As many of you may know, The Equity Coalition (EqC), formerly the Equality Coalition, has been forced to face a major crisis over the past several months. We have been hesitant to comment on it publicly because we really wanted to put focus on the work we are doing in the community. We have been working hard to create events that are aimed at serving the needs of our fellow Philadelphians, and every minute we spend answering baseless accusations is valuable time taken away from these initiatives. However, these attacks are getting more disruptive and recently the individual at the center of this is now deciding to co-opt the our events to make his attacks. Specifically, in May, he decided he would use a very important event created to support transgender youth as an opening to make his attacks. Finally, and most egregiously, we are being forced to come forth because of the pain he has been causing our membership by his harassment that needs to stop. Because of that, we have been forced to take focus away from our work to tell our side of the story. We do know the majority of you do know us for our work and character by your first hand interactions with us, and because of that, you may feel this explanation is unnecessary. There are many of you who, because of this, don’t need to read this any further. To those of you who feel that way, we thank you for your love and support.
Additionally, I would like to apologize for any confusion brought by the lack of people being named directly in this statement. There are several reasons for this, but among them is that this is a defense of our organization, not a counter attack on the person who is causing this drama. If in 5 years time he realizes his errors and no longer seeks to harm others, I am giving him this chance not to have his current harassing behaviors follow him forever in the immortality of the internet. So he will be referred to by “the individual” or by his title of co-organizer
On March 26th, the individual/Co-organizer held a meeting of the EqC the steering committee (SC), and announced a new rule that any member of the Steering Committee who missed 2 consecutive meetings, they would be removed from their position. It was then confirmed that that rule was effective immediately, as this meeting would count, and then it was pointed out that one of the SC members was not present. This member was immediately called and was surprised to learn of the meeting and the new rule. As the meeting was ending, the individual voiced a grievance against that member of our steering committee (SC) who had been absent and needed to be called into attendance, asserting that the member caused them harm and placed other members of EqC at risk. In response, the accused SC member offered to resign their SC role and leave EqC citing a desire to preserve stability. This offer was rejected by the rest of the SC, and instead the SC requested mediation between the two as was the process for disagreement in the EqC. Both members agreed to mediation in that meeting and it was agreed that the EqC Mediator/Advisor was to be contacted to operate in their officially defined role. It was also at this meeting that the group was handed the 2nd edition EqC Guidebook, but it was neither reviewed in total nor voted into acceptance as new rules as there were some disagreements over the changes made.
On Monday March 27th, in a private Facebook Message, the Mediator/Advisor was contacted and the co-founder stated in the message “No need [SC member]. I am resigning from my position today.” The Mediator/Advisor then reached out to the Co-organizer personally to try to prevent the resignation and start the mediation process, but the offer was declined. The Mediator/Advisor answered with a standing offer to help work this out if they changed their mind.
At 11:13am on Tuesday, March 28th, the co-organizer sent an email containing an online poll to the SC stating it was to be completed by 12pm the following day. The Survey cited irreconcilable differences between SC members in regards to the March 26th meeting. The poll asked the SC to choose one of three options: 1) the co-organizer would stay with the ability to remove any EqC member at any time without question, 2) the co-organizer would resign 3) the co-organizer would opt-out and in doing so we would have to dissolve. Uncomfortable with the offered poll options as they forced a choice between granting too much unilateral power, and therefore was against the EqC guiding principles, having a founder and then friend leave, which was not wanted either, and having to dissolve the group, the SC came together and chose to abstain from the vote. The Mediator/Advisor offered again to try convince the co-organizer to join for a mediation and reconciliation. This mediation invitation was also declined and a formal resignation letter was sent out on March 28, 2017 at 1:35pm, 22.5 hours before the stated deadline on the poll. The SC was confused by all of this and began a series of online and in person meetings to figure out how to respond to the resignation. Our first decision was that we would not accept the resignation, but rather continue to have people reach out to the co-founder and hope that he would be willing to return. The individual rejected these attempts. When he became openly hostile, we were forced to accept his resignation.
Soon after, the EqC was targeted by a series of unprovoked hostile actions. We suddenly saw unauthorized changes in our facebook page, which included the removal of followers, removal of events from our timeline, and changes in our descriptions. These ended when we removed another member’s administrative rights. We do not think this other member was personally making these changes himself as this other member is known to be of exceptional character and is beyond such morally corrupt behaviors. After this change was made, The Co-organizer then began to exploit a facebook loophole to attack and libel the group and specific members. He found areas of the page which were open to public comment, and then blocked all the page admin so that he could comment and change comments without us being able to see what he said or respond to his accusations. In addition to this, we began to get reports of unidentified showing up at a protest wearing EqC clothing and committed actions that agitated other activist groups. The Individual has since created a copycat group and has been using that to attack us on facebook in ways that range from harassing to outright libelous.
