From concern to action in a few short months

rooftop3A grow­ing list of sto­ries is sug­gest­ing that black church­es in the South are being tar­get­ed for arson once again (although one of the more pub­li­cized cas­es seems to be lightning-related). This was a big con­cern in the mid-1990s, a time when a Quak­er pro­gram stepped up to give Friends the chance to trav­el to the South to help rebuild. From a 1996 Friends Jour­nal edi­to­r­i­al:

Some­times a news arti­cle touch­es the heart and moves peo­ple to reach out to one anoth­er in unex­pect­ed ways. So it was this win­ter when the Wash­ing­ton Post pub­lished a piece on the rash of fires that have destroyed black church­es in the South in recent months… When Friend Harold B. Con­fer, exec­u­tive direc­tor of Wash­ing­ton Quak­er Work­camps, saw the arti­cle, he decid­ed to do some­thing about it. After a series of phone calls, he and two col­leagues accept­ed an invi­ta­tion to trav­el to west­ern Alaba­ma and see the fire dam­age for them­selves. They were warm­ly received by the pas­tors and con­gre­ga­tions of the three Greene Coun­ty church­es. Upon their return, they set to work on a plan.

I’m not sure whether Confer’s plan is the right tem­plate to fol­low this time, but it’s a great sto­ry because it shows the impor­tance of hav­ing a strong grass­roots Quak­er ecosys­tem. I don’t believe the Wash­ing­ton Quak­er Work­camps were ever a par­tic­u­lar­ly well-funded project. But by 1996 they had been run­ning for ten years and had built up cred­i­bil­i­ty, a fol­low­ing, and the abil­i­ty to cross cul­tur­al lines in the name of ser­vice. The small­er orga­ni­za­tion­al size meant that a news­pa­per arti­cle could prompt a flur­ry of phone calls and vis­its and a fully-realized pro­gram oppor­tu­ni­ty in a remark­ably short amount of time.

A first-hand account of the work­camps by Kim Roberts was pub­lished lat­er than year, Rebuild­ing Church­es in Rur­al Alaba­ma: One Volunteer’s Expe­ri­ence. The D.C.-based work­camp pro­gram con­tin­ues in mod­i­fied form to this day as the William Penn Quak­er Work­camps.

Update: anoth­er pic­ture from 1996 Alaba­ma, this time from one of my wife Julie’s old pho­to books. She’s sec­ond from the left at the bot­tom, part of the longer-stay con­tin­gent that Roberts men­tions.

WQW

Banishing the demons of war plank by rotten plank

In Nation­al Geo­graph­ic, Jane Brax­ton Lit­tle writes about the restora­tion of one of the most sto­ried protest boats of the twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry:

The Gold­en Rule project is an improb­a­ble accom­plish­ment by unlike­ly vol­un­teers. Mem­bers of Vet­er­ans For Peace, they are a mot­ley bunch that might have appalled the orig­i­nal crew, all con­sci­en­tious Quak­ers. They smoke, drink and swear like the sailors, though most of them are not. Aging and per­pet­u­al­ly strapped for mon­ey, the most­ly retired men sought to ban­ish their war-related demons as they ripped out rot­ten wood and replaced it plank by pur­ple­heart plank.

Friends Jour­nal ran an arti­cle by Jane, Restor­ing the Gold­en Rule,  back in 2011 when the VFP vol­un­teers first con­tem­plat­ed restora­tion, and a longer fol­lowup by Arnold (Skip) Oliv­er in 2013, The Gold­en Rule Shall Sail Again. Of course, the cool thing about work­ing at a estab­lished mag­a­zine is that it was easy for me to dip into the archives and find and com­pile our 1958 cov­er­age of the ship’s famous first voy­age.

You ca fol­low more about the restora­tion work on the VFP Gold­en Rule web­site or check out pic­tures from the re-launch on their Face­book page.

Golden-Rule-crew-1958

 

Ta-Nehisi Coates: What This Cruel War Was Over

Coates lays out the sick and twist­ed her­itage of a sym­bol:

The Con­fed­er­ate flag is direct­ly tied to the Con­fed­er­ate cause, and the Con­fed­er­ate cause was white suprema­cy. This claim is not the result of revi­sion­ism. It does not require read­ing between the lines. It is the plain mean­ing of the words of those who bore the Con­fed­er­ate flag across his­to­ry. These words must nev­er be for­got­ten. Over the next few months the word “her­itage” will be repeat­ed­ly invoked. It would be derelict to not exam­ine the exact con­tents of that her­itage.

As usu­al, Coates does a great job look­ing at the chang­ing myths sur­round­ing South­ern White Suprema­cy. A rebel­lion that explic­it­ly start­ed as a defense of slav­ery shift­ed to more polite alter­na­tive myths over 150 years but it’s still real­ly about racism and human bondage. The flag needs to come down.

