woodstock.)

By focusing on Schulz, the exhibit also aims to show he worked hard to perfect his drawing style before “Peanuts” was launched and was intentional about what he wanted the strip to be, Caswell said.

“This was a person of genius who had a very clear, creative focus to his life, and enjoyed making people laugh,” she said.

“Celebrating Sparky: Charles M. Schulz and Peanuts” at the Billy Ireland museum runs through November and was mounted in partnership with the Charles M. Schulz Museum.

The Charles M. Schulz Museum has two exhibits commemorating Schulzs birth: “Spark Plug to Snoopy: 100 Years of Schulz,” which explores comic strips and artists who influenced Schultz (running through Sept. 18); and “The Spark of Schulz: A Centennial Celebration, exploring cartoonists and artists influenced by Schulz (from Sept. 25, 2022, through March 12, 2023)
___

Associated Press US Entertainment Video Editor Brooke Lefferts in New York contributed to this report Continue reading Will Lucy ALWAYS Snatch Away The Football, Charlie Brown??

God Save, King Chuck? Or King Billy? Or — No King at all??

 

AFP

Sunset or new dawn for the British monarchy after Elizabeth II?

Twofer Thursday: Garrison Keillor at (almost) 80; and the Decline of Religion in the U.S.

There’s not a direct connection between the two items excerpted here. Garrison Keillor is definitely religious, in his low-key, often self-mocking way.
But like others of his (& my) generation, he’s watched in bemusement as the generations behind him have been mostly quietly, but steadily dumping religion.  Following Keillor, pastor-researcher Ryan Burge takes a look at this undeniable, but still puzzling slide: contributing factors are easy to name; but clarity and implications are elusive.

#1 – Excerpted from The Saturday Evening Post:

[Garrison Keillor’s new book] Serenity at 70, Gaiety at 80, is a playful yet deeply felt meditation that ought to be a standard in the literature of human aging. I asked Kate Gustafson, president of

Keillor’s production company, how she’d characterize the work. “It’s a novelty book, a gift book,” she ventured after a long pause. Keillor chortled when I told him that. No, no, he corrected, it’s actually “a memoir with an essay wrapped around it.” . . .

About his “canceling/MeToo” ordeal, Keillor himself was plenty angry. He has written that he was unable to defuse what boiled within him until one day, in New York City, a priest prayed into his ear that the “injustice done to me” could be put aside. And that was it, Keillor wrote in his memoir. He was suddenly unburdened, and could return to the “quiet domestic life with the woman I love,” his third and current wife. But as the Washington Post reported in a lengthy piece last year, the scandal represented a “downfall” from which Keillor never fully recovered. Continue reading Twofer Thursday: Garrison Keillor at (almost) 80; and the Decline of Religion in the U.S.

Learning to Endure with Bill Kreidler & “Tending The Fire”

To everything there is a season . . . and in the small field of Quaker publishing, this seems to be the season for books to help Friends, and friends of Friends, get through hard times.

I won’t rehash the reasons for this spurt; they’re as near as the morning’s headlines. It will suffice to cite recent comments by Kimberlé Crenshaw, a founder of the much-maligned Critical Race Theory, in the Washington Post, about:

“[T]he history of progress around race in the United States: Modest reform creates tremendous backlash. And sometimes the backlash is more enduring than the reform.

Consider, we had about a decade of Reconstruction. And [then] we had about seven decades of white supremacy, racial tyranny, utter and complete exclusion.

[Then] We had probably a good decade, maybe a decade and a half, of active civil rights reforms. And then three, four decades of conservative retrenchment, reactionary responses to these reforms that allow for people to say what they’re saying now, which is that anti-racism is racist, your civil rights violate my civil rights.

These are very old and repetitive ideas. So the reform, retrenchment frame is now taking place in the midst of a tremendous resurgence of anti-democratic, anti-inclusionary politics.”

The one thing I would add is that the “retrenchment frame” that seems to be building now concerns much more than race: women’s rights, labor organizing, assaults on the press and education, book banning, LGBT rights, forging a de facto religious establishment, and a drive against what is called the “administrative state.” To name a few.

No wonder so many progressive folk feel beleaguered and depressed. Continue reading Learning to Endure with Bill Kreidler & “Tending The Fire”

AFSC Restructuring Plan (Draft of April 16, 2021)

16 April 2021

Memo to Staff and the Board from the General Secretary on behalf of the Leadership Team:

Thoughts and Recommendations for Change and Restructuring to Support Strategic Plan Implementation

(for Seasoning)

I.  Background

 

Since the release of the 2020-2030 Strategic Plan, AFSC’s leadership team, governance members, regional management teams (international and US), staff, and consultants have been engaged in a process of deep discernment to ensure that the organization’s systems and structures are aligned with the ambitious goals outlined in the Plan, that the organization has the human and financial resources needed to execute on the plan, and that any needed changes are pursued in spirit of equity, collaboration, anti- racism, and anti-oppression. To ensure transparency, I have followed the process I laid out to you when the Strategic Plan was completed in collaboration with the Coordinating Team for Restructuring Consultations (CTRC) over the past six months.

I have been humbled to serve in the role of General Secretary throughout this process, as it has provided a daily reminder of the thoughtfulness and compassion of my colleagues, and the seriousness with which they take their obligations to each other, to the institution, and to Quaker belief and practice.

This memo aspires to synthesize the thinking of the many stakeholders who have weighed in, and to make affirmative recommendations from the leadership team for reorganizing AFSC so that we are well- positioned to achieve the goals of the Strategic Plan. I hope that this memo evinces the depth of our engagement with the many perspectives that have been offered up throughout this process, including:

  • RoadMap Consulting’s recent report and PowerPoint deck
  • The Inclusive Cohesive and Just Task Team (ICJTT) report
  • Memo from US staff, dated October 2020
  • Memo from IP regional directors, dated 2018
  • Materials on alternate program structures submitted by USCG, dated March 2021

Each of these documents, as well as countless formal and informal conversations and consultations, have been treated with all due seriousness as the leadership team has formulated the proposed new direction. The leadership team has met for more than 40 hours over the last few weeks alone in order to come to consensus on most of these recommendations. We have also met on several instances with regional leadership in both the US and International programs to ensure their voice is incorporated in our thinking. The leadership team has not taken its charge lightly.

Throughout this process, the team has grappled with a range of priorities surfaced by staff and governance volunteers, including the need to advance organization-wide cohesion and equity; to maintain strong roots in the communities with which we work; to create systems and resources that allow both IP and US programs to create systems-level impact; to mitigate undue stress, trauma, and transitions for staff; and to streamline the role of volunteers and Friends as part of programming and governance. The team has also been guided by an appreciative inquiry approach and the idea of building on what already works.

Throughout this process, I have sought to remain true to our commitment to ensuring a vibrant and sustainable organization. New ideas must be consistent with our philanthropic resources and the goal of balancing our budget—something that we have not always focused on over the past 15 years, to our detriment. AFSC will need to continue to exercise care whenever decisions that are made create significant new obligations.

These proposals are my current recommendations, and I expect to receive significant feedback over the course of April and May 2021. I also expect that some of our conversations this spring will evolve some of the ideas that set forward below, and I welcome the opportunity to refine this plan further. In line with our By Laws, the Board of Directors will approve any unit changes resulting from this restructuring.

II.  Executive Summary

I am proposing the following new direction, the details of which are laid out below in section VI. Highlights include:

