It goes without saying that Mozilla is an open organization, they promote the open web, promote open source software, and advocate for open learning, open journalism, and even have a pretty badass manifesto. Given the enormous number of companies involved in the badging ecosphere, (see above) who do you want to develop the plumbing that keeps all this together? A company that sees every eyeball as a dollar sign? Or a foundation built on the principals of open source?
I wrote the above soon after joining Mozilla. I still agree with it. Mozilla is the best community I’ve ever been a part of. I care deeply for it. On Thursday, March 27th, almost exactly two years after I wrote the above – and a short time after participating in a Mozilla Foundation discussion about the appointment of Brendan Eich as CEO of Mozilla, I tweeted:
— Chris McAvoy (@chmcavoy) March 27, 2014
The wording of the tweet was provocative. “I am an employee of @mozilla” makes it clear that my voice in this situation has more power and more responsibility than a non-employee. I chose that wording. I wanted to be clear and unequivocal. Other wording was just as intentional. I didn’t ask Brendan to resign, I asked him to step down as CEO. I didn’t demand, I asked.
When Brendan was announced as CEO, my hope was that he would explain himself, maybe apologize or recant his actions of 2008. Six years is a long time; maybe now he understood the larger context of Proposition 8 and its terrible effect on thousands of Californians. Instead, he was wholly unprepared to speak about the issue. We waited, being told he would write a blog post that would clear things up. The post came, but was underwhelming, and he neither apologized nor offered an explanation for the donation.
In the meantime, Christie Koelher wrote an amazing post explaining that though she disagreed with Eich on the subject of same-sex marriage, she trusted him, and the organization, to not let his personal views cause harm to Mozilla employees. Fundamentally, I agree with Christie – it would be impossible for Brendan to discriminate within Mozilla; he wouldn’t be allowed to exercise his personal views of same-sex marriage in a way that discriminates against employees. There are plenty of checks, both within Mozilla and legally that would protect employees from Brendan’s personal views.
I didn’t ask for Brendan to step down because I was worried he’d discriminate against those in his reporting chain. If that was the case, I would have asked in 2012 when this story originally broke (just a few short weeks after I joined the organization).
So why tweet at all? This morning, Mark Surman, one of the key people who make me proud to be a Mozillian, wrote “I worry that Mozilla is in a tough spot now. I worry that we do a bad job of explaining ourselves, that people are angry and don’t know who we are or where we stand. And, I worry that in the time it takes to work this through and explain ourselves the things I love about Mozilla will be deeply damaged. And I suspect others do to.” I agree with him, we as Mozilla are in a tough spot now. So again – why did I tweet? Why risk damaging a community I love so much? I want to be absolutely clear: I never meant to hurt this community, everything I’ve done has come from a place of love, love for this organization, love for the community it built, and most importantly, love for the people who make it possible.
This very public debate about Brendan’s appointment points to a divide in Mozilla’s identity, which I’d characterize as Mozilla as tech company versus Mozilla as activist organization, which is the fundamental reason why I believe the Brendan Eich that contributed to Prop 8 isn’t the CEO that Mozilla needs. Our power as an organization comes from our ability to assert technology as activism. Webmaker, Open Badges, Web Literacy, a smart phone that puts the web in every hand, the protection of privacy and identity in the face of attacks from every corner.
Mozilla is a leading organization in the fight for an open web. That’s well established. Less known is Mozilla’s role in open education, open journalism open research / science and web literacy. An open web is a tool to empower individuals. To paraphrase Woody Guthrie’s guitar, “This [internet] machine kills fascists.” That’s the open web we’re fighting for, a machine that ends human suffering, a machine that won’t let a government stop our sons and daughters from loving who they choose. An open web not tied to a mission like essential human freedom and empowerment is an empty web.
Our manifesto is vague on this point, “The Mozilla project is a global community of people who believe that openness, innovation, and opportunity are key to the continued health of the Internet.” We promote the health of the internet, but never make the bigger connection to the health of humanity. We interact with organizations who accept that goal, but take it one step further, their goals aren’t just the health of the Internet, their goals are the health of humankind, of the planet, of our place in history.
Mark once quoted Mitchell as describing projects as rockets. A rocket is a thing, but in every rocket, there’s a payload. The payload can be anything, a belief that the web should be open, that open source is a fundamentally different paradigm of work. Paraphrasing, “a rocket without a payload isn’t worth anything.” The payload of Mozilla is human freedom through technological empowerment. Those are my words, my interpretation of the Manifesto, but I can’t imagine anyone in the organization, even Brendan, disagreeing with them.
In a blog post yesterday, we go beyond the Manifesto and state, “Mozilla’s mission is to make the Web more open so that humanity is stronger, more inclusive and more just. This is why Mozilla supports equality for all, including marriage equality for LGBT couples. No matter who you are or who you love, everyone deserves the same rights and to be treated equally.” Maybe Brendan can lead us on that path by showing how a person can change, as an example of how a community can change.