addressalign-toparrow-leftarrow-rightbackbellblockcalendarcameraccwcheckchevron-downchevron-leftchevron-rightchevron-small-downchevron-small-leftchevron-small-rightchevron-small-upchevron-upcircle-with-checkcircle-with-crosscircle-with-pluscrossdots-three-verticaleditemptyheartexporteye-with-lineeyefacebookfolderfullheartglobegmailgooglegroupsimageimagesinstagramlinklocation-pinm-swarmSearchmailmessagesminusmoremuplabelShape 3 + Rectangle 1outlookpersonJoin Group on CardStartprice-ribbonImported LayersImported LayersImported Layersshieldstartickettrashtriangle-downtriangle-uptwitteruseryahoo

Omnipresent Atheists Message Board › Comments on OA part 1

Comments on OA part 1

David N.
Columbus, OH
Post #: 11
There are many great things about OA; that's why I'm involved. To those who have not been involved very long or very often with us, please don’t get the mistaken impression that conflict is our primary activity. The vast majority of our time is spent happily socializing. But I am not focusing on that right now. Improvements in the world only happen following criticism. Looking at how we operate with an eye to improvement is a healthy thing for individuals and groups. Dawn Owar has posted criticisms on OA’s Facebook page (see post by Dawn Owar starting “When I asked to open…” September 13, 2012 12:12 AM at!/groups/137983166257580/­) and I support her efforts to stimulate improvement; I have spoken to her about my criticisms and I too have heard criticisms from others. There are good people who have participated in the group who have been alienated. To assume that they are just too easily offended is to put your head in the sand. To assume that everything is fine because attendance is generally rising is naive. Atheism is on the rise and a rising tide lifts all boats. There were many co- organizers, more leaders/volunteers and a broader set of activist/charitable activities when I first attended. This trend is in decline.

There are problems and weaknesses in OA. These comments reflect my understanding and assumptions (some may be wrong). I reiterate that I choose to channel my efforts into proposing solutions and not dredging through the past but I am, by necessity, discussing some past events here. I am trying to minimize "Monday morning quarterbacking" but, again by necessity, will make some criticisms. I reiterate my appreciation and respect for all volunteer efforts during OA history.

To those who complain about the drama being forced on them, I mean no offense but read no further - no one is forcing you to be involved with the serious efforts of some to improve our group. Consider whether your comments are adding to the drama. I hope that we can dial it back while still accomplishing improvement. Where friction has occurred, please be prepared to reconcile once problems have been corrected.

To those who look back on the good times at past meetings, I do too. Finding like-minded people for the first time was great. Many of you may look back fondly on a similar experience but alas that is a one-time experience. Watching others experience a warm welcome into our group and the atheist community can be repeated. Although I am not trying to "guilt" anyone into welcoming newcomers, it's a different matter if you choose to obstruct those who are trying to pay forward by trying to improve the experience for newcomers. We should all feel guilty if we obstruct "organic friend making", as well.

To those who hear members expressing frustration and discouragement about fitting in and remaining in our group due to problems that they see/experience, please don’t encourage them to leave. It is not helpful and may be viewed as mean spirited. Many (perhaps most) of the 550+ members are no longer involved and we do not have the benefit of knowing why.

To anyone who would accuse me or others of trying to "take over" this group, recall that OA is distinctly lacking volunteer participation. We have been invited to be co-organizers regularly by the organizer many times and could have done that already.

To anyone who implies that someone does not attend often enough to satisfy some mythical threshold and therefore has suspicious motives for trying to talk about the need to improve the group, you are looking a gift horse in the mouth. How do you think your comments affect all those who have attended few meetings? Are you implying that their opinions are less important? Isn't this an argument from authority?

To those who complain about the intrusion into their social time, don't blame me - I don't set the agenda for the Tuesday night meeting. I prefer to have separate meetings or correspond in writing as I can try harder to be accurate and considerate. I don't wish to be in any group-business-oriented meetings with anyone who really doesn't want to be involved with serious discussion about criticisms and possible changes to our group. I encourage you to respectfully disengage from topics that bug you with no malice from me for doing so - it's a big patio and there is usually space inside. I am writing at some length here rather than trying to go through all of this during a meeting because I am reminded that social interaction has been the backbone of our group and I have no wish to undermine that.