  • A New Unit to Drive Cohesion: I am recommending the creation of a new unit, and accompanying AGS, to focus on global planning, collaboration, and learning. This unit would bolster intersectional work and provide deeper methodological support throughout the To mitigate the risk that moving to issue area tracks in the US could create new silos, this unit would allow us to invest in learning, collaboration, and other work that is in-between issue areas to ensure that this intersectional work is amplified where possible. And, with regard to global cohesion, although there would be distinct operating models for US and IP, this unit would serve as a platform for us to come together more intentionally. I explain further below why I believe, at this time, it is not opportune to unify all US and international programs into a homogenous structure, and why this new unit would be better suited for ensuring cohesion between US and IP. A new position aiming to strengthen community and partner relationships, as articulated in our Strategic Plan’s internal organization goal, would be housed within this unit. The unit would also oversee a revitalized Office of Policy Advocacy and a research function.
  • Organizing US Programs Around Strategic Plan Goals: I recommend restructuring programs in the US around the three themes of the Strategic Plan: Just Migration, Just Peace, and Just This plan would require us to build out three US thematic units, with core and embedded staff that can focus on advocacy, campaigning, communications, M&E, and overall coordination with our local, state, and national work in these areas. This approach will seek to ensure that the US operates holistically as one country. This structure also will allow more equitable collaboration to advance our global cohesion goals. The new approach will retain regional staffing to ensure continued staff support and supervision, along with community and Quaker relations. Further discussion is needed in the coming month to make this implementation plan clearer.
  • Organizing International Programs Around Strategic Plan Goals and Bolstering Operational Support: To ensure alignment with the Strategic Plan, I propose to phase in at least two senior level program or “thematic” directors on peacebuilding and migration who would develop the strategy, coordinate with regional and country-level directors on country-level outcomes and work closely with their counterparts in the US programs to develop shared The majority of International Programs focus on programs that fit into the Just Peace goal, with a smaller portion in the Just migration goal; there is an openness for IP to also do more Just Economies work but this may take more time to build out. I acknowledge IP’s model would be different from the one in the US which I think is appropriate given that they operate in different contexts and face different barriers and opportunities to achieving their goals. The majority of IP programs are funded through European government donors that have specific geographic mandates and requirements. AFSC has been able to grow our European funding over the past years and aims to continue this growth to meet our sustainability goals. To meet the complex and specific needs related to global compliance, regional policy goals, legal and financial management, security, political and cultural contextualization, and registrations needs that our programs and donors require, I recommend that we retain the four international regional offices. I also recommend that we bolster the IP operations to better meet these demands.
  • A Cross-Cutting Focus on Engagement: There are a number of stakeholder groups—young people, Quaker meetings and churches, alumni, activists, member of communities who live in the places where we work—who are essential partners in achieving impact. Likewise, program staff have asked that we continue to deepen our work with impacted communities in ways that are authentic and not extractive. The proposed reorganization is designed to facilitate bringing these stakeholders into the organization in strategic ways that are supportive of our programmatic goals and honors the difference in roles.
  • Clarifying Governance and Staff/Management Roles: The LT has strongly encouraged the Board Working Group on the Role of Governance in Program Decision Making (BWGPDM) to make a cleaner distinction between governance and management/staff roles with staff having greater authority over program and budgeting decision-making. We also confirmed our commitment to working with the Board to build stronger engagements with communities and partners at all levels of organizational life . The BWGPDM, which I serve on, has been working in parallel on a thoughtful set of recommendations which be released for seasoning shortly.
  • Participatory Decision-Making and Matrix Management: I am committed to creating new leadership configurations that underpin my vision for more decentralized and transparent decision-making structures and anticipate that they will be ready by the fall. I am excited to see the beginnings of such approaches in the US and IP program reorganization proposals – both are suggesting staff council and teams to facilitate discernment and participation. The IP model proposes a staff council that can serve as a mechanism for staff to bring forward recommendations and ideas, review global systems, and address human resources concerns and other grievances, etc. The new structure also contains an intention for creating deep collaboration embedded through matrix management/dotted line approaches, explained Appendix II in draft form.
  • Transitioning and Mitigating Harm: We hope to work in a phased way over the course of the ten years of the Strategic Plan, to ensure that changes are implemented thoughtfully and carefully. We are currently in a transitional year (FY21), to be followed by a three-year program cycle in years 2-5 (FY22-25). I recognize that some of the proposed changes would cause disruption to normal ways of working and so would plan, especially in the US, to take particular care to attend to relationships and be supportive of program staff for whom there might be possible new ways of working together. We have outlined in great detail below our affirmative approach to being an anti-racist and anti-oppression organization and looking to mitigate harm wherever possible.

I recognize that these are substantial changes, and that we must pursue them at a pace that is methodical and that allows for regular reflection as well as input from stakeholders throughout the organization.

Additionally, financial projections for the proposed new direction are still in progress, and we must allow for refinement as the specifics become clearer. For all of these reasons discussed above, we will plan to have an initial review at the end of FY22 and explicit in-depth assessment after two years, at the end of FY23, to ensure that new elements that we are introducing into AFSC are evaluated for their efficacy.

I welcome your thoughts and feedback on this proposed new direction and look forward to working together to evolve AFSC into an organization that is well-positioned to reach the aims of the new Strategic Plan.

III. The Purpose of These Recommendations – What We Are Solving For

 

The leadership team has engaged in this process with the goal of setting a new direction for the organization, attentive to the points raised by staff and other stakeholders over the past three years as well as to our own experiences. Synthesizing recent findings and recommendations from stakeholders across the organization, we have identified a set of key organization-wide aspirations that we seek to make progress on through our proposed directional shift:

  • Promoting a Unified and Cohesive AFSC: The new direction is designed to break down silos, to create a sense of focus and shared purpose throughout the organization, and to ensure that programs collectively contribute to systems-level impact. However, because the contexts within which staff are working vary widely, it does not attempt to create a one-size-fits-all set of systems, structures, and expectations, but rather to create the conditions for all staff to fully leverage their talents towards our shared goals.
  • Leaning into our Strategic Plan: AFSC’s 2020-2030 Strategic Plan is well-considered and has broad organizational buy-in. We have an obligation to ensure that organizational structures support the goals outlined in it. This proposed new direction aligns with and advances the Strategic Plan and takes seriously what will be needed to achieve it.
  • Supporting Equitable and Strategic Resource Allocation: Consistent with Organizational Development Goal 5 from the Strategic Plan (“Build internal practices for inclusion, cohesion, accountability, and justice”), the proposed new direction aims to ensure that financial decision-making addresses the persistent disparities throughout the organization, including those between US programs and IP programs. We will also seek to direct resources towards work that can achieve the greatest and most enduring positive impact. We cannot rely on history and legacy alone as guides for how resources should be used.
  • Balancing Sustainability and Innovation: To ensure that AFSC remains vital, the proposed new direction seeks to develop space and capacity for continued innovation and learning, as well as mechanisms for evaluating, sustaining, and scaling the pilots that demonstrate the greatest promise.
  • Creating Strategic Program Cycles: With Program Monitoring Evaluation and Learning (PMEL) integrated into programs, we would be better prepared to evaluate the efficacy of programs, including amplifying successful work, refining work in response to new opportunities, and shifting work that is not achieving impact. Part of making these decisions involves creating realistic time horizons for impact. Currently, much of our effort around planning and budgeting is focused on an annual process that must be redone every year, with other regions working from a three-year cycle. The leadership team is proposing three-year and ten-year cycles accompanied by more focused PMEL, which would allow us to take a longer view of how a program or body of work could develop and evolve, to be clearer about the systems-level change we intend to achieve, and to have a higher level of accountability to communities, to partners, and to the changes we are working towards.
  • Clarifying Lines of Authority: Clear lines of authority and decision-making structures can reduce stress, prevent processes like budgeting from dragging on, ensure accountability, and allow for inclusive and consultative program development without the fear that the core goals of programming will be AFSC’s current structure has a number of unclear or overlapping lines of authority, and I have sought to provide precision wherever possible, particularly where financial decisions are concerned. We also seek to build a culture where colleagues are working together in shared planning and decision-making.
  • Decentralizing Our Work: The new direction is an attempt to shift away from both the perception and the practical reality that Philadelphia is the “home office.” By empowering staff in offices across the globe to set and operate from multi-year plans and budgets, giving them greater access to logistical and technical support, and creating clearer pathways for engaging with governance, local communities, and other stakeholders, we can position all staff to succeed. We would prioritize improving global systems, controls, and infrastructure so that staff have what they need to operate efficiently and effectively. New staff, including program directors, would not need to be hired in We would seek staff with international experience, and recruit outside of the US for new IP hires. This should also reflect the new reality, quickened by the pandemic, that many staff are already being hired outside of Philadelphia. We should be speaking about “Mission Work/Program” and “Program Support” as opposed to “Program” and “Central Office.”
  • Encouraging Deep Collaboration: Even as AFSC has consistently worked towards greater collaboration, much of the implementation of this priority has focused only on information sharing and one-off projects. The new direction is designed to encourage more holistic, long-term collaborations that advance the goals of all stakeholders involved, by strengthening a culture of collaboration and creating pathways for collaborative teams to participate in joint planning and decision making.

IV.  The Principles of This Process

 

Throughout this process, the leadership team has strived to adhere to a set of principles that honor AFSC’s Quaker values and make space for divergent ideas. The principles include:

  • Recognizing Our Biases: We acknowledge that no one is truly objective, and that each of us brings our own biases. Throughout this process, we have paid particular attention to ODG 5, including identifying and acknowledging how our biases affect our thinking and attempting to disentangle these biases from our decisions, and using the Anti-Racism/Oppression Toolkit to hold ourselves As we proceed together into a process that may be contentious and messy, we invite all stakeholders to acknowledge their biases and the ways in which they shape their thinking.
  • Making AFSC a Truly Global Organization: In both its decision-making and program implementation, AFSC has too often functioned as a US-based and US-centered organization that runs some programs internationally and brings in some international perspectives to provide In line with the Strategic Plan, we are aiming through this new direction to move AFSC into being a truly global organization, while recognizing that it will take time and a light touch to accomplish. This work cannot be imposed from the top down, and the new AGS would function as a facilitator to help instigate promising new areas.
  • Building on What Works: AFSC has a number of effective, high-impact strategies and processes, and deep relationships with community and grassroots stakeholders. AFSC also has a highly talented and passionate staff. As we consider changes, we must preserve and build on our strengths and create opportunities for existing staff to either thrive in their current roles or adapt to new roles. As restructuring occurs, existing staff who are in positions that are shifting would be considered for newly developed roles.
  • New Responsibilities Require New Capacity and Support: As we empower staff to take on new and expanded responsibilities, we must dedicate the time, professional development resources, and staffing capacity to ensure that they are able to thrive in their new roles. As we make changes, we must ensure that the resources are in place to sustain new strategies and structures.
  • Building and Maintaining Relationships as Close to the Work as Possible: If AFSC can weave networks of supportive relationships among staff, people impacted by our program work, coalition partners, key institutional actors, subject matter experts, and Quakers, our work will be both high- impact and accountable to impacted communities.
  • Transparency Builds Trust: Throughout the organization, all stakeholders, from staff to leadership to governance, have a responsibility to keep each other apprised of our decisions and the impact that those decisions will have. The more information we are able to share with each other, the more buy-in and trust we will be able to engender.
  • A Commitment to System-Level Impacts: Given our size, scope, and charge, we have an obligation to move beyond addressing the symptoms of challenges, and towards addressing the roots of these challenges within a justice framework. Our programs must be designed, staffed, and evaluated against this more ambitious standard.
  • Recognition of the Differences of IP and US: The new direction is designed to allow US programs and IP programs to have greater, more equitable voices in the organization’s future, to allow them flexibility for organizing themselves and resourcing their work, and to improve coordination, learning, and communication between the two without forcing a top-down or symmetrical approach with these two sides of the house.

