Friday, January 21, 2011

I won't be working with Microcosm anymore

Here is Microcosm's statement and my response.

Microcosm's Statement:
It has been way too long since Cindy Crabb asked us to write a public statement regarding allegations of Joe Biel’s history of emotional abuse and manipulation. It is not because we have chosen to ignore this issue. On the contrary, we have spent many hours discussing this topic. But we are not writing today to provide excuses. We hope to provide some answers and to encourage more questions.

Cindy is right that collectives need to confront abuse in all its forms by members within their collectives, even if it is just a collectively-ran business, but especially when that business lays claim to radical politics. It is for this reason that we want to say that we do recognize Joe’s history of emotional abuse and manipulation. Not just with Alex, but within other relationships as well. We know that Joe has been involved in one failed mediation attempt with Alex. We also know that he was involved in a more recent process that fell apart (this was outlined in posts by Cindy and Alex). Unfortunately, the collective was made aware of this latter accountability process only shortly before it fell apart. We, the collective and Joe, have recently started working with a counselor who is helping us to reconcile many issues within the collective. We do not believe this is a replacement for a larger accountability process, but we do see it as an important first step for our involvement and for the betterment of Microcosm as a collectively-ran company.

We recognize and agree with the statement put out by the Athens Support Network, who mediated the last accountability process.

“Joe is in therapy, and we feel that he is making progress through therapy. He has identified a large number of behavior issues and has done work and continues to do work to change them. He believes that he honors Alex’s experience. We, however, feel that he still has extreme problems with control, manipulation, defensiveness, and portraying himself as the victim.”
We have noticed some positive improvements in Joe’s behavior, but he does have a long way to go. We do believe that he can work through this and therefore choose, at this time, to continue working with him. We welcome suggestions on how we, the collective, can better facilitate this process. In the meantime, we will continue to work through this and figure things out as we go.

Cindy also pointed out that she would like more transparency about how things are run at microcosm. For that reason, we will soon be releasing some information on our website about how we run things. We honestly want to be a more transparent organization (which is why we’ve started posting annual financial statements). Over the past year, we have begun to change and implement a lot of new policies to help spread power among all of the collective members. We are excited about these changes and equally excited to share them with you.

Alex was right in that we need to hear from you. We know that Microcosm could be better and we want it to be so. For that reason, we need to know what it is that you think we need to fix. We’ve already heard some great things and we’ve worked to improve those. We’ll share more about that later, though. We want the focus to stay where Cindy and others have asked us to focus it for now - on Joe’s accountability.

Thank you Cindy, Alex, Ciara, and everyone who has put pressure on us to make change. It is a wonderful example of collective action. And we hope it proves that while we may be relatively large in the zine world, we are still just a small group of people who still love the community we are a part of and hope to make it a better place.

With sincerity and humility,
The Microcosm Collective

In response to Microcosms statement about Joes manipulative and abusive behavior.

This statement is to let it be known that despite Microcosms recent public statement finally acknowledging Joe Biel’s abusive and manipulative behavior, I will not be distributing Doris though Microcosm any longer. They published Doris 23, the Doris Anthology, the Support zine and Learning Good Consent, so I don’t have control of those publications.

In July, 2010, I asked Microcosm to write a statement, or have each collective member contact me with a personal statement, as a precondition to my continuing to work with them. I was following my sincere belief that organizations should have a chance to admit to the abusive behaviors of members, and that as long as they show a commitment to change, they should not necessarily be shunned. Below is part of the statement I made.

I believe that collectives, even when they are just collective businesses, are responsible for confronting issues of patriarchy (and other forms of domination) within their collectives, and working on change and transparency. I believe that Joe's behavior stems from patriarchy … the communication/manipulation models he uses are … patriarchtical.
In order to feel comfortable continuing to be published by Microcosm, I would need to know either from each collective member or from the collective as a whole (with a minority dissenting opinion) that they don't think Alex was crazy or that the attempts to deal with the situation are a witch-hunt. I would need to know from each member, or the collective as a whole (with a minority dissenting opinion,) that the collective recognizes that Joe still has issues with control and manipulation… I need to feel like the collective takes this seriously and does not put the burden of instigating change on the survivor/s, or on people negatively affected by Joe's behavior.

I do believe there are good people who work at Microcosm. I don’t want those people to suffer because of Joe’s behavior. I wanted to give the workers at Microcosm a chance to show their commitment to confronting Joe’s manipulative behavior, and a chance to make a strong stance against abuse. The statement that was recently released by Microcosm is too little, too late. I can’t believe it took 6 months to write a statement that could easily be summed up as “we agree with the statement made by the Athens Support Network.” Microcosm’s statement gives the impression that Joe has made more changes than he has.

I was hopeful that Microcosm might be able to take a strong stand against abuse. I feel like they failed. If this statement had come out immediately, and they had followed up with concrete examples of change months later, that would have been great. If they had waited six months and come up with a statement that firmly placed the responsibility of change on Joe’s feet, discussed concrete changes the collective was making to deal with his abusive behavior, and took a strong stand against abuse, that would have been great. This statement is very weak, particularly considering that Joe’s abuse has been known for years.

