DSA Coordinating Committee meeting, January 19, 2016, 7–9 p.m.
At the outset of the meeting, Tim discussed the agenda, and Ari set the ground rules for the meeting. Tim took the role of meeting chair, and Jeremy kept the stack for the meeting. Aleta joined the meeting by speakerphone a few minutes after the meeting started and, while Ari went to let Molly into the building, Ben reiterated the ground rules for Aleta.
- One diva, one mic (don't talk over people)
- Step up, step back (if you speak little, speak more; if you speak a lot, speak less)
- Assume people have good intentions
- Keep a stack of people who want to speak
- Respect the agenda
- Respect the facilitator
- Three-minute time limit
Norma updated the group.
First Friday had a number of signups this month. We still have only a small table for the event, but the event was nonetheless a success.
The Events Committee is planning to be part of the San Francisco anti-inaugural march on January 20. The plan is to make the event fun, to have a props, music, dancing, and signs. One planned prop is a coffin for the funeral of American democracy.
The Events Committee is also planning a presence in the Women's march on January 21. The proposed DSA contingent would be made up of DSA women followed by a DSA men's auxiliary wearing sashes reading "making up for 10,000 years of patriarchy." There is also potential for DSA women to join with a group of women from the YMCA whom Norma dances with.
There is a plan to have some sort of evening event on January 20, a dance or something fun.
The Events Committee would like to organize a screening of a new single-payer movie, Now Is the Time, as a fundraiser at the New Parkway Theater. An event like this should allow us to keep the proceeds make at the door.
While Norma won't be at the January 14 election meeting, there will two hours after the meeting for interested members to stick around and make props for the January 20 event.
There is a Google Doc going around for people to sign up to bring needed materials for props making. A venue for the January 14 meeting is still being looked for. There will be pizza for the folks who stick around for to make props.
A question from the group is raised whether the women's march is open to men marching in it. There are differences of opinion about the importance of this, but Avery recommends reaching out to the organizers of the march to make sure that the "DSA men's auxiliary" would be a welcome addition. Norma agrees to reach out to the march organizers to confirm the plan.
Dan updated the group.
The January 7 "ABCs of Socialism" reading group is coming up. It will be hosted at the South Berkeley Library.
The plan for the first Saturday in February is to host a reading of the National Strategy Document of the DSA.
Karl notes that there is an external education opportunity: We are cosponsoring a talk by Steve Early, a DSA member, with KPFA. There is a hope that we can do turnout for the event among DSA members. We may be able to have a table at the event. There is the possibility raised that the Education Committee can turn out as a block to the February 2 Steve Early event. Karl also raises the point that an event is needed to discuss the Movement for Black Lives policy document. It was suggested that this be discussed along with Susan's Diversity document as part of the next agenda item.
Avery presented the work that this committee has done. She noted a series of changes to the name and role of this committee, that the group has not met yet, and that a Google Doc has been created for tracking outreach to different groups. She noted that the structure of this group remains at the moment somewhat indeterminate.
Norma asks who Baraka from OJC should connect with and Tim notes that he and others are already working on it.
New Members Committee
Ari begins the discussion of the recent meeting which occurred on January 7. Everyone left the meeting with an action item.
Ben briefly discusses the goal of one-on-one meetings with new members and the plan to develop a one-on-one training in collaboration with Michael Nye and Ari.
Molly presents her work developing new member media, including
- An action item chart that can be used when meeting with new members so that new members can see what we have going on and how to get involved
- An organizational chart to show new members and members at the election how DSA is organized
- A new member packet
Jeremy discussed the work of the committee, which he noted is moving a little slow. No campaigns are off the ground yet, but several members are taking concrete actions around the Kay Harrison and Keith Ellison races. There continues to be some capacity lacking on the committee. A more in-depth conversation about single-payer and other healthcare is needed and there is a plan to have this conversation with Norma.
Mary Virginia (who can't be present today) has a network of rent-control activists to work with and support and she also has a network of activists working on sanctuary. She has been ill and currently these two campaigns are in the research and development phase.
Jeremy notes that in the campaigns meeting Aleta was part of a housing discussion, and Aleta says that she has nothing to add on the topic of housing.
Tim updates that he has been in discussions with members with expertise in data management about a CRM versus continued work with spreadsheets. He is continuing to look into CRMs that might meet our needs, but a member believes that he can make some changes to our spreadsheet set up that might obviate the need for a CRM. Updates on this will be passed on to the group as they come.
Ben raises the topic of list access and suggests that a conversation is needed as committees grow about who has list access so that members aren't emailed indiscriminately or inappropriately. List access is at this point restricted to a limited number of coordinating committee members.
