Quakers acting badly

Friends don’t have a particularly good track record with regards to controversy. There’s no reason we need to pretend to be talking historically. We’ve had two major yearly meetings break up in this summer (meet Sierra-Cascades Yearly Meeting and North Carolina Fellowship of Friends), with at least one more “at bat” for some future long hot summer.

Controversies flare up in many places. Friend Sa’ed Atshan just broke his media silence to talk about the cancelation of his talk at Friends’ Central School in February and the subsequent walk-outs, firings, and litigations. The controversy around Avis Wanda McClinton’s disownment by Upper Dublin Meeting continues to incense large numbers of Philadelphia Friends, with fuel to the fire coming from the role that the Undoing Racism Group does or doesn’t have in the yearly meeting structure. Last year a majority of Friends of color boycotted public events at the FGC Gathering over frustration at the site selection process and the underlying issues extend to other Quaker venues.

The most-commented recent article in Friends Journal is “It Breaks My Heart” by Kate Pruitt from the online June/July issue. Many readers related to her sense of alienation and loss. Two comments that hit me the hardest were:

Not all Friends are found in Quaker Meetings. You’re better off without your meeting.

Gone now is the hope… of finding community among Quakers. To be frank, why bother? There’s plenty of brokenness right where I am.

And I get enough “Why I’m leaving Friends” manifestos in my email inbox every month that I could turn it into a regular Friends Journal column.

It seems to me that are a number of underlying issues that tie these controversies together. What do we do when a group of Friends starts acting in a manner that seems contrary to our understanding of Quaker testimonies and practices? How do we balance love and judgement when conflict arises among us? When do we break out of Quaker niceness? Maybe even more challenging, how do we maintain our integrity and accountability when controversy breaks us into camps willing to engage in exaggeration? And just what do we say when the outside public only gets half the story or thinks that one side is speaking for all Friends?

So this is a plug for submissions for December's Friends Journal.  The theme is “Conflict and Controversy" and the submission deadline is September 9. We’re not looking for blow-by-blow accounts of being mistreated, and we’re not terribly interested (this time) in manifestos about Quaker cultural norms. I'm less interested in specific issues than I am the meta of discernment: How do individuals or small groups of Friends move forward in the heat of controversy. What do we do when the easy solutions have failed? How do we decide when it's time to break out of Quaker niceness to lay down some truth—or time to kick the dust off your sandals and move along?

80s Flashback Time

Some of my younger friends are freak­ing out about Trump, won­der­ing how we’ll get through his pres­i­den­cy. For those of us of a cer­tain age though this is déjà vu, a return to the days of Ronald Rea­gan. Though many peo­ple lion­ize him in ret­ro­spect, he was a train wreck through and through.

I was young when he came into office and my only mem­o­ry of his first term is being inter­rupt­ed in gym class to an announce­ment he had been shot in an assas­si­na­tion attempt. My first inkling of him as a politi­cian came from a high school social stud­ies teacher Roy Buri who con­stant­ly made fun of Reagan’s state­ments and poli­cies. I laughed at Buri’s char­ac­ter­i­za­tions but I also began to inter­nal­ized them. He was a leg­end at the school and had report­ed­ly pro­vid­ed a safe haven in the 1970s for stu­dents orga­niz­ing against the Viet­nam War. Retro bonus: he even looked a bit like Bernie Sanders!

When I grad­u­at­ed and moved onto a most­ly con­ser­v­a­tive col­lege, I would stay late at nights in a base­ment lounge talk­ing with friends in about how we could deal with the era we were liv­ing. I remem­ber an epiphany that even though the media were telling us to believe cer­tain things because that was the main­stream nation­al dis­course, we didn’t have to. We could be inde­pen­dent in our actions and con­vic­tions. Yes, that seems obvi­ous now but it was a major real­iza­tion then.

