Briefly, in follow-up to my post of June 30:
Further reporting by Michael Dean for The Comics Journal reveals a long history of administrative neglect, failed oversight, and abusive workplace practices at the Comic Book Legal Defense Fund. In particular, the testimony of former CBLDF Development Manager Cheyenne (Shy) Allott reveals a pattern of harassment by now-departed Executive Director Charles Brownstein back in 2010, and other disturbing details have come to light, including Brownstein's arrest for drunk and disorderly conduct (2003) and Brownstein's harassment of sometime CBLDF Deputy Director Mike Scigliano (circa 2008-2009). Allott's testimony, reported in detail by Dean, has only now become public, due to a binding non-disclosure agreement she was strong-armed into signing when she left her job at the Fund. The CBLDF has released Allott from that agreement.
Current CBLDF Board President Christina Merkler officially responds to some pointed questions from The Comics Journal here.
I want to support the CBLDF, and take some comfort from Merkler's promise of "a top-to-bottom rebuilding of Fund management, which includes modernizing our Board governance and communicating in a transparent style more representative of the people working for the Fund." Further, she has declared:
We must better understand and explain why the Fund did or did not support previous causes important to our members, update our choices of imagery used in our publications and add deeper pre-hire background checks for prospective employees of the Fund. Finally, there will be a new infusion of Board members that reflects all that comics have to offer, with more representatives of our constituents, particularly creators and retailers.
All that sounds promising. But the history of breach of trust here is profound. The Fund needs to shed daylight on every aspect of its workings. For too long, it has run on a shoestring, with an Executive Director unaccountable to anyone, a dispersed, out-of-touch Board that has let things slide, and a lack of due process in its own ranks. I have lost faith in the organization and hope for serious change.
Frankly, this issue has gotten me all tangled up. I consider myself a free-speech liberal, for whom the protection of freedom of speech is key. To me, freedom of expression is the fountainhead from which other freedoms flow. So I believe in the mission of the CBLDF. It's disheartening to see what strikes me as a spirit of illiberalism growing among progressives who consider First Amendment activism to be simply a marker of privilege, or at odds with the fight for social justice. I tend to think that such critics value freedom of expression too lightly. Yet it is hard to argue with them when institutions like the CBLDF operate in shadows, neglectfully, unjustly, and jeopardize, through their inaction or complicity in wrongdoing, the very cause they are supposed to be fighting for. The CBLDF must align its First Amendment mission with a broader fight for civil rights and social justice.
UPDATE, JULY 12: Over at The Daily Beast, Asher Elbein provides a thoughtful, tenaciously argued overview of the US comics industry's sexual harassment and abuse crisis, pointing out that "sexual harassment is a labor rights issue" and placing the crisis in the context of the industry's long history of abusive practices. Elbein's perspective usefully counters the misleadingly upbeat metaphor of weeding out a few "bad apples" from the industry; he shows how the system has been rotten in so many ways from the start, and requires systemic change. Recommended reading.