Susan's Diversity Document
At this point, the meeting moves to the next agenda item: The draft DSA East Bay diversity document written by Susan. Susan introduced the document by discussing that since the beginning of the DSA East Bay chapter, there has been a dearly held desire for the organization not to be so European-American. There has been representation of women in the group, and that has been good, but people of color are saying get your act together to the white leadership and membership of DSA. Susan has developed some interim positions in this document. The hope is that the the document will lead to or contribute to white people in the group letting go of negative behaviors. The document is also a request to take parity and diversity into account.
Jeremy asks about next steps that might be indicated by the document.
Susan answers that there could be distribution of the document to the membership if their is agreement on the document. She also notes that there is an idea about a member field trip to the Oakland Museum to see and discuss the Black Panthers exhibits there. There is also the question of the development of a people of color (POC) caucus.
Aleta discusses the question of the POC caucus further. She reports conversations with five African-Americans who were at recent DSA meetings. She states that black socialists find themselves in a real fight. She notes that she has been working with various black groups over the years and discusses how, in the efforts to create the Movement for Black Lives policy document and other black socialist infrastructure, six groups came together with the goal of getting knowledge to young black people. She stresses that an important issue is that people like her don't want to feel that they cannot bring their whole selves to meetings and socialist organizations.
Tim asks if Aleta could give some information on what heading up a black caucus would look like.
Aleta asks that something go out to all members about getting a black caucus together.
Norma stresses that she thinks First Friday really demonstrates the importance of having black people in the organization. She believes that having the table staffed by her and other white DSA members meant that they were only approached by people who look like them. She stresses that at events like that we should want people to recognize themselves in the people behind the table and wishes we had non-white members at an event like that so that other non-white people would feel welcomed.
Michael states that one thing that would help ground this discussion is an analysis of why the group is white.
Ben states that, absent that analysis, we might run the risk of tokenizing black people who join DSA.
Aleta takes up the topic of tokenizing and discusses her sense of the role of tokenizing in the organization of black people by communist parties in the South. She states that southern communist organizers made black people the face of campaigns and that this contributed to certain successes in organizing but did not represent real black leadership. She also discussed her ideas about Cuban socialism as racist, or as taking too long to address issues of racism. She returned to her ideas that southern communists used the labor of black people without giving them organizational power. She argues that a caucus would focus more on being empowering as opposed to the model of having faces at the First Friday table. She also stated that the Southern Freedom Movement has a good model and that this model was better than her experiences of communist party models in the South. She also discusses the history of Angela Davis and other black socialists and black feminists leaving the communist and socialist parties because of racism within the parties.
Tim notes that there was a wide range of folks who have signed up at events as interested in DSA. He asks whether Aleta would be open to writing a blurb about the organizing of a black caucus in the next all members email blast.
Aleta stresses that this isn't just from her but from the black people of DSA.
Avery notes that there is also an important question of what the DSA has to offer to black communities. She proposes that there is an important question here around how we can be intersectional and be DSA.
Karl states that he's been thinking about how this topic feels to him. He notes that Standing Up for Racial Justice (SURJ) developed because Black Lives Matter (BLM) said, "You need to figure out how to get involved." The work of SURJ has been about challenging white people to figure out how to get the realities of racism and racial privilege into themselves and work from there. To really ask the question of how do I become a part of a beloved community that includes everyone.
Susan returns to the topic of how we got here. She notes that there is not a lot of debate about the fact that we live in a white supremacist culture with a huge racist history and that all institutions, including DSA, are impacted. She notes as well that for whatever reason, DSA has a lot of college-educated people and that that population tends to be whiter because of all the factors related to class, race, and education. She also states that she doesn't think we have to understand everything before we start addressing issues of race. She says that DSA really has to be able to drive in a multi-ethnic context or face the potential loss of all our members, and all our relevance. She notes that identity politics itself is changing and needs to be revisited, citing a recent Ta Nehisi Coates article, My President Was Black. She states that we need to keep having this conversation in all sorts of formulations. She also asks that we consider whether there should be a broader POC caucus.
Michael M. returns to Avery's question, asking what DSA offers POC. He thinks important that we disabuse ourselves of the notion that POC would join the organization if we were just doing a vague something and he's concerned that the document doesn't get into the concrete things, the impediments to involvement by POC. He also notes that from an organizing standpoint, Alinski-ist or Union organizing, there is the important issue of self-interest that's missing from the document and the discussion. He proposes that what we need is a concrete struggle that can bring people together. The college-educated demographic that Susan referred to gives us resources that can make DSA a beneficial ally standing in solidarity. We need to think about project choice as an area of solidarity and actually have something to offer black people if we want to build that base. He points to the work of the radical activist who worked until recently in Chicago (now in NYC), Mariame Kaba, who had been encouraging leftists to really get involved around "Medicare for All." He also noted his own experience working on Chicago's South Side that concrete actions are sometimes necessary. If it is not safe, for example, for people to walk across their neighborhood because of gun violence to get to a meeting, sometimes you have to give people rides. Concrete actions need to match the material realities that people are living in. We need to be concrete about what is involved in making an organization accessible to people of color. He's concerned that the conversation so far has been too inwardly focused and he notes that he does not want to be responsible for people's personal transformation.
