I think one of the things I’ve been missing in the controversy over OHF is differing expectations about what OHF is and how much power it has over people.

Maeri’s excellent comment to my last post lays out a brilliant plan for remedying the current situation, but it has one key flaw: Maeri assumes that members of the community form a voting body with a role in OHF. We don’t.

Someone else was asking me who elects the members of the Board. As far as I can tell, the members of the Board are elected (and have their terms renewed?) by the Board itself.

Others have mentioned in comments and at other places that they want to see Sean banned from the community center because he is such a risk. I was stunned to see that; although I certainly want to protect the community from people who are dangerous – although as yet I have no opinion on whether Sean is that dangerous – it never occurred to me that OHF would have the power to ban someone from the community center.

That kind of power suggests that some people see this as potentially not a community center open to all comers but a sort of semi-closed community resource, one that includes a definition of who is “in” the community being served, or at least the certainty that some people are “out” of it. Many of the ideas being thrown around seem to rely on OHF functioning as some sort of supreme joint council of the local Pagan community.

When I suggest that OHF is hewing closely to its mission to create and maintain a community center, I am excoriated for supporting or defending abusers. I have never said that I support Sean staying in his current position; I have tried to focus on the organizational and institutional nature of the OHF, and why that nature seems to me to make it possible to support OHF without taking sides in a dispute about Iris and Sean.

With the opening of the community center, the OHF had to look closely at its foundational documents; its purpose was no longer to open the center. It had to redefine itself in terms of running the center. The organizational structure that worked reasonably well for what was, essentially, a fundraising organization may not be suited to running a community center.

So before we demand change from the OHF – especially change that calls on the nature of the OHF to radically transform itself in order to take on tremendous amounts of authority that will lead to even larger, more painful controversies in the future – we need to think about what we’re asking for.

Do we want the OHF as an institution to take on a role in determining who is in and who is out? Do we want to create that kind of community and that kind of authority?

Please note that I am not saying this is a black and white choice, where either the OHF is powerless or all-powerful. I am saying that I think some people don’t realize the historical sources of the institution’s setup, role, and mandate, and that if we want to go changing that, we need to figure out what we’re getting into.

I think the OHF should seriously consider creating a new organizational structure that is responsive to the community as a whole. Currently, when someone like me, or Iris, or from Firefly has a conflict with someone in OHF or something about OHF, we can go to the newly-created ombudsman – which is a step in the right direction – or we can talk to people who are in positions of power, as private individuals, which opens up a whole world of potential problems about communication, privacy, and conflicts of interest, or we can simply take our time and our money and walk. We can’t even have access to the ongoing deliberations of the leadership except once a year.

If we want to create a vibrant community center, perhaps we should work on building community. What if we created a more representative authority structure that was in some ways accountable to members?

The question of whether that structure would have authority to eject members would still be a thorny one, but it would have a lot more options than the organization as currently constituted. At a time like this, for example, we could have a community meeting, and maybe even do consensus building, and actually work together.

Right now, OHF can’t do that kind of work because it is defined as running the community center. Period. It’s not in charge of the community.

Maybe this is the next hurdle for the Pagan community in DC to find out whether we really can function as a community. Can we come together to work through something like this? Is OHF the mechanism we want to use to do that? Do we want to seriously consider reconstituting it to make that possible, or try to create a parallel or independent grassroots structure that brings community members together as community?

I’m not the one to answer all of these questions, but maybe they point us in the direction of some possible discussions that don’t boil down to simply taking sides in a polarized debate. I’m also not the person to come to with suggestions about OHF – their ombudsman is. I’m going to sit down and think about what I might suggest. I encourage you to as well. Let’s find ways to talk.

6 thoughts on “What is OHF’s mandate?

    1. I guess, I should really amend this. It sounds harsher than I really mean it’s just… maybe it was just a dream for so long and the OHF was more a fundraising body for so long that the nitty gritty detail of dealing with inevitable disputes and keeping accountability and order etc. didn’t get thought about in advance? And perhaps this is an opportunity– to get it right, now, still in the beginning stages, *before* such a disruption might be even worse.

  1. Just to clarify a bit… for me, I’m speaking from my experience in multi-organization non-Pagan community organizations (and yes, in some cases as an elected parliamentarian–something that I’m consistently surprised that Pagan organizations don’t seem to have). For all of the organizations in which I have served to elected office, appointed office, or as a delegate/representative from a member organization, there were some pretty clear lines about who is and is not a voting member. For OHF, I can see a few different ways that one could decide voting membership. It could be based on who pays dues/membership fees to the organization. It could be based on number of business meetings attended. It could be based on number of service hours provided to the organization. It could be that every incorporated Pagan-identifying group in the area is allowed X number of representatives (although I would feel very troubled personally by that criterion, as it would eliminate the ability for solitary practitioners to be included as voting members, unless some sort of “at large” designation was created–which would cause its own layers of complexity). It could be a combination of all of the above. At some point, there has to be a definition of here’s what you do to be able to vote at meetings, and that needs to be consistent. Once that’s done, as long as you have a quorum (if one is required by the bylaws), then whoever shows up to vote who is eligible to vote (or voting by proxy or absentee ballot if allowed) is who is part of the “voting community”. Does that mean that everyone in the community will get a voice? Absolutely not. Ideally, however, it will mean that those who actually care about the organization and its successful functioning would participate in the process.

    1. Those are all really good points. They refer to people who pay dues as “members” currently, and I think that or some basic number of service hours would be a good start for defining a voting membership. But overall, the idea of making the organization more member-run is a radical one, and something that I think we need to think about.

  2. Most community centers I’ve had any experience with have the authority to ban people for the safety of others.

    To be a little clearer, while it may easily sound like I’ve been advocating for Sean to be banned from the center, that wasn’t actually what I meant, and I apologize if I’ve been unclear on that. (I may have been confused this morning, I replied right after waking up.) I just mean that it should be an option if he or someone else becomes a danger by their presence and actions. But putting someone in a position of authority is saying that they are trusted, and that has weight and meaning.

    1. I didn’t read you as saying that precisely. I certainly agree that the idea of exclusion from events should be considered separately from being removed from leadership.

      I’m also not saying that we have to throw open the doors to every evangelical preacher who wants to use a gathering of Pagans to exhort us about the dangers of hell, or someone who endangers others, or every person on the street. I just keep coming back to questions of authority and process.

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