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Appeal, Participation and Decision"
Bill W., General Service Conference, 1956
has been good to Alcoholics Anonymous. These sessions of
the Sixth General Service Conference now ending have marked
the time when our Society has taken the first step into
the brave new world of our future. Never have we felt more
confident, more assured of the years to come than we do
Conference thinks, I am sure, that its main structural concepts
are approximately right. I am thinking of the relation of
A.A. groups to their Assemblies, the method of choosing
Committeemen and Delegates, Directors and Headquarters Staffs;
also the relation of the Trustees, essentially a body of
custody, to the operating services of the Headquarters,
the Grapevine, Service office and A.A. Publishing. These
interlocking relations are something, for high confidence
already based on considerable experience. Nevertheless we
shall remain aware that these structures can be changed
if they fail to work. Our Charter can always be amended.
of course, we shall always be much concerned with those
lesser refinements that can improve the working of our main
the first evening here, I explained some of our recent improvements
of this Charter - how our newly formed Budget Committee
is a fresh assurance that we cant go broke, how our
new Policy Committee can avert blunders in this area and
take the back breaking load of minor matters off of the
Trustees, how our Nominating Committee can insure good choices
of new Staff members, Directors and Trustees. In short,
our Board of Trustees is now fitted with eyes, ears and
a nose that can guarantee a much improved functioning. So
far, so good.
our structure of service is no empty blueprint. It is manned
by people who feel and think and act. Therefore any principles
or devices that can better relate them to each other in
a harmonious and effective whole are worth considering.
I now offer you four principles that might someday permeate
all of A.A.s services, principles which express tolerance,
patience and love of each other; principles which could
do much to avert friction, indecision and power-driving.
These are not really new principles; unconsciously we have
been making use of them right along. I simply propose to
name them and, if you like them, their scope and application
can, over coming years, be fully defined.
are the words for them: petition, appeal, participation
and decision. Maybe all this sounds a bit vague and abstract.
So lets develop the meaning and application of these
petition. Actually this is an ancient device to protect
minorities. It is for the redress of grievances. Every A.A.
member, inside or outside our services, should have the
right to petition his fellows. Some years ago, for example,
a group of my old friends on the outside became violently
opposed to the Conference. They feared it would ruin A.A.
To put it mildly, they thought they had a grievance. So
they placed their ideas on paper and petitioned the A.A.
groups to stop the Conference. Lots of our members got sore;
they said this group had no right to do this. But they really
did have the right, didnt they?
in our services, this right is often forgotten or unused.
It is my belief that every person working in A.A.s services
should feel free to petition for a redress of grievances
or an improvement of conditions. I would like to make this
personal right unlimited. Under it, a boy wrapping books
in our shipping room could petition the Board of A.A. Publishing,
the Board of Trustees, or indeed, the whole Conference if
he chose to do so - and this without the slightest prejudice
against him. Of course, hed seldom carry this right
so far. But its very existence, and everybodys knowledge
of it, would go far to stop those morale breakers of undue
domination and petty tyranny.
look at the right of appeal. A century ago a young Frenchman
DeTocqueville came to this country to look at the new Republic.
Despite the fact that his family had suffered loss of life
and property in the French Revolution, this nobleman-student
had begun to love democracy and to believe in its future.
His writing on the subject is still a classic. But he did
express one deep fear for the future; he feared the tyranny
of the majority, especially that of the uninformed, the
angry, or the close majority. He wanted to be sure that
minority opinion could always be well heard and never trampled
upon. How very right he was has already been sensed by the
I propose that we further insure, in A.A. service matters,
the right to appeal. Under it, the minority of any committee,
corporate Board, or a minority of the Board of Trustees,
or a minority of this Conference, could continue to appeal,
if they wished, all the way forward to the whole A.A. movement,
thus making the minority voice both clear and loud.
a matter of practice, this right, too, would seldom be carried
to extremes. But again, its very existence would make majorities
careful of acting in haste or with too much cocksureness.
In this connection we should note that our Charter already
requires, in many cases a two-thirds vote (and in some instances
a three-quarter vote) for action. This is to prevent hasty
or inconsiderate decision by a close majority. Once set
up and defined, this right of appeal could greatly add to
we come to participation. The central concept here is that
all Conference members are on our service team. Basically
we are all partners in a common enterprise of World Service.
Naturally, there has to be a division of duties and responsibilities
among us. Not all of us can be elected Delegate, appointed
Trustee, chosen Director, or become hired Staff member.
We have to have our respective authorities, duties and responsibilities
to serve; otherwise we couldnt function.
in this quite necessary division, there is a danger - a
very great dangersomething that will always need watching.
The danger is that our Conference will commence to function
along strict class lines.
elected Delegates will want all, or most all, of the Conference
votes, so they can be sure to rule the Trustees. The Trustees
will tend to create corporate boards composed exclusively
of themselves, the better to rule and direct those working
daily at the office, Grapevine and A.A. Publishing. And,
in their turn, the volunteer Directors of the Grapevine
and Publishing Company will tend to exclude from their own
Board any of the paid staff members, people who so often
carry the main burden of doing the work. To sum it up: the
Delegates will want to rule the Trustees, the Trustees will
want to rule the corporations and the corporate directors
will want to rule the hired Staff members.
