Several weeks ago a friend told me that there was a discussion happening at the Guild over what to do about a group of Anat Baniel’s students who were petitioning to join the FGNA. Intrigued by what might be happening, I spent some time trying to track down someone who could tell me more.
I contacted several people via email. The first person* (see note at end of post) that I talked to told me that it was not Anat’s students who wanted to join the Guild but Mia Segal students. I then contacted someone who said that, no, it was not about Mia or Anat’s students joining the guild, but a discussion of what would happen if some of Mia’s “new” students did want to join.
Apparently, Mia Segal is planning a training in the U.S. and the FGNA Board of Directors instigated a discussion over what would happen if these new U.S. students wanted to join the guild. (I have been unable to confirm if she is indeed planning a U.S. practitioner training.) For those of you who do not know, Mia Segal was part of the original group of Israelis that Moshe Feldenkrais used to try and systematically train people with his ideas. For many years, Mia has been conducting her own trainings, independent of any of the Feldenkrais Guilds.
Who Does the American Guild Represent?
As I considered the various bits of information that I had gathered, I began to wonder a bit about the Feldenkrais Guild of North America. Who does it represent? From what I can discern, the conversations above were being conducted amongst the FGNA board of directors and a group of Feldenkrais trainers, many of whom live overseas. I found this to be odd.
Why were the trainers being consulted? What role do they have in formulating guild policy? I was under the impression that the FGNA is a member-financed organization. By all accounts, the guild derives 80% or more of its revenue from membership dues, yes? If you are a member, you have been paying $375 or more per year in membership dues. If this is the case, why are members not directly consulted in matters related to who can join the Guild? Why does the FGNA board of directors reach out first to the trainers? Are they the ones paying the bills or are you?
Who Elects the FGNA Board?
I began to wonder what mechanisms have been set-up at the Guild to represent members. You may believe that FGNA has a board of directors directly elected by its membership.
If you have been paying attention to InTouch and other Guild publications you may have noticed that each year, the board positions are never contested. That is, each “election year” you get a ballot that only has one name per slot. You can confirm the name, but you don’t have the option of choosing between two or more people. Why is that? Perhaps, you have heard the story that “not enough people want to serve”?
I’m not sure that’s accurate. I’m not aware of any outreach campaigns that the guild has done to encourage participation. Are you? When was the last time that anyone asked you to serve? Do you know how to be “elected” to the Board of Directors?
How to (Not) Serve on the FGNA Board.
Let me tell you my own story of trying to serve. In 2007, the President-Elect was Michael Purcell. After having a conversation with him about the board, board business and current make-up, he told me that to serve, I would need to contact the “nominating committee.” I called the chair of that committee (I believe it was the current chair, Nancy Schumaker, though I do not quite remember) and told her of my desire to run. After several days and apparently after consulting with the rest of the committee, she told me “no”. That is, she told me that I could not run for a position on the board.
Why? Two reasons. The person I would be running against was supposedly in the midst of some big fundraising or other outreach project. I have no idea what the project was. And secondly – this really blows my mind – I was told that my running for that position might be seen as a referendum on the person I would be running against. Meaning that if I ran, the current person serving might take it personally. Interesting, isn’t? We certainly wouldn’t want to take a chance that an election might hurt someone’s feelings!
Who is in Charge at FGNA?
My purpose in writing isn’t to criticize the nominating committee, the FGNA board of directors nor anyone else in the community. It would be pointless to do so. As a community, we have been down that road far too many times. It doesn’t help.
The current board, the nominating committee, and others in paid and volunteer positions do a great deal of hard work in often thankless positions. They want to help and they are trying to help. And let’s not forget that board work can be drudgery and that it takes up a great deal of time. Though the current board members and volunteers do have to take responsibility for any actions that they take, the current system predates any individual member. They didn’t design it. They didn’t create it.
The issues at hand concern the systems and process themselves and whether they support the “rank and file” practitioners who pay the bills. We are discussing whether YOU as an FGNA member have a direct say in Guild affairs and whether you have a meaningful vote. You may disagree with what I am about to write. It may offend you. Feel free to disagree. But let me state emphatically:
“You as an FGNA Member Do Not Have a Vote.”
You only have the option of voting for someone who has been pre-chosen for you. Is that a meaningful vote? No. Having only one option isn’t a choice. FGNA board members are pre-selected and chosen for you. You are given the “option” of either voting for the chosen candidate or not voting at all. It’s that simple.
You disagree? Fine. Give me an example. How is the FGNA accountable to you? I’m not talking about some vague emotional idea you have that its work (or THE work) is important. I’m talking about a direct pathway that you have to effect change at FGNA and to have your voice count. Where is it? What is it?
Again, I’m NOT talking about someone saying, “We hear you.” or whether you agree or disagree with certain polices. I’m asking you to look for and show me how – how specifically – you can affect policy and have your needs represented. What is the mechanism? Where is the policy? How does it work?
Elections? Tell me the last time you heard an FGNA board member telling you what he or she believed in and why you should vote for him or her. When was the last contested election? What does any current member of the FGNA board of directors stand for? What is his or her vision for the Guild? If you do not know, ask yourself why.
I will tell you my view. It’s not just that the current leadership has not been elected. But rather, the system is not designed for free and fair elections. The nominating committee was created to limit choice. It was created as a mechanism to make sure that no one “dangerous” can serve on the board. That is, anyone perceived as being too radical or not fitting the mold, can simply be told, “No, you can’t run for election.” For what other purpose would the committee be created?
Some may think it’s a good thing to limit choice. That’s fine. Perhaps they don’t trust practitioners to run their own ship. Perhaps there are voices in the community that they don’t want represented. Perhaps there are ideas that they don’t want considered. Voices that they don’t want heard. Perhaps they think the system is fine the way it is. I don’t really know.
But what I do know is that without an awareness of, and engagement with, the process itself, nothing can change. As Moshe said and demonstrated many times:
“…as you become aware of what you are actually doing, you can correct it. Before you become aware of the mistake, someone else can tell you a hundred times and it doesn’t help.” (From the Esalen workshop, session #13, head turning)
Are you aware of what you are actually doing in your interactions with the guild? Are you an active agent? Are you being heard? Can you effect change?
Only you can answer.
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Note: *Because the community is so small, protecting the identity of people who do not want to be named is very difficult. For this reason, I am not going to name gender, institutional affiliation and the like. I realize that this may limit the credibility of my writing and the facts written. But ce la vie. I can say that everyone that I spoke to for this blog post was in a position to know about the topics at hand.
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