The e-AA Group Comes of Age
The following is a report of the ad hoc committee whose purpose it was to investigate and establish possible working guidelines and procedures for The e-AA Group--as entrusted by the Members of The e-AA Group.
This report relays the discussions at the ad hoc committee with regard to our search for definition of who we are, what we are, and why we are. It is our hope the paper will serve as a starting point for an explanation of how The e-AA Group came to be through the efforts of a few individuals—and where we might be headed together as an Alcoholics Anonymous group.
This document serves as the precursor to “The e-AA Group: How It Works” paper — or the actual policies and guidelines of The e-AA Group.
Here is our offer then, for some agreed upon concepts and principles to live by — a guiding philosophy of group conscience for The e-AA Group — the better for to give us unity and direction as we carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers--the primary purpose of all AA groups.
History of The e-AA Group
May 2000 through February 2003
The e-AA Group came about as a suggestion from Dean C. over lunch one day at Chong’s Café … the unofficial meeting place for California Northern Coastal Area 06 District O1 members in Monterey, California.
A small group of AAs had been meeting there for lunch each week for over five years. In the beginning, they were all involved in General Service, and the lunches began as an informal way to talk about district, area, and AA-wide topics.
In the summer of 2000, three people — Bryan T., Susan B., and Dean C. — decided to form a group that would function online. Barry C. and Mark O. arrived shortly thereafter for those early days. The five of them are the group's "founders."
Homework and Group Registration
Much needed to be done in the beginning — especially since the formation of an online group was something entirely new to the founders. First, the original members canvassed the Internet to see what other AA entities were doing online and how they did it. They secured the domain name e-aa.org and named the group The e-AA Group of Alcoholics Anonymous. On July 1, 2000, they filled out the New Group Registration Form. Groups do not have to register with their General Service Offices. "Any two or more alcoholics gathered together for sobriety may call themselves an AA group, provided that, as a group, they have no other affiliation" (Tradition Three Long Form). However, registration offers numerous benefits to a group-and to AA as a whole.
In August, they received their group number from the General Service Office US/Canada. There was no web site as yet. The impetus to "go live" came when Barry was about to leave for China. He and his wife were to be there two years. The five AAs and friends (often referred to now as the “lunch bunch” or the “Chong’s Gang”) wanted a way to stay connected. It was time to build the site. (Until recently the "Globe Trudgers" category of the discussion forums was called "Barry's World," and in the old posts you'll find a number of messages dating back to Barry's early days in China.)
Of the various online formats and activities, it was impossible to know what would work and what wouldn't when it came to reaching out to the still suffering alcoholic. They decided on "one of each" and Dean designed a site that included: basic AA information and links to the GSO web site (there is also now a Grapevine page); discussion forums; email lists; real-time (chat) rooms; a 12th Step list; a newsletter; and a links directory. In addition, there were a few added "fun" things on the site, such as a sobriety calculator, virtual postcards, and so on. The e-aa.org server would host (and still does) the web sites and email lists of other AA entities as well.
The early Members had no expectations that if they built a web site anyone would come — except the five of them.
(Author’s note: And if truth be known — and it should be here — the website and group owes its very life to Dean C., who was certainly the one to suggest and then carry out the idea and subsequent planning of The e-AA Group.)
Going Live and Extending the e-AA Hand
The web site opened October 26, 2000. Within a few days, the group was getting over 100 visitors a day. The number has grown steadily, and in May 2002 www.e-aa.org had its first 700-visitor day. During the 2002 Christmas and New Year's holidays, the website had its first 900-visitor days. In 2003, site visitors are expected to total approximately a quarter of a million.
Some online groups conduct meetings using discussion forum software. Ours, entitled The Forums, are more like an ongoing Public Information panel. In addition, they have proven especially useful for those "first contacts" by people looking for a solution to their own, or a loved one's, drinking problem.
The most popular online meeting format is email. There are AA email groups with many hundreds of subscribers, and a couple of them have been in existence for over a decade. Our group's most active list, New Beginning, now has over 60 participants. (The list is informally structured—though there is a current understanding that in all e-AA venues, including the email groups, there is a need for standard AA formats where widely-used AA literature and well-known concepts can be stressed to newcomers.) People are welcome to bring up any AA-related topic. There are now people on the list who subscribed during the very first days of their sobriety, have stayed with us, and have celebrated their first year anniversary.
There are two structured email meetings, Step-a-Month and Our Common Welfare, on which there is a monthly topic, the Step or Tradition corresponding to the month of the year. There is also a catch-all email meeting called Safety Valve. Two specialty meetings are currently hosted by the group, New Women and Out of Sight, a list administered and designed for the blind alcoholic using screen reader technology.
