Mixing it up

Back in Novem­ber I start­ed a blog post that ran out of umph and stayed in my drafts. At time time I was react­ing to the pro­gres­sive debates about safe­ty pins as a sym­bol but it seems we’re are in anoth­er round of self-questioning, this time around the Women’s March and oth­er ini­tia­tives. As I find myself fre­quent­ly say­ing, we need lots of dif­fer­ent kinds of peo­ple orga­niz­ing in lots of dif­fer­ent styles. So maybe this blog posts’s time has come again.

Maybe this is just anoth­er stages of grief but I’ve been notic­ing a num­ber of online dis­cus­sions in which pro­gres­sives are shut­ting down oth­er pro­gres­sives for not being pro­gres­sive enough. Every time I see a pos­i­tive post, I can pre­dict there’s going to be about three enthu­si­as­tic “yes!” com­ments, fol­lowed by a 500-word com­ment explain­ing why the idea isn’t rad­i­cal enough.

Folks, we’ve got big­ger prob­lems than try­ing to fig­ure out who’s the most woke per­son on our Face­book feed.

Suc­cess­ful social change move­ments are always a spec­trum of more or less politically-correct and rad­i­cal voic­es. It’s like a chord in music: strings vibrat­ing on dif­fer­ent fre­quen­cies sound bet­ter togeth­er. Some­times in pol­i­tics you need the crazy rad­i­cals to stir things up and some­times you need the too-cautious lib­er­als to legit­imize the protest mes­sage.

Some years ago I was part of an cam­paign in Philly that tar­get­ed what many of us felt was a pro­pa­gan­da push around Colum­bus Day. An attempt by all of the con­cerned activists to come togeth­er pre­dictably went nowhere. There were too many dif­fer­ences in style and tac­tics and lan­guage and cul­ture. But that break­down in coör­di­na­tion allowed each sub­cul­ture to pick a tac­tic that worked best for them.

The Quak­ers did their vis­i­ble agit­prop lead­ing and got detained. The anar­chists made cre­ative posters and set off sur­rep­ti­tious stink devices. Some anony­mous pranksters sent out fake press releas­es to dis­rupt media cov­er­age. The resul­tant news cov­er­age focused on the sheer diver­si­ty of the protests.

If protest had indeed come from a sin­gle group fol­low­ing a sin­gle tac­tic, the dis­sent would have been buried in the fourth para­graph of the cov­er­age. But the cre­ativ­i­ty made it the focus of the cov­er­age. Diver­si­ty of tac­tics works. Mis­takes will be made. Some pro­gres­sives will be clue­less – maybe even some of the ones con­sid­er­ing them­selves the most woke. It’s okay. We’ll learn as we go along. We might laugh at how we used to think wear­ing safe­ty pins was effec­tive – or we might won­der why we ever thought it was mean­ing­less sym­bol. What­ev­er hap­pens, let’s just encour­age wit­ness wher­ev­er and when­ev­er it’s hap­pen­ing. Let’s be gen­tler on each oth­er.

Religion in the mainstream press

They default to the same bor­ing tropes, says Amy Levin at TheRe­veal­er:

Reli­gious wars, reli­gious dress, reli­gious mon­ey – these are the real and yet superbly com­plex ele­ments of our cul­tur­al exis­tence. Scout any crack or cran­ny of pop­u­lar cul­ture and you find reli­gion cre­at­ing a glo­ri­ous maze of top­ics for writ­ers to dis­cov­er and sift and sing to the mass­es.

But late­ly, I find that a repul­sive plague of rep­e­ti­tion and banal­i­ty has swept over the dis­en­chant­ed cyber­sphere. Each day I begin my reli­gion news search with hope­ful eager­ness, sift­ing close­ly through main­stream and fringe out­lets, hun­gry for signs of a new trend, move­ment, argu­ment, study – any­thing oth­er than what I con­sumed the day before. But I search in vain, and my dol­drums have led me to take action.

(H/T to David Watt on Face­book)

Is dairy overrated?

None oth­er than the NYTimes’s Mark Bittman sounds like a veg­an polemi­cist:

Most humans nev­er tast­ed fresh milk from any source oth­er than their moth­er for almost all of human his­to­ry, and fresh cow’s milk could not be rou­tine­ly avail­able to urban­ites with­out indus­tri­al pro­duc­tion. The fed­er­al gov­ern­ment not only sup­ports the milk indus­try by spend­ing more mon­ey on dairy than any oth­er item in the school lunch pro­gram, but by con­tribut­ing free pro­pa­gan­da as well as sub­si­dies amount­ing to well over $4 bil­lion in the last 10 years.

