DSA Coordinating Committee meeting, January 5, 2016
The meeting began at approximately 7:05 p.m. on Thursday, January 5, 2016, with committee reports.
Tim from the Events Committee reported on the plans for a First Friday table tomorrow January 6, 2017, in Oakland and for table space at the February 2, 2017 KPFA and DSA co-sponsored event, a talk by Steve Early, Refinery town at the First Congregational Church of Oakland. Regarding events for inauguration week, he reported that Norma is coordinating the DSA participation in the San Francisco march.
Dan from the Education Committee reported on the upcoming "ABCs of Socialism" discussion on Saturday, January 7, at the South Berkeley branch of the Berkeley Public Library. There is lots of excitement. The room will hold 60 people, and there is some chance more than that will show up. The event is at the Russell Library 12:30–2:30 p.m., and the next education event, probably a discussion of the DSA strategy document, will be in the same location on February 4 from 12:30–2:30 p.m.
There was a pause in committee report backs here to do introductions. Present at the meeting at this point were Michael K., Tim, Molly, Ari, Jeremy, Michael M., Dan, Ben, Artem, Karl, Aleta, and Avery.
Avery next updated the group on the Outreach Committee's work. The committee will meet next on January 12. Avery has had conversations with Erika about what happened surrounding her departure from the group after her early work in planning a meeting. Avery has also scheduled a conversation with Erika Huggins to learn more about black socialism and ways her work might be able to inform ongoing conversations within DSA.
Jeremy updated the group on the work that the Campaigns Committee is doing. He has been in touch with the California Nurses' Association (CNA), and they are interested in us joining the "BrownCare" campaign — a statewide campaign they are spearheading for single-payer. They are looking forward to DSA's involvement in this. In addition, Ari has been reaching out to chapters across the state about this specific campaign to build DSA's capacity to coordinate our support for and utility to CNA.
New Members Committee
Ari, Molly, and Ben divided the work of updating the group on the progress of the New Members Committee. Ari reported on a meeting for upcoming new and interested members' orientation to DSA that will occur on January 28. Ari is also coordinating phone banks for the January 14 election meeting on the Tuesday and Thursday before the election. Artem volunteered to participate in the January 10 phone bank, and Tim is a maybe for one of the phone banks.
Molly has been coordinating the new member media team which has been working on media needs of the New Members Committee. This has included development of graphic resources and tools, including an org chart or a t-shirt that might be a fundraising tool. As the work of this team has developed, it has become clear that there are larger implications for the work of this committee than just serving the needs of the New Members Committee. A draft of the org chart has been made with the support of member Keith B., and there is work being done on building out the resources page on the website.
Ben updated the committee on the progress in one-on-ones and childcare for meetings. Ari and Ben have been conducting new member one-on-ones and piloting various strategies for those meetings. They have developed a worksheet for documenting new member skills, interests, organizing experience, and other data important to one-on-one meetings. He and Ari are drafting a syllabus and agenda for a one-on-one training and are gauging member interest in getting trained to do one on one meetings. Ben has also worked with New Members Committee member Jake K. to develop a draft proposal for the executive committee to review after the elections on the costs of developing a childcare that could operate during member meetings.
Michael K. discussed the approach taken by another DSA chapter of having a new member orientation in the 30 minutes before every regular meeting. He also noted that national has an anti-racist working group and people of color (POC) caucus and suggested that Avery consider speaking to them about what is and isn't working at the national level.
Movement for Black Lives Policy Document
Tim moves on to the next agenda item, the scheduled discussion of the Movement for Black Lives (M4BL) policy document, and the question of whether to present it to the membership at the January 14 meeting.
Dan states that he thinks we need to think about how to approach the M4BL policy document. He suggests that we as a Coordinating Committee, or perhaps more appropriately the elected e-board, needs to be able to have and present a socialist analysis of racism. He sees this as crucial to the work of DSA right now and notes the important work of Keeanga Yamahtta-Taylor in discussing the history of M4BL from a socialist perspective. He suggests that if the January 14 agenda doesn't include the M4BL discussion, the Education Committee could have a role in discussing with the larger membership a socialist analysis of racism and the history of the M4BL policy document.
Jeremy notes that Aleta has over email raised the topic of the M4BL policy document being discussed at the January 14 meeting. He asks whether we might discuss the January 14 meeting agenda first so we can have a sense of what time is available in a meeting focused on the election for an important discussion of M4BL and that such an important topic is not given short shrift.
