04.17.21

Letter of Support for Richard Stallman – Doing Better in Community

Posted in Deception, Free/Libre Software at 7:58 pm by Dr. Roy Schestowitz

From Karrie Peterson[1]

Attribution-ShareAlike 4.0 Generic (CC BY-SA 4.0) for this page, albeit Peterson’s article may be licensed differently.

How do you support someone you’ve known for years who is unfairly attacked and publicly maligned? Subjected to a mass campaign of accusations and name-calling by people who demonstrably don’t know or purposely disregard the facts? How do you contribute to fairness and understanding without just “joining a side, let’s see who wins?”

This letter of support for RMS is my effort. Public support in the face of unfair public attack seems necessary to me, and my hope is to put some energy toward better community dialog.

My letter is for people who are still struggling, as I am, to find the way forward, to learn from this painful and harmful series of events. To heal and redress. To nourish a welcoming and inclusive community rather than hurl names at one another and ostracize people.

I’m not addressing the way journalists misrepresented RMS, that seems unquestionably wrong and not debatable. I’m focused instead on the painful consequences for our liberation movements of leaping to judgment, weaponizing buzzwords and treating accusations as evidence.

What happened to RMS, in the maelstrom following the Epstein scandal, struck me as a disinformation campaign. The loudest attacks on RMS followed patterns I’ve experienced myself in some subcultures. Those patterns of “winners vs. losers” and macho name-calling, pushing for “taking sides” rather than for understanding and reflection. All of this was re-upped in the same vicious manner in March 2021, when Richard’s return to the FSF was announced.

Richard, on the other hand, has reflected, admitted his own concern for harm he may have done, and never resorted to any name calling despite the cost he has personally borne as a result of the attacks on him.

My letter addresses two topics, my personal experiences with RMS and my sense of community fairness.

Personal experience

When I first heard Richard Stallman speak, in San Diego in 2002, he was on a platform with Lawrence Lessig. When RMS spoke, I thought “This is genius.” RMS thinks about and works on stuff I will never fully understand but in his presentation that day, he drew me in with his uncompromising principles, ability to think through systems and their consequences, and the directness and simplicity of his language—no academic jargon or superiority. His tone was “and you can do this too, you can join in.”

As a newbie librarian, what I was hearing at my university library was that these monopolistic publishers putting human knowledge behind paywalls and proprietary platforms were our friends and that libraries—whose social mission is to share and preserve knowledge—could no longer fully lead our own mission in the digital age, we’d have to give over core parts of our mission to for-profit companies. In the face of suffocating, neo-liberal, “let’s be realistic” horribleness that dominated those conversations, RMS represented a lifeline, and I began to find others who had a vision of freedom I could share.

Long after I heard RMS speak, I got a job at MIT. I saw RMS on campus one day and, I introduced myself and gushed in a kind of goofy way about how much his work had meant to me as a librarian. RMS was so kind! I don’t actually remember how we re-connected after that, but I found he was open to being friends and sometimes including me in his social gatherings or sharing work-in-progress writing.

And of course, RMS pushed me to do more than just support free software in the abstract—he got me reading, joining the FSF, and enlisting other people to support free software.

I didn’t always relate to Richard’s style at first, and I remember being puzzled by the “pleasure card” until he explained the peculiar humor in it. I treasure that card now, maybe it’s an age thing but I love his sense of humor. I also eventually came to find his absolutely logical approach quite relaxing, e.g. when he would say “I can’t answer your question, it doesn’t make sense to me.” With so much illogic about, logic can be wonderfully relaxing. In our conversations, he might say something like “that’s just wrong” and yet it never struck me as arrogant because he would explain and hear me out. Over the course of being his friend, I moved from kind of tolerating his different way of thinking to embracing and valuing the way his mind works. #card

When the maelstrom erupted, I reached out and was personally supportive to Richard as you would be to any friend in need. At the same time, I am a feminist and committed to social justice, so I dived in and read what I could, tried to figure out for myself what was happening. After all, Richard is my friend and an intellectual mentor, he is not my cult leader. So I wanted to understand before I engaged.

I made myself read a lot of things aimed at RMS that disgusted me and made me sad, some stories that made me feel sorry for people, and many things that made me angry. I read new things and re-read old things RMS has written. I didn’t see anything that justified the virulent attacks, all I saw was a lot of dirty fighting.

Personally, I’m just left with this worry: that we’ll refuse to listen to, consider and benefit from diversity of opinions in our movements because, well, we just don’t want to.

I’m asking myself, can we really learn to be inclusive when thinking differently is involved?

Opinions about community and the struggle for freedom

Will we achieve a free society without free software? I don’t think so.

Does ubiquitous free software require a strong movement? Yes, I believe this, given what we’re up against. Fighting ubiquitous surveillance and the dangers of proprietary software is a global struggle.

