Karmic Collision – I: The Post Office, Voting Rights & Me. Dog Days Reading.

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The time I spent in the civil rights struggle for Black voting rights in 1965 was a very important part of my life.

And the time I spent working for the Postal Service (USPS), beginning twenty years later in 1985, was important too.

But the two experiences were very different, so different I couldn’t imagine they would ever intersect.

Why should they? One was a social movement, shaking things up, demanding change for justice and facing violent, even murderous opposition. The other was the nation’s oldest public utility, which when working well was a nearly invisible pillar of American normality, stability and placid routine.

But now, in late summer 2020, they’ve abruptly come together; collided, really. Saving our voting rights today, this year, means saving the USPS. Who would have thought?

This is a confluence that’s not easy to sort out. I invite you to come along as I try to process it. I hope doing so can be a small diversion in these Dog Days, but will also encourage you to join the rising movement to defend the postal service, and our voting rights, by whatever sort of ”good trouble” you are able to make.

First, some background. Continue reading Karmic Collision – I: The Post Office, Voting Rights & Me. Dog Days Reading.

SAYMA: The Gravy Train Is Lurching toward a Stop

If I believed I was a prophet, I’d say that after three years of agony, a breakthrough in SAYMA’s logjam/paralysis is in sight.

It will soon be a month since the summer representative meeting of Southern Appalachian Yearly Meeting & Association, or SAYMA. Held by Zoom on July 20, its major business item was the first reading of SAYMA’s delayed budget for the 2020-2021 fiscal year.  Our account of it is here.

On that budget, the key item was a proposed $2500 for the Uplifting Racial Justice Committee (URJ), headed by Sharon Smith. The Committee had taken $16000 from SAYMA last year. It had demanded $20,000 from this new budget, and a pledge of $10,000 more annually in perpetuity.

There was plenty of murmured unease and even opposition to this demand, and in fact to the activity of URJ and the consistently antagonistic and disruptive behavior of Smith. At least two SAYMA meetings had already sent in minutes opposing any future funding for it, and many individuals had quietly expressed similar sentiments.

Meanwhile, Smith had a claque of supporters who continually repeated her claim that any and all questioning and opposition to her “anti-racist ministry” was “white supremacy/Quaker racism” and nothing else.

Any experienced Quaker Clerk in such a situation would see that there was no unity on this budget item in the body, which means the body doesn’t approve it. It seems clear that SAYMA’s officers do see that, but most have been so fearful of open conflict and/or intimidated by Smith’s cries of “racism” and violent tantrums that they have ducked and dodged every occasion to make an actual stand. Continue reading SAYMA: The Gravy Train Is Lurching toward a Stop

Breaking: Friends Central School, Fired teachers, Settle lawsuit.

This just in: a lawsuit filed against Friends Central School (FCS) in Philadelphia in 2017 by two teachers who were fired after a Palestinian speaker they invited in February 2017 was disinvited by school officials. The order of settlement is below. (More text follows.)

The speaker, Sa’ed Atshan, teaches at Swarthmore College. FCS Students protested, walked out, were ignored. The Philadelphia Daily News slammed the administration action:

Philadelphia Daily News: Friends’ Central lacks integrity in shunning controversial speaker

“ANOTHER WEEK, another hit delivered to free speech, this one coming from an unexpected source – a Quaker school.

Ariel Eure, former teacher at Friends community School.
Leila Helwa, former teacher, Friends Central School.

Last week, the head of Friends’ Central School, a Quaker private school in Wynnewood, uninvited a Palestinian who had been asked to speak by a student club. Students protested that decision, in part by walking out of an all-school gathering. This week, head of school Craig N. Sellers suspended two faculty advisers to the student group, saying – in effect – that they were inside agitators who had whipped up the student protest.

Or, as Sellers put it in a statement, the teachers disregarded “our guiding testimonies, which include community, peace and integrity.”

We see it differently. In our view, it was Sellers who disrupted the peace of the Friends’ Central community. And you can hardly call the muzzling of an invited speaker an example of integrity.”

Sa’ed Atshan, Swarthmore College Peace & Conflict Studies Assistant Professor.

The ex-teachers filed a lawsuit on May 7, 2017, charging discrimination and defamation. The school’s lawyers sneered at the lawsuit in their initial filing, insisting there was nothing to it. But the judge jolted them in August 2019 by denying their dismissal motion.