Headquarters experience has already proved that this state
of affairs means complete ruin of morale and function. That
is why Article Twelve of your Conference Charter states
that "No Conference member shall ever be placed in
a position of unqualified authority over another."
the early days, this principle was hard to learn. Over it
we had battles, furious ones. For lack of a seat on the
several boards and committees that ran her office, for lack
of defined status and duties, and because she was "just
hired help," and a woman besides, one of the most devoted
Staff members we ever had completely cracked up. She had
too many bosses, people who sometimes knew less and carried
less actual responsibilities than she. She could not sit
in the same board or committee room as a voting equal. No
alcoholic can work under this brand of domination and paternalism.
was the costly lesson that now leads us to the principle
means, at the Conference level, that we are all voting equals,
a Staff members vote is guaranteed as good as anyones.
Participation also means, at the level of the Headquarters,
that every corporate Board or Committee shall always contain
a voting representation of the executives directly responsible
for the work to be done, whether they are Trustees or not,
or whether they are paid or volunteer workers. This is why,
today the president of A.A. Publishing and the senior Staff
member at the A.A. office are both Directors and both vote
on the Board of A.A. Publishing. This puts them on a partnership
basis with the Trustee and other members of the Publishing
Board. It gives them a service standing and an authority
commensurate with their actual duties and responsibilities.
Nor is this just a beautiful idea of brotherhood. This is
standard American corporate business practice everywhere,
something that we had better follow when we can.
this connection I am hopeful that the principal assistant
to the Editor of The Grapevine, the person who has the immediate
task of getting the magazine together, will presently be
given a defined status and seated on the Grapevines
Board as a voting director.
much, then, for the principle and practice of "participation."
what about decision?
Conference and our Headquarters has to have leadership.
Without it, we get nowhere. And the business of leadership
is to lead.
three principles just describedpetition, appeal and
participationare obviously checks upon our leadership,
checks to prevent our leadership running away with us. Clearly
this is of immense importance.
of equal importance is the principle that leaders must still
lead. If we dont trust them enough, if we hamstring
them too much, they simply cant function. They become
demoralized and either quit or get nothing done.
then, are A.A. s service leaders to be authorized
and protected so that they can work as executives, as committees,
as boards of trustees or even as a Service Conference, without
undue interference in the ordinary conduct of A.A.s policy
answer lies, I think, in trusting our leadership with proper
powers of decision, carefully and definitely defined.
shall have to trust our executives to decide when they shall
act on their own, and when they should consult their respective
committees or boards. Likewise, our Policy, Public Information
and Finance Committees should be given the right to choose
(within whatever definitions of their authority are established)
whether they will act on their own or whether they will
consult the Board of Trustees (Our Headquarters can, of
course, have no secrets).
the Grapevine and A.A. Publishing Boards should be able
to decide when to decide when to act on their own and when
to consult the full Board of Trustees.
Trustees, in their turn, must positively be trusted to decide
which matters they shall act upon, and which they shall
refer to the Conference as a whole. But where, of course,
any independent action of importance is taken, a full report
should afterward be made to the Conference.
last, but not at all least, the Conference itself must have
a defined power of decision. It cannot rush back to the
grassroots with all its problems or even many of them. In
my belief the Conference should never take a serious problem
to the grassroots until it knows what their own opinion
is, and what the "pros" and "cons" of
such a problem really are. It is the function of Conference
leadership to instruct the Group Conscience on the issues
concerned. Otherwise, an instruction from the grassroots
which doesnt really know the score can be very confusing
and quite wrong.
Conference Delegates must have liberty to decide what questions
shall be referred to the A.A. group and just how and when
this is to be done.
conscience of A.A. is certainly the ultimate authority.
But the grassroots will have to trust the Conference to
act in many matters and only the Conference can decide which
they are. The Conference, however, must at all times stand
ready to have their opinions reversed by its constituent
group but only after these groups have been thoroughly informed
of the issues involved.
I think, are the several powers of decision that our Conference
and Headquarters leadership must have or else fail in their
duty. Anarchy may theoretically be a beautiful form of association,
but it cannot function. Dictatorship is efficient but ultimately
it goes wrong and becomes demoralized. Of course A.A. wants
we want leadership that can lead, yet one which can be changed
and strained. Servants of our fellowship, however, our leaders
must always remain trusted. We surely want leaders who are
enabled to act in small matters without constant interference.
We want a Conference that will remain extremely responsible
to A.A. opinion, yet a body completely able to act alone
for us when necessary -even in some great and sudden crisis.
then could become the A.A. service principle of decision.
we now begin to incorporate the wordspetition, appeal,
participation and decision into our service thinking and
action. I believe that many of our confusions about A.A.
s service functions will begin to disappear. More
harmony and effectiveness will gradually replace the service
gears that still grind and stick among us.
course, I am not now announcing these as permanent principles
for definite adoption. I only offer them as ideas to ponder
until we meet again in 1957.
I dont see why we should delay trying the experiment
I have just outlined above. If it doesnt work, we
can always change.
has often asked me to make suggestions and sometimes to
take the initiative in these structural projects. That is
why I have tried to go into this very important matter so
believe that I shall not be at all affected if you happen
to disagree. Above all, you must act on experience and on
the facts; and never because you think I want a change.
Since St. Louis, the future of A.A. belongs to you!
Some A.A.'s believe that we should increase our Board from
15 to 21 members in order to get the 10 alcoholics we need.
This would involve raising the non-alcoholics from
8 to 11 in number. But, might this not be cumbersome and
needlessly expensive? Personally, I think so.