These aren’t new argu­ments, but Bittman presents them well, cit­ing his own expe­ri­ences. And of course it makes a dif­fer­ence that he’s a charm­ing, high pro­file Times colum­nist.

Becky Thomas Ankeny’s recent message at George Fox University via Wess Danie…

Becky Thomas Ankeny’s recent mes­sage at George Fox Uni­ver­si­ty via Wess Daniels

Reshared post from +C. Wess Daniels

Becky Thomas Ankeny’s mes­sage at George Fox Chapel yes­ter­day is beau­ti­ful litany of God’s call to all peo­ple. It is espe­cial­ly meant for those who grew up in a reli­gious culture/church who told you that you can­not min­is­ter.

Embed­ded Link

George Fox Uni­ver­si­ty Chapel — GFU Chapel
One Moment Please. Con­nect­ing to iTunes U. Load­ing. George Fox Uni­ver­si­ty Chapel. GFU Chapel. We are unable to find iTunes on your com­put­er. If iTunes doesn’t open, click the iTunes appli­ca­tion ic… 

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Remembering George Willoughby

There’s a nice remem­brance of George Willough­by by the Brandy­wine Peace Community’s Bob Smith over on the War Resisters Inter­na­tion­al site. George died a few days ago at the age of 95 [updat­ed]. It’s hard not to remem­ber his favorite quip as he and his wife Lil­lian cel­e­brat­ed their 80th birth­days: “twen­ty years to go!” Nei­ther of them made it to 100 but they cer­tain­ly lived fuller lives than the aver­age cou­ple.

1
George in 2002, from War Resisters Inter­na­tion­al

I don’t know enough of the details of their lives to write the obit­u­ary (a Wikipedia page was start­ed this morn­ing) but I will say they always seemed to me like the For­rest Gump’s of peace activism – at the cen­ter of every cool peace wit­ness since 1950. You squint to look at the pho­tos at there’s George and Lil, always there. Or maybe pop music would give us the bet­ter anal­o­gy: you know how there are entire b-rate bands that carve an entire career around end­less­ly rehash­ing a par­tic­u­lar Bea­t­les song? Well, there are whole activist orga­ni­za­tions that are built around par­tic­u­lar cam­paigns that the Willoughby’s cham­pi­oned. Like: in 1958 George was a crew mem­ber of the Gold­en Rule (pro­filed a bit here), a boat­load of crazy activists who sailed into a Pacif­ic nuclear bomb test to dis­rupt it. Twelve years lat­er some Van­cou­ver activists stage a copy­cat boat sail­ing which became Green­peace. Lil­lian was con­cerned about ris­ing vio­lence against women and start­ed one of the first Take Back the Nightmarch­es. If you’ve ever sat in an activist meet­ing where everyone’s using con­sen­sus, then you’ve been influ­enced by the Willoughby’s!

2
The Gold­en Rule, 1959, from the Swarth­more Peace Col­lec­tion.

For many years I lived deeply embed­ded in com­mu­ni­ties co-founded by the Willough­bys. There’s a recent inter­view with George Lakey about the found­ing of Move­ment for a New Soci­ety that he and they helped cre­ate. In the 1990s I liked to say how I lived “in its ruins,” work­ing at the pub­lish­ing house, liv­ing in a coop house and get­ting my food from the coop that all grew out of MNS. I got to know the Willough­bys through Cen­tral Philadel­phia meet­ing but also as friends. It was a treat to vis­it their house in Dept­ford, NJ — it adjoined a wildlife sanc­tu­ary they helped pro­tect against the strip-mall sprawl that is the rest of that town. I last saw George a few months ago, and while he had a bit of trou­ble remem­ber­ing who I was, that irre­press­ible smile and spir­it were very strong!

When news of George’s pass­ing start­ed buzzing around the net I got a nice email from Howard Clark, who’s been very involved with War Resisters Inter­na­tion­al for many years. It was a real blast-from-the-past and remind­ed me how lit­tle I’m involved with all this these days. The Philadel­phia office of New Soci­ety Pub­lish­ers went under in 1995 and a few years ago I final­ly dropped the Non​vi​o​lence​.org project that I had start­ed to keep the orga­niz­ing going.