There have also been a number of incidents and issues that have come up since I made my request for a public statement that have contributed to my decision to not work with Microcosm anymore:

- I had asked that a public statement be made or that each collective member contact me with a statement about their beliefs. I received two statements, both of which referred to problems between Joe and Alex; neither called it abuse.

- Joe wrote a statement about his behavior, which I found extremely disturbing. Among other problems, it was very minimizing of Alex’s experiences of abuse, and minimizing of the extent of his current manipulative behavioral problems.

- I had a number of business discussions with people at Microcosm, where the communication was unclear and I felt like I was being manipulated.

- I was told by someone at Microcosm that they were unclear what exactly Microcosm would need to do for me to continue working with them. This was months after I had made these conditions known. Often, in accountability situations, the perpetrator and the people who benefit from continued friendship/relationship with the perpetrator want to know exactly what needs to be done to fix it. This need for an exact recipe puts the burden back on the survivor/people who support the survivor.

All of these things have added to my feeling that the collective is not taking Joe’s abusive patterns seriously.

I would like to take this chance to clear up some misconceptions about the accountability process I was involved in with Joe:

In late 2009, Joe told me that he had been in intensive therapy, had changed, and had no way of clearing his name. I helped set up an accountability team that was designed to confirm that Joe had recognized and changed his behavior; to help him deal with rumors, and to help him make amends. It was not designed to be a full accountability process.

Early on, it became clear that Joe still had very abusive/manipulative behaviors and that he was unwilling to own up to most of it. Joe had lied about the level of changes he had made. Because of this, the accountability process was disbanded.

I am disgusted by Joe’s abuse of his former partner, disgusted by his continuing manipulative behavior. I do not think he has even begun to make the kinds of fundamental changes necessary. I take abuse very seriously and while I think there are some people in Microcosm who are committed to working for a world without abuse, I also think there is complicity within the organization. I have been disturbed by my recent interactions with people working at Microcosm. I am glad they made a public statement, and that they have a counselor helping them deal with internal issues but am skeptical about their priorities, since they have not posted their public statement on their website. I feel mistrustful of the organization. I have a hard time not thinking that most people just signed on to the statement, hoping to save their pants. I understand that they have been working to be more transparent. I hope that they are able to change. I, however, will not be working with Microcosm any longer.


Sarah Sky said...

I hope that this helps set the bar for other writers/zinesters/people who dont agree with the way microcosm has dealt (or not dealt) with joe's behavior. I appreciate your insight and very much agree. im glad your not working with them anymore.
sarah sky

Slice Harvester said...

This is really different from the impression I was given when I agreed to let them distribute Slice Harvester Magazine and really makes me question that decision. I don't think I can necessarily pull old issues, but I will be thinking twice and having a few more conversations with them before I send them anything new. Thanks for this.

Marc Arsenault said...

I don't have any concept of what the current production situation is at Microcosm, but I gained some deep insight into the goings on at a printer they used heavily in the past. If you could hear what it was like it would turn your blood grey and cold. But, then again, it was pretty typical of the personalities I've encountered among pressman in the past all over the country. I won't quote anything trite about 'means of production' here. But that sort of thing does leave an impression. Um, so to speak. Otherwise, I have no concept of all this brouhaha, but, since I know a few other of their authors, so... I take an interest and hope something positive emerges for you all.

Sadly, this confirms my belief that all collectives ultimately resolve down to the influence of one utter asshole or a complete saint who still loses in the end.

In defense of no one... 'Motives that aren't selfish are suicidal'.


Unknown said...

Cindy, I knew you many moons ago when there was the Pink Haus and all sorts of good wildness. I feel such fierce loyalty and admiration for you that I do not dither when people ask me what I think about this controversy.

Cantankerous Titles said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cantankerous Titles said...

Alex and I separated in November 2004, nearly thirteen years ago. We haven't talked since February 2006. Yet she continues to insert herself into my life even as I’ve cooperated with her requests and gone through tremendous effort to help close this open wound. And in doing so, Alex has gone to great lengths to erase my perspective and deny my experience—that she abused me for years until I was suicidal. And then to drag Cindy into the situation on moral grounds.

I’ve spent years trying to resolve this situation so that we can both be left alone and move on with our lives. ( Each attempt at doing that has been summarily ignored or declined. I've done everything that was asked of me and there is just no resolution. What is gained by holding onto this?

There is a vast difference between supporting and rebuilding survivors of abuse and campaigning to bully and harm a disabled survivor of abuse. There’s nothing radical about that. At least twice per week I am asked about any number of rumors that Alex has spread in the campaign against me. I am bullied online several times per week by strangers advocating on Alex’s behalf. Alex continues to harm and spread rumors about me thirteen years later but you don’t see me campaigning for people to boycott her, harm her, or even asking anyone to pick sides. Alex has consistently characterized my motives, feelings, and perspective about the situation—things that she cannot possibly know. Alex has even gone to great lengths to erase my perspective and deny my experience—that she abused me for years until I was suicidal.

Microcosm, Cindy, and I resolved this situation even. ( So let this situation rest so we can all move on and realize that it was resolved a decade ago.