Karl states that DSA national knows that we won't succeed as an organization unless we bring in people with similar politics to ours who don't look like us. He states his sense of urgency that we need to bring in parts of communities that we don't hang out with. He notes his own feelings of upset when he thinks about the fact that he hasn't hung out with or spent serious social time with black people since high school or possibly even middle school. He feels very sad about this and also believes that we need to "move the horizons of our envelope." He thinks that it is important that DSA talk about this now and that we talk about it at the January 14 meeting.
January 14 Meeting
Requirements and Layout
Ben asks that we discuss the concrete time requirements for the January 14 meeting. He expresses concern that a conversation about what we should do not become so abstract that we get away from what we have committed to do at the elections meeting and what there is actually time for.
Michael K. then reviews the layout of the January 14 elections meeting. He discusses the content of the meeting and the schedule so far. He states that 12 men and 5 women men have signed up and that no treasurer has signed up yet. Karl says that he has gotten someone to sign up for the treasurer position. There is a discussion about the different understandings of whether anyone is running for this position. Michael K. also discusses his sense of the importance to the left of really taking up this question of race and his sense of the cost to the left of the realities of the US since Bacon's Rebellion, which introduced the split between white workers and black workers.
Ben asks about how much time is being allotted to each part of the elections process and if there are areas in the schedule that are more elastic and might allow for a discussion of M4BL.
Michael K. notes that the amount of time allotted is really up to us.
Artem states that he is concerned that there are a lot of bureaucratic concerns to be covered at this meeting and that he doesn't want to see something as important as the topic of racism crammed into the cracks.
Mary Virginia discusses the need for a training and retreat post-election to really allow appropriate time to the topic of racism. She notes that we should be careful and deliberate about the space for the conversation and education work, not try to fit something in to a 10-minute announcement or 15-minute training. She notes that people will need time to process and that it is important that we create an intentional space for this discussion. People will come to this discussion with fucked up ideas and it's not their fault. An intentional space will help people understand the politics that inform those ideas and allow them not to be too defensive. As we make an intentional space we also need to look and what trainings are out there and are available. People are doing a lot of work on this, and some of it has a good socialist analysis, but some of it doesn't.
Molly notes that she agrees with Artem, that she does not think that we can squeeze a discussion of M4BL policy document into the work that needs to get done at the January 14 meeting. She does think that the idea of the Executive Committee meetings as open meetings allows them to be a space for this conversation.
Jeremy notes a set of agenda questions about the need for volunteers for the January 14 meeting. Tim notes that he can have events committee provide some volunteers and the idea of the need for volunteers to count ballots who aren't also people who are running is discussed. Avery and Artem volunteer.
Jeremy suggests a meeting structure that allows people to vote and then leave so no one is required to sit through the whole two hours. This would involve moving the committee report backs earlier. It also means having at least one person present the whole time for one of the roles discussed (role not noted by secretary).
Michael K. notes that if you want people to vote at any time instructions for voting might have to change because of the bylaws requirement regarding nominations of people from the floor. He also asks about whether we want people to vote for all nine or whether we will accept ballots where people vote for less than nine and whether we will be checking some form of ID.
Ben raises the concern that if we have committee report-backs before the election speeches, it may feel like people who have been on committees and are running are being given the opportunity to campaign twice.
Mary Virginia raises the topic of ballot design. She states a plan to list the names and ask people to choose nine and then to leave some blank lines at the bottom. She also states that she thinks that Ben's concern is valid but that people need to know what work has been done so far. She states that she thinks that if people are self-aggrandizing than members will see through that and won't vote for them.
Jeremy seconds the idea that people should know the work that people have been doing on the committees.
Michael M. says that he was going to agree with Ben but is now leaning more towards Jeremy's idea about it.
Dan agrees with Ben's concern and suggests moving the report back to later.
Molly notes that it would be two chances to campaign and Michael M. moves back to this position as well.
Karl raises a different concern and states that "we need a mechanism to not have a board made up of nine white men," that we need a way of ensuring that the executive committee has some women and some men.
Mary Virginia notes that there is a question of what the mechanism is to ensure diversity. She doesn't want to believe that we have a sexist membership and also doesn't want to set up a policy that causes us to get a shitty person on the board just because of gender.
Jeremy states that he can't figure out a mechanism other than the possibility that after votes are tallied people are jumped up to achieve gender balance. He is hoping that there won't be a problem.
Tim suggests not including secretary or treasurer in our tabulations for balance on the board as those offices either have no one running or only one person running and that if there isn't gender balance after votes are tabulated that we consider bumping people up.
Avery says that she wouldn't want it to feel like tokenism. She thinks that if we don't end up with a balanced board, it will be important to tap people and invite them to the board meetings which will remain open. She trusts the members to vote for a balanced board.
