Thursday, November 5, 2020

A message to Pumping Station: One concerning the Board election

This will be relatively short; maybe three pages worth. 

I am uncomfortable at Pumping Station: One.
I was not, initially; the President was an outgoing, friendly, engaging person who did not intimidate me and did a decent job of having input on the interests of others and getting them involved in things he was doing. In the first few months, PS:1 seemed almost too ideal.

The turn-around came about with the art conflict during the PS:1 expansion. With this event, I saw how much control Andrew Camardella had, which wouldn't be such a bad thing, but a core group of the membership closed ranks around him, including Ed and Anna, and one quality this entire group had was that they would say anything to get their way. I was involved in TWO such group conversations where the theme was "you can say whatever you want, we're still going to do this." The final decision was made around a solution that never manifested, and cost us good members.

The issue I had wasn't just the decision to please Andrew with his "clean, white walls" at the cost of the comfort of other, supposedly "equal" members who simply weren't being heard, it was also this mindset. I know it, because it's how privileged people treat underprivileged people almost universally. I've dealt with it for being brown. I've dealt with it for being poor. I've dealt with it for trying to represent other friends who didn't deserve the dismissive treatment they were getting. "Look... you're just wrong, because I have more power than you, and you being right means I have to make considerations I don't want to bother making."

It's widespread, it's all very civil and casual, and a lot of people don't even seem to notice when they do it. At that point, I realized the issues I saw in the world I knew, that I thought wouldn't exist in an organization that purports every member to be "equal", that promoted an enlightened approach to its members, was just more of the same problem.

In its current state, PS:1 is a racist, classist, sexist, and ableist conceit, designed to tap a lot of idealists' wallets to give a few people access to more resources than they'd normally have, while pretending to be a community resource... potentially to commit tax fraud? I mean, we're a 501c3 education non-profit that does no organized education whatsoever. This point becomes particularly prominent with the pandemic, because, knowing some members don't have easy access to its "educational" potential during the pandemic, PS1 has provided no organized outreach whatsoever. This "equality" sounds pretty, but equality requires reaching-down work, and the core membership of PS:1 has done none of that work. This core membership consists of middle- and upper-class white men and a few prominent allies and tokens.

If I've ever seemed overly eager-to-please, all of this would be why; I am intimidated by privileged white men and their fans, and I know being difficult can easily lead to defamation of character and "perfectly-civil" exile.

Well... I already have those, now... the defamation of character, the complete exile... so what is left to lose?


I finally got focus on it after a prominent member made a key point to me:
if we were going to get more women, more Black people, more minorities into PS:1, they would need to come in and see people like them already there. Now, they didn't mean to bring this problem into focus for me, but the end result is that I realized... that's what I'd been seeing: PS:1 being reorganized to have more of the preferred class present, to appear "pleasing to same."

In short: PS:1 has been stripped and reordered to provide the minimal ethical and moral demands and casual, undemanding camaraderie that appeals to privileged white men. And it's been done by privileged white men. Andrew empowered the DRC to effectively exile me from PS:1 just in time for the COVID-19 pandemic because I criticized him so aggressively and openly, but there's a key point everybody missed in the process:

... he spent THREE YEARS as President, despite my warning him that he already had a lot of influence at PS:1. That being said, if you choose to be an official representative of PS:1... especially President... you are going to have to accept criticism, sometimes publicly, and not always nice criticism. Not only did he not do that at all, he has made fun of me using information he has about my difficult past, tossed about pseudo-legal phrases as acts of intimidation, and "civilly", "politely" filed a complaint with the DRC that finally lit the fire for them to ban their "equal" from PS:1's online presence knowing the pandemic was coming... a very convenient, incidental, "no-fault" complete exile.

In the meantime, he took apart aspects of PS:1 that made it seem engaging to people who came in looking for "something, but not sure what" (a common mindset from the underprivileged backgrounds I'm both familiar with, and from, myself), because shop boys that are just there to do shop things didn't like making the effort; things the previous President seemed to love doing, in reaching out and engaging people, really filling out PS:1's sense of "community". He spent his three years disassembling the humanist aspect of PS:1's hackerspace ideology until PS:1 was barely, only fitfully a community for just a few. I found it offensive, but, as an area host recently pointed out to me:

Now, I'll be frank: I'm staying on. Absolutely.

