Quakers and Leadership
June 13, 2023
Season 2, episode 1. In this episode of Quakers Today we ask, What do you expect and need from a leader?
- Kat Griffith steps out of her comfort zone and runs for local office. The lessons she has learned about herself and her community will encourage, inspire, and challenge you. Learn more about her experience through her article, “One Quaker’s Excellent Adventure in Politics.”
- Kat is a former high school teacher, homeschooler, and yearly meeting co-clerk. She describes her current circumstances as “cheerfully unemployed but awfully busy! Interesting times and no lack of meaningful work!” She is primary caregiver to her 91-year-old mother-in-law, is active in Northern Yearly Meeting, clerks the vibrant Winnebago Worship Group in east-central Wisconsin, writes regularly for Friends Journal, interprets (Spanish/English) for FWCC, and is editing an antiracist clerking manual—a work in progress. She is also busy with county board work and a range of local social justice, community building, and environmental initiatives. Personal joys include kayaking, snowshoeing, writing, cooking, tending a ridiculous profusion of houseplants, being a news junkie, and most recently, learning ASL.
- Windy Cooler shares a review and a reflection about the award winner film, Women Talking. See Windy’s longer written review of the film, “A Thought Experiment in Sympathy and Love.” Windy Cooler, is currently the convener of Life and Power, a discernment project on abuse in Quaker community.
- Windy Cooler (she/her) is an embraced public Friend and the assistant clerk of Sandy Spring (Md.) Meeting of Baltimore Yearly Meeting. Her ministry has long centered on Quaker caregiving in times of crisis and in group discernment: finding the wisdom in communities to address sticky issues. A regular guest of Quaker communities in the United States, and more recently in the United Kingdom, she is also Pendle Hill’s 2020 Cadbury Scholar and a 2022-23 fellow of Odyssey Impact, a change-making organization that centers story-telling as a strategy for building social justice.
- Jean Parvin Bordewich tells us about Bayard Rustin and other Pacifists who revolutionized resistance. She reviewed the book War By Other Means: The Pacifists of the Greatest Generation Who Revolutionized Resistance by Daniel Akst.
- Jean Parvin Bordewich is a member of San Francisco (Calif.) Meeting, now attending Friends Meeting of Washington, D.C. She is a trustee of Guilford College in Greensboro, N.C. A former senior staff member in the U.S. Senate and House of Representatives and local elected official in New York’s Hudson Valley, she now writes plays about politics and history.
You will find a complete transcript of this episode below after the show notes.
After the episode concludes we share voicemails from listeners who answered the question, What do you expect and need from a leader?
Question for next month
In the July episode of Quakers Today we ask, What do you desire?
The question comes from listener Glen Retief. Glen asks us to consider this question, What do you desire? It is a broad question that you can answer in lots of ways. What do you desire for yourself? Your future? Your relationships? It could also be connected to the wider world around you. What do you desire for your community? The place where you worship? Or for other earthlings? What do you desire?
Here is our question for you to consider. What do you desire?
Leave a voice memo with your name and the town where you live. The number to call is 317-QUAKERS, that’s 317-782-5377. +1 if calling from outside the U.S.
Quakers Today is the companion podcast to Friends Journal and other Friends Publishing Corporation (FPC) content online. It is hosted by Peterson Toscano, and it is produced for Friends Journal through Peterson Toscano Studios.
Season Two of Quakers Today is sponsored by American Friends Service Committee.
