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A Very Uncomfortable Place

I met Monette Richards at last year’s Women in Secularism conference, though I’d known her online before that. We’ve since become friends, just as is the case for every CFI volunteer or staff member I’ve spent any significant amount of time interacting with. They are good people, doing excellent work, many of whom are in very tough spots after this year’s conference. Monette wrote this about being in that tough spot.

Early last year, I discovered Center for Inquiry because of an event they were throwing, the first Women in Secularism conference. When doing further research, I found a chapter that met not two blocks from my house. Never one to pass up imbibing beers with like-minded people, especially when I can walk home, my husband and I joined and started attending meetings.

We were immediately made to feel welcome by the entire group. They were personable and interested in talking to us and none of them said “bless you” when I sneezed! It was awesome.  Then, we went to Arlington, VA for the conference.

I keep trying to express exactly what that conference did for me, but can never come up with the words.  Instead, I will tell you what it inspired me to do.

Since joining CFI, I have organized a charity event with a local battered women’s shelter, a lobby day for our state, a night with Shelley Segal, dinner with Hug an Atheist’s Sylvia Broeckx and, as the VP of Programming for Center for Inquiry – Northeast Ohio, expanded our monthly events list.

I’m not trying to toot my own horn, here. This is to show how active I’ve become in this movement because of Women in Secularism. I found a home in CFI and did the best I could to make it a great one.

This is why I was so thoroughly disappointed in the actions of Ron Lindsay this past weekend at Women in Secularism2. To watch the CEO of the organization I’ve come to love undermine all the work his female employee, Melody Hensley, had done, use his position to belittle a room full of people who paid to attend a conference about women, personally welcome a known harasser, thereby validating all the harassment and abuse women have been getting, and throw a temper tantrum when faced for criticism of it all was maddening.

I cannot keep putting my time and effort into an organization that condones such behavior from its leadership.

I have a board meeting tomorrow.  I have asked that an item be placed on the agenda so that we may talk about this past weekend and what it means for my inclusion in this organization. What do I do? Do I leave CFI? Do I write a letter and hope things change? Do I ask the other board members to stand with me against the head of our organization’s actions? How do we show solidarity in the face of the national board?

Comments

  1. frogmistress says

    Thanks for posting this, Stephanie!

    Most volunteers don’t get access to a voice on this scale.

  2. jackal says

    You’ve done some amazing things with CFI. Perhaps give the national board a bit more time to come around. Meanwhile, ask your board to take action: draft an official letter to the CFI leadership, something along the lines of the statement published by Secular Women. If your board won’t stand with you, hopefully you can still find a way to be as active in the community, perhaps with a different organization if CFI is no longer welcoming.

  3. says

    Ted Roosevelt once said that it is better to inside the tent
    pissing out than outside the tent pissing in and how true
    What is interesting here is how Stephanie is considering
    leaving the organisation other than wishing for Ron to go
    Now if what was said was indicative of it as a whole then
    she may very well have a point now though this is not so
    If everyone who objects to Rons statement leaves then it
    will just weaken the organisation other than strengthen it
    Though as with all questions of this kind there is not any
    real right or wrong answer for it is just a matter of opinion

  4. frogmistress says

    jackal, thanks. It’s been a fun year being active with them.

    I think the board waiting until their regularly scheduled meeting is a case of ‘ignore it and it will go away.’

    I’m really hoping our local board members agree we need to do something, and writing a letter is the least of it. :)

  5. says

    I suggest that you, and everyone else who has been getting harassed by the MRAs, start forwarding all the hateful emails and tweets you get to everyone on the board, every day, until the board explicitly admits there’s a problem and does something substantive about it.

  6. janiceclanfield says

    Perhaps a message to the board of directors?

    Perhaps no more men addressing a women’s conference. No, not even God (if he had the balls to show up.)

    It’s OUR conference…
    Hint: What was the name of the conference?

    Also, it was lovely meeting you.

  7. G Pierce (Was ~G~) says

    I’m from the same local community and believe me, CFI does NOT want to lose Monette. She came out of no where and just started doing all this amazing stuff. I thought, “Where has she been all my life!” She’s set the bar much higher for actual activism and engagement and is a great and inspiring person to boot. I very, very much want to see this resolved in a positive manner. I am not on the board but am also a dues paying member and supporter of the local CFI and feel torn about this as well. It’s filled with lots of compassionate, dedicated and intelligent people!

