Positive Atheism Report
Fallout Over Cliff's
September, 1998, Column
Cliff's initial comments:
While still editor of the Critical Thinker, I ran a column commenting on media savvy -- or lack thereof -- as pertains to a protest against the Promise Keepers in Eugene, Oregon. I wanted to suggest that some things could be done differently, next time, to avoid us being billed by the media as crackpots and fanatics or being ignored by the media altogether.
The column was based primarily on the written and verbal testimonials of several CRT members given at a Tuesday meeting. At this meeting, several who attended the Promise Keepers action gloated about how the Eugene group "stood off to the side" and how the Portland group was "right in front of the door" where "no one could miss us." My friend Bobbi and I were astonished by this polarization between the two groups, especially since the Portland people had been invited by the Eugene group to join them in the action. I personally distributed that invitation via e-mail to several local CRT members -- but was not included in any discussions of how this would all go about.
I requested that someone make arrangements with me to give me a ride, as I do not drive. No one told me about any carpools, and I heard no such announcements at any meetings, and (as per usual) no one submitted any such information to be printed in the Critical Thinker.
I decided to challenge both groups (and the rest of the atheist community) to rethink their various approaches to the media. My intent was to raise questions and to provoke thought and (hopefully) to effect some improvement.
My method was to contrast appearances of how the situation went down -- the different impressions various of us received -- those of us who did not attend but who were only listening to the accounts presented. In other words, I wanted to play the role of reporter, observing this event (rather, observing the after-the-event gloating). The points I wanted to make were: (1) I wasn't there to get a first-hand picture, much like someone reading a press account; (2) two groups appear, based on the accounts, to have vastly different approaches (though neither was right, wrong, superior, or inferior); (3) neither approach garnered fair or effective press coverage; (4) perhaps it's time to study the methods of media savvy.
One person, Nancy Powell, grossly misinterpreted my column, and in her busybody communications with others regarding what the column said, tainted their understanding of the article. The piece was admittedly difficult to follow in that several times it goes toward a particular direction yet falls short of actually making any hard statements. Jerry Billings, Nancy's father, made an executive decision, while he was on vacation, based only on Nancy's apparently skewed reading the piece to him over the phone. (How else did he come up with such a wrong interpretation of the piece, and why was his interpretation so similar to hers?) He then decided that I was to print no more issues of the Critical Thinker until he returned from vacation (which would be much later than the date of the next issue. Jerry got the impression (from Nancy) that I was praising the Eugene group (I was not) and criticizing the Portland group (I was not). I can just imagine Nancy enunciating the sentences in such a way as to skew its meaning -- especially after having, beforehand, prepared him for a real shocker.
As the result of Nancy's hysteria over this column, several members, including President Lanny Swerdlow, pressured me into printing letters commenting on the column. I told the people at the meeting that if I were to unwillingly print anything, I would have to print everything I got on the subject. This is the only way I could have compensated for the fact that I would be printing material that I ordinarily would have rejected without a moment's thought -- regardless of who was on the hot seat. Lanny also told me that it would be tacky for me to comment on the letters, and I agreed that I would not, intending to save that for the inevitable meeting where I would defend myself. As it turned out, this opened the door for all manner of public slander, as I was committed not to defend myself publicly.
Having said and done all this, I feel that the situation now warrants comments from me. Since I was pressured to print letters regardless of their content, I ended up printing several lies -- specifically, lies about myself. Based on my experience with the people involved, based on the following letters (several of which tell vicious lies about me), and based on the subsequent actions taken and the secretive manner in which those decisions were made, and based on the fact that no attempt was made to give me any opportunity to make my case or to gain redress, I have no reason to believe that the leadership of CRT is fairly representing the situation to the CRT members.
The Initial Written Reports
The author of one of these reports, Jerry Billings, later claimed, in writing, that I did not interview any of the participants. Truth is, I received two written reports from CRT members and heard oral testimonials from them and six or seven other members, plus a member of the organization that sponsored the event. Here are the two reports.
