Saturday, December 14, 2013

Bylaw Changes

A rather open secret among Friends is that it's an uphill battle to keep the American Friends Service Committee in their good graces.  You'd think, with the 100th anniversary of the Nobel Prize coming up, that Quaker churches and meetings would be crowding into the frame.  Twas the AFSC that accepted, on behalf of Quakerdom more generally.

However, the political landscape has changed since those days leading up to World War Two, about which I recommend the book Human Smoke (on my Kindle).  That flash of early brilliance and optimism was nearly drowned in the wars to follow, in Vietnam especially, where the AFSC kept showing up in Hanoi, maybe on the same airport bus as Jane Fonda.  That alienated a political demographic that overlaps with Christendom certainly.  The Vietnam War had many elements of a crusade, especially if you see it as Diem did, a devout Catholic.

Consider the late Bayard Rustin,  his 100th birthday the focus of a recent Corporation meeting.  US President Obama subsequently awarded him a posthumous Medal of Freedom.  A lot of the same people who love to hate Hanoi Jane have no time for our hero Rustin either.

Our Corporation bylaws currently stipulate that at least two reps from each represented Yearly Meeting be Corporation members.  This governance relationship, between Yearly Meetings and the AFSC, which includes "at large" as well as geographic members, is strained to the breaking point, with the logistics of reaching a quorum proving daunting, well neigh impossible sometimes.

To address this shortfall, the Corporation feels it must adapt by streamlining.  Instead of stipulating "no less than two" reps from any Meeting, it will be "no more than two".  The status quo will become the norm, whereas it had been our Achilles Heel.  The AFSC will continue operating with the proper bona fides, as truly a Quaker organization, and the peanut gallery can just stay unfilled (the balcony seats are never needed for Corporation meetings as it is).

I played devil's advocate during the conference call with Friends Center this morning, in my role as convener for my region's reps, our Yearly Meeting being North Pacific YM (NPYM).

The clerk congratulated me on my performance but one could sense our seeing a way open, the way of shrinking, like Alice.  There's that tendency to stampede towards the light at the end of the tunnel.

A streamlined AFSC will be cozier, more tightly knit, goes the theory.  Those who do share a commitment, will more likely get more done, divested of the more lukewarm hangers on, the foot draggers, the grumblers.

I pointed out that because we're still hammering out what's considered legal representation in cyberspace, the day may soon come when reps need not travel to be legally present in meetings, thereby constituting a quorum.  Where are the laws with that today?

So why worry so much about our "carbon footprint" when we might be on the brink of another upgrade?  Might we address our shortfall in numbers another way?

If our goal is truly to maximize diversity (another bylaw change) then isn't cutting back our numbers a move away from that goal?

Why not pack the house, in virtual space, in augmentation of the physical meeting, and demonstrate greater diversity at the same time?

We'll see what happens.  These discussions will be ongoing for some time.

The board takes a look at it again, before kicking it back to us for a red or green light.  At least we've found a way to be open about our shortfall and the legal bind that has put us in.

If we have no way of living up to our existing bylaws, then it's not surprising we feel compelled to change them.  We have to go with the army -- inward weapons only -- we've got.

On with the metaphysics then! -- or whatever "organizational alchemy" is called.