This mythol­o­gy of man­ners is adopt­ed in lieu of the mythol­o­gy of the Lost Cause. But it still has the great draw­back of being root­ed in a lie. The Con­fed­er­ate flag should not come down because it is offen­sive to African Amer­i­cans. The Con­fed­er­ate flag should come down because it is embar­rass­ing to all Amer­i­cans.

The PTSD of the suburban drone warrior

Some­thing I’ve long won­dered a lot about, As Stress Dri­ves Off Drone Oper­a­tors, Air Force Must Cut Flights.:

What had seemed to be a ben­e­fit of the job, the nov­el way that the crews could fly Preda­tor and Reaper drones via satel­lite links while liv­ing safe­ly in the Unit­ed States with their fam­i­lies, has cre­at­ed new types of stress­es as they con­stant­ly shift back and forth between war and fam­i­ly activ­i­ties and become, in effect, per­pet­u­al­ly deployed.

I men­tion this toward the end of my review of The Bur­glary, the sto­ry of the 1971 anti­war activists, and it’s some­thing I’ve been try­ing to pull from poten­tial authors as we’ve put togeth­er an August Friends Jour­nal issue on war. Much of the day-to-day mechan­ics of war has changed dras­ti­cal­ly in the past 40 years — at least for Amer­i­can sol­diers.

We have sto­ries like this one from the NYTimes: drone oper­a­tors in sub­ur­ban U.S. cam­pus­es killing peo­ple on the oth­er side of the plan­et. But sol­diers in Bagh­dad have good cell phone cov­er­age, watch Net­flix, and live in air con­di­tioned bar­racks. The rise of con­trac­tors means that most of the grunt work of war — fix­ing trucks, peel­ing pota­toes — is done by near­ly invis­i­ble non-soldiers who are liv­ing in these war zones. It must be nice to have crea­ture com­forts but I’d imag­ine it could make for new prob­lems psy­cho­log­i­cal­ly inte­grat­ing a war zone with nor­mal­cy.

Can we count the ways that the McKinney video is messed up?

mckinney2When the McK­in­ney video start­ed trend­ing I wasn’t in a state to watch so I read the com­men­tary. Now that I have, the whole thing is com­plete­ly messed up but at least three parts espe­cial­ly unnerve me:

  • The com­plete­ly unnec­es­sary commando-style dive-and-roll that intro­duces Cor­po­ral Eric Case­bolt. Some reports describe it as a trip but to me it looks like he’s play­ing a Hol­ly­wood action hero stunt dou­ble. Has he just been watch­ing too many of the police videos he’s been col­lect­ing on YouTube?
  • That none of the oth­er offi­cers saw his derring-do and said “yo Eric, stand down.” Is this some­thing cops just don’t do? And if not, why not? We all know what it’s like to be hopped up on too much adren­a­line. I know peo­ple do weird stuff when their rep­til­ian brain fight-or-flight mech­a­nism cuts in. It seems that offi­cers should be on the look­out for just this sort of over­re­ac­tion and have some sort of safe word to tell one anoth­er to take a chill.
  • The video­g­ra­ph­er was a “invis­i­ble” white teenag­er. He walked near­by – and occa­sion­al­ly through – the action with­out being ques­tioned. At one point Case­bolt seems to pur­pose­ful­ly step around him to put down his dark-skinned friends. The video­g­ra­ph­er told news reporters that he felt his white­ness made him invis­i­ble to Case­bolt.

I nev­er quite real­ized all the race pol­i­tics behind the switch from pub­lic pools vs pri­vate pool clubs. I grew up in a Philly sub­urb with two pub­lic pools and very much remem­ber the con­stant wor­ry that Philadel­phia kids might sneak in (“Philadel­phia” was of course code for “black”). The town­ship did have a his­tor­i­cal­ly African Amer­i­can neigh­bor­hood so the pools were racial­ly inte­grat­ed but I’m sure every dark-skinned town­ship res­i­dent was asked to show town ID a lot more than I was. And it’s hard to think it was entire­ly coin­ci­den­tal that both pub­lic pools were locat­ed on the oppo­site ends of the town­ship from the black neigh­bor­hood.

There are no pub­lic pools in the South Jer­sey town where I live. A satel­lite view picks out thir­teen pri­vate pools on my block alone. Thir­teen?!? There’s one pri­vate pool club across town. There’s a lot of casu­al racism around here, pri­mar­i­ly direct­ed at the mostly-Mexican farm­work­ers who dou­ble the town pop­u­la­tion every sum­mer. If there was a town pool that reflect­ed the demo­graph­ics of the local Wal­mart park­ing lot on a Fri­day night in July, we’d have mini-riots I’m sure — which is almost sure­ly why we don’t have a munic­i­pal pool and why wealthy fam­i­lies have poured mil­lions of dol­lars into back­yards.