The poor and the underprivileged need representation; we have a lot of "I took a class" or "I work in the field" authorities at PS:1, people who would be much better than I at doing this, but they're, shockingly, as selective about their allyship as anyone else in this environment. Honestly... either you're an ally, or you're not, and there is no getting selective about it. It's bad character. But I've spent years working with trauma counseling, coping with poverty, and trying to better understand why so much of this shakes out the way it does... not just for me, but for so many people I've encountered.

We should be doing more outreach. Period. And more organized education, that does NOT require someone asking; you may not know this, but many poor and troubled people are conditioned to feel bad about asking for anything, which is why we don't retain them. Asking is "humiliating". Classes that are "just there" would give them access without the traumatizing feelings of guilt and shame that come with asking for help. We're discussing membership cost increases but making no plans to treat the poor as equal members; that needs to stop, and the conversation needs. To. Expand.

I've spent almost all of 2020 being talked down to by smug, arrogant white people.

  • A Karen does the most classically-Karen thing that makes it so terrifying to bring up racism to white people, after I gently, politely point it out to her, and carpet-bombs my reputation while crying that she's a "victim of racism" after I spend a year away from PS:1 because I can't trust the core leadership to properly address such an issue, and the community is shockingly silent except for a few whispers... DRC members telling me to ignore her because no-one takes her seriously. "Friends" saying things like
  • ... in private, but nobody stepping to the plate publicly, so I'm still doing this alone. This is the same community that has ignored me almost entirely for the last seven months, when many core members know I live alone and struggle with poor mental health. However, when I am repeatedly taunted by such a member and get mad enough to thump my fist while yelling about caring for poor and disadvantaged people, I am demonized and ordered to "apologize", then punished.
  • I told the white side of my family that I am not white and terrified of Trump's Republicans, so please don't vote Republican just this once, to get Trump out of the circus... and I got "reprimanded" by a white cousin for "getting political", who then removed me from the family chat, and none of them have really bothered to object much except for my two sisters, who also left in solidarity.
  • My oldest uncle asked my why I was so bitter and hateful when I told him Trump is a trillion dollars in debt and using our taxes to hose his debts down and that the USA is literally operating concentration camps.
  • My older, bigger (yes, bigger), very white half-brother replies to everything with pretty much "lol TRUMP 2020 lol", and has threatened to punch me when he sees me.

You can't be shocked I'm uncomfortable at PS:1... it's honestly not a very welcoming place anymore, once you scratch the surface, unless you're the target demographic it's been redesigned for or you bring resources they want. I deal with that a lot outside the organization, and have for decades, so I recognize it, and I don't need Adam's "validation" of my authority to be able to call it what it is. My experience is my authority.

As for my current position on this election:

  • I am completely uncomfortable with Andrew Camardella having any official position of leadership at PS:1. He is very narrow-minded, and his moral and ethical compass is very narrow, mostly revolving around his interests and not wanting to be bothered to think of people unlike him, and said compasses tend to be shaped more by those around him rather than any moral standards he might have. Having been the recipient of both his dismissive, authoritarian spite and his willingness to flex his influence to silence criticism of his presidency, I'm not sure he has any.

  • I am uncomfortable with Ed Bennett in any such role, as well. He's been described to me as "a well-meaning part of the problem", and I've seen him in action enough to know why: he is a Devil's advocate, whose sense of authority must be satisfied in any organized effort he participates in before it can advance, and he will chase any instance of reductio ad absurdum that occurs to him down the rabbit hole for others to dig up before they can move forward. He has spoken of the finality of the Board's fiduciary obligations, but can't seem to agree that, ultimately, anything not explicitly covered can be decided by the Board, and a bylaw created later from the precedent, if necessary. Were the issues at-stake simple mechanical issues in an organization, I wouldn't think much about it... but I've seen him turn what should have been a one-month change of policy (addressing misogyny and sexual harassment toward women at PS:1) into a two-year process to satisfy him... somewhat. He's also fond of language-based gatekeeping to control a conversation, which I've experienced more than once. Ed: you once asked me my opinion of you; here it is.