Jeremy states that he thinks this issue is going to be too difficult and contentions to address on the fly. We'd need an explicit mechanism to address it. It will need to be part of the rewriting of the bylaws that the Executive Committee does once there is an Executive Committee.
Mary Virginia notes that one problem around gender balance that we haven't talked about is that not everybody identifies as male and female. Everyone in this meeting is an organizer, she points out, and we really need to be lifting up diverse folks as they come in. Hopefully in six months we will have more non cis-males and more non-white people.
Ari notes the ways in which this conversation parallels the conversation about the M4BL policy document and highlights our needs as an organization for strong protocols.
Tim returns to the concern first raised by Karl, "what happens if we get nine white dudes," given that we are committed to some representation of parity in the organization, and asks how the chapter ensured parity in governance in the past.
Karl notes that in the past the elections were done by acclimation. He suggests that we could say that the board is half male and half female and then account for gender-fluid people in some other way.
Tim notes that the question still remains given the voting system we have of "what do we do if it's nine white dudes," and then adds that we need an actual mechanism that deals better with non-binary folks.
Dan notes that we might be late in the process for coming up with a way to ensure this in this election. He is open to enforced diversity but doesn't see how to structure it here in a way that would be appropriate.
Jeremy states that for the record there are not nine white male candidates, there are eight, and there is him, who seems to be being referred to as white.
Avery suggests that a statement be read prior to voting asking for members to cast diverse ballots.
Michael M. states his support to the idea of reading something. He also notes that there are reasons to be careful and points out that some diversity is invisible. He thinks that a disastrously un-diverse committee is unlikely. He also believes that whatever the outcome of the election is, we need to be enthusiastic about whoever is elected. People should be supported in taking this role whoever they end up being.
Jeremy states that there are a lot of marginalized identities that are invisible, noting his own hidden disability and being mistaken for white. He notes that it is more complicated in some instances, for example, when considering the lived experiences of trans people, than asking people to pick quotas of identity.
Mary Virginia notes that this is a short-term for whomever is elected but that it is also a crucial term. She is in favor of electing a diverse leadership but also things Michael M.'s point is strong, that enthusiasm about the elected leadership is important. She has seen union leadership elected where this enthusiasm was lacking in some of the others in the organization, and it has been disastrous for morale.
Artem makes a concrete proposal that there be instructions prior to the voting and a discussion of the need for the new Executive Committee to change the bylaws.
Avery volunteers to help write the statement that will be read prior to voting and adds that as we bring in diverse new members, we should bring them to the Executive Committee meetings.
Karl notes where we are in the time for this meeting and asks if there is a consensus on this idea or whether there are strong opinions that we aren't folding in.
Aleta states that she is glad Karl brought up the question of consensus and notes that there is a question of where we go from here. She states that both her parents were Portuguese as part of a joke about really being a white man. She discusses her preference in these meetings to wait until the end of a conversation before speaking because of her experiences in a number of settings, film school, and others of being a token and being considered the shitty one. She holds back from saying anything for those reasons. She also has the experience in this meeting that she has to wear two hats, her black hat and her socialist hat, and that she is not allowed to bring her whole self to the meeting.
Edit: Added January 11, 2017, via email to Ben on January 10, 2017. Aleta provided the following clarifications of the above comments.
"Was that my family origins are Cape Verden not Portuguese (speak Portuguese)
"And I was born a man child....which is why I am a lesbian.
"The I am 'white male' was a replay of the laughter of the room when Jeremy stated he was not a white man but ......
"The group didn't get the joke though....."
She added the following clarification of her intention in waiting until the end of the conversation to speak (the clarification was provided in the same January 10, 2017, email to Ben).
"I did a purposeful demonstration on how not speaking during the discussion of race didn't affect anyone to want to hear "others" in a group.....I as African American was needed in discussion to make it invaluable as one of the only Af. Am. Prospective that was there in the room.
"In a democratic round robin process (see PMAs). Folks leave space to speak less to invite 'the other' prospective in the room. I hope my refraining from talking supported the mostly white male discussers to maybe re-consider a more democratic round robin process rather than the one with more to say keeps on talking."
Karl notes his sadness at hearing this from Aleta.
Michael K. proposes a rule that half of the body is women and half the body is men and that people have to vote for a certain number of each.
Tim says that he's getting the idea that there are two proposals before this group, the proposal for a statement to be read encouraging diverse voting versus the proposal for quotas.
Mary Virginia reiterates that there are many kinds of gender diversity and that especially in the Bay Area just two lists will get push back and she is against it.