3
George at Fort Gulick in Pana­ma (undat­ed), also from Swarth­more.

I’ve writ­ten before that one of the clos­est modern-day suc­ces­sor to the Move­ment for a New Soci­ety is the so-called New Monas­tic move­ment – explic­it­ly Chris­t­ian but focused on love and char­i­ty and often very Quaker’ish. Our cul­ture of sec­u­lar Quak­erism has kept Friends from get­ting involved and shar­ing our decades of expe­ri­ence. Now that Shane Clai­borne is being invit­ed to seem­ing­ly every lib­er­al Quak­er venue, maybe it’s a good oppor­tu­ni­ty to look back on our own lega­cy. Friends like George and Lil­lian helped invent this form.

I miss the strong sense of com­mu­ni­ty I once felt. Is there a way we can com­bine MNS & the “New Monas­tic” move­ment into some­thing explic­it­ly reli­gious and pub­lic that might help spread the good news of the Inward Christ and inspire a new wave of lefty peacenik activism more in line with Jesus’ teach­ings than the xeno­pho­bic crap that gets spewed by so many “Chris­t­ian” activists? With that, anoth­er plug for the work­shop Wess Daniels and I are doing in May at Pen­dle Hill: “New Monas­tics and Cov­er­gent Friends.” If money’s a prob­lem there’s still time to ask your meet­ing to help get you there. If that doesn’t work or dis­tance is a prob­lem, I’m sure we’ll be talk­ing about it more here in the com­ments and blogs.

2010 update: David Alpert post­ed a nice remem­brance of George.

August 2013 updates from the pages of Friends Jour­nal: The Gold­en Rule Shall Sail Again and Expand­ing Old Pine Farm.

Talking like a Quaker: does anyone really care about schism anymore?

Over on my design blog I’ve just post­ed an arti­cle, Bank­ing on rep­u­ta­tions, which looks at how the web­sites for high-profile cul­tur­al insti­tu­tions are often built with­out regard to nat­ur­al web pub­lic­i­ty – there’s no focus on net cul­ture or search engine vis­i­bil­i­ty. The sites do get vis­it­ed, but only because of the rep­u­ta­tion of the insti­tu­tion itself. My guess is that peo­ple go to them for very spe­cif­ic func­tions (look­ing up a phone num­ber, order­ing tick­ets, etc.). I fin­ish by ask­ing the ques­tion, “Are the audi­ences of high brow insti­tu­tions so full of hip young audi­ences that they can steer clear of web-centric mar­ket­ing?”

I won’t bela­bor the point, but I won­der if some­thing sim­i­lar is hap­pen­ing with­in Friends. It’s kind of weird that only two peo­ple have com­ment­ed on Johan Maurer’s blog post about Bal­ti­more Year­ly Meeting’s report on Friends Unit­ed Meet­ing. Johan’s post may well be the only place where online dis­cus­sion about this par­tic­u­lar report is avail­able. I gave a plug for it and it was the most pop­u­lar link from Quak­erQuak­er, so I know peo­ple are see­ing it. The larg­er issue is dealt with else­where (Bill Samuel has a par­tic­u­lar­ly use­ful resource page) but Johan’s piece seems to be get­ting a big yawn.

It’s been super­seded as the most pop­u­lar Quak­erQuak­er link by a light­heart­ed call for an Inter­na­tion­al Talk Like a Quak­er Day put up by a Live­jour­nal blog­ger. It’s fun but it’s about as seri­ous as you might expect. It’s get­ting picked up on a num­ber of blogs, has more links than Johan’s piece and at cur­rent count has thir­teen com­menters. I think it’s a great way to poke a lit­tle fun of our­selves and think about out­reach and I’m hap­py to link to it but I have to think there’s a les­son in its pop­u­lar­i­ty vis-a-vis Johan’s post.

Here’s the inevitable ques­tion: do most Quak­ers just not care about Friends Unit­ed Meet­ing or Bal­ti­more Year­ly Meet­ing, about a mod­ern day cul­ture clash that is but a few degrees from boil­ing over into full-scale insti­tu­tion­al schism? For all my brava­do I’m as much an insti­tu­tion­al Quak­er as any­one else. I care about our denom­i­na­tion­al pol­i­tics but do oth­ers, and do they real­ly?

