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Sunday, September 14, 2008

Too Much Like Old Times

A situation has arisen that triggered unpleasant memories of my experience in the Socialist Workers Party's youth group as a teenager.

The director of a group I've been involved in the past few years has expelled one of the other board members. This was announced on the group's list a few days ago, but I only learned of it yesterday at the membership meeting. The director said that no explanation would be given because of the "sensitivity" of the situation. Unfortunately the expelled board member wasn't present to help explain things.

I don't make snap decisions, and the person who raised the issue at the meeting didn't have a very pleasant manner, so I didn't react immediately, but it didn't sit well with me. Early this morning I awoke with the certainty that this was not a situation I could tolerate. So I just posted the following message as a reply to the announcement of the expulsion on the list.

For me, this way of handling things is unacceptable.

Once before, I belonged to a group that -- without ever saying so outright -- expected me to accept what the leadership told me on faith. Because I didn't do so, I was driven out, and sustained considerable emotional damage in the process. On top of that, when I agreed under duress to resign (rather than face trumped-up charges) I found that I couldn't inform other members of the reasons for my decision since I was no longer a member and so could not attend meetings. I wrote a letter of resignation, but had no way of telling if it was actually ever read to the members.

I'm afraid the present situation just bears too much resemblance to that previous one for my comfort. To be sure, ----- says we can ask him questions off list, but in the end we'd still be in the position of having to take his word for things, wouldn't we? And that's simply not something I can do, especially where it appears that people's rights are at issue.

I'm not judging what happened, since I don't know what happened. What I do know is that I can't be part of a group that functions in this way. Consequently, I am resigning my membership in ---------.

To be fair, yesterday's meeting was at a public venue, so it wouldn't have been so easy to exclude someone. Still, there are ways of making people unwelcome. And it would be a moot point if the person responsible for the decision had explained it himself.

Update from Friday: Despite considerable anxiety, I did tell Connie Willis about what I'd found offensive in Passage (though I didn't make much eye contact while doing so). Her response was respectful, though I got the impression she didn't get the part about how the characters' stupid approach to advertising for subjects disrespected scientific method. I was also pleased that afterward, another person in attendance told me he agreed with my point about that. And, prior to the meeting, I'd run into someone I met at the cultic studies conference and found him readily agreeing with both points. So I'm glad I did it.

One thing that occurs to me, especially in light of my eye contact trouble, is that I probably need more to develop comfort in confronting people on a more strictly one-on-one basis, than in a group setting. So perhaps the next time I have an issue like this to raise with someone, even if I'll be seeing them in a group context, I should try to bring it up with them privately (e.g., in a case like this, expressing my feelings to Willis after the formal Q&A, when people were lining up to speak with her personally and get her autograph).

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