A Message from the Founder of FAIR – March 17, 2023
Let me start with the news. Two years after founding FAIR, I am leaving my role as the full-time volunteer CEO, and joining the Board of Advisors. During this leadership change, I believe that FAIR will remain committed to its mission and nonpartisan approach, and hope that you will continue to support the pro-human movement. I am filled with a deep sense of gratitude for what we have accomplished, and for the truly amazing people I have had the opportunity to get to know over the past two years.
How and why I started FAIR
I started FAIR because of my children. It was back in September 2020 that I first became aware of an intolerant and pessimistic orthodoxy relating to race, racism, and identity that had taken root in our culture, and within so many institutions—including my children’s school in New York City. Rather than emphasizing the uniqueness of every individual, and our shared humanity, the new orthodoxy insisted on flattening and dividing people based on characteristics like skin color, and treating us as interchangeable members of identity groups. I instinctively rejected this reductionist worldview. My personal background is complex, and reflects the mosaic that is America—Ashkenazi Jewish, Mexican, and Yaqui (Native American). I recently discovered that I have a previously unknown ancestor from West Africa dating back to the mid-to-late 1800s.
Perhaps because of my own curiosity, and awareness of my mixed background, I have always taken it for granted that identity is complex—and that every person is a unique individual with certain inalienable rights. Looking for help, I discovered that the civil rights and civil liberties organizations I supported—including the ACLU, Southern Poverty Law Center and Anti-Defamation League—were evangelizing the same backwards belief system as my children’s school. That was the moment I saw the need for FAIR.
In this increasingly tribal and politically polarized world, where grievance narratives, extreme views, and cynicism seem to dominate the conversation, I saw the need for a nonpartisan institution that would stand up for those who are being pressured to conform under threat of being “canceled” by angry activists or feckless leaders on either side of the political divide. I saw the urgent need for a new organization to advocate for civil rights and liberties for all Americans, and to promote the universal, unifying values that are important to any healthy, functioning society. Fairness. Understanding. Humanity. Optimism. Gratitude. Curiosity. Courage. Compassion. These are the values that I have worked to instill in my children. These are the values that I believe can bring us together, and restore unity to this fractured nation.
I spent a few weeks planning, and coming up with the name: Foundation Against Intolerance & Racism. I purchased a URL www.fairforall.org, wrote the mission statement, and drafted the pro-human pledge. The rest, as they say, is history.
Driven by an existential fear that our society is on a tribal path that threatens our freedom, and diminishes what it means to be human, I literally put everything in my life on hold and threw myself into building FAIR as its full-time volunteer CEO.
My goal in creating FAIR was to bolster the forces of moderation. It is my belief that, contrary to what most politicians and the loudest voices on social media are saying, the greatest threat our country faces is not the “other tribe”— it is unchecked tribalism itself. My wife, whose family had immigrated to North America from the former USSR, was incredibly supportive. I told her and others that I planned to spend six months as a full-time volunteer launching FAIR, and then step back once I had hired a management team. It quickly became apparent that it would take longer to get the organization to the point where it could survive on its own.
In March of 2021, coinciding with the public launch of FAIR, I spoke out in a Wall Street Journal editorial about what was happening at my kids’ school. While my personal story was helpful in bringing attention to FAIR, and encouraging others to speak up, I have always seen FAIR as a public good; a platform to support and amplify the voices of a multitude of people speaking out on the issues that are core to FAIR’s pro-human mission.
Why FAIR is important, and necessary
From the beginning, I wanted FAIR to be different from other organizations. We have done so much good work over the past two years, and helped so many good people. From Kevin Ray, Dr. Tara Gustillo, and Dr. T. Lee, to Sahar Tartak, Meg Smaker and Daniel Marquez. And so many others. Over the coming months and years, I hope that FAIR continues to serve as a beacon of hope for those who need our help.
So, how is FAIR different?
