Image

A few years ago I served as one of the Directors on a Public Library Board in Southern Ontario. This is a municipal board appointment although the governing statutes come from the province of Ontario. There is also the SOLS Manual (i.e., Southern Ontario Library Service Manual) which functions as a general rule book on policies and procedures usually adhered to by libraries in Southern Ontario.

My intention in this entry is to avoid vituperative abuse of the people who made my life a living hell. Instead, I want to explain how these experiences helped push me in the direction of anti-authoritarian anarchism.  Consequently, I will avoid using names of people. I think it would be pointless; moreover, I want to stick to my thesis of how how these experiences transformed me. I have no intention of writing animadversions against people for whom I have nothing but contempt.

It seemed to me that what happened was that a new board was elected because of the normal municipal election cycle. Many of the board members were rather inexperienced and callow. They really seemed to be very trusting of whatever they were told to do. This set up what became an obvious power grab by a small clique calling themselves the “Executive Committee.”

In fact, I wasn’t the first person to notice the power grab setup. We had a few board members who lasted maybe two or three months and then they quit. When I started to get suspicious, I called one up on the phone and he gave me a very long and detailed explanation of what this person had observed. These comments then got me even more suspicious. This person pretty much nailed it–there was a coup d’etat going on. So I planted some questions and emails to see how the “Executive Committee” would react. My fears of a coup d’etat were confirmed.

On paper, the board consisted of (I think it was) 9 members and the CEO (i.e., the Chief Librarian), although the Chief Librarian doesn’t vote since she was the major/key employee of the Board. But the reality was that you had a 3 member Executive Committee, this sort of nepotism-like relationship between one Executive Committee member and a board member, the rest of the highly naive and easily manipulated puerile board (in my opinion), and one lone maverick–me!

Of course, I use the term “maverick” because it reminds me of the Top Gun movie! Of course, I wasn’t given such a nice term by my adversaries. I was labeled a “bad behavior” since I guess I failed to follow the kindergarten-level system they used, which was simply the idea that one should obey their leaders. In fact, one of our self-appointed “leaders” on the Executive Committee explained it all to me quite succinctly and truthfully as simply the fact that some board members belong to the “decision maker” class while others belong to the “worker bee” class. Apparently I was just supposed to be a “worker bee” class member but I had the effrontery to demand that I be treated as an equal board member and that I be consulted with before they make decisions for me. So yes, I had violated the class hierarchy; I had failed to “know my spot” in the structure, which was obviously supposed to be at the bottom of the totem pole. 

My level of frustration with this board grew and grew as they would do such outrageous things and then I would get ganged up on and attacked. It all started when the board decided to nominate a person, let’s say Mr. X, as a replacement board member to fill some of the early vacancies. The board at a meeting voted to recommend Mr. X. However, as the course of history showed, Mr. X never got on the board. Instead, here is what happened. I was chairing a Finance Committee meeting. One of the members then complained about Mr. X’s appointment. Without consulting the rest of the board or without even convening a proper Executive Committee meeting, one member of the Executive Committee declares that he would unilaterally get rid of Mr. X. Tada! Random meeting of the Executive Committee to override what the board had voted on earlier. What was even more disturbing is that all of this felt like blackmail to me because the reason for the complaint was simply this from this other board member: “I am going to quit the board if Mr X gets appointed.” So in other words to appease this board member one Executive Committee member can randomly hold meetings and randomly decide–all very capricious and arbitrary. Basically, what I would call tyranny.

Then, I launched a very simple campaign to try to point out the injustice of random meetings and random overrides of board votes and this kind of “backdoor” approach to running a government. I simply asked: please show me the minutes of this impromptu Executive Committee meeting. Then the excuses. Oh, we never had any Executive Committee meetings. Or, we just met once or twice to “discuss disasters.” That one I found to be quite hilarious. I believe in emails I wrote something like, “So how many times has the library burned to the ground this summer?” I was, of course being sarcastic since absolutely nothing happened so what “disasters” were they talking about?