  • Anyone who was on the Board when it had to be yelled at to reconsider and take a sexual harassment complaint seriously... to stop obsessing over the feelings of the man at-fault and actually try to take the well-being of the woman filing the complaint, and the precedent being set, seriously... I don't want any of them on the Board.

  • Anyone who I've seen hem and haw about recognizing sexual harassment, institutional white racism, or aggressively "civil" classism, knowing that they represent the privileged aspect of these things and being unwilling to take the extra step to extend themselves to consider, represent, and help the people at risk, I don't want them on the Board.

  • Anyone from the "favored" demographic (the alchemy of "well-off, white, and male") who has already spent three years in any combination on the Board: it's time to let go of the wheel. Women, minorities, and the poor would like to participate, too, and it's rude to discount their competence without even letting them try. If you can do something magical for the organization that not everybody can do, chances are you can still do it without requiring an official title, and do it "for the sake of PS1" (the only legitimate reason to do anything for such an organization). You could even help kill "tribal knowledge" practices and help others figure out how to do it so they don't have to lean on you.

  • I don't know how the conversation went, but I'm disappointed to see Aushra is nowhere in the running at all. I do, however, wholeheartedly endorse Jennie Plasterer for President. She has a deep and abiding love for the best of PS:1, and years of experience dealing with its processes and mechanics.
Of course, it's likely that none of this will matter
... but I want a public record of my position. Very public; hence, the blog post, which I'll be sharing around Chicago and can, because these are my experiences and they are valid. However, we do need to steer PS:1 through this pandemic, and, as far as I know from exile, the issue of moving is still on the table; the people in question may have the humanist depth and inclinations of wet cardboard, but they may be mechanically-capable of dealing with the issue of moving, if not pandemic outreach to at-risk members such as the poor and members with high-risk health concerns who are still members, but can't access the physical building during the pandemic. There's also the possibility that, especially with so many less-privileged members being, essentially, shut out of the PS:1 organization and community for the duration of the pandemic... there's simply no-one else available who can fill these roles.

I am certain some people will consider filing further complaints; now that I've admitted I am uncomfortable at PS:1 and all out of patience for privileged people who just can't seem to give up control, someone is likely to try to turn that into "ask him to leave" or "just kick him out, he doesn't want to be here". I honestly expect an organization of privileged white men to kick me out, at this point.

The DRC told me, during one meeting, that some members had complained that "they didn't want this here". I wonder if anyone reading this can understand how such a phrase, and such an attitude, is wildly offensive. I doubt they can; but it is. Thankfully, I've had conversations with two excellent people on this kind of issue... a Harvard-educated single Black mother and former nurse (who, by the way, would like to know if she can join remotely and participate in the conversations she's seen), and a Black entrepreneur with a Masters in music production... who have let me know that I'm not imagining the ridiculous inappropriateness of hearing "we don't want this conversation here" when I was trying to address institutional racism, classism, and sexism at PS:1.

That phrase... "we don't want this [conversation] here"... is a big part of why I'm staying; it infuriates me. After what we've seen this year, the very phrase reverberates with "there's never an 'approved' way to protest", which is what I've been doing: protesting. The rest of why I'm here is recognizing what a huge potential help PS1 could be to people who struggle with poverty and don't know how to (perhaps safely) ask for help, if the more privileged "ruling class" of this organization of "equality" conceits can stop controlling and use their resources to help. And, as much as I need help, myself, I want us to help them. We can do better, and, as my PTSD counselor is probably getting tired of hearing me say, that PS1 could do more and doesn't literally keeps me up at night.

Addendum: In a sort of sick twist, the entire elected Board for 2021 is well-off, white men. I've realized we have no mechanism in-place to encourage, require, or enforce diversity on the Board; I also have to note that, this time around, one woman ran for a position... and she wasn't elected. Zero diversity.