ON JUNE 22, SEATTLE RAPE RELIEF'S BOARD OF Directors voted to shut down the agency's South Jackson Street offices, effectively terminating all operations. Citing a budget cut of $50,000 and an unspecified operating deficit for 1999, the board made its decision in a closed-door session at a secret location. The 68-member SRR volunteer corps--which has been staffing 24-hour crisis lines, providing medical and legal advocacy, and offering support groups to survivors of sexual assault for 27 years--was excluded from the board meeting.

Not surprisingly, the volunteers were outraged. At 7 p.m. on Monday June 28, they met with about 40 community members in a crowded basement room at Douglass-Truth public library to mull over a response. The crowd--college-age women accompanied by a few quiet, wide-eyed young men; pierced and tattooed 30-year-olds, trying to radicalize the group with talk of injustice and "political solutions"; and an older generation of grieving and pissed-off women--huddled in the library basement for two and a half hours.

At 9:30, the group dismissed two moderate proposals and voted overwhelmingly for so-called "Option One": to take over the existing organization, regain control of the crisis line, find out the "realities" behind the board's decision to close the agency's doors, and hold current board members and the administration accountable for their actions. This would amount to nothing less than a coup at SRR's Central District offices. In voting for Option One, the volunteers and community members took the most reactive and angry position, and also the most unrealistic one. The volunteer leadership seemed pleased and surprised by the nearly unanimous stand taken by the community, but now they must consider the thorny specifics. Ultimately, there's reason to believe Monday's vote will come to nothing more than a vengeful outburst of frustration and resentment.

The vote in favor of taking over SRR's offices came at the expense of two other options. Option Two called for SRR to reopen in three to six months, keeping its name, while possibly affiliating with the structure and resources of a pre-existing agency, such as the UW's Committee Organizing Rape Education. Option Three called on volunteers to start a new organization on their own, under a new name.

A number of questions cast doubt on Option One's chances for success. First, it may never even get off the ground. A quorum of SRR voting members was not present at Monday's call to action--only 15 of about 40 voting members were there. So, the vote is non-binding. (At this time, absent voting members are being asked to vote by mail.) Second, the volunteers simply don't have the tactical know-how to pull off a full-scale takeover. Heather McRae-Woolf, a volunteer leader, says she thought some members of the corps might be willing to resort to violent measures if that was the only way to get physically inside the agency offices, but she did not seem sure exactly what tactical maneuvers would be involved in the event of an occupation.

Third, even if a majority of the voting volunteer members of SRR do support the community's desire to pursue Option One, it may lead to protracted legal fights about taking possession of the agency's premises, the financial liability of the board, and the legality of the board's decision to shut the agency down. Anthippy Petras, another volunteer leader, says that after consulting with their lawyer, some of the volunteer leaders who had voted for Option One are no longer so sure about their decision. Finally, there's the unattractive possibility of physical conflict.

The fact remains, however, that the agency is closed. Moreover, it was shut down without the consent of the volunteer corps that made up the bulk of SRR's workforce. Official explanations for SRR's demise are annoyingly politic. Amanda Madorno, SRR's Interim Executive Director, says the board acted "honorably," and she thinks they made the right decision. Madorno acknowledges that she was initially surprised by the board's decision to close SRR. Yet it's clear that once the blade dropped, Madorno sided with the board's vote. "The fact of management," she claims, involves making "unpopular decisions, and people have to be willing to live with it."

Anette Schiferl, the president of the board, says it was her decision to have the board discuss the termination of operations at SRR without consulting the voting members among the volunteer corps. She says she wanted a closed session in order to ensure that the meeting would be "civil" and "dignified."

It turns out, however, that in its desire for "civility," the board may have acted illicitly when it met in secret on June 22. According to McRae-Woolf, SRR's bylaws state, "Volunteer advocates have voting membership status and have the power to vote on program policies." Madorno and Schiferl insist the board acted legally when it met behind closed doors. And, according to Schiferl, the Board submitted new bylaws with the Secretary of State at the same time that it terminated operations.

Confronted with this type of fast talk, it's no wonder volunteer and community activists at the June 28 meeting were in a radical mood. The tough talk, though, may be too little too late. Even worse, it highlights the volunteer corp's history of playing passive when dealing with its own agency's operational decisions. Ultimately, this may be the reason the board got so out of hand. According to McRae-Woolf, even though active volunteers always had the right to vote on program policies, they rarely if ever made any effort to attend previous board meetings. Both Petras and McRae-Woolf concede staff members and volunteers--focused on providing services and strapped for time--never got involved in the operational side of things at SRR. According to Petras, even the volunteer representative on the board had historically favored board decisions without consulting volunteers. More importantly, there was a tendency on the part of SRR's volunteers and staff to shy away from knockdown, drag-out political battles. When Madorno dismissed three SRR staff members in May, the rest of the staffers resigned in protest, rather than staying to fight. Only now that the agency has closed are staff and volunteers taking a stand.

It's questionable whether the volunteer corps has the will to sustain a prolonged battle, or to take responsibility for the outcome. In fact, this is probably the time when it makes the most sense for staff and volunteers of SRR to admit defeat, walk away, and start over on their own terms.

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