Aleta asks a question about how national does it. She reports that a friend of hers works there. She asks where we validate our process. How have past elections gone, and did the nominating team look at how it was done in the past? Has that happened? She notes her experience in the 1990s in DSA and states that "A lot of DSA that I know, they have a format that worked," and reiterates the question to the elections committee of whether they talked to other chapters or national. The question of how it is done pertains to racial, ethnic, and gender diversity.
Michael K. states that each chapter does diversity differently. National prioritizes racial and ethnic diversity via vigorous recruitment only and enforces gender diversity through having a specific ballot composition that is half male and half female and rules about the gender composition of the board.
Karl suggests that, if we read a statement, we ask people to vote to choose people who can see the diverse world we want.
Ben raises concerns as a queer person about the idea of a binary half-male, half-female ballot and states the he can't cosign something that leaves out so many members of queer communities.
Jeremy notes the limits of what can be done now around this election in terms of quotas.
Aleta suggests reading national's diversity statement and positions about the M4BL policy document endorsement and also asks about how the blurb will be written and what to add to the blurb. She returns to the question of why the committee doesn't know what mechanisms other chapters can use.
Tim asks if there is consensus that we now vote on the proposal that for this election there will be no quota system, that a statement will be read about diversity, and that it will be the responsibility of the Executive Committee to address the question of the bylaws and board composition for the July election.
Jeremy asks for some clarification of what we are voting on, and Michael states the importance that something not get confused.
Jeremy notes regarding the statement to be read that Susan's statement read at the last Coordinating Committee meeting had some difference around it and that people mean different things when they talk about diversity.
Aleta states confusion about Jeremy's statement and asks about who is doing the writing. She returns to the topic of which hat she is wearing and notes that if we are trying to win we can't do it without the people who are already there. She notes the concern that she raised with Ben when they met one-on-one that the parents have not yet given feedback into the childcare proposal and voiced a concern that the diversity part of this organization has to be more intentional and inclusive of the people represented.
Ben notes that while indeed there may be some disagreement around a diversity statement there also has to be a point at which we trust each other to do work and manage our own feelings about what happens if that work doesn't represent everything we are hoping it will. He states that he trusts Avery to do the writing of the diversity statement and to request the help she needs to do that but thinks it's important that we all be OK with not getting everything we would want into that one statement.
Tim agrees about the salience of the points raised and asks about comfort with a straight up and down vote on the proposal.
Avery assures the group that the statement will be "capital R rhetoric" and that it will aim to be inclusive and not comprehensive.
There is a vote in favor of the proposal that there be no explicit quotas in this election and that a statement be read encouraging members to vote in a way that will develop a diverse board. Avery will write that statement.
Jeremy brings up the point that there are family memberships that people can get through DSA national and asks whether there will be a system that allows those with family membership to vote even though the family members might not all be listed with the member name. After some discussion of the importance of this issue, Michael K. says that there will be a way to ensure this.
The meeting shifts to a discussion of the financial situation of the organization.
DSA had $1,400 dollars. He in the past asked for voluntary dues of $25 for the local. The Finnish Hall will cost $450, and $100–$200 will be spent on food and arts supplies for the events committee sign making party afterwards. Norma is working on a fundraising event, but we are running quite low.
Jeremy suggests a pitch on January 14 for money for the organization.
Ari notes that Molly's media team is working on merchandise, which could be a success for fundraising. The Executive Committee, he asserts, needs a Fundraising Committee. He suggests prioritizing finding 50 people locally that can give $30 per month.
Mary Virginia notes that the group needs a way to auto-debit funds from members who make a commitment like that.
Jeremy notes that this is the last Coordinating Committee meeting before elections, and there is a discussion of other committees meeting before the election.
Avery notes what one of the Ohio chapters does, a yearly huge fundraiser (makes about $8,000), of a wine tasting.
Tim notes that Norma and Baraka are working on planning an open bar fundraiser.
Mary Virginia suggests her big back yard as a possible location for a beer bust.
Tim asks a question about the treasurer role and there is clarification of the election being six months only for this cycle but a year for the next cycle.
Karl states a wish that at the meeting that we could find a time to come together to sing the Internationale and Lift Every Voice and Sing, which he has made 100 copies of.
Aleta discusses her excitement at the song idea and the need for new, more youth-focused songs. She discusses her time at the Highlander Institute where she worked with BLM activists on changing most of the songs, developing hip-hop versions of each freedom song. She then said a verse of a song.
Mary Virginia stated a strong belief in the power of song, especially when it connects people with a movement moment they shared, and recounts the story of being on the picket line with college students who came up with their own version of a pop song "I don't want no scabs."
The meeting was then adjourned.