Category Archives: Signs of the Times

The Viral Turning Point, and After

Signs of the Times:

> a crowded Colorado restaurant on Mother’s’ Day.

> Jam-packed taverns in Wisconsin.

> Dr. Fauci sidelined in the White House, as pundits speculate on  when he’ll be fired.

Upshot: the lockdown season is ending, not with a bang, but a whimper— many whimpers, if anyone will still listen to those who are now to die needlessly.

Leana  Wen, an ER doc and public health prof,  told it like it is in the Washington Post today:

Unfortunately, due to a late start, inconsistent state actions and a lack of federal direction, most states have yet to see a consistent decline in cases, much less reduced them to low enough levels for [the lockdown] to work.

No state has achieved sufficient testing and contact tracing.
Reopening under these circumstances means we are giving up on containing covid-19.

“No state” includes my own, North Carolina. Continue reading The Viral Turning Point, and After

Armed men invade re-opening Downtown Raleigh NC; Twitter strikes back

Laugh or cry?

Not Making This Up Dept. (But hat-tip to “Nina” for her made-up contribution. See below.)

A dozen or so heavily armed white men walked through downtown Raleigh NC on a balmy re-opening Saturday.
to add spice to the incursion, they went into a Subway and ordered up foot-longs, which looked tiny compared to the hardware they were toting.

News photographers and police officers followed them, tho  there were no arrests.  But there were a couple of incidents:

One was that a marcher bearing a heavy lug wrench paused to intimidate a black couple who passed by, “armed” with only a pair of twins in a stroller.

The other came a bit later. The Raleigh News & Observer posted photos of the event, which immediately went viral.

But soon the photos drew the sardonic ire of “Nina” on Twitter, who reposted the photos, having replaced the long guns with equally long, sensual-looking subs . . .

In just a few strokes, her handiwork turned the incursion into something like an out-take from a Cold Opening on Saturday Night Live that didn’t quite work out. (That lug wrench bit has to go.)

“Nina” explained her work as meant to be funny, but added:

“We can’t shoot the virus and make it go away.”

And I cant unsee the images of grown men hugging five feet of Cold cuts & cheese slices, their First & Second Amendments just good enough to eat.

”Nina’s” work here was funny.

The rest of it was something else.

A Catholic Reckoning? How about an Evangelical Quaker Reckoning?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Quaker Colleges & another Corona Crisis

A headline from the Greensboro NC News & Record:

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

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

John Newsom. News & Record April 3, 2020

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

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

Guilford President Fernandes, center, with students.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Meanwhile at Guilford, the work continues.

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

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

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

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


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

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

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

Continue reading Quaker Colleges & another Corona Crisis

The Dixie Chicks Are Back, and the Head Gaslighter is in their sights

Puts a lump in my throat.

The Dixie Chicks were among the most unexpected,  unlikely and unforgettable heroes of the bloody GWB/Iraq years. Their documentary movie of that ordeal, “Shut  Up & Sing” (this clip can help you see why it’s worth the $3.99 to stream it) still makes me cry; I showed it to my tween-age granddaughter then, so she could see these icons and role models, whether she sings or not.

The granddaughter is a mom now, with daughters of her own, and all of a sudden this is one of her times to remember that history.

If you’re new to the background, The Chicks had a gig in London in March 2003, a few days prior the U.S. invasion of Iraq. At one point, lead singer Natalie Maines said, as an aside to an enthusiastic crowd,  “We don’t want this war, this violence, and we’re ashamed that the President of the United States (George W. Bush) is from Texas.”

The British crowd cheered. But the militantly pro-war pillars of the U.S. country music industry reacted with rage,  boycotts, cancellations, and Maines even got death threats.

Their record-breaking career suddenly seemed over;  but in fact it wasn’t.  They rose to their unplanned occasion and by 2006, the bravado of the warhawks over Iraq was showing its underlying rot, and the Chicks were winning everything in sight with their comeback, “Not Ready to Make Nice”. 

In the end, they out-sassed, outclassed and went on to totally outlast the b*stards.

Yeah, the guys who thought they had ruined the Chicks’ career, only pushed Natalie  Maine, Emily  Robison and Martie Maguire to reinvent it as an immortal high point of American entertainment (while watching their own “Shock & Awe” bravado crumble into ignominy).