I disagree with those who characterize OA as simply a drinking club. Social events are the majority of our activity but the Meetup discussions show that OA had many activist and charitable efforts, even some this year with more planned. Helping newcomers find like-minded community has always had an important place as part of our social events. Why would anyone want to distance themselves from this? Friction can be avoided if we separate social from group “business” activity by scheduling them each with clear notice of what we are doing at a given meeting. This could be accomplished any number of ways: 1) by have meetings on days other than Tuesday, 2) by having a set schedule for 15 or 30 minutes for business at the beginning of the Tuesday meeting or 3) by having a separate table that is clearly designated for those who wish to participate in business with other tables designated for social activity.

I understand the desire to require critics to produce evidence of problems but there are impediments to doing this: 1) we are not always explicitly informed of actions taken (like banning, censoring and co-organizer /moderator changes) and 2) individual posts and sometimes entire threads have been deleted making it hard to judge for oneself whether an action was justified. Perhaps there are actions that have been taken that I and most are not aware of. Hopefully, further discussion will bring better information if it is needed. Please consider this when your impulse is to assume that everything is fine - you may simply be uninformed.

There is very little written definition of the group other than the two word name and discussions on Meetup and Facebook and there is no real way to identify which comments are in force. There are no defined procedures for approving anything as a group. Casual votes have been taken during meetings and sometimes acted on. Sometimes polls are taken at meetings (~5-25 attendees) or on the Meetup site (>550 members) or on Facebook (~125 members). Nothing says which population must approve something for it to be officially adopted by the group, what would constitute a quorum, how much notice is given and how long members have to vote. Often, polls have no defined end-date and are closed at the discretion of the organizer. Two polls are on the Meetup site at present that have been open since last March and June of 2011. It is hard to tell what decisions have been made as there are few records. Such casualness about decision making undermines member interest in helping to guide the group in a democratic fashion.

(end of part 1 of 3)
David N.
Columbus, OH
Post #: 12
(beginning of part 2 of 3)

There are challenges in finding places to meet, dealing with the impact of bad weather and changes at venues. Sometimes meetings occur at places other than what is shown on the Meetup site. Sometimes the change is posted in advance on Facebook but not the Meetup site. I and other members have sometimes gone to the wrong place and missed the meeting due to this or because a change was posted after the meeting started.

Leaders are not elected and there are no terms. Occasionally, there are calls for volunteers. In practice, individuals who volunteer may be appointed as co-organizers or Facebook moderators at the discretion of the organizer/Facebook page moderator. Apparently one leader quietly ceased being a moderator following conflict with the organizer. There are few records to consult. The same organizer has been in place for many years; this may contribute to the mistaken perception that OA is his personal organization. I have been told by many that it was pointless for me to try to propose changes as they will not happen due to this perception. I remain optimistic that members can propose worthwhile changes that reach consensus and believe it is important to change this perception.

Modest amounts of money are involved with the group - mainly that used to pay Meetup fees (currently about $150/year). There was an anonymous donor the first few years that paid the fee and I assume is no longer active in the group. Recently, donations have casually been collected without any recordkeeping or involvement of anyone other than the organizer. There is no plan for raising money to cover the rest of the Meetup fee if there is a shortfall in donations and, seemingly, the organizer is unfairly expected to cover it. Statements indicating that the fee has been paid and member donations will be "used for gas money" and members can "buy the organizer a drink" contribute to the appearance that donations 1) are mixed with personal funds and 2) are not tracked so that anyone can tell whether they meet or exceed the expenses. I assume that a small amount of money is involved but these practices can contribute to people thinking that OA is the organizer's personal organization.

I have been a member for 4-5 years and have never been an organizer, co-organizer or moderator, nor have I headed up any "outside" efforts but I have attended most meetings during that time. I instigated a discussion about core values that a former co-organizer carried over to the Meetup discussions in 2009. I proposed a mission/values/FAQ statement on the Meetup discussions after getting valuable comments from a few members, submitted it for member approval/rejection and was told by the organizer in September of 2011 that a poll would be conducted. After commiserating about departures from the group about two months ago, I circulated it again in the hopes that it would reassure some who might be feeling that they were not welcome. I submitted it again 6 weeks ago with co-sponsors and was told then and at each weekly meeting since that a poll would be conducted. During that time I sought to find increasing numbers of co-sponsors because I could not tell whether a poll would indeed be taken. I thank these co-sponsors; please acknowledge yourselves if you feel comfortable doing so. A poll to approve was posted (with no closing stated) following reminders that I sent and requests posted by others. I believe that such delays are de-motivating to anyone trying to make an effort to improve the group or otherwise help out. I appreciate the comments that members have given me and hope to use them to eventually improve and clarify it if adopted.