Do you want to challenge unjust systems and promote lasting peace? The American Friends Service Committee, or AFSC works with communities worldwide to drive social change. Their website features meaningful steps you can take to make a difference. Through their Friends Liaison Program, you can connect your meeting or church with AFSC and their justice campaigns. Find out how you can become part of AFSC’s global community of changemakers. Visit AFSC dot ORG. That’s AFSC dot ORG
Send comments, questions, and requests regarding our podcast. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
Music from this episode comes from Epidemic Sound. You heard In Love with Myself (Instrumental Version) by Katnip, Hidden Fields by Clarence Reed, Shinjuku by Leimoti, Rising Hope by Reynard Seidel, Work Together by Isola JamesGuuter Gator by Benjamin King
Transcript for Quakers and Leadership
Windy Cooler, Jean Parvin Bordewich, Peterson Toscano, Kat Griffith
Peterson Toscano 00:00
In this episode of Quakers Today we ask, “What do you expect to need from a leader?” Windy Cooler shares a review and a reflection about the award winning film Women Talking. Jean Parvin Bordewich tells us about pacifists who revolutionized resistance. And Kat Griffith steps out of her comfort zone and runs for local office.
Peterson Toscano 00:22
I am Peterson Toscano. Welcome to Season Two of Quakers Today podcast, a project of Friends Publishing Corporation. This season of Quakers Today is sponsored by the American Friends Service Committee.
Peterson Toscano 00:36
Kat Griffith took a leap into local politics and ran for office. She shares lessons she learned, and she raises questions about the complications, compromises and rewards of public service.
Kat Griffith 00:53
It started with a despairing text from a friend. She had just read the website of a guy running in our district unopposed for the county board. His website was all about gun rights, jury nullification, and armed resistance to the government. Over the next 24 hours a thought found its way into my mind, “should I run?” This improbable idea came to me with a sort of static electricity; I couldn’t shake it. When I asked my family to be a clearness committee for me, within an hour, my husband was making a spreadsheet of contacts to reach out to and my daughter offered to canvass for nomination signatures at around 9am.
Kat Griffith 01:28
On New Year’s Day in subzero weather, I knocked on the door of our former state senator, a rock ribbed Republican, to ask for his signature. Our last interaction had involved me demonstrating in his driveway against his support for act 10, which gutted the teachers union and other public sector unions back in 2010. But he signed my nomination papers. Lesson One asking Republicans to support me gave me an unexpected chance to honor Republicans. The implicit message of my knocking on their doors? I cared what they thought. I trusted the value of our interactions. I believed we had important things in common, and I considered at least some of our differences bridgeable.
Kat Griffith 02:05
Over the next couple of months, I went door to door throughout my small district of about 4,000 souls asking people what they thought about various county issues. Because I couldn’t assume agreement, I found myself talking less and listening more, feeling around for any common ground at all. Almost always we found it and then we would spin a conversation around that shared thing, and it would grow outwards into a web of related explorations. And pretty soon there might be a whole bunch of things we could talk about. Lesson two, the secret of successful conversations across the aisle? Ditching my own agenda in favor of learning about theirs. I came away from canvassing shifts unexpectedly heartened, I even kind of fell in love with my community all over again.
Kat Griffith 02:45
But alas, it wasn’t all puppies and rainbows and chatting on front porches. I was trolled repeatedly. And I also had a couple of Facebook angels who responded with calm and kindness and reason to a few particularly combustible souls. While there were conflagrations I steered clear of there were also individuals I reached out to personally. I offered to meet in person with a couple of serial trolls. One of them was named Booger online, and a couple of them went silent after that. I also learned less encouragingly that some of my supporters were as intemperate as my trolls. The message I put out was, “You will not love me better by hating my opponent; please do not hate my opponent.”
Kat Griffith 03:25
But eventually I faced a difficult choice whether to continue to focus exclusively on the positive reasons to vote for me for county board, or whether to raise up some truths about my opponent. It was clear that most people felt pretty ho-hum about county affairs in truth, so did I before I ran for office, and that the prospect of voting me into office was not exactly electrifying. What was electrifying for moderate to progressive voters was finding out that my opponent was prepared to take up arms against the government and overrule juries, among other things. Was the community well served by a positive campaign that failed to address these issues? I decided to express some of my concerns about my opponents positions, and have wondered ever since, was the body politic better served by outing my opponents more extreme views? They were on his website, but surprisingly few people seem to go there. Or by sticking to a strictly positive campaign, was there any pure action to take in these circumstances? Was purity even the right goal? I’m not sure these questions are ultimately answerable in any final way. I’m not even sure they’re the right questions. But I do know this, there was a rabid Christian nationalist candidate who believed in executing gays there were internet trolls making up outlandish stuff about me. There was an electorate that was by turns foaming at the mouth and apathetic, and there was me scratching my head, praying, and not coming to clarity.
