UPDATED with Waldman statement: Last night’s WGA West membership meeting at the Sheraton Universal was a wake-up call for Ayelet Waldman, an opposition candidate in the WGA West board election who says she now no longer feels welcome either in the election or the union. She’s determined, however, to stay in the race as a member of Phyllis Nagy’s slate of running mates who want to see the guild return to the bargaining table with the Association of Talent Agents and end the nearly four-month standoff over packaging fees and agency affiliations with related production entities.
“Though I am a loyal, dues-paying member of the WGA, I did not feel welcome in that room,” she wrote in a lengthy letter to her running mates and supporters, obtained by Deadline, about her treatment by fellow writers at the meeting. “But I expected that. What I didn’t expect was to feel unwelcome in the election. And I most certainly never expected to feel unwelcome in my union.”
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Waldman said she’s not dropping out of the race, however, because “I don’t want to give a troll the pleasure of chasing me out of the race. But I don’t know what I’m doing this for anymore.” (Read the full letter below.)
“I began writing for television because I was a lonely novelist,” she told Deadline. “I longed for a day-to-day community of writers. I care about writers. I love writers. The members of the Board, the officers, the candidates for office all seek to serve for a single reason: because they care about writers too. We live in strange times. Political rhetoric has been irrevocably poisoned. The toxic stew of the internet has normalized ugliness. But this is not our Guild. We can and should be a model of democratic process. To write well we must be able to empathize, not merely with people like ourselves, but also (and especially) with those who are different, with whom we disagree.”
Before last night’s meeting, she tweeted that her slate is “focused on Guild unity. We are proud union members, who want to see the WGA remain vital and powerful. That means writers unified. We may disagree on strategy, but we reject any approach that involves encouraging hostility toward our fellow Guild members.”
Here’s her letter:
Very few of you know me, but the ones that do know that I am tough. I’ve spent much of my career fighting on behalf of the powerless and the left behind, as a public defender, a drug policy reformer, an activist on civil rights and Palestinian rights, and a writer. I have written about mandatory minimum sentences, human rights violations in women’s prisons, discrimination against the mentally ill, and the incarceration of Palestinian children in Israeli jails. As a woman and a public figure, I have been vilified on social media. I’ve defended myself on the Oprah show. As a young lawyer, I stared down hostile juries on behalf of undocumented immigrants, gang members and drug dealers. Never once have I had an experience like I had tonight, in a meeting of the people I once believed were my brethren.
As someone who opposes Board strategy, though not its goals, I anticipated being in the minority at a WGA information night. I agree that packaging presents serious conflicts of interest and must be addressed, I am furious at the financial hits writers have taken in this time of peak TV, I am concerned that Affiliate Production may be a violation of antitrust law, but I do not believe we should have been compelled to fire our agents on pain of Rule 23 disciplinary hearings. I do not believe the Guild spent enough time in difficult negotiations. Though I’ve heard from hundreds of writers of all levels who feel the same way, I knew going in that that most of the individuals in that Sheraton ballroom would disagree with me.
What I did not expect, however, was to be attacked. I didn’t expect to be told I didn’t ‘care about writers.’ Does anyone really imagine that someone who didn’t care about writers would ever take on the thankless task of running for the board? Does anyone imagine that the grim slog of a WGA election, with its attendant social media attacks, is something someone would do for any reason other than a concern for their fellow writers? Do you imagine that the glorious power of a Board position, complete with tedious monthly meetings and onerous committee responsibilities is something anyone would ever sign up for because of, what, personal gain? Every single person who serves on the WGA Board does so because she believes wholeheartedly in service, because she cares about not just herself, or her friends, but about the community of writers as a whole.
When a writer stood up and announced that he was going to use his microphone to do the electioneering the incumbent candidates weren’t allowed to do, and then went on to state that those of us who are running against them, those of us who signed the letter stating our concerns about the action, don’t care about writers, I waited for someone on the board to cut him off, to remind him of David Young’s reminder about civility, to insist that he respect us, and specifically me, the only non-incumbent candidate in the room. I waited for the same respect I had shown the Board when I prefaced a polite question with gratitude for their willingness to engage with membership and specifically for responding to my emails and questions. No one on the dais said a word.
And so I defended myself. I stood up and insisted that I, like the board members on the dais, care about writers. I challenged the Board members to act on their demand for civility and shut the questioner down. After reminding me that it was unacceptable to interrupt, David Young told the questioner that his comments were inappropriate. When the questioner ignored the admonition, David Goodman cut him off and told him it was not okay to attack fellow union members. I was grateful to both Davids, but why had it taken my standing up for them to stop the attack? Why wasn’t it they who first demanded the civility I am confident they value?
After that, I sat in my seat for as long as I could tolerate. Eventually, however, I had to leave. I walked out calmly. It wasn’t until a writer ran up to me, put his hand on my arm, and apologized on behalf of the Guild that I burst into tears.
Though I am a loyal, dues-paying member of the WGA, I did not feel welcome in that room. But I expected that. What I didn’t expect was to feel unwelcome in the election. And I most certainly never expected to feel unwelcome in my union. Like I said at the beginning of this overly-long missive, I’m a baller (and clearly a brawler), so part of me is more committed than ever to running for a board position. I don’t want to give a troll the pleasure of chasing me out of the race. But I don’t know what I’m doing this for anymore.