Now the Chicks are BACK, just in the nick of time, with a smash new song, their first in 14 years, “Gaslighter (Denier)” which is an instant classic, “Help-Us-Get-Through-Isolation” & Be-Movin’-On-From-MAGA-Madness & Misogyny Melody:
Gaslighter, Denier–
Doing anything to get your ass farther . . .

Gaslighter, Big timer–
Repeating all of the mistakes of your father

Gaslighter, Big Liar . . .
And you know you lie the best when you lie to you . . .

There are layers here. At the most superficial, it’s about partners who cheat and lie continuously. But in the video, there is a flashing cavalcade of authoritarian, even fascist imagery, with parallels in the lyrics that call out “Big Liar, lie lie lie  lie lie –“ from which a deeper, more public dimension practically shouts.

I think  Gaslighter (Denier) could up alongside “Not Ready to Make Nice,” the towering “Goodbye Earl”, and bring the sound of resilience and resistance to every day of this long, otherwise desolate season. Give it a listen.
 

Going Viral: Slicing & Dicing the Democratic Debate – Will Bernie Get Half a Loaf?

Tonight’s Democratic debate could be just what the doctor ordered: a ”public negotiation between Biden & Sanders”, as the Washington Post opines below.

The Wise People say the Democrats’ nomination race is over; and we huddled masses in the peanut gallery know they’re never wrong, right?

But anyway, if the race is not anymore about who gets the nod, then what’s the debate for?

My answer is simple: it’s about the winning coalition, stupid. Continue reading Going Viral: Slicing & Dicing the Democratic Debate – Will Bernie Get Half a Loaf?

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

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

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

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


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

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


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

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


Who Pays When The Games Aren’t Played?

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

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


Inequality & Mortality Across The Pond

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

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

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

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


Viral Capitalism Is Cleaning Up . . .

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

 

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

SAYMA’s Not Safe, III: New Trouble: Threats Against Three Meetings

[Note: this post is not as long as it may appear; some attachments are at the end for completeness and accuracy.]

Two years ago next week, Sharon Smith met her match.

It was on March 16, 2018, in a weekend anti-racism workshop at a suburban Asheville community center. It was presented by the Racial Equity Institute (REI), a Black-owned consulting firm based in Greensboro NC.  Smith was invited as an alumna of REI workshops; for the several dozen regular attenders a $250 fee was charged.

The workshop had barely started, and a trainer was giving an overview, when Smith interrupted. Another participant then told her that REI’s policy was for alumni, attending free, to sit quietly, so discussion was carried by and focused on the paid participants.

This comment set Smith off. As she told a reporter later,

“There’s no way, according to systemic racism theory, that any white woman should be telling a woman of color what she should and shouldn’t be saying. That’s just not OK.”

But as Smith continued to interrupt, as Smith told it,

Jacquelyn Hallum: “Oh NO not today!”

That’s when Jacquelyn Hallum (A Black employee of [the community center]) stood up and said, “Oh NO, not today! We are not doing this today with you, Sharon.” . . . She told me I needed to leave, if I was not willing to be quiet. Since I already have issues with folks trying to dominate me, I said “I’m not leaving.” Then she said she would call security, if I refused to obey, and I said “Go right ahead.”

What happened next, as REI put it, was

She was reminded by multiple alumni and invited to leave the room for further discussion. Unfortunately, all attempts made to peacefully resolve the situation were unsuccessful and those in attendance were forced to respond to her demand to call security, who in turn called the police. The officers again attempted to get her to leave on her own and she again refused. (REI statement; not online.)

Smith was removed and arrested.

Of course, Smith was outraged and claimed “the police used excessive force to drag me out of the room and out of the building.” (However, there were no reports that medical attention was needed).

Yet even more than the arrest itself, Smith was offended by the  disregard of her status the removal displayed. As she put it:

This is a story about how so-called progressive anti-racist white people and their “well behaved Negroes” conspired to shut down constructive criticism from an elder woman of color, with more knowledge, experience and insight into how white supremacy works than anyone in Asheville NC.

This declaration needs unpacking: First, no “progressive anti-racist white people” were in charge here: the policy was made by a Black-owned firm. It was their event, their rules, and its staff of color, along with local people of color, who enforced it over Smith’s objections.

And second, no one will question that Smith is an “elder woman of color”; but what about having “more knowledge, experience and insight into how white supremacy works than anyone in Asheville NC”? (Emphasis added.)