  8. smhll says

    @3
    It was a little bit confusing, but after the first paragraph, the text is by Monette Richards, not Stephanie.

  9. Hahmotelma says

    “This is why I was so thoroughly disappointed in the actions of Ron Lindsay this past weekend at Women in Secularism2. To watch the CEO of the organization I’ve come to love undermine all the work his female employee, Melody Hensley, had done, use his position to belittle a room full of people who paid to attend a conference about women, personally welcome a known harasser, thereby validating all the harassment and abuse women have been getting”

    I think i need to read his speech again if that was in there.

  10. says

    G, if you can’t go to the board meeting, maybe you can send that to the board in advance of the meeting so they know how you feel?

    Janice, it was lovely meeting you too.

  11. Dena says

    I agree with you on being lost as to how to stay involved with CFI, but ultimately I think the best thing I can do is continue to stay involved and voice my opinions and show that his remarks do not represent us. When we can speak as CFI members & volunteers who reject his notions, I think that speaks much louder than abandoning the organization altogether.

    And of course it was so great meeting you this weekend! Thanks for writing this, it was very on-point.

  12. G Pierce (Was ~G~) says

    Dena-
    Part of me agrees with you, but on the other hand I think about what we would hope that church members might do if in an analogous position. I know I personally critique the religious for not truly holding their leaders accountable and continuing to give them their money. I think cutting off the revenues is often the only thing that gets some people’s attention at times and we vote with our wallets.

    Finally, I really want to emphasize again the importance of holding leaders accountable. I would hope those of us who despise religious institutions would be able to set ourselves apart by being very diligent about this. No org is going to make us 100% happy all of the time of course and we each need to set our own limits. However, even if I give up all my national memberships, there is plenty of work to be done in our local communities under our own initiatives.

  13. frogmistress says

    @Raging Bee – Stephanie gave a huge pdf of JV’s crap before the conference. He was still welcomed with open arms. Maybe sending it to the Board would make a difference? I don’t know.

    @G Pierce – <3. You are amazing and made me tear up. I love getting to work with you! And thank you for sending the email you did. I hope it makes a difference!

    @Dena – I hope we can speak loudly enough, right? Thank you. It was wonderful meeting you, too.

    Thanks everyone. I'm getting emails, too from people. This is pretty awesome. The meeting is actually tonight (post was written yesterday). I promise to update.

  14. frogmistress says

    @Giliell, professional cynic – I almost always accept hugs. Thank you.

  15. brive1987 says

    How much influence does National Office have on local action and strategy? Unless it is all very hierarchical I would argue your allegiance lies with the chapter. Head Office of anything large will be a political animal with a loose correlation to doing what’s “just” and populated by people embodying the Peter Principle.

    If you can identify with your local group, if they display a values based position – such as issuing an internal call to the Board for clarification and action, then I think you still have a home.

    If they can’t or won’t, then you need to either compromise your beliefs to pragmatism with attendant disillusion – or find a different “chapter-like” organisation.

    I thought my capacity to rationalise stupidity was approaching the infinity – until I saw Ron’s speech and the word “CEO” in the same post. And I have worked in NFPs for over twenty years …….

    The only problem is how the Board will weigh the pros and cons of a public slap down.

    I doubt you will get full satisfaction like a resignation. I suspect a fail on feminism could be weaselled into a failure on a “non-core outcome area” – and one that’s filled with hair triggered land mines at that. (from their perspective)

    So there could be lots of “Fu** me! I’ve learned heaps about this weird world, lucky we don’t run those every day! Know better for next time. Sorry about that, how do we make it go away? Good, now onto that church-state (real) problem.”

    You will note that feminism does not figure on CFI’s “About” page and certainly not in their three focus outcomes:

    ………………………………….
    Fostering a secular society requires attention to many specific goals, but three goals in particular represent the focus of our activities:
    1. an end to the influence that religion and pseudoscience have on public policy
    2.an end to the privileged position that religion and pseudoscience continue to enjoy in many societies
    3.an end to the stigma attached to being a nonbeliever, whether the nonbeliever describes her/himself as an atheist, agnostic, humanist, freethinker or skeptic.
    ………………………………….