The real-time (chat) rooms were the slowest venue to get started. In the beginning, it was mostly a couple of us in there periodically. It was a good place to talk to new people and, we hoped, to get them pointed in the right direction. Within a few months, we started the Wednesday Night Meeting. Dean C. was the secretary. For the first few months of that meeting, it was just him, typing away to himself once a week. Then people started showing up. Barry C. was the second secretary, and under his leadership the meeting grew to a dozen participants or more each week. On Sunday, June 30, 2002, a second real-time meeting began. By winter 2002, there were four regularly scheduled chat meetings — with some of those meetings often reaching upwards of 20+ and sometimes nearly 30 sober chat participants.
We also developed a links directory that focuses on web sites throughout the world with AA English-language meeting lists. It is one of the three or four largest such directories on the Web. The other large directories took their initial content from ours.
Our 12th Step committee, which operates by email, has been in existence from the beginning. Committee members answer from 15 to 40 or so "calls" each month. The e-AA Group also links to the Online Intergroup's 12th Step Committee.
With regard to AA service, The e-AA Group participates with the Online Intergroup of Alcoholics Anonymous through an Intergroup Representative (IGR). Along with the IGR, Members of our group have been serving as officers in volunteer positions including Alternate Chairperson and World Wide Web Chair (Dean C.) and OIAA Historian (Barry C.)
Further service work and outreach continued with participation by group members on the OIAA ad hoc committee established to investigate the need and feasibility of an Online General Service Conference — and then our subsequent attendance at the first Online Service Conferences, held in July 2002 (Barry C., Online Group Representative; Susan B. Alternate “OGR”) and January 2003 (Susan B., OGR).
On the horizon for The e-AA Group is The e-AA Group Archives — a cyber library at the website comprised of our own experience, strength and hope with regard to matters that affect our online group or AA as a whole. Included will be various papers and articles having to do with recovery from alcoholism, from many various sources — and especially those that focus on the world of online AA.
And finally, with the writing of this history — and the culmination of the ad hoc committee’s findings and reports — the original five members stand poised to hand over completely the reins of The e-AA Group — whose Members now number some 24 and only continue to increase.
Ad hoc Committee
In keeping with AA organizational practices, then, an ad hoc committee was formed--this ad hoc committee — to investigate how best to live and work together as an AA Group:
“A.A., as such, ought not be organized; but we may create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve.” (Tradition Nine)
Advertised on the Forums and opened to the Members list for any and all who wanted to pitch in and help, the ad hoc committee embarked on a quest to bring to The e-AA Group time-proven and long-trusted practices and principles used by successful AA groups throughout the world.
Under the leadership of Pierce G, a safe place to share experience, strength and hope quickly emerged, which led in turn to the establishment of a think-tank atmosphere. Over the course of two months, the volunteers “met” by way of email—each in turn offering A.A. knowledge and resources to consider.
The following are those AA concepts the ad hoc committee feels especially necessary when looking for guiding the group as a whole, and members as individuals:
a. The Online Home Group, a Spiritual Entity
b. The "Informed" Group Conscience
c. Substantial Unanimity
d. Rights: Participation, Decision, Appeal
e. Responsibility Statement
f. Unity Statement
It was suggested at the outset of the ad hoc discussions that The e-AA Group would strive to follow the 12 Traditions and 12 Concepts for World Service in its function as an AA group. In particular, we looked to AA literature to guide us, specifically: the pamphlet “The AA Group… where it all begins”; The A.A. General Service Manual and the Twelve Concepts for World Service; The Twelve Steps and Twelve Traditions of A.A.; The Language of the Heart; the pamphlet “AA Tradition: How it developed” and The Big Book of Alcoholics Anonymous.
In defining who is a member of The e-AA Group, it is agreed that all who wish to become members may do so — as long as they have a desire to stop drinking and consider The e-AA Group as their online home group.
In short, anyone who has a desire to stop drinking can be a member of the group, just by saying, "I'm a member of the group."
From p. 16, the pamphlet: “The AA Group”:
“‘The only requirement for A.A. membership is a desire to stop drinking.’ (Tradition Three) Thus, group membership requires no formal application. Just as we are members of A.A. if we say we are, so are we members of a group if we say we are — and we keep coming back.”
The e-AA Group feels strongly that whosoever finds their way to our beloved group and decides to stay, comes so in the spirit of love and tolerance as exhibited by Bill W. and Dr. Bob and so many other kind and “responsible” AAs throughout our history as a fellowship. Too, we feel it is imperative to the group unity — not to mention the well being of Alcoholics Anonymous as a whole — that all Members become familiar with the pamphlet “The AA Group” as well as AA Traditions.
It is our hope that new Members, especially new members to AA (or those with little service experience), find a service sponsor to help with the acquiring of AA’s sometimes confusing, but extremely important, practices and principles.
Certainly, this suggestion can only benefit the individual AA member.