There are about a hundred thousand people in Asheville, including 10,000-plus people of color; it is home to two sizeable colleges, with several more nearby. Who, besides herself, has designated Smith as the number one most knowledgeable person in that whole area on this subject matter?

Still this is definitely her self-concept; it was repeated three times in her account. Based on it, it seems clear her expectation was to be treated as a key resource person, at the center of the proceedings; anything less was an indignity to be resisted. (This is an outlook readers of these posts have encountered before.)

The point of this story is easy to overlook, though important: the ruckus over Smith was unpleasant, but brief; then the workshop resumed. REI was embarrassed by it, but was prepared for such a contingency and managed it with dispatch.

Which is also to say, that the 40-plus other participants got what their $250 paid for, rather than whatever Smith wanted to unload on them.

My hat is off to REI and those who got it done.

But that’s not what this post is actually about. Rather, it has to do with two emails Smith sent out just a few days ago. The emails announced her intention to “shut down” and stop a conference planned for Asheville Friends Meeting on May 9, by force.

The emails are attached in full at the end of this post. But here’s the nub:

The event is “Roots of Injustice Seeds of Change: Toward Right Relationship With Native People.” It’s planned for May 9, 2020 at Asheville Friends Meeting. Asheville is cosponsoring it with two other SAYMA meetings, Celo and Swannanoa Valley. A Friend from Boulder, Colorado, Paula Palmer, is facilitating it.

And Smith does not approve, and she sees it as her prerogative and duty to stop it:

Friends in Asheville, Swannanoa Valley and Celo NC, are up to no good. They are moving ahead with a plan to pay Paula Palmer to do her workshop on “How to be in Right Relationship with Indigenous People” against my objections as a Saponi Matriarch. . . .

This is by no means OK, my Friends.  Because, as a Saponi matriarch, it is unfortunately my responsibility to organize a contingent of NC Natives to shut this workshop down. . . .

This is a warning. IF you will not organize among yourselves to stop Paula Palmer from doing her workshop in SAYMA Meetings, it will cause a similar diplomatic disaster as what happened in New England with FGC.

Don’t say I did not give you an opportunity prevent such a thing from happening.  Don’t say you did not know better, either.

Paula Palmer

To repeat, the full florid text of these threats is below, for reference. There Smith describes her complaints against Palmer’s work. I won’t go into them, nor an analysis of Paula Palmer’s work here. Those are not really relevant. This is:

Here we have three SAYMA Meetings, who have mutually agreed to cooperate in presenting a program that is peaceful, legal, and related to their efforts to bear a more faithful Quaker witness. And Smith has announced her intention to forcibly prevent them from doing that.

Yet even this is not the most unsettling part. What is completely  out of whack, to me, is the fact that SAYMA’s own budget is helping pay for this sabotage of its own meetings. Why on earth is SAYMA doing that? This is only the latest bad fruit that’s sprouted from the tainted tree planted by  SAYMA’s giving in to the URJ payoff pressure, as described in earlier posts here and here. As recognition of this sinks in around SAYMA, can it do anything but worsen the group’s internal disarray?

I wonder what the three meetings will do about these threats. Previous experience in SAYMA suggests that ignoring them is risky. I certainly hope they will not simply cancel it and run for cover. Here I think again about REI’s response. Is there some effective Quaker alternative?

While pondering those gloomy options, let me close with a letter from the past, by Friend Alan Scott Robinson, late of Asheville Meeting. He was a longtime member there, and suffered through several years of Smith’s intrusion there before his death in early 2018. During his last months, he was moved to write the letter below, to a Quaker group struggling with similar issues. I believe there is both comfort, depth and good counsel in his words:

Alan Scott Robinson:

Alan Scott Robinson

Friends, this whole topic is fraught with difficulties. I happen to be tangentially involved with the goings-on in this particular case and it is affecting more than one monthly and yearly meeting, including mine. We may be talking about generalities in terms of the various processes involved in involuntary separation, but the devil, as always, is in the details.

I am sure that each of us Friends has been aware, at various points in our lives, of when we have encountered a “difficult” individual. I am not speaking about a personal dislike. Rather, I am speaking about someone who, for a variety of reasons including criminal behavior or a mental aberration or health condition, or damage to a personality due to some event in that person’s past, makes interactions with that person impossible to sustain over the long haul, and makes the person refractory to change. Many of us have been a part of a Quaker meeting at one time or another that has had to face the question of what to do in such a situation.