 

  • Pathways to Participation: Even as some of the existing structures for impacted communities and volunteers (Quakers and others) play a role in AFSC’s work may change, the reorganization would maintain a multitude of clear and intentional pathways for engendering strong relationships and high-impact participation. This also means ensuring that lines between governance, advisory and staff roles and responsibilities are clearly understood.
  • Creating Space and Capacity for Creation and Innovation: New ideas and models will not emerge consistently unless staff have dedicated space for “research and development,” apart from their day-to-day responsibilities. The new direction aspires to build opportunities for innovation and incubation into AFSC’s core structures.
  • Building in Flexibility: Much of AFSC’s work occurs within crises and other emerging situations which can disrupt program plans or create security threats to staff and partners. AFSC’s work must be organized in such a way as to enable it to shift as needs and conditions evolve.
  • Considering Long-Term Sustainability: Achieving justice and peace is the work of generations. We must ensure that AFSC is staffed, structured, and resourced for the long-term, and that decisions today position us for success tomorrow.
  • Supporting Staff Needs: We have heard directly from staff about the multi-fold things that are needed for them to do effective social justice and peacebuilding work and aspire to meet as many of these needs as resources allow. Our most immediate focus is on finance, progressing towards others as quickly as is  feasible.

V. Our Commitment to Anti-Racism and Anti-Oppression, Participatory Decision-Making, and Mitigating Harm

 

The proposed shifts offer opportunities to strengthen AFSC’s commitment to anti-racism and anti-oppression, both within the organization’s systems and structures and in the impact that is achieved as a result of the organization’s work. The leadership team has had deep discussions on our expectations for equitable outcomes from an anti-racism/oppression lens. We have used the Anti-Racism/Oppression Toolkit, and we have simultaneously made every effort to adhere to AFSC’s existing anti-racism and anti- oppression principles throughout this process, carefully considering a set of key questions to ensure that our work reflects Quaker principles. The full Anti-Racism/Oppression Toolkit is jointly developed with the BWGPDM and the CTRC and will accompany the final recommendations the Board.

In addition to using the toolkit in our deliberations and trying to identify concrete ways to increase participatory decision-making in structural ways, we also have recognized that we need to identify and mitigate harm at AFSC, through this process and beyond. Although there is universal consensus on the organization’s commitment to anti-racism and anti-oppression, and the ideal of growing areas of participatory decision-making, many of our surveys and stakeholder comments indicate that insufficient attention and resources are being dedicated to realizing these commitments or that the leadership team and Board are not being ambitious enough in realizing our ideals. So, we are trying to be explicit about the things we hope to do.

Some of our priorities to ensure equitable outcomes have included:

  • We are in the final stages of hiring a new Director for Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DDEI) director who will serve AFSC in a senior leadership capacity, and will plan to hire a DEI associate, and investing in the gender and racial justice areas through staffing or consultancies. We are also committed to setting up system that encourages the creation of affinity groups.
  • Through the reorganizing process we are ensuring that we pay greater attention to IP staff than we have done historically and making sure our process does not mute the voices and concerns of IP We have provided language-specific sessions along with translation for some of the early feedback sessions and the AGS-IP and RDs have provided regional conversations with local country staff so they can better understand and interpret the restructuring process. We will continue to provide similar support during the presentation and feedback sessions for the proposed new structure and will invest in future translation and language-specific meetings in the future. And, a future IP council of staff can operate similarly to US unions to raise and address organizational concerns. This memo will also be translated.
  • We believe that maintaining current staff is critical to AFSC’s success. The leadership team would prioritize keeping, incorporating, and aligning current staff into the new structure as much as possible, with the understanding that there may be some instances where it will not be possible. We also would hope to provide generous layoff packages, post-employment support, and enough transition time for any impacted staff.
  • The new structure would align to the new programmatic areas, which would require some programs and staff to transition into new supervisory relationships and groupings. We would build planning and transition time into this process so these new relationships and the planning process can occur with minimal impact.
  • We have made preliminary recommendations to the Board Working Group on the Role of Governance in Program Decision Making about our ideas to shift programmatic decision-making to staff from Executive Committees in the US and IP. This would give thematic program directors and their teams greater autonomy along with heightened responsibility and authority.
  • The new structure would enhance communities of color’s participation in program planning and decision-making by strengthening and supporting community support advisory groups. These groups would be an essential component for a broader and stronger volunteer and partnership pipeline that would infuse the voices of local communities throughout  AFSC.
  • The new structure is designed to enhance staff access and engagement with leadership and organization-wide decision-making by having more dotted-line relationships and accountability to lessen the distance between staff and leadership.

There are some calls for more radical reorganizing and “flattening” of AFSC. My current view is that an organization as complex as AFSC, which requires sophisticated global programmatic, legal, financial, and fundraising compliance, demands some level of hierarchy and related accountability.

Finally, I continue to hear concerns about the Board of Directors being too far removed from staff and programs, and concern that the composition of the board is in direct conflict with our organizational commitment to lifting community voices. I am encouraged to see this matter emerging for discussion on the upcoming Board agenda. We also hope to build on the ICJTT report engagement process to begin reinstituting more meetings between staff and Board as soon as it is feasible to do so in person.

The new direction that is being proposed does not foreclose on the processes initiated by the Inclusive Cohesive and Just Task Team – ICJTT, and indeed is designed to deliver proactive solutions to many of the sources of stress and trauma that have been identified. Through greater clarity, equity, and support for staff members, a realistic assessment of what any individual staff member can reasonably be expected to accomplish, an enhanced investment in DEI functions, a toolkit for advancing our commitment to anti-racism and anti-oppression, and greater autonomy for on-the-ground staff, we can begin to concretely address the issues that are being raised. I believe that this can be the beginning of a long-term effort to become a healthier organization that does not create trauma for staff and does not replicate past harm.

VI.  The Proposal for Revised Roles and Responsibilities

 

See Appendix I for a summary of the proposed structure.

The leadership team believes the following modifications to the staffing structure, roles, and responsibilities would advance the goals outlined in this memo and address many of the issues raised by other stakeholders in recent months. To be clear, regional presence in the US and IP would look differently and serve different roles. Though we recognize that having distinct structures in US and IP programs may run counter to the notion of organizational cohesion, we see it as the most effective means of streamlining decision making, creating equity between program areas, and empowering staff around budgeting and program planning.

As a means of encouraging cross-unit cohesion and programmatic autonomy, the proposed reorganization incorporates a matrix reporting structure, including dotted line reporting for a number of roles. Described in detail in Appendix II, dotted line reporting would break down silos between departments, reduce unnecessary bureaucracy, and formalize much of the collaboration that already occurs. In practice, some staff would solid-line report to a manager within their unit responsible for performance review (consistent with union Collective Bargaining Agreements for many US staff), considering job advancements, and making any changes to job descriptions, and dotted-line report to a secondary manager on a program team who would provide feedback and assign tasks in a more limited managerial role.

Developing and Staffing AFSC as a Truly Global Organization

 

Now more than ever, and especially after experiencing the devastation of a global pandemic, it is clear that global communities not only share intersectional struggles but are deeply interdependent. The AFSC/FCNL Shared Security Framework further underpins this interdependence. AFSC’s shared history has shown that we are strongest when US and International programs work in unison. Our shared analysis underpinned in our Strategic Plan presents compelling arguments for working globally and presents a whole-of-organization plan around three programmatic focus areas.

Global cohesion, while an underlying organizational premise, does not require that US and IP programs mirror each other. There is a recognition that both function within distinct operating models responding to varying contexts and utilizing different methodologies. In the US, staff are rooted in communities and often do direct implementation. In IP, staff also are rooted in community, but often implement the work through strategic partnerships, amplifying and strengthening civil society organizations closest to the conflict or oppression. IP programs and staff are mostly grant funded by European donors, which necessitates global policies, systems, and regular audits.

International Programs have been using a program cycle process to make decisions about when to continue, change, devolve, or lay down work as a core part of evaluations. Staff are often hired on contracts that correspond to a large grant and are often 100% funded by that income stream. The four IP regions have worked collaboratively on common strategies through the Shared Security program and the Dialogue and Exchange Program (DEP). The structure of the International Programs Executive Committee (IPEC) has supported a global holistic look at International Programs work.

At present, areas of US and IP collaboration are few and found primarily when US foreign policies are a focus of our influencing work (e.g., Palestine/Israel). To be true to the goals of the Strategic Plan, and to leverage our unique strengths and wide-ranging presence domestically and globally, AFSC would be intentional about identifying opportunities for joint work across issues and global regions.

Intentionality requires ensuring systems, resources, and structures align in support of this new direction. Our US and IP teams worked diligently together and produced compelling shared objectives. Many intersections were discovered along the way: how we address peacebuilding in the US and its relationship to state/national structural violence; militarism and our global analysis on conflict; how climate change and conflict are drivers of migration; and how xenophobic policies impact countries’ response to migrants in the US and around the globe.

I propose to create a new organizational unit tasked with creating opportunities for shared planning and programming and learning among issues and global regions. The position of Associate General Secretary for Global Planning, Collaboration, and Learning (AGS-GPCL) would be introduced and is considered a priority.