This first article was rejected because it celebrates a pompous, derogatory approach toward dealing with Christians. It provides no information as to why the action against the Promise Keepers was being taken in the first place, and thus comes off as bigoted. Contrast Jerry's statement here that "half of us gravitated to the entrance" with Nancy Powell's later accusations that, "The statement that the Portland group 'stood right in line with the main exit during a break and literally forced people to go around them if they wanted to avoid them' is not true" and other later reports that no, in fact, the protesters were nowhere near the entrance.
I had hoped to point out these discrepancies in a much-touted meeting with the "Executive Committee" -- but alas, I was never invited to that meeting.
Twenty Five Thousand Of Them -- Twelve Of Us
by Jerry Billings
The big news is that our picketing of the Promise Keepers was a 100-percent success. We met at the headquarters of United States Atheists in Portland, Oregon, at 8:30 A.M. There were 8 of us and we drove two vans to Eugene, arriving at 11:00, picked up 4 more local Atheists and went to the stadium of the University of Oregon where the PKs were holding their meeting. Half of us gravitated to the entrance where we walked around with our signs -- God Says To Beat Your Children With A Rod -- Your God Believes That The Earth Is Flat -- Eat Dung, Drink Piss -- and several others in the same vein.
Noon came and they broke for lunch, 25,000 men streaming from the stadium right toward us. Hundreds of them were yelling, praying, singing and arguing. We held our own, finding out a lot about the men at the PK rally. Almost none of then knew anything about their bible. Most were unschooled and unpolished. Their arguments often relied upon their lack of information about the book that is the basis for their beliefs. One man was sure that the bible said the Earth is a globe, I offered him $20 if he could find a bible in the hands of any of the men there that said that. I argued that the bible suggests that the Earth is flat like a pizza and the nations are scattered around like pepperoni. He did not return.
My friend Lanny had a man say to him that he knew god is real because he had seen him. Lanny asked what did god look like, "Like Jesus" and what does Jesus look like, "Like God." Lanny asked if god had a head and a body. "Yes." And arms and legs? "Yes." And a penis!? "Yes!" So then Lanny asked a woman who was nearby if that was right, that god has a penis, the woman opined, "No." Lanny said the to both of them, "You work it out," and turned to the next victim.
One man disagreed that god said to beat your children with a rod. "My bible says stick," he argued. Most of them support violence against children and disagreed strongly with my stand against whipping children. Literally dozens of them asked me why I was here. I usually replied that that question indicated that they had nothing else to say -- and they never did. We had discussions with hundreds of PKs in about three hours. I was surprised to see that several of them acted as though they realized for the first time that there were contradictions in the bible and that the bible might not be true.
It was an experience that will remain with me for the rest of my life. I am still high. I have picketed before and every experience has been great but never before have I stood with eleven other brave Atheists and faced down 25,000.
Jerry Billings, Atheist in Portland, Oregon
The following article was printed in the August issue.
'I promise' god is a myth
by Lanny Swerdlow
Members of United States Atheists, the Eugene Atheists & Freethinkers and the Corvallis Secular Society staged an informational picket on the Promise Keepers rally in Eugene on Saturday August 1. Fifteen rational thinkers debated hundreds of Promise Keepers on the dangers of supernatural belief, Christianity and the goals of the Promise Keepers.
The picket was held at 12 noon at Autzen Stadium just as the PK rally broke for lunch and thousands left the stadium going right by the atheists which were carrying signs with many colorful slogans. Signs proclaimed, "Keep your church out of my crotch," denounced religion and had quotations from the bible such as "Beat your children with a rod" and "Eat dung and drink piss."
Lively and spirited discussion ensued with many people. Although many had closed minds, a number of Christians listened to the facts and the reality that science presents. Obviously many had never heard or seen an atheist before, and this meeting gave them something new to think about.
This was our major purpose -- to reach out and hopefully educate people so that they may eventually reject religious faith and see how much better their world would be without religion, superstition and belief in the supernatural.
Another important idea that we communicated was how dangerous we felt the Promise Keepers movement is because of the organization's publicly stated goal to take over the United States government and make this a Christian nation -- to pass laws with the threat of jail if one doesn't follow Christian beliefs.
Many people claimed that the Promise Keepers don't want to take over the U.S., showing how they've been exploited by the PK leadership for their own political aspirations. Hopefully exposure to our ideas has begun the process of thinking and questioning. If we reached just one person it was worth it, but from the expressions and comments made by some people, it was obvious that we had reached more than just one.