Trusted Servants and Steering Committee
From "The AA Group ... Where It All Begins":
"It takes people to get group jobs done. Most of us agree that AA ought never be 'organized.' However, without endangering our commitment to preserve our spiritual and democratic Fellowship, we can 'create service boards or committees directly responsible to those they serve' (Tradition Nine). In AA groups, these trusted servants are called 'officers' and usually are chosen by the group for limited terms of service. As Tradition Two reminds us, 'Our leaders are but trusted servants; they do not govern." (p. 23; see also Concept IX, "Twelve Concepts for World Service")
It was determined that to help facilitate day to day operations and house-keeping, as well as various AA service needs, the officers or those individuals fulfilling service responsibilities for the group are to be elected from the Members list.
These elected AAs are essentially the steering committee. If from time to time the steering committee is needed to solve problems and offer solutions for the smooth operating of the site, these officers can gather, and make decisions or recommendations to Members.
From "Twelve Concepts for World Service" (pp. 15 & 16; copyright AAWS, Inc.; reprinted with permission):
"The right AA solution for this problem is to be found, however, in the latter part of Tradition Two, which provides for 'trusted servants.' This really means that we ought to trust our responsible leaders to decide, within the understood framework of their duties, how they will interpret and apply their own authority and responsibility to each particular problem or situation as it arises. This sort of leadership discretion should be the essence of 'The Right of Decision,' and I am certain that we need not have the slightest fear of granting this indispensable privilege at nearly every level of world service.
"... This 'Right of Decision' should never be made an excuse for failure to render proper reports of all significant actions taken; it ought never be used as a reason for constantly exceeding a clearly defined authority, nor as an excuse for persistently failing to consult those who are entitled to be consulted before an important decision or action is taken.
"Our entire AA program rests squarely upon the principle of mutual trust. We trust God, we trust AA, and we trust each other. Therefore we cannot do less than trust our leaders in service. The 'Right of Decision' that we offer them is not only the practical means by which they may act and lead effectively, but it is also the symbol of our implicit confidence."
The ad hoc committee recommends the following service positions for The e-AA Group — which from here on out shall comprise our steering committee — their sole purpose to serve the group so that we might effectively and responsibly carry the message to the alcoholic who still suffers:
- Real-time Community Coordinator
- Discussions Forums Coordinator
Possible future positions:
- Email Meeting Coordinator. Perhaps someone to make sure that basic AA information, such as the Preamble, is posted. Or whatever. If there ever were email meeting secretaries, then the coordinator could serve in a capacity similar to the chat coordinator.
- Literature. Perhaps someone to make sure that newcomers get what they need. Or new group members get what they need, such as "The AA Group." Etc. Perhaps now and then talk about a piece of literature. Perhaps combine this with the Grapevine Rep and make it a Literature/Grapevine chair and have a committee. Especially if we continue the "Our Stories" thing, which such a committee could look after.
- Chat Steppers. Perhaps an additional 12th Step list (like the "help" list) but with a distinct link on the chat room entry page. People in need of help could write, and a chatter could arrange to meet them in the rooms. (Because some people really do prefer chat to email, and vice versa.)
It could be determined later that others from The e-AA Group, too, can be involved with or part of the steering committee. However, it is the ad hoc committee’s opinion, that to be effective--the steering committee must remain small in numbers.
All group officers and/or members of the steering committee are to be subscribed to the steering committee email list, in addition to the Members list.
“Not all groups have steering committees. However, for those that do, questions related to group practices, selecting a slate of candidates for office, and other group issues often are tackled first by the steering committee (or group service committee), which goes to the group for its members’ group conscience decision. In many cases, the officers and/or past officers make up the committee, which usually meets at regularly scheduled times.” (p. 28 the pamphlet: “The AA Group”)
Spirit of Rotation
"Traditionally, rotation keeps AA members from becoming frozen in office. It also ensures that group tasks, like nearly everything else in AA, are passed around for all to share. ... Rotation helps to bring us spiritual rewards far more enduring than any fame. With no AA 'status' at stake, we needn't compete for titles or praise -- we have complete freedom to serve as we are needed" (p. 34).
The ad hoc recommends that all Members become familiar with Bill W’s article entitled “AA Leadership” found in the A.A. Service Manual.
The Members email list will be regarded as our business meeting — and will run 24/7. There has been some discussion about splitting the Members list into a formal list (motions, problems, suggestions, voting) and an informal list (discussions/conversations among the Members — news about our personal lives and personal journeys in recovery)
As yet, nothing has been decided.
Group Conscience Matters
It is the ad hoc committee’s hope that The e-AA Group places the strongest of emphasis on the concept of the “informed group conscience,” that it should be the guiding force for any decisions that need to be made or issues that need to be addressed. Substantial unanimity (2/3 majority) is preferred, and will decide issues voted on.
