National Jamboree 2017 – Day 7 Reflections
Reflections about SFE @ Jamboree, 7/25/2017
Day 7 of 10 – Eric Michael Busse, Director of Training
This reflection does not seek to describe my personal perspective regarding the President’s recent speech at the 2017 National Jamboree. My sense is that many people have set forth analyses more comprehensive and prophetic than anything I might be able to offer. Instead, I hope to contemplate certain moments from the past few days. I hope to flesh out what it feels like to be here as a white, openly gay, male, cisgender Eagle Scout. I feel compelled to share these experiences so that I might shine some impartial and imperfect light upon the culture of Jamboree, and by extension, upon the BSA writ large. I hope to make sense of my joy and my frustration.
Two days ago, I walked through the trading post with Justin Wilson and Rev. Michael J Crumpler. Since we weren’t planning on buying anything, we accidently failed to comply with a protocol requiring every shopper to carry a small red bucket. As we looked through the sunglasses on display— joyfully noting how participants could save $15 dollars by getting a nicer pair for free at our booth, a volunteer staff member (read: a person registered in the BSA) wearing a “security” t-shirt came up to me and asked: “Where is your bucket?” I explained that I didn’t have one. “You need a bucket” he said; his voice increasing in intensity. I assured him we weren’t buying anything, so I didn’t need a bucket to carry any merchandise. At that moment, the assumptions of reasonable communication imploded, and the rest of the encounter is a blur of shocking aggression and halting response. At one point, this person insinuated that we were lying; that we knew we needed buckets and that we must not be trustworthy. His anger caught us all off guard. I gently asked him to calm down. He told us we were being disobedient. “Let me see your credentials” he said, while ripping the nametag off of my neck. Justin Wilson took my credentials back from him and clarified that this kind of force was unacceptable. This volunteer staff member began herding us toward the door, at one moment telling us to leave the premises and in the next, accusing us of running away. I asked him If I could please speak to his supervisor. In response, he looked at the rainbow button on my chest and said: “Well, you clearly aren’t here representing the BSA!”
Last night, we spoke with a Scout who told his mother he was feeling distressed by the things he’d observed at the President’s speech. His mother reached out to Scouts for Equality in search of care and support for her son. I was struck by this young teen’s empathetic bearing and articulate clarity. He shared his joy for being able to meet diverse Scouts at Jamboree, including groups from Egypt and Kuwait. However, while he had expected that he might feel less-than-resonant with the President’s message, he did not expect to hear so many of his peers hurling racial slurs throughout the President’s speech. As a young multicultural boy who, in his own words, “passes as white”, he was not prepared to feel like he didn’t belong at Jamboree. He wanted to go home.
This evening, just prior to closing the Scout is Friendly Café, I sat in a circle with several young people from all over the country. We talked about our experiences at Jamboree thus far. I said it’s been a tough few days, and I explained why our booth was less colorful than it had been previously. I also explained all the joy I felt because of the overwhelming support we’re receiving from those who visit the café every day. Another person told the group about the moment when his crew leader unfurled a rainbow flag at the President’s speech, and how that person was told he needed to put that flag away or else he would be removed from the premises. Another told us about his scuba diving lesson that day. Another shared about his love of religious history. Yet another talked about how much they loved rock climbing at Jamboree. Many said they wished we could have had a real Rainbow Café. One person shared his anxiety about not knowing how his church would react to him being married to a man one day. We laughed a lot. We also consoled each other.
What do I make of these experiences? What do I make of the authoritarianism which I now feel to be synonymous with the BSA? How should I relate to the reality of racial slurs uttered shamelessly by Scouts at a Scouting event? How do I deal with the stigma I experience by wearing my rainbow button here? Was the “security” volunteer on a hair-trigger prior to seeing my button? Or was his disproportional rage merely a symptom of his disgust towards me? How should I regard my disappointment in this organization? How does this square with my love for it?
Cohesion continues to escape me. My experience at Jamboree is the experience of simultaneous joy and sadness, an amalgamation of hope and despair. Perhaps this is the principled, honest mix of possibility and accountability needed to transform American Scouting into the institution it could be— into the moral force of good and justice that it should be.
“I can’t believe what you say, because I see what you do.” ― James Baldwin