Why I am no longer supporting REACH

At the formation of the Berkeley REACH in April of this year, I wrote in support of projects like it, and announced that I'd personally be contributing to it. Now that I've decided to discontinue the latter, I feel that I owe a public accounting of my reasons.

Initially, I though that REACH was worth supporting on general principles. As I was no longer based out of the SF Bay Area, I didn't think I'd get a lot out of it personally, but it seemed good to have a community nexus in a community full of people I cared about. I happened to be back in the Bay for a few months and ended up hanging out there a bit, and benefited from access to a community space. It seemed like at the very least, I should support it as long as I was back in town.

In June, REACH banned a close friend of mine pending a potential future investigation. Neither they nor I were told about the details of the conduct banned, much less the evidence involved. This puts me in a difficult position in a few ways.

This banning standard is appropriate for someone's personal property / living space (accountability in that regard seems bad), but not for a community space (which should have intelligible communal standards). Even so, this isn't inherently an intolerable situation - if someone's preferences are sufficiently representative of the community's, a "living room" style policy can save on overhead.

In the short run I was willing to cut REACH some slack, especially since it's still, as far as I know, not getting enough financial support for Sarah Spikes to run it full-time. But in September, three months after the initial ban, I asked whether any progress had been made on an investigation, and now it's been another month and as of initially writing this post I'd received no response.

On a pragmatic level, were I still in Berkeley, REACH would no longer be a good default place for me to hang out and socialize. If my friend were guilty of some sort of serious misconduct, I'd consider myself adequately compensated by learning of the evidence for this. (It would help me do my part to reduce exposing others to risk, for instance.) But I don't even know what they're accused of.

On a procedural level, I don't feel comfortable participating in a community where bans aren't as a matter of course intelligibly explained to the remaining members of the community. This isn't the same thing as having community standards, but it's a necessary precondition. And if I don't know what the standards are, I can't defend my own interests, or even track when they're likely under threat.

I held off publishing this for a while, since I had the sense that there were negotiations underway that might result in a better outcome, but all the info I've learned since the initial draft has given me the impression that REACH has been prioritizing having a big official-seeming process over simply informing members about what's going on.

I stand by my general support for spending resources on community institutions. My position is still that REACH is likely underfunded for a community center; perhaps if funding were adequate, it would be doing better at meeting the needs of people like me. But I shouldn't try to solve the tragedy of the commons by unilaterally contributing to the commons in the face of a strong incentive to the contrary, hoping for the best, and continuing to do so when this is manifestly inadequate. Instead, I'm cutting my losses and moving on, in the absence of either a principled or pragmatic reason not to.

Thanks to everyone who sincerely contributed to this experiment. I think it was a good try, and I still hope it manages to succeed at being a good place for someone. It just doesn't seem to be a place for me at this time.

7 thoughts on “Why I am no longer supporting REACH

    1. Benquo Post author

      For obvious reasons I'm not going to play guessing games about the identity of someone I've decided not to name. But I'm aware of the Brent situation and strongly approve of the methods used in that case - people published accounts of what they'd personally observed and felt in order to help others make informed decisions, rather than trying to directly control the outcome or restrict information access to a largely unaccountable centralized power structure. Then other people with relevant information chimed in. It doesn't seem like REACH as an institution either helped or hindered this process.

    2. Benquo Post author

      On reflection, I don't think anonymity is helping much here, per the considerations in my subsequent post. I was talking about Michael Vassar, and the Twitter thread Sarah mentioned here is available here. (I was aware of that thread already but didn't know which accusations were the basis for the provisional ban until the past few days.)

      It seems to me like the issues brought up in that thread are worth discussing, but the underlying problem seems to have been one in which a problem was exacerbated by a lack of communication about the problem, so secretly excluding people instead of discussing the issue is a counterproductive response.

        1. Benquo Post author

          I'm not interested in hosting a discussion on which things are "serious allegations," or catering to the sort of people who cannot be bothered to scroll through a Twitter thread to read things in their original context right now, so I'm going to stop this thread here. Kelsey, feel free to post a link here, though, if you want to host that discussion elsewhere.

  1. Stardust

    The primary accusation about Ben's friend was public on Twitter. There were follow up reports made to me in confidence that added up to "this warrants investigation." As I was not equipped to run an investigation at the time and had no experience doing anything like that, I put out a call for nominees for a panel, and discussed what the process should be with the nominees. We ended up doing a second round of nominations because there was concern that the initial call wasn't posted widely enough. Then the panel members were voted on by stakeholders. The panel formed but was immediately tasked with a more pressing investigation, which should be wrapping up soon.

    I was in the middle of several personal crises at the time when Ben emailed me to check up about his friend, and I did not have a clear sense of how to reply at the time, since the panel hadn't laid out guidelines for how to communicate about unresolved cases. I had also misunderstood an email from the friend as saying that they were no longer in town, which made it low priority in my mind. The friend had also said that they weren't interested in coming to REACH anymore if I wasn't willing to tell accused people the details of the confidential reports, which I was not willing to do without the consent of the reporters.

    I do regret that it has taken so long to get the panel up and running, and that the other case has taken longer than I anticipated.

    I will also note that I requested that the friend not come to REACH until we had due process in place. I did not issue an ultimatum or use the word ban. I would be ok with that person being in the space for certain events, but since the person said they were not interested in coming to REACH anymore anyway, I did not offer this as a suggestion.

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