Dan points to a concern about the abstractness of the actions in the diversity document and suggests serious consideration is needed of the difference between ally-ship and solidarity.
Ari notes the importance of remembering that we live in a society that is both unorganized and white supremacist. Both of those are related to the current displacement crisis facing East Bay communities of color, an issue that we can mobilize our membership around and begin to take concrete action on. We have organized a large number of college-educated professionals, a group that is notoriously hard to organize. Let's not downplay the importance of harnessing the power of organizing. He points out that, "If we drop this ball, it is really on us."
Jeremy notes that there are real content disagreements regarding this document and asks about when people propose we reconvene on this topic. Jeremy also notes that he and Aleta have discussed the Vision for Black Lives policy document. He notes that he this that doing things that are helpful as DSA, winning a campaign for example, like the campaign to keep Alta Bates open, would go a long way towards building credibility with more diverse populations. He also notes that he's unclear from the discussion so far on whether what is being discussed is a POC caucus or a black caucus.
Molly notes a concern that the diversity statement that Susan is presenting, while very well written and thoughtful, is somewhat generic. She asks how we might drive the discussion of diversity with a socialist framework. She notes that there are some important splits around how people think about identity politics and argues that we really need our own framework as DSA for talking about diversity — one that contains in it a specifically socialist analysis of both the problem and its solution.
Avery states that she thinks reach-outs are necessary. She thinks that if we are moving forward on the diversity initiatives discussed so far, we need to be broadcasting our intentions.
Aleta discusses the content of the meeting in terms of diversity. She says that the room is mostly white and male for a reason and reports that an African-American woman who left the group reported to her that she did so for reasons of mansplaining, being belittled and being dismissed. She went on to discuss further her ideas about the racism of socialist movements historically discussing her ideas about Cuba's racism, Angela Davis leaving party activity because of racism and sexism. She discussed a group of Black Workers for Justice that was divided and returned to a discussion of the time it took for Cuba to address problems of race and racism. She discussed her own efforts to dismantle her own internalized oppression, her plans to stay with the organization despite her concerns about the other black female members' experiences as reported to her or mansplaining, being belittled and being dismissed. She noted her own justifiable black rage and her sense that she was speaking in a certain way during this meeting in order to talk to a white male socialist mode. She noted the lack of work by the Sanders campaign in appealing to black people and her sense that the Sanders campaign mistreated black socialists. She made reference to her own black socialism as different from the white socialist mode she sees the group as currently operating in.
Ben noted a potential split in the Coordinating Committee that hasn't been discussed explicitly but that he thinks is important. He and three of the older members present are trained mental health professionals, and he's concerned about a difference in how we analyze and address issues from some of the people who are coming more from an organizing background. He thinks it's important to have some clear difference that we draw between therapeutic, internal work that people do and political work. He notes that he thinks it's wonderful if people do internal work, or work that includes personal growth, as part of being in DSA but believes that people's interest in doing certain kinds of internal work cannot be a prerequisite for whether we organize with them.
Michael K. suggests that Susan's document be submitted to this group for modification and editing and that we also focus some resources on meeting with Alliance of Californians for Community Empowerment (ACCE), Community for a Better Environment, Causa Justa, and some of the other existing POC-led, and also LGBT-led, left organizations that are already organizing in the Bay Area.
Tim closes this sections of the meeting by making concrete plans about a system for getting input on the diversity document and the next coming all member email. A plan is also made to make a Facebook event with a to-be-announced location for the January 14 meeting. Tim is working on finding a location for the meeting.
January 14 Meeting
At this point, the meeting shifts in topic to space and other considerations related to the upcoming elections meeting. Susan notes that the member who gave a space in her apartment building is in trouble with the apartment's management. Work is being done to help smooth that relationship, but future spaces need to be more formal meeting spaces with explicit permission for use from whoever manages them. Concern from members of the group was expressed about the situation the member is in. Susan also notes that we might want to give up the Niebel-Proctor space, and if that is the case then we need to make a decision about it.
Artem suggests that as we think about the upcoming elections meeting we should, if he is understanding the amount of work that needs to get done in that meeting, plan little else by way of an agenda.