Volunteer-Led. It was important to me that I establish FAIR, from the beginning, as an authentically grassroots organization. It seemed that a careerist mindset among senior leaders of organizations, and the resultant pandering to the donor class, is the reason why so many organizations, including the ACLU, have lost sight of their original worthwhile missions, and turned into increasingly partisan fundraising machines. That is why I made a commitment to never taking a salary, and why I served as FAIR’s full-time volunteer CEO over the past two years. It is also why I put so much emphasis on recruiting other volunteers to join FAIR—including Letitia Kim, the talented civil rights attorney who headed our legal advocacy program, generously donating her time and energy to help advance FAIR’s mission.
Pro-Human Mission. Inspired by the wisdom of leaders like Martin Luther King Jr. and Daryl Davis,I set out to establish a positive message for FAIR from the beginning, with an emphasis on optimism, gratitude, and honest inclusion. Some, especially on social media, have criticized the pro-human approach as too soft, or “milquetoast,” saying that FAIR needs to “meet fire with fire” and adopt a “more muscular” tone. But please don’t mistake kindness for weakness. I have always seen FAIR as an organization that should “speak softly and carry a big stick.” It is critical for FAIR to model, and reflect, the values that we are trying to promote. Just as you can’t plant a noxious seed and expect to harvest a beautiful flower, you can’t “promote a common culture based on fairness, understanding, and humanity” while behaving in an unethical, or antagonistic, way that does not reflect those values. To paraphrase Gandhi, “the end never justifies the means. Rather, the means are the end.”
Reclaiming the Language. From inception, I wanted FAIR to reclaim important words like “diversity,” “equity,” “inclusion,” and “antiracism.” Yes, it is true that these (and other) words have been used by some people to promote some genuinely awful ideas like race essentialism. But it is also true that most people still understand these words to have a positive meaning. For example, equity is still defined as “the quality of being fair and impartial.” Not surprisingly, the word is still viewed favorably by the majority of Americans. It is the same story with diversity, and inclusion. Who wouldn’t want to be included? Anti-racism literally means “opposing racism”—which, I hope, we can all agree is a good thing. In short, rather than demonizing and rejecting a long and growing list of words that some have misused, FAIR’s approach has been to reclaim these good words, and counter the bad ideas (e.g., forcing people into groups based on skin color) with better ideas (e.g., treating every person as a unique individual).
Relentlessly Nonpartisan. Finally, and most importantly, I believe it is essential for FAIR to remain a truly nonpartisanorganization that is tolerant of diverse viewpoints and perspectives. I’ve been told by some, citing O’Sullivan’s first law, that they think FAIR should be a conservative organization. Others have said that FAIR should serve a “new tribe” of people who identify as heterodox thinkers. Still others have suggested FAIR should align with “left of center” organizations. My vision for FAIR, however, has always been for it to be a relentlessly nonpartisan organization that can help all of us rise above our tribal instincts, by promoting a set of unifying, universal values and principles.
It is a lot harder to build than it is to destroy. And it is a lot harder to overcome our tribal instincts than it is to join a new tribe. My goal in devoting the past two years of my life to creating and building FAIR has been to do my small part trying to help heal the world. I am hopeful that going forward FAIR will continue to do good work—until, hopefully, it is no longer needed.
As I wrote back on January 6 of this year:
It can feel at times, especially in the era of social media, that we are surrounded by a sea of cynicism. Grievance-based ideas and ideologies have permeated our culture, and present themselves in a virtuous way. And yet, we have so much to be grateful for, so many reasons to be optimistic. This year, as we kick off 2023, I hope we can resolve to try and treat others with grace and humility. To be charitable, curious, and compassionate—especially toward those who we may not understand, or who have a different perspective from our own. If we stay grounded, and positive, and maintain a nuanced perspective, then we can help others find their way to dry land. There are so many reasons to see the good in our fellow travelers on this earth. While grievance can be an insidious force, we need to remember that gratitude is the key—not only to personal happiness and fulfillment, but to our ability to flourish as a people.
I hope that you will join me in staying involved with and supporting FAIR. I hope you will spend more time face-to-face with family and friends, away from the ubiquitous screens that have taken over our lives. And I hope that you will continue to advocate for, and bring FAIR’s pro-human values and philosophy into your organizations, and into your communities.
Please know that my door is always open. I don’t use Twitter, Facebook or Instagram. But you can find me on LinkedIn, or feel free to reach out via email at [email protected].
Warmly, and with gratitude,
Email: [email protected]