(My fam­i­ly has joined the Elmer Swim Club, a pool locat­ed about half an hour away. While the major­i­ty of mem­bers are super nice and I haven’t heard any dodgy racial code phras­es. The pool is diverse but is most­ly white, reflect­ing the near­by pop­u­la­tion. That said, I’ve read enough Ta-Nehisi Coates to know we can rarely take white towns for grant­ed. So.)

A reply to The Theology of Consensus

L.A. Kauffman’s cri­tique of con­sen­sus deci­sion mak­ing in The The­ol­o­gy of Con­sen­sus is a rather peren­ni­al argu­ment in lefty cir­cles and this arti­cle makes a num­ber of log­i­cal leaps. Still, it does map out the half-forgotten Quak­er roots of activist con­sen­sus and she does a good job map­ping out some of the pit­falls to using it dog­mat­i­cal­ly:

Con­sen­sus decision-making’s little-known reli­gious ori­gins shed light on why this activist prac­tice has per­sist­ed so long despite being unwieldy, off-putting, and inef­fec­tive.

All that said, it’s hard for me not to roll my eyes while read­ing this. Per­haps I just sat in on too many meet­ings in my twen­ties where the Trot­sky­ists berat­ed the paci­fists for slow process (and tried to take over meet­ings) and the black bloc anar­chists berat­ed paci­fists for not being brave enough to over­turn dump­sters. As often as not these shenani­gans tor­pe­doed any chance of real coali­tion build­ing but the most bor­ing part were the inter­minable hours-long meet­ings about styles. A lot of it was fash­ion, real­ly, when you come down to it.

This piece just feels so…. 1992 to me. Like: we’re still talk­ing about this? Real­ly? Like: real­ly? Much of evi­dence Kauff­mann cites dates back to the frig­ging Clamshell Alliance—I’ve put the Wikipedia link to the 99.9% of my read­ers who have nev­er heard of this 1970s move­ment. More recent­ly she talks about a Food Not Bombs man­u­al from the 1980s. The lan­guage and con­tin­ued cri­tique over large­ly for­got­ten move­ments from 40 years ago doesn’t quite pass the Muham­mad Ali test:

Con­sen­sus deci­sion mak­ing is a tool, but there’s no mag­ic to it. It can be use­ful but it can get bogged down. Some­times we get so enam­ored of the process that we for­get our urgent cause. Clever peo­ple can use it to manip­u­late oth­ers, and like any tool those who know how to use it have an advan­tage over those who don’t. It can be a trib­al mark­er, which gives it a great to pull togeth­er peo­ple but also intro­duces a whole set of dynam­ics that dis­miss­es peo­ple who don’t fit the trib­al mod­el. These are uni­ver­sal human prob­lems that any sys­tem faces.

Con­sen­sus is just one mod­el of orga­niz­ing. When a com­mit­ted group uses it for com­mon effect, it can pull togeth­er and coör­di­nate large groups of strangers more quick­ly and cre­ative­ly than any oth­er orga­niz­ing method I’ve seen.

Just about every suc­cess­ful move­ment for social change works because it builds a diver­si­ty of sup­port­ers who will use all sorts of styles toward a com­mon goal: the angry youth, the African Amer­i­can cler­gy, the paci­fist vig­ilers, the shout­ing anar­chists. But change doesn’t only hap­pen in the streets. It’s also swirling through the news­pa­per rooms, attor­neys gen­er­al offices, investor board­rooms. We can and should squab­ble over tac­tics but the last thing we need is an enforce­ment of some kind of move­ment puri­ty that “calls for the demise” of a par­tic­u­lar brand of activist cul­ture. Please let’s leave the lefty puri­ty wars in the 20th cen­tu­ry.

Taxes then and now

WW I pie chart.indd

Every year as April’s tax dead­lines comes near, the War Resisters League pro­duces a pie chart show­ing mil­i­tary spend­ing as a per­cent­age of the fed­er­al bud­get. This year Ed Hede­mann went back in time to see what the chart would have looked like dur­ing World War I:

A strik­ing dif­fer­ence between this fic­tion­al WW I era pie chart and today’s ver­sion is how much sim­pler the fed­er­al bud­get was back then. Not only was it a lot small­er – vast­ly small­er – there were many few­er cat­e­gories. A hun­dred years ago, the bud­get was most­ly mil­i­tary (75% of the bud­get) – even before entry into WW I – a large part of which was to pay off expens­es incurred dur­ing the Civ­il War from 50 years ear­li­er and the recently-ended Spanish-American War. The non­mil­i­tary por­tions were labeled “Indi­ans,” “Postal Defi­cien­cies,” and “Civ­il and Mis­cel­la­neous.”

H/t The Pick­ett Line