The Most Important Letter Ever Written on our Stumbling Block

Below is an open letter from Stephen Baskerville who is one of the few prominent leaders in the US for our cause. He is also one of the few high level leaders to ever bothered to return a reply to my invitation to be in HN think tank back in 2006. He has headed the ACFC in the US now for sometime. The ACFC is undoubted the largest organizations worldwide for concerned fathers. I have written much about the problems with large organizations and their inability to get the moderates to cooperate, but to hear the truth spoken from someone heading the largest organization as he steps down is amazing, if not earth shaking, and may lead to real changes if enough men do as Steve has done.

This issue that Steve deals with is the real reason we are stopped from getting reforms from real cooperation. One must ask oneself, “I’m I doing all that needs to be done in cooperation with other MRAs or am I one of these men that is standing in the way of cooperation as I place my political, financial or petty ideas above stopping this scourge on men and boys that has now undoubtedly claimed millions. -Timocrat at HN

Serious Problems at ACFC: An Open Letter to the Board

Quote:

David Roberts
Chairman of the Board
American Coalition for Fathers and Children
1718 M Street, NW, Suite 187
Washington, DC 20036

Dear David and Fellow Members of the Board,

Two years ago, the Families and Fathers Conference in Detroit voted to designate ACFC as the principal organization representing the fatherhood movement. That decision was testimony to ACFC’s enormous promise as a national leader and to years of dedicated work by ACFC officers and members, to whom America’s parents and children owe a great debt.

Unfortunately, in the two years since we received that honor, the potential has not been realized. As promising developments unfold nationwide, it is increasingly clear that serious obstacles impede our progress and that some operate within ACFC itself. While we have moved forward, I believe we could be doing much better.

In trying to create a more proactive organization, I have met with repeated frustrations and obstructions. This is more serious than simply the inevitable difficulties with which we are all familiar. ACFC is being seriously criticized by important leaders in our movement, and we cannot continue to dismiss their concerns. In recent months, I have heard complaints that ACFC has become a “do-nothing” organization, that its efforts are half-hearted and inept, and that some of its actions are actually counterproductive.

In short, we have not proved ourselves fully worthy of the trust that has been reposed in us. In fact it is hardly an exaggeration to say that ACFC has become dysfunctional and risks becoming an object of ridicule.

In particular, this is what I am hearing from our supporters throughout the country:

-Rather than trying to lead a broad-based movement, ACFC behaves like a closed cabal where everything is carefully controlled by a small clique of officers, and outsiders are distrusted.
-Ambitious projects and grandiose schemes are conceived and launched but never completed. Promises of major change are offered, but the changes never materialize.
-Talented individuals of proven dedication and ability offer their services to ACFC and are rebuffed, while others of proven achievement have left in frustration.

I myself find it virtually impossible to exercise the most rudimentary leadership. As president, I am given no authority, and whenever I attempt an initiative, it is vetoed, with excuses for inaction and with no alternative action taken or even proposed. I have no authority over the budget, and I am not trusted to make decisions over so basic a matter as the ACFC Internet site, let alone bold initiatives. Every action I propose meets obstructions, delays, excuses.

ACFC seems to be pervaded by a “can’t do” rather than a “can do” culture. It seems there is always a reason we cannot do something, always some excuse for not taking action, for not completing some project we have begun, some reason we cannot assist or work alongside some other organization who has offered to work with us, some reason for failure. And in the end, nothing is done, and failure is the result.

At the same time, a culture of unrealistic self-congratulation has developed, with inflated and overly-optimistic reports about the increases in our membership and revenues, when no such increases have occurred.

Many times I have felt that I am being paid to be silent or to mouth well-worn platitudes, to not act, and even to prevent others from acting. I am constantly threatened with loss of pay and dismissal, even in the midst of notable successes, if a single utterance – a word or phrase – fails to conform to some ill-defined orthodoxy.

