As the author of the WCASA Censors Andrea Dworkin letter, I take back the statement that WCASA has a problem and his name is Louis Fortis. There is more than one problem at WCASA; unfortunately, there are many. They are Louis Fortis and the rest of the Board of Directors who have agreed to stand by their man. In the following pages I wish to recap some of the events since July 3rd, 1997 when my official contact with WCASA began.
On July 3rd, Jan Miyasaki of Project RESPECT, Jody Reddington of WCASA, Michael Morrill of WCASA and I met at a local restaurant to discuss the possibility of bringing Andrea Dworkin to speak in Wisconsin. We wanted Dworkin to speak at the University of Wisconsin at Madison and at The WCASA Training Institute. We all wished to work together, excited about the possibility of Dworkin reaching two audiences in Wisconsin.
Jody, Michael, Jan and I kept in contact over the phone as we worked on the project. The last Jan and I heard, from both Michael and Dworkin, WCASA had found the money for Dworkin's speech and she was coming to their conference. A week later I received a call from Dworkin. She told me that Fortis had called her and canceled her speech. He said she would never receive any money from WCASA ever, because he does not like her ideas. I spoke extensively with Michael, who informed both Dworkin and myself of the events at WCASA. After listening to what Michael experienced as an insider at WCASA and after hearing what Fortis said to Dworkin, I decided to write a letter of protest. I went over the letter with Dworkin and Michael to insure its accuracy. I then collected names of supporters within Wisconsin and Nikki Craft collected names over the internet. I wrote the letter because I could not, in good conscience, stand by silently while Dworkin was treated in this way, especially by an anti-rape organization.
On September 5, Jan and I went to WCASA's Training Institute where we handed out the WCASA Censors Andrea Dworkin letter plus signatories to the people at the conference. We felt that it was and still is very important for the WCASA membership to hear what their board did to Dworkin. I personally handed the letter to the WCASA staff and to at least three board members. I introduced myself to Erin Thornley, the Executive Director, and handed her a copy of the letter which had my name and address on it. Craft's e-mail address was also on the letter. Neither of us were ever contacted by any WCASA staff or board members. A few weeks later, Craft requested a copy of WCASA's response letter but never received one. After Fortis cancelled Dworkin's speech, Dworkin never heard from WCASA other than the time Michael contacted her.
The protest was not organized solely by an outside member, as the WCASA response letter claims. It was organized in part by Project RESPECT, a local organization which helps women get out of prostitution. Project RESPECT wrote a letter in support of the WCASA Cenors Andrea Dworkin letter and sent it to the WCASA Board. Project RESPECT is a member organization of WCASA. There was also support from within the conference. At the workshop on pornography the presenter, Krista Jacob, let us hand out the letter and encouraged an open discussion. Jacob works at the Dane County Rape Crisis Center, which is a member organization of WCASA.
What WCASA needs to worry about most is what Fortis said directly to Dworkin. Fortis told Dworkin that she would not speak at the WCASA conference because of what he believes to be her views on the First Amendment and because of her so-called notoriety. He said he would see to it that Dworkin would never be paid any money from WCASA for a speech. During their conversation, Fortis also admitted that he was representing his own point-of-view, not the communities'. When Dworkin asked if he was aware that he was using sheer, naked power to keep her from speaking at WCASA, he said yes, he was.
Fortis's abuse of power raises urgent, serious questions about leadership in the anti-rape movement. Why is Fortis the President of the Board of Directors at WCASA? What qualifies him to be the head of an anti-rape organization? His credentials are primarily business-related with very little to no past involvement in anti-rape work. Fortis is an international economics consultant. He is a very wealthy man, he owns $1.5 million in real estate in Madison alone. In January, he applied to build and own a radio station in DeForest, Wisconsin. His only claim to feminism is the short time he spent as an economics professor at Smith College. Apparently, somehow he is connected to the feminist theory that has come out of the institution.
From 1986-1992 Fortis was a representative in The Wisconsin State Assembly. When he was in the Assembly he served on many business and economic related committees and subcommittees. In 1992, ethical concerns were raised when Fortis purchased a mall nearby the Monona Terrace Convention Center only a few days after voting Yes for state subsidies for the center. Yet, he claims he has no "magical" power over the other Board members. This is not a magical power, it is social power.
