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Request to Mini DebConf Montreal Organizers: Fight Israel not the DC20 Team

TL;DR: Between the pro-boycott language in the Montreal announcement and
the request for a Debian approved budget and logistical resources, The
Mini DebConf Montreal organizers have created a perception that they are
undermining the hard work of the DebConf 20 team.  I ask them to take a
positive step to show that their disagreement is not with the volunteers
of Debian putting on a conference.

First, I'd like to thank everyone for letting me take the time to get my
thoughts in order and  approach this situation with compassion.


The Montreal Debian community is organizing a mini DebConf in August of
this year.
In their announcement they indicated that they were putting on the
conference because their participation in the Boycott/Divest/Sanction
movement was incompatible with DebConf 20's location.

Meanwhile, the organizers have asked me as DPL to approve a budget.
They want to use Debian's relationship with SPI to invoice sponsors and
generally make their financial logistics easier.
They anticipate that they would break even or make money.
Even so, Debian would be obligated to SPI to cover any shortfall.
I think a shortfall is unlikely.

Debian's Responsibilities

I think Debian has two key responsibilities here:

1) We need to support a diverse community of political opinion.  We want
to be welcoming to people who commit to our principles and want to work
together to make a free software operating system.
That means there's going to be conflict on issues like this.  Sometimes
our members will disagree with what the project does.  Sometimes they
will need to stand aside.  As a project we need to respect that within
the bounds of our community guidelines.

forming a related effort--whether it is a conference or even a
downstream distribution--is often a healthy way to respect this kind of

2) We need to respect and support our volunteers doing work in Debian.
While there is plenty of room for disagreement as we're making
decisions, there needs to come a point where we as a project stand
behind the people doing the work.  Instead, we tend to have a culture of
those unhappy with a decision sniping at or undermining the efforts of
those doing work.
That harms our community.

Debian will always have a robust and open decision process.  But we need
to have a finite decision process and support people after the decision
is made.

Debian is Asked to Support a Protest of a Debian Activity

The Montreal organizers could have simply organized an alternative for
those who were not traveling to DC20 for whatever reason.
That's something Debian could support with no reservations.

By making the political statement in their announcement, they have
turned the conference into a protest.  It's being billed as an
alternative to DebConf for political reasons.

If their effort was entirely outside of Debian, that would be fine.
That would be part of the larger free software community having healthy

However, they are asking for Debian's support.  They are asking for
financial liquidity and risk mitigation.  They are asking for logistical

So in effect the Debian Project is being asked to support a protest of
its own activity.

This sucks for the DC20 team.  Everyone I've talked to about this has
raised the argument that it's not a big deal: the DC20 team has already
had to develop a thick skin.
I do not want to facilitate a Debian  where we expect our volunteers to
be inured to their efforts being disrespected and challenged so much
that we discount piling on other minor aggressions because it's not a
big deal.
Our community is our most precious resource; we need to stop treating
them like crap.

Having the project support a protest of their efforts does create a
perception that we value them less.
I want to avoid that.

So, as DPL, I could deny the budget and force the Montreal event to be
outside of Debian.  That's no good either.  My frustration has probably
already created somewhat of a wedge.  I regret that, while also
acknowledging that sharing our feelings and frustrations is an important
part of building connection.
I don't want to create wedges.  The folks in Montreal are part of our
community too.
They disagree with something we've done.
We don't want to drive them away, even if for a few days in August they
are going to stand aside because of their convictions.

So, I'm going to approve the budget with one change requested by the
DebConf committee.  But see below.

My Request to Montreal Organizers

First, please acknowledge that the combination of your political
announcement and asking for Debian support creates a negative perception
that might tend to undermine Debian's support for its volunteers.  That
may not be what you intend, but it is a consequence.

I hope you are committed to valuing the other members of Debian even
when you disagree with them.  I hope that your fight is with Israel's
government not with our volunteers.

So, I ask you to find and make some meaningful, clear statement to show
support for our volunteers putting on DC20.

I think the easiest way for you to do that is to withdraw your budget
request and for you to do the conference logistics on your own.  In
effect, accept the idea that putting this too close to Debian puts the
project in an awkward position and  remove that.  If we force you, it is
inherently distancing.  If you do it on your own, it can be

I have no doubt that you can do this without Debian and SPI's
relationship.  Yes, absolutely it will be more work.
But you've already demonstrated you have what it takes to run a
successful conference.

If that's not your choice, then I ask you to find some other meaningful
way (stronger than just words) to show support for the volunteers in
Debian, even though you disagree with the location.

The choice is entirely yours.
This is a request.  You can reinterpret it or even ignore it.  I hope
that you do choose to turn this into an example of how we can
constructively disagree.

Debian supports the DC20 Team

I want to take this opportunity to express strong support for the
volunteers putting on DebConf 20.  Your contributions to the Debian
community are greatly appreciated.
Thanks for your understanding and hard work.

Thanks for your Consideration,

Sam Hartman
Debian Project Leader

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