Little did I know when I posted on Sunday about the Secular Party of America, formerly the National Atheist Party, that information would come to light today fairly conclusively demonstrating voter fraud in the initiative to change the organization’s name. Lee Moore has all the details on his blog. Flash Kellish, VP of PR/Marketing for the party, has confirmed the fraud in comments on Facebook earlier today.
Kim Rippere, president of Secular Woman, was briefly on the party’s board. She tweeted about her experience earlier today, and I offered her a chance to tell her story in a better medium. Below is what she shared with me. Aspects of this also highlight the ad hoc and uncontrolled nature of actions by the party’s board.
One Woman’s Lived Experience of the National Atheist Party
I found the atheist community in December of 2011. I had been a life-long atheist; it has just never been important, nor had I had a desire to find other atheists. Like many I found organized atheism via the internet, blogs, and Facebook.
Quickly I was swept into the National Atheist Party. The people, camaraderie, and passion for making a difference were exhilarating.
Bridget Gaudette and I became friends. She was a Deputy to VP Jacob Kramer and sat on the board on and off. I volunteered to be a leader in the Georgia chapter: growing the chapter, finding good people, developing a newsletter, doing some email advocacy, and writing articles for NAP and on my own blog for GA-NAP. Very involved and very excited.
The following is true and accurate based on my best memory and understanding. I have asked others that were part of my inner circle at the time to help corroborate and fill details as they remember them. Additionally, I have relied on now-unpublished blog posts from my personal website.
Elections were taking place in March of 2012, and no one seemed to be putting themself up for VP of Administration. So, with Bridget’s encouragement, I decided to run for this position. Soon after my announcement, Susi Bocks also announced that she would be running to retain this seat.
The election was harrowing. People were against me for reasons that my team and I couldn’t understand. I thought the point of an election was to have choices. When I campaigned, I was told that I did it wrong, that pointing out things that could be done better was problematic, that my resume was false. At one point, I provided a reference to the President that he called to verify that I was who I said I was with the experience I said I had! I laughed, because what else could I do?
Susi, the incumbent and my opposition, took an immediate and aggressive dislike to me from the beginning of the election. It might have also been the case prior to the election, but it wasn’t obvious to me.
During the election, I offered a matching donation. The donations were made, and I committed to the Board to fulfilling my obligation on X day. Then there was talk about some additional publicity for the fund-raising campaign in a few days. Wanting to be able to continue to talk about the matching donation during that publicity, I didn’t provide the funds on X day and didn’t contact the board regarding this delay in payment. The publicity was delayed and then never happened. Ultimately, I ended up making the payment around the election, perhaps just after.
One of the interesting aspects of the election was that the Board was responsible for running the election. They were also all running for election! Apparently, they failed to see any conflict of interest. I know that Susi was allowed to have input and/or vote on issues that directly impacted her contested seat.
The end result of this election was a landslide victory for me by 15%.
There was a board meeting the day that or day after the election results were final. There was lots of behind-the-scenes hullabaloo about whether or not I would be allowed to attend. Ultimately, I was allowed into the boardroom (Facebook group) and to attend the meeting.
What I really remember was my first hours being part of the board room. Flash Kellish was livid and could not be reasoned with regarding the matching donation and how I provided the funds late and after I promised. I don’t mean to say that he had a few questions, but that he berated and grilled me for hours about a donation that was given a few days late. At some point (either early on in the boardroom or before the election), I asked if my providing the matching donations when I did impacted the campaign in anyway. The answer was no. Kellish’s main beef seemed to be a projection, that I never intended to do the fund matching unless I was elected. He had no reason to think this, other than perhaps his own paranoia and/or hatred of me.
Flash’s boardroom posting about me officially being elected: “Fuck.”
Transition – The Next 30 Days
Early on the board voted to give Susi Bocks a newly created voting position. She would function as the President’s assistant. The rest of the board obviously wanted to keep her around. Who was I to argue? And no one cared what I thought anyway.
The turnover plan was that I would not vote, make any decisions, or have any say in anything during the 30-day turnover period. This wasn’t in the charter. It was simply something that Susi thought was needed and Troy agreed to. The turnover could easily have been done in a week with Susi staying available (or not) as needed to answer questions. As it was she was insistent that I not vote, that she continue to vote her mind, mostly not the way I would have voted.
