Unpacking a Community Crisis

Last week, I had very different goals when I entered the fray concerning Firefly House and OHF. Last week, my colleague Eridanus and I were simply trying with various degrees of success to calm down the vitriol and testeria(1) that was rampant in the various social media channels.

But this week is a different week. And with folks on either side either licking their wounds or patting themselves on their collective backs, it is now time to unpack what actually happened. If we as a community are to truly heal, we must extract from this painful episode any lessons that would help us in the future should a similar crisis occur, and we need to collectively hold accountable the guilty parties.

There is a lot of ground to cover so I am going to take my time in this effort since *I* am under no pressure to hurry my efforts.

So I am beginning with the Pagan Newswire collective and its Washington, DC branch, Capital Witch. Let us start with the recent statement from PNC in regards to the Capital Witch article that ignited the firestorm.

I am old school in many ways, and as an activist for over forty years, I have a long history of discerning what is hidden in plain sight. So my rule has always been if a group refuses to be specific and makes grandiose statements, something is hidden in the details. And vice versa, if a group provides way too many details, something is lurking in the larger picture.

PNC produced a statement that groups what happened here in DC with something unrelated that happened in a bureau in the Bay Area of northern California. The message here is that the PNC is diligent in policing their bureaus. “We are on the job!” This is the purpose of the Corrections portion of most daily newspapers as well. “We will hunt down all inaccuracies no matter how minor!”

But just like the correction section of the Post for example will never feature an admission of “I failed to do my job as a reporter and just parroted a press release only later to find out that a government agency is *actually* capable of lying!” Publishing a correction is not the same as having a culture of transparency, journalistic excellence, objective investigation, and attention to detail.

So now let’s take our time and look at what is published by the PNC as part of their reflective process. Three things jump out at me immediately.

1. If the DC bureau staff person, Jen Moore, was the one with the most objective stance, why wasn’t she the one to at least review the article?

What is missing here is that the bureau chief, David Salisbury, not only made the decision to not wait for Jen Moore to write the article, but he also made the decision to bypass the entire internal mechanism of the DC bureau in reviewing the article. Most of the other staff in the local bureau have substantial journalistic credentials. So the question becomes, why were these people in particular omitted from the process?

One possible theory is that the local folks would have recognized that all the sources were Firefly members or supporters. They also would have caught that Literata was being quoted out of context. They might even have taken the time to get quotes from other parties relevant to the article. They could have definitely corrected the biased tone by adding actual facts about OHF funding and fiscal health. At the very least someone could have checked whether Iris actually complain to the OHF before launching her public article(And the answer is ... no).

2. So the PNC Managing Editor was receiving calls and emails asking for the issue to be covered. Why would any local disinterested party contact the national bureau to ask that a local issue be covered?

What is missing here is the identities of the folks calling for coverage. I highly suspect that they were all Firefly people. Why? Because who else but the creators of a press release would ask that someone in a perceived position of power to pay attention to it.

This is a tactic straight out of both grassroots organizing and the music business. Write a press release then call the editors of the newspaper asking them to cover the issue. Or sending a demo tape to a producer then call radio stations asking them to play the record.

And really, how come this did not occur to the Managing Editor that it could have been a possible ruse to get publicity? Do they not ask for organizational affiliations from their sources?

3. “The article was presented to the Executive Editor as a group-written piece ...” and “This was not written by three or more journalists. “ Okay, this is painful say but when something is presented as being written by a group and it is discovered that it was written by an individual, there is a word for that. It is called a LIE! And calling it unacceptable is ... basically ... unacceptable.

But more to the point, why was it called a group piece when it clearly was written by an individual, one David Salisbury? This is another question that the PNC failed to ask.

Initially I thought that the only reason I could see for pretending the article was a group effort was to hide behind Capital Witch instead of taking the heat personally. But I now think that something else was amiss in this process. But before I go into that with more detail, let’s keep unpacking this issue.

So now we see that there is a legitimate set of questions that it appears that the PNC failed to ask or worse probably did not even realized was needed to be asked.

But we are left with these questions and what they could possibly mean in the context of this article? Well let’s restate the questions as statements.

The Washington, DC bureau chief bypassed all local processes to send a controversial article to the national bureau for review. He also lied about the process that produced the article (or to be generous, he failed to correct a misunderstanding). At the same time, members of the religious/spiritual community who authored the press release and of which the DC bureau chief is a High Priest are sending emails and calling this same national bureau asking that this issue be covered.

So let’s step back and ask ourselves what this looks like to the average person?

I tell you what it looks like to me, and that is a concerted campaign by Firefly House to get the PNC in general and Capital Witch in particular to join in their libelous campaign against Sean Bennett.

It was bad enough that Firefly jumped all the way to Def Con level 1 by withdrawing their funds from OHF without seeking internal measures of solving any problems or concerns. But to endanger an entire community center because Iris Firemoon was angry at her husband and so manipulated national and community resources to get back at him is contemptible on a good day.

People in this community worked hard to get this center. Iris was a part of a long history of individuals and groups pulling together to make it possible. And to literally treat the center and the people who run it as fodder for her intra-marital battles is beneath contempt.

Iris Firemoon, David Salisbury, and the entire Firefly community owes the rest of us, and OHF in particular, a huge apology.

Sincerely,
Katrina Messenger

1: Hysteria has at its roots a belief that women are highly susceptible to fits of exaggerated or uncontrollable emotion. Some old school feminists sometimes uses the term Testeria as fair play

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Submitted by katrina on Thu, 08/23/2012 - 4:53pm.

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