Update: 12 February 2020 – the entire RWA Board has now resigned.
We are the hollow (wo)men
We are the stuffed (wo)men
Headpiece filled with straw. Alas!
Our dried voices, when
We whisper together
Are quiet and meaningless
As wind in dry grass
or rats’ feet over broken glass
In our dry cellar
Shape without form, shade without colour,
Paralysed force, gesture without motion;
“The Hollow Men,” T.S. Eliot, 1925 (edits mine)
Oh, hey, look. T.S. Eliot predicted the current RWA “board!”
I use quotes because I can’t fathom the complete lack of leadership, awareness, or comprehension they’ve displayed in the past few weeks. February 2020 is looking to be as long as January 2020 in RWA-time, so let’s catch up.
I’m tired already.
As of this morning, 11 February 2020, resignations of RWA membership are being posted, shared, and tweeted. I’m a little surprised that “RWA Resignation” isn’t trending nationally.
Much of the anger that has resurged is due to past RWA president Leslie Kelly sharing that she has resigned from RWA after offering to serve as assistant to past president Dee Davis to re-establish the Leadership Development Committee:
1) Today, after 20 years of membership in @RomanceWriters, I've tendered my resignation from the organization. Sadly, the RWA I loved and served for so many years is no longer a group to which I am proud to belong.
— Leslie Kelly (@lesliekelly) February 10, 2020
Their goal was to find a qualified president for the RWA Board of Directors, one who met the bylaws’ requirements and was willing to serve. After working with Interim Executive Director Leslie Scantlebury, an individual it is important to note “for whom we both have great respect,” Scantlebury took their offer to the current Board of Hollow Women (not their official title):
I was surprised–though not hugely–to learn that our offer was declined. Apparently, the board has “personal concerns” about us. (source)
(I suspect they were mostly concerns about me, since I spearheaded the 1st letter from former BoMems. Bless Dee, who said we were a package deal.)
In my opinion, this current board allowed their personal anger and resentment against people who’ve spoken out against them to outweigh their responsibilities to RWA. I consider that a severe violation of their fiduciary duty to the organization. (emphasis mine)
And so, I’ve finally reached the point so many of my friends and colleagues have. We can’t keep throwing life-rings out to those who don’t want to stop themselves from drowning I have now joined the ranks of those who’ve realized that RWA is probably beyond saving. (source)
Fiduciary duty is the legal obligation one voluntarily undertakes to work and act in the best interest of another party. In this case, what Kelly is saying is that the current Board of Directors has acted in their own interests (and has done so repeatedly, if you’re asking me) instead of in the interests of RWA. Their duty as board members is to work in the best interests of RWA. That’s the volunteer job one undertakes as a board member. This board does not appear to be acting according to their fiduciary responsibilities.
Remember us – if at all – not as lost
Violent souls, but only
As the hollow (wo)men
The stuffed (wo)men.
Further anger ignited the still-smoldering month-old conflagRWAtion after Suzanne Brockmann recounted the multiple requests for her 2018 Lifetime Achievement Award speech in advance prior to the Denver RITA awards, and her insistence that she not be censored again:
NO ONE saw my speech in advance.
That meant no teleprompter, but it was the only way I knew for damn sure I wouldn't be censored by a group that had censored me in the past. I can't tell you how many times, in the months leading up to Denver…
— Suz (@SuzBrockmann) February 7, 2020
And Sarah MacLean’s recounting of the behind-the-scenes machinations that interfered with the team of writers who created the 2019 RITA Award ceremony, which was outstandingly excellent.
At this point, I want to pause, and quote this very excellent thread from Suzanne Brockmann yesterday. She didn't show anyone her speech at the 2018 RITA Awards. This was very smart. https://t.co/ESvrE02OvC
— sarah maclean (@sarahmaclean) February 9, 2020
Speaking of the national conferences, RWA also announced the new 2020 Conference Registration rates. Registration will open March 10, 2020. (No, I am not attending.)
RWA 2020 registration fees looked like this before now:
RWA Member Early registration: $499
RWA Member Regular registration: $549
RWA Member Late registration: $649
(Source, via Courtney Milan)
This year, March 10-March 11, RWA member registration will be $199. (I just typoed $1.99, which made me snort. Like it’s an ebook on sale.)
RWA Special registration: $199
RWA Member Early registration: $350
RWA Member Regular registration: $425
(Source, via Lorelie Brown)
Per board minutes posted by Lorelie Brown:
Rationale: Policy requires that Board set conference registration fees. Due to an expected lowered attendance at conference, we would like to offer a more appealing registration fee. (source, emphasis mine)
It is entirely my opinion that attending RWA this year would be damaging for one’s professional reputation, unless one wants to be visibly affiliated with an organization whose board refuses to perform its job, and in which a portion of its members eagerly and loudly embrace white supremacy out loud, in letters to past and present boards, and in forums hosted by that organization.
