Everything has a beginning. And for me, the first glimpse of AAWA, albeit without a name, occurred during a phone conversation. I was writing a story about Bo Juel Jensen for jwsurvey.org back in January 2013.
After being interviewed, Bo remarked, “So Richard, why don’t we use a business model to get the Tower’s full attention? Let’s form a not-for-profit corporation to rally and unite the worldwide ex-JW community. A well organized and focused business could force the Tower to change many of its harmful policies.”
Having been a successful businessman for thirty-three years, what Bo said made perfect sense. Even so, I thought it couldn’t hurt to get a second opinion. So I phoned my friend John Cedars, and asked if he’d ever thought about using a business model—a business plan—to get Watchtower to rethink its damaging policies.
At first, Cedars seemed strangely irritated. It seemed the word business was a sticking point for him. He couldn’t associate such a word with activism against the Watchtower. I persevered, and figured out that it was all just semantics. After all, it does sometimes take a while for a Brit and a Yank to reconcile their English.
When it finally dawned on Cedars that Bo and I were suggesting we apply a business model to the development of an activist organization, he said, “Ooooh! About a month ago I sent John Hoyle an email pitching him that very idea. Would you like to see a copy of it?”
Bingo! Cedars had already drafted a preliminary business plan for a “Council” of Anti-Watchtower activists. It was a great place to start, so we began tweaking Cedars’ original email into a workable business document. We needed a Mission Statement, at least that’s what I called it. Cedars preferred calling it a “Charter.” Again, it was semantics.
An organization takes shape
I suggested that we needed to clearly define the culture of our company—our personal and business values. Amazingly, it didn’t take long to come up with a workable solution. Soon it was time to get advice from critical-thinking ex-JWs who we could rely on to challenge us on our plan, and recommend improvements. So we approached an international panel, bringing in Barbara Anderson, Bo, Paul Grundy, Danmera (Mickey Hudson) and John Hoyle for their input. What it would take to get their buy-in? What should we add, delete or change? And so, gradually, the “light got brighter and brighter” on our idea! The seven of us became founders, making decisions collectively. An organization began to take shape.
After much deliberation, we reached consensus on a name for our brainchild, The Association of Anti-Watchtower Activists (AAWA). The purpose for our business would be to to raise awareness and help people escape a damaging cult. No person in our organization would be allowed to rise to prominence, or use his or her efforts to further any personal agenda.
AAWA would be religiously neutral. Our gripe was not so much with JW beliefs. We all believe that most JWs are good people; all of us having JW family members that we love. AAWA will focus its efforts on five of Watchtower’s most harmful policies, which the Governing Body in their Ivory Tower needs to urgently address. We will extend an offer to meet with them in person to discuss these if they so wish. If they choose to listen and respond wisely, we close up shop. The five policies are:
- The shunning of family members.
- The mishandling of child abuse cases.
- The mishandling of domestic abuse cases.
- The ban on certain medical treatments involving blood.
- The stigmatizing of higher education (college) as the pursuit of materialism and a waste of time.
AAWA was incorporated as a non-profit company on March 7, 2013 and is in the process of being organized into specific teams. Lee Marsh, who has qualifications and experience in the field of support work, joined as an Advisory Board member on March 31, 2013 – bringing the total number of board members to eight. Lee will lead the Support Team, and we are grateful to be adding her skills and experience to our project.
More information about AAWA can be found on our new website at jwactivists.org.
Standing on the shoulders of giants
AAWA would not have been possible without the hard work and visionary minds of Ray Franz, Randy Watters, Barbara Anderson, Simon Green and his wife, Angharad – real heroes, who in my mind will take centre stage in the history books as those who bravely stood up to the Watchtower. All of them are critical-thinking people who have helped thousands of people escape the Watchtower’s mental chains. And the number of modern-day internet vigilantes continues to expand.
Marvin Shilmer‘s research and writing skills related to the blood issue are second to none. Ruben Ortiz has created a social networking model on Facebook that has helped hundreds of people, a model that can be used all over the world by ex-JWs. Brenda Lee continues to reach out to young women who have been disfellowshipped, offering them a safe community of friends.
And now an international army of AAWA supporters is emerging. Nestor & Toni Kuilan (former missionaries and a District Overseer from Spain) and Roberto di Stefano (former Watchtower translator in Europe and an ex-JW activist) have already committed themselves to help make AAWA’s vision a reality.
My guess is that the Bullies in Brooklyn have underestimated the growing army of passionate people who are saying, “Enough is enough!” We will not remain silent. The leaders of the Watch Tower Society must be held accountable for the harm they inflict daily on current and former JWs alike.
Visit AAWA’s official web page at jwactivists.org
AAWA’s inaugural video…