My concerns for documentations and even the most rudimentary system of policies and procedures were mocked. This same Executive Committee member mocked my concerns and suggested that I wanted some impractical “court stenographer” to document every word that was ever said. That of course was a malicious lie. I wanted no such thing. I wanted documentation of major decisions made by the board to be written down. In fact the Ontario Public Libraries Act demands that boards keep books–yes books–of what they do. You can’t just transact major board decisions like overrides of votes for appointments of members–clearly a major form of business–by just having casual meetings off the record because everyone is supposed to be “buddy-buddy.”

I read to the board an exhaustive list of laws and rules about why the board has to keep written records of what it does. I mentioned the Ontario Public Libraries Act, which mentions how all board members are supposed to be equal and how this obvious hierarchy setup was creating a class system–hence an unequal board. I also mentioned the written minutes requirements. I also mentioned another governing statute, the Ontario Corporations Act. Public libraries are treated as corporations and so the law seems to be germane. It mentioned that failure to keep minutes is a form of evidence tampering. I also stressed the SOLS manual, which discusses why the board has to keep full documentation of what it does, because then the board can defend itself by showing that it has exercised its duty of care.

The board ended up voting 8 to 1, with me being the lone dissenter, to get rid of written minutes and replace them with “oral reports.” So this way, they could meet whenever they wanted to, discuss whatever they wanted to, and report back a nice clear and sanitized version of what happened.

My suspicions are not based on slander but based on my snooping around. I would sometimes meet with the CEO and she would sometimes let me know what was happening with her and the Executive Committee, and the story was a lot more complex than simply “meeting once or twice to discuss disasters.” There seemed to be this audacious and most likely illegal view that the municipal library budget could be ignored. The idea was that we could apparently ignore the “line-items” on the budget, so long as the final “bottom number” came in correctly. Thankfully, there are no “official documentations” of this that I know of except an email I saw and the fact that I heard this with my own ears. (And of course, without “official documentation”–thanks to “oral reports” how on earth could anyone prove this? Obviously one can’t, and that seems to be the point of having “oral reports” of what is going on.)

It seemed like the structure was supposed to be this:

  1. The Executive Committee consisted of the all-knowing leaders. These leaders were to be held above reproach. I could tell because the response to my criticisms was basically that I was attacking the “reputations” of these supposedly angelic and sinless leaders. They even brought forward a motion to make it so we couldn’t “use their names” in any documentation, i.e., on the rare occasion that we might write something down it seemed. In other words good governance is irrelevant; all that matters is “good behavior” (i.e., submit to your leaders) and their delusional view that their “reputations” were under attack by their lone critic (me!).
  2. The rest of the board was just supposed to do whatever the Executive Committee decreed. I used to use the word “edict” to explain how the board actually operated. Our self-appointed leaders would deliberate in some backroom without any written documentation, declare their decisions, and the rest of us were to just clap and applaud like obsequious little slaves.

I don’t think that the board members were “evil” people. I suspect that the motives were probably “noble” in their twisted minds. The Executive Committee probably thought that they were doing the right thing–in fact that was one of the excuses they gave. They were doing what was in the “best interests” of the library. Maybe their decisions were the “right” ones. I am not saying that I or anyone else would have made “better” decisions. My concern was how everything was run from the top down by edict. I hated and loathed being dictated to. I think I once called their Executive Committee the Politburo!


The final straw for me was when they turned an entire board meeting into a “gang-up on Neil” meeting. In this meeting everyone attacked me. Apparently I was the “only” problem on the board. But, this is true. If you were connected to the Executive Committee, you were frustrated by me raising objections. What really shocked me was how the members of the obsequious class defended the overlords. My gut feeling was that people who are abused and who have their rights trampled would rebel against their ruling class overlords, the Executive Committee. But that is not what happened. Instead, the obsequious class fought to defend the rulers. My interpretation of this was that most people are craven and pusillanimous. These timorous spirits just do not want to “rock the boat.”

For me, I learned how questioning authority is so marginalizing.

