Hello,

This mail is intended to provide feedback related to
https://www.fsf.org/news/fsf-and-gnu.

I will start with my understanding of what we offer each other.  My
background is that I maintain some GNU software but have never been a
part of the FSF in any way.

 - GNU gives the FSF a kind of "hacker credibility".  Besides the FSF's
   own independent long history, the GNU being close to the FSF allows
   the FSF to e.g. fundraise for new things using the GNU brand.  Many
   people have historically donated to FSF because of GNU.

 - Many GNU packages have their copyrights assigned to the FSF; it has
   costs in admin time to both projects.  I think the benefits are small
   here, but they mostly derive to the FSF as copyright holder.  Because
   GPL foes prefer to rewrite software these days, legal defence of GNU
   is less important.

 - The FSF has the right to update the GPL, which is the GNU license.
   This is a large and important responsibility.

 - The FSF gives GNU a lot of administrative help: copyright assignment,
   servers, sysadmins, and so on.

I should note that the all activity of GNU is by volunteers.  It has no
paid staff.  (Some people do contribute to individual GNU projects as
part of their jobs, of course.)  The FSF has some volunteer and some
staff activity.

There is a natural synergy here.  In the early days this was all there
was: the FSF's activity was essentially GNU.  But now the FSF is bigger,
and GNU is relatively smaller, both relative to a few years ago and
relative to the wider world of free software.  So is it important to the
FSF to support GNU?

The question becomes more poignant when we consider the events that led
to the leadership change in the FSF.  What liabilities does GNU present
to the FSF?  Clearly the historical identification of the FSF with the
person of its founder has been a boon but also more recently a burden.
Many people have stopped donating and cancelled their associate
memberships due to this association.  With the leadership change,
perhaps this will pick back up, but probably the FSF will have to make
other steps.

It is also clear that GNU as a brand is aging.  I say this with some
personal chagrin, because projects that I have spent a lot of time on
and are attached to have this collateral association.

Conversely from the GNU side, sometimes it seems like the FSF is
drifting away: it is difficult for projects to request resources, even
via the "working together" mechanism, for example, especially when we
compare to colleages' experiences with resources managed by other
foundation structures.

In summary, I think there is a natural affinity, and a natural way in
which GNU and the FSF help make each other better, but that the
relationship now is not ideal: neither of us is giving what we should.

As a GNU maintainer, I think the fault is mainly on the side of GNU
leadership.  I do not think that RMS is effectively leading the GNU
project.  If things continue as they have in the past, I suspect we will
continue to see a decline in active GNU projects.  Faced with this
problem, instead of addressing it, this winter RMS and his delegates
have attempted to stifle internal discussions of the problems:

 - A request for a public mailing list for GNU stakeholders only was
   denied.  Therefore the only public gnu.org discussion is on
   gnu-misc-discuss, which includes non-stakeholders (people who are not
   developers of GNU packages).

 - Moderation of gnu-misc-discuss was seized, with the policy being to
   allow the only public forum available to GNU to become quite
   unpleasant.  I would apologize for the mails you may receive in
   followup, as it is on Cc, but it is a self-inflicted wound.

 - A request for a wiki was denied.  A similar request to the FSF for a
   VM was denied.

 - Requests for various forms of experimental collective decision-making
   were denied.

Now, ordinarily these would be just internal politics within GNU, but
the FSF bears some responsibility enabling them.  In the recent update:

  https://www.fsf.org/news/gnu-fsf-cooperation-update

the authors take Richard Stallman as the only voice on the table from
the GNU side.  This does not give me confidence as to the outcome of
this feedback process.  If the FSF wants a healthy GNU project, it
should support efforts to make GNU a better place -- and existing GNU
maintainers are the best placed to make these changes.

                             *  *  *

In the world we all want, there is a healthy GNU and a healthy FSF
working together.  We should learn from the past, yes, but focus on the
future, and make decisions that create the future we want.

Regards,

Andy

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