However, “right of decision” allows for the trusted servants of the group to act independently, and as delegated authority, as long as the best interests of the group are at the forefront of any actions or decisions. That said, when possible, or if necessary, all issues affecting the group should be brought to the Members list for a group conscience vote.
It is on the Members list (business list) where Members can bring up Discussion Items and make Motions, at which time the secretary will get a “sense of the group” and determine if a vote is necessary. If a formal vote is required, either email or online ballot, whichever is practical under the circumstances — the secretary will call the vote. At the conclusion of the balloting, the details of how we've reached an "informed" group conscience” will be reported by the secretary to Members, as well as posted to The Forums.
With regard to elections for various service positions, "the hat" will be used when one candidate is unable to achieve a 2/3 majority.
“While some groups may occasionally permit nonmembers to attend, only the group members have a vote. The order of business may include: electing new officers; scheduling meetings; receiving and discussing the treasurer’s periodic financial reports; hearing progress reports from the general service representative and other group servants’ and apportioning excess funds among the local intergroup, G.S.O. and the area and district treasuries.
Before a vote is taken, it is essential that the members be given all acts relevant to the subject at hand. In many cases, a few members may be asked to look into the pros and cons of the issue and present them at the meeting. Arriving at an informed group conscience in big matters or small is a process that may take some time. But it is important that the minority, or dissenting, views be heard along with those of the majority (see p. 35). In some instances, they may even turn the tide.” (From the pamphlet: “The AA Group”)
Group vs Club?
With the growth of The e-AA Group, questions pertaining to the debate of what makes an AA group a group and what is an AA club have arisen—especially here on the internet. Many, or most, online groups tend to focus on one single area of online AA activity, be it real-time chat, email lists, or public bulletin boards like our Discussion Forums.
With The e-AA Group’s many sometimes seemingly independent venues, it has become confusing for some of us where to draw the line at meeting or group or club.
Because The e-AA Group also provides services to other AA entities, such as an international meeting directory, often associated with large service entities — we nonetheless hereby state that all venues found at www.e-aa.org comprise the Group, and the functioning and operating of these venues shall always fall to the group conscience of the Members at The e-AA Group as to how they will proceed.
It is the goal that the various venues (chat, email, forums) might on a day-to-day basis act seemingly independently—nonetheless, all venues will forever answer to the collective conscience of The e-AA Group.
With regard to the question: Should the e-AA Group host and maintain a real-time club open to all?
The ad hoc committee recommends that our chat rooms serve in the capacity that they were intended: as a place to 12 Step newcomers, and hold AA meetings for the newcomer and experienced AA alike.
To accommodate those who would like to continue the practice of congregating at The e-AA Group to socialize, the ad hoc committee proposes a link be established to a separate website designed specifically to function as a 24 hour AA “club,” where group members or others may gather for informal discussion and conversation.
From the article “Clubs in A.A. Are they with us to stay?” Originally published in the A.A. Grapevine (1947), taken here from the pamphlet: “AA Tradition… How it developed” p. 15
(More background for Tradition Six)
“The club idea has become part of A.A. life. Scores of these hospitable havens can report year of useful service; new ones are being started monthly. Were a vote taken tomorrow on the desirability of clubs a sizable majority of A.A.’s would record a resounding “yes.” There would be thousands who would testify that they might have had a harder time staying sober in their first months of A.A. without clubs and that in any case, they would always wish for the easy contacts and warm friendships which clubs afford
“Being a majority view, we might suppose that a blanket endorsement for clubs; we might think we couldn’t get along without them. We might conceive them as a central A.A. institution—a sort of “Thirteenth Step” of our recovery program without which the other Twelve steps wouldn’t work. At times club enthusiasts will act as though they really believed we could handle our alcoholic problems by club life alone. They are apt to depend upon clubs rather than upon the A.A. program.
“But we have A.A.’s, rather a strong minority, too, who want no part of clubs. Not only, they assert, does the social life of a club often divert the attentions of members from the program, they claim that clubs are an actual drag on A.A. progress. They point to the danger of clubs degenerating into mere hangouts, even “joints”; they stress the bickerings that do arise over questions of money, management, and personal authority; they are afraid of “incidents” that might give us unfavorable publicity. In short, they “view with alarm.” Thumbs down on clubs, they say.
“Toward a middle ground, for several years now, we have been feeling our way. Despite alarms it is quite settled that A.A.’s who need and want clubs ought to have them. So the real concern is not whether we shall have clubs. It is how we shall enhance them as assets, how we may diminish their known liabilities; how we shall be sure, in the long future, that their liabilities do not exceed their assets.”
"We shall be with you in the Fellowship of the Spirit, and you will surely meet some of us as you trudge the Road of happy Destiny." (p. 164, “Alcoholics Anonymous: A Vision For You”)