The AGS would lead AFSC programming in line with the Strategic Plan and, in addition to leading the collaborative initiatives, would consolidate organizational programming in the US and IP and have oversight over Global Policy, Advocacy and Research, and Planning, Monitoring & Evaluation.

Specifically, the AGS would:

  • Create spaces across US/IP programs for the development of shared analysis, goals, and objectives along program themes.
  • Incubate new collaborative programming (e.g., migration and cross-border US/LAC collaboration) that builds on existing areas of work.
  • With new capacities in place, lead the development of cross-cutting analysis, learning and programming on climate justice, gender justice, racial justice, and youth work.
  • Create DEP initiatives to encourage learning across issues and contexts (e.g., a Black Freedom and Palestinian justice movement exchange).
  • Serve as a technical expert on collaborating, learning, and adapting, and build organizational knowledge and capacity in this area.
  • Oversee the Office of Public Policy and Advocacy, which would become the Office of Policy Research and Advocacy (OPRA).
  • Oversee a new technical Research team, possibly incorporating streams of existing work throughout AFSC.
  • Oversee the PMEL team.

 

Our goal is that the new AGS-GPCL would be resourced with a budget to allow for convenings, DEPs, joint initiatives, and a provision for administrative support.

Restructuring US Programs to Accomplish the Strategic Plan

 

The proposal structures US programs around the three themes outlined in the strategic plan: Just Migration, Just Peace, and Just Economies. With this transition, we intend to continue to be responsive and accountable to local communities, while we move to foster wider and deeper structural changes at local and national levels.

To that end, we propose to create three thematic units led by new directors that will support the three thematic teams comprised of local programs. These teams would use participatory decision-making to develop each theme’s overarching strategies and approaches toward structural change. The thematic program directors (PDs) would:

  • Ensure thematic work aligns with the Strategic Plan.
  • Lead thematic plan development and implementation.
  • Lead a process to develop and monitor each theme’s budget.
  • Lead fundraising efforts for thematic work in partnership with the advancement team.
  • Coordinate a pool of funds for each team to implement collaborative action for structural change.
  • Work with their IP counterparts to identify areas of potential collaboration and to streamline coordination across IP and US.
  • Be externally facing and serve as organizational spokespeople in national media, convenings and forums.

All existing US programs would be bolstered by the support provided by both regional and thematic support staff. Regional management would continue to support local programs through staff supervision, staff development, and the provision of local operational and administrative support. They would also serve as important liaisons for maintaining and building relationships with community partners, and Quaker monthly and yearly meetings.

We aim to build out these thematic teams as soon as possible, hiring PDs and embedding existing staff from the communications, grants and advocacy units who will provide the teams with additional support later this year. As funding allows, each team would also phase in campaign coordinators and planning/monitoring/learning support staff. We have also proposed to shift a small number of staff to different units in support of organizational structural changes. Written proposals of these possible shifts will be submitted to the applicable unions by Monday, April 19.

The challenges of injustice, violence, and oppression are interconnected, so we need coordinated approaches. So that new silos are not created, a US Programs Council would be formed to give feedback on the US Programs budget, to identify and support cross-thematic collaborative efforts, and discuss how to use pooled funds. The Programs Council would involve both thematic and regional staff.

I see the US as one country, with coordinated work toward the strategic plan goals, and bolstered by regional presence to support staff and local relationships. Regional and thematic staff would maintain steady communication and close working relationships, so each US program and community would be supported well while we build up our capacity for coordinated structural change.

Building and Supporting International Programs

 

Though much discussion was given to the idea of organizing international programs solely by issue outcomes, I ultimately decided that it is neither desirable nor feasible, and am recommending instead that we add two thematic directors on peacebuilding and migration, while also retaining the regional leadership structure. This is best practice within INGOs and donor governments. Because much of IP funding comes through government donors that focus on specific regions, and because grants from these sources often require a senior level staff member associated with a specific region, a leadership structure with only thematic directors would likely lead to a sharp reduction in resources for IP programs.

Additionally, if the global trend of shrinking civil spaces continues, as we have seen most notably in Asia, AFSC regional staff may represent a critical foothold. Finally, some of our new work internationally, e.g., in Africa with the newly established Peace Action Hub, and hopefully in other locations as well, is being supported and organizing itself with regional advocacy goals, all of which requires a high level of geographic, regional coordination.

In the desired structure, Regional Directors would deepen their management of regional contextualization, leadership, visibility/outreach and networking in donor and INGO spaces. The RDs would be expected to be well versed in the overall organizational program goals and analysis within their region/countries and also the intersection between them. RDs would also be responsible for successful implementation of country and regional programs supported by the IP operational unit and significant, grant-related deliverables.

As AFSC seeks opportunities aligned to the Strategic Plan, such as the Horn of Africa Hub, and as civil space shrinks in some of the countries where we work, the regional offices become even more important for supporting research, programs, and partners where we do not have a physical office. To ensure alignment with the Strategic Plan, we would phase in at least two senior level program or “thematic” directors (PDs) on peacebuilding and migration, who would lead and develop strategy for international programs. We may phase in economic justice capability in time, as this is currently the least developed area of work in IP. The PDs would guide the thematic work developed at the regional and country-level and sign off on thematic priorities and outcomes. The PDs would work with their counterpart US program directors for Just Migration, Just Peace, and Just Economies, and would be able to streamline coordination across IP and US, co-manage the DEP program, create global proposals and support RDs and program staff on contextual analysis, proposal development and program content, and represent AFSC in international networks. The Peace Director would manage Under the Mask (one manager and/or fellow) and build out the Civic Rights portfolio globally. The Migration Director would have a Climate Justice focus as well.

In addition, while I am still open to discussion on reporting lines, I am proposing that the IP Policy and Advocacy staff who work in the US and globally remain in IP with a reaffirmed dotted line to OPRA. I have heard compelling arguments in support of identifying public education and advocacy coordinator (PEACs) as integral members of the IP regional program teams. The engagement of advocacy staff with their IP regional colleagues on a daily basis would ensure that the policy and advocacy positioning is locally grounded and regional and IP strategic priorities are centered. Often, these staff have been the bridge to AFSC’s most recognized collaborative work. I have also heard the importance of establishing stronger links between IP advocacy staff doing US foreign policy influencing work with our OPRA; this too is critical and should not be ignored.

The OPRA office and the LAC office have identified a need for a policy coordinator to focus on US/LAC advocacy around migration. This was a position that has been vacant for some time where strong collaborative work has occurred. In this plan, we would include a Policy Advocacy Coordinator under OPRA. The reporting relationships will be discussed in more depth this coming month, following which I intend to finalize. We do note that there can be greater efforts to reduce silos, and increase collaboration. There is a value in strengthening the relationship with OPRA through dotted line management and guidance on priority setting. We are proposing that advocacy staff have broader portfolios, adding thematic responsibilities to country and regional level work, and linking to critical initiatives outside of the U.S, such as the advocacy goals of the Africa Hub in Ethiopia and Brussels. IP policy staff should be active members of the IP and OPRA teams.

Corresponding to these program shifts, we also would prioritize, in the coming three years, building out an operations team to address the inequity of support that IP has received and also to enable programs to meet donor requirements. We remain in discussion as to the reporting structure, which could include reporting to IP, Operations Director, with a dotted line to technical functions to ensure that there is equitable and enhanced finance, HR, IT, and advancement support, or it could sit in the technical units with a dotted line to IP. This is still open to discussion.

IP programs would also make key adaptations to participate more fully on cross-organizational work and to ensure a level of equity in organizational and operational support. The net result would be clearer global policies/procedures that enable less centralized day-to-day controls, a better articulated model for systems changes in each region, and a high level of thematic expertise housed within each region.

To summarize, key proposed staffing changes or shifts include:

  • Establishing Two Thematic Program Director Positions, focusing on Just Peace and Just Migration: The PDs would guide program strategy for IP, supporting programs in thematic best practices, and guiding programmatic strategies and goals. The Peace Lead would manage Under the Mask (with one reporting manager and/or fellow) and build out the Civic Rights portfolio The Migration Lead would ideally be based in Europe with a climate justice focus, with work guided by our recent global Quaker statement on migration.
  • Shifting the RD Roles: Regional Directors would move towards managing regional contextualization, leadership, visibility/outreach, and networking in donor and in INGO spaces. The RDs and Country Representatives (CRs) would still be expected to work at the intersection of the program goals and would be responsible for successful implementation of significant grants deliverables, compliance, and programs supported by the IP operational unit.
  • IP Operations Unit: We would build out an IP-focused operations unit, including an IP Finance Manager, and IP HR Analyst, an IP Security Manger, and an IP Administration Officer, and we would embed an additional one-to-two development and communications staff to support the AGS/leads/RD to develop global media, communications, and proposals. The intention is to provide country and regional offices operational support needed to support strong program work. The first phase is creating strong global systems and the next phase would be assessing additional support needs at a country level. We are still in conversation about whether these staff would report to the IP Operations Director, with dotted line reporting to functional areas, or report to the functional areas and dotted line report to the IP Operations Director. We have a plan in April to discuss these scenarios more carefully.

While the shifts outlined for IP programs may not be as visibly disruptive as those to US programs, I am nevertheless committed to making them with sensitivity and thoughtfulness, and to ensuring that staff who are affected are given the support and resources that they need to thrive in new or shifting roles.

