"Things fall apart; the center cannot hold"
In what is becoming a series of fast breaking developments in the Second Vermont Republic affair, "Vermont Commons" contributing editor, Robert Riversong, has been shown the door:
Who "Owns" the Second Vermont Republic?
Submitted by Robert Riversong on Mon, 02/19/2007 - 12:28pm.
Apparently the Second Vermont Republic (SVR), its sister publication the Vermont Commons (VC), and the movement-at-large toward peaceable secession is gaining enough traction and credibility that it is now being attacked by its erstwhile supporters - "progressive" groups and bloggers.
This issue has been well addressed in the VC blog, by me and others. But there is another attack on the Vermont secession movement which hasn't yet been either acknowledge or addressed - and that is an attack from within.
Among the stated goals of the SVR are "power-sharing" and "mutuality", code words for what most of us would consider democracy in its local, decentralist form. And yet the "co-chairs" of the SVR have chosen to exercise a rather exclusivist control over both the nature of the organization and it's public statements.
Granted, Thomas Naylor gave birth to SVR and remains its "elder statesman" and Rob Williams has put in a yeoman effort to move it forward toward media recognition and credibility. But neither of them have accomplished this alone. There has been a small core of dedicated individuals, varying in number and composition over time, which has guided and contributed significantly to the current credibility that the SVR enjoys. In fact, SVR and VC simply would not exist in their current forms without them.
The Vermont Commons, when it was a monthly publication which was overwhelming the time and energy of its small group of editors and publishers, invited a larger group of Vermonters to become "contributing editors" – and I was one, having contributed as a writer. Then we were informed that we were "consulting editors", assisting not necessarily with writing contributions but as advisors to the publication. When the VC became a quarterly which could more easily be managed by its core editorial group, we "consulting editors" were changed back to "contributing editors" without any consultation from this larger group and have not been invited to participate in editorial decisions or even help with proof-reading and editing articles – a decision which, I believe, has resulted in a decline in the editorial quality of the paper.
SVR has occasionally rethought its mission and purpose, trying at one time to become an organizing hub for the kind of grass-roots movement that is the sine-qua-non of a successful secession trajectory. Unfortunately, for a variety of reasons, this effort collapsed and the SVR returned to being a "voluntary association" or, as Rob Williams has suggested, a "civic club".
The term "civic club" has always suggested exclusiveness to me (old white men lounging on stuffed chairs smoking their pipes), and the reality of the SVR at this time supports that perception.
Ironically, this internal division arose as a result of the external attack on SVR as a "racist" organization, or at least one which consorts with racists, white supremacists, and neo-confederate Christian theocrats. Unfortunately, there is some truth in those allegations, since the SVR has chosen to include on its advisory board and to invite to our table those who are associated with such movements. And it has done so with very little input from the larger activist secession community.
Even with the newly-published disclaimer that such associations are only because of the common interest in peaceable secession, there is a danger that such relationships will taint Vermont's secession movement, as indeed this current controversy has born out.
I, for one, had already been arguing that we should draw a firewall between SVR and individuals or groups with publicly-stated philosophies that are antithetical to SVR's and to Vermont's tradition of tolerance.
Given that among the SVR/VC core group there were a diversity of concerns and opinions about how best to respond to the critique and the demands being circulated in cyberspace, I suggested that we get together to forge a collective response, and that we do so by consensus – the only decision-making process which empowers all participants and which guarantees the highest-good outcome.
At the same time, I was suggesting that it was time to transmute the mission of the SVR from a "think tank", talking about secession, to an activist organization making secession a reality by organizing Vermonters in every town and hamlet, by actually implementing our "200 Towns by 2012" campaign.
An initial openness to a consideration of "morphing" SVR's mission was quickly replaced with an autocratic determination by one of its co-chairs (apparently in consultation with the other) to not only limit SVR to its current "civic club" status but to assume the right to issue a public response to the outside attacks without any kind of consensus of the core group.
That public statement, issued as a press release and prominently on the SVR website, was well-articulated and thorough. That is not the issue. The SVR leaders are capable men. The issue was that they chose – in fact asserted unequivocally – the exclusive right to do this on their own.
What was even worse was that this co-chair (an inappropriate term as he was acting as CEO), suggested that if I didn't like the form or function of SVR I was welcome to start my own secession organization. What this "invitation" meant was that the two current "executives" of the SVR, in consultation with whomever they pleased and excluding whomever they pleased, would exercise sole and exclusive control over the organization, and it would remain true to their private visions.
Thus, the current credibility and public recognition of SVR/VC, created by the collective efforts of dozens of individuals was to be "owned" exclusively by two people. If there is to be a grass-roots organizing effort towards actually realizing secession in Vermont, it would have to be created ex nihilo as a separate organization with, at best, the indirect recognition of being a "sister" or "daughter" spin-off of SVR and enjoying a link on their website.
I am of the firm opinion that such exclusive ownership of the collective effort not only undermines any likelihood of positive movement toward Vermont secession, but also violates the foundational values upon which we claim to build this movement.
If the process of Vermont's movement toward secession - the means - don't thoroughly reflect its stated goals - the ends - then we will only recreate yet another form of organized oppression, as most so-called "revolutions" (including the American Revolution) have done.
If Vermont's secession movement is intended to give birth to a decentralist, mutualist, authentically democratic and inclusive civic society, then those individuals and groups working toward that end must embody those values and become an example of their efficacy.
Robert Riversong's blog
SVR co-chair Rob Williams responds:
On ownership, history, and generosity of spirit
Thanks for blogging, as always.
You are entitled, of course, to your own interpretation of the past 4 years of SVR and VC history, as well as the motives and goals of SVR and VC's founders.
I would respectfully disagree with much of what you say here, in terms of both your tone and your "read" of both the historical and organizational contexts for our two groups.
But I am no longer willing to engage in a "debate" with you in either this forum, or online.
One thing I have learned in doing this work is that a face-to-face conversation in the community of others who share one's vision and passion is best.
And, as we have recently learned, blog forums can be used to easily twist larger truths, and e-mail messages are often misinterpreted, in terms of both tone and context.
See you around the Valley, neighbor.
Submitted by Rob Williams on Mon, 02/19/2007 - 2:42pm.