The Gauntlet is Thrown (and daintily picked up)

March 6th, 2008 by bebersghost

PastBBGBoardMember, in her recent comment, posted some very strong criticisms regarding this site and some of the comments members have posted. There are two in particular that I wish to address, both because I’ve heard them before and because they go to the very heart of the debate.

First, regarding IBoard she states: “If you don’t agree with how they are working, you should tell THEM, PERSONALLY- because in the end that is the only way that they can adjust their work ethic to best suit you

And second regarding me she states: “you are an advisor for this organization, and I find it pretty unprofessional for you to be conducting yourself on here in the manner that you are

The first of these comments raises a question of such enormous significance that it inspired this post. To understand the significance, let me ask you this: If you are unhappy with what your congressman does, what is appropriate action? To contact him or her directly – absolutely. But is it offensive to write a letter to the editor? Is it offensive to lead a protest march? After all, you did “elect them to office, saying that you wanted them to represent you to the best of their ability, but you trusted them to use their best judgment on how to handle every unique situation they encounter” (to quote PastBBGBoardMember). Does your vote mean you have abandoned your right to critique and debate the congressman’s action in public?

Assuming you have passed high school civics, or read a newspaper (especially in this election season), I think you’ll agree that the answer is no. Public and open discourse is at the heart of any Democracy. It is no accident that the first amendment is the first amendment. Freedom of speech is the fundamental basis of any Democracy.

So, the question at hand is this: Is BBYO a democracy or not?   

This is not a trivial question. At the chapter level there is always tension between fraternity/sisterhood and Democracy. And fraternity and sisterhood is highly valued. Yet chapters still have elections (which as I’m sure you know can get very intense), and chapters do have open debate (hopefully respectful). Sure this tension applies at the regional an international levels as well.

I would argue that, particularly when dealing with regional and international leaders, while individual contact is a great thing, it should never preclude a member from public discussion of the actions and decisions of that leader. Democracy does not stop with the election – it continues throughout the term. And I would hope that regional and international leaders would encourage and welcome open discourse – for that will help build engaged and active members. I am not impressed by the argument that discussing their actions in public is somehow offensive. That is part of being a public figure, or as President Truman would say “If you can’t stand the heat, get out of the kitchen.”

I would also argue, that as a youth lead organization, that even though they are not elected, staff should also be prepared for open discussion on topics on which they have impact. This again because such engagement helps develop leadership and instill Democratic principles.

Which brings us to the question: am I unprofessional for publishing this site? I suppose I could accept this on a technicality – I am, after all, a volunteer and not a professional, thus this argument is technically correct. But that would be a cop-out and avoids the heart of the matter.

Curiously enough, this question also has enormous significance. It goes to the question of who has the right to influence the future of the organization? Certainly BBYO is undergoing enormous changes, and there can be no doubt that these changes are being driven primarily by staff. And you know what? Much of this change is good, and much of it is inevitable. But that doesn’t mean all of it is good, or that it can’t be made better. Certainly it would be easier on staff if everyone would just accept the wisdom of their vision and decisions without comment. But is that really best for the organization?

In my post “Is Your Chapter/Region a GM or a Toyota” I introduce the idea of “stakeholders” – the idea that in a modern organization there should be transparency, communication and open discourse in order to improve the organization overall.

I am not an employee of BBYO. I am not a member. I am not an elected official (well, in a sense I am, in that the chapter I work with votes in advisors, but that’s a minor detail). I am, however, a stakeholder – someone who cares about the organization.

Do I have the right to speak out? Is my speaking out good or bad for the organization? Who decides whether it is good or bad? Appropriate or inappropriate? Professional or unprofessional?

All good questions.

And here is the answer: Rights are like freedom – they are never “given”. If you want rights, you must exercise them. If you want freedom you must demand it, and on occasion fight for it.

I have the right to speak out because I am exercising that right.

