Wrapping up: Do we need a community meeting? (revised)

This is a revised version of this post. I don’t want to tell people what to do or even begin to sound like I’m trying to speak for the community. I do want to explain my thinking.

I want to see the DC Pagan community be able to act as a community and support the community center that we have worked so hard to create. Over the last few posts and comments – and I want to thank everybody who engaged in conversation with me – it’s become clear to me that there are multiple issues involved here.

Sean’s involvement with OHF is one of them. I initially didn’t want to say this publicly because I was hoping OHF would do this internally, and because I did not want – and still do not want – to take sides in a personal issue between two people. I am not saying what I think about what happened between Iris and Sean. Both of them were involved in creating the conflict of interest situation, and I think both of them should be off the board.

I hope he steps down of his own free will. I thought, when I started writing about this issue, that that would be enough to solve the current issues. I didn’t want to see people bring down OHF as an organization because of an individual, and I still think the organization is being held to account for that individual when the organization isn’t set up to do what the community wants it to do.

I think it’s unfortunate that this has been brought to a crisis by Firefly withdrawing their support. In trying to understand how to support OHF without engaging in the personal dispute (which, yes, has implications beyond the personal – I’ll get to that), I’ve come to realize that I’m deeply uncomfortable with OHF’s structure as it currently exists. But if we want to see that change, we need to stay engaged with OHF and work with the organization to restructure it.

Moreover, at this point in the community center’s existence, we can’t pull support and start creating some other organization, because that would doom the community center. It would show that there’s not a community to justify the community center. And it would make all the work and money that’s been sunk into the one we have be for naught.

In figuring out how to restructure OHF, I think we need to take stock of just what that community is and what it wants this organization to do, now that it’s not just fundraising and is actually running the center. I think the organization and the community need to be more involved with each other rather than having the board be an insular, isolated group that meets privately and has no accountability to the community.

Yes, we need the ability to remove leaders for various reasons. I’m still very concerned about how and when removing leaders would happen. I still think it’s reasonable for OHF to hold that it only evaluates individuals based on their performance with respect to OHF. That’s why I think Sean should step down because of the conflict of interest situation and his current status as a focus of controversy – not because I am judging him with respect to Iris’ accusations.

The larger issue is how we deal with people who may be a danger in the community and in the community center. I am not taking a position on Sean in this area; I don’t know enough, and frankly I don’t want to know everything. I don’t want to be put in the position of judging people on these issues. But perhaps we do need to be able to address things like when someone poses a danger to others, and maybe – maybe, I’m not sure – that can be addressed in a community fashion. I’m still extremely leery of creating mechanisms that can be used to blacklist people based on accusations. Again, adjudicating ethics is a big, messy, complicated situation.

But it’s true that situations like this will come up again. We’re not a coven or a trad or something that can do this within its own structure. We’re trying to be a community. We can’t be a community if the solution to disagreement is that people leave.

Do we, as a community, want a mechanism for running the community center that includes deciding that certain people aren’t welcome? How do we handle accusations of abuse, or sexual harassment, or other kinds of misconduct? If OHF doesn’t do that – and there are good reasons that maybe they shouldn’t – do we want to create something else?

If we don’t, for good reasons, we need to be aware of the consequences. One of them is the inability to do certain things. I’ve been chastised for being willing to accept those kinds of inability for various reasons. If people disagree with that, they have to address the broader concerns I’ve raised before. If you’re going to create a body that passes judgment, you need to be absolutely certain that you would be willing to be judged by that body as well, under the worst possible circumstances. That’s the problem, and I think that’s the only fair way for a broad community like this to operate.

Whether or not we create something like that, we need to set a precedent for how we resolve issues between individuals and groups in order to keep the community and the community center as vital and viable as possible.