As we were meeting to decide our next steps, we started to discuss individual interactions with the individual, and began to notice very disturbing games being played. Members reported that the individual had been secretly twisting information to turn members against each other which included the individual accusing members of plotting against him in ways that not even legally possible. The accused member reported that they had been forced to make a number of uncomfortable choices that were later explained to them as “loyalty tests.” The disturbing web we unraveled prompted us to declare that we would not longer have secrets, would deal with each other openly and honestly, and we have processed all of this using the metaphor of the abusive ex.
Again, we initially resisted directly responding to these accusations up until now. This decision was made at the expense of the group members he continues to make personal attacks against. We wanted to continue to put all our focus on our work, but he is now making that impossible as he has been increasing his attacks and hijacking the work we are trying to do. Our members do not deserve his abuse, his power games should not come at the expense of those populations we are trying to serve, and anyone who works with him should know the games he plays because they will eventually be at risk of being his targets as well. So here is the definitive response:
1) The Co-organizer resigned, and in his resignation he handed over control of the group.
The Co-organizer resigned using this resignation letter:
“I, [name withheld], National Co-Organizer, State Co-Organizer (PA), and Local Co-Organizer (PHL) of the organization I founded, called, “Equality Coalition for Bernie Sanders,” “Equality Coalition,” and “The Equality Coalition,” with [name withheld], am officially resigning today, Tuesday, March 28th, 2017. I have decided to not provide my reasons. I have enjoyed the positive things that we’ve done together, am incredibly proud of our accomplishments, and wish you all of the greatest success within the future of the organization’s due process, if there will be one, and with all of your personal endeavors. Please contact [name withheld] or [name withheld] with any further questions as they are now the National Co-Organizers. If you have any questions, please message our Facebook Page. Keep up the good fight!”
Please note the exact words he used in the message. This wasn’t a simple “I resign” statement, his words create a very specific context to understand his meaning when tendered his resignation. The reason I need to point out this very specific context is that the co-founder has been claiming he was kicked out, despite the fact he sent us the above letter of resignation. He bases this claim on the fact that the newly released guide book (which had only been released the night the disagreement began, and therefor had not been reviewed or agreed upon by the group, more on that to follow) has a 2 sentence statement on page 46 redefining the term “resignation” as akin to sabbatical, and designating the term “opt-out” to mean what resignation was supposed to mean. The problem he has trying to enforce this new redefinition was that the contextual statements of his resignation letter did not present this new redefinition, aka did not present it as temporary and did not make statements about maintaining any level of control or ownership, but rather use the traditional definition in the letter. If he had any other intention, he had ample opportunity to clarify at any time we asked him not to resign.
So when he tells anyone else that he didn’t really resign because of a technicality in the rule book, realize that he is telling them something different that what he told the EqC in his official resignation letter. He is telling people the part where he hid a redefinition in an unread rule book, but he is not telling them that he himself did not use that definition when he resigned. He wrote a 120+ page rulebook and in which he redefined the term “resignation,” then forced a crisis where he used the threat of resignation to force us to choose to hand more power over to him than he was supposed to have by his own design of the group, when we refused to participate in that forced choice and insisted on using EqC official conflict resolution procedure, he resigned using words that denoted the traditional definition and did not clarify when he had opportunity, and then used that technicality to attack and defame the group to others, expecting them to not question what he actually wrote in his resignation letter.
So when we say that he resigned, it is because he sent us a letter explicitly stating that he was leaving the group and handing leadership over.
2) The individual is claiming an absurd level of control over things that are not really his.
As we have been pointing out that the individual has resigned and he named the people he transferred control to.Since that resignation, he has been claiming we can no longer use the name “The Equality Coalition” because he thought it up. When you create a group and then leave a group, you do not maintain ownership of that group. Things just do not work that way. In addition, when all this started, we looked into the name “The Equality Coalition” and we discovered that this was a commonly used name by a number of national and international organizations representing multiple interests including Women’s issues, LGBT issues, and even general community development. Some of these groups are over a decade old. Whether willfully or through ignorance, he is making claims on an organizational name that has been used by many organizations before him. He was not the first to put the words “equality” and “coalition” together for an organizational name, so therefor it is not his original work and he has no claim to it. He is claiming as his an idea that he was not the first to use
Also, he resigned granting all control over this organization, including its name, to new leadership.