    Based on this I suspect CFI’s interest in holding WiS was either due to grass roots pressure – or a desire not to lose ground to other organisations or have A+ splinter off. I think that was actually what’s behind Ron’s speech. “We have to have you in the tent, we dont entirely like what you represent though – so here are the parameters.”

    I still think he should go – even if from a purely (un)professional , (in)competance, basis. Just dont think its the issue CFI Head Office will die in a ditch over.

  16. brive1987 says

    Hmm on re-reading last para is un-necessarily direct.

    Redact to “I still think he should go – even if from a purely (un)professional , (in)competance, basis. Just dont think its the issue CFI Head Office and Board will be prepared to lose a great deal of public face over.”

  17. Ichthyic says

    I still think he should go – even if from a purely (un)professional , (in)competance, basis. Just dont think its the issue CFI Head Office will die in a ditch over.

    It will inevitably boil down to why CFI chose Ron to be CEO to begin with.

    CEOs of nonprofs are usually there as PR figureheads, to help call attention to the organization itself.

    so the question then becomes…

    Who IS Ron Lindsay, and does just having him as your CEO provide enough asset value to outweigh the really stupid shit he just pulled?

    the answer to that lies here:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ronald_A._Lindsay

    My conclusion?

    sadly, the board will decide to do nothing about this, since otherwise Ron really IS a tremendous asset to CFI.

    on the downlow, they might chide him for abusing his position to post negative whiny reactions to participants in the conference CFI itself sponsored, but that will be about it methinks.

    I think a LOT of pressure needs to be put on that board before they would do anything to remove Ron from that position, or even get him pissed off for that matter.

  18. says

    Since joining CFI, I have organized a charity event with a local battered women’s shelter, a lobby day for our state, a night with Shelley Segal, dinner with Hug an Atheist’s Sylvia Broeckx and, as the VP of Programming for Center for Inquiry – Northeast Ohio, expanded our monthly events list.
    [...] This is to show how active I’ve become in this movement because of Women in Secularism.

    versus

    Remember the Women in Secularism conference the other week? [...] Far from encouraging new women to get involved, all this hysterical and unjustified insistence on how dangerous our conferences are for women, how hostile our movement is to them, the indignities and humiliations they will be exposed to should they dare to set foot over the skeptical threshold could have been calculated to scare them away.

    (the latter is from Kirby’s whine a while back)

  19. brive1987 says

    #20 Ichthyic

    I agree. Unless there was already a quorum already wanting his removal and looking for a hook this won’t go there. I suspect we will get a “sorry I was insensitive and upset you” plus a lawyer approved recognition of differences of opinion and the value of open reasonable debate and a reaffirmation of human equality and within that the equality of women – without any attempt to engage with the substantive (specific) criticisms.

    I wonder if CFI is even now talking to peer organisations about the need to stand firm and united despite this problem – which we will get Ron to atone for, – if you then dial back. I hope “Secular Women” don’t issue a “we note with satisfaction … ” PR after some future political mea culpa by CFI. Though this could be their chance to seize the future agenda. Maybe they joint join own the conference next year with CFI – with an aim of a friendly take over in 2015. Something good could actually come out of a clever negotiated solution here.

    Sadly I can almost see in my minds eye this turning into a future CFI Boardroom joke – “Remember when Ron took on that room of RadFems and got a black eye? haha, betcha that hurt, oucher. I reckon he’d rather go bear hunting next year with a toothpick rather than take that lot on again! “

  20. Ichthyic says

    I suspect we will get a “sorry I was insensitive and upset you”

    well, we just got that.

    he just posted a notpology.

    so good prediction on your part :)

  21. brive1987 says

    :-)

    Fuck me though. “The CFI board will decide whether my talk was contemptuous of women”

    Talk about defining yourself out of the debate.

  22. says

    “The CFI board will decide whether my talk was contemptuous of women”

    Note to self: write and mail that letter to the board before Saturday!

  23. brive1987 says

    So now it will be the CFI Board issuing the “we note with satisfaction Ron has already, and in his own capacity, …” release.

