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The Longest Now

FSF splits up, dithering til only a Stallman corps remains
Thursday April 01st 2021, 12:34 pm
Filed under: %a la mod,chain-gang,Uncategorized

The FSF, bastion of advocacy for free & open software and the need for copyleft in general, split up last week – dividing its community in a lasting way.

At the end of the 2021 LibrePlanet conference, surprising staff and speakers and attendees, RMS announced he was returning to the Board.

In the immediate aftermath, all of the external conference keynotes, some former FSF trustees, and a number of other free software community leaders, published an open letter calling on the entire FSF Board to resign.

Since then:
* A number of large organizations withdrew their support for the FSF, including Mozilla, RedHat, EFF, and Creative Commons
* A number of GNU and other free software projects have signed the letter, including GCC, GNU Radio, GNU Mailman,, and Tor
* A number of FSF staff gave notice, including the ED, Deputy ED, CTO, and President.
* Their most meticulous board member resigned.
* A member of the FSF staff was appointed to the Board.

Some 3000 people signed the open letter; another 4500 6000 signed a letter in support of Stallman. That split is likely to last, and to define the Foundation as it hires new leadership and looks for new Trustees.

Why was there such a strong response?

  1. No warning or notice; no public discussion of expanding the board; no discussion with staff.
  2. There had been an active movement to recruit women and others who had felt deterred by Stallman’s presence. Those new members now felt played.
  3. Well-loved speakers at the conference would not have attended had they known this would be the closing surprise. They felt played.
  4. Staff had struggled for years to be able to do their work due to the sometimes sudden whims of their founder. For some this felt like an explicit step backwards.
  5. It is a tight-knit community; for each person directly affected by something above, their close friends are as well.

What happens now? A tense quiet. Staff who decided to leave are doing so gradually, waiting until replacements step up. The staff union will likely make progress despite the departures. There is no obvious replacement on some advocacy fronts.

It will be telling to see what the community looks like at next year’s gathering.

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