Policy Research and Advocacy

 

Our Strategic Plan urges us to challenge structural oppression. Challenging systems requires us to present and advocate for alternative solutions and to educate and influence decisionmakers toward the world we seek. To produce compelling alternatives, we need sound research and analysis grounded in the lived experiences of communities. Whether we are seeking local, state, federal or global systems change, we need to invest in building relationships with other networks and coalitions who share our vision. And, for AFSC to succeed in changing the hearts and minds of policymakers, we need a more robust and cross- organizational effort through a revitalized Office of Policy, Research, and Advocacy (OPRA).

Over time, the OPRA would increase capacities of issue-specific advocacy and policy coordinators, and it would also house our technical staff, and specialists, researchers, and senior fellows. OPRA’s mandate would be to effectively model policy impact and ensure that all program staff have access to the learning and expertise that the organization has developed, to strengthen global program staff’s connections with this work, and to allow for intentional investments in needed relationships with policymakers’ offices, coalition partners, program staff and key community partners, and other thought leaders.

The new OPRA would allow all advocacy positions within AFSC to have a common reporting line (solid or dotted), ensuring cohesion. This is especially important in the context of US state, federal, or foreign policies. Though we have the greatest footprint in the US and would therefore focus the greatest energy on the Office’s US-based work in the short term, building towards truly global capacity would be a key priority. For US programs, issue-based Advocacy Coordinators from the Office would be embedded in the newly established strategic program units to facilitate the process of coordinating with program staff who are engaged with impacted communities and contexts. As stated above in the IP section, we remain in discussion about the reporting lines of IP staff who conduct influencing work that includes the US and beyond (influencing multinationals, foreign countries, EU, African Union, peacebuilding community, etc.) and I will present a final decision in May. The Office also would coordinate closely with the Communications unit, which has been an essential part of OPPA’s success and is worthy of replication. Additionally, the OPRA office would serve as a critical direct interlocutor with the Quaker UN Office (QUNO) in New York.

Further, research in service to action has been a historic strength of AFSC, with the organization’s NARMIC (National Action and Research on the Military Industrial Complex) unit often cited as a positive example of impactful systemic change work because of this close integration. We will build on this model by expanding our office functions over time, to encompass a think tank-like role, drawing upon our organization’s global experience with communities and movements, and in close collaboration with our programs.

To launch a revitalized and effective version of this office would require the following staffing:

  • A Director for the Office of Policy, Research, and Advocacy to oversee the implementation of strategies, foster connections across issue and strategy buckets, and supervise staff. The OPRA Director will have a dotted line reporting relationship with the General
  • At least one advocacy coordinator for each strategic program area (Just Peace, Just Migration and Just Economies), phasing in additional staffing in time, with a scope of work encompassing strategic/national level thought leadership responding to local work as well as opportunities where our project/program work may not be so developed (e.g., federal budgets and militarism).
  • Issue-specific advocacy specialists and/or senior fellows working to accomplish particular program goals where AFSC has a unique niche and opportunity for impact (eg. Palestine/Israel). Depending on the issue on which they are working, those could have a dotted line relationship with the Director, though the reporting structure is still under
  • A research coordinator will form a team of specialists to be added gradually depending on program research priorities. The coordinator and team would develop initial research agendas in consultation with the program areas, with specialists pulling data from the local projects and feeding them into the policy space, responding to research needs from the local projects and offer staff support, and working with the OPRA Director on strategic research priorities.

Advancement

Over a 10-year horizon and consistent with the Strategic Plan, the advancement unit seeks to support greater fundraising for all of AFSC, greater visibility for the organization and its programs, and greater constituent engagement, including Friends, alumni, and young people, on advocacy goals. In recent years, the unit has benefited from some strategic investments, including for our current fundraising campaign, so there would be no new staff members focused on fundraising and communications in the coming year, but over a longer timeline I anticipate the following changes:

  • Public Engagement: We envision that the Communications team would become a Communications and Public Engagement team to reflect its goals and purpose more accurately. Over time we would work to extend additional capacities to deepen our engagement with alumni, Friends, Quaker young adults, and other constituents. We would also hire a Public Engagement Associate. In part, we would expect this team to liaise with US program teams and leadership and planned gift officers (LPGOs) to manage Community Advisory Groups in the US. Many of these roles need to be defined further in the coming year.
  • Grant writing: In the US, two staff work on our three US program areas; we hope to expand the team (at some future date) by one person so that there is one grant-writer per program area. In IP, we have one full-time staff person and one half-time consultant; we would keep that second line flexible for the coming year and grow it into a full-time staff role or consulting capacity with a focus on European funders.
  • Major Gifts and Planned Gifts: No changes are currently recommended. We are likely to ask LPGO to play some role in the program support committees that we are recommending in various geographies that enable volunteer engagement, g., San Diego, Bay Area, New York City, etc.
  • Media Relations: A second, currently unfulfilled position has been reinforced as a key need, focused on IP.
  • Communications Associates in the US: We envision at least one staff person for each program in the US in communications with a dotted line to each of the three US program directors and These roles may need to come from current staff or at least in a part-time capacity to start. Details forthcoming.
  • Communications and Fundraising Capacity in IP: We envision, over time, at least one staff person in each of the four geographic regions outside of the US who can manage various external relations capacities, including media/press, social media, proposal writing, etc. These individuals would likely report to communications and dotted line to each of the four international IP program directors. IP has also recommended some staff to be based in Europe which would bridge the fundraising and advocacy function. In the short term, LAC may need a communications associate more expeditiously.
  • Campaigns in the US: AFSC undertook a six-month study on our campaigning function in 2020 that needs further discussion amongst staff. At this time, the advancement unit is proposing— consistent with the recommendations of US program staff that were involved in the study and with the views of the consultant—that each of three program areas in the US have a campaign manager as part of the team approach. This person can become an issue expert while playing a key role in mobilizing others around pivotal local, state, and/or national campaigns.
  • Youth Leadership Institute: AFSC has programs that work effectively with young adults across the US and also aspires to develop deeper connections with Quaker youth and students at Quaker AFSC has received partial funding to coordinate these programs through a Youth Leadership Institute, with an accompanying Director. Our current thinking is that this individual will report to the AGS Advancement with a dotted-line relationship to other staff in US Programs or youth programming. Further discussion is required.
  • Development Operations, Annual Giving, Archives: No changes are currently recommended.

Finance

 

Over the ten-year timeline, the Finance Unit intends to meet the expectations of the Organizational Development Goal 1. The overarching goals of modernized and efficient financial systems, transparent and accessible financial information, and growing into sustainability will require deliberate reorganization and addition of resources.

Finance is currently implementing a new and modern financial system that will leverage current staffing resources and create economies of scale through consolidated functions. But this will only be accomplished when the systems are fully implemented, and staff has received full and recurrent training.

The bifurcation of our global work has had unintended competition of resources even as our global work has grown increasingly complex. To achieve compliance and meet donor requirements and deadlines, the following staffing changes are also proposed:

  • Finance Leadership in International Programs: Due to challenges of time differences, work schedules, unique in-country requirements, and coordination of international finance staff, there is a need for a high-level finance coordinating position based internationally that would be the focal point of contact for our international finance work. The IP Director of Finance (IPDF) would be the counterpart of the current US-focused Director of Finance and The current dispersion of finance staff is not coordinated and the IPDF would play a crucial role in developing a coordinated finance operation that works closely with the CFO. IPDF would have support staff as well, though the precise configuration is still in development.
  • Finance Manager: This one-year position would provide immediate assistance to current staff as they transition to the new financial system. The Finance unit was under-resourced even before this major project, so the Finance Manager would provide much-needed support and reallocation of tasks albeit temporarily.
  • Compliance, Internal Audit, and Reporting: Most organizations similar in size and complexity to AFSC have an internal audit function that oversees compliance, financial risk management, and reporting. In the longer-term, AFSC would build out this function to perform roles like managing compliance with the Office of Foreign Asset Control (OFAC), in collaboration with relevant units or programs, implementing the guidelines and staff training that has been developed, and serving as the focal point for coordinating financial policies. Though this function is critical, particularly due to the inadequate level of systems and processes, its addition would be delayed until the underlying structure is developed.
  • US Reginal Finance Staff: In thematic-based programming work in the US, we envision having a Finance Manager-level staff member in each program area. The Program Finance Manager (PFM) for Economic Justice, for instance, would oversee the budget implementation and expenditure for programs in this area and coordinate with the other Finance Managers reporting up to the US Director of Finance. The PFMs would have a dotted reporting line to thematic area program leadership. The PFMs would have support staff as well, though the precise configuration is still in development. These changes would not begin until the reorganization within US programs is in progress.
  • Business and Trusts, Accounts Payable, and Accounts Receivable: This area would not change in structure but would benefit from systems change and training for efficacy.
  • Regional Finance Staff Based in Philadelphia: This area would not change insofar as the IP Regions and the thematic areas in the US continue to require higher-level controller functional support.
  • Grants Accounting Management: This collaborative function between Finance and Development would not change, although this position is currently unfilled. A hiring process is currently underway.

Human Resources

 

For the past several years, IP regions have expressed a need for more support from Human Resources, including an enhanced level of expertise and support of benefits administration in the various countries within the IP regions. There also is a need to better convey information and HR policies and procedures on compensation for international staff. Additionally, staff have consistently requested greater support for training functions. To this end, the proposed restructure includes:

  • IP Capacity: HR would hire a new Senior International HR Generalist/Manager to assist the IP regions with employment and benefits. This position would either be housed within the HR Department with a dotted line to the operations unit within IP, or within the Operations unit of IP with a dotted line to the HR Department for technical
  • Training: HR would plan to add a Training/Learning Coordinator with an organization-wide mandate.

