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2009 “Adoptee Rights Demonstration” in Philly

This year the folks putting on the second, of this particular incarnation’s, “Adoptee Rights Demonstration” will be meeting in Philadelphia come July. Their event is timed to coincide with, and focus upon the the National Conference of State Legislators annual meeting.Despite it being a hop, skip, and a jump away from me, I will not be participating.

Yes, I am what some of you seem to insist upon calling a “longtime” Bastard rights/open records activist. But based on my experience last year, I will not be involved.My reasons are pretty straightforward.

Keep in mind, this is purely my personal take on it. (Your mileage may vary.)

I’ll mention my primary areas of concern with a few details under each. Bear in mind this is not an exhaustive list, it simply lays out some of the more important areas of ongoing concern.

Unanswered financial questions in the wake of last year and questions going into this year:

  • Last year, as the Adoptee Rights Demonstration/Day for Adoptee rights was not a legally incorporated organization, and as they had no fiscal agent collecting funds for them, donations to the event went into Kali Coultas’ personal paypal account. To the best of my knowledge, to date there has never been a public disclosure of what happened to those donated funds.There has been no public accounting of how much money was collected, nor where it went. As there has been no organizational requirement to report to the IRS what happened, and no independent auditing has occurred, the finances of the “Adoptee Rights Demonstration” are (again, to the best of my knowledge) not available for any form of public scrutiny.
  • As a portion of last year’s fundraising, donors were promised by the Adoptee Rights Demonstration that their names would appear in a Time Picayune full page newspaper advertisement the day of the protest. To the best of my knowledge no newspaper ad was run. Funds were not refunded, nor was any explanation forthcoming from the Adoptee Rights Demonstration organizers.
  • This year it appears the Adoptee Rights Demonstration still does not have a designated tax status. Unless they are able to find a willing fiscal agent for their activities, the financial black hole of last year may be repeated.

Lack of communications from last year’s organizers:

  • I’ve already covered the lack of communication with donors above, but the lack of communication was unfortunately part of a broader pattern.
  • Last year, as the protest itself took place, people contacted me (I had resigned by then) asking whether or not the protest had even taken place. Eventually the protest organizers did put up a little information, a few blog posts (some on blogs that have now been made private) etc, but for some who donated but did not attend, they were frustrated by the lack of basic communications from the organizers.One donor commented she was grateful I had put up the newspaper article in that at least she was able to see the organizers hadn’t “run off to Cancun” on the donations. That was the level of frustration I was hearing at the time. (This year they’ve decided to Twitter.)
  • Last year’s “Adoptee Rights Demonstration/Day for Adoptee Rights” web-page never listed who the people responsible for the event actually were. Thus due to the lack of publicly available role designations, most people never knew who was responsible for the event itself. (That has changed this year, see below.)

Shifting event premise, conceptual, tactical, and strategic problems (not “mission creep,” mission losing focus and devolving):

