A.A. takes its own inventory. Should we, too?

Jimmy Carter (President of the U.S.A. from 1977 to 1981), originally published an opinion piece in The Observer, July 15, 2009, called, “Losing My Religion for Equality.” Here, Carter talks about his long held devotion to Baptist faith, the comfort it gave him and the cognitive dissonance that he experienced as he balanced the righteousness taught by his faith and the practices in the church that couldn’t be rationalized. His own research found that around 400 AD (Common Era), Christianity and maybe all Abrahamic faiths went from revering women for their role in the Church and society to selectively quoting the holy book to scapegoat women as the second sex, responsible for sin.

Carter contrasts this repression to the clear advantages when every opportunity is granted to one and all, regardless of gender. He reflects, not only of the obvious incongruence of discrimination in the name of God, but on the loss to society as the result of such oppression.

It is simply self-defeating for any community to discriminate against half its population. We need to challenge these self-serving and outdated attitudes and practices . . . I understand, however, why many political leaders can be reluctant about stepping into this minefield. Religion and tradition are powerful and sensitive areas to challenge. But my fellow Elders and I, who come from many faiths and backgrounds, no longer need to worry about winning votes or avoiding controversy—and we are deeply committed to challenging injustice wherever we see it.

At the 2013 General Service Conference in New York (Aril 2013), the delegates and trustees of Alcoholics Anonymous will be taking inventory of themselves. Being asked is this question: “Reflecting on Concept One, how does the Conference ensure that it is the conscience of A.A. as a whole?” Concept I: Final responsibility and ultimate authority for A.A. world services should always reside in the collective conscience of our whole Fellowship.

I say “No it does not.” The conference,by its nature, homogenizes the voice of AA as a whole. Our 2011 membership survey reveals to us that AA meetings don’t reflect the community just outside our home-group doors. AA is more male, old and theistic than the people walking by outside the meeting. This disproportion is more exaggerated at the Conference than it is in our meetings.

For instance, the percentage of delegates who are female is dramatically less than the 35% of our members who are female. The 28% of our members who are under 40 have 0% of the delegates and trustees in their age category. I expect the Conference is more heterosexual, Caucasian and theistic that our membership as a whole too. “Can I see a show of hands of lesbian, African American, atheists delegates under the age of 40 please?” No? Nobody?

So what’s wrong with old white heterosexual men making decisions on behalf of all of us?

An example comes by way of our 2009 Public Information Video aimed at youth. AA has 40,000 teenagers (2% of our population under the age of 21). Decisions made at the Conference might be made on behalf of minorities, but never by minorities. We are trying to make AA better for young people but none are part of the conversation at the Conference level. That's how we have "new" PI videos for "young people" with baby boomer music (Eric Clapton - very uncool). That's the sort of choice 50 to 60 year old AA members would make when asking themselves, “What do kids like?” because it’s what they liked when they were in high school. It sounds great to us old farts but does it resonate with our target audience—today’s teenagers?

Most of the Conference items about social media and eBooks should be left to the more qualified 30-year-old and under group. You can't find 30 years sobriety in a 20 year old member but I suspect we would get new insights on these pressing issues that a 45 to 75 year old subcommittee could not come up with. Social media encroaches on our reality. To the youth, social media is their reality. We are never going back to the "good ol' days."

Concept One promulgates that ugly word, systemic discrimination. When we are "hearing the voice of the minority" at the Conference, as is the custom, thanks to our Concept V, the minority opinion is still one of a homogenized representation of the fellowship. This systemic discrimination isn't sinister or ill-intentioned—it is a systemic flaw in our current system.

On the Public Information front we get better and better at telling our story but maybe we need to train ourselves to ask better questions. How can we accommodate our communities? What do they think we can do to alter or improve AA? I think if PI was more out-reach focused, we would see a change in our membership. People want to be heard, not told.

I had the privilege of being at the first ever Canadian Eastern Regional AA Service Assembly (CERAASA) in Montreal. Ours was the last region to hold such an assembly. The aim is to hold a get together before the General Service Conference so delegates who vote on the issues of the day can discuss these issues with members at large and guage their feelings on the issues of the day. Delegates are invited to vote their conscience but many prefer to express the views of their constituents.

All ten delegates from Eastern Canada are Caucasian. Ontario has the greatest visible diversity, as 25% of us are from visible minorities yet 0% of Ontario’s four delegates are from these groups. Females are 50% of our Eastern Canadian population but just 20% of our delegates. Canada’s median age is 40.6 years old. It seems that 0% of our delegates are below this age. Half of Canadians by age have no voice as delegates. Here is some easily available data on our Eastern Canadian population:

White First Nations Other Visible
Total Population
Ontario 9,041,210 242,490 2,754,200 12,028,900
P.E.I. 130,650 1,730 1,825 134,205
Quebec 6,643,125 108,425 654,355 7,435,905
New Brunswick 688,655 17,650 13,345 719,650
Nova Scotia 841,230 24,175 37,685 903,090
Nfld/Labrador 471,440 23,450 5,720 500,610

In a previous blog I quoted the Ontario Human Rights Commission which talks to AA’s responsibility to advocate for minorities.

“Organizations must ensure that they are not unconsciously engaging in systemic discrimination. This takes vigilance and a willingness to monitor and review numerical data, policies, practices and decision-making processes and organizational culture. It is not acceptable from a human rights perspective for an organization to choose to remain unaware of systemic discrimination or to fail to act when a problem comes to its attention.”

That previous blog, “What can the Toronto Problem tell us about AAs Population Stagnation Worldwide?” talked about how AA’s own Numerical Data, Policies, Practices and Decision-Making and Organizational Culture shows an outdated lip-service concern for minorities, a failure to accommodate cultural differences within our own fellowship and our outreach.

We are all about attraction—not promotion. But if there is something unattractive about AA for select communities, what is it? If minorities are not broadly represented in our meetings, what could we do to outreach to them?

Going back to Jimmy Carter’s comments it is self-defeating to systemically discriminate against minority groups when it comes to inviting them into the recovery discussion at meetings and policy making at the level of General Service. The reason that this defeats us is that a homogenized voice dulls our senses from the same repetitive messages. By making AA a tapestry of culture and thought, more is added and there is more to feed all of our minds and souls.

It is laziness to passively resign ourselves to the idea that this is just how it is. Ours is a program of rigorous honesty and personal responsibility. It isn’t enough to point the finger, taking GSO’s inventory, for we are looking in the mirror when we look at them. They are at the bottom of our inverted triangle. It is our own group that a start to change for the better begins. Great freedom is bestowed upon our group. Freedom comes with responsibility. Self support means more than tossing two bucks in the Seventh Tradition each meeting. Our time, talent are also needed to keep us sober, growing and free from complacency. So while this time of year invites us to take stock of our General Service Structure, let us not also remember to personally and at the group level, be the example we demand that GSO follows. How can I be more inclusive and tolerant? How can my home group do the same?

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