Sunday, September 30, 2007

A Word (or 76) on Politics

In the past few months I've noticed a trend. Every organization I'm involved with, from writing to sports to politics... is going through some kind of strife. Flux. Change. And uncomfortable change at that.

Poetry Society of America Rocked By Scandal
Take NRHA Back (this one makes me laugh because it should be Take Back NRHA... they way they have written it.. it's like taking the association back behind the bike racks after school...)
British Columbia Association of Magazine Publishers has a 'labor dispute'
The Old Guard is leaving PWAC, and doesn't want to be called Old Guard anyways...

From member revolts to long-time members bowing out (but not without sending out emails pointing out all the faults and missteps of the org) to talk of labour disputes and conflicts of interest.

And I don't like it. For all my redheadedness, all my talk, I'm really not a fan of conflict. I want people to come together, discuss their differences and find resolutions that leave everyone happy. But that's in my head, not out in the real world.

By nature, I trust the machine. I tend to put a bit more faith in the structure of the organization, if only for the simple reason that you (as a member) have the ability to hold people in the organization accountable for their actions. Whereas the members, especially the ones manning the guns to fuel the revolt, can do whatever they want and be hold unaccountable. In fact, I personally have been threatened (physically and with lawsuites), had rumours started about me and my family, and had several people man a campaign to get me "fired" as a freelancer for a magazine. Why? Oh, I criticized a decision ... about a horse show... for some people horses = religion.

However, I have to check myself. Not every association is acting in the best interests of the members. The often repeated "volunteer" excuse, "We shouldn't be too hard on him, he's a volunteer", doesn't hold water if the person in question is not acting appropriately or taking liberties.

What does this have to do with writing?

If you join a professional writers association it can be tempting to a) volunteer to help run the joint or b) stick your head in the sand and ignore.

I think you should do a bit of both.

Volunteers get tired easily. Volunteer to help out with a few small details.

People always want to initiate the newbies. Take every opinion with a big, huge grain of salt. Ignore them if you can. Or go one step further and make friends with others in the organization who eschew the politics.

The trap you can get caught up in, is being the writer who will write about the politics of an organization. No one really likes that writer. But someone has to man the communications committee who actually knows how to put words in the right order. I did that for two years. Funny thing was... several of the members didn't like me because I was part of the machine. And many of the board members didn't like me because I spoke out in meetings on behalf of the members.

Then you have to be careful about not getting too close to a story you are covering. I realized this year that I was being hampered in my efforts to report on issues in one association because I volunteered with them. Big red flag. I finished up my time with them and gave my notice.

I hate to recommend not volunteering, but there are usually many opportunities down in the dirt that can allow you to help out without getting involved politically.

And that's all I've got to say about that.

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