Diversity Equity and Inclusion

 

We would conclude the hiring of the new Director of Diversity Equity and Inclusion (DDEI) who would be a in a senior leadership role and have a dotted line to the General Secretary. In addition, we would hire an Associate Director of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion to provide additional support to the DDEI in implementing a cohesive and comprehensive Global Diversity, Equity and Inclusion strategy aligned with objectives of the new Strategic Plan. The DDEI will encourage and support the creation of staff affinity groups.

IT

Since April 2020, IT has seen a sizeable increase in the demands for technical and virtual meeting support from around the organization as it has shifted to a fully remote environment in response to Covid-19. This rapid change put considerable strain on IT staff who were thrust into a role of supporting all the technological infrastructure that enabled every other department to change their working model to being fully remote. The IT team has worked tirelessly to help the organization through this period.

The proposed reorganization would create new responsibilities for IT, keeping the unit at or near its current temporary level of work indefinitely. To meet this need, and pending adequate funding, the IT would fill two currently open positions, including:

  • Meeting Design Manager: This position would support virtual events and meetings, which have skyrocketed for both operational units and program staff around the world. Leaders around the organization have elevated this as a mission critical need, and we are responding by endeavoring to rehire this position presently, with minimal changes to the existing job description. This role requires flexibility in hours to support all high leverage meetings, so it can either be on-premises or remote from anywhere so long as they can fulfill the hours requirements.
  • Helpdesk and Meeting Support Resource for Central Office/Western US/LAC: Working closely with the Meeting Design Manager, this position would also provide on-site IT helpdesk support in our offices in Friends Center as staff return and would allow IT to cover more of the AFSC global clock and in more languages, particularly in the PM hours to better support staff in the Western US and Latin America (who face language as well as time zone barriers). The role would be for a Spanish language speaker and would be the primary interface between IT and our colleagues who speak Spanish as a first language, focusing on the regions with the largest staff and the greatest current usage of helpdesk and meeting support services.

Security

 

Security would be relatively unaffected by the proposed reorganization. The Director of Security position has been vacant for some time because of recent budget reduction strategies and would be filled in this process to comply with AFSC’s Duty of Care policy and to mitigate potential risk exposure and fulfill insurance coverage requirements. The search requirements would include security and safety expertise in international contexts and developing preemptive safety guidelines, plans and protocols.

QUNO

 

AFSC and the Quaker United Nations Office (QUNO) have some degree of shared organizational support and resources. We see the proposed reorganization as an opportunity to strengthen the relationship with QUNO especially with International Programs and OPRA. As we revise the MOU we hope to see an elevated level of resource and support coordination.

VII.  Timeline and Priority Setting

Though many of the issues we are seeking to address are indeed urgent, the kinds of changes the leadership team is urging require transition time. Though the proposed new direction is designed to be fully implemented along the 10-year timeline of the Strategic Plan, I am cognizant of the need to address urgent issues and to build momentum for culture shift. To this end, the new direction has short-term and long-term milestones embedded within it. By the end of year two, it should be clear how shifts are affecting the staff and the organization’s ability to achieve impact, which allows for inflection and revision as needed.

I see FY21 as a transitional year, and am proposing that the following elements be prioritized within the first phase of implementation (FY22-23), budgets allowing:

  • Restructuring the US Programs along thematic lines and hiring three Program Directors
  • Adding IP Thematic Program Directors on Global Peacebuilding and Migration
  • Enhancing the IP Operations unit with one HR and one finance function (reporting lines to be discussed)
  • Establishing the office of the AGS for Global Planning, Learning, and Collaboration, and adding initial reporting staff
    • Research Coordinator drawing on existing teams at AFSC and then expanding beyond them in the future
    • Issue-based Advocacy Coordinators/Policy Associates (one in US/LAC migration to start)
    • Cross-cutting capacities focused on Gender Justice, Climate Justice, and Racial Justice
    • Community and Partner Engagement Coordinator
  • Adding an Associate, reporting to the Director of DEI
  • Adding a Director of the Youth Leadership Institute (funded)
  • Phase-in campaign coordinators within US thematic program units
  • Phase-in staff within Program Monitoring, Evaluation, and Learning

After these initial changes, the leadership would reflect on their impact and, barring any need to modifications, proceed with the second stage as we assess the needs of programs and their supports.

Our plan for building up additional staff within different program areas also will develop further after our restructuring and results from our funding campaign have begun to take root.

All of these timelines are aspirational and depend on the available resources and the organization’s fiscal status. Having a blueprint of our plans will be essential if we are to make decisions holistically and to look at the big picture.

VIII. Budgetary Impact

 

Throughout this process, I have kept the leadership team rigorously focused on the budgetary impacts of the potential changes we have considered. I am committed to having any reorganization put AFSC on strong financial footing, in both the short- and long-term. Staff must be able to make informed choices about the resources they will have available to them, and the organization must take every possible step to avoid hiring for positions that resources cannot ultimately sustain. The proposed changes would be phased in over time in large part to ensure that our projections are accurate and that we are not making commitments that we cannot honor, and so that the approach can be revised as new information emerges.

We expect that there may be some modest savings in some aspects of the restructuring that is proposed above. We will be spending time in April and May to do a proper financial analysis, as we are getting feedback during listening sessions.

Though the full projections of the budgetary impact of the proposed new direction are still in process, several key factors have factored heavily into the leadership team’s thinking:

  • Extending budget and program cycles to three years would give AFSC a clearer sense of its overall year-to-year financial picture and allow for long term planning that provides for more time to consider We will need to grow into our capacity to execute multi-year budgets.
  • IP programs are largely funded by European government donors, and there are opportunities to grow these lines of funding, but only if the programs are structured in ways that qualify for this funding and facilitate reporting to these institutions.
  • Many of the largest US institutional donors are looking to achieve systemic impact and to fund on an issue basis, rather than a geographic basis. AFSC would be better prepared to sustain a full range [of] US programs through the proposed reorganization.
  • Dotted line reporting allows for greater coordination and maximizes the effectiveness of advancement, HR, IT, and security staff. These teams would be able to maintain roughly the same staffing levels while proving a greater level of support to programs through the proposed reorganization.
  • We hope the Board will approve a Strategic Plan Fund from segregated reserves that will support one-off related and transitional activities such as convenings, internal DEPs, and increased capacities on cross-cutting issues (e.g., Climate justice) where we believe there is an opportunity to developing sustained funding strategies.
  • Following the transition, we anticipate that our funding campaign and strategic program alignment would situate us to increase our revenue in support of collaborative work within and across program issues and international regions.
  • We have initiated a new Fundraising Campaign to help ensure that the Strategic Plan priorities are funded. While we expect our major gifts fundraising to expand in the coming years, we also will need to work together to achieve our full fundraising potential. That said, I am optimistic as we move to an external phase of work following this restructuring that new opportunities will emerge while a Fundraising Campaign provides momentum.
  • We are committed to continue balancing the budget and increasing expenditures only when such expansion can be sustained by new or reallocated sources of revenue. The proposed restructuring plan which would mature over time would not substantially increase our operating budget beyond the capacity to have a balanced result year over year and to build a reserve.
  1. Conclusion

I see this as a critical moment of organizational inflection and believe that this proposed new direction that will position us to do more and better as truly global organization affirmed by our Quaker principles of community. This new structure would strengthen organizational equity and maximize our impact in the world in line with our Strategic Plan. I welcome continued conversation about the perspectives offered here.

In peace, Joyce Ajlouny

 

Glossary of Abbreviations

AGS: Associate General Secretary

BWGPDM: Board Working Group on the Role of Governance in Program Decision Making CR: Country Representative

CTRC: Coordinating Team for Restructuring Consultations DEI: Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion

DDEI: Director for Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion DEP: Dialogue and Exchange Program

EU: European Union LT: Leadership Team

FCNL: Friends Committee on National Legislation GPCL: Global Planning, Collaboration, and Learning HR: Human Resources

ICJTT: The Inclusive Cohesive and Just Task Team INGO: International Non-Governmental Organization IP: International Programs

IPDF: International Programs Director of Finance IPEC: International Programs Executive Committee IT: Information Technology

LAC: Latin America and Caribbean Countries MOU: Memorandum of Understanding

NARMIC: National Action and Research on the Military Industrial Complex ODG: Organizational Development Goal

OPRA: Office of Policy Research and Advocacy PD: Program Director

PEAC: Public Education and Advocacy Coordinator PFM: Program Finance Manager

PMEL: Program Monitoring Evaluation and Learning QUNO: Quaker United Nations Office

RD: Regional Director

USCG: US Coordinating Group

 

Appendix I: Recommended Restructure

Appendix II: Matrix Management – Draft Principles (under discussion)

The proposed new direction calls on an organizational structure that is new to AFSC: dotted line reporting. As we consider the possibilities ahead of us, it is important to understand what this structure would mean for all parties involved.

What is dotted line reporting?

In practice, dotted line reporting means that staff will at times receive assignments from and submit completed work to a manager other than their direct or solid line managers, generally on a set of clearly defined ongoing projects and tasks. This relationship often focuses on reporting the progress of deliverables, project updates, and initiatives, rather than on job performance.

Dotted line reporting may be temporary, with a project manager overseeing work for a short period of time, or it may be ongoing, particularly if the direct manager is in another state or country.