Mark Schwartz, plaintiffs’ attorney.

The teachers’ attorney, Mark Schwartz, filed for many documents to begin discovery. At some point, the school chose to negotiate, and the settlement was entered earlier this month, more than three years after it was filed.

The terms of the settlement were not announced. Schwartz’s full statement in response to my query was: “NDA.” That is, “nondisclosure agreement.” I speculate that it was a generous amount of money, enough to move the plaintiffs to agree to keep quiet about it.

In the world of employment lawsuits, such settlements are generally counted as a qualified success: at least the plaintiffs have something for their trouble, and interrupted or terminated career.


For the record: Here is a list of the blog posts on the Friends Central School lawsuit:

A Letter to Students at Friends Central School: Resist! 02/14/2017

Breaking: Friends Central School Officials Issue New Statement; Backpedaling? – 02/14/2017

Philly Paper Slams Friends Central School: “Lacks Integrity” 02/15/2017

Friends Central School Free Speech Case: Negotiations On? 02/21/2017

Update: Friends Central School Fires Teachers Who Invited Palestinian Speaker; Invites Him Back – 05/12/2017

The Talk They Did NOT Hear at Friends Central School . . . 05/29/2018

Dandruff on the Boss’s shoulder: Friends Central School Strikes Back   – 07/06/2018

Friends Central School Lawsuit: The Fired Teachers Begin to Make Their Case, 8/7/2018

Friends Central School Discrimination Lawsuit: Fired Teachers Win the First Round – 8/7/2019

A Theological Emergency that’s part real & part satire. Can you tell the difference?

Operator: Hello, this is Theology 911. What is your theological emergency?

Aunt Mabel: Oh, thank heaven.  OMG it’s so awful!

Operator: Yes, ma’am. Please ma’am, are you in danger?

Aunt Mabel: I sure am, sonny. It’s the guns. And it’s not just me. Please send a SWAT team to my house right away, or it will be too late!

Operator: Right away, ma’am. Let me get some information. Did you say someone else there with you is also in danger?

Aunt Mabel: Yes! Oh, it’s so horrible. It’s God!

Operator: Ma’am, I’m not sure I understand. Are you saying God has guns?

Aunt Mabel: No, no— it’s Biden. Joe Biden.

Operator: Excuse me? Joe Biden is God? Continue reading A Theological Emergency that’s part real & part satire. Can you tell the difference?

Stick to Nonviolence: A Followup

A quick followup to the July 28th post, “Why nonviolent protests are smarter, even/especially today”.

The point, to reiterate, was that lots of academic & private polling research, plus my own movement experience, confirms the idea that nonviolent protests move public opinion in a progressive direction, while violent demonstrations nudge it toward the reactionary right, often with tragic and lasting outcomes.

I didn’t expect to have corroboration so soon. But by sundown there was a raft of it, starting with a brand new Reuters/Ipsos poll with all the data one might need.

First, the new poll. The big number in it was the trend in public support for the latest round of protests. Here’s the summary:

The poll follows a series of late-night clashes between protesters and federal police in Portland, Oregon, where demonstrators have held nightly anti-racism rallies. Trump sent federal police into the city despite the mayor’s objections to deal with what he called “anarchists and agitators,” and he has sent others to Seattle, Chicago, Kansas City and Albuquerque.

According to the poll, 52% of American adults say they are sympathetic to those who are still gathering to protest the police treatment of minorities, especially African Americans, about 12 percentage points lower than a similar poll that ran in mid-June.[Emphasis added.]

Twelve per cent. That’s a big drop. And 52 percent is perilously close (within any reasonable margin for error) to tipping over into majority public dislike of the protests.

And there’s another drop to take note of: The percentage of those who are unhappy with Trump’s response to the recent protests has dropped from 58 per cent to 54. Ipsos puts this another way:

. . . [A] majority of Americans remain unhappy with the way [Trump] has responded. The poll showed 54% of Americans disapprove of Trump’s handling of the protests, which is only a slight improvement from a similar poll that ran in mid-June when 58% disapproved.

Another way to slice it is that Trump appears to be reclaiming some Republicans whose support he was losing as the early rounds of protests crested. There the increase Ipsos found, is substantial:

The rise in support comes primarily from Republicans who have backed the president in greater numbers as the protests rage across the country: 78% said they approved of Trump’s response to the demonstrations in the latest poll, up from 67% in mid-June. Nearly nine out of 10 Democrats say they do not like the way Trump is dealing with the protests, and that has not changed over since June.