So what did we do? We protest­ed. We spoke out. We knew gov­ern­ment wasn’t on our side. For those los­ing friends to AIDS, there was deep mourn­ing and right­eous anger. There was a melan­choly. A lot of my world felt under­ground and grit­ty. I start­ed writ­ing, edit­ing a under­ground week­ly paper on cam­pus (real­ly the start of my career). I fig­ured out that the geog­ra­phy depart­ment was full of left­ies and spent enough time there to earn a minor. Most of all, I worked to de-normalize the Rea­gan and Bush St Admin­is­tra­tions – the deep cor­rup­tion of many of its offi­cials and the heart­less­ness of its policies.

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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.

So why is Pea Patch Island (supposedly) owned by Delaware?

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How did a sand­bar halfway between New Jer­sey and Delaware become the prop­er­ty of one state and not the other?

The British roy­al gov­ern­ment was noto­ri­ous­ly slop­py in its award­ing of land grants in its colonies. There’s a lot of bound­ary ambi­gu­i­ty and over­lap­ping claims. With Amer­i­can inde­pen­dence, the task for ref­er­ee­ing fell to the new fed­er­al government.

The spe­cif­ic prob­lem of Pea Patch was as young as the nation itself. Accord­ing to tes­ti­mo­ny record­ed in the 1837 records of the U.S. Sen­ate, Pea Patch was formed around the time of the Amer­i­can Rev­o­lu­tion when a ship loaded with peas report­ed­ly sunk there (smells of a tall tale to me but I’ll let it stand). Allu­vial deposits formed a sand­bank around the wreck and it even­tu­al­ly coa­lesced into a full-fledged island.

When claims over­lap on an island in the mid­dle of a bound­ary riv­er, it’s typ­i­cal to look at two mea­sures: the first and most obvi­ous is to see if it’s clos­er to one side’s river­bank. The oth­er is to look at ship­ping chan­nels and use this as a de fac­to bound­ary. Accord­ing the the Sen­ate tes­ti­mo­ny, Pea Patch Island is both clos­er to New Jer­sey and on the New Jer­sey side of the ear­ly nineteenth-century ship­ping channel.

There’s also human fac­tors to con­sid­er: accord­ing to tes­ti­mo­ny in the Con­gres­sion­al Record the island was gen­er­al­ly con­sid­ered a part of N.J.‘s Salem Coun­ty through the ear­ly nine­teenth cen­tu­ry. In 1813, New Jer­sey res­i­dent Hen­ry Gale bought Pea Patch Island and began devel­op­ing fish­eries on it. New Jer­sey for­mal­ly min­ut­ed the island as his prop­er­ty, con­firm­ing the land deeds and giv­ing it to his “heirs and assigns for ever [sic].”

State own­er­ship of Pea Patch would seem to be a pret­ty straight-forward deci­sion then: geo­graph­i­cal­ly New Jersey’s, cul­tur­al­ly a part of Salem Coun­ty, and owned by a South Jer­sey businessperson.

Unfor­tu­nate­ly for Gale, the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment thought it was a good strate­gic loca­tion for a new fort. They offered him $30,000 but he didn’t think it was a fair price. They didn’t want to nego­ti­ate and so made a side deal with the State of Delaware. They decid­ed the state bound­ary line should be drawn to the east of the island to make it a part of Delaware. The state declared Hen­ry Gale a squat­ter and gave full own­er­ship of the island to the U.S. War Depart­ment. Gale was forcibly evict­ed, his build­ings demol­ished, his fish­ery busi­ness ruined. It doesn’t take a con­spir­acist to imag­ine that the Con­gres­sion­al Delaware del­e­ga­tion got some­thing nice for their par­tic­i­pa­tion in this ruse.

(Lat­er on, con­tin­u­ing bound­ary dis­putes between the two states led to the truly-bizarre geo­graph­ic odd­i­ty that is the 12-Mile Cir­cle. Any­thing built off the New Jer­sey coast into the Delaware Riv­er is Delaware’s. This still reg­u­lar­ly sparks law­suits between the states. If you could get behind the scenes I imag­ine you could set a whole Boardwalk-Empire-like show in the Delaware land grant office.)