Kat Griffith 04:39
The closest I’ve come to clarity since then, is that wading through this grubby situation was perhaps the price of getting involved in electoral politics. Lesson three, as GK Chesterton once said, “Art like morality consists in drawing the line somewhere.” Where to draw it in these circumstances was murky. And experience so far tells me that I will have to live with such murkiness. That I will not always have the luxury of certainty that I did the right thing.
Kat Griffith 05:05
The campaign as it turned out, was considerably less bewildering than my first months of being on the county board. I had expected a deliberative body weighing possible courses of action, discussing the ins and outs of various policies, and hashing out compromises. Ha! None of the things I ran on seemed even remotely attainable. They simply had nothing to do with the business that came before us. Lesson Four a campaign platform is an exercise in fantasy fiction.
Kat Griffith 05:30
About 10 months on, here’s what I have figured out to do. I poke around and ask a ton of questions. I interview everyone and her sister. I ride along with sheriff’s deputies and cops, and I feel mildly embarrassed at how much I like driving at 125 miles per hour. I also go to Finance Committee meetings, even though I’m not on the Finance Committee. They’re the ones who get to decide everything. Perhaps most importantly, I write a monthly column on county affairs for our local paper. I spend a lot of column inches thanking people and raising up their good work. Most of this work fixing roads, collecting child support, running the county jail, maintaining parks, holding elections is genuinely nonpartisan.
Kat Griffith 06:07
I ran because I wanted to make county governance better, but I found a different toehold, raising up the good work already being done. In this divided and distrustful time, might that be the more important role? And it’s a way into something in short supply these days, a sense of “We-ness” We have an award-winning long term care facility. We have some fabulous bike trails. We have a county health department that won multiple awards for its COVID response. What could be more important in 2023 than knitting a corner of angry divided Wisconsin back together into “We-ness? in this place, and in this time, this feels like success enough.
Peterson Toscano 06:53
That was Kat Griffith reading a condensed version of her article. “One Quakers Excellent Adventure in Politics.” It appears in the June/July issue of Friends Journal. You can also read it online at FriendsJournal.or.
Peterson Toscano 07:12
Windy cooler loves cinema. She has spent 1000s of hours in movie theaters. Recently she shared with me some of her experiences and reflections along with a movie recommendation.
Windy Cooler 07:26
The prophets job is to break reality and pull people to a new reality through the broken one. film and art in general is a way of increasing our capacity for hopefulness for possibility and for seeing past the things that are taboo to break through. I was a projectionist at a little one screen movie theater in Montgomery, Alabama when I was 17 years old until I was 27 and left Montgomery for the DC area. I have a very rich relationship with film very intimate relationship.
Windy Cooler 08:02
I would highly recommend women talking as a film for Quakers. The characters in the film are Plain Mennonites while the film is sort of grounded in a real crime, the film is fictional and says so at the very beginning. That this is a work of wild female imagination, the narrator says. And what we see in the film is really reminiscent of these mid-century plays like “Twelve Angry Men,” or some of the Edward Albee plays that take place on one set. It takes place in the hayloft of a barn.