When conflict within liberation movements is not principled, I think it’s dangerous. What I observed in the ad hominem attacks on RMS looked a lot like clique behavior and, in some cases, made mewonder about people using personal attacks to try and prevail in political differences.

I don’t agree with stuff like this: arguments with RMS that were formulated as attacks, as if no reasonable person could be allowed to disagree. Equating expression of opinion as being personally harmed. Taking on the mantle of speaking for whole populations, unasked. I’m not repeating the postings I saw because aggression like that is traumatizing. Like so many others, I am soul weary of being oppressed by the system and then further drained by cliques, vile name-calling and divisive infighting.

Disoriented communities and divisiveness serve somebody’s agenda, I wonder whose. Especially when dialog, and learning and growth are an option.

I want to see Richard’s leadership affirmed, his principled and revolutionary thinking understood, his humanity acknowledged and respected, and his contributions used and built on. I want that because I want free software to be normalized as essential to our liberation. The movement needs the best thinkers working together and resolving differences in principled ways.

The Establishment puts pressure on freedom movements in ways that are sometimes hard to detect, but that pressure is felt and has its desired effects. Historically, that pressure lures some of us away with rewards, drives others out with calumny and viciousness, and creates distrust and disorientation to undermine our organizations. We have all seen this over and over again. With AI and machine learning on the rise and spreading rapidly into surveillance of our civic and personal lives, the stakes for free software and transparent computing are incredibly high.

Freedom struggles depend on the ability of people to come together, in solidarity, for a common purpose. The revolutionary ideas of free software will help us get free if we learn and grow together and fundamentally get along with mutual respect.

It’s always been up to us, how this story goes.


1. With a background in political and community organizing, Karrie Peterson (she, her, hers) is the Head, Liaison, and Instruction & Reference Services at MIT Libraries[2]. Her support for gender fluidity goes back more than 50 years, her understanding of intersectionality comes from the original publishing of the Combahee River Collective Statement, and she has been a socialist feminist and supporter of land back and indigenous peoples’ sovereignty since she was a teenager in the 1970’s.

Peterson has stated: The opinions expressed here are my own, I am not speaking for anyone else.


References and Notes

  1. ORCID – Karrie Peterson. (Archived)
  2. Share in other sites/networks: These icons link to social bookmarking sites where readers can share and discover new web pages.
    • Reddit
    • email

This post is also available in Gemini over at:

gemini://gemini.techrights.org/2021/04/17/better-in-community/

If you liked this post, consider subscribing to the RSS feed or join us now at the IRC channels.

Pages that cross-reference this one

What Else is New


  1. Links 7/5/2021: IPFire 2.25 Core Update 156 and Diffoscope 174 Released

    Links for the day



  2. The New Microsoft? No, the New IBM.

    Microsoft GitHub and IBM: a strategic alliance between a monopolistic duo



  3. The Audacity Takeover by Muse Group is No Cause for Celebration

    Audacity is now part of an entity called Muse Group and if it doesn’t take or suck freedom out of Audacity, it will certainly deny users rather basic concepts (or anticipation) of privacy



  4. King of Linux

    If the entire operating system is being called "Linux", then we fall for a publicity or misattribution stunt



  5. The Biggest Troll is the Linux Foundation, Still Looking to Provoke and Defame Free Software Communities in Order to Help a Monopolistic Takeover and to Shoehorn Tyrants Into Leadership Positions

    Contrary to what the so-called ‘Linux’ Foundation is trying to say, the most toxic element is itself; it’s maligning the real community while protecting abusive and racist corporations that profit from war and tribalism-motivated hatred



  6. IRC Proceedings: Thursday, May 06, 2021

    IRC logs for Thursday, May 06, 2021



  7. “The Lolita Express” and Prince Bill

    “The Lolita Express” scandals return to haunt pool old Bill, as it turns out his wife was upset and it's quite likely the reason for their divorce



  8. Links 7/5/2021: GNU/Linux Preinstalled, Plamo 7.3, LibreOffice 7.1.3

    Links for the day



  9. The Latest Reports About Bill Gates Serve to Confirm or at Least Reaffirm Many People's Suspicions

    So, just as many people suspected, Melinda Gates did not appreciate her husband sneaking behind her back to meet someone who had trafficked thousands of underage girls for sexual exploitation and there are high-profile calls right now for greater transparency, seeing the impact on the world’s biggest tax evasion vehicle



  10. Disregard Web Sites That Call Themselves 'News' and Instead Promote Proprietary Software for Companies Like Microsoft

    Publishers like IDG have long been paid-for marketing in ‘article’ clothing, sometimes with the veneer of ‘reporting’ (as if they have some inside knowledge or insight, e.g. speaking with or for the company they secretly coordinate with or market for); but sadly we’ve been seeing some so-called ‘Linux’ sites doing the same thing, in effect acting like de facto Microsoft marketers



  11. [Meme] Who Needs Examination Anyway When There's 'Hey Hi' (AI)?

