When the Free Software Foundation (FSF) allowed disgraced founder Richard M. Stallman (RMS) to join its board, members of the FSF board clearly had no idea how the others would see the movement. They are doing it now.
Many free and open source software members and executives have decried the return of RMS. As Georgia Young, former FSF program manager, tweeted, “What hikers who’ve never had to work with RMS don’t understand is that MANY people who respected him deeply tried to help him learn not to objectify women, to yell at others on Libreplanet like it’s her birthday party, to stop shit like “emac virgins”. energy, completely wasted, could have been spent defending free software and build the inclusive and impractical community that so many people WANT. Spent, instead, on a man’s ego, over and over again. ”
Matthew Garrett, a well-known Linux kernel developer and former FSF board member, tweeted: “The idea that someone who does enough ‘good work’ wins a pass for inappropriate behavior is ubiquitous and promotes environments where abusers can thrive. People who hold this belief should not be involved in running organizations.”
But, as strong as their voices were, they were not people with a direct role in the FSF today. When Red Hat announced that it would no longer support the FSF financially, their words were heard.
Red Hat said:
Red Hat is a long-time donor and contributor to FSF-managed projects, with hundreds of contributors and millions of lines of code contributed. Given the circumstances of Richard Stallman’s initial resignation in 2019, Red Hat was dismayed to learn that he had joined the FSF board of directors. Accordingly, we immediately suspend all Red Hat funding for the FSF and any event hosted by the FSF. Additionally, many Red Hat contributors have told us that they are no longer planning to attend FSF-led or supported events, and we support them.
In 2019, we called on the FSF Board of Directors to seize the opportunity created by Stallman’s departure to move to a more diverse and inclusive composition of the Board of Directors. The FSF has taken only limited steps in this direction. Richard Stallman’s return has reopened wounds we hoped to slowly heal after he left. We believe that to regain the confidence of the entire free software community, the FSF should make fundamental and lasting changes to its governance.
While Red Hat has not disclosed how much it has given to the FSF, the amount is considered significant. According to the latest financial documents released by the FSF, a 2019 Form 990, filed on August 14, 2020, showed $ 708,016 from membership dues, while the bulk of its income, $ 1,383,003, came from other sources. contributors. According to John Sullivan, currently still executive director of the FSF, “In our last fully audited fiscal year, direct business support represented a total of 3% of our annual revenue.
Red Hat isn’t the only company that has had enough of Stallman’s FSF. SUSE CEO Melissa Di Donato tweeted: “We are better than that. The world deserves better. As leaders, there is a time to speak up and take a stand when heinous decisions are made. That time is now. I am disappointed with the FSF’s decision and strongly oppose all forms of misogyny and fanaticism. ”
Ironically, RMS has some support, in a letter on the Microsoft-owned GitHub site. But, as Miguel de Icaza, co-founder of GNOME and now Microsoft Distinguished Engineer, tweeted: “The list of signatories of ‘RMS should resign’ which contains many important contributors to free software – people who must have interacted with it. and advanced the cause. RMS support list seems to consist mostly of users with few credentials-probably fans who have never had anything to do with him. ”
De Icaza added: “RMS failed to grow as the movement grew. And has been an anchor dragging project ever since. Ideas have survived and flourished elsewhere. He is always a brake on all projects under his direct influence. “
External voices against RMS keep growing. The Document Foundation, the organization behind LibreOffice, for example, suspended “the FSF’s membership in our advisory board and ceased all other activity with this organization and its representatives.” The Debian Project, which is the only mainstream Linux distribution to sometimes use the preferred term of RMS for Linux, GNU / Linux, votes on whether to sign the letter requesting the removal of RMS and the current board of directors of the FSF.
The free software community is also withdrawing from RMS. Nathan Sidwell, a senior developer at GCC, perhaps the most important free software program that RMS is associated with, has called for RMS to be removed from the GCC steering committee. Sidwell wrote: “Before, I had heard that RMS was ‘difficult’ or ‘socially awkward’. I had ignored the real toxicity it causes. I’m sure you will too. It didn’t affect me directly. I didn’t need to interact with him. I am not a woman. This lessens us all from ignoring this. “And, for those who would rather ignore these issues and believe that all real value depends on the code produced, Sidwell noted that Stallman” is no longer a developer of GCC, the most commit. recent that I could find concerning SCO in 2003 “.
Sullivan – who worked for the FSF for 18 years, most recently as executive director – has resigned. FSF President Geoffrey Knauth also announced that “I pledge to step down as an FSF officer, director and voting member as soon as there is a clear path for a new leadership ensuring the continuity of FSF’s mission and compliance with fiduciary requirements “. Later, after announcing that for the first time an FSF union staff member would be on the board, Ian Kelling, Knauth also announced the resignation of FSF board member Kat Walsh. Walsh was not replaced.
As for RMS? He stopped talking. His only “comment” since his surprise announcement is that his personal website still says, “I continue to be the GNUisance Leader of the GNU Project. This is my long term commitment and I intend to continue.
With internal dissent, harsh external criticism, and reduced financial resources, it’s hard to see the FSF continue in any meaningful way as long as Stallman remains on the board or any other leadership position.