Association for Astrological Networking


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Association for Astrological Networking

(religion, spiritualism, and occult)

The Association for Astrological Networking (AFAN) is a nonprofit organization that serves a unique function in the astrological world. While the activities of other organizations emphasize astrological education, certification, and research, AFAN focuses on advocacy and action for astrology as a whole through media watch, networking activities (including a mentoring program), and providing legal information and assistance in reversing antiquated city ordinances that forbid the practice of astrology.

The birth of AFAN was primarily due to two conditions. The first of these was the new generation of astrologers that came into the profession in the late 1960s and early 1970s. Many of these people had been caught up in the wave of interest in astrology and related subjects that had its roots in the turbulence of the late 1960s, and by the mid-1970s had begun to look on astrology as a profession. As astrologers, and as professionals, they expected to have a place at the table in making decisions that would affect astrology’s future.

The second condition was inherent in the nature of astrology in the United States at the time the new generation came into its own. At that time, the dominant organization in the United States was the American Federation of Astrologers (AFA), a stable and conservative organization not inclined to rapid change. Over its several decades of existence, it had built up a large membership and a successful publishing and book distribution program, and it held a biennial conference that was at that time the largest in the astrological world.

Perhaps understandably, the AFA’s old guard was content with the status quo, but the many newer members brought in on the “astrology wave” wanted change and expected participation in making that change. Because of this, the main forum for members, starting in the mid-1970s the business meetings at the biennial conventions of the AFA, became scenes of open discontent, as the new generation tried to put its issues before the membership. From the mid-1970s on, as each successive conference came along, the voices demanding change became louder, and at some conventions there were even walkouts led by discontented members. However, as the AFA restricted access to its membership list, follow-up between conventions was difficult.

Finally, the pressure for change began to take other forms, first evidenced by the forming of the short-lived Association for Professional Astrologers (APA) in 1980 after an AFA convention in New Orleans. The organization’s purpose was to “create and support the profession of astrology amongst astrologers and the public.” However, due to its lack of resources, and the fact that its founders were spread across North America, the APA could not get out its message or recruit members, and thus lasted only a few months.

Though the APA had failed, it pointed the way to a solution beyond the frustrating succession of vitriolic business meetings and organized walkouts. Rather than try to force change from within the AFA, the dissidents began to feel they needed to focus on the particular issues they felt were not being dealt with either by that organization, or, for that matter, by an earlier breakaway, the National Council for Geocosmic Research (NCGR). These issues centered around the need to enhance astrology’s standing as a profession and to free it from its image as a fortune-telling device mainly used by either the suspicious or the superstitious, not to mention the antiquated and oppressive laws bred by that view.

The Birth of AFAN

Despite the failure of the APA, its founders began to plan yet another assault on the conservative power structure of the AFA, to take place at its Chicago convention in 1982. The plans were put into more concrete form at an Aquarian Revelation Conference (ARC) in Michigan some months before the AFA gathering. At this time, money was raised to fund the effort, and it was decided to hold a meeting in a rented room at the AFA conference hotel on the night of August 31, 1982. Flyers announcing the meeting were circulated at the conference itself, and on the night of the meeting, nearly 300 people showed up ready to discuss the issues the meeting’s organizers wanted to force the AFA to address.

At 11:52 p.m. CDT, a name for the the foundling organization was approved—The AFA Network, or AFAN. At the same time, its purpose was determined to be “to create a network among members [of the AFA], and to improve the communications between membership and the board of directors of the AFA.” Various committees were formed that covered all aspects of the organization’s functioning, but with the notable inclusion of activities such as networking and professionalism.

At a second meeting that night, a committee was appointed to negotiate with the AFA executive secretary on various points of interest. The meeting was held, and as a result, someone from AFAN was given a place on the official nominating committee for the next board election, thus giving the group input into AFA’s political process. However, the two AFAN-linked nominees put in place by this process lost, and at this point it became clear to the reformers that they would probably have to work outside and apart from the AFA.

Unlike the APA, AFAN had a list of several hundred people who shared its goals—those who had attended that first meeting—and with contributions to fund a newsletter, and some active networking, AFAN was soon reaching nearly 500 supporters, with the original negotiating committee acting as a kind of informal leadership. At this point, a series of events helped draw the new organization together, give it more direction and focus, and finally, complete independence. The first of these was the serious illness of an astrologer named Johnny Lister, who was diagnosed with leukemia not long after the Chicago AFA convention. AFAN led an effort to collect funds to allow him to undergo costly treatments at the Gerson Therapy Center, and the resulting Johnny Lister Fund is still in existence, providing emergency support for astrologers facing illnesses and other crises.