Brown also pointed out that the absence of discussion in that meeting as recorded in the minutes has damning implications:
Btw, I used to be secretary to a small city Govt committee. That every motion passed without discussion and unanimously means the real talk happened ahead of time. This was a puppet show.
— Lorelie Brown (@LorelieBrown) February 9, 2020
Former board member Adrienne Mishel echoed that the lack of discussion and the unanimous votes of the current RWA board is another example of failure of fiduciary duty:
Also of note: the current list of resignations of the RWA board since 24 December 2019. That’s a painful list to read.
On the chapter level, more terrible news. Seressia Glass has shared:
One of my chapters, the multicultural @CIMRWA, is voting to dissolve.
I cannot express how much I hate RWA right now.
— Seressia Glass aka Mallery Malone (@seressia) February 11, 2020
That would be the same CIMRWA whose officers took the time to speak with me in my four-part podcast series RWA: One Month Later about their work on the recall petition against then-president Carolyn Jewel (who resigned) and then-president-elect Damon Suede (who also ultimate resigned after the petition was verified by RWA). That CIMRWA.
(NB: I’ve written to confirm the dissolution, as it may be discussion at this time. Will update when I have confirmation.)
Updated, 11:26am 11 Feb 2020: Laurel Cremant has confirmed to me that the vote to dissolve the chapter was put to the membership on 10 February, and that confirmation of the results of that vote should be available by the end of this week. They’ve also shared the letter they sent to their members:
1. Last night, the CIMRWA board, @LaurelCremant @AuthorNicTerry @thienkim @preslaysawrites brought a vote to dissolution to our membership. This decision was not made lightly & we ask that everyone allow our members to vote their hearts…
— CIMRWA (@CIMRWA) February 11, 2020
During our February 9th, 2020 board meeting, the CIMRWA board motioned to bring the action of the dissolution of CIMRWA to our chapter members.
This decision was not made lightly, but with the full understanding of the values and mission that CIMRWA was founded on. As well as respect for our members, their integrity and their emotional health. (emphasis mine)
Oh, hey, T.S. Eliot covered this feeling I’m now experiencing, too:
The eyes are not here
There are no eyes here
In this valley of dying stars
In this hollow valley
This broken jaw of our lost kingdoms
The potential loss of CIMRWA, of Las Vegas Romance Writers, of the entire board of RWANYC, and of every chapter that may be revising their upcoming agenda to address whether to be an RWA chapter at all, is a crushing collection of lost kingdoms. That may be more overwrought language than I typically deploy, but seriously: what an incredible loss this is.
Lost time, lost work, lost progress. Farrah Rochon said this morning:
My hurt and anger over everything that has happened with RWA continues to grow with every tweet I read about things that happened during my tenure on the BOD that I had no idea about. And I can’t help but selfishly think about all the time I sacrificed for board service.
— Farrah Rochon (@FarrahRochon) February 11, 2020
I’m angry, but most of all I am just so, so hurt. I’m angry at the fact that I sacrificed so much time away from my own writing, only for THIS to happen to the organization. It feels like such a waste now.
— Farrah Rochon (@FarrahRochon) February 11, 2020
It may be that right now is the crest of the latest wave, and another tipping point for those who are tired of bailing water from a floundering ship and are leaving it behind. Is what has happened enough to make a member want to put RWA in their rearview mirror? (All the transport metaphors! All of them!)
Why stay aboard? Some, like Dee Davis (and absolutely zero criticism is intended here) are preserving their membership to vote in the August elections, despite increasing anger and frustration:
I am sharing this thread because Leslie has summed up my feelings. I will add that I am still a member for the moment because I am a general honorary member (which means I paid dues last year)and so can vote in Aug. As I said before – Pollyanna. https://t.co/rGFpW3mby6
— Dee Davis (@deesdavis) February 10, 2020
Some want to try one more time to combat the seeming resistance to change, to see what may happen under Leslie Scantlebury’s interim term, or to support whatever comprehensive changes the promised DEI consultant (sending strength to that person, whomever they are) might make. I get that feeling. As discussed in the podcast series I produced and as I said in my original post, it wouldn’t hurt so much if it didn’t matter, and it wouldn’t be so enraging if RWA wasn’t important.
As HelenKay Dimon and I discussed in her interview, RWA still has industry connections, though it still doesn’t seem to be using that industry advocacy regarding Dreamspinner’s lack of payment. RWA’s missions of advocacy, education, and community could be served again.
Some might stay because their local chapter is a major part of their support system and career, but if chapters are dissolving or closing because of members’ unwillingness to associate with RWA National because of the actions of the board since 23 December 2019, then what keeps those members as part of the organization on the national level?
