DECENTRALIZATION - PROMISES AND REALITY
The First General Service Conference
One uses one's principles
to tyrannize or justify or honor or affront or conceal one's
habits. Two men with similar principles may easily want totally
different things with them.
Friedrich Wilhelm Nietzsche, BEYOND GOOD
AND EVIL (Chicago, Illinois; Henry Regnery Company 1955)
p. 75 -- (Gateway Edition p. 77)
here set forth in full the proposal:
THE TRUSTTEES, DR. BOB and BILL
GENERAL SERVICE CONFERENCE of ALCOHOLICS ANONYMOUS
become basic guardian of A.A. traditions and world wide service.
perpetuate The Alcoholic Foundation and the A.A. General Headquarters
at New York City.
be a service body only; never a government.
proposal will include A.A. State and Provincial Delegates, Trustees
of the Foundation and Staff members of the General Service Office
to be in each State by Representatives from local Groups.
State Panels to be chosen every two years alternately.
#1 composed of Delegates from thickly populated States and Provinces,
to meet every other years.
#2 composed of Delegates from balance of States and Provinces,
to meet in alternate years.
of Conference to A.A.
for expression of views on matters vital to A.A.
to protect policy of A.A. and guard against hazardous deviations
from original Traditions.
reliable guide to right thought and right action on serious
matters pertaining to A.A.
of Conference to General Headquarters
dependable guide to The Alcoholic Foundation, whose Trustees
are the Custodian of A.A. general funds, the book, "Alcoholics
Anonymous",, the General Service Office and the Grapevine.
consult with Trustees in filling vacancies on the Foundation
guide Trustees in their direction of A.A. Foundation work.
after successful operation, to control final shape and form
of the movement.
and Provincial Delegates
and Provincial Delegates to be chosen for two years terms as
indicated above (2 b and c)
of 2 panels of State and Provincial Delegates
Year Panel #1 to be composed by inviting one two-year Delegate
from each of 28 States and Provinces having largest A.A. population,
plus a few Delegates additional from States approaching 5,000
Year Panel #2 to be composed by inviting one two-year Delegate
from the balance of States and Provinces, also including extra
Delegates from States and Provinces approaching 2,000 A.A. population
Year Panel #1 areas will elect new Delegates
Year Panel #2 areas will do the same.
from largest centers of A.A. population
#2 to include Delegates from second largest centers of all States
of selection of Delegates
be chosen by Assemblies of A.A. Group Representatives, by at
least, a two third vote.
A.A. Group to make a $5.00 contribution to Alcoholic Foundation
participating, to pay Delegates expenses up to $100.00
Fund expects to pay expenses over $100.00
at New York
meetings only in emergency
Thirds of Delegates registered considered a quorum
reports of the Foundation.
reports of the Headquarters Services
of Finance and Policy matters of importance
of any deviation from A.A. Traditions or misuse of "Alcoholics
of Conference Officers
to draft full report of proceedings and the state of A.A. generally,
to be sent to groups throughout the world.
Warranties of Conference
observe the spirit of A.A. Traditions
guard against any enforcement of wealth or power.
assure adequate operating funds plus ample reserves
assure that no member of the Conference shall ever have unqualified
make all important decisions by discussion and vote
guard against any resolution that will incite public or private
see that the Conference never attempts to govern Alcoholics
guarantee that the Conference shall always be democratic in
thought and action.
that Conference, Clarence wrote to Dorothy on March 9, 1951:
of the matter is, that over 4 years ago, Bill had this idea
of a gen. service conference, and he spoke to me about it in
his office in N.Y at that time. How can one suggest that this
is some new development in A.A.?
question is, WHY A CONFERENCE? Personally, I must go along with
all the oldtimers who feel that as A.A. grows larger and becomes
more accessible, the need for any important control in N.Y.
or any other place diminishes. Of what constructive use is the
N Y. office to Cleveland, Canton, Mansfield, Chicago, Los Angeles,
or Podunk? We have our groups, and all anyone would have to
do is take his choice of several ways of contacting A.A.. He
would look in the Phone book in most any town, he could ask
the first cop he would meet, he could talk to most any judge,
he could ask most any clergyman, and most social workers, also
he could inquire at any newspaper office and the editor could
locate an A.A., since he probably is one himself. I am willing
to bet, that if you stood on the corner of E. 9th
and Euclid, or Hollywood and Vine, and asked the first five
people you see walking by, how you could get help for your drinking
problem, or how to get in touch with A.A., you would get help...
If they want an office, surely they can operate an office to
ship books, literature etc. and an occasional referral to a
group, on a heluva lot less than 250,000.000 to 350,000.00 per
year. Or am I and a lot of other guys nuts?
would be unfair today to say that the New York office only handles
an "occasional" referral. There are hundreds of requests, queries,
and out of town visitors that come to New York. But, Dr. Bob's
and Bill's stated intent had been to lessen the organization
and professionalizing of A.A.
there was the matter of control and element of "government."