More important for the long term, however, were two events in early 1983 involving astrolgers and the law. The first was the targeting of the Mercury Limited Bookstore in West Allis, Wisconsin, by religious fundamentalists, and an ensuing effort by the local city council to pass an antiastrology ordinance. AFAN organized a letter-writing campaign and worked with local astrologers to fight the proposed law. In the end, the proposed ordinance was defeated six to one.

Next, in April 1983, a San Jose astrologer named Shirley Sunderbruch was arrested in her home by police in the course of a chart reading for an undercover officer. Her astrological books and other materials were confiscated, and she was charged with fortune-telling and doing business without a license—despite the fact that San Jose had not issued fortune-telling licenses for ten years. Shortly thereafter, the manager of her retirement community evicted her and her husband.

The Sunderbruch affair, which required raising money for lawyers, and serious thought about how to mount a long-term challenge to laws inimical to astrology, was critical in molding AFAN’s purpose and shaping its direction, and furthermore gave it a distinctive standing in the astrological community as an advocate for the rights of astrologers. Although many were timorous about getting involved in legal matters, citing the community’s lack of experience and resources, others argued that the right to practice astrology was on the line—we would have to learn along the way. The activists’ opinions prevailed; AFAN’s Legal Information Committee was launched. Sunderbruch was eventually exonerated under the Spiritual Psychic Church of Truth, Incorporated v. the City of Azusa decision, two years later.

During the same period of time, it became evident to AFAN’s founders that they would be unsuccessful in gaining a foothold in the AFA, so in late 1983, the ad hoc “negotiating committee” officially became the first “steering committee,” AFAN’s somewhat decentralized governing body. As it approached its first anniversary, AFAN’s legal committee was very active and involved, either directly or in an advisory capacity, in astrologers’ legal problems in New York, Alabama, Wisconsin, and several cities in California.

In 1984, AFAN held a counterconvention in a hotel down the street from the biennial AFA convention, an event firmly signaling its final move toward becoming something more than an auxiliary to the older organization. Just a little over one year later, AFAN became involved in a variety of local legal situations, city council meetings, and court cases. Near Cleveland, Ohio, a federal district court found an antiastrology law unconstitutional, influenced by material and testimony submitted by AFAN. The AFAN newsletter printed the first “What to Do in a Legal Crisis,” outlining the steps to take if arrested for fortune-telling, and in Yonkers, New York, 19 people were arrested at a psychic fair. This occurred within days of the long-awaited Azusa decision, which resulted in Shirley Sunderbruch’s exoneration.

On August 15, 1985, by a six-to-one vote, the California Supreme Court affirmed in the Azusa case that prohibiting astrology was an infringement on the freedom of speech guaranteed by both the California and U.S. constitutions. This decision set aside a previous decision, Bartha, which had held that astrology was commercial speech, and thus not entitled to such protections. Among other effects of this decision, Shirley Sunderbruch’s case, AFAN’s first, was dropped.

Even though the Azusa decision did not have force outside California, within a short time it became useful in AFAN’s legal efforts, and was used to dampen the enforcement of similar laws in other states, discourage the passage of new laws, and overthrow the old ones. The lessons learned during the first two years of AFAN’s legal work became the basis for its Legal Information Committee, and today a call or email to AFAN is often the first thing done by an astrologer facing a legal challenge.

Over the ensuing years, the meaning of AFAN’s acronym was changed to its present form. It incorporated as a nonprofit in 1988, and it took on a variety of other tasks. Interestingly enough, one of these was the forming of the United Astrology Congress (or UAC, continuing today as the United Astrology Conference) with the International Society for Astrological Research (ISAR) and NCGR. The triennial UAC, perhaps the largest gathering of astrologers in the world, embodies many of the reforms demanded by the dissidents who created AFAN.

AFAN continues to provide legal assistance to astrologers in need and works with them to overturn antiquated local ordinances. In recent years, other projects have included monitoring the media through its Media Watch committee (now of course encompassing the Internet), and promoting International Astrology Day (IAD) on the Spring Equinox each year. AFAN actually founded this yearly event, which recognizes astrologers and educates the public about astrology. Though IAD began as a fundraising effort, it now includes informal gatherings, lectures, and other events often sponsored by local groups. AFAN also conducted a highly successful international book drive whereby books were donated and distributed throughout the world. In addition, it has instituted a mentoring program to give younger or fledgling astrologers the benefit of counsel and advice from more experienced astrologers.

Adapted with permission from A History of AFAN at www.afan.org.

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