It’s not time to panic. But what’s important here is the trend, and it’s in the direction of Trump’s strategy: paint the protests as domestic terrorism, fan the flames of hysteria, turn up the media echo chamber volume to full blast, and build the image as the savior of  [racist white] suburbia.

Wait, there’s more: Further backing up this analysis is what Trump said to Iowa voters Tuesday night in a tele-rally via Facebook Live.

Here’s part of a stunning transcript posted today by CNN Politics reporter DJ Judd:

Trump hopes that Karen & Ken are the ones to show him the way to win the suburbs and reelection.
Cory Booker? He’s Trump’s new suburban bogeyman?? Doesn’t he live in the suburbs???

Trump: it’s ridiculous, they [Biden & Democrats] want to abolish, and really hurt the suburbs, because under their plan, they will, under a plan that’s very much agreed to by them, they want to make it worse, they don’t mind if low­ income housing is built in a neighborhood, in a beautiful suburb of Iowa, but a beautiful suburb anywhere in the country, they want low, and this has been going on for years, Obama made it much worse, and now they want Cory Booker to run that program, Cory Booker of New Jersey to run that program, and make it many times worse than it is right now.
People have gone to the suburbs, they want the beautiful homes, they don’t have to have a low income housing development built in their community, which is going to reduce, which has reduced the prices of their homes, and also increased crime substantially. [Emphasis added.]

As one analyst said, this effusion turns his racist dog whistles into train whistles. I would add, foghorns.

The Iowa rant, if typically rambling, was not at all incoherent: it aims to reassemble and harden the racist suburban base Trump plundered in 2016. And I hate to say it, but the poll suggests he’s making some headway with that. And do I think protesters need to take this into account? You bet.

One other meaningful tidbit from this busy day; The Minneapolis police department said they’re closing in on a suspect who was the “umbrella Man” who broke windows in protests there on May 27, clearly “lighting the match” of fiery protests later. The New York Times has an affidavit police filed for a search warrant:

Umbrella Man at work, Minneapolis May 27. Where else has he been since then?

“Erika Christensen, an arson investigator with the Minneapolis police, wrote in the affidavit that the vandalism ‘created an atmosphere of hostility and tension’ two days after Mr. Floyd’s death. It unleashed a chain reaction of arson and looting in the Twin Cities, she wrote, after protests had been relatively peaceful.

‘In a short time after the front windows are broken out in The AutoZone, looting started, the affidavit said, noting that the AutoZone store burned down later that day. ‘This was the first fire that set off a string of fires and looting throughout the precinct and the rest of the city.’”

They allege that the suspect is associated with white supremacy groups and racist prison gangs. The Washington Post had a video clip of the suspect, showing other protesters pleading with him to stop, unsuccessfully.

Unless the Minneapolis cops are completely wrong, this disclosure cements the case that Umbrella Man was no more than a provocateur, who fully achieved his goal of undermining peaceful protests and touching off violence.

And if that happened in Minneapolis, my sense is that it has happened elsewhere.  The conclusion that strict nonviolent tactics is the best defense against such subversion is plain.

Is help on the way? There’s an outfit in DC called the International Center on Nonviolent Conflict, and it has published the title & an abstract of a new monograph which addresses this head on: “Agents Provocateurs, Violent Flanks, and Nonviolent Movements: A Historical and Strategic Perspective.” The abstract sounds totally on point:

“When the adversary of a civil resistance movement sends infiltrators to join the movement, what do these covert operators do, and what impact do they have? Furthermore, how can civil resistance organizers respond creatively and strategically?”

Yes how? In Minneapolis, the video shows two other protesters appealing to Umbrella Man to stop breaking windows. He ignored them, kept swinging the sledgehammer, then walked away. Peaceful protesters need help on this.

Unfortunately only the paper’s title & abstract are online; the actual paper is “forthcoming.” Better get the lead out, folks: it’s burn-the-midnight-courthouse—err, oil time.

Nevertheless. Most of the protests have been peaceful, and many have been quite imaginative.  Such creativity is an important tactical resource. (Looking at you, Wall of Moms.)

Keep it up.

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