Furthermore, he claims we cannot use the structure we are using because he designed it and is therefore his intellectual property. This is wrong for many reasons. The first is that copyright does not protect ideas, only the words used to express them. Anyone can use part or all of the structure so long as the words that are used to describe them are not reproduced. Since his book is specifically stated to be his property, we cannot reproduce it without permission; and trust me, we have no interest in reproducing that mess of a guidebook. However, that is only as far as his protections go. By copyright law, we can select and use the ideas we deem fit, as can any individual or organization, because ideas are not copyrighted. But that point is largely irrelevant, because when it comes to the ideas that are important, they weren’t his. Shared 2 person leadership? The Romans had that. S.M.A.R.T. goals? Created By George T. Doran. Taking stack for communication? This has been used by activists for several years now. 198 methods of nonviolent action? Taken verbatim from the internet. The best ideas of the book were not even his. Again, he is claiming as his ideas he was not the originator of.
Finally, the individual is trying to revoke intellectual property rights he has previously given to the group. Unlike the mess of a book that does state the book is his property, he has no such ownership on the flag. The flag was produced with the explicit intent of it being for the Equality Coalition and as such was granted as the intellectual property of the Equality Coalition. Even in his mess of a book, the individual refers to the flag as “The Equality Coalition’s Flag” (possessive term referring ownership to the equality coalition). Again, he spent a lot of time specifying the book was his, but when it came time to mentioning the flag, it was “The Equality Coalition’s”. And since the flag was created and used prior to the guidebook, it was not a product of the guidebook. Whatever contributions he made to the design, it was made to be the property of the Equality Coalition. And then he resigned, giving up any rights to the property of the Equality Coalition as he named his successors in leadership.
3) The individual’s new rules are not binding to the organization and actually violate his previously established rules
Despite having resigned and handed over control to new leadership, the individual is claiming that he has the right to lead the organization by changing the rules whenever he feels without ratification from the group. He bases this claim on the fact that he wrote this into the rule book he handed over the night he created the crisis. The problem is that all rules within an organization must be accepted and consented to by a group in order to be ratified. Even rules that you are powerless in the creation of must be presented and reviewed, and then consented on even if the consent is given as “by continuing you agree.” This is why we have TOS agreements where you have to click “I agree” and why you get written policy change announcements at work that they ask you to sign. The new guidebook was presented, but there was no opportunity for full review of that 120+ page mess, much less acknowledgement and consent. His rule book was never ratified by the group, and therefor we were never bound by it.
This type of thing is important, because without such a system of acknowledgement and consent, a leader could wait for a group meeting in which he could ensure a co-leader he was hostile towards would not be in attendance. He could then, at the meeting, announce a new rule that if a co-leader missed two meetings in a row, they would be removed, and make the rule immediately active so that the absent co-leader was instantly at risk of being kicked out of their position. And this is not a hypothetical abuse of power, remember, but the actual incident at the March 26th meeting.
Since we were never given the chance to fully review and consent to the 120+ page rule book prior to the full resignation of the founder, it was never ratified and we were never bound to it.
In addition, the guidebook and its introduction violated already accepted rules and procedures further invalidating its acceptance. Up until this point, there were a number of rules and guidelines that had been orally presented to group membership, and those were the rules and procedures we consented to. The guidebook was supposed to be reviewed by the National Co-organizer by agreement between the the Co-organizers, and never was, so it was never ratified on a national level either or cleared for adoption, as its introduction violated that agreement. In addition, up to that time, every member of the EqC had been specifically told that as a principle and rule, there was never to be one person in the EqC who could hold unilateral power over the group. This is why there are always two individuals of equal power at every level of leadership. The guidebook granted one person, the founder, unilateral power over the group by making him the sole rule maker and that all rules are immediately accepted without the right of the group to negotiate in any way. This violated the verbal rules he had told us when we joined, and those are the rules we consented to when we agreed to join. Because of this, we maintain adherence to the verbally communicated rules and not the unratified mess of a rulebook.
The individual will tell people we are lying, but we have documented and backed up all of our communications with him so that we can provide direct evidence of the statements we have made, and we will provide the evidence as required.
For anyone currently working with him, please accept our account as a warning as to what you may be subjected to. Don’t just assume that what he tells you verbally are the rules he is expecting you to follow. Demand to read the current rules in total, and demand immediate notification when he initiates a rule change. Otherwise you may find yourself ambushed by a rule change. Also, beware of “loyalty tests”, divide and conquer strategies, and wild accusations. These are tactics used to isolate membership so that he can maintain power while under the guise of shared leadership. Finally, know that if he turns on you, it’s not necessarily because of anything you did as this pattern is being reported by other people.
As I have said before we have begun to use the metaphor of the abusive partner as we have processed these events amongst ourselves. He tried to isolate us, exercise absolute power over us, and threatened to leave us to make us comply with his absolute control. When we did not give into his power demands, he stalked and harassed us online, while trying to defame us, as, since he could no longer control us, he had to control the way people saw us.