My speaking out is good for the organization because I believe it is, and nobody has yet persuaded me that it is not.

That’s what freedom means. That’s what Democracy means. If that is unprofessional, so be it. If I can convince even one member to stand up to power, to have the courage to speak up on issues that are important to them, or even provoke a conversation or engagement by someone who was previously apathetic, then I’ll wear that title with honor. Because in a sense my original crack about a technicality was right – I am not a professional. I’m a BBYO advisor – and it’s not my job to make things easy. My job and my goal can be found in my very first post. And right now, this site is one of the ways that I do that job.

3 Responses to “The Gauntlet is Thrown (and daintily picked up)”

  1. AZAleph Says:

    I absolutely agree. Everyone deserves to have a say, and if an Aleph or BBG feels the need to personally address their RAS’gan or the GAMoreh, then by all means, allow and encourage them to undertake in such ways. They should also have a say in how these officials, having been elected by the assembly, vote in business meetings. However, BBYO is not completely a democracy (direct democracy), voting-wise. It is more like a constitutional republic, with the only the Grand Board and Regional Godolim being able to vote internationally (for the most part). With this having been said, I find it strange how in AZA, we’re always talking about about the promotion of democracy, but it isn’t even put into practice as “official” procedure.

    And the fact that you admit to not being a professional is hilarious. I’m clearly not a professional either, but I am one to throw words like “professional” or “official” around in a playful manner. Kinda funny, lol…

  2. AZAleph Says:

    Sorry, I meant to say “autocracy”, not “constitutional republic”. (I believe that says, or says something similar, that in the AZA constitution the staff/directors may veto/overrule any decision in order to enforce International BBYO policy) The members really don’t have a say in anything. Every Grand Board member is a puppet of the International Office, and you can’t deny it. “Progressive” does not mean “willing to comply with the agenda of the international office”. Do you want to know the real reason why there was that huge “international” recruitment thrust this weekend? So that the numbers, and only the numbers, can increase more, which will only lead to a bigger overall membership for the 07-08 programming year. Unless I am mistaken, Sam Beber would rather that there be more AZA chapters, than there be more members in fewer chapters. An international fraternity can be much more different than a few chapters in a few countries (although it is certainly MUCH more than this).

    Thanks.

  3. AZABOY Says:

    In the reply of not professional I agree. AZA is democratic but why don’t we mention the levels. If you are a present aleph or BBG then it makes sense for you to post here and this is a great website to have. I think that maybe as an advisor though you should express your thoughts to the directors in your region or to the grand board members themselves. Because in all reality you posting comments like this can make a lot of members feel less trusting of the international board members. We elect the international board and whether you think that they are doing a good job or not I’m sure that you feel that alephs and BBG’s should look up to them. If not look up to them they should have faith in them.

    Maybe instead of posting this and expressing your concerns you should email them. There emails are the positions@bbyo.org . For example the grand aleph godol is Godol@bbyo.org. Then once they have received your email and read your concerns they can get back to you with the answer. What you are doing is having random AZA and bbg members read this website and then lose faith in the international board. This is not like posting in the paper about a senator because in all reality this is a youth group and these kids are not politicians. So yes I think you are un-professional. I think this because you don’t ask questions to get answers you hear stuff through the grapevine and then post about it. Email the grand board members with your concerns and then post after you get responses.

    Also about that motion for qualifications. I think it is not ok that you say the grand board members voted for the motion when the majority of kids voted against it. Number one when did it become not ok to vote for what you believe in. We elected those board members to vote what they think is best for the order. Just because they thought that was best and “majority of kids” did not doesn’t mean they didn’t use the best judgment. Not to mention that happens on many levels. I can’t tell you how many times motions have been brought up by the __# regional board or chapter board and then failed. This motion was not even brought up by the board it was made by two other alephs and the grand board happened to vote for it.

Leave a Reply

Comments are moderated - allow 24-48 hours for your comment to appear.