I think one of the things I’ve been missing in the controversy over OHF is differing expectations about what OHF is and how much power it has over people.
Maeri’s excellent comment to my last post lays out a brilliant plan for remedying the current situation, but it has one key flaw: Maeri assumes that members of the community form a voting body with a role in OHF. We don’t.
Someone else was asking me who elects the members of the Board. As far as I can tell, the members of the Board are elected (and have their terms renewed?) by the Board itself.
Others have mentioned in comments and at other places that they want to see Sean banned from the community center because he is such a risk. I was stunned to see that; although I certainly want to protect the community from people who are dangerous – although as yet I have no opinion on whether Sean is that dangerous – it never occurred to me that OHF would have the power to ban someone from the community center.
That kind of power suggests that some people see this as potentially not a community center open to all comers but a sort of semi-closed community resource, one that includes a definition of who is “in” the community being served, or at least the certainty that some people are “out” of it. Many of the ideas being thrown around seem to rely on OHF functioning as some sort of supreme joint council of the local Pagan community.
When I suggest that OHF is hewing closely to its mission to create and maintain a community center, I am excoriated for supporting or defending abusers. I have never said that I support Sean staying in his current position; I have tried to focus on the organizational and institutional nature of the OHF, and why that nature seems to me to make it possible to support OHF without taking sides in a dispute about Iris and Sean.
With the opening of the community center, the OHF had to look closely at its foundational documents; its purpose was no longer to open the center. It had to redefine itself in terms of running the center. The organizational structure that worked reasonably well for what was, essentially, a fundraising organization may not be suited to running a community center.
So before we demand change from the OHF – especially change that calls on the nature of the OHF to radically transform itself in order to take on tremendous amounts of authority that will lead to even larger, more painful controversies in the future – we need to think about what we’re asking for.
Do we want the OHF as an institution to take on a role in determining who is in and who is out? Do we want to create that kind of community and that kind of authority?
Please note that I am not saying this is a black and white choice, where either the OHF is powerless or all-powerful. I am saying that I think some people don’t realize the historical sources of the institution’s setup, role, and mandate, and that if we want to go changing that, we need to figure out what we’re getting into.
I think the OHF should seriously consider creating a new organizational structure that is responsive to the community as a whole. Currently, when someone like me, or Iris, or from Firefly has a conflict with someone in OHF or something about OHF, we can go to the newly-created ombudsman – which is a step in the right direction – or we can talk to people who are in positions of power, as private individuals, which opens up a whole world of potential problems about communication, privacy, and conflicts of interest, or we can simply take our time and our money and walk. We can’t even have access to the ongoing deliberations of the leadership except once a year.
If we want to create a vibrant community center, perhaps we should work on building community. What if we created a more representative authority structure that was in some ways accountable to members?
The question of whether that structure would have authority to eject members would still be a thorny one, but it would have a lot more options than the organization as currently constituted. At a time like this, for example, we could have a community meeting, and maybe even do consensus building, and actually work together.
Right now, OHF can’t do that kind of work because it is defined as running the community center. Period. It’s not in charge of the community.
Maybe this is the next hurdle for the Pagan community in DC to find out whether we really can function as a community. Can we come together to work through something like this? Is OHF the mechanism we want to use to do that? Do we want to seriously consider reconstituting it to make that possible, or try to create a parallel or independent grassroots structure that brings community members together as community?
I’m not the one to answer all of these questions, but maybe they point us in the direction of some possible discussions that don’t boil down to simply taking sides in a polarized debate. I’m also not the person to come to with suggestions about OHF – their ombudsman is. I’m going to sit down and think about what I might suggest. I encourage you to as well. Let’s find ways to talk.