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Tag Archive for 'Democracy' – the real background!

This blog is mostly run by BW-lovers with a clear agenda (make CS and HC look bad so their “oh-so-moral” alternative looks attractive). For all others, who still have a somewhat open mind and don’t fall so easily for Kasper & Co’s constant propaganda, here a link to our side of the story:

The real background about this “democratic, transparent, legal” (sic) network.

Democracy in action

This weekend the BeVolunteer General Assembly took place in Essen, Germany. Congratulations to the BV volunteers for their diligent efforts toward establishing the principles of openness, fairness and democracy in the hospitality community. The minutes of the Assembly are available here.

Special congratulations to Thomas Goorden for his election to the BV Board of Directors. I was very gratified to have a voice in this democratic process, and happily voted for Thomas.

Among the accomplishments of the assembly was a new wiki page highlighting the differences between BW/BV and other Hospex networks. It’s worth checking out here.

Modes of Governance

For me, the failure of CS to sustain any democratic principles, freedom of speech, or abiding to the law or ethics, equality was the breaking point. So realizing they were not, nor ever would become that kind of an organization I had to go before further hurting myself being involved with people who could never understand what I stood for, what made me tick, and originally made me want to volunteer for CS. I tried as long as I could and was in no way “politically active” as the new race of outcasts on CS now is called (I was present in a situation where new person for some site tasks was needed, and the ones in charge went through their groups posting history to see there was nothing whatsoever that could indicate this was a person with critical thinking of any kind, especially towards CS). It’s only after seeing quite a bit of behavior and attitudes that I could not align with, as well as quite a bit of undermining, bullying and ignoring those who had, despite their differences with the LT worked very hard for CS that finally destroyed my faith in the leaders.

As an interlude, there was a strong push (in earlier times also officially sanctioned by the CS elite) to act in a more ad-hoc way (term coined by Dani I believe as “do-ocracy”). For me, this provided a way to get things ahead when no leadership was around to deal with many real issues rising up from the “bottom”, the community, through various means: groups, contact us section on the site, personal connections, real-life meetings. But at some point it became clear that in absence of leadership of any kind, it was those only interested in their own goals and visions for which Couchsurfing was merely a supporting platform, who were going to be the ultimate winners of the do-ocracy model. So naturally the LT might have been scared, I know I was. The critical error the Admins aka Leadership Team did in regaining their power was however to not take the good coming out of do-ocracy model so far, and not learn ways to actively listen to and engage with their community, which could have made all the difference in creating a network truly in line with its (current or future) vision statement and the values of its members.

On BeVolunteer/BeWelcome on the other hand the statutes clearly state what the values are, so that anyone wanting to volunteer clearly knows where they stand since the start. I’ve seen & heard “democracy doesn’t work” quoted by some along with rather condescending wishes of good luck. Well, this might be true – it’s certainly not easy to handle multi-national organization just starting out where many of the active people haven’t even met (yet). But still I’d say there’s a far bigger chance of survival thanks to the explicitly stated democratic principles (so neither dictators nor lone gunmen with their own motives can thrive for very long) to produce a sustainable organization and gradually grow into a viable alternative for those seeking hospitality.

Right after the crash some people at the CouchSurfing Collective in Montreal had set up a Hyperboard. This appeared to be a huge success. (Unfortunately‘s web archive didn’t archive very deep. Please let us know if you happen to have some backups around.) A lot of people offered to help with rebuilding the site, with a slight slant towards a bit more transparency, decentralization and democracy. So this was probably a bit too overwhelming, since it was promptly closed by the current Volunteer Coordinator (2000 US$/month).

Another Hyperboard was opened by “Mentor” with whom I’ve been in touch through email and chat, without knowing his or her identity. Mentor had also set up, which was a huge collection of messages, and random information, with funny and sometimes harsh comments. In the beginning I think it was kind of silly, but I gradually started to appreciate the board. So I wasn’t happy when I saw it was closed a while ago.

Now Mentor is back with a new board:!

October 2nd Addition

Apparently the opencouchsurfing hyperboard, which is not accessible anymore now, was not started by Mentor of thecouchsurfingbuilding2 hyperboard. Also, as you can read in the comments on this posts, Mentor never took part in the public discussions that are OpenCS. Let’s discuss it on the mailinglist first if you think a public OpenCS forum is a good idea,

Follow the money

To anyone who is trying to sort out what is going on in CS and who to believe, I suggest you apply what many consider to be the “First Rule of Investigation”.

“Follow the Money”.

Something very significant happened to CS during the year since CS 2.0 was launched as a volunteer-centered community-based enterprise. The corporate income drastically increased from a level where there was barely enough to make ends meet, to a big surplus, with the reasonable expectation of much more to come.