Much of the information and documents I received were useless to me and were things I decided to throw away after reviewing. They didn’t match my organization style or my priorities for the position. Starting from scratch made more sense.
This was an incredibly stressful, sickening, and disheartening time that I only stuck out because of Bridget, my NAP friends, and my hopes for a secular political party. Was I perfect during this period or the next 24 days? No, I was not. I called Troy and screamed and cried, and I most likely did some yelling at the board meetings. I was treated with disdain and wasn’t always pleasant about it.
During this time, it became known that the Latin wording used on the logo/emblem was incorrect. We got correct wording, and per the charter, the path to fixing this was clear; membership vote. Per the charter, a 90% vote was required to change both the wording and the logo/emblem. My strong stance based on my own reading and an attorney friend’s reading was that a membership vote was required. I read this to the board during a meeting (this is verbatim): “Failure to complete an accurate due diligence process by the founders equates, somehow, with the Executive Board creating secret Presidential powers that do not exist in the Charter and which override power specifically given to membership to save face for the President and his cronies.” Instead of calling a vote, Troy Boyle, a law student, decided to make the change by fiat and post a small note in the NAP discussion group.
My Time on the Board – The Next 24 Days
During this period, I was allowed to vote. Susi’s voting rights were also rescinded and her position became one of an administrative assistant. Troy acknowledged that her position had been created solely to keep a replaced person on the board.
I did my best to do the work I had campaigned on. My memory of this time was that it was primarily spent on restructuring the board, developing an election committee, and the idea that platform planks were voted on at least three times per year.
We set out to restructure the board due to differing/changing interests, skills, and needs. I provided a proposal and had gathered support from a few before the meeting. It didn’t fly. Troy decided to put together a different restructure. We waited and waited. Finally, with pushing, he produced something that was, stunningly, exactly what I had proposed. This passed. We set about working on the restructure, announcements, etc. It became evident that some board members had voted in this restructure without understanding the basics of what it meant.
One of the promises I had run on during my election was creating an election committee so that the board wasn’t responsible for running elections. They never understood why this was important or grasped the idea of conflict of interest, even with Troy’s law school background. Even though this was a proposal I ran on, I was not allowed to move forward with this idea. I was handed an inordinate number of ridiculous obstacles. The most recent board, elected earlier this year, has decided to proceed with an election committee.
My position as VP of Administration was responsible for both the platform and elections. Just prior to my election, the board had decided to have platform plank votes at least three times per year. To me, this seemed like an endless cycle that the organization could never get ahead of. It was building a nonfunctional organization, not being politically active. Parties typically allow changes to their platform once during an election cycle. NAP had no ability to deal with its current platform, but they were opening themselves up to adding an unlimited number of planks three times a year! I attempted to get this position revised. My attempt was denied.
Just before I was removed, Brandon Smith left the board. In my estimation, it was because other board members completely and consistently ignored him, talked over him, and demeaned him.
There is more, more, more, but they are smaller details and almost 18 months in the past. Suffice it to say that everywhere I turned and everything I attempted, I hit a wall.
Based on this article, you might get the impression that Flash or Troy were my main problems. Not at all. By far, the biggest problem was Jacob Kramer. The problem here was that the entire organization was run by Jacob. He was in control of everything and therefore the organization was held hostage by him.
For weeks I explained that I was simply trying to do my job and that Jacob wouldn’t allow me to. What I thought was patently obvious took Troy weeks to see and understand. This dependence on Jacob was debilitating to the organization.
On May 8, 2012, Troy contacted me and said he would be calling for a no confidence vote for Jacob. The next morning I was removed from the boardroom and all NAP access was removed. I received the following message from Troy:
Kim – by unanimous vote of the Executive Board, you are hereby dismissed from the EB and the NAP for failure to adapt, obstructionism, and marked and repeated belligerence. I wish you the best of luck in your other endeavors.
Despite already being able to vote on other motions, I was not included in this process. Had I been, the vote would certainly not have been unanimous. Of course, after today, I have to wonder whether a vote was even held and who was allowed to vote. As with other actions board members wanted to and did take, there was no mechanism in the charter allowing any such vote.
I do not look fondly back on my time with the National Atheist Party. I wish my initial encounter with the atheist community was more positive. This did help me find my place with the atheist movement though; founding Secular Woman. May Secular Woman have integrity, staying power, growth, and influence that will help change the world for atheists, atheist women, and social justice.