On Democracy and B-Linked

There’s a tension that occurs often in chapters and regions (in fact, in any organization, but we’ll focus on chapters and regions for now). It goes like this:

  • The members elect their leaders (board officers, regional board, etc.)
  • The leaders expect to be respected and trusted to do their jobs and make wise decisions
  • Something happens where the members find themselves in disagreement with their leaders or at least want to be involved in the decisions.
  • This results in conflict between the members and leaders

I’ve seen this happen many, many times. Occasionally the leaders have been real jerks – even corrupt. But far more often they honestly mean well and intend the best for the group. In fact, they are often upset, even offended that they are not trusted to make the right choices. They feel like the doubt expressed by members of the group is a personal attack – even unfraternal.
At those times, one of the things I try to do is educate both the members and the leaders as to their situation and the nature of their own democratic institutions.
Here are some of the basic principles that are fundamental to a fraternal democratic organization:

Facts and Myths and Facts

Truth is a funny thing.
In the recent letter from BBYO, Lane Schlessel stated the following (which was also virtually identical to a release by the youth leadership on B-Linked):
Some of you have may have misunderstood what you heard about the proposed policies or we may have not have properly clarified. Rumors have been circulating on b-linked and elsewhere, but much of the information being shared is inaccurate.
Let us consider one of these proposed policies. In the same message the following is stated:
MYTH: The BBYO logo must be included on every piece of clothing created.
FACT: The BBYO logo must be included on all high-quantity items used for external community purposes. AZA/BBG spirit items, Chapter t-shirts and other internal BBYO memorabilia do not need to feature the BBYO logo.
So it’s all one big misunderstanding, right?
Consider the following included in the material handed out to the advisors:
Any time a local entity wishes to produce merchandise or apparel as a fundraiser project or for self-promotion, the producing entity must adhere to the guidelines hereby established:

  • The BBYO logo must be on the piece;
  • (many other requirements follow)

And it was explicitly stated to the advisors that “local entity” included the chapters.
So, was this whole ruckus a misunderstanding?
Or is it possible that BBYO staff listened to the comments of the advisors and youth and have backtracked?
Perhaps the staff is just confused about what was stated in the Vegas conference? It seems that the “facts” from Vegas have magically become myths. And that’s good, because it’s increasingly clear that somebody has to put some serious work and thought into these new policies before they become facts.
It’s a good thing that I’m a nice ghost, and think the best of people. I’m sure this is all a result of poor and ineffective communication. I’m sure the authors of the release did adjust the policy based on input from the advisors, and just neglected to mention that. I’m sure they are looking at some of the other proposed policies (that I’ll discuss later, having now received a copy of some of the material handed out in Vegas) and are putting some serious thought into what impact they will have.
I’m sure of these things because the alternative would be that the international staff was lying about what was presented at the advisors conference, both to the youth leadership and to the advisors who were not there. And if that were the case, then the problems facing BBYO are far greater than a selection of misguided policies.