(Content warning: this post talks about grief through the lens of death and dying. It also talks about the Free Software Foundation, but also touches on other communities that have fallen by the wayside or I have otherwise left.)
This past weekend I was half-participating in the Libreplanet 2021 conference. This is the annual conference put on by the Free Software Foundation. During the weekend I felt closer to the Free Software Community than I have in a long time. It felt vibrant and like the community was finally making some progress to real change.
On Monday that facade was stripped away. The board welcomed its newest member, Richard Stallman, known better by his initials as RMS.
The history of why this whole reinstatement is problematic is better left to internet searches and long discussions with folks who are closer to RMS that I ever care to be. The main issue I have is that in one day the board of the FSF betrayed everyone at Libreplanet who wasn't part of the board. It blindsided presenters that would never have presented had they known RMS would be reinstated and pissed away all of the good work by hundreds of volunteers, presenters, and FSF staff.
On Saturday I was looking to pick up some swag to support the FSF. On Monday I was looking to cancel my order.
This week has been troubling for me. It's brought me into a doom-scroll spiral that I have found when grieving other communities. When I was in high school I took a "Death and Dying" class where we learned about Elisabeth Kubler-Ross' Five Stages of Grief. They are: Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance. I've learned to recognize when I'm grieving after the fact, in part because we don't associate losing a community with death. We think of them as separate things. Unfortunately what I experience is grief: grief for lost friendships, loss of work in the community, despair at infighting, and feeling helpless to change the outcome. I recognize that I have gone through all of these stages, and am now at acceptance.
- Denial: They did what? That's not possible.
- Anger: (removal of my FSF stickers and GNU Sticker).
- Bargaining: Maybe they'll listen to reason. Maybe the board will say something
- Depression: This whole thing is hopeless (paraphrasing)
- Acceptance: ...
It's that acceptance that I'm having the most trouble with. It's easy to write off something that you no longer care about, but it's harder to write it off when you still care. If only they'd listen. Apparently I'm cycling through the Bargaining and Acceptance stages.
I write this not to seek pity or try to emotionally change anything (frankly it's exhausting to waffle between not giving a shit and hoping things will change) but to help others who are going through these stages of grief in their communities. I know I felt it with several community eruptions that are too tedious to explain, the closure of Google+, and other things that I used to consider bedrock to my beliefs. Now that I know what I'm feeling I can name it and recognize it for what it is instead of being kept in its thrall. I can leave things alone and not worry about who is touching the third rail or grounding themselves to whatever electric fences the community has erected.
I will still work to do what I can to fix things in my own communities, but only because I choose to. Guilt is very close to grief, and learning to recognize and separate the two helps me to deal with each in turn.
What comes out of the FSF is no longer my concern. How I carry myself when the outcome becomes clear is what I'll focus on.