In January, I wrote an article at AlterNet advising secular groups on how to be less economically exclusive: how to remain accessible to hard-up nonbelievers, improve outreach and stop godlessness being a movement for the wealthy. The same week, Sanderson Jones – cofounder and newly appointed CEO of the Sunday Assembly – asked me to meet with him and offer the SA advice. I did, although he spoke (somewhat defensively) at least as much as he listened to me.
In the article, I wrote:
Pay your interns – money.
If I could stamp one practice out in atheism, unpaid internships would be it.
[These] positions are prestigious. They help enormously when seeking an activist career. Shutting people out who can’t work for nothing, or who might even lose welfare checks if they do, keeps atheism dominated by the rich. And labour has value. Not paying for it is theft.
You wouldn’t accept pay in “experience,” so don’t expect your interns to. And don’t just pay a stipend to subsist on. Pay the minimum wage where you are; if you possibly can, a living wage. If you can’t at present, fundraise. If you’re on a high-up’s pay, take a cut – that sounds like ethical leadership to me. If you really, really can’t afford paid interns, don’t take on unpaid ones. Better you don’t help anybody up the ladder than that you only help the rich.
You’d think a group that cared about this as much as Jones claimed the SA did would get the message – it was, after all, the message most stressed in the piece that made him contact me.
Today, he posted on the organisation’s site:
We are very pleased to announce the Sunday Assembly Community Building Summer Programme. We are offering 10 volunteer internships for a six week programme, to help people all over the world start their own Assemblies.
In short, we’re after fun and friendly people that want to get experience volunteering for a grassroots community organisation that’s changing the world. In return you’ll get a super fun environment, training in various aspects of the organisation, and the chance make a real difference to the expansion of Sunday Assembly globally.
Now, we can only offer lunch money (and lots of appreciation) for this, because we have very little money ourselves. However, what we do have is some amazing volunteers and, with their help, we are putting together 6 half day training sessions, so that you not only get experience building community but you also learn cutting edge grassroots and leadership skills from amazing people.
Purpose of the Community Organiser
You’ll be acting as guides to organisers of new assemblies that are setting up around the world. Community Organisers will help support new Assemblies to put together a local organising team and get things up and running, as well as being a friendly point of contact to help them troubleshoot problems as they arise.
By the end of your internship you will have helped create new communities across the world.
Projects May Include
Making contact with our organising teams and leaders from around the world
Being their ‘Guide’ through the process of starting up a new local Sunday Assembly
Making sure new Assemblies have all the documents and toolkits they need to get going
Responding to queries as and when they arise (during office hours)
Finding other potential organisers in the local areas you’re working with to help form a local organising team
6 weeks (ideally full time) from the week commencing Tuesday 28th May (some flexibility on start date if still finishing exams etc).
Hours by agreement between 10-6pm Monday to Friday at our offices in Central London (near to Tottenham Court Road)
Support and Benefits
Expenses covered up to £20 a week
Weekly half day training workshops on different elements of our organisation from a sparkly array of speakers (see above)
The chance to make a real difference to the expansion of an exciting, young, international grassroots organisation
A glowing reference upon successful completion of the programme
The warm fuzzy feeling of knowing you’re helping to change the world for the better
What to do next
If you’re interested in coming on board for the summer, drop us a line ASAP and by Wed 21st May at the latest, at email@example.com telling us the following (in 250 words or less) :-
why you think Sunday Assembly is great
why you are great
and finally how you think your greatness can make Sunday Assembly even more great
Please pop “I want to make Sunday Assembly even more great” in the subject line of your email so we can find your email quickly. We can’t wait to meet you.
According to Simon Clare, who recently left the Brighton SA over tensions with the London leadership, Jones ‘has already secured £50,000 worth of grants and donations, which will in part pay for his future wages.’ For your reference, six weeks of National Minimum Wage for ten interns working 40 hours a week – unless my Google’s maths is wrong – is £15,144. Even counting expenses payments as remuneration (rather than something extra), £20 weekly is fifty pence per hour.
These sound to me very much like employment-level positions, but in any case, filling them with full-time unpaid workers means no one can do them who can’t afford six weeks with no income in central London. If there’s one surefire way to make certain your organisation remains the preserve of the privileged for years to come, this is it. I’m skeptical of how much the SA really cares about this if they’re ignoring it – especially when it was one of the first things they heard from me.
Sanderson, colour me unimpressed.