It is through this kind of direct action that we can make progress in advancing the cause of atheism and science, and move toward a world that is free from supernatural belief.
Lanny Swerdlow, President
United States Atheists
The Controversial Column:
A Good Hard Look
by Cliff Walker
Some have begun talking about the ways we deal with theists and the press. The discussion heated up after the action against the Promise Keepers in Eugene, which featured offerings from folks with very different attitudes toward activism.
At the rally, the activists from Eugene stood inoffensively to the side, waiting for PK people to approach them. USA members from Portland stood right in line with the main exit during a break and literally forced people to go around them if they wanted to avoid them.
Eugene's people were laid back and cordial; Portland's took the offensive with a classic in-your-face presentation.
The Eugene group invited the press to observe the action against the Promise Keepers, but it was one Portland Atheist who got all the coverage.
Nobody appreciated the newspaper's silence on our fears about the Promise Keepers' message. Instead, the paper contrasted the shock-value message of one sign with what it portrayed as an innocent, healthy religious meeting.
Is it time to take a hard look at how we, as activists, are seen by others? Do we, as a group, need to clean up our act? I hereby risk my reputation among the other USA members by shouting a resounding yes.
I don't think we would be "stooping to their level" to learn a few things about media savvy from the likes of the Christian Coalition. Journalists often seek out the most offensive sign or act and run with it, painting an entire picture based on a single cathartic act of carelessness. The Eugene Register-Guard did just that.
A more media-savvy way would have been to spend some time learning more about the Promise Keepers themselves. Then we could design signs and write statements that focus only on the issues at hand. Statements that are rich with information and are designed to be understood cannot be misrepresented by even the most biased of journalists. This works only as long as we omit everything that does not meet these standards.
If a group distributes carefully prepared press packets in advance of the action, and our group is seen as jumping up and down, we will get backhanded by the press every time.
As for the Eugene group, I have no idea what they did except stand off to the side. The papers made no mention, good or bad, about what went on in the shade of those trees. They made no impression.
We need to be noticed. But we must consider the impression we make once we have the spotlight. This takes lots of planning long before the light comes on.
Letters printed in the October issue
This letter would not have been printed under my usual standards as "Critical Thinker" editor. It continues the polarizing theme, rather than addressing the points I made on the polarization that exists.
To the editor,
I think your editorial (A Good Hard Look) was right on the money. As you know, prior to the PK protest I sent out both an informational sheet and a "Rules of the Road" for the protest. I also did a 15 minute radio interview, and sent out press releases covering our objections to the promise keepers agenda and message. My initial concept for the protest was that we would simply be a small counter-example to the mass rally, holding up our signs and waving to the general public as they were driving by. I figured the PK'ers would be in the event and we'd be outside. Well, 15 minutes after we arrived all 20,000 of them came out for lunch. So the protest turned into talking to the PK'ers directly, which was not what I had in mind. Oh well. Interestingly, most of them wanted to debate evolution or the amount of dust on the moon, rather than the status of women in the bible.
In response to you criticism of the Eugene group not generating any press coverage, I think we would have received better press coverage if they hadn't had the more confrontational protestors to focus on. An R-G reporter did interview Neta's daughter Sarah, who is well spoken, and made several good points about the bible's discriminatory practices toward women, and how she didn't think it was healthy to base your modern-day relationships on such ancient prejudices and dogma. Her sign (Thou shalt not suffer a woman to teach), and a number of others, focused specifically on that concept.
Perhaps part of the problem was mine, in that I didn't really want to be in charge of this thing. I was heading off on vacation for 9 days immediately prior to the event, and didn't feel like I could take it all on. American Atheists offered their support for the protest, but they had rules about who could be in the protest, and would have sent pre-printed signs. Since I didn't feel comfortable telling people who could come, or what they could or couldn't put on their signs, I declined AA's sponsorship. I was looking forward to many others from the gay and lesbian community joining our protest, thus having a variety of points of view represented. Unfortunately, that didn't happen. And as AA predicted, the press went with what they perceived as the more antagonistic messages presented, rather than the more subtle messages, like Sarah's, that might have appealed to those outside the event itself if press coverage had been better." We managed to salvage some of that message by Neta's subsequent letter to the R-G about their coverage, which included the messages from several of our signs.