Unfortunately, this seems to have become a pattern at ACFC. In recent years, able individuals who have served in leadership positions within ACFC have departed in frustration and anger: Jane Spies, Diana Thompson, Stuart Miller, Murray Davis, David Usher, Ed Truncellito. Each cited leadership problems in his or her departure. These people quickly went from being respected and trusted friends to being anathematized as if they were enemies, much as figures appear and disappear in a Kremlin photograph. I do not wish to point fingers; merely to point out that a leadership organization like ACFC must rise above personal bickering to take the moral high ground. Whatever the shortcomings of these former friends, our movement is inevitably composed of people with both talents and flaws similar to those of Jane, Diana, Stuart, Murray, David, and Ed. If ACFC can only operate by regularly purging such leaders, then serious doubts arise as to whether anyone can possibly lead ACFC or whether ACFC itself retains any claim to lead others.

No center of responsibility now exists in ACFC. Every decision requires a committee. But while executive action must be accountable, it should also have the freedom to make decisions without the necessity of convening a meeting. Decisive action is impossible when every decision must be taken by the board. No effective organization tries to conduct its daily operations by committee.

Yet as president, I am expected to accept responsibility for repeated failures and inactions, when the decisions were not mine to begin with. No organization can operate when decision-making is divorced from responsibility for the decisions.

Perhaps most serious, the lack of trust in me reflects a larger lack of trust in our membership. If we are to be a movement, then we must use the talents and contributions of our members, friends, and allies. The perception exists that we do not trust our own members, that we must control everything ourselves. This is not the spirit of a broad and open social movement but more akin to the spirit of Leninism, where an elite “vanguard” of professionals directs operations on behalf of the masses, whom it views with contempt.

More specifically:

-Major accomplishments by ACFC officers and members are ignored and not even mentioned on the Internet site. Major articles published in mainstream publications by ACFC officers, members, and friends – major breakthroughs in getting our message before mainstream audiences – are not posted or even mentioned on the site. The same is true of important documents and news developments. Following the publication of my own articles, I regularly receive numerous requests to reprint them in publications and on web sites. But they are not published on the ACFC web site. Neither are they circulated on the ACFC email lists or they are circulated belatedly. There is no mention of major articles by Phyllis Schlafly, Mike McManus, or other prominent friends who have allied themselves with us, or major books by Phyllis, Mark Harris, and others. When Mike McManus recently published a major op-ed column calling for shared parenting, while serving on a Virginia commission where he is in a position to implement it, I was told we could not publicize his article (and must even “distance ourselves” from it), simply because he also advocated divorce reform.

-In an age when information technology is critical to any organization, the ACFC web site has become an embarrassment. Members repeatedly complain that it is months or years out of date, that it seldom changes, that it contains little current information about legislative initiatives and other developments throughout the country, that it fails to convey information about affiliate groups and other organizations, and that parts are barely comprehensible. Information on affiliates in particular – our claim to be a national leadership organization – is barely legible. The “Events” page advertises “Updates on Shared Parenting and Fatherhood Related Activities Around the Nation,” but the most recent event was a year ago, and the next before that was over two years ago. Web sites operated by local groups and individuals are far superior to ACFC’s. Repeated warnings that this must change are simply ignored, and I see no desire or will to address this failure.

-Positive accomplishments seem to count for less than ideological conformity. As I stand on the verge of producing the first major exposé of the divorce regime ever published by a commercial publishing house, I find that, far from receiving support from ACFC, ACFC seems intent on distancing itself from my book. While Liberator editor John Maguire has been devising ambitious plans to promote the book, he too is undermined.

-We have even begun disseminating literature that can only be described as dishonest. One of our most important accomplishments has been to enlist the support of highly eminent public figures such as Phyllis Schlafly and Mike McManus. Yet in a recently ACFC promotional letter, a valuable endorsement from Mrs. Schlafly was intentionally doctored and she was deliberately misquoted. How can we gain the trust of millions and of the respected and influential people we need to restore justice in America when we betray their trust by distorting their words after they have risked their reputations to support us?

-Claims of new affiliates and donors are exaggerated and never seem to materialize. The campaign to create a Florida chapter, advertised with much fanfare, became a fiasco and was never completed. After expenditures of money and time for trips to Florida and expenditures of time, money, and goodwill by others, there is no Florida affiliate and no prospect of one.

