Section 6.1.
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NSS Chapters Story - Part 1

In the summer of 1976, the L5 Society was distributing a membership flyer that included a checkbox at the bottom that asked if you would be willing to form a local chapter. When I joined the L5 Society, I checked that box and wrote a letter to the Hensons about how I thought a local chapter should be organized and what it would do.

The day she got the letter, Carolyn Henson called me. She said I was the first person who offered to form a local chapter, so she was really exicted about receiving my letter. We jabbered on the telephone through the night, and in the process decided that local chapters should be separately incorporated organizations which had an alliance with the L5 Society HQ in Tucson. At Carolyn's recommendation, I decided to use the name Northwest L5 Society to encompass the region. We had decided a local chapter should have at least 12 members (quite a change from the current requirement of just 3 members), and there weren't enough members in any one state to form a stable organization.

Carolyn sent me names and addresses for all the L5 Society members in Washington, Oregon, and Idaho. With a lot of help from my then-wife Becky (now Becky Thomson), I called and sent invitations to all those folks to join the local chapter. We had our first meeting at the home of Tom and Marcia Buxton in Kirkland, Washington.

I had had quite a bit of experience in forming non-profit corporations, so with help from laywers and finance managers in the Boeing Commercial Airplane Company, I drew up the articles of incorporation and bylaws for the Northwest L5 Society and filed them with the State of Washington.

I had a few more telephone calls with Carolyn Henson and Aleta Jackson in the next few weeks. We were struggling to figure out what L5 Society HQ could do for the local chapters, other than be there. The Society really didn't have the resources to provide direct financial support. Carolyn thought the national HQ should levy a head tax on the local chapters and have them doing fund-raising activities, but that idea didn't go very far.

That meant the local chapters were pretty much on their own, both in terms of finances and defining what the chapter would be and do. We decided that members would have to join the Northwest L5 Society separately, while we required that all chapter members had to be members of the national L5 Society. NWL5 collected its own dues and relied on individual members to maintain their L5 Society memberships.

It turned out that the local chapters became the major recruiting force for the L5 Society.

Over the course of the next year, I did exactly 100 public lectures on space industrialization and the L5 Society's vision. (Becky kept count.) The first of these was at a science fiction convention called SeaCon '76, in Seattle in September 1976.

The Northwest L5 Society grew, and the tale spread. At the same time, the organizational papers, standard public speech, and some of the internal forms and docuements we developed for NWL5 got spread around and became the boilerplate for other local chapters.

NWL5 adopted the rigor of monthly meetings and started publishing its own newsletter, and other chapters followed suit.

Probably because of my personal interests, NWL5 departed a bit from the standard L5 Society party line. My favorite part of the space industrialization story was the lunar operations, so that's where I invested my time. (Space colonies and solar power satellites are cool, but I wanted to play with the rocks.) That was rather askew from the "Who needs planets?" theme promulgated in the standard L5 Society story.

While we were stumping around for space industrialization and actually doing something ourselves, folks in Tucson seemed to grow increasingly interested in politicking and pushing Nirvana-in-the-sky social causes. I wanted to lay out business plans; the Hensons wanted to lobby the Congress.

This didn't exactly lead to a schism with L5 Society HQ -- that didn't happen until 10 years later when NSI took over the L5 Society and turned it into a purely political organization -- but it did mean that the Northwest L5 Society was doing things that weren't really relevant to the goals of HQ, and vice versa.

I just plain wasn't interested in playing politician. After years of politicking in college, I had run for political office (precinct committeeman; this was back in the days before the word "man" was redefined as an obscenity), got elected, and served my term. So I was pretty much weary of politics. Still am. I like to DO things, not spend my time in fruitless efforts to wheedle the Congress into using someone else's money to do what I want to do.

L5 Society HQ didn't provide much support to the local chapters, and after a couple of years my interest in the Society waned. A few months after getting the Northwest L5 Society going, I had founded the Northwest L5 Society and was chairman of the NWSFS executive committee as well as chairman of the bidding committee for the 1981 World Science Fiction Convention and chairman of the Norwescon (northwest regional science fiction convention) committee. I asked Tom Buxton to take over NWL5 so that I could concentrate on the NWSFS work. Then, in 1979, I moved to Houston and pretty much lost contact with the L5 Society.

I met the folks from the National Space Institute in Houston, when they showed up at the Johnson Space Center to take credit for the first launch of the Space Shuttle. I was less than impressed, and decided I really wasn't interested in the NSI.

Somewhere along the line, the Northwest L5 Society split up into many local chapters, each fiercely independent from the rest. Part of that ferocity stemmed from the lack of leadership and support from the national HQ, and part from folks outside Seattle feeling a bit of territorial pride and hence a need to be independent of a Seattle-based organization.

Amusement: Not long after the founding of the Northwest L5 Society, there was a letter in that famous technical journal, Playboy magazine, harshly criticizing the concept of space colonies. Both Keith Henson and I wrote letters to the editor. They printed Keith's letter with just his name, and right after it, my letter, with the unfortunate misprint of my signature, "Gregory R. Bennett, President, L5 Society." Oops; they had dropped the "Northwest" part. I was horrified and called Keith to apologize, but he was amused by the error and complimented me on my reply.

Also, solely for the sake of historical accuracy: I've heard that someone claims that San Diego was the first local chapter of the NSS. This is not true. A couple of years ago, when someone took umbrage with a biographical note that someone else had written about me long ago, Carolyn Henson and I dug through our records to determine the facts. Apparently a fellow in San Diego had distributed a press release -- at least a letter to the local newspaper -- some time in early 1977, but it was a long time before anything that could be called a local chapter was formed in that city.


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