Category Archives: Social Justice

Quaker Statues Have to Go? That’s What George Fox Said . . .

The work of bringing down Calhoun took all one night and most of the next day.

So– the City of Charleston wasted no time. After the City Council voted unanimously this week to take down its landmark monument to John C. Calhoun, a crew swung into action, starting at near midnight.

It was no small task to pluck the figure from its 100-foot pedestal. It took the workers until late the next day to bring  Calhoun floating back down to earth, and ship him off to a future of obscurity.

I was as pleased as anyone to see Calhoun disappear, at  least from that exalted place of honor; but I hope he lives on as a shameful memory, of a sadder-but-wiser nation that let him look down on all since 1896, as what one historian called “the Marx of the master class.” Continue reading Quaker Statues Have to Go? That’s What George Fox Said . . .

Cancel Cops, Cancel ALL Cop Shows, NO Exceptions. And Cancel Quakers Too?

Just read a very striking piece by E. J. Dickson in Rolling Stone. It says the “Cancel  Cops Crusade,” in order to root out systemic police racism, killings & impunity,  also has to take down the media images of the police. Even — especially– those of the “good cop.”

Why?  because the problem isn’t “bad apples” but rotten trees — in fact, a national forest of 18000 rotten orchards.

To get to the core of the rot, this media dethroning, Dickson argues, has to include even the very best of the media good cops, including the clear favorite of the author and so many progressive TV viewers.

That would be Officer Olivia Benson (played so persuasively by Mariska Hargitay) the main character in “Law & Order-SVU.”  In this role she has fought the good fight against every kind of sex offender one could think of for 21 seasons.

An anguished sidebar here: in February 2000, SVU ran an episode called “Limitations,” much of which centered on Quakers. In it they  had to confront issues of forgiveness, defying the law because of conscience, and having a Quaker rape victim pay dues for her victimizer with no remedy in sight. Continue reading Cancel Cops, Cancel ALL Cop Shows, NO Exceptions. And Cancel Quakers Too?

Gorsuch, LGBTQs, & the Rightwing Freakout

From “The Bulwark,” a Never Trump blog run by Charlie Sykes, an anti-Trump/somewhat repentant/former right wing radio talk show host.

Trigger warning: this post quotes numerous conservatives who are freaking out over the Supreme Court’s LGBTQ ruling, and who approve of homophobic bigotry.

For those who wonder why I post such stuff, here are some of my reasons:

1. Much of the writing is snappy, vivid & interesting.

2. Also much of it is self-critical. In this it sets an example some woke folks might well follow.

3. For me, reading right wingers (in measured doses) offers a chance to bone up on arguments & materials which might one day help change a few right wing minds. (Hey— it happens, and it HAS happened a lot on these issues in recent decades.)

4. Because my guru Sun Tzu said I should.

Some will remember that Sun Tzu wrote a classic pacifist book, which is required reading for all wannabe peaceniks. It’s as valuable page for page as the Bible (plus a helluva lot shorter), and called “The Art of War.”

In it Sun Tzu devotes a whole chapter to the importance of spies to success in war. His point, in sum, is that to succeed in war (& other conflicts), Know Your Freekin Enemy. Continue reading Gorsuch, LGBTQs, & the Rightwing Freakout

How to Change your Luck: A note to Millennials

Friends,

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

As the article says,

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then make your demands. Here are the Big Five

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

It starts in November.

 

The Spirit of Ida B. Wells returns to Memphis?

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

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

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

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

Indiana Trainwreck: Trauma in Midwestern Quakerdom

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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?

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

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

[Note: This post includes strong language.]

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

White Quakers. And–

Quakers of Color.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Sharon Smith.

“Desperate and despicable.” That is the catchall description for all those Friends of Color on Smith’s long list – desperate, despicable, and cravenly cadging paychecks from the spoils of stolen white wealth. But the saga was not finished with this chapter.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Smith’s response to similar reports was predictable:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Details on that here tomorrow.

 

The initial blog post is here.