    The patent production line could do away with 'pesky' and 'opinionated' examiners who actually wish to scrutinise alleged 'inventions'



  12. Europe's Second-Largest Institution Corrupting the Media and Buying Expensive Puff Pieces

    As annual reports reveal, the EPO wastes an extraordinary amount of money on reputation laundering campaigns and it pollutes the signal by paying publishers; we examine this issue using the new 'reports' shown in the video above



  13. Links 6/5/2021: Fedora’s Compiler Policy and Celemony Software GmbH Adopting Free Software

    Links for the day



  14. Free Software Proponents Don't Fall for Bullshit (Same is True for EPO Examiners)

    There are parallels between what happens in the Free Software Movement and the EPO, where well-meaning people — and usually hard-working scientists — are besieged by people who never really contributed anything to society



  15. IRC Proceedings: Wednesday, May 05, 2021

    IRC logs for Wednesday, May 05, 2021



  16. Lessons From Another Failed Coup Against the Free Software Movement

    The coup has very clearly failed and we should prepare for future attempts (they go in cycles); the monopolies really dislike software they cannot control fully (e.g. copyleft/GPL-licensed software)



  17. Links 5/5/2021: Mesa 21.1 Released and New Releases of Python

    Links for the day



  18. Links 5/5/2021: StarLabs, GNU Zile 2.6.2, Fedora i3 Spin

    Links for the day



  19. Phony 'Scandals' From Phony 'News' Site ZDNet

    Steven J. Vaughan-Nichols continues the coup against the FSF (trying to separate it from its founder, Richard Stallman), funded by IBM and Microsoft to engage in libel at a marketing company-owned ‘news’ site called ZDNet



  20. Links 5/5/2021: Windows Security Breaches and GNU Pokology Launched

    Links for the day



  21. IRC Proceedings: Tuesday, May 04, 2021

    IRC logs for Tuesday, May 04, 2021



  22. Links 4/5/2021: Taiwins 0.3, KDE Plasma 5.21.5 Released

    Links for the day



  23. EPO Already Wasting Money on Media Manipulation Campaigns for European Inventor Award

    An online-only European Inventor Award 'event' is being used as a pretext/excuse to flood European publishers with money they can rightly perceive as 'hush money'; everyone out there with no spine would likely buckle at the sight of EPO euros and just produce mindless puff pieces that serve to distract from EPO corruption



  24. The Timing of This Melinda Gates Tweet Was Always Curious...

    Remarking on her trip to Africa, where the Gates family lobbies for monopolies on seeds (for profit or course, notably through Monsanto/Bayer, which the Gates family heavily invests in), she posted pure fluff and old photos. And it’s hard to believe she had nothing better to do at the time (better than such nostalgia). As we noted last year: “The above tweet of a beach was posted [by Melinda Gates] on the date of the arrest/search of their employee, who was at their residence at the time.” He was arrested around the very same time this tweet was posted. As we wrote last year (based on detailed documents obtained from the police department): “This tweet was posted 2 hours and 40 minutes after the door was breached and incriminating evidence collected.” He was arrested later that morning at the mansion of Bill and Melinda Gates (the police records contain detailed timelines to confirm the chronology). Melinda’s first name was also in the CP 'stash'.



  25. Media Frenzy Around Gates Divorce Helps Distract From Bill's Crimes

    The distraction from many Gates scandals is cushioned by yet another personal fluff; we would rather see investigative journalism pursuing real answers about real scandals



  26. IRC Proceedings: Monday, May 03, 2021

    IRC logs for Monday, May 03, 2021



  27. EPO Disregards Animal Welfare

    An often overlooked issue surrounding the second-largest institution in Europe is its impact on millions if not billions of animals; there's ongoing research into that



  28. Links 3/5/2021: Sparky 5.15, Bill Gates Divorce, Netflix Fraud

    Links for the day



  29. Links 3/5/2021: New in OpenBSD 6.9 and Audacity Acquired By Muse Group

    Links for the day



  30. Adding, Seaming Together, Merging, or Concatenating Videos From the Command Line With FFMPEG (Scripting for Streamlining of Workflows)

    In order to enrich the looks of videos with almost no extra time/effort (all scripted, no GUIs should be needed) use ffmpeg with the concat operator; but there are several big gotchas, namely lack of sound and need for consistency across formats/codecs and even sampling rates


RSS 64x64RSS Feed: subscribe to the RSS feed for regular updates

Home iconSite Wiki: You can improve this site by helping the extension of the site's content

Home iconSite Home: Background about the site and some key features in the front page

Chat iconIRC Channel: Come and chat with us in real time

Recent Posts