Jborstby John Borst, Communications

Rotarians are justifiably proud of the principles embedded in their “Four Way Test”. None is more important than the very first question “Is it the TRUTH?”. Are not the very concepts of freedom and dignity of the human person foundational to the conception of Truth?

With the Council on Legislation getting under way this week the question of Rotary as a “democratic institution” once again comes to the fore. Clearly, when one reads the proposed 2016 “enactments and resolutions”1 one is impressed with the democratic nature of the Council.

Yet when the question of how Rotary is governed as an institution comes head to head with the question of “Truth” the reality present at the Council disappears and another reality punctures the air.

COL-2016-373x300Let’s look at the preparation for the Council as an example. The deadline for enactments and resolutions was 31 December 2014, that is a full one year, three months and 9 days (or 455) days ago. I’ll dispense with the rational for this overly long lead-up time because even as Communications Director for the District, I still do not know who the District delegate is nor have I participated in any discussion at any level of any enactment or resolution. Wouldn’t you think members through their clubs should have been informed of the proposals and their input sought so their delegate might have at least known where the general membership stood? In principle democracy rests with the membership and it shouldn’t be in name only.

But nowhere is the gap between truth and democratic reality larger than in the so called “election” of the Rotary President. Let’s take a look at some of the barriers which have evolved to make the process closed rather than open.

a) The formal “qualifications” bar has steadily been raised, Club President, District Governor, R I Director;

b) The unwritten roles expected to be completed before qualification at each of the formal levels has multiplied, with Zone duties paramount for consideration as an RI director;

c) The importance of being a Major Donor to the Rotary Foundation is a recent criterion which eliminates 99% of rank and file members;

d) The use of nominating committees at the District and International levels with the mandate to choose only ONE “most qualified” candidate from among those qualified;

e) The use of only Past District Governors and Past RI Directors as members of their respective Nominating Committee membership;

d) The continued over-whelming maleness of the RI Nominating committee membership, a fact which is unlikely to be reversed in this Century and which continues to ensure that the glass ceiling to the nomination of a woman as president will remain very thick for decades to come;

e) The unwritten rule that Past RI Directors still need to, over many years, fill other roles, such as RI Committee chair, Foundation Trustee chair, or International Conference chair;

f) And finally there is the most egregious of anti-democratic rules on the books…the banning of qualified members from campaigning and the banning of members campaigning on behalf of any candidate.

It is time Rotary returned to its historical roots. In its early days Rotarians elected their president at an annual convention. There was more than one candidate and campaigning was a part of the process.

Yes it was messy but the “truth” is democracy is a messy process.

Rotary is an American cultural invention and like American democracy itself it is imbued with a heavy dose of myth making to sustain itself. Hence, Rotary’s elitist nomination system is the ‘noble falsehood’ honed to preserve a façade of democracy within an institutional oligarchy.

Perhaps no national Presidential election is messier than that in the USA and this year’s is more convoluted than normal because each of the dominant parties has a candidate who is breaking the rules. Trump doesn’t do myth because celebrity is myth while Bernie Sanders spends his time calling out the myth for what it is, a plutocracy of the moneyed elite. In doing so, it is candidate Bernie Sanders who has best articulated what Rotary needs. He is calling for nothing less than a “revolution” in American politics.  A revolution is what Rotary needs too.


1 A proposed enactment seeks to amend the RI constitutional documents. A proposed resolution is any item that seeks to amend other RI policies and procedures.