A cen­tu­ry and a half lat­er the crum­bling ruins of Fort Delaware would come under the admin­is­tra­tion of the Delaware Depart­ment of Nat­ur­al Resources and Envi­ron­men­tal Con­trol. The DNERC folks do a great job run­ning Fort Delaware. When read­ing up on this I was sur­prised to find Hen­ry Gale’s name. My wife’s fam­i­ly has Salem Coun­ty Gales so Hen­ry is at least some sort of dis­tant cousin of my kids. I think Delaware should give us a spe­cial toot on the fer­ry horn every time they land back on the soil of their ances­tral home.

Three-fort touring

The three-fort tour from Ft Mott near Salem, New Jer­sey, to Ft Delaware on Pea Patch Island (de fac­to Delaware), to Delaware City, Delaware and adja­cent Ft DuPont.

A few weeks ago Yum­my­gal at South​jer​sey​ex​plor​er​.com wrote up a trip report on The Three Forts Fer­ry Tour. It didn’t take more than two min­utes of texts before my wife and I decid­ed we would recre­ate this.

It’s wasn’t so easy at first. I spent way too long on the park system’s web­site try­ing to fig­ure out how to board the fer­ry at Ft Mott on the New Jer­sey side. Every option I tried had me board in near­by Salem, N.J. It wasn’t till I was home that I read that the Ft Mott stop had been out of com­mis­sion until ear­ly this sum­mer because of Sandy and that Salem had been the alter­nate board­ing loca­tion. The web­site hadn’t been updated.

Once we got to the dock we saw there was no tick­et kiosk. Once the fer­ry came in we found they couldn’t swipe a cred­it card onboard (real­ly? can’t any mod­ern smart­phone han­dle that?, but I digress…). The only place they could han­dle a cred­it card was the far end, in Delaware City. We’d have to dock on Fort Delaware/Pea Patch Island but stay in the boat and con­tin­ue to this city. We’d hadn’t even real­ly planned to nec­es­sar­i­ly go to Delaware City but we end­ed up spend­ing much of our day there.

Delaware City was a small port town whose claim to fame was its loca­tion as the east­ern ter­mi­nus of the orig­i­nal nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Chesa­peake and Delaware Canal. The mod­ern canal bypass­es it a few miles to the south, so Delaware City is a bit frozen in time.

First stop: Crab­by Dick’s, one of three eater­ies rec­om­mend­ed to us (the oth­ers being a pub and an Ital­ian restau­rant). Being a veg­e­tar­i­an I don’t get into this sort of a restau­rant very often but they had veg­gie burg­ers and cre­ative sweet fries (cinnamon-covered with an apple but­ter dip – yum!). Luck­i­ly it was near­ly emp­ty around noon in a Sun­day so our trou­ble­mak­ing kids didn’t cause too much commotion.

Next door was a small ice cream shop. The tem­per­a­tures were in the 90s so this was an obvi­ous stop.

What we should have done next is wan­der the town until the next fer­ry to Pea Patch Island and its fort. One of our par­ty was deter­mined to see all three forts so we set out for Ft DuPont. It’s adja­cent to Delaware City’s dock and down­town as the crow flies. But we aren’t crows, or fish. DuPont’s on the oth­er side of the old canal. You have to walk about a mile to the first bridge that cross­es it, a rick­ety one at that, then make a sharp left to trav­el in the same direc­tion you had just come from, only on the canal’s south side.

There’s no signs for the fort. Even Yum­my­girl had got­ten lost on her trip so I knew to rely on my phone’s maps. Most of Ft DuPont’s acreage is a large cam­pus dot­ted with an odd assort­ment of run-down ear­ly twen­ti­eth cen­tu­ry mil­i­tary build­ings sur­round­ing an old parade field. The camp had been a major deploy­ment cen­ter dur­ing WW II and had also served as a POW camp for Ger­mans. The state’s been try­ing to repur­pose it in recent years but it’s an odd assort­ment of halfway house ser­vices and nation­al guard asso­ci­a­tions, stuck in between crum­bling build­ings that will nev­er find a new role.