I want to emphasize that I’m not ditching OHF; none of this is an attack on them, or an attempt to circumvent them. Maybe one of the steps forward they’ll propose is to take part in a community meeting. Maybe they’ll look to restructure themselves. Regardless, I think there needs to be work in this community to act as a community that includes OHF but doesn’t take place necessarily within OHF’s structure.

The only way I know to work out these larger issues is together.

That’s why I think we need a community meeting in the DC area. I’m not talking about an OHF meeting, or some kind of kumbaya everybody hold hands and like each other faux-concilation, or a trial to hear witnesses and judge evidence.

We need a community meeting for us to talk about what our community is, how it works, and how we want to move forward. Yes, we need to work through and heal the current situation. We need to examine the institutions we’re working through. And we probably need to make important decisions about how the community will handle itself and work together as we go forward.

But this needs guidance. We need somebody who has skills and experience in conflict resolution and consensus building. Who has that? Who can we respect and trust to help shape this? I’m not asking for someone to step forward to be a leader but to be a facilitator for the community itself.

There may be other ways to work this out – and I’d love to hear ideas – but that’s the best I can think of right now. I just don’t know how to make it happen. Suggestions?

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About Literata

Literata is a Wiccan priestess and writer. She edited Crossing the River: An Anthology in Honor of Sacred Journeys, and her poetry, rituals, and nonfiction have appeared in works such as Mandragora, Unto Herself, and Anointed as well as multiple periodicals. Literata has presented rituals and workshops at Sacred Space conference, Fertile Ground Gathering, and other mid-Atlantic venues. Literata offers healing and divination services as well as customized life-cycle rituals. She is currently completing her doctoral dissertation in history with the support of her husband and four cats.
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11 Responses to Wrapping up: Do we need a community meeting? (revised)

  1. I agree with that and would be up for it, most certainly. I think the facilitator would best be someone who is a professional in the field who is not affiliated with any local group whatsoever. Preferably, someone who doesn’t even know us. And on an uncharged ground, like a library or hotel conference room.

  2. Someone with experience in facilitation would definitely be good. I pose the question, should the person be someone from within the pagan community, or someone who is unaffiliated with the pagan community? A member of the community would be familiar with how we tend to go about things, but someone from the outside might have a fresh perspective.

    • J_Mo says:

      I would vote for a non-local Pagan. There is still a lot of ignorance out there about Pagans, and this is a very sensitive time for us. A meeting of this sort could be doubly so. It would be good to have someone who understands and is sympathetic to Pagan culture.

      Just my two cents.

      • Literata says:

        Somebody has to have experience trying to heal witch wars, which would be one worthy goal. Honestly, I should have asked: have community meetings been successful with things like this in the past?

  3. Sounds like a town hall meeting is needed. I don’t see why an outsider would be preferred is this situation. But someone has to organise it and that would be someone local; someone not in direct association with the current conflicts; but someone still in the Pagan community. Whoever holds this kind of meeting needs to be someone who can hold their own, calm emotions, keep the peace and keep things civil and democratic. Does that describe anyone you know?

    • Literata says:

      I think someone who has experience and is not associated with any of the currently disputing parties would be fine, whether from within or without the community.

  4. David Ewing says:

    If there is interest in a community meeting of some sort, I would be willing to be part of the facilitation to bring the community together if nothing else than to provide a forum for the community members to become more aware of who else is around, what we are as a community and help strengthen the bonds of the community as a whole. With a goal of helping ensure that when somebody in our community needs help, they get it; that when a group is struggling they receive support as needed; and when there is something to celebrate, it’s celebrated for all it’s worth.

    The big questions about having a community meeting are… What is the goal of such a meeting? What points need to be discussed? What decisions or actions would members of the community expect to see come out of the meeting? Who is expected to be attending such a meeting (aka, who is considered “the community”)?
    It would be fairly easy for somebody to schedule a place to meet (at a hotel, library, church, whatever) and we could have a large turnout, spend 6 hours talking about whatever with no resolution or action unless we have an idea of what the meeting’s purpose should be.