In a recent email exchange, the national spokesperson for American Atheists, Ron Barrier, told me he has worked very hard over the past two years to remake the image of American Atheists. He has been focusing on the issue of Atheist civil liberties rather than religion bashing, which was the style in the past under Madalyn O'Hair's reign. Ron acknowledges that it is difficult for many atheist activists to leave the old confrontational style behind, but feels it is absolutely essential if we are to make any headway as a minority group in a culture awash in religiosity. I tend to agree.
So I just wanted to let you know I think your editorial is needed, and represents the primary challenge to atheists at the present: how to move from theist confrontation and ridicule, to promoting atheist civil rights and encouraging reason and skepticism.
Kevin Courcey, Founder
Eugene Atheists and Freethinkers
This letter would have been rejected without hesitation according to my usual standards as "Critical Thinker" editor, as it misrepresents what was said in the column in question. It then proceeds to comment on those misrepresentations. The piece also makes several other patently false statements. Finally, its tone is way too hysterical -- sounding almost as if she were trying to beat a horse that she knew was already dead.
To the Editor and readers of the Critical Thinker in response to September editorial "A Good Hard Look";
The editorial in the September CT really yanked my chain. I could not and do not understand why the editor of our magazine, as I think we have all bought and paid for it, would come out so critically against the efforts of our organization.
When the President of United States Atheists, Lanny Swerdlow put together our participation in the picket on the Promise Keepers he encouraged all members to come along. There was talk about it at several meetings and I even arranged for two vans to be available so that we could ride together as a group. I was proud to lend my time and energy to this cause. We, in fact, took 12 people to Eugene for the picket and constituted the majority of the participants even though we were 2 and ½ hours away. I hope you can understand the hurt feelings and betrayal I felt when I found my very own actions under the scrutiny of the same organization that had hosted my participation. First you invite me to come, through the president. Then you criticize my participation, through the editor.
I found there to be huge errors in the article that lend itself to wrong impressions of what happened in Eugene Oregon on August 1st. The statement that the Portland group "stood right in line with the main exit during a break and literally forced people to go around them if they wanted to avoid them" is not true. We were, at the closest point, several hundred feet from the stadium and across a large drive through lot. We were accused of taking the offensive with a "classic in your face presentation". That is not true. The only conversations the members of USA had with Promise Keepers were the ones established when they came over to talk with us. Nobody I saw harassed a single Pker, unless that includes disagreeing with the religious elements of their group and its agenda.
The Critical Thinkers editorial refers to Eugene as laid back and cordial and of USA as offensive and as jumping up and down. The Eugene group, through reports in last months Critical Thinker, were in fear as skin heads tried to intimidate them and also spoke of a large group of men who had began praying and swaying around their members. On the other hand members of USA did not have a single adverse action taken against us, so what? Different things happen at different times to different people. I think this editor, in trying to show his preference for an activism style instead, puts the two groups against each other as one being right and one being wrong. Lets not waste our time doing that. We need all the atheistic help we can get in either style of protest.
The last paragraph of the editorial suggests that we did not adequately prepare for this picket and that we did not consider the impression we would make. There were numerous discussions about what our objectives were and we thought long and hard about the signs we used. Lanny's infamous sign, that apparently was the source of much of this discussion, originally was used when he had marched side by side with Madalyn Murray-O'Hare. I think he is, as he should be, proud of his participation in the atheist movement, then and now.
I am not a fanatic nor do I participate in fanatical activities. I am proud of our actions in this community and state. The article entitled "A Good Hard Look" has indeed made me take a hard look, but a look at the facts;
Please, if you read the CT and have never met any of us, do not get the impression that we are a wild group of atheists running off half cocked looking for fist fights. We are an organization that does what it can to counter the supernatural mumbo-jumbo from groups that if given their way would force us to our knees to pray to their gods. Now that is shocking.
This letter would have been rejected by my usual standards as "Critical Thinker" editor as being too hysterical and as having not been based on the facts. The writer later claimed it was a "personal" letter, but this cannot be true, since he had distributed photocopies of the letter to others, some of whom received their photocopies before I received the letter itself.