  • For starters, last year not even one national or international adoptee rights membership organization endorsed the event that finally ended up taking place in New Orleans. While what happened there may have represented the interests of the individuals involved (gathered from message boards etc), it did not represent nor speak on behalf of any segment of the broader pre-existing movement for adoptee rights and open records.
  • The initial vision laid out for the Adoptee Rights Demonstration was that it be a mass action event. As Ron pointed out, there have been many small demonstrations through the years, ultimately they often serve to work at cross purposes with activists’ own organizational goals. They drain already scarce time and resources and often end up making support for your cause look weak.This was precisely one of the key problems last year’s Adoptee Rights Demonstration suffered from. Turnout was marginal (the Times Picayune reported “about 60 protesters,” though people who attended reported that was more like over the course of the day, not all at once).The bottom line is, there is no adoptee rights mass movement waiting in the wings somewhere to show up for such an event. Instead of learning from that, and focusing energy and resources on what those already working for open records do best, work state by state precisely the way we have to build relationships with Legislators (not brief encounters at an event conference booth) and local coalitions towards gaining open records, the idea of a non-mass action demonstration/sign holding by however many show up outside coupled with “hit and run” brief encounters with legislators booth inside an exhibit hall is offered up as a panacea. Working locally, with those who know the lay of the land in their own states is in my opinion a much more efficient use of resources at this point.I was willing to sign on last year based on the mass-action model. Clearly the current Adoptee Rights Demonstration organizers have abandoned that, as no such vision has been put forward.
  • One of the core components Ron articulated in envisioning last year’s Adoptee Rights Demonstration was the concept of putting “pressure” on legislators and utilizing “pressure tactics.” Pressure enough to force the issue was always fully interconnected with the concept of both mass actions and “mass movement” sized participation. “Pressure” meant making the open records demand unavoidable, something that would have to be addressed.By the time what was left of the organizing committee made it to New Orleans last year, any concept of “pressure” was no longer a component of the event, it had devolved to a few individuals sign holding, spacing themselves apart in front of the convention hall in a vain attempt to appear larger than their small numbers betrayed.The idea of the booth inside the event was always strategized in tandem with mass action events staged over the course of the week outside the hall.Strategically, it’s important then, to evaluate whether the expenditure and effort to continue still makes sense in the absence of the ability to apply pressure. (Letter writing and “pressure” are altogether different things.)
  • Supposedly part of the entire purpose for the many donors to raise the money it took to get a booth inside the National Conference of State Legislators annual meeting staffed by the few people who were going to be inside the event was to gauge the potential support of legislators and and construct a list of potential contacts to follow up with after the event itself. If there has been ANY follow up on the heels of last years event, Adoptee Rights Demonstration organizers have failed to communicate that to the outside world.This year’s organizers apparently want to outsource that follow up back out to ARD supporters: “a live Twitter feed of state representatives that we spoke with, providing on the spot reporting.* Protesters and supporters will be able to follow up with the representatives who met with us, to remind them how important you view this issue.” Which begs the question, if follow-up contact to the legislators is going to be done by folks back home anyway, then why should they spend the big bucks to send people to staff a booth in Philly to Twitter back who to contact? People back home ALREADY know who to contact and can schedule actual meetings with their representatives to gauge their support.Why on earth would “protesters and supporters” actually need to lay out the expenditures to do the Philly event, where those staffing the booth will have perhaps at best mere minutes to talk with legislators? How does this make any economic sense at all? (Other than for those who want a nice little vacation in Philly anyway, where they can hang out with their online message board adoptee friends, that is.)
  • The real bottom line is, for both last year’s event and this year’s what is the real cost/benefit analysis in relation to stated goals?Now admittedly if all your goals are to sign hold and twitter, and write letters, and have a designated booth sitter spend maybe two minutes talking with your home state representative, then if you can get past all the other issues with the event then maybe this is just the thing for you.On the other hand, if you think sign holding only makes sense under conditions, when it strategically can be used to greatest advantage, you don’t need a twitter feed to tell you about contacting your rep (where they stand can usually be determined by a phone call to their aide,) you don’t need an event to tell you to write letters, and you find raising money for the purposes of being one of many booths in an exhibition hall is not the most effective use of such, and you find the other issues with the proposed event and those proposing it that give you pause, then maybe this is not where you want to be. It’s all about measuring outcomes in relation to stated goals.Last year, what happened in New Orleans by the time it finally occurred bore little resemblance to what the Day for Adoptee Rights/Adoptee Rights Demonstration had set out to be. By any measure, it had aspects of outright wasted resources, such as the park permit for a mass movement that never materialized. (And no, much as some over there would like to blame Bastard Nation for such, that’s merely scapegoating.)