Image

Pretty much the second I started to openly rebel, I was marginalized. It was simply 8 versus 1, with me being the lone 1. I felt that I was doing the right thing by defending good governance. These rules were put in place to protect against arbitrary rule. To me arbitrary rule or tyranny is exactly what the Executive Committee was doing. They tried to purge me from the board. Supposedly they went to the town council and had some more “secret meetings” to try to get me kicked off the library board. Then they had the “group gang up” meeting, which I mentioned earlier. I remember distinctly how the CEO would report to me that they would have meetings to discuss what “to do” with me. I would get sworn at by one Executive Committee member. She would stare at me with the glaring “evil eye.” She would throw her pens. But of course, she was a “good behavior” and I was the “bad behavior” because I was the one who made her cry. Or another one of these “personal trauma” defenses–oh Neil, we can’t criticize our leaders because they have had health issues. Your criticisms are making them sick you evil monster you! So in order to protect the health of the overlords, you need to just shut up and enjoy being dictated to Neil! LOL! But seriously, that is the best they could come up with. You hurt my feelings. You hurt my reputation (since good governance and accountability is a “personal attack” in their sick twisted minds). You hurt my health. In other words, substantive issues are irrelevant; it is all some silly “personal” thing.

Seriously, the whole board experience smacked of another issue very dear to the hearts of anarchists, namely, workplace harassment and bullying by bosses–what I guess would be classified as the “capital versus labor” hierarchical problem. This is precisely the problem! 

Obviously the library doesn’t have “capital” in the sense that a capitalist “owns” machines and equipment. I suppose one could say that the library owns books and computers, but that didn’t give the Executive Committee its power. What seems to be the source of their power is a monopoly over:

  1. Information by controlling access to information through “oral reports” and impromptu meetings
  2. Culture by imposing this decision making class versus worker bee class (their words not mine) class structure, which they tells everyone how they are “expected to behave.” I would say it is a form of monopoly over behavioral norms.
  3. Decision making. I had absolutely no input on anything that happened to me or to the library. They made the decisions because I guess I was too incompetent to do so, even though I have two university degrees.

I think the biggest mistake I made was that I attacked power head on. I focused most of my energies on directly attacking the Executive Committee. I would point out all of their sins so to speak. I was obstructionist. I raised so many objects, and I certainly delayed the implementations of their plans.

As I reflect back, I think now if I could re-live history I would use a furtive approach. I would avoid head-on attacks to the power structure. Instead, I would have used “secret meetings” of my own except my “secret meetings” would have been to slowly and carefully find possible allies among the obsequious class. Then, I would have had my own power block–the underclass organized together even if it were still a minority. It would have been so much better if I had a few allies. Fighting 8 versus 1 made it into an insuperable challenge for me.

I think it would be a very hard thing to do. It seems to me that most people are too afraid to stand up to their rulers. I would have to think about how one might be able to do so. How exactly does one approach a member of the “worker bee” obsequious class and explain to them, look, you are being trampled over by a clique of bullies. They want to rule you by imposing their will on you. They want you to submit. But it doesn’t have to be this way! 

I don’t know for sure what one ought to do or how. I guess I need to do more research on the tactics of organizing the obsequious underclass that seems to defend their rulers. They seem to “go along with” the “system” as it is as opposed to tearing it down and bringing in a system that is much more just, i.e., that requires participation and consent from all members.  But questioning authority certainly is an act of rebellion. The Executive Committee certainly hated me with a burning passion for doing so interminably. So, I know for sure that that tactic works to infuriate them. But as I said, I think stealth and indirect approaches might be more successful than a head on approach–the approach that I used unsuccessfully.

I eventually quit the board. I think they wrote me a letter at the end after I resigned. I so hated them at the time I put it back in the mail with a large “Return to Sender” written on it.

That was actually another important lesson. I think I failed to beat the ruling class because I got way too angry.  I got very very passionate about what I perceived of as a gross injustice. That in itself is a very good thing. However, by becoming so angry I probably came across as a “crazy lunatic” while the ruling class could position itself as the “do gooders.” They are trying to do “what is in the best interest” of the library but they are being blocked by that crazy renegade (me!). I think my very direct “righteous indignation” approach contributed to my alienation on the board as well.

Image

Advertisements