I am moved to share (and thus save) pieces from this year's PYM Sessions where I went and invested in the work of our undoing racism group (URG), hoping that we could put a structure in place to help our meeting(s) remain faithful to our determination of January 10th, 2015:
The Undoing Racism Group formed at PYM sessions in 2014 and has been meeting ever since to learn and share learning about how we experience racism, privilege and white supremacy within PYM. We are an open group of about 30 with a diverse core attendance. Originally we had worked in 4 subgroups for Accountability/Networking, Supporting POC, Education, and Community Outreach. Over the last two years we have contributed greatly to PYM--in Lucy's words:
The Undoing Racism Group of Philadelphia YM has been working for two years to support the yearly meeting's central corporate witness expressed in this query, "What is God calling PYM Quakers to do next to end racism and white supremacy in the Religious Society of Friends and beyond?" We have offered 10 workshops at sessions last year and this, provided learning materials, a group of traveling workshop leaders, hosted a YM wide viewing of "I am not racist, am I?," hosted affinity groups and led events at YM annual sessions and continuing sessions, led events at Quarterly meetings and young adult Friends gatherings, held a retreat for Friends of Color last year, created a vision and plan for our work going forward, held open monthly meetings that always included learning activities... all while having no formal relationship or place at the table of the new PYM structure. (##wearepym)This year we proposed an accountability relationship within our yearly meeting. We brought it first to the Implementation Committee which didn't accept it but offered suggestions and questions. Then we introduced it at sessions where it was also challenged. We educated and held a NVA in support of the proposal, and--in response to feedback--brought in a softened, revised version suggesting a two-year experiment. PYM could not unify behind this either despite an empassioned plea for unity from the Clerk of PYM. The opposition and disapproval was (to me) surprisingly diverse and shocking. Here are links to our two proposals:
Proposed Structure and Leadership, Revised Sunday July 31, 2016
First: Essential conversations and change are underway at PYM Religious Society of Friends. Nothing comes easily--especially not seeing and then altering or abandoning structures that hold power in white middle class hands. Someday "we" will be all of us, through the love and grace of the Light that moves us to action. And, no, PYM is not a "big bad" racist organization, but it can and will be better when the testimonies we speak match our hearts, speech and behavior. We have the diseases of our time and place. When we begin to heal, we will be more effective and expressive in all areas important to us. We will be so rich!
Second: Sadness. Such Sadness. I'm at home again (and a very sweet ride it was!) after 4 days of Sessions with the Philadelphia Yearly Meeting of the Religious Society of Friends. Many wonderful moments occurred, but we didn't reach unity on the major proposal to establish a new UnDoing Racism aspect to the administration of our yearly meeting--a proposal many of us developed after months of discernment. I am trying to understand how working a proposal through a business meeting harms a meeting for worship as some said, how trying this experimentally harms Quaker process. What are the alternatives? Maybe a staff person in this area? I wonder how that has worked out for AFSC? I suspect that expecting one person to be everywhere is a bit much. Can the undoing racism group stay together for the years it will take for Quakers to find our way to Unity?
Thank you! I am sending good will and Light and joy in your direction. I’m sending this note in case you can’t feel it. Your clerking on Sunday helped me to see God in our midst—in all of PYM—in the body which is holy, every part necessary.
You grew so tall and full of grace as you stood there alone (but not alone) and asked for help and opened your heart.
I do believe some of the “Nos” were gut reactions to such an outrageous and faithfully authentic act. And some were not. You are right that there is as of yet no unity. Yet we made incredible progress with your help and faithfulness. People are talking about their learning and teaching—some have melted and some have hardened, and of course you know the rest. I am listening to many points of view from white and non-white peoples and find new understanding that will help me to move forward.
Thank you for being a leader and for being part of all. I cannot send enough words of gratitude and love to express how I feel.
I’m hoping this note will help us to know each other better. Maybe for the last 2 years we weren’t really letting each other know who we were. Maybe we’ve just changed over that time. I know this time at PYM, I saw another part of you. I’ve always seen you as loving and intelligent. Now I see you as a person of power. And this is wonderful to see.The PYM Young Adult Friends Epistle 2016 discussed the events of the weekend in an insightful appraisal of their work, a portion of which I quote here. Follow the link above for the entire letter:
But I am also confused. Maybe you can explain and maybe there is no explanation. I don’t want to talk about the Upper Dublin Friends Meeting. I want to talk about how I’ve seen you as a public speaker since July 12th.
Before the Commissioner’s Meeting on 7/12, I suggested that I come with you and your God Mother and asked your permission to let PYM know you were doing this and that you could use support. Lots of people came at your call through me and others. Your testimony was powerful.
That wasn’t confusing.
But then, on Saturday at PYM business meeting, you testified that URG/PYM hadn’t done anything to support you. And on Sunday at PYM, when you voted “NO” to the revised proposal and said “Don’t piss on me and call it Rain” I felt that you were telling URG and PYM that you didn’t want anything done—or paradoxically wanted more done. I didn’t understand.
I felt that what you said Saturday wasn’t true—but if you believed it was true for the moment, what you said Sunday contradicted what you said Saturday.
I am asking you to explain. If I knew you better I wouldn’t have been so surprised. I wouldn’t have felt undermined. We should know what to expect from each other.
This year, the Undoing Racism Group offered a proposal to establish the group’s role in the yearly meeting. During Saturday’s business sessions, members of the Undoing Racism Group called on the clerks’ table and the body to address where they fit in the new Philadelphia Yearly Meeting structure—business that was long overdue. Many Friends (literally or metaphorically) stood in solidarity with the Undoing Racism Group. Many members of our community were among the supporters of the call to amend the agenda and continue discernment. This clear leading of Spirit was shut down due to concerns about timing and process. We mourn our yearly meeting’s unwillingness to sacrifice the agenda for the movement of Spirit. We recognize the challenge of agenda-building, while at the same time holding a concern for the ways that rigid time structures perpetuate privilege and white supremacy in our yearly meeting.