Lingering ethical issues:

  • Last year without organizers’ knowledge or consent, Abrazo Adoption Associates set up a facebook fundraising page that fundraised utilizing the name of our event into Abrazo’s own account.When the facebook fundraising was revealed to the organizing committee working on the Adoptee Rights Demonstration by one of the organizers who not only had a pre-exisiting relationships with Abrazo, but then defended Abrazo’s actions from her position within the organizing committee itself, the Abrazo fundraising became one of several factors that led to more than half of the organizing committee resigning. The minority that remained went ahead with last year’s protest in New Orleans which Abrazo related personnel attended, socializing with the remaining organizers over the course of the event.For those of us who left, industry co-optation of and (non-disclosed) fundraising off of the event made our continued involvement impossible. At least some of us who resigned have come to the conclusion that we are unwilling to work with last years organizers again, not merely due to the ethical issues raised by industry co-optation, but also for having been blindsided by an organizer within the committee itself. (Blogposts from the time concerning the Abrazo fundraising can be accessed via my Abrazo Adoption Associates tag.)This year, they appear to have learned from the Abrazo fiasco and have added a new line to their “Donate” page: “The Adoptee Rights Demonstration does not accept donations from adoption agencies or their employees.”
  • While I have barely blogged about it, many of the blog comments and message board comments by those that remained as the organizing committee after we left, directed back at us were not merely vicious, they were potentially defamatory. While last year’s remaining organizers are welcome to hold political disagreements with those of us who left, personal attacks and petty vindictive behaviours move beyond the realm of political differences. The treatment I myself experienced and saw directed at some of those who stepped back from the event was well, in a word ugly. Much of it took place far from the public eye on private message boards and private emails.Other such writings, once publicly available on blogs etc have been revised or removed altogether by those that posted them. I have watched as “Adoptee Rights Demonstration” organizers have attacked longstanding open records activists and spewed invective at Bastard Nation organizationally. Bear in mind, BN has had a longstanding policy against taking industry funding, once it became clear Abrazo money was apparently ALREADY in last year’s Adoptee Rights Demonstration, unbeknownst to some of us then organizers, BN had little choice but to withdraw; and yes this decision also dealt with the simultaneous issue of projected minimal turnout for the event itself.

All that said, credit where credit is due, which is to say, they actually decided to do some of the things we advised last year:

  • After the complete mess last year, this year’s organizers have finally taken our advice and decided not to take donations from adoption agencies or their employees. That said, this year’s committee is not a VAST personnel revamp from last year. I guess they just finally came to understand that being industry co-opted wasn’t going to fly.
  • Unlike last year, this year they have decided to utilize twitter as their communications vehicle from the event itself.
  • And finally, this year, unlike last year, the “Adoptee Rights Demonstration Committee” will no longer be anonymous. They have at least learned from that mistake. This year’s committee consists of:
  1. Kali Coultas / Founder
  2. Michelle Edmunds
  3. Joy Madsen
  4. Cathy Robishaw
  5. Theresa Hood

I urge readers to carefully research the proposed event in Philadelphia and history of those organizing it before participating or promoting it, and to make up their own minds.

Between the financial, ethical, and strategic questions in the wake of last year, and the viciousness directed at me personally and others I care about, suffice it to say, I have no interest in participating.

Undoubtedly, the predictable response of those currently using the name “adoptee rights demonstration” would come down to (putting it far more politely than they’re likely to) “GOOD, you weren’t invited.”Why “currently using the name… ?” Because it wasn’t always so. I wrote *a* (not “the” by any stretch) history of what the words “Adoptee Rights Demonstration had meant previously, and what the original strategizing for the Adoptee Rights Demonstration had been here: Adoptee Rights Demonstration / Day for Adoptee Rights some history and Gershom’s “storm”.

Originally, the “Adoptee Rights Demonstration” had been associated with both Ron Morgan and Bastard Nation. After the events that unfolded last time around, however, both withdrew their participation.

My personal blogging of what happened in relation to last July’s protest can be found on my Adoptee Rights Demonstration tag.

Why write this? Honestly, why dredge through all this? Particularly when I’d rather just go on about the work I’m already doing?

Well, if for no other reason than a lot of good people put money towards something last year, and were not in any way shape or form given so much as an accounting of where their money went.

As for others of us who put our time and effort into such?Speaking purely for myself here, knowing what I know now? I’ll never do that again.

Will I work towards something effective and strategically thought through? Hell yes, but as to what has become of the “Adoptee Rights Demonstration?”

Not on your life.

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