Why incorporate dotted line reporting?

Dotted line reporting is a feature of joint management. In joint management systems, employees have two managers (Co-Directors) who handle different responsibilities of management. It provides greater organization and cohesiveness when there are strict divisions between different teams or departments, but an employee has responsibilities that require input from multiple departments or teams. For example, a member of the advancement team might have solid line reporting into the advancement team to ensure accountability to fundraising goals but have dotted line reporting into a specific program unit as they work with staff to gather information and manage reporting.

How does it work?

Employees working within this framework will have a solid line manager and a dotted line manager, who share a vertical relationship. The solid line manager is an employee’s primary manager, responsible for performance review, considering job advancements, and making any changes to job descriptions. The solid line manager has greater administrative responsibility for and provides more oversight. A dotted line manager is a secondary manager, providing feedback and assigning work-related tasks in a more limited managerial role.

How can we successfully incorporate a dotted line framework?

Employees can make the most of this framework by proactively ensuring that their managers are aligned, by asking clarifying questions whenever managers appear to have different priorities, and by communicating in a group email or group setting so both managers interact directly. When employees need to balance workload, they are encouraged to be transparent with both managers about how much time they can devote to the project or assignment in relation to other tasks.

Other related posts:

“Hello, AFSC? There’s a Crisis on the Line—And It’s for You.” — January 3, 2022
https://wp.me/p5FGIu-5qk

AFSC & The Hammer: Duncan Fired
January 5, 2022
https://wp.me/p5FGIu-5qN

AFSC After “The Day The Movement Died”
January 13, 2022
https://wp.me/p5FGIu-5rp

Quaker House, 9-11 and Me: Arguing With God

I’ve said that when I was Director of Quaker House (2001-2012) I had the best Quaker job there is.

But I didn’t always feel that way. In fact, my initial stance was emphatically the opposite.

Now that the job is open again, it’s worth describing how and why that changed for me.

This is a true story, which I hope will speak to a Friend who may not know it now, but is the right one to fill the post in what is likely to be a very challenging time.

The story begins with “No.”


                      I

“No,” I said. “No thank you.”

I said this to Chris Olson-Vickers. Chris was a mild-mannered social worker in Richmond, Virginia. She was also a Quaker, who in August of 2001 had agreed, perhaps rashly, to host an impecunious co-religionist  in need of shelter during the mid-Atlantic Quakers’ regional assembly, called Baltimore Yearly Meeting.

That impecunious co-religionist was me. Laid off and low on cash, I was too strapped to stay on-campus nearby, where our sessions were underway. I was packing lunches and avoiding the cafeteria.

sgt-abe-as-god-copy
Art by john Allder Stephens

On this evening, besides putting me up, Chris was also feeding me dinner. With the meal she had offered – not job-hunting advice; she is too cultivated for that. Rather, she was exercising a Quaker prerogative and “laboring” with me.

It was opportune, she had said, perhaps even providential, that I was unemployed and under her roof. Because she knew of a job opening. A Quaker job. One she thought I had the skills to fill.

At first I was all ears. What job? Where?

But at her answers, I shook my head emphatically. “It’s called Quaker House,” Chris said. “In Fayetteville, North Carolina. Next to Fort Bragg.”

“No,” I repeated. “Not a chance.”

In a more mainstream setting, this could, maybe should, have been the end of it. But as I said, Chris was not simply giving helpful advice. Rather, she was doing religious work, in a form we both understood then, and I understood better later. The fact that, to an outsider, it might have sounded like an argument, did not change its essential character.

Quakers call it “discernment.”

chuck-and-books-blft-circa-1999-copy
Chuck and books, in Pennsylvania 1999

After all, many of the key divine-human encounters in the Bible are a lot like arguments, if you listen behind the euphemized antique language.

So Chris pushed past my demurral.

Wait, she persisted. This was not just any job. It was a Quaker peace project planted near one of the largest U. S. military bases, in the midst of a thoroughly militarized city. It had been lifting up the Quaker Peace Testimony in Fayetteville since 1969.

In particular, it had helped many dissident GIs to find legal ways out of the military, and there were plenty more calling it all the time.

All very admirable, I agreed. But it was not for me.

There were any number of reasons.

At the top of the list, I readily admitted, was unabashed regional prejudice. For seventeen years, from the late 1970s to the middle of 1994, I had lived in northern Virginia, which was in the South despite cosmopolitan pretensions and nearness to Washington DC.

I tapped my chest significantly : That experience, I told her, put me deeply in touch with my Inner Yankee. In mid-1994 a chance came to move to Pennsylvania: I had leaped at it like a prisoner of war spying a hole in the stockade fence.

I was still there, in beautiful Happy Valley. That’s what folks around State College, home of Penn State University, call their mountain-secluded stronghold in the center of the state.

I liked the area. The woman I lived with was rooted there like an oak. We were part of a lively  Quaker meeting there. So why would I want to move?

chuck-and-blft-quaker-cemetery-copy
Next to the old Orthodox Friends cemetery in Bellefonte, PA, near State College.

Okay, I had been laid off from teaching English classes that Spring; that was an issue. But stuff happens. This too shall pass.

Besides, I raved on, North Carolina?  I hadn’t lived there, but knew all I needed to know about it: it was a Four-H state –

It had Heat. Humidity. Hurricanes.

And Jesse Helms. 

jesse-helms-tongue-out
Jesse Helms, longtime reactionary U.S. Senator from NC.

To repeat, no thanks. They could keep him, and the rest of it.

There was more like this.

But none of it fazed Chris Olson-Vickers.

You need to apply for this job, she said again. Chris had grown up in Fayetteville, still had family there. She knew Quaker House’s good work firsthand.

But the job had been vacant for a year and a half; hardly anybody had even applied. If they can’t fill it, she said, the board would have to close Quaker House down.

Which would be a darn shame, because there was still so much to do. There wasn’t any other place like it, she said. This wasn’t just personal, about filling a slot. This was about Quaker witness.

My turn: I said my heart went out to the board, but that didn’t change my conviction. I had grown up on military bases too, I conceded. But that only showed that the military wasn’t for me, and enough was enough.

nc-military-friendly-sign-copy

From there, I switched to two other lines of defense:

For one thing, I pointed out, if what Quaker House did was counsel GIs about military rules and regulations, I knew nothing about those, except that they filled many fat volumes that I had never opened.

Chris shrugged. You could learn, she said.

Besides, I pushed on, the board would be unlikely to hire me, because of my ornery reputation among Quakers. For eleven years I had published an independent Quaker newsletter. It had repeatedly rattled various closeted Quaker skeletons, poked sticks in sleeping dogs, upset various institutional applecarts, otherwise ruffled feathers and mangled metaphors right and left.

Some of this reporting might have been the Lord’s Work, but little of it was what could be considered good career moves. Somebody on the board was sure to be ticked off about something or other.

Chris was equally unimpressed by this ploy. If anybody on the board remembered these old controversies, she was sure that for the project’s survival, they would set it all aside.

If I had only been arguing with Chris, I think I could have prevailed. By the time we were finished, she had badgered me into agreeing that I’d at least send a resume to Quaker House, if only to get her to leave me be. What could it hurt? She said.

Right. What could it hurt? All the most likely outcomes I could imagine would get me off the hook:

Somebody else would apply, who lived closer and really was ready to move. They’d hire them, with my blessing.

Or a board member would recall an old grievance and not let it go. “Fager?” I could see them thinking. “Wasn’t he the one who wrote that inflammatory article about–(whatever)?” And then putting their response: “Over my dead body,” into proper passive aggressive Quakerese:

“Er, Friends, I believe that is a name which would not have occurred to me.”  

I’ve used that sentence myself, and more power to him. Or her.

On the upside, in the meantime perhaps I would find other work, so if they called I could graciously decline.

In any event, I grudgingly kept my word to Chris, sent in the resume when I got back to Pennsylvania, repeated most of the above caveats about it to my woman friend, and then thought about it as little as possible.

And if I had been arguing only with Chris, I’m sure that would have been the end of that.

                                     II

Not thinking about that resume in the next few weeks was relatively easy. That’s because while I was without full-time work, I did have a contract gig, doing research for a union organizing drive among Penn State teaching assistants. So I was busy digging into the seamy side of a large, rapidly expanding, and very secretive university.

Penn State is a hybrid institution, partly public and partly private, and its managers skillfully play both sides of that fence to conceal the maximum amount of inside information from just about all outside scrutiny.

My big achievement in that project was to discover and publish the salary of its president, a number which was as closely guarded as any secret the CIA is hiding. The magic number, about $500,000 as I recall, turned up in an obscure corner of an obscure IRS document filed by an obscure university research foundation.

I’ve done a lot of investigative reporting, and it’s always a thrill to lift the veil on some hidden item which should be public anyway.

But my triumph was short-lived. No sooner had my contact at the local daily paper published the number, backed up by my source, than Penn State’s lawyers/lobbyists swung into action. They interceded with the IRS to get the obscure foundation exempted from that reporting requirement in the future. The CIA could hardly have reacted more swiftly or effectively.

That work was absorbing and often fun. But by the end of the month I was ready for a break. My son Asa had graduated from high school that spring, and had been selected to do a year-long tour with Americorps, starting in a few weeks. I proposed a trip, one of those life-transition journeys a parent and child get to take if they’re lucky.

I had squirreled away enough cash from the research gig to bring it off, I thought. We would be on a tight budget, driving my car, staying mainly with friends, and looking for low-cost attractions, but we could do it.