    Some notes to remember, some of which have been posted already
    – OHF’s purpose is not to create community or be a community building organization. Their mission has always been to create a community center to be used as a resource for area Pagans. – I don’t really think it’s up to the community to tell OHF how they should operate. If OHF wishes to focus on maintaining a community center, then so be it. The next step would then to be for OHF to be on good relations with the other groups in the area as well as positively promote itself and the community center to ensure the success of the center. As a leader of a Pagan organization, I would be mightily offended if a bunch of others in the “community” started trying to tell me how I need to operate my organization.
    – Unless OHF wishes to be in the role, it’s not their responsibility to “build community”.

    Personal notes:
    Not sure if I agree with calling this a “witch war”. This is primarily an issue between two people. It happens that one person was the leader of two groups and by the actions of another person in leadership of one of the groups, she and her group decided to pull their support. Just happens that this was done publicly considering they were leadership of local groups.
    I personally hate the term “witch war” because it is often used in a way that inflames whatever issue is out there.
    I basically believe the issue in question is between Firefly House and OHF. It’s important for the community to be aware of the issue in order to allow those in the community to decide how they wish to deal with the groups and their leaders.

    • OK, I know this is ages late, but I popped back by to look for something I thought was in this thread, and this caught my eye:
      OHF’s purpose is not to create community or be a community building organization. Their mission has always been to create a community center to be used as a resource for area Pagans.

      How is that not a mission to build community, and to serve the community that exists?

  5. beliefspace says:

    Hi Literata,

    Let’s see if I can do this as humbly and reverently as possible. I think that your idea and direction for a community meeting are very admirable and right on point. In the posted descriptions of a facilitator I found that many of the attributes were a fairly close fit. I work as a cultural engineer effecting cultural change for companies, organizations, and individuals. Facilitation is a requirement for that work and I have been fortunate in having the opportunity to develop those skills. I have recently been involved with the pagan community in the DC area, am known to folks at OHF and Firefly, and have visited the community center to participate in open ritual and just to hang out in the library. Oh and I live in South Carolina after spending the last 2 years on contract in
    DC.

    Having said that I can provide some names of folks within the community both inside and outside OHF and Firefly with whom I’ve spent time. I would ask you to judge me by their impressions rather than my own words.

    In short, if the community would like engage an experienced facilitator with a pagan background, some little familiarity with OHF and Firefly, etc then I would humbly offer to play the role to the best of my ability.

    Please know that a resounding “No” would a perfectly acceptable response as I defer to the judgment and experience of you and the other members of the community to know who best to facilitate such an important and delicate effort.

    Very best regards and Bright Blessings,
    Roy

  6. I don’t think having a mediation will do it. As for the current situation, there is too much raw emotion to have any kind of resolution at present.

    O.K. now, how do people work as a group and see that these things are prevented in the future? One be very concrete about the OHF is and is not. Two, detain in concrete terms what is OHF’s mission. Do not assume that because everyone is Pagan, that is enough. Three, have everyone learn Robert’s Rules of Order or some form of parilamenatry procedures. The Rules of Order were written to aid groups in functioning as groups and not as armed camps. Yes, they are old and boring, but they work. (Congress uses the Reed’s Rules of Order.) What are the Rules of Order for OHF to follow?

    How are people’s voices to be heard? How are the rights of minority protected while enforcing the will of the majority? What are the mechanisms to have concerns addressed? Groups have their own character of functioning. What is the group culture of OHF? What could be improved in it? What is good about it now?

    I know that this does not answer the question of the greater community. Personally, I do not think that a “Pagan community” exists in the sense that we can all get along. We are so diverse that to assume that somehow we act as one, is problematic. I for full disclosure do not participate because of my traumatic brain injury. When I did, I was a tiny minority since I am a Roman Recon. Pagan, and have little in common with others under the Pagan umbrella. What I did have in common was that I was not Christian, and was polythesitic.

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