A letter from the CiviCRM Community Council on Richard Stallman and the Free Software Foundation

2021-04-14 08:16
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The CiviCRM Community Council (CCC) is elected by the CiviCRM community and charged with coalescing the ideas, opinions and values of the community, stewarding our intra-community relations and protecting our community as a safe space to collaborate on our overall aim of providing a world-class open-source CRM aimed at doing global good.

The CiviCRM Community Council would like to take this opportunity to talk about the re-election of Richard Stallman (RMS) to a leadership position at the Free Software Foundation (FSF). In 2019 a series of allegations of misconduct led to his resignation as president and board member.

As a community this is a complex issue for us. We strive to be a democratic "do-ocracy" which encourages contributors to "scratch their own itch" so taking a single position is difficult whilst respecting the diversity of opinion within our community. With that said we don't believe we can sit on the sidelines of this issue as inaction is invariably seen as taking a position in and of itself.

We believe that our community should be truly open for everyone. Our Code of Conduct includes a list of behaviours that are considered harassment and are unacceptable within our community. These behaviours include:

  • Sexist, racist, homophobic, transphobic, ableist or otherwise discriminatory jokes and language.
  • Inappropriate physical contact. You should have someone's consent before touching them.
  • Advocating for, or encouraging, any of the above behaviour.

We urge our community members to make their position clear in whatever way makes the most sense to them. Letters have been circulated for and against the removal of RMS from the board of the FSF. Various members of the community have expressed opinions right across the spectrum on this issue. The Community Council recognises that diversity of opinion is one of the many core values of our community.

CiviCRM uses the GNU Affero General Public License (AGPL) and as such we rely on open and honest governance of the FSF, who are ultimately responsible for that license and whose actions reflect on the wider open source world and free software movement. We call upon the FSF to examine its handling of this issue and address any and all governance failings that have been identified to regain the trust of the community.

Further, after considering the evidence available to us we are concerned about Richard Stallman occupying a position of leadership given his controversial personality and divisive effect on communities. We support calls to remove him from a leadership position on this basis.

This statement was agreed unanimously by those present at the Community Council meeting on 2021/04/14. Two members of the Community Council were absent from that meeting.

As you discuss this emotive and important topic, please bear in mind our Community Code of Conduct (CoC) and engage in civil discourse respecting the thoughts and opinions of other community members, including those you disagree with. We have managed to conduct a respectful discussion on this subject here on GitLab which demonstrates that this is possible. Comments will be moderated if they do not respect the CoC.

Edit 2021/04/14 17:35 BST:

This statement was initially published with the date showing as 2021/04/11 this was corrected to 2021/04/14 to reflect the time the final statement was published. Further, a note was added to reflect the fact that the CCC voted on this statement in our meeting on 2021/04/14.

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When I was invited to a royal event with the Duke of Edinburgh (RIP) to receive my gold award achieved through a local community-run scheme, I wrote to decline because while I valued the community that had supported me through the challenge I did not hold the Prince in the same respect, given his unelected role and the views he expressed that he had often been called out for by minoritised groups. There's no honour in that.

I recognise that CiviCRM is a community of diverse views, and I personally recognise that there's a weight to the status quo of huge power imbalances in the world that is experienced as comforting and sensible by those with privilege and as oppression by those without it.

CiviCRM recognises inequality and abuses of power as bad things, too. It has adopted the term do-ocracy and change will only come through doing. I hope it's not about to invent a don't-do-ocracy, too.

CiviCRM recently publicly accepted an award from FSF at the very same event where Richard Stallman was welcomed back to his leadership position, by a board of people who missed his wisdom. At the event, CiviCRM said "...we’re honored to receive this award".

Will CiviCRM be returning that award?


I respect your views on this subject, for many of us on the Community Council (CC) this statement is inadequate on some level, it was drafted to try and respect the strength of feeling on both sides and compromise positions will never properly reflect the views of the passionate voices in our community. It's important to us that you're able to express your position here and I thank you for doing so!

The award - the CC is voting whether to recommend to the CT that the award is returned, and we should make our recommendation on that on Monday, of course the Core Team (CT) could unilaterally decide to return the award at any point but they have asked for our position and we're doing our best to rustle up a position as quickly as possible, but herding a divergent group of Community Council members has it's challenges!

Thank you for sharing your thoughts so respectfully and politely. I know we haven't taken the position you'd like us to take here!

Stallman is frequently characterized as neuro-divergent with Asperger's or similar. If true, he's relatively incapable of having good interpersonal skills. I don't see the benefit of engaging in ableist discrimination in order to punish sexist or other discrimination. Capitalist production of corporate spyware is damaging to all. Stallman's contributions to FOSS far outweigh any social gaffes.


On one hand you speak of being "be truly open for everyone" and "recognises that diversity of opinion is one of the many core values of our community" yet on the other hand you are intolerant of a "controversial personality" and roll out the "divisive" euphemism when it suits.

This is nothing more than hypocrisy, and indeed unanimous hypocrisy by your own vote.

If the dude got elected, then he has been elected.  If these mere allegations are as long standing as you say, then the electoral base surely knows about it already or you can yourselves inform them of it next time.  I'm not knowledgeable in depth on this, but it's entirely possible he resigned as a matter of integrity in order to deal with the allegations and was then free to return and is now subsequently re-elected.

Let the guy do his job.  He may well be the diversity 'salt and pepper' you all need.


You make some interesting points - I disagree with the characterisation of our statement as "ableist discrimination" it was discussed in our meetings at length and we landed on the simple fact that we expect from Stallman, nothing more or less than we expect from any other FSF Board Member. We admire and respect his contributions but these issues do matter and to characterise patterns of abusive and discriminatory behaviour as gaffes detracts significantly from the harm they cause the wider FOSS community.


Any statement we put out on any level will be hypocritical - we can't get away from that, we represent the entire community which almost always holds all possible positions on an issue. On a technical matter - FSF board members are not elected - they are appointed by a small committee of "Voting Members" - FSF is not a democratic institution they appointed Stallman again (after asking him to resign) behind closed doors and announced it at a major event in public without informing their own membership. Hardly qualities of a well developed, well governed institution - our issues are less with Stallman and far more with the FSF's lack of transparency, integrity and democratic oversight.

FSF board frequently asked questions (FAQ) — Free Software Foundation — Working together for free software