On the road
Sept 12, 1998
Et tu, Cliff Walker,
Quite frankly, I could hardly believe what I was hearing when your last editorial was read to me. Cliff, how could you do this?
You and I have discussed this matter of the magazine being a positive voice for the organization. It is incomprehensible to me that you would publish such a critical editorial. You did not get your facts even remotely straight. I suspect that you never interviewed a single participant of the Portland contingent.
I will return to Portland around September 26. Lanny will return from Japan at about the same time. This is a serious matter and we, the officers of USA and you need to have a full discussion of the effects of your editorial.
Meanwhile, you are not authorized to print or circulate the next issue of the "Thinker" until this matter is resolved.
This letter would have been printed without comment under my usual standards as "Critical Thinker" editor. It betrays the writer's having carefully read and understood the column in question. The writer intelligently disagrees with some suggestions made in the column.
It should be noted, though, that the author revised his original piece, at the request of the writer of another letter, so as not to contradict a (false) statement made by that other writer. Copies of the original are available on request.
Take Another Good Hard Look
The editorial by Cliff Walker stated that at the Eugene Promise Keepers rally, "Eugene's people were laid back and cordial; Portland's took the offensive with a classic in-your-face presentation." Although our members did not block or force people to come to them, they did not shrink from using in "in-your- face" arguments when approached by supporters of the Promise Keepers. That is why I am proud to be a member of United States Atheists.
Mr. Walker also observed "the Eugene group invited the press to observe the action against the Promise Keepers, but it was one Portland Atheist who got all the coverage." I was that atheist as I defiantly carried a sign that said "Keep Your Church Out Of My Crotch.".
The press routinely ignores atheist and humanist issues and is only interested in the sensational and titillating. If I did not have that sign, rather than the t.v. news showing another sign, it is far more likely that they would have shown no sign. There would have been absolutely no mention of our presence at the rally. No one, except a few Promise Keepers, would have known that anyone had the guts to challenge them.
The sign issue, however, is of little importance. What really burns me up is that some people actually feel I should be nice to the Promise Keepers so that "statements that are rich with information and are designed to be understood cannot be misrepresented by even the most biased of journalists."
I wasn't there for the benefit of journalists - I was there fighting for my life. I wanted the people who support the Promise Keepers to know that people who vehemently disagree with their beliefs and actions will physically stand up to them.
"Fighting for your life? Aren't you over reacting just a bit? No, I'm not.
I am a homosexual. The Promise Keepers have a paranoid fear of homosexuals and have repeatedly denounced gays and lesbians as one of the major threats to "traditional family values." The Promise Keepers and their supporters have a book that they believe is the inerrant word of some supernatural force that is to be taken on faith and obeyed without question. This books says:
Thou shalt not lie with mankind, as with womankind: it is an abomination. Leviticus 18:22
If a man also lie with mankind, as he lieth with a woman, both of them have committed an abomination: they shall surely be put to death; their blood shall be upon them. Leviticus 20:13
For this cause God gave them up into vile affections: for even their women did change the natural use into that which is against nature - Romans 1:26
And actions speak louder than words. In 342 A.C.E. the Christian Emperor Constantius decided to decree the death penalty - by beheading - for homosexuals. During the next 1,000 years, the Christian church and its allied authorities are estimated to have put to death more than 9 million people in Europe and the New World for the "crime" of sodomy.
Do you think Jews would be concerned about being misrepresented by "biased journalists" at a rally of 25,000 Nazis? Do you think black people would worry about "statements that are rich with information and are designed to be understood" at a rally of 25,000 members of the Ku Klux Klan.
The Promise Keepers do not conceal their plan to make the United States into a theocratic Christian nation. And they are succeeding. In Oregon, the Christian Coalition and its supporters such as the Promise Keepers, are in almost total control of the Republican party. The same is true of a plurality, if not the majority, of other state Republican organizations. This pretty much puts them in control of the national Republican Party.
