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[Libreplanet-dev] FSF article & policy proposal

From: Mehmet Atif Ergun
Subject: [Libreplanet-dev] FSF article & policy proposal
Date: Fri, 10 Oct 2014 10:40:54 -0400


I am a week-old FSF volunteer :) I dislike introducing myself but in
case you are curious, you may find more information about me here:

This was being discussed over at fsf-community-team but Zak kindly
requested that it be moved here.

TL;DR: I would like to write an article on FSF adopting a code of
conduct, to be published at, one that integrates the existing
code with that of Geek Feminism (with changes), and recommending it to
FSF's allies in response to recent articles on community conduct in
free software.)

(Question: May I go ahead with such a proposal/article?)

As I mentioned, this was debated to some degree over at
fsf-community-team and I had to respond to some of the feedback over
there. I am copying these to this email to avoid misunderstandings or
duplicate discussions.

(Sorry for the weird format. Copy-pasting from org-export; my org-mode
decided not to use ">" for quotes while exporting and I don't trust
Gmail to correctly format things if I manually include the ">".)

Mark Rosenthal wrote: Age discrimination is a MUCH bigger problem in
the world of software, yet the Community anti-harassment Policy
completely ignores the issue.  If you absolutely must do this, put Age
Discrimination front and center.

I will certainly take this into serious consideration and see how I
can elevate it while reviewing the codes of conduct in question when I
start writing the article!

Ted Smith wrote: As you've already seen, this community is pretty
toxic when it comes to attacking male privilege, white supremacy, and
other similar concepts. I think this is totally vital for the
community. ... While you're at it, there are probably other more
active FSF programs this could expand into.

Having thought college-level feminist theory courses for a long time
and having lurked on mailing lists where a new rights-based approach
had been proposed for integration, I know first hand that such debates
always get very heated very quick. I indeed would like to see this as
an overarching FSF policy; I had initially planned to write an article
and it fits very well into the "Working Together" campaign page (see

Tom McKellips wrote: Although a code of conduct can be a good idea, it
is not a simple document to build. ... A major mistake of many
organizations is developing rules but not developing the leadership
and culture which supports those rules.

I wholeheartedly agree but suggesting or undertaking leadership
training is well beyond my qualifications as a one-week old volunteer
without any networking with the leadership :) I also have no clues
whether FSF's leadership actually needs such training. I encountered
no negative news items on them yet, except one that critiques an old
business card that is rumored to belong to Mr. Stallman.  They might
as well be well-equipped already, looking at the positive responses I
received from them thus far. And bureaucratic texts are a funny thing
- once you have a document in writing that applies to an organization,
it takes a life of its own.

On the other hand, having FSF leadership write pieces in response to
the article / the new code of conduct would be an excellent way to
reconceptualize the culture of the FSF in light of that article's

John Sullivan wrote: The FSF has an anti-harassment statement and code
of conduct used for the LibrePlanet conference and wiki, at:
[] &
[]. ... The better
list for discussing any such changes would be the
libreplanet-dev list at [].

Mark Rosenthal wrote: I also agree that this list is not the right
place to carry on this discussion.

I was actually hoping to get a few FSF links on the issue while
writing my initial email. Thank you so much for the links! I was
hoping FSF had a few written pieces on conduct but was not able to
find them myself. I would like to integrate these into the ones I had
linked to before.

In terms of moving the discussion to the LibrePlanet dev team list, I
think I got lucky as a list newbie in that what I had in mind actually
fits this list better. I wanted to write an article to be linked to
from the "Working Together" campaign page (because it is indeed about
working together). The article will engage with recent, widely
debated, and controversial articles by Valerie Aurora[5] and Lennart
Poettering[6]. It will (most probably) also massage these with the
basic rules of free software as proposed by FSF. Arguing that both
authors have a point in that discrimination and bad manners do exist
in free software communities as it does in proprietary software
circles in varying degrees, the article will announce that a more
extensive code of conduct is being adopted FSF-wide for all its teams
and future events and that FSF encourages its allies to adopt a
similar text for their own organization. The article will include the
code of conduct at the end. I would like to prepare this article and
send it to this list for revisions, additions, and comments. Unless
doing so is deemed unacceptable.

(One talking point could be that FSF is doing this not to avoid
lawsuits, which is the basic reason proprietary for-profits institute
these policies, but because it genuinely believes in "Working

In terms of making changes to the LibrePlanet 2015 code and moving
this discussion over there, I foresee two problems. On the one hand,
it might be a bad idea to change the event's already published codes
after the fact retroactively. That is mostly a legal/bureaucratic
problem. On the other hand, and more importantly to me, it matters
that a code of conduct is published by FSF, from the domain,
through a specific FSF campaign link, because of (1) the branding and
hence the perceived reputation of the endorsement [FSF vs one of its
events / a wiki page], (2) the distribution of the response [a
possibly broadly circulated FSF article that can produce debate vs a
code change buried in a wiki page], and (3) the level of investment of
the FSF for such a piece ["We believe an extensive and well-thought
code of conduct is essential to 'Working Together' as a 'global
community of people who are making the political and ethical assertion
of our rights to learn and to share'" vs "we changed the code of

Mark Rosenthal wrote: The Free Software Foundation has a difficult
enough mission trying to get the non-technical general public to
understand what Free Software is, why it's important to everybody -
even non-techies, and trying to convince the public that FSF is not
some crazy group of extremists.

