I have found that irony is one of the more challenging concepts to teach to my students. In part, it’s the preconceived notions that get in the way. Anything that’s coincidental is assumed to be ironic. By definition, it’s the reversal of expectation that is the true hallmark of irony. Which is why, this experience has been nothing short of ironic.
When I started down this rabbit hole six months ago, I never expected to land face to face with a former employer. True, I’d worked at a shelter and was raising concerns that were, in part, based on my experience with that shelter. It was also my belief that I was going to find a widespread problem within the movement, thus I was never interested in taking aim at one shelter. When I first began my research, I had my own assumptions about what I would find.
First, I believed the problem was national. I believed that every state was set up the way Florida and the FCADV are set up. I was wrong. It would seem that former Governor Jeb Bush and the passing of 2003 House Bill 1099 would be the root of Florida’s problems. I also believed I was going to find this was a Democrat problem more than a Republican fault. I was wrong; at least, as far as the money and lobbyists go. Finally, upon understanding Florida’s money flow, I thought the problem would be at every shelter in Florida. This assumption, as well as the others, proved false. Not every shelter in Florida operated the same way as the one in question, though it seems that some do.
Still, with my sights focused on the FCADV, it never occurred to me how wrapped up I would become with this one shelter. One of my first tasks was contacting a few people that I believed could explain to me why and how this one shelter exemplified the problems within Florida’s domestic violence field. The more I questioned, the more other people wanted to share their experience. It was only from the voice of others that I arrived here. People that called, people that emailed, people who shared document after document that confirmed allegations were more than mere allegations; they were indisputable facts. I could not possibly know the data, figures, and facts of salaries, management plans, raises, etcetera had it not been handed to me by others. I simply was not high up enough to have that information had it not been handed to me. As of this writing, the amount of documents that were shared with me stands at over two feet tall in the corner of my room… all regarding this one shelter in question.
Many of the people that contacted me were scared to speak out. Some had jobs on the line, some feared how they would be perceived if they spoke out, and others just weren’t sure anything could be done. Not by desire, but because of the fears of others, I became the voice of a group of concerned citizens, former employees, former board members, affiliated organization members, and survivors. It was the original intention of all concerned parties to speak to the Board of Directors of the shelter in question, and present the facts and concerns, and then let them make decisions as they saw fit. I was given the task of contacting the Board to try and arrange this meeting. I did contact them. Three times over three weeks. I left messages, and I sent an email.
And then, on September 11th, 2015, I received this letter from the organizations legal representative:
I can’t quite understand how they “thoroughly reviewed such concerns” since they’ve yet to hear them. One could argue that they knew my concerns based on the blog “An Open Letter to Mrs. Bush.” But, as I’ve already publicly stated, I chose to omit many of the concerns from the “Open Letter” in an effort to protect the organization and myself, until we could discuss those issues privately. Either way, it is a cease and desist letter. Whether or not it would hold up in court, I have no idea; I suppose it could if the First Amendment were to vanish from my rights. If the intention of the letter was to intimidate or create fear, it failed. Considering how many people warned me about the consequences of asking questions when it came to this shelter, this letter did more to validate that concern than anything else.
It’s disappointing that a Board of Directors isn’t interested in hearing from so many people with so many concerns. I’m not interested in being the face or voice of those concerned parties, I’m not interested in attending the meeting myself (should that be an issue), the intent was only for all concerned parties to be heard.
I would be lying if I said the letter didn’t bother me. It felt like a blatant attempt to avoid transparency and silence the issue. However, I also knew that the shelter in question would work hard to establish that I was nothing more than a disgruntled employee, hell bent on taking them down. I cannot battle out a former employer and give any credence to the idea that I am involved because of some vengeful resentment, regardless of how ridiculous I find this theory. The problem is, when I’m contacted by individuals that want to remain nameless but want me to share their story and concerns, it creates a scenario where I’m the only one shouting from the mountaintop.
Well, I can’t be the one shouting when I’m not seen as credible. I just can’t. But you can. It is up to everyone else to fight for the injustices and to speak out for survivors. With this many people aware of the issues, many of whom are respected in our community, it can no longer be on me and me alone. I will support you, I will stand with you, I will speak with you, if need be… but I cannot speak for you. Asking me to do so will not create change, it will stifle it. Be brave. Change is in your hands.
As for me… while I do believe that this shelter desperately, desperately needs to be held accountable and listen to public concern – I also accept that they are only one piece of a much larger problem. In addition, there is absolutely no way that I can disprove the “disgruntled former employee” rumor. Therefore, pursuing the organization further, on my end, would not be beneficial to the cause or to me. I jeopardize damaging the cause by continuing to be the voice of the many.
My strength is in my research and writing, as it always has been. My strength is not in battling it out with a former employer. I do believe that we should demand more from this organization, and I certainly hope that you do. However, as much as I’m angered at what this shelter is doing (or rather not doing) for survivors in my community, I’m angrier still at the FCADV’s lack of oversight and deluded agenda.
Aldous Huxley once wrote, “Hell isn’t merely paved with good intentions; it’s walled and roofed with them. Yes, and furnished too.” That, to me, sums up the FCADV. They began with good intentions, I believe. They have done good things. But, somewhere along the way, they lost focus. I’m not sure why. Greed? Possibly.
I hope to answer that question one day. Going forward, I have two goals that will be the focus of all research, writing, and posts.
1) To understand the problems within the FCADV’s agenda, adequately and thoroughly.
2) To determine a solution that involves honesty, transparency, and advocating for survivors. How do we help survivors obtain the services they need?
As always, we welcome your feedback, comments, and ideas as long as they focus on the two goals above!