    The stage management begins.

    BTW

    2 paras: “This is me being values focused not coerced”
    1 para defining the entire issue as being his “intemperate” language to RW.
    1 para saying “but I was right anyway”
    1 para setting up his board to judge only whether he was “contemptuous of women”

    No universal reaffirmations, nothing addressed to the WiS audience. This one’s a real piece of work.

  24. brive1987 says

    “The CFI board will decide whether my talk was contemptuous of women, as some have alleged, misrepresented CFI’s commitment to women’s rights, or in some way committed CFI to a course of action inconsistent with CFI’s mission. ”

    Given that CFI and its mission are only tangential to specific Feminist constructs such as “SUAL” or patriarchy and that CFIs enshrined commitment to womens rights is really just a subset of their second tier focus on humanistic themes – I doubt very much a Board so directed would find against Ron.

    How about his responsibility not to CFI but to the target audience of WiS? How about his professional responsibilities as a hosting CEO which were so blatantly ignored?

    Does he really not see how transparent all this is to the real world outside the realm of Boardroom politics?

    Enough. I need a cold shower.

  25. says

    Monette, Just a few thoughts to throw in the pot.

    I agree with most criticisms of Lindsay’s address, and found his reaction to it tone-deaf. That said, I think he was speaking good faith for what he saw as good for the organization and its purposes (excluding his defensive reactions to the criticism). I think he was incorrect, but he thought his intentions were good, and that’s worth something. It turned out to be patently inconsistent with the objectives of and reasons for WiS though, so it blew up in his face, as it should have.
    So to your questions.

    What do I do? Do I leave CFI?

    I would say no. You discovered a place in the organization consistent with yourself and helped it grow even more in the things you loved about it. Your stamp is on it. Your influence is for now overshadowed by the CEO and the leadership, but that was true before his speech. That’s the operational definition of a CEO and a national board. Still, as an effective local organizer you matter too and represent a source of influence counter to that which informed Lindsay’s comments. Going away is not going to increase that influence. Only increasing your influence can do that.

    If I might make an assumption, you might be thinking “Why should CFI continue to benefit from me, when it’s CEO makes statements like that?” That’s a valid question, and based on the article as a whole, it sounds like your answer is that it shouldn’t. This is understandable. However a different question can be asked and it may be just as valid. “Should the CFI expect to be rid of me and the other like-minded woman secularists that easily?” I don’t think so. Why give yourself only the options of either 1) conceding to what Lindsay said, or 2) getting out of the CFI’s hair? Why not neither?

    Do I write a letter and hope things change?

    This is easy. Of course write letters. Always write letters. Personal letters as well as open letters.
    And keep talking and listening.And of course hope things change. ALWAYS hope things change.
    The only caveat I’d give is that change obeys Fingle’s Law that the perversity of the universe tends toward a maximum. Change ignores time-frames and shows up inconveniently more often than not.

    Do I ask the other local board members to stand with me against the head of our organization’s actions?

    Maybe. On the other hand I wouldn’t pass up the opportunity to ask open-ended questions about what THEY think first. You can trot out the “Who’s with me?” question anytime. Also, I wouldn’t stand against Lindsay’s words at WiS2 without reaffirming support for his excellent work on behalf of reason, skepticism, secularism, and critical thought as well.

    How do we show solidarity in the face of the national board?
    I think with patience and deliberation. One of the most emotionally effective spontaneous demonstrations I know of happened when Joe Louis beat Max Schmelling in a boxing match laden with racial undertones. The story goes that when Louis won people in a segregated black neighborhood spilled out on the street to celebrate, and then as a crowd took an unplanned, peaceful, very quiet walk through the adjacent white neighborhood. No shouts, window breaking, or confrontation. No demands. Just a walk through and a walk back home. A lot of messages in it, but none more salient than this–“It’s time to think about how you’re going to adapt to our not to needing your permission or approval”.

  26. frogmistress says

    Update:

    Our board met last night for a regular meeting. My item was the last on the agenda. I explained, as best as I could, what had happened this past weekend and why, exactly, I was so disappointed. Then I asked them to help me figure out a way I could restore my pride in CFI.