Tom McKellips wrote: The FSF has its hands full in just trying to get
people to understand what free is.

To be bluntly honest, these problems are the very problems that all
rights-based movements deal with daily in their activist work. The
"F-word" feminism (or the UN speech by Emma Watson, choose one) is a
testament to how feminists consistently and continuously have (waste
precious time in order) to try and convince their mainstream audiences
that feminism is not some crazy group of extremists who hate men.
LGBTI groups have to consistently assert to mainstream audiences that
they are not some crazy gathering out to end the human race (the "if
everyone was gay or lesbian, than ..." argument). Anti-racists have to
deal with the annoying idea that privilege is an individual and
ahistorical trait and the consequent argument that they are a crazy
group who over-think things just to be able to use the "race card".
Animal rights activists... well, the very basic argument that "animals
should have rights" draws incredible hostility from all over the

The status quo likes very much to set limits to rights-related
debates, keep certain things unthinkable and others unmentionable, and
set the debate in its own terms. The best way to police one's
boundaries is by rendering them invisible and natural.

FSF will always suffer from this as long as a need for FSF exists.
Focusing solely on that aspect would be detrimental to its cause, and
looking at the number of campaigns FSF has unde rway and the content
of the lectures by Mr. Stallman and other free software advocates,
FSF's hands are not actually full just trying to get people to
understand what free is and convincing that FSF consists of "normal"
people (what is "normal" anyhow in a world marked by crazy policies
appearing to be normal?).

Charles Anaman wrote: Perhaps Mehmet you could look at the art of
community text it may help understand why the objectives of this group
don't require this level of user management.

One of my favorite books, titled "Against the Romance of Community"
(J. Miranda), makes the point that what we call "community" is but a
regulatory space where member management happens under the table
unless it happens to one's self. Indeed, FSF has extensive user
management texts, for instance about which terms to use and which ones
to avoid in its articles. Indeed, community policing and boundary
maintenance is in the nature of a community. I think it matters to
tease out precisely the ways in which community policing happens and
the manner in which it is conducted especially when it comes to
categories of power. Otherwise, what passes as normal in the larger
population will become normalized in the community itself.

(The above mentioned book is mainly about the ways in which non-profit
progressive organizations collaborate with capitalism, if anyone is

John Sullivan wrote: I don't think we should develop separate policies
for each FSF campaign. But we are open to iterative improvements on
the current policies we have adopted, as well as suggestions for
places where we should more clearly indicate that they apply.

I wholeheartedly agree. The only reason I proposed the "Working
Together" campaign is because an article on an organization-wide
policy implementation and a call to allies to implement similar
policies themselves fit extremely well into that specific campaign

Mark Rosenthal wrote: The Community anti-harassment Policy is
carefully written to allow hate-speech, and even encourage it by
ignoring it, as long as it's against people that the policy's authors
consider inherently evil due to their having been born the wrong sex
and or color.  Specifically, the policy states that complaints about
offensive actions or speech are to be ignored if the hostility is
directed toward heterosexual males!  The actual language is,
"COMMUNITY NAME prioritizes marginalized people’s safety over
privileged people’s comfort. RERSPONSE GROUP will not act on
complaints regarding ‘Reverse’ -isms, including ‘reverse racism,’
‘reverse sexism,’ and ‘cisphobia’.

I hate to end this email by debating this, but, I disagree on this
argument. The first sentence you quoted has the very same meaning as
"we encourage minority groups to apply for positions at our
organization" and has nothing to do with allowing hate speech. It is a
clear organizational notice that "this organization does not
discriminate on the basis of X and will not put you in a toxic Xist
environment." The second sentence provides guarantees to marginalized
groups (those groups identified by the text) not only that they will
have a safe space of their own whenever they need to, but also that
their status will not be jeopardized at any time by backlash from
privileged members (e.g. opposition to a policy that is aware of
categories of power on the basis that it is reverse sexism rather than
affirmative action).

The policy certainly does not state that "complaints ... will be
ignored if the hostility is directed toward heterosexual males," as
evidenced by the preample: "[Conference/Community Name] is dedicated
to providing a harassment-free conference/community experience for
everyone." Furthermore, the policy language gives you a way out even
if a white male's complaints are ignored on the basis of the second
sentence you provided: the complainant will have to make the case that
what is at stake is not his comfort but his safety.

The clause you cite as detrimental actually provides much needed
protections for marginalized groups against retribution following a
major gain in social rights. This is an extremely common occurrence
when privileged groups find themselves stripped of their historical,
category-laden, unfair privileges. This is well exemplified by the
immense gap between the "man's rights" groups and "critical man's
studies" groups. The former advocates for a kind of manhood /against/
critical approaches to power (e.g. the findings of feminist and LGBTI
research re: manhood) while the latter works towards a kind of manhood
/informed/ by those approaches.

Mehmet Atif Ergun.

[1] [], linked from the campaigns
page at [].

[2] [A community anti-harassment policy].

[3] [A conference anti-harassment policy].


[6] []

[A community anti-harassment policy]:
[A conference anti-harassment policy]:

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