The Promise Keepers believe the Christian Bible is the absolute word of a "God" they have chosen to worship as all powerful and all knowing. This book tells them to kill me and my kind. Followers of this "God" have used this book to justify killing us in the past and in many countries, including the United States, continue to use it to justify persecuting homosexuals, even if they don't kill us. I FEEL THREATENED. I do not for one second believe that "it can't happen here."
I have learned from my Jewish ancestors that to do nothing or little in opposition to those who would kill you is to sanction your own annihilation. I will not make nice to the Promise Keepers or any other Christian until they unconditionally renounce and remove from their Bible, any mention of wanting to kill, jail or torture me for the sin of homosexuality (however, they can keep the part that says homosexuals won't go to heaven and sit in a cloud on the right hand side of their "God").
My message of "Keep Your Church Out of My Crotch" is but a titillating little comment compared to their saber rattling message calling for my death. Many members of United States Atheists understand the dangerous messages that these people promote. I am proud that my atheist friends "took the offensive with a classic in-your-face presentation" and publicly challenged the Christian messages of intolerance, hate and murder.
Cliff's initial comments
I attended the Tuesday meeting on September 29, 1998, and arrived late, as I was travelling by foot with an infection raging under the callous of my left heel. I also was nursing a five-week-old kitten who refused to eat more than a few drops at a time, and had to be fed every 20 minutes round the clock. When the discussion turned to the Critical Thinker column of September, 1998, Jerry Billings, the group's treasurer, opened the discussion by smugly announcing: "The good news to come out of all this is that we get our September issue printed for free." That's not how I remember the discussions with president Lanny Swerdlow, about whether I should print the October issue. Lanny assured me that that it was okay, saying, "Jerry's not here." Later, he not only announced that the issue would be early, but submitted a letter to be published in that issue. I found Jerry's remark very offensive.
I asked him who he was speaking for, and he replied: "I am speaking for the group, as treasurer."
He then lied to the group about what was said during a personal telephone conversation with me, telling the group that I said: "You can't stop me from printing the Critical Thinker." I said no such thing to Jerry. Rather, I had at one point asked Nancy if Jerry can, in abstentia, make such a decision. After Jerry lied to the group, I asked him to retract his lie. Instead, he proceeded to accuse me of being disruptive.
I thought about it and sent Lanny and the others the following letter. I was still hoping for a fair discussion with the leaders. I still assumed I would be given an opportunity to confront Jerry and Nancy with their false representations of what my column said, and with Jerry's lies to the group.
No such discussion ever came. Decisions were made in private by an incomplete executive committee, as the subsequent letters indicate.
Most shocking to me was that Lanny himself would condone this secretive behavior. This is not the Lanny Swerdlow I thought I knew.
-- Cliff Walker
From: Cliff Walker
To: Lanny Swerdlow
CC: Jerry Billings; Bobbi Fraguadas; Nancy Powell
Subject: Cliff/ bill paid by individuals; tentative resignation
Date: Tuesday, September 29, 1998 11:54 PM
To: Lanny Swerdlow, President: United States Atheists
c.c.: Bobbi Fraguadas; Jerry Billings; Nancy Powell
b.c.c.: [other interested friends, family, and observers]
1. U.S. Atheists' debt to Bobbi covered by two individuals
2. Formal apology requested for Billings' behavior
a. his refusal to cover the debt and ask questions later
b. his inappropriate remarks to the group
3. Plans for Nov and Dec issues
a. I will resign if Billings' acts are not addressed
b. Nov and Dec to be printed nonetheless
i. quality will remain the same: my best
ii. subject to your (Lanny's) approval
iii. payment (described below) required in advance
[Name Withheld] paid $191.00 -- seventy-five dollars of which Jerry didn't even contest, and [Jerry] openly agreed that the group should pay -- but [Jerry] certainly wasn't reaching for the checkbook very fast. [Name Withheld] put in $20.00 cash toward reimbursing printing costs of the October issue.
The amounts in question are:
$ 75.00 -- usage fee (Aug; Sep; Oct) $ 88.00 -- to Bobbi for printing costs, October issue $ 48.00 -- to Bobbi for postage, October issue ------------- $211.00 -- TOTAL $ 20.00 -- paid by [Name Withheld] (cash) $191.00 -- paid by [Name Withheld] (check #[withheld]) ------------- $ 0.00
Please bear in mind that the woman who financed the October issue is not a USA member and does not even call herself an atheist.
