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?