Sunday, July 20, 2008

Failure of Democracy

In the WGAw today, every single officer, every single member of the Board of Directors -- that’s 19 elected leaders in all -- either ran on a slate under the current president or under his endorsement.

Every single one.

In fact, it’s been four years -- since 2004 -- since anyone’s been elected to anything in the WGA without the backing of Patric Verrone.

Did you know this?

Chances are you didn’t. Chances are you assumed what I assumed about the WGA for years: that a bunch of people of varying points of view were interested in the Guild, tossed their hats into the ring, and the natural process of selection and election led to a Board comprised of the most experienced people and best minds we could gather.

Chances are you thought we were led by a big, heterogeneous committee which functioned as a healthy deliberative body, one which could be trusted to debate the hard issues as they come up and which, after spirited debate when necessary, could be trusted to make the best decisions and recommendations to the membership.

Well, that was a reasonable assumption for years and years. In fact, that’s how it was.

But you’ve heard of Writers United, right? What do you think Writers United was about when it formed in 2005? It was about employing the traditional tools of politics -- more money, more organization, even a paid consultant, for the first time in Guild history -- to make sure that the entire group got elected, regardless of whether that group’s distinct private philosophy was reflective of the membership or not.

There wasn’t any similarly organized opposition, and it worked.

And worked and worked. Because once in, election and re-election became a self-fulfilling prophecy.

Now potential Board members who think differently from Patric Verrone, who don’t expect to get his blessing, won’t even run. It looks like a fool’s errand, a waste of time and money which will leave you that much more likely to end up on the growing list of smart, experienced Guild leaders who are seen as not supportive enough of the program and who are no longer wanted anywhere near 3rd and Fairfax, even for committee work.

Now you’ve got a self-selected, self-replicated Board of Directors -- a bunch of wonderful individuals, by the way, and people who think they’re doing the best they can for the Guild, but who as a group have let themselves become nothing more than a rubber stamp.

Add to that a massive turnover on the staff since Patric Verrone's election, from the Executive Director down, and consider the fact that the Board has become a rubber stamp for what they're doing, too.

Whether you love everything the Guild has done in the last three years or don’t, think about what you know of government, in any organization, on any level. And think about the impact the Guild has on your own life. And think about whether that’s really the kind of Guild leadership you want.