The Free Software Foundation, the non-profit organization dedicated to promoting and defending computer user freedom, has welcomed Richard Stallman back to the board of directors.
And so I am cancelling my associate membership that I’ve had since 2005.
Stallman resigned as president of the FSF and his role at MIT in 2019 after some statements he made about a colleague involved with one of Jeffrey Epstein’s victims, claiming she may have presented herself as entirely willing, as well as arguing about the technicalities of what counts as rape.
Stallman has made similar statements about underage rape before, and claims after some conversations he’s has since changed his mind and now believes people shouldn’t have sex with minors.
Well, that’s good? I mean, I believe people can change, and I hope he’s actually done so.
But he has decades of history both at MIT and at the FSF in making the spaces he is in a more hostile place for women. I don’t know if Stallman has changed, I don’t personally have knowledge of what happened at FSF or MIT, but I can still know there is an effect he has had on a large group of people.
And the FSF brought him back.
It feels like he is yet another celebrity who just ducked out of the spotlight, laid low, then came back with no real consequences.
I was tempted to resign from the FSF back when his behavior was first brought to light, but he resigned, and so I kept my membership.
But I don’t understand why an organization that supposedly wants to support computer user freedom wants to make it more difficult for some people to be part of that movement. Why would they invite him back?
And more importantly, why would I help fund such an organization?
I’m merely an associate member. It’s $120 per year that I invest in an organization doing work I believe in. I have the privilege to put my money towards such causes, but I also recognize that in the grand scheme of things it is a mere drop in the bucket for a large organization, although based on the regular mail I get from them they claim they don’t have much and every dollar counts.
I want to see more software freedom, but it’s not worth it if fewer people feel safe. I can put that money towards investing in organizations that have a future in the inclusive world I want to see.
And right now, it is clear that the FSF has no such future in that inclusive world.
On a less important note, an organization that is so dependent on one individual likely won’t have much of a future when that individual no longer exists. I want to see possibilities emerge by the voices of many coming together with a shared purpose, with no one person necessarily driving that purpose forward. With the FSF inviting someone so problematic back, it makes me question the overall capacity of the organization to survive a world when Stallman is no longer in it. It gives me no confidence that my investment with my membership is doing the world any good if the organization is just going to flounder and fall apart once its primary leader is gone.