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LibrePlanet speakers ask FSF board about Safe Space Policy, get no real answer

For a few years, I reliably attended and spoke at the Free Software Foundation’s yearly conference, LibrePlanet. Two months ago, some fellow LibrePlanet speakers emailed to ask if I had heard about Richard M. Stallman’s remarks in 2017 that the Safe Space Policy (i.e., code of conduct) didn’t apply to him. Some pointed out that they had also heard specific violation reports involving Richard which hadn’t received a satisfactory response.

We all discussed the issues by email, and I was happy to sign onto a letter asking the FSF board of directors to clarify. We focused on the future: is founder and president Stallman subject to the same rules as everyone else? In October, we sent the letter; you can find it below.

On November 8, the board told us they were working on a response, but that it would take time. The board did follow up, and some of us exchanged a few emails. To this date, the FSF can’t assure us that Richard Stallman is subject to the same Safe Space Policy rules as anyone else.

Therefore, I can’t say with confidence that LibrePlanet organizers are empowered to “provid[e] a harassment-free LibrePlanet experience for everyone,” to quote the policy. I suppose the FSF could take the Safe Space Policy down this year, but my preference would be that they figure out how to get every attendee to agree to it. It’s pretty succinct and focuses on harassment being unacceptable at the conference.

We said in the letter that if the issue remains unaddressed, we’d share the letter publicly. I’m doing that today, and other signatories are doing so as well.

October letter

Dear FSF Board,

We write to you as former speakers and keynoters at LibrePlanet. We are concerned that the Code of Conduct for the event is not applied evenly, and in particular that Officers and Board Members seem to be exempt.[1] This creates an intimidating and hostile environment for attendees, speakers and potential future participants who hear that unchecked harassment is allowed at the event.

This situation is not good for the future of the free software movement. We’re writing because we are reluctant to participate in and promote an event where speakers or audience members may be subject to verbal or even other types of harassment.

Can we count on the FSF’s Board of Directors to direct staff to apply the Code of Conduct to everyone at LibrePlanet, without exception? What steps will the FSF take to ensure that this is the case? We look forward to your reply and to hopefully being able to promote and participate in LibrePlanet 2019, without the reservations and misgivings we currently hold. If this remains unaddressed, many of us will not submit talks, and we will make this letter public.

Signed,

Asheesh Laroia

Bassam Kurdali

Christopher Lemmer Webber

Deb Nicholson

Denver Gingerich

Eric Schultz

Kade Crockford

Mad Price Bell

Matthew Garrett

Mike Linksvayer

Morgan Lemmer-Webber

Neil McGovern

Paul R. Tagliamonte

Stefano Zacchiroli

Sumana Harihareswara

Tom Callaway

Tom Marble

Wendy Bolm

and other signatories who were named to the board but do not wish to be public at this time

[1] There have been multiple instances of inappropriate behavior over the years at LibrePlanet. For example, there is a recording of RMS explicitly saying that as president of the FSF he is not subject to the rules in the Q&A of this talk: https://media.libreplanet.org/u/libreplanet/m/the-gnu-philosophy-ethics-beyond-ethics/.