    Their response was quite overwhelming. A suggestion was made that I draft a letter to send to Ron and the Board. In the meantime, I suggested they all read the posts, so they wouldn’t be signing anything without full knowledge. They agreed, while reassuring me that they had enough trust in me to sign anyway. (No tears died in the production. I swear!)

    We have a great local chapter. And I know this is what it is all about. This is the root of it, so to speak. Now, we just have to make national aware of that.

  27. Radi says

    This is the email I just sent to CFI DC:

    As a member of Secular Woman, I fully support the linked Statement of Objection.

    I have ZERO confidence in Dr. Lindsay as CEO of CFI, and rapidly plummeting confidence in CFI as an effective organization for the secular community. I will not support your organization monetarily or otherwise, for as long as Dr. Ron Lindsay continues as CEO, and does not retract his statements, blog posts and that insult of a not-pology; furthermore, I’ll be expecting a sincere apology from him and from the Board of CFI for his shameful and impolitic conduct during and after last weekend’s Women in Secularism 2 conference.

    I am hereby withdrawing my membership in CFI, but will continue my support of the Women in Secularism conference itself for as long as your organization continues to host and support it (the conference). If CFI decides that it cannot or will not host and/or support the conference in the future – and the longer the Board of Directors keeps Dr. Lindsay on as CEO without a clear, honest and sincere apology, the clearer it becomes to me and others like me that your organization is not serious about supporting the conference – I will expect all the money that I have donated specifically for future Women in Secularism conferences to be refunded to me.

    Even if there is a retraction and apology, and even if the Board of CFI censures its CEO for his extraordinarily impolitic and unbecoming conduct, it will still take a lot to restore in me any level of confidence that CFI’s Board of Directors meant its endorsement of the pledge of civility aka the Open Letter to the Secular Community as anything more than a shallow public relations move. It is already clear that Ron Lindsay meant only to jump on the hip trendy bandwagon of major secular organizations’ support of the Open Letter to the secular community.

    I trust that you, the Board of Directors of the Center for Inquiry, will do the right thing by your community, and not bow to the hostile demands of the few anti-feminists and MRAs over the far numerous decent members of the secular community worldwide.

  28. Ichthyic says

    This one’s a real piece of work.

    I concluded that just from reading his prior posts, BEFORE his inane conference commentary.

    something very irrational in the way Lindsay thinks, which is ironic given not only his position but his background.

  29. Ichthyic says

    I am now curious to learn more about the fallout between Lindsay and Kurtz. From one of the references in #20′s link to wikipedia- http://dangerousintersection.org/2010/10/02/expelled-founder-paul-kurtz-explains-his-departure-from-the-center-for-inquiry/ Regardless of what I think of Kurtz’s position, I am now curious to see how conflict was managed.

    Ironically, that was almost a mirror image of this!

    There, Kurtz was railing against atheism itself being any part of the mission of CFI, and criticising Ron for being… a militant atheist!

    Then, Kurtz wanted to keep his organization focused purely on “secular humanism” and ignore the fact that atheism itself is a big part of that.

    now, the shoe is on the other foot, and it’s Lindsay who is making the same argument! but instead of atheists, it’s feminists!

    it’s quite remarkable really. Thanks for reminding me of it.

    here’s a good example:

    http://www.centerforinquiry.net/blogs/entry/are_there_any_mccarthyites_at_the_center_for_inquiry/

    read Ron Lindsay’s response in the comments, and boggle at how he could come to the position he now espouses wrt to feminism and CFI.

  30. says

    Our board met last night for a regular meeting. My item was the last on the agenda. I explained, as best as I could, what had happened this past weekend and why, exactly, I was so disappointed. Then I asked them to help me figure out a way I could restore my pride in CFI.

    Their response was quite overwhelming. A suggestion was made that I draft a letter to send to Ron and the Board. In the meantime, I suggested they all read the posts, so they wouldn’t be signing anything without full knowledge. They agreed, while reassuring me that they had enough trust in me to sign anyway. (No tears died in the production. I swear!)

    We have a great local chapter. And I know this is what it is all about. This is the root of it, so to speak. Now, we just have to make national aware of that.

    That is wonderful :-)

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