Fortis is a businessman and WCASA is run as a business before anything else. WCASA claims that dis-inviting Dworkin was a business decision. By running WCASA as a business first and foremost the Board has aligned themselves with the powers-that-be. As an example, The Argus Bar had a fundraiser for WCASA which "brought out a number of Capitol politicos as bartenders and guests." Numerous politicians "stopped at the bar for a drink - or merely to drop off a donation...The crew raised almost $300 in tips for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault." (Quotes from the PSSST column in The Capitol Times). This raises serious concerns about an anti-rape organization conducting a fundraiser in a bar. WCASA is supposed to be educating the public about the connections between sexual violence and alcohol consumption, not collecting politician's bar tips. It also raises other ethical questions. Just how close is the WCASA Board with the state's politicians? What exactly are the connections and who do they serve? When radical social change organizations are bought out or otherwise influenced by politicians and business people, they can no longer be true to anti-rape work.
Fortis responded to reports that he attacked and misrepresented Dworkin's work by saying, "I don't in any way apologize for expressing my opinion. I mean, this is America, I have a right to do that." If Louis Fortis has a right to express his opinion, then so do I, and so do the people who signed on in support. Fortis does not understand how the signatories can demand that WCASA resolve the situation because many of the supporters are from outside Wisconsin and not WCASA members. Sexual abuse does not know state boundaries. Neither should those who are working to end it.
In an interview with Craft, Fortis told her to quote him as saying, "Who are you and what business is this of yours?" He thinks that WCASA's actions are a private affair and above reproach. In the fight to end sexual violence, we all have not only a right but a responsibility to monitor, question and protest the public agencies created to end sexual violence. The women and men who signed on to the letter are direct service providers and users. We are survivors of sexual assault; we are anti-sexual assault activists, authors, researchers, therapists, nurses, farmers, students, teachers, mothers, fathers and concerned citizens. If this isn't our business, then what is?
Fortis has some rather simplistic ideas about social order in the United States. In the radio show, Fortis said, "Ms. Dworkin is free to speak anywhere she wants." This is true, if Dworkin is content and able to travel from town to town on her own money and speak on street corners; but to be real speakers need expenses and halls and audiences and honorariums. Who speaks and where they speak is incredibly political. People like Fortis do succeed all the time from keeping people like Dworkin from getting a real audience with a respectable honorarium. And this is what happened at WCASA: Dworkin was censored by a man who does not like her ideas, a man who thinks that pornography is not violence against women and a Board of Directors who stood by him and covered up for him.
WCASA claims that because their Board of Directors is democratically elected, they do not have to answer to dissent. Fortis said to Craft, "A democratically elected board made a decision. Done." Obviously, a board of directors at an anti-rape organization must be held accountable for its decision-making process. Fortis, as an official representative of WCASA, repeatedly refused to tell Craft what he said to Dworkin. He said that this information is irrelevant. WCASA has continued to discourage dissent. A number of Bylaw changes have passed, many of which give the Executive Director and the Board of Directors more control over its staff and membership. At the Annual Membership Meeting held in November, only some of the WCASA Board was present. No thorough financial report and no thorough review of committee work was given. At the conclusion of the State of the Organization Report, the Executive Director did not ask for questions from the floor.
WCASA accuses Dworkin of creating controversy as a way to get money and attention. Dworkin has commited the last twenty years of her life to writing and speaking against sexual violence. She writes about the ways wife beating, rape, prostitution and pornography silence and destroy women. Because she attacks the pornography industry it has been difficult for her to publish in her own country. The lies and misrepresentations spread by pornographers and their apologists about her work keep women and men away from it. She has authored eleven books, yet must survive financially through her speeches. In the radio show, Fortis suggests that there is something wrong with Dworkin for charging for her work, that somehow because money is involved she is suspect. This is not only an incredible insult to her character, it is also blatant woman-hating. Women are rarely respected for the work we do, being paid for our work is part of that respect.
Erin Thornley responded to the charges leveled by the petition, which was signed by 250 individuals from around the world, by saying, "We just decided not to (bring Dworkin). It happens." This is indicative of the arrogance and lack of accountability that exists at the top levels of WCASA. In the radio show, Linda Selk-Yerges said WCASA plans on introducing anti-pornography work to their funders once their funders trust them. How long will that take? and what woman or child being used in prostitution has that kind of time? We are living in a state of emergency, we do not have time for the politicians and the business people who run these organizations to maybe someday get around to taking our lives seriously. If WCASA is serious about fighting prostitution and pornography, they must realize that the political situation will not change as long as anti-rape organizations continue to back down.
Fighting prostitution and pornography is not popular or easy, but until women being used in prostitution and pornography are included in a real way in the work of anti-rape organizations; and until these organizations go up against the pimps and the gate-holders, we will have a movement that says some women are valued and worth protecting and some are not. That women like Selk-Yerges and organizations like WCASA have the privilege of waiting a few years is grounds for a revolution, a much needed one at that. The anti-rape movement has become a sexual abuse industry as devoted, if not more devoted, to career-climbing than to ending rape. When our anti-rape organizations are more concerned with not offending their funders than they are with the women and children being abused, they have utterly failed us.