At the far end of all this a nature trail going through what remains of the nine­teenth cen­tu­ry Ft DuPont. Walk­ing it is a bit like tour­ing a jungle-covered Aztec city: every so often a ruin sticks out of the trees and tan­gled vines. It’s an interesting-enough trail but not worth a four mile round-trip hike with four kids in 90 degree heat. We were able to beg a ride back from a park ranger fin­ish­ing her shift thank good­ness but much of our day was sit­ting under trees drink­ing the last of our water.

Back at the Delaware City fer­ry office, we bought a small for­tune of water from the vend­ing machine till the next (and final) boat to Pea Patch Island. This is typ­i­cal­ly the des­ti­na­tion of the tourists but by this time we only had about 45 min­utes before the last boat from the island to Jer­sey. We had an extra half hour as the boat wait­ed in dock for a spec­tac­u­lar storm to pass over the river.

We’ll def­i­nite­ly return but prob­a­bly skip Delaware City except for pos­si­bly a meal.

Links:

Why I’m fasting with @eqat against mountaintop mining

On March 22nd, I joined the fast against moun­tain­top coal min­ing called by the Earth Quak­er Action Team.

“Old Zinc Fac­tory; Palmer­ton” by road_less_trvled on Flickr (cre­ative com­mons license)

When I was grow­ing up we’d make the trip from Philadel­phia to my grandmother’s house a cou­ple of times a year. As we head­ed north, the high­way thread­ed across farm fields and through rock cuts in the hills. About an hour in, we’d start notic­ing the thin blue band on the hori­zon. It would slow­ly get larg­er and larg­er until Blue Moun­tain loomed in front of us and we whooshed into Lehigh Tunnel.

My Nana lived on the oth­er side of that moun­tain. On this side the moun­tain­side was red. The forests that car­pet­ed the rest of the thousand-mile ridge had been ripped up by the decades of chem­i­cals pour­ing out if the smoke­stacks of the giant zinc pro­cess­ing fac­to­ries that book­end­ed the town of Palmerton.

When con­ver­sa­tion turned to adult mat­ters, I’d wan­der to the back porch and count the dirt bike trails going up the bar­ren moun­tain. When I tired of that I’d play in the stones of my grandmother’s back­yard. Even grass didn’t grow in this town. Ambi­tious home­own­ers would some­times make rock gar­dens for the space in front of each house that had been designed for marigolds, but most of the town had got­ten used to the absence of green. When the EPA final­ly got around to declar­ing the moun­tain a super­fund site we all snort­ed dis­mis­sive­ly. My grand­moth­er was actu­al­ly offend­ed, hav­ing long ago con­vinced her­self that the fac­to­ry effu­sions must be healthy.

The Palmer­ton fac­to­ries were fund­ed by New York bankers. Prince­ton Uni­ver­si­ty got mul­ti­ple multimillion-dollar bequests in the wills of the founders of the zinc com­pa­ny. I’m sure there are still a few resid­ual trust funds pay­ing out dividends.

Today we have Philadel­phia and Pitts­burgh bankers orches­trat­ing the removal of the moun­tain­tops in West Vir­ginia. As our tech­nol­o­gy has improved so has our capac­i­ty for ill-considered mass destruc­tion of our nat­ur­al surroundings.

All liv­ing crea­tures have an impact on their sur­round­ings. My com­forts rely on the coal, oil, and nat­ur­al gas that are brought into our cities and towns. But I do know we can do bet­ter. I’m opti­mistic enough to can find ways to live togeth­er on this Earth that don’t break our moun­tains or poi­son our neighbors.

Pho­to: “Old Zinc Fac­to­ry; Palmer­ton” by road_less_trvled on Flickr (cre­ative com­mons license)