Ben suggests that the Niebel-Proctor space might be worth keeping, especially as the plan after elections has been for fewer general meetings and more committee work. Niebel-Proctor could be used to support a smaller social meeting with more continuity for older members at the time it was used in the past. This leads to recommendations from the group that it could also host the new members meetings that will begin in the coming months.
Jeremy suggests that for the elections meeting, it might be good to have a speaker who can motivate turnout.
Avery discusses her experience of the last meeting and being asked by people with announcements to take the mic. She suggests that we develop a way, maybe by passing papers up to the meeting facilitator at designated times in a meeting, where announcements from the audience that did not make it onto the agenda can be read out by the facilitator.
Tim asks a question about after this coming January 14 meeting, when there are large chapter gatherings who is going to be responsible for putting them on. There is clarification that he is bottom-lining the upcoming January 14 meeting, but the question remains about whether it will generally be Events Committee or some other body that is responsible for meeting spaces and other logistics in the future.
Jeremy returns to the question of Susan's diversity document and a question of whether the hope is that it would be voted on along with the elections.
Susan notes that there is no rush to have this document finished and distributed to the membership to vote on by the election, noting that this may not be possible, but notes that the document is a priority.
Artem raises the possibility of short committee reports being potentially a feasible part of the election meeting. He also discusses what might and might not be feasible ways to work on the diversity document.
Ari discusses the work Molly is doing as part of the new member media team to develop an org chart and thinks that this might be a good thing to present at the election meeting, in order to be able to describe the organization's structure to the group.
Dan proposes that the diversity document be revised after the election.
Susan returns to the committee reports as a potentially important part of the elections meeting. She thinks it will be motivating for members to hear what the committees have been working on and doesn't think the reports should be too short. She thinks it's important for people to say "this is what we've done" as the lead-in to "this is what we want to do moving forward." She also thinks that revisions to the diversity proposal can come after more conversations.
Karl notes that he thinks that a dialogue with the membership is needed. He sees urgency in moving ahead on the discussion of race. He also thinks the coordinating committees sense of that urgency needs to be communicated.
Jeremy notes the strength of Susan and Shannon's speaking roles during the last meeting and suggests something like that be repeated as an introduction to the voting. People seemed really motivated to hear a bit from a member about why socialism.
Tim notes that the Election Committee has worked very hard, and Jeremy discusses the work that Shannon and Mary Virginia have done, including Mary Virginia's Google Form for nominees.
Michael K. follows this with a rundown of what the elections will look like. He notes there have been a lot of conversations and a lot of concrete work done already. Also, at the elections there will be a lot of speaking and a lot of concrete work that needs to get done. First there are going to be lots of speakers. If as we're hoping we get 27 candidates for the 9 open seats and each person speaks for 2-3 minutes, that's well over an hour of speeches. There are also going to be periods of time during voting and during vote counting that we can choose to have structured or unstructured things for members to do. Michael notes that this election, because of immense rapid growth of the organization and the history of officers being elected by acclimation, has necessitated changes in the bylaws. The first being that the Election Committee has had to be a non-elected body, where the election committee is identified in the bylaws as an elected body.
The ballot for the January 14 will be as follows.
- Co-Chair: vote for two
- Secretary: vote for one
- Treasurer: vote for one
- Members-at-large: vote for five
The proposal is for the Executive Committee meetings to be non-private meetings.
At the January 14 meeting, in keeping with the bylaws we will have to accept last-minute nominees.
The situation surrounding this election causes it to make sense for the elections to be for shortened terms.
An agenda for the elections meeting is discussed.
There will need to be time for nominating speeches and last-minute ballot instructions.
Counting must be done in a separate space from the meeting but allowed to be observed by interested parties.
And the announcement of results
Artem asks about how DSA membership will be verified and there is a discussion of how to most effectively get membership lists from National at a reasonable time frame before the election. Tim thinks that he might be able to expedite that process.
Artem asks about the provision for gender balance in the bylaws and there is a discussion of how this need for gender balance could be enforced.
A suggestion that this might be something the Executive Committee is tasked with addressing before the next election in six months is put forward.
Michael notes that the gender rules as written present a real problem when a gender-fluid person decides to run, and Tim notes that there were a lot of people at the last general meeting with gender-fluid pronouns on their nametags and thanks Karl for suggesting that preferred pronouns be written on nametags.
There is a discussion of the term length for the Executive Committee with a discussion unfolding about a three-versus-six month term. The benefits and drawbacks of each are discussed, and there is consensus that three months could mean a loss of momentum and a sense among members that all DSA does is have elections. The group reaches consensus that the election will be for a six-month term.
The meeting adjourns.