It doesn’t take much imagination, knowing human nature, to construct various scenarios that would explain much of what has happened in CS. It’s a certain fact that Casey, at the very least, from early on, was leveraging his position in CS for his own personal profit.

“Site design by Casey Fenton Consulting”

used to appear at the bottom of all emails to members and (if I remember right) every page on the site, with a link to his personal business. Now, this, in itself, is not necessarily a problem. Whether it is or not has everything to do with with impressions given to and agreements made with people who signed on to do do full-time volunteer work for what they thought was a noble cause, for a community built specifically on the value of freely giving without expecting a financial reward, and who literally saved CS from termination.

Things are going well for a young rapidly growing volunteer enterprise, there is tremendous community spirit, creativity, new initiatives, large numbers of highly talented people wanting to get involved. And then suddenly, the rug is pulled out from under them. Some of the most active and committed volunteers are made to feel unappreciated and all but shown the door. Announcements come down about new paid positions for Casey’s close associates.

We are told paid employees are needed to do the necessary tasks that volunteers won’t do, because they tend to do things on a whim. I, myself, had spent 5 months doing nothing but things that needed to be done, fixing hundreds of bugs, postponing my “whim” project (which would have greatly benefited the community, I believe, but never happened). I did all this in spite of the LT, who for the most part, were unresponsive, non-participating, prone to arbitrary assertions of executive authority without understanding the situation, and even at times seriously undermining worthy, community-based projects.

We are told democracy can’t work in an organization like CS and that voting is impractical. Aside from any philosophical arguments, the plain fact is that democracy and voting are happing right now in, and very successfully, I might add.

These kind of statements defy logic and reality, so why would they be made? Just look at the result: concentration of power and money in the pockets of Casey and his hand-picked associates. A paid developer will be hired, who will do what he or she is told, to replace the 6 highly qualified computer professionals who used to work for CS but are now working for BW, where their individual creative ideas, personal ideologies and cultural diversity are welcome and valued.

We question all this and are branded “whiners” and “CS-haters”.

I would never have given a good part of a year of valuable service to CS if I had known where it was headed. When I started having concerns about what the Admins were up to in their secret meetings back in December, I wrote a long, detailed, thoroughly documented letter to them. It was entitled “Request for Information from the Admins” (approx.). It was posted in a CS group named “CS Core Volunteer Communication” (approx.) created specifically for the purpose of allowing for communication between volunteers and the Admins, who previously were unavailable for communication as a group, and could only be communicated with through a liason.

I specifically mentioned problems with responsiveness, participation and arbitrary assertions of power. I expressed concerns about accountability. I said I was in CS to work freely for the community, and was not willing to work for Casey and/or the Admins if they were not accountable to the community.

The only response I got from the Admins was, from one of them, “Your letter is too long, so I’m not going to read it.” (approx.) This is when I became very concerned.

I started paying more attention to the NDA issue, which was very troubling to me, and I had only accepted it provisionally with the assurances that “it is being worked on and will be fixed soon.” (approx.). It was already going on 6 months.

I wrote another letter to the Admins after about a month or two, reminding them I was still waiting for a response from my first letter, and amplifying my concerns, which continued to be validated.

There was no response from any of the Admins who were in power before the crash.

Now, in retrospect, knowing what they were working towards, I believe I may have been allowed to continue to work for free under false pretenses, while the LT was planning to use the increasing revenue which I and many other volunteers were helping to generate, to pay some of themselves, without my permission or the permission of the other volunteers.

If this is what really what happened, and the total absence of meaningful response to my two inquiries was not just sheer incompetence or negligence (and how can I know when so much is kept secret), it was an ethical breach and I and the other volunteers have every right to feel mislead and disrespected. We certainly have the right to challenge the LT without having our credibility and integrity questioned.

So, to you new investigators, I suggest, follow the money and judge for yourself.


The CouchSurfing Corporation

Warning: This post contains sarcasm, read it at your own risk. You have been warned.

CouchSurfing recently announced that they have hired two new staff. As we’ve come to expect, there were no interviews, no positions advertised, no visible application process. Instead, Casey invited two of his close friends to join him in receiving a salary from CouchSurfing.

In other news, Chris Burley said in a recent group post, “I wish you the best with democracy, it is known that it tends to crush minority voices. Besides, the majority rarely knows best.” Wow, that’s an interesting statement. But we all knew CouchSurfing isn’t a democracy, didn’t we? Now we do.

One might suggest Chris is in danger of falling foul of the US Patriot Act if he’s not careful. ;-)