To quote Dee Davis, there are people who “want RWA to be worth saving:”
I want RWA to be worth saving. I want for those of us who believe that love is love is love to stand together and make our organization what we want it to be. To stand up for our members who believe everyone deserves a seat at the table 6/
— Dee Davis (@deesdavis) February 6, 2020
But I feel like I've been swimming upstream and those swimming with me are fading away and I don't know what to do now. Leslie's right – someone needs to step up and take control. 7/
— Dee Davis (@deesdavis) February 6, 2020
I’m a stubborn and tenacious person (bet you knew that) and I get the feeling of, “Ok, one more try. One more.”
On the other side: the fact that as more and more members resign, those who are left as voting members are more likely those who will embrace or silently support the white supremacy and bigotry that got us in this situation in the first place.
To quote Courtney Milan in her interview, where she predicted a lot of what’s happening this week:
I think a lot of white people, including some very well-meaning white people, are going to see all the people of color leaving, and they’re going to say, well, we have to prove that this place is safe, so I’m going to stay here and make it better. And I’m going to tell you that what you are doing at this point is reinforcing white supremacy….
I think you’re going to have to figure out how to get out of RWA, if RWA can’t get itself out of this nosedive. And I don’t think it can!
…if RWA doesn’t figure out how to get rid of white supremacy, it’s a white supremacist organization. And right now it doesn’t look like they’re even trying.
Yes. Exactly that. It doesn’t look like this board is even trying.
I’ve been waiting for a sign that the current board is going to try something. I don’t think they’re even fixing to try, much less trying to fix. And I don’t see effort to do anything but preserve power for a limited time while acting against their fiduciary responsibilities.
As it currently stands, it will cost potential future board members time, energy, and books written, completed, and sold. It will cost members time, energy, and work to try to fight and explain again and again why what someone said was racist, was bigoted, was rooted in blithe privilege. The amount of words some people have written to combat and educate the bigoted members in email, in loops, and on the RWA forums would create at least a 10-book boxed set at this point.
I’ve personally spent hours trying to compile and contextualize all of this mess, too, which is increasingly feeling like a waste, because it’s dispiriting to watch the yield of the efforts of dedicated people I admire amount to obstruction, refusal, discouragement, and despair.
As I wrote in my post, “Where Does RWA Go From Here?”
RWA can’t maintain its current membership nor its leadership and at the same time say it’s going to rebuild. Rebuilding requires people in leadership positions who are trusted by current and prospective members. And it requires trust in fellow members of the community….
RWA can’t serve a large portion of its current membership and have a future that includes marginalized writers. Genuine change is not possible if the organization can’t identify and articulate who it serves and prioritizes, and then address and rectify the harm it has done.
Since I wrote that on 10 January 2020, one month and one day ago, I still don’t know who the current board of RWA serves, except themselves.
And so RWA will most likely slowly deflate as members leave, and instead of Romance Writers of America, it will be a collection of Really White Authors.
I’ve tendered my resignation of membership to RWA this morning.
You knew this ending was coming right?
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
This is the way the world ends
Not with a bang but with a whimper.
Well, now, cue up the JoJo and your old Tina Turner movies because the RWA Board has resigned, setting a special election for 13 March 2020.
The motion to hold the special election can be read in full on the RWA website, but there are a number of questions, and such a playlist to be built because nineteen songs are competing for space in my brain.
First, there are no candidates, no leadership committee, and no specific policy to follow for said election, as HelenKay Dimon said on Twitter.
Jamaila Brinkey pointed out that there is no information given on who will run the election, how to declare candidacy, or if there are any viable candidates:
One last note: they’ve also resigned before (instead of?) making any changes to the bylaws to impact the qualifications required to run in the special (or regular) election, leaving us with the same pool of candidates: zero. This board even RESIGNED badly.
— Jamaila Brinkley (@jamaila) February 12, 2020
The board can’t change bylaws without membership approval, so even then the remaining membership is rather stuck.
My reaction is jaw dropping anger and seismic impatience, to be honest. As Laurel Cremant said, the organization was pretty much hemorrhaging members, but now, NOW they’re doing something.
To quote Madelina Rivera, this really is “the epic flounce.”
I’m absolutely gobsmacked. This is so too little, far too late. This could have been done MONTHS ago. This could have been fixable months ago! But much like convincing publishers to spend money is a LOT harder than convincing them not to, it’s also going to be a challenge, I think, to convince members who just resigned to pay dues again.
This action by this former board of still hollow women only reinforces my belief that they weren’t going to fix anything, and weren’t going to try to fix anything, either. They held on too long, made everything worse, then left. Absolutely disgraceful and an utter lack of understanding of fiduciary responsibility.