The cases I am talking about do not involve matters of philosophical difference, political diversity or even different belief structures. Not really, although in the cases I am talking about, one of those important issues is being used as a smoke-screen to mask and to try to justify the real behavior problem. Behavior that simply doesn’t comport with that required to be in fellowship together.

I’m sure you can think of examples. Behaviors like name calling, wild accusations with little or no basis in fact, paranoid thinking patterns, blaming others for one’s own inappropriate actions (look what you made me do!), taking advantage of another’s good will, failing to contribute to the group in any way that furthers the purpose for which the group is established, expecting the group to “take care of them”, the list goes on and on.

Friends ought to be open to new light, new ideas, new ways of thinking about a problem, and, in most cases, we are. That is the great strength of Friends. But where to draw the line about what behaviors are acceptable and what behaviors are not? Clearly, behaviors that would be out of line in a college classroom setting, a city council chamber or a kindergarten classroom probably cross the line. Screaming, tantrums and physical violence shouldn’t be tolerated in any group setting, and certainly not in a Quaker meeting for worship or business.

One of the strengths of Friends practice is that we are always open to new in-breaking of Spirit. But herein lies a trap. How do we know when a new message is of the Spirit, and when it is an offshoot of a damaged or disordered behavior pattern?

One way to know with unfailing certainty is to watch what the actions produce. “A good tree cannot bring forth evil fruit, neither can a corrupt tree bring forth good fruit,…Wherefore, by their fruits ye shall know them.” I do not think that Jesus was saying that people are analogous to the trees in this parable. Instead, I think he was talking about ideas or behavior patterns as being the trees that bear fruit.

If, over the course of a significant period of time, one’s behaviors prove repeatedly destructive to, and out of line with, the group, and if that behavior occurs in repeated patterns that seem to get worse with the passage of time, then it is easy to discern the “fruit” that is borne from those actions or behaviors. Something is wrong and action should be taken, both to help the one suffering from the aberrant behavior as well as the others in the group. Some problems are beyond any solution that can be implemented within the group. If there is some kind of dysfunction or illness mechanism at work, whether physical or mental, most meetings are clearly not equipped to do more than refer the sufferer to professional help.

But what if the sufferer whose behavior continually disrupts the functioning of the group refuses to get help or denies that there is anything wrong or consistently blames others for that person’s own bad behavior, what to do then. What do you do after the same worsening patterns of behavior are displayed over the course of many years?

Asheville Friends Meeting: a sketch from its “Digest” newsletter.

Our meeting is suffering under this type of affliction right now.  . . .

Last First Day, during Meeting for Worship, a visiting Friend arose to speak after several of our meeting’s Friends had already shared vocal ministry. One message had been offered beautifully and there was a wonderful spirit present. Two or three other friends who have become personally involved with, and supportive of, the disruptive person also rose to speak, and the atmosphere was quite different.

Though couched in “Friend-speak”, the messages were filled with accusations, unfounded assertions, name-calling and general enmity. Such a contrast to the previous message! Then our visitor rose. She began by saying that, prior to visiting our meeting, other Friends had warned her not to come. She was very gentle, but she was also wonderfully and refreshingly truthful as she explained that she had witnessed firsthand that very day why the warning had been given, and why the warning had been justified.

It was hard to hear so directly from another Friend that my own spiritual community now had gained a reputation of divisiveness and as a home where the truth is not honored and abhorrent behavior is tolerated. The sad thing is that our visitor had this reaction even though the person who has been the origin of all the disruption wasn’t even there that day. Only her “disciples” were there, and it was enough that their bad behavior and distorted messages and, quite frankly, their frequent lies, came through so loud and clear. This visitor didn’t even have to know the details to understand that something was terribly wrong in our meeting. It was easy for her to discern where the problem originated even without knowing the details. She could feel it in the Spirit just as strongly as if someone had struck her with a stone.

We lost a few more members that day. It was Meeting for Business, and two more Friends joined the ranks of those who have left our meeting for some other spiritual places rather than any longer endure the spiritual (and in a few cases physical) assaults. Our Meetings for Business long ago shed virtually all vestiges of spirit-led activities. Those who come now inure themselves to the inevitable assault and accusations month after month until, finally, they can take no more. The assaults continue in Meeting for Worship. There is no respite except in withdrawal.

