Tuesday, May 3, 2011

Impressions from the AGM at the Goetheanum: April 16, 2011

- by Herb and Agnes Schneeberg (London, ON)

When, at the end of February of this year, we learned that a motion was going to be presented at the AGM of the Anthroposophical Society in Dornach to oust the whole Executive Council, we were shocked. As the outcome of this motion could potentially affect the future of the whole Anthroposophical Society, we decided, after some soul-searching, to travel to Dornach to be part of this important AGM, even though we did not know what to expect. But it was clear to us that a lot would depend on how many people were going to attend this AGM.

We arrive a day early in Dornach to orient ourselves and to learn as much as we can about the issues, procedures and expectations. It turns out that even the people 'on the inside' have no idea how many members will come or how they will vote. This uncertainty adds to the tension and apprehension we already feel. On the day itself we walk up to the Goetheanum well before 8:00 a. m. (the meeting will start at 9:00 a. m.) and line up to get inside.

Soon it becomes evident that indeed many members have made the trip to Dornach from far and near; the great hall fills to the last seat and the overflow crowd is accommodated in the Foundation Stone hall, where a large video screen has been set up (total estimate: around 1300 members). 

After a brief selection of piano music, Paul Mackay opens the meeting and explains the procedures. Simple majority counts and there will be an exact count of hands only when the results are close. If someone wants to speak, he or she can hand a slip to the moderator or simply line up. A few minutes are given to each speaker,  at which time a little bell will be heard to indicate that the time is up. Simultaneous translations will be given in English, French and Italian. 

On the stage is a speaker podium; on the right a table with the six members of the Executive Council, and on the left a table with the two people responsible for the phone connection to the Foundation Stone hall, for the counting of the votes, and for maintaining the legality of the procedures.
First we hear from three members of the Executive Council (EC). Sergei Prokofieff states that in the last ten years the present EC has become a real team which more than ever before represents the world society. They work well together. “We made mistakes, but want to help the well-being of the society and will try to be more open to what comes towards us” and “we will be looking at ways of dealing with those criticisms that are justified.” Bodo von Plato mentions that the EC has an obligation to fulfill the task it has been given by Rudolf Steiner, to nurture the soul-life both in the individual and in the Anthroposophical Society through knowledge of the spiritual world. Paul Mackay describes the difficult decisions that had to be made in 2010. The budget had to be cut by 2.8 million Swiss Francs; 22 co-workers had to be let go and the EC doesn't know yet whether these measures are sufficient: “We have to work with our co-workers, the General Secretaries and country representatives; we cannot do this alone.” 

Now we come to the actual motions. At the beginning of each motion people line up to speak — often more than can be accommodated — to give their personal interpretations. Although it seems on the whole a relatively civilized process, the undercurrent is tense and emotional and the speakers unquestionably bring an amazing complexity of viewpoints. 

Following earlier consultations between the EC and the General Secretaries, it is proposed to start the AGM with the crucial motion #2 (no confidence in the EC), as it clearly needs to be addressed first, followed by motion #1 (seven-year terms for EC members). This proposal is accepted by a majority of those present by a raising of hands. Therefore we now turn to Motion #2. At least a dozen speakers want to have their say. We try to listen objectively to a range of concerns. During the meetings of the EC and General Secretaries in the week leading up to April 16, it also has been decided not to contest the wish for a secret vote on this motion and a majority of members agrees to that decision by a raising of hands. So everyone is asked to check one of the following three options on their ballot: 1) Confidence in EC; 2) Abstention; 3) No confidence in EC. The ballots are counted during the lunch break.

To the relief of most people, there are 876 votes for confidence in the EC; 257 votes for no confidence and 156 abstentions (and 11 spoiled ballots). Virginia Sease thanks everybody: “the EC will work hard to earn the trust of those that voted against us.” 

We then turn to Motion #1, regarding seven-year terms and affirmation of three EC members. The motion is approved. Virginia Sease mentions how well this EC works together, despite profound differences of opinion; she personally supports the three colleagues who are to be reaffirmed. Everyone fills out a ballot with yes-or-no checks at the three names and the results are: Sergei Prokofieff 1015 yes, 210 no; Bodo von Plato 815 yes, 384 no; Paul Mackay 837 yes, 356 no. 

Of the remaining motions, it is Motion #4, the request for an Extraordinary General Meeting to discuss the future of Weleda, that brings impassioned responses from at least a dozen doctors, Weleda co-workers and others. There is concern about the financial survival of Weleda, future availability of Weleda medicines, promotion of the cosmetics over the medicines, etc. We hear differing opinions on all of these issues. The motion for an Extraordinary Meeting is accepted by a large majority (Note that the Anthroposophical Society remains a major shareholder in Weleda). 

The remaining motions are either withdrawn by their sponsors or receive not enough support to pass.
Finally, because this whole process has taken the better part of twelve hours, we hear a shortened version of the financial report and a warm thank-you is given to Cornelius Pietzner, who is stepping back from his treasurer's job to dedicate himself to fund raising efforts for the Goetheanum.

A sense of relief is growing in us, but it is not until the next day (Palm Sunday) that we feel the forces of renewal and hope around us. For the first time we realize that we have spent the whole Saturday in the great hall of the Goetheanum without really appreciating it, and that we have not fully taken in the beauty of the blossoming nature around us either. But something has been accomplished yesterday and we feel at least some weight lifted off our shoulders. We have been reassured that the EC and the General Secretaries will be looking into finding ways for all members to have a say in crucial decisions, so that hopefully we will not be faced with a similar situation in future years. We also have a sense that the EC will take a serious look at all the issues raised during the AGM. And we realize that the many people all over the world who have accompanied this important event with good thoughts have also helped bring this whole process to a good conclusion.

After an impressive talk on Sunday morning by Sergei Prokofieff, we attend the English discussion group led by Virginia Sease and Cornelius Pietzner, together with almost 70 other members from English speaking countries. Back in the great hall several new section leaders are introduced and we are impressed with their honesty, sincerity, and eagerness to look for new ways to approach their particular area of work. And finally our own Philip Thatcher gets thanked for his years as General Secretary and makes us all laugh with his description of his experiences at various border crossings, and the reactions he gets when trying to explain what Anthroposophy is to the customs officials.

The last event, a beautiful Eurythmy performance, has a profound spiritual effect on us, reminding us why we are all here in the first place. There is a sustained, enthusiastic applause of appreciation for this artistic contribution which closes the conference.

Later that afternoon, also in the great hall, we have the opportunity to hear Handel's Messiah by a baroque ensemble playing on period instruments, wonderful soloists, and one of the most beautiful choirs we have ever heard. A worthy ending to an eventful journey! 

Agnes and Herb Schneeberg, London, Ontario


Linda Fairburn said...

Thank you Agnes and Herb for your thoughtful and descriptive account of the AGM. Linda Fairburn

Debbie Allen said...

Thank you Agnes and Herb for making the journey to Dornach to vote, and to report back on the events. Perhaps in the near future those of us who are unable to attend the AGM will be able to put proxies in the hands of those who are attending to vote on our behalf.

Nathalie Payette said...

Thank you for going to AGM in Dornach and sharing your impressions. Indeed, many of us in Ottawa were with you in thoughts on April 16th wishing for a positive outcome. Although motion #2 was defeated, I hope that the people who voiced their concerns will be taken seriously and the actions of the Executive Council to address them will be visible to all of us. I am also glad to hear that, in the future, new measures will be considered to involve all members when deciding on issues that concern us all.

Nathalie Payette
Ottawa, Ontario

Raj said...

Thank you for this detailed account of the AGM!

- Raj (Hamilton, ON)