-ACFC board meetings seldom discuss substantive business or concrete action but instead degenerate into complaint sessions against other groups. Even our own membership become objects of gratuitous backbiting, where heads of our affiliates are discussed as if they were adversaries to be feared rather than friends to be assisted.

I am also concerned about the unwise use of our limited resources, paid by members’ dues:

-Money and time are wasted in pointless travel, unnecessary and unused office space and luxurious meeting rooms, and other questionable and even extravagant expenditures, while parents languish in jail and lose their children. It is not necessary for ACFC officers to travel the country holding the hands of bereaved parents. The parents of American want their children and their constitutional rights. They want results from their leaders in the nation’s capital, not visits from ACFC officers.

-The expensive Convio software was announced with much fanfare and demonstrated in Detroit, but since then it has hardly been used, despite opportunities to do so. Important legislative measures throughout the country lapse or fail through our inaction.

As matters now stand, I cannot in good conscience urge people to contribute money to an organization that is operated in such a haphazard and unprofessional manner. We also seem to have developed a track record of failure. Among the most significant:

-The ACFC Conference was hastily organized in only a few weeks, when we had months to prepare. The result was an attendance that was a fraction of what it should and could have been and what we were promised when the conference was conceived. I personally expended time and political capital inviting important public figures of national and international reputation to speak, including Phyllis Schlafly, Mike McManus, and Herb Titus, only to be embarrassed by the small audience before which these distinguished individuals spoke. No effort was made to provide even competent promotional literature or recruit attendees.

-Even the North Dakota Shared Parenting Initiative – the most important measure of 2006 – was marked by efforts that were half-hearted and inadequate. For the price of a month or two of office space we might well have shared parenting in North Dakota today. Most astoundingly, a spirit of defeatism surfaced in the final days of the campaign, precisely when we should have been most vigilant and active in our public campaign.

-ACFC support for the DC Rally 2007 was lukewarm at best, and rather than lend the full weight of ACFC to encourage attendance at the Rally, ACFC seemed more concerned to impose its views on speakers who should have been trusted to express their perspectives unimpeded.

-The recent press conference to publicize Angelo Lobo’s film did not attract a single reporter or media representative, aside from our own publications. And this is not the first time we have staged an empty event.
At some point we must ask, what precisely are we doing with $100,000 a year?

-Conferences no one attends
-Press conferences with no one from the press
-Demonstrations at which no one shows up
-Failure upon failure, with no effort to assess why

I enumerate these shortcomings in the hope that this will lead to constructive dialogue and improvement. An organization that cannot accept constructive criticism, that purges critics, and hurls anathemas at former friends is doomed to fail.

I realize that we face huge opposition and that every organization makes mistakes. Yet I see no indication that we are learning from our mistakes. On the contrary, it seems we continue to seek comfort for our failures in ideological purity. Astoundingly, I now find that (with no formal procedures) my pay is cut off and I am being threatened with dismissal within minutes of my talk to the DC Rally 2007 simply because I uttered a few words about no-fault divorce from my book (which concerns many of our members and for which Mike McManus gained national media attention) rather than us examining the far more important question of why so few attended the Rally in the first place.

* * *
I continue to believe that ACFC has the potential to lead this movement and to achieve a breakthrough that will place our just grievances on the national agenda. I want to emphasize my admiration and gratitude for the generosity and dedication you have all demonstrated on behalf of this movement. When the history of this era is recorded, future generations will realize how untold parents and children will be in your debt.

It is impossible to underestimate the stakes involved here. I have no doubt that we stand almost alone as the true defenders of the family and of the freedoms that are the heritage of Western civilization.

I stand ready to meet with you for an open and thorough dialogue about how we can move forward to make ACFC a truly representative and effective driving force of the growing movement to save the family from the predatory and corrupt system of family law and family policy that continues to destroy our families and undermine our democracy.

Yours respectfully,
Stephen Baskerville
President
American Coalition for Fathers and Children

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