& What Business Is It of Yours?!

The Cooptation of Feminism by WCASA in the Name of Profit.

The critiques of power relations that characterized the feminist movement in the 1960s and early 1970s have been replaced by an apolitical emphasis on personal choice and liberal individualism. Currently, violence against women is defined within the realm of consent and individual will, and not by feminist concepts of our common good or collective well-being.
          The responses of Lewis Fortis, president of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, to longtime feminist activist Nikki Craft in the interview that follows are frighteningly indicative of what happens when people without a feminist consciousness, or a sense of connection with the larger movement to fight against sexism, assume power over an anti- sexual violence organization.
          In their quest for hierarchical structure and corporate funding, WCASA has turned their backs on the very women who have made their work possible. They have lost perspective of the feminist principles that are needed to guide their work, and have instead adopted a capitalist business ethic, creating for themselves a safe, apolitical -- and by no coicdence a well endowed -- social service agency.
          Andrea Dworkin is, unquestionably, the most important contemporary feminist of our movement. Her voice must be heard against the cacophony of misogynist messages that inundate us every day. She has inspired tens of thousands of people to escape sexual slavery and to work against sexual violence. The people of Wisconsin would have gained a great deal from having heard her speak.
          Is it our business how a feminist organization treats other feminists? Do we, as feminist activists have any right to express our objections to wrong-doings by a feminist organization? You're damn right we do -- it's not only our right, it's our responsibility.
          While this transcript is an accurate translation, we regret that we could not transfer the arrogant, superior tone that Fortis used throughout the entire conversation.

Patricia Barrera, November 20, 1996

Nikki Craft Interviews Louis Fortis, president of The Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, in September 5, 1996. Transcription by Chris Grussendorf.



CRAFT--I'm very sorry I couldn't get the other phone so I'm just gonna, I couldn't talk because of a thing in our line. Anyway...

FORTIS--Yeah, I can only talk a little while now. Who are you?

CRAFT--My name is Nikki Craft and I think you probably see my name on the petition about WCASA. I have spoken with Erin and...

FORTIS--Oh, you're the one who was talking to Erin. OK.

CRAFT--Yeah, but I don't want to, if it's an inconvenient time, I don't want to take up your time.

FORTIS--I have to leave in about ten minutes.

CRAFT--Uh huh.

FORTIS--So I can talk to you for a couple of minutes. We can talk later tomorrow if you want.

CRAFT--OK. Am I calling you at work or at home?

FORTIS--At home.

CRAFT--At home. Well, if you want to talk again you can let me know a convenient time to talk with you. Now, I wanted to get what your side of the story is - what you think about what happened and ask you a few questions, if that's OK.

FORTIS--Yeah, I guess so. Let me just ask you this, Ms. Craft.

CRAFT--Don't call me Ms. Craft, please. Call me Nikki.

FORTIS--OK, Nikki. You're welcome to call me Louis.

CRAFT--Well, I have been (laughs).

FORTIS--I don't know your background or who you are or what your role is in this and all that stuff, could you tell me what that is first?

CRAFT--Well, right now I'm trying to sort through some information so that we can release a second statement and begin getting signatures on it that is reflecting additional information that has been gotten regarding the situation that's going on at WCASA. One thing which it'll affect you directly on is that I don't believe that you are as independently and individually responsible for this as the statement originally said. It will be clarifying that there are more people that need to be held accountable for what happened than just you. And I'm going to try to get all that stuff straightened out.

FORTIS--OK, and the next question I'm a little confused so you can help me out here. What are we, what is what happened? Tell me what you think.

CRAFT--Well, I see (laughs) so you don't know. What I'm under the impression happened is from the information that I've been able to gather from talking to different people is that WCASA invited Andrea Dworkin to speak. Everything was worked out, the amount, the dates, the particulars. And then you were in a meeting where people were informed of the particulars and you started talking about how she was a censor and I don't know the exact quotes I'd like to hear that from you. Then the Executive Board met and decided on the grounds that it would be too controversial to have her and for funding evidently because of First Amendment views.

FORTIS--Well, also there's, I mean there's, its partially true what you said, yeah.

CRAFT--And that you called her and informed her that WCASA was dis- inviting her and that because she was a controversial figure, and because of her views on the First Amendment.

FORTIS--It's not too far off from what happened. Let me just ask you this. Let's say all of that is exactly what happened. So what? I mean, I don't understand.