Windy Cooler 08:41
It’s highly philosophical, theological conversation about the meaning of forgiveness, the meaning of a peace testimony in response to incredible violence, and the power of relationship in corporate discernment. So what you see in the film is a group of three generations of women and girls, grandmothers, mothers and teenage daughters, involved in a discernment process where they fight, They assault one another, they hug one another, they apologize for the ways in which they have allowed this harm to happen to one another. The film really does not focus on the horror of the violence. It really focuses on the life-affirming relationships between these women and the decisions that they need to make together in this hayloft. I took my 17 year old son to see it. He was so touched by it. He said that it was one of the best films he’s ever seen in his life.
Peterson Toscano 09:55
That was Windy Cooler speaking about the film women talking. You can Read Windy’s longer analysis of the film at FriendsJournal.org. In her article, ” A Thought Experiment in Wympathy and Love, Windy shares some of the details behind the true story that inspired the film, sexual violence that took place in a Plain Mennonite colony in Bolivia. WIndy Cooler is currently the convener of Life and Power. It is an international listening project that provides tools to help Quaker communities discern responses to abuse. To learn more visit, lifeandpowerquakerdiscernmentonabuse.com.
Peterson Toscano 10:39
I first learned about the black gay Quaker civil rights leader, Bayard Rustin, 20 years ago at a New England Quaker gathering. In the June July issue of Friends Journal, Jean Parvin Bordewich reviews a new book that features an important aspect of Rustin’s story. I asked Jean to tell us about War by Other Means, the Pacifists of the Greatest Generation who Revolutionized Resistance,
Jean Parvin Bordewich 11:11
There was a lot going on after World War One, when people felt that the world had just about come apart. Many people wanted to avoid that kind of a conflict ever happening again. And of course, it did, unfortunately, in World War Two. But it was a very rich time that most of us know very little about. And it was a fertile ground for pacifists and pacifism to emerge.
Jean Parvin Bordewich 11:34
Daniel Akst has done a masterful job of telling the story, building it around four specific individuals, some of whom were very driven by their religious convictions. One of whom was a convinced Catholic, Dorothy Day and two others who came at it from I think more of an ideological rather than a religious perspective. Bayard Rustin, He was at Ashland, Kentucky at a prison there. But he was subjected to a huge amount of racism. He was both black and openly gay. And the book talks a little bit more about his experiences there where he worked very hard, and successfully ultimately, through being an incredibly obnoxious activist. But ultimately, he was successful in helping to integrate a number of the activities there, including the church services, the movie nights, and the dining facilities.
Jean Parvin Bordewich 12:21
These four people and their ideas, and also the people who joined with them, became part of the early stages of developing tactics and strategies for these movements that have become a really important part of American history. It talks about the role of the Peace Phurches, the traditional peace churches, so the Religious Society of Friends, the Mennonites in the Church of the Brethren. After World War One, they were among these people who said, we don’t want to have this kind of a conflict again. So in the 1930s, as things started to deteriorate in Europe and in Germany, they got together and said, look, we don’t really have a good system here in the United States for conscientious objectors to be recognized and to serve alternative service. In 1940 before conscription started in the United States, they had proposed a framework for alternative service, these civilian public service camps, which ultimately were where about 25 to 50,000, American CEOs went to work hard and provide valuable service to the country, firefighting, building roads and bridges, digging ditches, whatever was needed. The book tells us that it’s worth coming together and organizing on behalf of these commitments. War By Other Means: The Pacifists of the Greatest Generation Who Revolutionized Resistance by Daniel Akst.
Peterson Toscano 12:22
You can read Jean Parvin Bordewich’s complete review and reviews of other excellent books and the June/July issue of Friends Journal and over at FriendsJournal.org
Peterson Toscano 13:54
Thank you for joining me for this episode of Quakers Today. Our show is written and produced by me Peterson Toscano. Visit Quakerstoday.org to see our show notes with many links and a full transcript of this episode.
Peterson Toscano 14:07
Season Two of Quakers Today is sponsored by The American Friends Service Committee. Do you want to challenge unjust systems and promote lasting peace? The American Friends Service Committee, or AFSC, works with communities worldwide to drive social change. Their website features meaningful steps you can take to make a difference. Through their Friends Liaison Program, you can connect your meeting or church with AFSC and their justice campaigns. Find out how you can become part of a FSCS global community of changemakers visit afsc.org. That’s afsc.org.