Quaker meetings have one essential function, overriding all others. That is to provide a place for corporate worship, a place for waiting together in silence for the workings of the Inner Light to be manifest among us. When one’s spiritual home no longer offers that opportunity, what can be the purpose of continuing to attend?

Is it any wonder that we have lost so many faithful, seasoned and weighty Friends, including three of the last four meeting clerks, several members of Ministry and Counsel committee, and Friends and attenders new and old? We have even had first-time visitors end up in the parking lot in tears after witnessing turmoil and destruction during their first Quaker experience, and watching it as it turned into a screaming tantrum display or a bunch of baseless accusations. When the person around whom all the trouble has been centered was informed that our visitor was in tears and would not be back, the disrupter responded, “Good.” What is a Friends meeting to do in this case?

It would be one thing if this kind of behavior happened once, and the person who was the source of the difficulty was open to listening to “eldering” given in a loving spirit that was designed to point out why the behavior caused troubles, and how to effect changes so that the situation wouldn’t arise again. If a person who has been disruptive once were open to such guidance in Friends’ practices, all would be well.

But what does a meeting do when such a person is refractory to all attempts at counseling and guidance, or even admonishment when unacceptable behavior happens repeatedly? What does a meeting do when there is a display of overt physical violence, violence of such a nature that there would be potential for real physical injury if it were to be repeated? When is enough, enough?

In these situations, there must be a mechanism of separation, lest the whole meeting be destroyed. George Fox would not have tolerated this kind of behavior, and indeed didn’t. Read the story of the life of James Naylor to see what happened to a dear and weighty Friend who “went off the rails.” History has much to teach, and we ignore its lessons at our own peril.

One last comment. Casting someone out because of who they are (gay, transgender, bisexual, intersex, black, brown, yellow, white, tall, short, blond hair or black, language spoken, prior spiritual paths taken, ethnicity, wealth or poverty) should never be accepted or perpetrated.

Behavior is a different matter. Quakers are accepting and open to diversity, but there have to be limits of comportment that cross the line. As one weighty friend in our meeting says, “The meeting has no position if one of you wants to paint yourself purple and run down main street naked. But you can’t do that at Friends Meeting.” <snark> I am reminded of Supreme Court Justice Potter’s answer when talking about obscenity, “I may not be able to define it, but I know it when I see it.”

Likewise, we may not be able to give a bright-line definition of what is and isn’t acceptable behavior, but the test of the fruit trees always provides an answer that can be trusted by anyone willing to look and listen. If, over a prolonged period, the fruit is predominantly or wholly evil, then there is no doubt as to the nature of the tree. Every good tree sometimes produces a piece of rotten fruit, but not all the time, or even most of the time. It is rare. Friends, use the test of the fruit of the tree in your pondering.

in loving Friendship

Alan Robinson


First Sharon Smith email (uncorrected text):

On Thu, Mar 5, 2020 at 1:25 PM Sharon Smith <starsmith13@nullgmail.com> wrote:

Remember the FGC Quaker Sweat Lodge incident?  This is no different.

I was living in Mashpee, on Cape Cod at my mother’s home, when I saw the FGC Gathering registration catalog which listed the Quaker Sweat Loge as a workshop at the Gathering.  I am the one who notified the Wampanoag tribal council that a Quaker sweat would be happening.  They were not pleased. They sent Rachel Carey Harper from Sandwich MM to tell FGC they would not tolerate a Quaker sweat lodge in their territory. Quakers cried and complaimned that they were Spirit led to do it anyway.  So FGC sent Geane Marie Barch as a representative to “negotiate” with the Wampanoag tribal council.  It did not go well for her.

I wasn’t in the room for that discussion, because I am not Wampanoag, but I have close relatives who are, and this is what they told me. The women, in particular, who carry great weight among the Wampanoags, were particularly angry that Friends were not willing to stop doing their Quaker sweat lodges.  Thery told Geane Marie that IF the sweat was going to happen in spite of their objections, they would come to the campus of Hampshire College, where the Gathering was held that year, and shut it down themselves.

I repeat. this situation of Paula Palmer’s workshop on How to be in Right Relationship with Native People, is different.

This is a warning. IF you will not organize among yourselves to stop Paula Palmer from doing her workshop in SAYMA Meetings, it will cause a similar diplomatic disaster as what happened in New England with FGC.

Don’t say I did not give you an opportunity prevent such a thing from happening.  Don’t say you did not know better, either.