CRAFT--Well, are you, let me ask a few questions about what your position is because it would really help me. First of all, are you pro- pornography? Would you define yourself as pro-pornography?


ED NOTE-In WORT radio show on this controversy (aired sometime in November, 1996) Fortis said he is not convinced that rape and pornography are on the same continuum of violence against women. He said there is not good research that shows a strong connection.

CRAFT--OK. Are you...

FORTIS--Before you interview me help me out here. Just to get back to the question, let's say that there were talks and negotiations about her coming...

CRAFT--There weren't talks and negotiations. She was invited. She was invited, Louis.

FORTIS--Yeah, but I mean...

CRAFT--There were negotiations but it was a done deal. She was invited.

FORTIS--Umm...there was no signed contract.

CRAFT--Well, it was a word of mouth agreement. I hope you understand that technically you all could be sued for this violation of contract. It's a word of mouth agreement. Surely you know it's binding. Correct?

FORTIS--No, not to my understanding.

CRAFT--A word of mouth contract is binding.

FORTIS--My understanding is that...

CRAFT--Look it was...

FORTIS--I'm not going to argue about this.

CRAFT--It was arranged for her to speak there and then it's to me...

FORTIS--Nikki, let me just go back there this is my understanding, OK? My understanding is there were discussions with her. She sent out or faxed out a contract and we never signed it.

CRAFT--She was invited by WCASA, arrangements were made, a figure was decided on. The only thing she had to do was make her plane reservations and she would have been there. Then you came in, voiced opposition about how controversial a figure she was and how she was a censor. Then you called her, what did you say to her when you called her?

FORTIS--I left a message on her machine saying that the Executive Committee met and unanimously decided not to invite her.

CRAFT--Uh huh. Unanimously of the four of you all.

FORTIS--You got it. You know quite a bit about this. Who's your, what has Michael been telling you?

CRAFT--Michael who?

FORTIS--So how are you finding this out?

CRAFT--You think I'm very knowledgeable because I know four of your board members? (laughs) Four of your Executive Board members? Well, I'm finding out various particulars about this because...

FORTIS--How are you finding this out?

CRAFT--Talking to different people.

FORTIS--Like who?

CRAFT--Why does it matter if it's accurate?

FORTIS--No, no, no. You're here calling me up asking all kinds of questions. Let's go both ways, if you want to answer questions I'll answer questions, but you have to answer questions.

CRAFT--What did you tell Andrea?

FORTIS--Tell me who...

CRAFT--I'm not telling you where I'm getting my information.

FORTIS--So why should I...

CRAFT--OK, you don't have to, you should because I was told that you would be happy to talk with anybody and tell them what happened. That's all I want to find out from you. If you're telling me that you won't tell me this now until I meet certain things. No, I'm not going to tell you who my information's coming from.


CRAFT--And I think you know why.

FORTIS--No, why?

CRAFT--You know damn good and well because I'll be cut off from a source of information and I need those sources because I'm going to be finding out what you all are doing.

FORTIS--Where are you? Where are you, are you from Wisconsin?

CRAFT--I spent time in Wisconsin. I'm from California.

FORTIS--OK. Let me just tell you what happened.


FORTIS--WCASA is a membership organization. They elect a board of directors. The board of directors elects a executive committee. Apparently, I was out of the country, but apparently discussion was going on with Ms. Dworkin and I...

CRAFT--I want to write this down, OK? Give me the exact order that it happened again. I want to make sure I've got it accurate, OK? Hello?


CRAFT--I'll try to write it faster.

FORTIS--OK. I mean (sighs) um, ah let me do one more thing.


FORTIS--The, ah, WCASA is a membership organization. They elect a board of directors. The board elects an executive committee...


FORTIS--Ah, a decision was made by the executive committee not to invite Ms. Dworkin. I called her up to inform her of that.

CRAFT--Ah, OK. Now, what did you say when you called her?

FORTIS--Umm..I think I mentioned I left a message on her machine saying that the executive committee decided not to invite her.

CRAFT--Did you talk to her at all?

FORTIS--She called me back.

CRAFT--What did you tell her?


CRAFT--What reason did you give her for not inviting her?

FORTIS--Well, first of all, wait a sec. Let me ask you one question. Now it's my turn.


FORTIS--This is a democratically elected organization and they made a decision. Where do you or anyone else come in saying we don't have a right to do what we want to do? You do not live in Wisconsin.