Year­ly meet­ing ses­sions and more entertainment-focused Quak­er gath­er­ings are lucky if they get three to five per­cent atten­dance. The gov­ern­ing body of my year­ly meet­ing is made up of about one per­cent of its mem­ber­ship; add a per­cent or two or three and you have how many peo­ple actu­al­ly pay any kind of atten­tion to it or to year­ly meet­ing pol­i­tics. A few years ago a Quak­er pub­lish­er com­mis­sioned a promi­nent Friend to write an update to lib­er­al Friends’ most wide­ly read intro­duc­to­ry book and she man­gled the whole thing (down to a total­ly made-up acronym for FWCC) and no one noticed till after pub­li­ca­tion – even insid­ers don’t care about most of this!

Are the bulk of most con­tem­po­rary Friends post-institutional? The per­cent­age of Friends involved in the work of our reli­gious bod­ies has per­haps always been small, but the divide seems more strik­ing now that the inter­net is pro­vid­ing com­pe­ti­tion. The big Quak­er insti­tu­tions skate on being rec­og­nized as offi­cial bod­ies but if their par­tic­i­pa­tion rate is low, their recog­ni­tion fac­tor small, and their abil­i­ty to influ­ence the Quak­er cul­ture there­fore min­i­mal, then are they real­ly so impor­tant? After six years of mar­riage I can hear my wife’s ques­tion as a Quaker-turned-Catholic: where does the reli­gious author­i­ty of these bod­ies come from? As some­one who sees the world through a sociological/historical per­spec­tive, my ques­tion is com­ple­men­tary but some­what dif­fer­ent: if so few peo­ple care, then is there author­i­ty? The only time I see Friends close to tears over any of this is when
a schism might mean the loss of con­trol over a beloved school or camp­ground – fac­tor out
the sen­ti­men­tal fac­tor and what’s left?

I don’t think a dimin­ish­ing influ­ence is a pos­i­tive trend, but it won’t go away if we bury our heads in the sand (or in com­mit­tees). How are today’s gen­er­a­tion of Friends going to deal with chang­ing cul­tur­al forces that are threat­en­ing to under­mine our cur­rent prac­tices? And how might we use the new oppor­tu­ni­ties to advance the Quak­er mes­sage and Christ’s agen­da?

Must read: G/localization: When Global Information and Local Interaction Collide

Read
a fab­u­lous arti­cle last night and this morn­ing by Diana Boyd, a PhD
stu­dent at UC-Berkeley and a researcher at Yahoo! Research Berke­ley.
She’s writ­ing about the inter­ac­tions of cul­ture and tech­nol­o­gy and it
speaks a lot to some of the online and offline con­ver­sa­tions I’ve been
hav­ing late­ly.

Here’s the link: G/localization: When Glob­al Infor­ma­tion and Local Inter­ac­tion Col­lide. And here are some snip­pets to entice you to fol­low it:

On cul­ture:

When mass media began, peo­ple assumed that we would all
con­verge upon one glob­al cul­ture. While the media has had an effect,
com­plete homog­e­niza­tion has not occurred. And it will not. While some
val­ues spread and are adopt­ed en-masse, cul­tures form with­in the mass
cul­ture to dif­fer­en­ti­ate small­er groups of peo­ple. Style-driven
sub­cul­tures are the most vis­i­ble form of this, but it occurs in
com­pa­nies and in oth­er social gath­er­ings.

Techies will like her take on “embed­ded observers”: 

While the cre­ators have visions of what they think would
be cool, they do not con­struct unmov­able roadmaps well into the future.
They are con­stant­ly react­ing to what’s going on, adding new fea­tures as
need­ed. The code on these sites changes con­stant­ly, not just once a
quar­ter. The design­ers try out fea­tures and watch how they get used. If
no one is inter­est­ed, that’s fine — they’ll just make some­thing new.
They are all deeply in touch with what peo­ple are actu­al­ly doing, why
and how it man­i­fests itself on the site.

On online com­mu­ni­ties:

Dig­i­tal com­mu­ni­ty par­tic­i­pants some­times find that they
“acci­den­tal­ly” meet some­one. Peo­ple col­lide on Flickr because they took
sim­i­lar pho­tos; the find won­der­ful blogs through search. These ad-hoc
inter­ac­tions typ­i­cal­ly occur because peo­ple are pro­duc­ing mate­r­i­al that
can be stum­bled across, either through search or brows­ing. They may not
intend for the mate­r­i­al to be con­sumed beyond the intend­ed audi­ence,
but they also don’t see a rea­son to pre­vent it. In essence, they are
invit­ing moments of syn­chronic­i­ty. And syn­chronic­i­ty is ener­giz­ing.