Lanny, it is already a sad situation that Jerry would take it upon himself to make the decision not to pay her back, considering that at least some of the people present remembered you announcing that the October issue was coming out early. Bobbi paid the bills in good faith, as a matter of convenience to me. I think Jerry's action in this matter warrants a formal apology, to Bobbi and to myself, from the organization. I think it is the group that should apologize, because Jerry was acting on behalf of the group (or was pretending to act on behalf of the organization).
To add insult to injury, Jerry (tonight) announced to the group: "The good thing to come out of this controversy is that, since I did not authorize payment, we got this month's issue printed for free!"
Jerry made this remark before I had uttered a word to the group -- or to anyone in the group, for that matter -- as I had arrived late and sat down virtually unnoticed. Jerry's remark was absolutely uncalled for, and I am asking the group to apologize to me for this remark. Considering the indignity of Jerry's implying that the group was getting a free ride -- in other words, that the group was, at his discretion, ripping us off -- and the further indignity that this is cause for joy -- "good news" for the group -- I think such an apology is the very least we should accept from the group.
Jerry then proceeded to lie to the group about what I had said during that phone call he made to the Center a few weeks back, telling the group that I had told him "You can't stop me from publishing this month's issue." I said no such thing to him, and when I asked him to retract the statement, he proceeded to divert attention by accusing me of being disruptive.
Jerry has acted similarly toward me before, while engaged in official CRT/USA matters, and it is wrong for me to continue to pretend to find this behavior acceptable. I am still too embarrassed to discuss with anyone the main reason why, early on, I suddenly stopped being interested in helping produce the Bunk Busters show. What Jerry did to me that day is something I shall never forget. That I am already too involved with CRT/USA is reason enough to avoid Bunk Busters, and I will leave it at that for now.
Lanny, I have done everything -- EVERYTHING -- in good faith, to the best of my abilities. The ONLY thing I regret is that I felt I was being pressured by the group to print letters to the editor that otherwise would never have passed my standard of dignity for the magazine. My agreement, if you remember, was that if I was to agree in advance to print a letter I had not seen, I would be obliged to print every letter on the subject that was submitted to me, and to print them verbatim. As it turns out, yours was the only letter to betray having been written by someone who actually read the column.
I will put together the November and December issues, pending a formal apology from the group for Jerry's refusal to pay USA's bill, and pending a formal apology from the group for Jerry's remark that "...we get this month's issue printed for free!" Both actions, but especially the remark, are entirely unprofessional.
Considering Jerry's refusal to settle with me, I will get any future funding from you, and will need that in advance. Until further notice, the Center's cost for 200 issues (147 of which were mailed in October) plus postage plus the usage fee will be a flat fee to me of $175.00 per issue. This will cover anticipated price fluctuations, postage increases, etc. This figure is negotiable should the Center not wish extra copies printed, or should the Center reduce the size of its mailing list.
If the group cannot agree to issuing a formal, public apology to me, please accept my resignation upon completion of the December, 1998, issue of the Critical Thinker. This would give the organization plenty of time to find an editor who is willing to work under such disorganized, unpredictable and undignified conditions.
To: Cliff Walker
Subject: critical thinker
Date: Saturday, October 03, 1998 8:48 PM
At a meeting of the Executive Board, it was decided to accept your resignation as editor effective immediately.
We appreciate the efforts you have contributed towards the Critical Thinker for the last 3 years. It is without a doubt, the best magazine the organization has put out.
For some time now, our membership has discussed changes in the format that they would like to see. This would be the right to make the changeover.
Once again, thank you for all your hard work for the organization. Rational Recovery is welcome to continue to utilize our facilities and we sincerely hope you will continue to be involved with U.S.A.
From: Cliff Walker
To: Lanny Swerdlow
Cc: Jerry Billings; Nancy Powell; Bobbi Fraguadas
Subject: Re: critical thinker
Date: Sunday, October 04, 1998 7:45 PM
At a meeting of the Executive Board, it was decided to accept your resignation as editor effective immediately.
