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.