Where did he want to go? I had asked. Maine, he said. Where in Maine, I wondered – how about Portland, recalling his interest in  the novels of Stephen King? He shrugged. Just Maine would do.

Let’s get there by way of Canada, I suggested and he agreed. So off we went just after Labor Day, heading for Maine by first going northwest to Ontario, and then up to Montreal.

Montreal was especially appealing. It was still warm, and on the night we rolled into town, wondering at the French signs and the general European air, we stumbled onto a noisy street dance, downtown on Ave. St. Denis. Asa took off to find the mosh pit, and I sat by, content to people watch, and bask in my linguistic acuity when, after an hour or so, I figured out that a banner reading “rentrée” meant “back to school.”

samaritans-montreal-copyFrom la belle province we headed to central Maine, where we stayed with Arla Patch, a fine Quaker artist, went to the beach, and visited the Sabbath day Lake Shaker community.  And it was somewhere on that leg that Asa and I fell to talking about generations, and their sense of identity.

He told me he envied mine, the veterans of the Sixties. We knew what we were after, he said, like stopping the Vietnam war and segregation. We had a sense of direction, a center. “Look at my generation,” he pleaded. “What direction do we have?”

I did my best to reassure him. The notion that my peers and I had things together is mostly retrospective eyewash, I said. We were a bunch of kids trying to make sense of a lot of violence and hate. And many of us, his father included, had spent years trying to find, or create, some sense of direction, a sense of what Quakers call centeredness.

I couldn’t say that process had ended, either. And anyway, I would not wish something like the Vietnam war on anybody.

cf-under-arrest-mass-circa-1973-copy
Under arrest – anti-Vietnam war protest, Boston, circa 1973.

We never did get to Portland, to drive past Stephen King’s house. We might have given it a shot when we left, because our plan was to visit my brother in Brooklyn, before heading back to Pennsylvania.

But just as we were climbing into the car, on that lovely Tuesday morning, Arla Patch came out, looking worried, a phone held to her ear, to tell us that something crazy had just happened and it was on TV right then. Something about the World Trade Center. We better come see.

What?” I said, annoyed at the delay, and reluctantly followed her inside to take a look.

It was Tuesday, September 11, 2001.

                                 III

Later that day, the car angled southwest across Vermont, aimed well away from Brooklyn and New York City.  The radio kept repeating the awful reports over and over, as if the reporters still could not quite believe what we had all seen, and at some point I turned to Asa. “God help us all, son,” I said, “but I think your generation just found its direction.”

Back home in Pennsylvania, I struggled through the next days, like everyone else, to make sense of what had happened. Only one thing about the aftermath seemed clear to me: the U.S would soon be at war. Where and when were obscure, but this had felt to me like a bottom-line certainty even before we finally rose and left Arla alone with the smoke on her television screen that morning.

This certainty was not a sign of any prophetic gift. It came, I think, more from my roots in a military family. Many of the reflexes of that culture were ingrained: You (whoever “you” were, who hijacked those planes, we still weren’t sure) don’t get away with attacking the Pentagon, the nerve center of all the US military. Somebody will soon face some heavy payback from the armed men and women whose headquarters and stronghold are in that building. 

And chances were very good that when this war started, there would be many more of the innocent killed in their frenzied, fiery search for the guilty. U.S. revenge would be painted on some part of the world in a very broad brush of death.

And me? What would I do in the face of this impending war? The attacks had shaken me, truly, but had not undermined my basic Quaker pacifist convictions. I had just seen murder, on a huge scale. But more murder was not an answer to murder. That was my conviction on September 10; it remained so on September 12th. I also sensed that I would have some small part in struggling to frame and lift up some voice for an alternative. Hell, any serious Quaker (or Christian?) would.  Right?

But what alternative? And how to raise it?

I didn’t know. But Quakers in circumstances like these are taught to wait for “way to open.” Our spirituality is that if we are properly attentive, we will be given “leadings,” which will point us in the way to go.

I’m a Quaker in large measure because that has happened to me. In our literature such experiences are often described in terms of mystical ecstasies or compared to the rush of romantic infatuation. These are as much metaphors as markers, however; it doesn’t happen according to any specific schedule or formula. John 3: 8 applies: “The spirit is like the wind: it blows where it wants to, and you hear the sound of it, but you don’t know where it comes from, or where it’s going.” 

I knew all this well enough from my own experience. I was about to learn it again.

                                  IV

An email from a stranger named Bonnie Parsons came only a few days after the return from Maine. Smoke was still rising from the wreckage in Manhattan and Washington, and those with their hands on the levers of political power were already taking advantage of the calamity to serve many other ends, but above all the ends of war. Afghanistan was the first target.

Bonnie Parsons said she wanted to talk to me. And it turned out she was not really a stranger: Bonnie Parsons was the Clerk of the Board  of Quaker House in Fayetteville-Fort Bragg, North Carolina.

At this point, we can skip a chunk of chronology. Contemplating Bonnie’s email, I could almost hear the teeth on the gears of Providence grinding into place somewhere above my head. Heaving a sigh at the computer screen, I knew that if Quaker House wanted to talk to me, they would likely want to hire me.

Even with my checkered past, I made a strong competitor for a Quaker job that nobody else wanted. And if they did make an offer, I knew I would take it.

But what about all my objections? My complaints to Chris Olson-Vickers?

They remained, but were no longer of any consequence.

As with the premonition about the coming of war, this was another case where the models from a military background made more sense than the softer language of typical Quaker spirituality. Reading Bonnie’s email, I felt like an old, out of shape army reservist suddenly being called back to active duty.

Such calls come when you receive orders. The tone of such communications is direct, curt, and unmoved by complaints and objections.

In the military, you don’t follow your bliss; you follow  orders. And it’s not about self-fulfillment — or God help us, “transformation” — it’s about a mission, one likely formulated, as they say, somewhere way above your pay grade. And in pursuing the mission, people can get hurt or killed. For that matter, from your lowly perspective, the mission, as far you can understand it, might be stupid, pointless or even self-defeating.

And your lowly perspective may even be right. But orders are orders.

You won’t find this image in any books on Quaker spirituality that I know of, but that day, and still, I could almost hear God speaking, in the tones of an old, profane first sergeant:

sgt-abe-as-god-copy

Oh, so you don’t like Carolina? Fayetteville’s not in your pretty mountains? Too hot and humid, you say? Scared of hurricanes, and you’ll miss your girlfriend?

Tough shit, soldier. Get in line. 

And you’re asking how long your tour will be?

Til further orders, asshole, what did you expect? There’s a war on, or will be in a minute. 

And oh, yeah — I voted for Jesse Helms. Four times. Or was it five? You got a problem with that, soldier?  

Suck it up and drive on.

That’s who else I had been arguing with when I was complaining to Chris Olson-Vickers. And as any soldier knows, those are arguments you don’t win.

I went on the Quaker House payroll December 1, 2001, and moved in over New Year’s 2002. Sure enough, it was the right place, the best place for me. Stayed til the end of November 2012; it, and the wars, wore me out. Which the best job is supposed to do.

We didn’t stop the wars, alas. But we kept at it, and I was able to pass on Quaker House to able successors who kept up the witness; which is how the story is supposed to end.

And which is what needs to happen again now. Maybe you’re the one. Or you know who it could be. (The full job announcement is here.)

Besides, if God talked tough, She was also merciful:  Shortly after I got to North Carolina, Jesse Helms announced his retirement.

– – – – – –

“It’s not the bullet with my name on it that worries me. It’s the one that says ‘To Whom It May concern,’ said an anonymous Belfast resident.”

– from War, the Lethal Custom, by Gwynne Dyer.

“I mean, I can imagine some poor bastard who’s fulfilled all your criteria for successful adaptation to life, … upon retirement to some aged enclave near Tampa just staring out over the ocean waiting for the next attack of chest pain, and wondering what he’s missed all his life. What’s the difference between a guy who at his final conscious moments before death has a nostalgic grin on his face as if to say, ‘Boy, I sure squeezed that lemon’ and the other man who fights for every last breath in an effort to turn back time to some nagging unfinished business?”

– Participant in a Harvard longitudinal life-study, in his 60s; from The Atlantic, June 2009

Chekhov: “Any idiot can face a crisis; it is this day-to-day living that wears you out.”

qh-and-sign-copy

Chuck Fager retired as Quaker House Director Director in 2012.

On September 21, 2019 Quaker House observed its 50th anniversary, and today it is still working with soldier war resisters, military families and veterans. 

Two Videos: “The Separation Generation” & My Odyssey in Brief

Two new videos are on my mind as this week opens:

The first was made last week, when three of us opened the door to what hopefully will become a much broader set of conversations about recent Quaker history, conflicts, and current issues.

We gathered for the Earlham School of Religion’s Authors discussion of our three-volume set, “The Separation Generation, “ charting a series of five recent schisms in American Quaker yearly meetings.

More than one hundred Friends and visitors joined us in person and via Zoom. They had lots of good questions, more than we could deal with in our limited time.

One of the most frequent questions, in Zoom  chat and later messages, was, “When will a video recording be available?”

I’m happy to say that the answer is, “Right now.”

The hour-long recording of the session is now on Vimeo, here.

Coauthors, from left: Stephen Angell; Jade Rockwell; and Chuck Fager

So if you missed it, or want to go over it again, now’s your chance. And you can still send in questions and comments to us, via this blog. Continue reading Two Videos: “The Separation Generation” & My Odyssey in Brief