The Open Hearth Foundation has had as it primary charter the founding of a pagan community center here in the Washington DC metro area. I had been an early critic and skeptic, because as a native Washingtonian, I have longed been irritated when things are named after my city but actually reside in Maryland or Virginia.
So in January of last year when I was invited to a local leadership summit held by OHF, I was surprised when we reached general consensus that the center actually be located in DC. At the time, I was also greatly impressed with the leadership of Iris Firemoon and Maria Aquila. They listened to our feedback, frustrations and hope.
So when the center opened this year, I was so proud of OHF but most especially damn proud of the two of them. They kept their promise and they manifested our dreams. Iris, a charismatic, hard working and seasoned leader, lead the board of OHF into its greatest success.
But OHF failed Iris in many ways.
As a community, we have a responsibility to support and protect our up and coming leaders. In my years of running groups as small as a coven to statewide organizations like Maryland NOW with close to 10,000 members, the one thing that came up over and over again was how do we grow and nurture our leaders.
One of the ways we can harm our leaders is to treat them as if they are not human or have human foibles. We do this by not building in feedback loops, open and transparent processes, and escalation procedures. These procedures not only protect the organization, they also protect our leaders from themselves.
And we failed Iris when she fell in love. We failed to protect her from herself. There should have been an automatic process that clicked in to insure that Sean was removed from a leadership position. The other concerned and alarmed board members should have known who to contact to voice their concerns. Members of the community, including myself, should have known who to contact to express our concerns.
OHF has taken steps to correct these issues, but it is way too late to help Iris. And folks like myself, who continually voiced concerns informally, waited too late to make them public. As a result we, all of us, failed Iris.
And so here we are with Iris in great pain having suffered emotional and mental abuse, feeling forced out of leadership just as she achieved her greatest success, and feeling as if her only option was to publicly air her grievances against her husband and the board of the organization she once ran.
You will notice that I never faulted Iris for blogging her pain. As a feminist, I will never seek to silence a woman. I will hold people accountable when they overstep the boundaries of fair play, or when they manipulate processes or people toward the achievement of personal goals. But I will never seek to silence a woman who speaks her truth.
This is also why I can hold compassion for Iris as a woman while critiquing her actions as a leader.
And this is a key point.
Many folks acted as if this crisis was simply about either being for Iris or against her. This is the same polarization we hear from the Tea Party, the Religious Right and the current leadership of the Republican Party.
But we as pagans can ill afford that kind of politics inside our communities. We should be able to be more nuanced. Our paths, though differing all honor the earth, the seasons, the masculine and the feminine, and the light and the dark. We literally stand at the crossroads and find ways to dance and make magick together.
And so we need to be very careful when we find ourselves being pulled for or against anything. We need to find ways to be not simply for-or-against but more broadly both/and.
I both admire and respect Iris, and believe that things went too far in the subsequent attacks on Sean. Sean may be a lot of things, both admirable and deadly. But he is also a human being. And with the attacks on him and OHF, it opened up a negative spiral that led many folks who otherwise hold to standards of acceptable behavior in public to begin making lewd, nasty and horrible statements about Iris, Sean, OHF and Firefly.
And it was because of those statements that I felt I had to step in to protect all of them in my original post. My early posts were spells to stop folks from filling the airwaves with so much toxic energy that serious debate and discussion of the core issues was extremely difficult. People were un-friending long time colleagues within social media at the drop of the hat without listening to each other or respecting legitimate differences of opinion or perspectives.
It is a sad day when members of a community cannot respectfully disagree with one another. And what hurts most of all is that we could have avoided the entire episode if we had treated Iris and her leadership as the precious natural resource it was.
And so let me be the first to apologize to Iris for not having her back when she needed us the most. I am sorry I did not sit down with you and express my concerns. I am sorry I felt compelled to just offer words of support whenever I saw you without providing real support when I knew you needed it.
I know you are angry with me right now, but that is fine and in many ways quite healthy. Be as angry as you need to be, I can take it. But also know that I will also be your biggest supporter when and if you are ready to step back in the sphere of local leadership. We at the Order are praying for your continued healing, an easy delivery of a healthy baby, and that your spiritual community continues to hold and protect you.
You have my respect and love.
Submitted by katrina on Mon, 08/27/2012 - 1:34pm.
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.
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
Submitted by katrina on Thu, 08/23/2012 - 4:53pm.
Notes from a few elders
It has come to our attention recently that the ending of Iris Firemoon’s marriage to Sean Bennett has ignited a firestorm that has engulfed our new Pagan Community Center and the OHF. It is unfortunate of course, but we humans tend to have loves, loss and lives beyond even our most esteemed values and dreams.
We send our love and prayers of comfort to Iris. She obviously is in great pain. She deserves support and understanding, and her spiritual community should surround her with love and compassion.
We send love also to Sean Bennett, because he too must be suffering from the airing of the personal and intimate details of his private life. May he find comfort and support as well.
Being older yet mindful of our youthful transgressions, we are well aware that often relationships that begin with a fiery passion must surely end as well in a fiery rage. It is the way things work, but it still is painful for all concerned.
And for this we offer our love, compassion, understanding and support to all affected by the end of this relationship.
And having been in leadership positions in more than a few organizations over the decades, we also understand how interpersonal issues can obfuscate the mission, goals and activities of groups as diverse as political parties, unions, churches, nonprofits, advocacy/social justice organizations, and businesses.
We are human, and we bring out humanity into everything we do in the world, it is inevitable.
And so we offer two suggestions to the OHF in the interest of learning from this painful episode.
1. We suggest a bylaws change to the effect that board members cannot be involved with other board members in an intimate relationships, as business owners, work for the same boss, have supervisory relationships or be related by marriage or blood. If two or more board members find their soulmate on the board, all but one needs to resign.
2. And although many would feel otherwise, we feel that Sean’s membership on the board is currently a liability that OHF can ill afford. Regardless of how you come down on the dissolution of their marriage, the board and by extension our community center cannot operate effectively while this scandal is alive.
There was a time, that Katrina Messenger faced a similar issue with her membership on the board of a nationally recognized organization. Despite being innocent of any wrongdoing, a whisper campaign against her was making it difficult for the board to operate. So she resigned in the interest of the organization's health and well being.
We do not think Sean is guilty of anything except being human and fallible just like the rest of us. So this is not a condemnation of him in any way. We just think the fallout from his marriage’s dissolution is harming the community center. And we as a community could be better served by his stepping down from the board to become maybe a volunteer of some sort if he so desires.
Now we know that our opinions are just one among many, many opinions. But we hope that our input can be heard at the very least by those whose hearts, like our own, are in great pain because of all that has transpired as of late.
And to put our money where our mouth is, so to speak, we freely offer our spiritual counseling services to all parties involved in this issue. And further, we are willing to act as mediators for all the offended parties.
We just love our interlacing, overlapping, beautifully diverse communities of pagans. And so we pray for the best possible outcome with the least harm to all concerned.
In service and blessings
Submitted by katrina on Thu, 08/09/2012 - 10:30am.