Several different logo designs for t-shirts, etc. have been discussed. There is no clear process to decide on a common design. I am concerned that some who have spent time on these will be discouraged about whether they have wasted their time. It would be nice to learn from this and organize ways to facilitate such contributions. One design involved re-branding our group with a controversial name (Atheist+) proposed in the atheist movement less than 30 days ago. (See http://freethoughtblo...­) The discussion about this on Facebook (see the Omnipresent A+theists post dated September 1, 2012 6:14 PM on http://www.facebook.c...­) seemed to be forcefully claiming that OA was really OA+. Some of these comments have since been deleted so it is difficult to comment from recollections. This seems like something that should be discussed and considered less suddenly yet people may be making t-shirts/products with this design already.

There are no written policies on OA Facebook behavior and so there is no "fair warning" to participants about what is problematic. I can recall three times that I have become aware that people were removed from the Facebook page. I agreed that one was justified due to a threat to the organizer that seemed to be a spillover of a personal dispute with him. I was disappointed that the thread was deleted which included some of my posts. The other two seemed heavy-handed and again involved argument directly with the organizer. I doubt that the participants knew that they were arguing with the moderator. In the recent case, posts made by the organizer (that involved hostile comments/name calling in the Atheist+ 9/1/2012 thread mentioned above) later disappeared as did a post by another member supporting the "troll". The proposed mission statement says that we are trying to support atheists. I am concerned not only about the effect on the person who was removed but on new participants who may have read the thread and developed a poor impression of our group. I believe that multiple members should be involved with any decisions to remove someone from our Facebook page or delete posts/threads (and copies of threads should be captured prior to removal). A moderator personally involved in a heated argument should be able to "recuse" themselves from deciding whether the opponent was misbehaving. This would, of course, mean that more members would need to volunteer/help. The HCCO has policies about hostile conduct and harassment that might serve as a model for us. (See­)

(end of part 2 of 3)
David N.
Columbus, OH
Post #: 13
(beginning of part 3 of 3)

Currently, the lion's share of the work in running OA falls on the organizer (not to ignore the contributions of the co-organizer and others). This is unfair, creates a bottleneck and limits what the group can be and do. I believe that the group would benefit from greater involvement of more members as leaders/volunteers. The current lack of structure (no specific offices with defined duties and terms) has discouraged me from stepping up; I would want to know what exactly what I am taking on so that I could tell that it is a good fit for my skills/time and that I would have reasonable latitude to perform my duties.

The sole leader model is brittle and fragile in organizations. If too much depends on one volunteer and that person is burned out, not interested in what some would like to do or just has other demands (illness, family, job, etc.) then the group is impacted. CORI was suspended for a time (although later was reborn as Columbus Skeptics with a new leader) because the main leader was busy and burned out and there weren't others in place to pick up the reins. Multiple members taking turns with the reins is healthier (again, more members would need to volunteer/help).

OA may be experiencing “growing pains”. I have been in small and large bicycling clubs, an investment club, support groups and volleyball leagues that have by-laws that define duties and expectations for officers (like President, VP, Treasurer, and Secretary). It's quite common in organizations all around us. To see this as threatening seems an overreaction; growing organizations inevitably add structures to support themselves or collapse under their own weight. I have no intention of doing anything that OA members don't have a right to do, i.e. making proposals that will be accepted or discarded by OA members. I am considering starting a separate OA meeting that is focused on volunteer efforts to propose 1) OA organizational changes and 2) to support activist/charity activities and other projects outside of the social meeting. I suggest you hold your reactions until specific proposals are made.

(end of part 3 of 3)
Powered by mvnForum

People in this
Meetup are also in:

Sign up

Meetup members, Log in

By clicking "Sign up" or "Sign up using Facebook", you confirm that you accept our Terms of Service & Privacy Policy