The direction the Drupal community has taken over the last few weeks, a summary of which can be found here, is a serious threat to the spirit of an open source, inclusive community in which I have thrived. I have spent a great deal of time thinking about my place in a community that has now set an unsafe precedent for the monitoring and policing of personal conduct and beliefs. I have concluded, however, that since I still trust that the choices that those in power have made were well-intentioned albeit misguided, there is some hope that the original intention to safeguard the Drupal community can be more faithfully carried out with a change of course.
I think it is especially important that I add my voice to this conversation since as a female-identifying software engineer who often speaks in tracks with little to no female representation, I feel that I am among the intended benefactors of the protectionists act of removing Larry Garfield from the community. I would like to state plainly that I find this move paternalistic, patronizing, and counterproductive. I wholly reject the assumption that I require protection from the thoughts or beliefs of other community members.
I also know Larry Garfield personally as a member of the Chicago Drupal User Group, as a former colleague, and as a (current, I hope) friend. Larry has always been respectful and encouraging of my ideas and how I express and implement them. I can counter the absurd accusation that Larry is guilty of insufficiently recruiting women into the PHP tracks at Drupal conferences by stating that Larry's failure to lure me away from submitting exclusively to the devops track to speak in the PHP track in which he has been chair does not make him a misogynist. These are my presentations and my choice where to submit them. To charge Larry with the failure to recruit, entice, or otherwise convince women do anything, even submitting to Drupal conference tracks, is paternalistic in the extreme.
Moreover, in every capacity, Larry has helped me to be better and, in turn, has allowed me to help him be better. At no point have I felt that Larry regards me as anything less than an absolute equal both professionally and socially nor have I seen or heard anything that suggests that I am the exception. Larry has even publicly deferred to my wisdom after years of private resistance and suffered no discernible turmoil when carrying out my decisions during those times when I was a technical lead and he was acting as an implementer.
While the character defamation and ill-informed speculation that is publically being played out in the court of public opinion is incredibly painful to watch, it is not in defence of Larry's character that I am resisting his banishment. I am resisting 1.) the real or perceived exclusion of an individual or individuals on the basis of incompatible values; 2.) the vagueness with which authority in the Drupal community is being wielded and 3.) the toxic environment of unsubstantiated accusations and threats that has grown in this vacuum of transparency.
We would do well to see the current strife over what it means to live our values in the Drupal community in the larger social historical context of moralizing movements, which have been similarly born of intransigent authoritarianism and unexamined anxieties. Perhaps it is inevitable that the Drupal community would be subjected to the same temptation to police the conduct of others stemming from an anxiety that the community is in decline and requires protection, as other societies have done.
A hallmark that we are in such a moralizing moment is the reluctance of the Drupal Association and Dries Buyart, in his capacity as Drupal project lead, to articulate any real, specific harm while instead alluding to some symbolic harm by allowing the public to link a subject and fragments of his discourse to some sort of projected social consequences, which allows all number of anxieties to fill the void of what has gone unsaid. "Surely, our leaders have taken this action to protect someone or something." "We are protecting women!" "To ask how we are protecting women and is to further their victimization!" "Who knows the number of women who might have joined our community had we rooted out this secret misogynist with his secret thoughts sooner!"
To be sure, we should be anxious that we have not achieved some ideal diverse state but the burden to alleviate this anxiety belongs to the community as a whole and must be an ongoing dialogue and conversation. We should resist dividing practices, which are used to legitimize the preferential treatment of one group over the next. If we start to preserve the legitimacy of those worthy of Drupal membership by expelling the unworthy and then insist that their unworthiness is somehow so abject that it cannot be fully articulated lest it further offend, we will do so at the expense of cultivating the necessary conditions for the richness of colliding ideas.
We must minimally insist that if moralizing efforts are to be a part of our community, that they will be at least be submitted to the process of democracy, which is not a guaranteed safeguard against censorship and shaming, but is so far the only human institution that has had some success in doing so.
Drupal Con Baltimore is next week. I am looking forward to participating in the conversation.