The proposed Conference albeit a noble idea, was still a government,
a supposed government comprised of representation from all of
were "Twelve Suggested Principles" in the proposal for the General
Service Conference, entitled, "Your Third Legacy - Will you
accept it? by Dr. Bob and Bill," printed in October 1950 under
Section five (temporary Charter for the General Service Conference).
Twelve: General Warranties of the Conference, Q&A Section
dealing with the Conference and Headquarters stated:
it can publicly deplore misuse of the A.A. name or departures
from Tradition, it ought never attempt punishment or legal restraint
of non-conformists in A.A. or out. The Conference will give
us an example and a guide, but not a government. A personal
government is something, God willing, that Alcoholics Anonymous
will never have.
should be noted that Alcoholics Anonymous obtained a registered
trademark status for the circle and triangle emblem, for the
initials, "A.A." and for the name, Alcoholics Anonymous, and,
since 1950, the Board of Trustees, has brought suit or threatened
suit, against numerous people and companies who have used use
either the A.A. name or emblem. Thus have caught "legal restraint"
against those "non-conformists" both in A.A. and out.
remembered that, on a several occasions, Bill came to Cleveland
and Akron to "sell" the membership on the idea of the conference,
and that many members were against the idea. They were afraid
of the possibility of an A.A. "government" based in the New
York office. The mid-west A.A.s had a program, both successful
and continuously growing. Why did they need such a Conference,
argued that the Conference was needed to insure that such a
government would never take place. Thus, on July 10, 1946, Bill
had written to the Board of Trustees of the Foundation as follows:
cannot be denied that the Alcoholic Foundation of today is quite
undemocratic, and not enough responsible to the A.A. movement
which supports it and depends upon it.
Bill apparently had planned for the Conference to have authority
over the Board of Trustees. "Our Trusted Servants..." Clarence
felt that the Conference was merely a means to keep the Fellowship
quiet, while the Board "did their own thing, apart from what
A.A. really should be," as he put it.
HIGHLIGHTS, "a Special Report for the Groups on the General
Service Conference of A.A." gave the following reasons for the
establishment of the Conference:
the founding of A.A the many services and policy decisions required
to 'keep it going' at the national and international level have
been handled by the founders and their friends through the Alcoholic
Foundation. As A.A. has grown, the importance of sharing
this responsibility with the membership has become increasingly
clear. It has become clear that the 'collective conscience'
of A.A. should help insure the survival of the movement. The
General Service Conference is the means whereby that 'collective
conscience' can be expressed and can guide the Trustees of the
Foundation on matters of policy affecting A.A. today and tomorrow.
were 37 delegates attending that first Conference. At the Conference
William I.D. (Bill D., A.A. #3) of Akron represented Cleveland;
and Bert P. represented Columbus, Ohio.
always disliked the ideas of Conferences, whether International
or General Service. Clarence was wary of the reasons for such
affairs. In a letter to Dorothy, dated March 9th,
1951, he wrote:
it is just another one of those cut and dried affairs cooked
up, such as the conference last summer at Cleveland was [the
International Conference]. Please don't let anyone around here
get the idea that you don't know what a cooked up deal that
was by Wilson and the S. brothers, the groups found out piece
by piece of what took place. That was another fiasco. They were
talking about 30 to 50,000 members in attendance at various
times, and they wound up in the hole. Had about 4,000 members
there not counting the wives and outsiders. Very few from Cleveland,
I am proud to say. They came from all around where people were
not in a position or inclined to know. Bill keeps talking dramatically
about the million who do not yet know. Boy those are his hope.
He sure don't want anyone to know either. When anyone around
him gets to know anything, poof, off goes the head.
first A.A. Conference appeared to be a success. The fellowship
was supposed to now have a "participating responsibility in
determining the future of A.A.." However, Clarence still had
difficulty obtaining any information from the Board of Trustees
regarding policy and where the money went. The minutes and actions
of the Board were "classified," and neither Clarence, nor the
Fellowship at large was allowed to know what actual facts place
behind its closed doors. Conference delegates were not privy
to this information either.
was for keeping things simple. He wrote:
far as I am concerned, this is a Fellowship, and that it should
remain All we need is simplicity. The steps, the absolutes,
and a couple of alkys who want to do something with themselves.
Then we are in business... Of course I feel I am right in this,
and if I am in the wrong, a lot of smarter guys and gals than
I are in the wrong with me. But based on pure principles, I
can't see how they can be wrong, since they are enjoying a quality
of life which is so distinguished in contrast to the miserable
existence which once was. These persons also, I have noticed
do not find it necessary to find refuge in sanitarium hideaways,
nor comfort in psychiatrists*. I just string along with them
on the basis of their happy experiences.
*Clarence may here have been referring to Bill
Wilson's bouts with depression and pills which Clarence stated
happened several times during Bill's "sobriety".
of power never came to pass.
Clarence, and many of the other early Ohio members envisioned
A.A. as a simple Fellowship, designed to help the still sick
and suffering alcoholic "recover from a seemingly hopeless state
of mind and body." But as the years passed, Clarence felt A.A.
no longer resembled the A.A. he had attended back in the 1940's.
Henrietta Seiberling's warning that "money will spoil this thing,"
had, in Clarence's mind, come to pass.