Peterson Toscano 14:45
Thank you, friend, I look forward to spending more time with you soon.
Peterson Toscano 14:53
In a moment, you will hear recorded messages from listeners who answer the question, What do you expect and need from a leader? But first, let me share with you next month’s question. Here it is. It comes from listener Glen Retief. He also happens to be my husband. Glen asks us to consider this question, What do you desire? That’s a broad question that you can answer in loads of ways. What do you desire for yourself, your future your relationships? It could also be connected to the wider world around you. What do you desire for your community, your country, the place where you’re worship, or for other Earthlings? What do you desire? Leave a voicemail with your name and the town where you live. The number to call is 317-Quakers. That’s 317-7825- 377. 317-Quakers. Plus one if you’re calling from outside the USA. You can also send an email. I have these contact details in our show notes over at QuakersToday.org.
Peterson Toscano 16:02
Now we hear your answers to the question. What do you expect to need from a leader? And our first answer comes from our guest today Jean Parvin Bordewich.
Jean Parvin Bordewich
You’re talking about leadership in this podcast, and we have to think about leaders and leadership and leading over a very long time horizon. We like to say oh, so and so is the president or head of this organization, they’re a leader, but leaders are really people who show the way. And that way may be a very long one.
Jean Parvin Bordewich
When you think about the Society of Friends, they eventually came to an anti-slavery position. They were among the very first, but it took many, many years. Most people who originally were advocates against slavery, never lived to see the abolition of slavery in the UK or the United States. The same with the Women’s Movement for women’s voting rights. Women who started that in the 1840s actually never saw what happened in the 1920s; they died. You may plant the seed today, but you may not live to see it come to fruition. For friends who have had a peace testimony against violence. This goes back to the 17th century. And we still don’t have a world of nonviolent conflict. The people who continue, not only to believe that and be committed to that, but to practice it, like these conscientious objectors and more resistance, they’re taking a stand in the present for the future, to see a vision of a world where humanity can stop killing and resolve its differences without carnage. So they are leaders, but they’re not leaders maybe that will be recognized today. They might not be recognized for 100 or 200 years. That’s very important to keep in mind. And so people who stand for nonviolent conflict resolution are also taking a stand. That may look fruitless now. But 200 years from now, we may say they were the ones who showed us the way.
Hello, my name is John Craig. I’m calling from the American Friends Service Committee in Des Moines, Iowa. And responding to the query, what do you expect in need from a leader? I think there are a number of traits that I think a good leader possesses among them, our ability to listen well and closely to what people from all walks of life need in their communities. A good leader is someone who is transparent and an open about what’s going on someone who speaks plainly, and and doesn’t hide, hide things behind a lot of verbiage. Funny I was having trouble finding that word. Good leaders also have to really pay attention to people who are most directly impacted by the inequities in our society, really focus on their efforts and their work on on helping people who who most need it are most vulnerable. And so that’s, I think a few things I look for. Thanks very much. Bye bye.
My name is Don McCormick, and I’m a member of Grass Valley Friends Meeting in the Sierra Nevadas. I expect from a leader I expect to be treated as an individual to receive coaching, mentoring and growth opportunities. I expect the leader to encourage me to question assumptions and to come up with creative solutions to problems. I expect to be inspired to be given meaningful challenges that has to do with shared goals and work. I expect a leader to involve me and my colleagues in creating a vision to be confident and to set high standards. I do not exceed picked a leader to be the servant of the group, especially if they’re from an oppressed group, it has historically been limited to working with servants.
Hi, this is Carol Bartel from the American Friends Service Committee in Burlington, Iowa. A leader needs to be kind, compassionate, with a total capacity to listen and listen not just with the head, but also with the heart. Take care.