CRAFT--We don't...

FORTIS--Are not members of WCASA. What, what let me ask you, where do you fit in this whole thing?

CRAFT--The way we fit in is that you invited, your organization officially invited a leader, a leader...

FORTIS--Is there a signed letter?

CRAFT--Louis, we don't need it signed. We know she was invited and we can prove she was invited.

FORTIS--How can you prove...

CRAFT--She was invited.

FORTIS--How can you prove she was invited without a signed letter?

CRAFT--I was keeping up with negotiations for one thing. And I know that a date and time was set. I know that it was OK'd, the amount of money was OK'd. Now, are you denying that that's the truth?

FORTIS--I am certainly, categorically denying that any commitment by the board of directors, who are the only ones that can speak for an organization, made any...

CRAFT--How about your conference organizing committee? I don't know the name of that. Are you denying that they invited her?

FORTIS--I don't know, but according to the bylaws no committee can enter into a contract without the approval of the board.

CRAFT--OK. Yeah, I mean look, I'm agreeing with you that there are some misunderstandings here and that there's big mismanagement on WCASA's leadership.

FORTIS--I wouldn't say that...

CRAFT--For the way this was handled and I don't think it was all your fault. I think Erin's going to play a big role in this.

FORTIS--I don't think anyone did anything wrong. I mean I do international consulting. I will sign contracts and get ready to go, subject to a contract, the organizers hire me, getting a contract, at the last minute and something falls through. I don't go.

CRAFT--What did you say to Andrea when you called her?

FORTIS--I told her that the executive committee umm...chose not to invite her.


FORTIS--That's irrelevant, it doesn't even matter.

CRAFT--It does matter, it's not irrelevant to our pursuing this matter. Did you...


CRAFT--Are you going to refuse to tell me why...

FORTIS--Would you hang on a sec, you pursuing this thing. You who are not a member of WCASA, who's not involved. You don't even live in the state of Wisconsin. What rights do you have to try to push something on an organization that made a decision?

CRAFT--We are activists...

FORTIS--Are you anti-democratic?

CRAFT--All of us are activists within the anti-violence movement and Louis, we're not going to allow Andrea to be treated this way. That's our interest in this, OK? We're not going to allow her to be treated this way by an anti-violence group, OK?

FORTIS--Let me ask you...

CRAFT--And it's going...

FORTIS--How is this different than ah, some kind of fascist group bludegeoning...

CRAFT--Now are you insisting because I think we've got something here that we're going to not be able to continue on. Are you telling me that you're not going to tell me why you told Andrea that she was being dis- invited to speak there?

FORTIS--Whatever, uh, this was a couple of weeks ago. I talked to Andrea it was over, Andrea thanked me for the chance to explain, whatever.

CRAFT--She's very gracious, isn't she?

FORTIS--And that was end of discussion.

CRAFT--You did not tell Andrea that the reason that WCASA was dis- inviting her was because she was a controversial figure and because of her views on the First Amendment?

FORTIS--Could very, I mean, you're going to tell me she's not controversial?

CRAFT--Are you, why what reason did you give Andrea Dworkin?

FORTIS--Who are you?

CRAFT--I am an activist, my whole adult life in this movement. I am asking you why, as a leader, as a board member and president of an anti-sexual violence organization that is affiliated with NCASA, a national anti-abuse group, why you will not tell me if you said to Andrea that you dis-invited her because she was a controversial figure because of her views on the First Amendment? It is relevant to what we're talking about. Did you or did you not say it?

FORTIS--One more question. Relevant to whom?

CRAFT--It's relevant to the situation because the board is claiming that they dis-invited her because of funding.

FORTIS--It was, it was...

CRAFT--There's an inconsistency here.

FORTIS--Let me just say there is no issue. The issue is: the board made a decision, a democratically elected board - done.

CRAFT--The issue is what you told Andrea. And the fact that you told her that she was not invited because she was a controversial figure and that you won't admit it is what's going to pursue this Luis, and it's going to pursue it right to the NCASA meeting. So just know that.

FORTIS--I mean, here's the thing, Nikki. Frankly, I'm responsible to a membership in Wisconsin, people who are members of the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault, to do the best I can for the Wisconsin Coalition Against Sexual Assault To have somebody from out-of-state calling up demanding or bludgeoning or whatever...