The above was not the nature or the timing of my resignation offer. I will not consider myself as having resigned but as having been forced out -- with good reason to suspect foul play.
Why was I not invited to the meeting? Why was I not given an opportunity to answer, privately or publicly, the false allegations that were publicly made about me by members of the Executive Board? And when did Helen, our vice-president, return from vacation, and what was her vote on this matter? (Was our vice-president even there?)
Also, why was this discussion about changes in format, that you say was occurring "for some time now," not brought up when, as recently as four months ago, I stood before the group and asked what they wanted in their magazine?
I still need an apology from the group over Jerry Billings' remark expressing joy -- on behalf of the group -- that it was "good news" that Bobbi and I would not be reimbursed for printing and postage costs, in that CRT/USA "gets this issue printed for free." I also need an apology for Jerry's single-handed decision not to pay the printing and postage of for the October issue, though several people mentioned hearing you announce that the issue was going out.
October 20, 1998
No response to this letter has yet been received as of the original formatting and posting of this HTML document on October 20, 1998.
September 8, 1999
No response to this letter has yet been received as of the reformatting of this HTML document (the removal of e-mail addresses) on September 8, 1999. At least two members have contacted me and asked that I initiate a reconciliation. I think the ball is in the Center's court on both matters, and it is out of my hands if I wish to remain truthful and to avoid the appearance admitting to "errors" that I never made.
July 18, 2000
No response to this letter has yet been received as of the reformatting of this HTML document from three files into a single file on July 18, 2000. I did receive a call from the membership coordinator asking if their books were accurate in listing me as a member. No, the books aren't accurate. I will not even consider being a member of this group unless the organization publicly apologizes as described above, and reassures me that those who covered the organization's debt have been compensated (so far, I have very good reason to think no one has been compensated). Remember that over a third of the money that remains unpaid was entirely undisputed.
December 29, 2000
No response to the above letter has yet been received as of the reformatting of this HTML document with DreamWeaver (to go along with the reformatting of "A Good Hard Look." A friend recently visited from Los Angeles and wanted to go to a USA meeting, so Bobbi and I accompanied her to that meeting. Aside from glaring looks from Nancy Powell, who was on her way out the door when we arrived, all were cordial toward us and asked if we were returning into the fold. No. If USA members cannot persuade their own organization to come clean on a great wrong, then I don't know what to say but to describe one of the several reasons why I shun the group scene.
January 16, 2002
No response to the above letter has yet been received as of the reformatting of the Monthly Editorial Columns, which included checking the links and prettying up any documents that are linked from any of the editorials.
I also had intended to read this because I now live not ten blocks from the Center and had been toying with the idea of stopping by. Having read this report once more, and having reminded myself of what I said a few months back about being involved with atheists-only groups, I will, instead, spend the much needed outside volunteer time supporting an organization that has no religious test for membership. Just to be fair, I have also decided that it's about time to post the chicken-shit scuttlebutt from the 2001 Symposium, which still hasn't seen the light of day. Is it me? I don't think so. Is it organized atheism? No comment! I can only assume that further involvement with this particular bunch would bring more of the same upon myself. I cannot see putting myself through even the memories that further involvement with CRT would bring.
I mean, how could I possibly communicate effectively with people who would read the words, "If ... our group is seen as jumping up and down...," referring to unnamed groups as examples, for the sake of discussion, and the words, "Portland's took the offensive with a classic in-your-face presentation," using the word offensive to describe an approach, as opposed to defensive, and get out of that, "The Critical Thinkers editorial refers to ... USA as offensive and as jumping up and down." Er, did I say that? No, I did not say that at all! I spoke only of how others saw us. And I don't think we're dealing with uneducated people at all; thus, I can only conclude that this was done deliberately.
Mostly, though, I cannot see myself in a relationship of trust with a group of people who would continue to bestow a position of authority upon a well-to-do man who would consider it a joy to steal money from a disabled man who lives on a pension, who loaned that money to the group in good faith. No. Because no apology ever came forth from the group, I will take this opportunity to donate my services to a group and will find somewhere else to do it. I would give to a faith-based group that does not have a religious test for volunteers and workers before I would give to an atheist group with a record of dishonesty one-tenth this bad.
-- Cliff Walker
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