Many, many freecyclers think that TFN is a grassroots organisation. In fact I do not think hardly anyone disagrees. What, might you ask do we mean by grassroots – in this instance.
Well it certainly is managed from the ground up. New moderators and groups largely come out of the ether and set themselves up. The whole life cycle of a Freecycle styled group can be done by someone on their own with absolutely no recourse to TFN. Absolutely none, from creation to grave. They don’t need to ask, though they can do if they wish. Of course, if they don’t ask then they may not be “official”, but hey what does official actually mean? It means you get listed in the main TFN directory and that’s about it. As an official group you could ask for assistance from experienced moderators including people with roles such as IMOD and GOA. But in the end common sense (if you have it) prevails in all things.
And if you are not listed in the main TFN directory that is not much of a problem since you can still be easily found on Yahoo Groups, Google and many many more.
So grassroots is certainly how the whole movement operates and can continue to operate. And all because of technologies such as Yahoo Groups.
The only other sense of grassroots that I think is worthy of comment is the issue of democracy. Does the epicentre of TFN listen to its members and its moderators? Apparently originally there were a frequent number of polls asking members their opinions, and these were listened to. But then something changed. I no not what, but now there are no polls, and voices of differences of opinion seem not to be wanted.
Democracy seems very dead.
Ownership is such a big word. For The Freecycle Network it implies that they own a trademark – the graphic of the word freecycle with a guitar in it. The trademark is registered but even the rights to this are doubted since it is claimed they never paid for the graphic.
Also they work very hard to ensure that the word “Freecycle” is used only in context of the movement with which they are associated. In fact there is some strong evidence that they were there near the beginning. But who created the Freecycle concept is more of a debate. There is a legal battle featuring Tim Oey being played out and featured on grist.com. In this war (all of which pre-dates me) there is considerable evidence that The Freecycle Network claims are at best contentious.
Tim is not the only person to take umbridge. And so we come to the next use of the word “ownership”. You have to understand here what the freecycle movement is. It is a grassroots movement by which I mean that it largely uses volunteers (like myself) who spend hours, days, weeks, months, years creating freecycling groups and encouraging people to reduce landfill. (I bet you wondered if I would ever get round to that!)
Yes the core goal of the freecycle movement is to reduce landfill by people giving unwanted items to others in the local community. this is not contentious so let us just accept it and get on with the debate. Ownership.
When someone creates and moderates a freecycle group they put in so much time and energy they they feel a sense of pride and ownership of that group. They run that group without outside influence or assistance in any way, day in day out. They own that group. That’s what they feel, and that is mostly what the group’s members feel.
Yet now there is an initiative by The Freecycle Network to replace the existing Yahoo Group forums with their own. Who will own these groups then? That is a very important question in my mind. Some group owners may not care, others will care immensely. And that debate should be had. That is a responsibility, in my mind of TFN to its community. But sadly that debate is suppressed.
Clues as to what TFN’s approach to ownership might be can be demonstrated in very recent events to my own group. And believe me this is awful.
About a week ago a spurious group was created on Yahoo groups with almost exactly the same name as my group.
http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CherwellValleyFreeCycle/ is my group
and http://groups.yahoo.com/group/CherwellValleyUKFreeCycle/ is the young upstart.
Both groups look like official Freecycle groups. Both look like they are serving the same community. What the hell is going on.
Well after a week the upstart has been deleted. And I stand now at yellow alert. But what did happen?
The first question is who created the new group and why? Well the obvious thing to do is to ask The Freecycle Network. To date all my requests for information have met with total silence. Not even an acknowledgement. Postings about the matter on key forums have been suppressed (aka moderated out). Please form your own judgement on this.
You might argue that the upstart was created by some other party. While I can prove very little expert moderators have investigated and report this is how a new group is formed. All the signs were there.
You might argue, what is the problem the new upstart was deleted. I think because I have heard of this happenstance occuring before I had taken some precautions, viz:
- reducing the rights of the notorious ErsatzFriend from owner to member
- removing the rights to see the membership list as only a something the moderators can do
These saved our group. Believe me had not these steps happened I feel 100% confident that my group would have been deleted and the members list raided and used to populate the new group.
This attack on Cherwell Valley has rocked me to the core. Again any pleas for further information and support from The Freecycle Network demonstrate a complete lack of responsibility. I say no more and leave you to form your own judgement.