Sharon “Star” Smith

“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who are oppressing them”    ~ Assata Shakur

“Good things don’t come to those who wait. They come to those who agitate!”  ~ Julian Bond

“Wealth is not the fruit of labor but the result of organized robbery.”  ~ Frantz Fanon

Second Sharon Smith email (uncorrected text):

On Thu, Mar 5, 2020 at 10:46 AM Sharon Smith <starsmith13@nullgmail.com> wrote:

Friends in Asheville, Swannanoa Valley and Celo NC, are up to no good. They are moving ahead with a plan to pay Paula Palmer to do her workshop on “How to be in Right Relationship with Indigenous People” against my objections as a Saponi Matriarch.

From the minutes of Asheville’s Second Month Meeting for Business:

“Peace and Earth Committee–Pat Johnson* P& E would like to give the whole Meeting the opportunity to co-sponsor a series of programs put on by Paula Palmer, who travels in the ministry of Toward Right Relationship with Native Peoples (TRR) rather than just the P & E Committee. Swannanoa Valley Friends Meeting has committed to donating up to $1,000.00 to help cover our budgeted expenses of $1,500. Individuals in our Meeting have already donated $270 plus RJC has committed to donate $50 from their line-item budget for a total of $320. We’re asking Meeting to commit to $280.00. Minute #4: The meeting agreed to support Paula Palmer coming to Asheville and support up to $280 if needed.”

Here’s the thing; Paula Palmer is not in right relationship with Natives in her own region let alone Natives in western North Carolina, so how can she give workshops on this subject?  She wrote a book about the Quaker involvement in Indian bording schools, travels around the country, and possibly the world, giving workshops for money, without compensating the Natives whose pain she exploits to make her living. This is called “cultural Appropriation.  Look it up.

In addition: Asheville and Sawannanoah Valley Friends have been working to be in right relationship with the Eastern Band Cherokee people in western North Carolina, EXCLUSIVELY, but not the Catawba or Saponi whose homeland they live on.  They acknowledge that they live on Cherokee land, while they fail to acknowledge the Saponi and Catawba, who also have a historic claim to the area as their unceded ancestral land.

This is racist white supremacist behavior, for several reasons.

  1. These Friends have “tokenized” (look it up) the Cherokee people, by cherry picking which Native group they will recognize and seek right relationship with, while negating the existance of other native peoples in the same reagion.
  2. They have chosen sides in a historic land dispute between local Native groups. In fact, there is a troubling history of the Cherokee involvement in slavery. Not only did they eslave African Americans, but also their Indigenous neighbors, such as the Catawba, the Saponi, and people from a variety of Virginia and Carolina tribes, some of whom eventually banded together to become the Lumbee.
  3. They are wilfully engaging in these racist practices because they are aware that I am a Saponi Elder–not Cherokee–who has told them specifically, that they do NOT have my permission to bring Paula Palmer’s workshop into my territory, as they are not in right relationship with me, or the Saponi and Catawba, whose land they are on.

According to the mission statement of the Asheville Racial Justice Committee, their responsibility is to hold the Peace and Earth Committee accountable, NOT donate to their racist plan to host a workshop.

*I shut dfown Pat Johnson’s “Right Relationship” workshop at SAYMA 2019 for the same reasons.  She and Asheville Friends refuse to aknowledge the Saponi and Catawba people whose land they live and worship on.

It is fairly common knowledge that, the appropriate Indigenous protocols for anyone doing ceremonies or workshops in a people’s territorry requires workshop presenters to first akcnowledge the Native peopes whose territory they are in and second, get their approval, BEFORE proceeding.  If the elders or tribal leader do not give their permission, one should not proceed.  It does not mean Friends can cherry pick which native group in a region to aknowledge or gain approval from.

Note: Asheville Friends changed the name of Peace and Social concerns to Peace and Earth at some point before I arrived in Asheville.  But it is telling. let us see if the racial Justice Committee is able to act in accordance with its mission.

This is by no means OK, my Friends.  Because, as a Saponi matriarch, it is unfortunately my responsibility to organize a contingent of NC Natives to shut this workshop down.

Sharon “Star” Smith

“Nobody in the world, nobody in history, has ever gotten their freedom by appealing to the moral sense of the people who are oppressing them”    ~ Assata Shakur

“Good things don’t come to those who wait. They come to those who agitate!”  ~ Julian Bond

“Wealth is not the fruit of labor but the result of organized robbery.”  ~ Frantz Fanon