CRAFT--Bludgeoning?! Bludgeoning?! Fuck that...

FORTIS--This is incredible, this is a ...

CRAFT--This is not a bludgeoning, I mean you're not taking responsibility for what you said to Dworkin when you called her as a WCASA representative.

FORTIS--I certainly have taken responsibly.

CRAFT--Well, then cop to it. Tell me what you said to her.

FORTIS--Who the hell are you?

CRAFT--I am an activist against sexual abuse and I'm trying to find out the facts of this. Hey, listen. Hey, Louis, I am trying to get to the bottom of this - you welcomed people to call and ask questions about what happened. Now you're telling me it's irrelevant, what you said to Andrea Dworkin. It's not irrelevant. It's very relevant and I want to know, are you going to tell me or not?

FORTIS--Let me go back one step. I'm going to tell you the same thing I told you before and we'll start over again then. The executive committee made a decision. I called her up, told her that we're not inviting her - done.

CRAFT--OK, that's your side of the story. You got anything else you want to say?


CRAFT--I'll be glad to hear it. OK.

FORTIS--I raise the question, what right do you have to push your views on an organization that you're not even a member of?

CRAFT--It's not only my views, you're going to find that there are going to be a number of people who are going to be representing this as you can see from the listing on there. I'm writing up another statement and it will be presented to the NCASA Board and because of y'all's mis-handling of this and we expect an official apology to Andrea and we expect WCASA to invite her back. I am retracting the thing about getting you off the board because I'll tell you what, to be quite honest, I think that it's mis- management by all of WCASA.

FORTIS--Let me ask you this: does it bother you at all to use the internet to put letters on the internet before you had ever talked to anyone here?

CRAFT--There were a number of other people who talked about this. There's a number, the different directions that people are looking at this situation from give people a totally different perspective. I'm writing up _my_ statement now. I signed on to the other statement as support for -- I want this thing resolved -- and that's what everyone else did. Now, I'm writing up my statement from first hand discussions with you, Erin and some of your other board members, including NCASA. Then I will probably send you a copy of it before I start distributing it because that's the way I would do it with my statement.

FORTIS--OK, but the last one...

CRAFT--I signed on to that statement because I want resolution on it.

FORTIS--I mean, but doesn't it, the thing that... I appreciate the fact that you called me, number one. I think that's fair and I wish someone would have called before the first one.

CRAFT--I think that's valid, by the way, but I don't think it negates our issues here, OK?

FORTIS--OK, we disagree about the issues. But anyway, I do appreciate the fact that at least you called. Whoever wrote the first one didn't call. Secondly, um... and again I don't know how else to say this, the board stands by the decision, the entire board reaffirmed their support for me as president. That was unanimous. From WCASA's point-of-view, we made a decision to use the money that would have been used, the $4,000, to provide scholarships for 86 people. Last year at the conference 12 people showed up, this year over a hundred showed up because of the scholarships. Now, just from a purely from a position of trying to do the most to combat sexual assault, I think that providing scholarships for 86 people to a training session versus having one person come to speak and I don't care who that person is, is a better use of the money.

CRAFT--Well, that can be your opinion, Louis, but it's going to be the opinion of many people outside your organization that you abused Andrea Dworkin in the process and abusing her is really messing with the anti-sexual violence movement. And you're not going to get away with it. Now, are you still maintaining that your not going to tell me what you told Andrea?

FORTIS--Ask Andrea.

CRAFT--No, uh uh. I'm getting it straight from you. You said that you would be willing to clear up information. I'm asking you.

FORTIS--When did we say that?

CRAFT--That's what I was told about calling you. Now, let me tell you something I'm going to be writing this down on my statement that when I called you, you refused to inform me what you told Andrea as an official WCASA representative when you called her. And you said it's irrelevant.

FORTIS--If you're willing to write down exactly what I have to say, I'll tell you.

CRAFT--I'm writing it down.

FORTIS--The question is: who are you and what business is it of yours?

CRAFT--Who am I and what business is it of mine. OK. I'll say you said that.

FORTIS--Yes, I did.

CRAFT--And ... what ... business ... is it ... of ... mine.

FORTIS--And that you are not a WCASA member.

CRAFT--I think that's very reflective of your position and I will certainly quote you. Okey dokee. Thank you.

FORTIS--Thank you.

CRAFT--Thank you.

The End.