My Thoughts on Current Drupal Community Issues

By Tim Erickson
Posted April 10, 2017
Picture of Drupal Community at large convention with Drupal Drop in frame

I started this as a response in Reddit, but it became a little too long for that format. This is my attempt to contribute to the discussion in advance of DrupalCon Baltimore.

I've been reluctant to speak up, because there are many things I admire about Larry, while at the same time I have grown to accept (but not love) the decision that was made by Dries.  

I've met Larry a number of times. As far as I can tell, Larry has not been completely banished from Drupal events, given that he was at Midcamp just last weekend and actively participated in a session I facilitated. Clearly, he has been removed from leadership - but beyond that, I'm still unclear on exactly what opportunities remain open for him in the Drupal community.

For me, this isn't a question of kicking someone out of the community for unpopular beliefs. It is a question about how to make the community safe for everyone, when the beliefs and lifestyle of a particular leader in the community is threatening to many members of that same community. It is easy to say that we should keep the personal beliefs of the individual out of our work, but when the personal beliefs (and actions) are so offensive to some that they are unwilling to attend events and no longer feel SAFE in the community, how do we respond?

Hopefully, if this happens again, we'll respond better than we did this time.

I have begun to hear stories of people who have felt intimidated or demeaned by Larry based upon their personal interactions. Last weekend, while Larry was at Midcamp there were others who stayed away (and tweeted about it) because of the mere possibility he might attend. I do not believe that they stayed away merely because they disagreed with him, but because they believe his views about them (or other members of the community) devalues them as human beings.

Larry may articulately explain to them this is not true, but I can see their point.

None of this is happening in a vacuum. One of the biggest problems in the tech and open source communities is a real and perceived culture of sexism and misogyny. The fact that Drupal is proud that 23% of attendees at DrupalCon are women is a pretty sorry state of affairs. How likely are we to increase those numbers, if we defend the ideals and behavior of a community leader, who has NOW publicly stated his "personal" preference to be in relationships where men are in control and who has publicly endorsed a philosophy which can be literally read to imply that women are bred to be submissive to men.

I don't see this behavior in Larry and I've heard from many men and women alike who say that Larry has treated them with nothing but respect and support. It is not hard to believe that Dries has heard from individuals with different experiences. It is not hard to believe that these people would stay quiet given the recent example of GamerGate.

I recognize that in stating any admiration for Larry, I may be diminished in the eyes of some friends who find these views repulsive or who may have had interactions with him, where they felt devalued or diminished.

I know that in acknowledging and accepting the very difficult decision that Dries made, I'll offend many of Larry’s friends and supporters in the community. Neither Dries nor the DA are responsible for creating this situation, it was brought to them in search of a solution. In every scenario that I can imagine, they will be portrayed as the enemies of "diversity" and "inclusion."  Either they stifle diversity by removing Larry for his beliefs (and alleged actions) or they stifle diversity by fostering, or at least tolerating, an environment of sexism and misogyny in the Drupal leadership.

Here are a few statements that sum up my potentially conflicting positions:

  1. I am grateful to Larry for the many contributions that he has made to the community AND for showing up at my session last weekend. However things turn out, I truly wish him the best and hope to bump into him again at future events.

  2. I believe that a Free and Open Source community MUST be responsive and welcoming to the underrepresented voices that struggle to be heard in tech communities like our own, because they are so often drowned out by sexist and misogynistic attitudes and cultures. I value the generally open and inclusive nature of the Drupal community, although we do have bad days.

  3. I believe that Dries and the DA have stumbled while responding to a very difficult situation.

  4. I accept (I certainly hope) that Dries and the DA are acting with much more information than I have. That while I'd like them to share more, I understand why they might not be able to.  

  5. I also believe that Dries and the DA have acted out of a sincere desire to support "diversity and inclusion" in the community, in the face of conflicting ideas of how to best accomplish that goal. I do not believe that they made this decision without careful thought and consideration.

  6. That the Drupal community must be about more than one person. Even if one can never accept this particular decision, I would ask that we evaluate our community and its leadership on our track record over time and NOT on a single decision. The Drupal community would not be where it is today, without having done a LOT of things right.

  7. We must takes steps to ensure that should something like this happen again, that we have better processes and procedures in place.

  8. That while this may be a difficult discussion to have, the concept of a Benevolent Dictator for Life may have served a purpose in its day, but invites the kind of turmoil in a crisis that we are currently experiencing and is probably not sustainable for much longer in a Free and Open Source community such as ours. I wish I knew what the best alternative might be?

I look forward to hearing from others and discussing the way forward.

Tags

Comments

Submitted by roderik on Wed, 04/12/2017 - 22:40

Permalink

Since we all seem to be into 'signing things' today, please allow me to unsolicited-ly undersign your summary. *Scribble*

I (Drupal.org age 12+ years and knowing some people from community events but not nearly as active as many others) have lurked on reddit since this thing exploded, but did not feel like I could add much. Even though Dries / the DA have offered no clear  explanation for their decision... reading into the conversations going on on reddit/Twitter/blogs, painted a rough picture anyway:

It's clear enough that there are people who percieve Larry as a threat to inclusion. And it's not a big assumption to make, that some of these people are a large influence behind the decision made (and that 'the public' will likely never see the details of that influence, for reasons of privacy).

I can understand that. While I, as an uninformed bystander, am guessing that I would have chosen to make a different decision (given my personal history with perceived wrongdoing and dubious actions that some people have based on that perception*)... I can at least understand that there are a lot of people who feel they have valid concerns and feel that ousting Larry is the right thing to do for the sake of being inclusive. Regardless whether I agree with that sentiment myself.

Which makes this so insanely difficult. And which makes it slightly worrying that some other people disregard that.

(Some people keep painting this as "corrupted by corporate influence", "kicking someone out just for his private beliefs", etc. I would hope that the people implicitly threatening to leave the community because of this, at least take the above into account... because if they don't, whatever new community they find may not be better prepared to tackle an issue like this, if it occurs again.)

Which is why I'm prepared to, as you say, evaluate our (...) leadership NOT on this one decision, but on their track record. As long as they take steps to learn from this. Which I still believe is going to happen.

Especially since the somewhat worrying "threat" to leave the community that was posted and co-signed publicly... I've felt the need to say something, but since I then stumbled onto your post, I'm going to 'chicken out' of blogging myself, and leave it at this slightly long response.

Thanks again.

--Roderik.

P.S. I'm happy to hear that Larry is still showing up at some Drupal events.

*P.P.S. I've been doxxed and smear-campaigned myself, and pretty much lost my previous career over that. For the record: even so, this whole episode has not made me feel afraid that I will be 'next' or I am going to be unwelcome in the Drupal community if (when) someone does that again. On the contrary.  Larry's case is... well, if you are either vocal or a 'leader', you open yourself up to more pushback. I'm not saying that's fair or I agree with it... but it is what happens.