Letter Sent to Samvera Community in Regards to Github

A Call to a Community Response

By on ::

Nothing is given to people, and the little they can conquer is paid for with unjust deaths. But a person’s greatness lies elsewhere. It lies in their decision to be stronger than their condition. And if their condition is unjust, they have only one way of overcoming it, which is to be just themself.
Albert Camus, The Night of Truth

, as part of my work in the Samvera community, I wrote the following:

Requesting a response from Samvera regarding Github

To the Samvera community and the people from partnering organizations,

During the tech call a group of community members discussed our use of Github; prompted by the news that Github fired a Jewish engineer. According to the news article, on , during the insurrectionist attack on the Capitol, a Jewish engineer wrote in Github’s internal Slack “stay safe homies, Nazis are about.” That day HR reprimanded the engineer and two days later fired them.

This, along with past stories, leads us to recommend that we as the Samvera community should take action.

Before I go into the steps of action, I want to raise awareness that others and I have heard several Jewish people on Twitter voice their concern and discomfort about using Github at work.

In a way, our partnership with Github may be creating feelings of harassment and code of conduct violations. See our Anti-Harassment Policy and Code of Conduct for reference. The tools we use also say a bit about who we are as a community.

I think that we should look at this situation through that lens, but only as a framing guide.

First, and foremost, I believe that Samvera should quickly and formally address this event. The participants in the tech call recommended creating a short-term working group to do that.

Assuming the community proceeds with the working group, I also believe that we should each inform our home organization’s leadership about the working group’s activity. Perhaps those organizations will be able to utilize the working group’s effort so that they may also respond in kind.

I also encourage each of us as individuals to contact Github to express our personal concerns.

update

Earlier this morning, the Samvera community received the following:

We’re troubled by this incident as it calls into question whether Github is compatible with our community values. We agree that there should be a working group to assess that, especially if more information about the situation becomes available, and consider the process for switching to another source code hosting provider. Even if we decided to stay with Github in this instance, the results of this working group could serve as a useful framework for Samvera in evaluating other tools and vendors if similar circumstances arise in the future.

Samvera Steering, Re: Requesting a response from Samvera regarding Github

And one member has committed to drafting a charter for the working group.

Touching on the Community Process

The above letter reflects the process the Samvera community uses. Someone raises a problem or concern, a small group might discuss it, and then we form a working group to clarify and develop our response. See Samvera’s documentation for their working group framework. In having this documentation, we’ve established an interface for community members to voice concerns and explore solutions.

You can see this process in Samvera’s Branch Renaming Working Group. In our present climate of immediate responses and actions this can feel slow. But, I find that the sustained work best demonstrates commitment to espoused values.

My Personal Letter to Github

As there is urgency to this situation, I have also (as an individual and not on behalf of any organization) sent the following to Github:

I am writing in regards to the following news article: https://www.businessinsider.com/microsoft-github-backlash-jewish-employee-termination-2021-1

I am expressing my anger and concern at the firing of a Jewish engineer. And let’s be clear, there were Nazis prowling the Capitol building that day.

One photographed and now arrested Nazi insurrectionist wore a 6MWNE shirt; a violent anti-Semitic reference to the Holocaust in which Nazis killed 6 million Jews. The person wearing the shirt supported the idea that the Nazi Holocaust did not kill enough Jews.

It is unconscionable for Github to not extend grace for someone who has certainly endured endless aggression and must also process the unfolding nightmare of an insurrection and coup. Your organizations actions demonstrated that it’s policies (written or implicit) and HR procedures lack empathy and sympathy for people.

I expect a response.

update

This afternoon, I received the following response from Github:

Thank you for reaching out to us.

GitHub and its leadership team condemn the attack on the US Capitol on January 6, and any and all belief systems that are discriminatory. GitHub does not tolerate discrimination, harassment, or retaliation. This applies to both our everyday interactions with other employees and any separation decisions.

GitHub is actively looking into the circumstances surrounding the separation of the employee and will take any appropriate action after running a thorough process.

In other words, keep watching and trust internal audits.

update

Now hundreds of GitHub employees are protesting the termination. GitHub CEO Nat Friedman sent out a message to the company pledging that management “will take any and all appropriate action following a thorough investigation” of the employee’s termination.

Friedman also denounced the insurrection and wrote that “Antisemitism, neonazis, and white supremacy — along with all other forms of racism — are vile and have no place in the world, and especially no place in our community.”

In a message to coworkers regarding his firing, the employee wrote, “This can be an opportunity for people to see white supremacy is a problem. It’s not just a cultural thing. It can be a structural thing.”

update

The company has not yet told employees why the Jewish worker was fired. GitHub COO Erica Brescia responded to his original Slack thread saying: “This has been a tough week. We are listening and understand people are concerned. Many across the leadership team have spent time today with Hubbers who have had questions and concerns about this separation. Separating with an employee isn’t easy for anyone. When we do separate we want to protect and employee’s privacy so we do not provide details regarding separations.”

To employees, the comment fell flat. “This is a deeply unsatisfying response,” one wrote. “And it makes me feel sick to my stomach. It seems that GitHub chose to fire a Jewish employee for either accurately labeling the (literal, verifiable) Nazis at the Capitol as Nazis; or that they were fired for expressing a religious sentiment. I don’t see how either of those comport with GitHub’s values. I respect the privacy of departed employees, but there simply must be something else that can be said as to why this isn’t as bad as it looks.”

Apparently, there was not.

This follow-up brings back a lot of reminders of a past lived event. It also draws attention to some creepy cult like framing: “separation”, “empathy circle”, and “Hubbers”.

Github terminated the employee. Using the phrase “separation” looks to position the topic adjacent to “amicable separation.”

update

This morning I received the following from Github:

I want to follow up real quick and let you know that the independent investigation we have started last Monday has concluded today. On the evening of Friday, January 15th, the investigation revealed significant errors of judgment and procedure. Our head of HR has taken personal accountability and resigned from GitHub yesterday morning, Saturday, January 16th.

We stand by our earlier statement that GitHub condemns the attack on the US Capitol on January 6th and any and all belief systems that are discriminatory. Antisemitism, neo-Nazis, and white supremacy – along with all other forms of racism – are vile and have no place in our community.

The public blog post on this subject is available at https://github.blog/2021-01-17-update-on-an-employee-matter/. I’ll mark this ticket as solved, but if you have further questions or comments feel free to let us know. The ticket will reopen automatically.

Github Support Response

Postscript

, I wrote about saying farewell to Github Pages.

In that post, I also implored each manager and leader to bring compassion and empathy in your interactions with the people you manage and lead. These wicked days draw heavily on our body and souls. Now, as always, is a time to hold each other accountable to the truth and to each other’s humanity.