Plain Quaker Dressing at FGC

As we got onto the cam­pus of UMass Amherst to help set up for this year’s FGC Gath­er­ing, Julie & I real­ized that this is the first time we’ve been to this venue since we start­ed plain dress­ing (last year we stayed home since Julie was very preg­nant). FGC Friends tend to turn to the Lands End cat­a­log for sar­to­r­i­al inspi­ra­tion. Hip­pie cul­ture is anoth­er font, both direct­ly as tie-die shirts and in mut­ed form as the taste­ful fair-trade clothes that many old­er Friends pre­fer. Because the Gath­er­ing takes place in July and in spo­rad­i­cal­ly air-conditioned build­ings, peo­ple also dress for sum­mer camp – kha­ki shorts & once col­or­ful fad­ed t-shirts are the de fac­to Gath­er­ing uni­form. In this set­ting, just wear­ing long pants is cause for com­ment (“aren’t you hot like that?!”) Try broad­falls and a long-sleeve col­lar­less shirt, or a long dress!

So I’ve decid­ed to write down all the con­ver­sa­tions or ques­tions I get about my dress this week. I should men­tion that I actu­al­ly pre­fer curi­ous ques­tions to the strange star­ing I some­times get. So here we go:

  • While ring­ing up a Gath­er­ing store order: some­one I’ve known for years asked me whether my cloth­ing was “a the­o­log­i­cal state­ment or if it was just com­fort­able.”
  • While trou­bleshoot­ing the store com­put­ers and answer­ing a cell­phone call from the office: com­pared to a lit­er­ary char­ac­ter named “Cos­mic Pos­sum,” who was described to me as some­one able to seem­less­ly live in both the past and mod­ern world (at the time the ref­er­ence was made I was work­ing two com­put­ers and tak­ing a cell phone call.
  • Walk­ing by the din­ing hall, an old­er Friend called out “Looks good!” I said “Huh?”, he replied “that’s a good out­fit!”

Mon­day:

  • “Nice out­fit” again, this time from Nils P. As soon as he said it I warned him that I was keep­ing this log and that he should expect to see him­self in it.
  • I talked a lit­tle bit about dress with a friend from Bal­ti­more Year­ly Meet­ing, a gay Friend involved with FLGCQBC who is iden­ti­fy­ing more and more as con­ser­v­a­tive and think­ing about going plain. One con­cern he raised was avoid­ing sweat­shop labor. (I point­ed out that plain dress is a cot­tage indus­try and that the seam­stress­es are usu­al­ly local and believ­ers.) He also doesn’t want to look “like a farmer” as he walks around the city of Bal­ti­more. (I talked about how I have lim­its as to how plain I go and don’t want this to be a his­tor­i­cal out­fit but one which peo­ple might actu­al­ly be able to see them­selves adopt­ing. I also talked about how I still want to iden­ti­fy on some lev­el with urban anar­chist cul­ture, which has a sort of plain aes­thet­ic.)

Tues­day:

  • An extend­ed con­ver­sa­tion with a book­store cus­tomer from Cal­i­for­nia. She began by ask­ing if I’m doing plain dress for the same rea­sons as anoth­er plain dress­er here, who I’ve seen but not met yet. We began talk­ing about moti­va­tions and what it’s like and how it is for women, espe­cial­ly who lead active lives. I talked about my wife’s Julie’s prac­tice, which includes leo­tards when she’s work­ing at a gym­nas­tics coach. We also talked about dif­fer­ent kinds of Quak­er­sIt was a great con­ver­sa­tion.
  • While sit­ting on a book­store couch blog­ging: “You’re look­ing very dis­tin­guished here, with facial hair and susspenders. Is this what mar­ried life does? You’re look­ing very Quak­er­ly. Does thee also have a hat?”

Wednes­day

  • I spent sick most­ly in bed…
  • I did have a brief, fever-fed con­ver­sa­tion with some of the oth­er plain dress­ing youths and soon-to-be plain dress­ing youth. It’s not about dress, but about being Quak­er and about how we live as Friends.

Thurs­day:

  • I had an extend­ed con­ver­sa­tion with a cou­ple who run the Equal Exchange table about plain dress, Gohn Broth­ers cat­a­log and avoid­ing sweatshop-made cloth­ing for union-made cloth­ing. There’s a lot of peo­ple inter­est­ed in this and the issues real­ly con­nect with sim­plic­i­ty and jus­tice issues.