General Meeting Minutes: June 24, 2017

East Bay DSA general meeting, June 24, 2017

10:30 a.m. – 2:30 p.m.

Introduction

The meeting began with a welcome and overview of the agenda.

Elections

Two members introduced the elections process and the upcoming national election.  They discussed who is being elected and for what.

Fundraising

Any and all members are invited to attend the convention, however delegates are elected and are the only ones who can vote at the convention.

Fundraising for the convention was reviewed. Fundraisers and the GoFundMe page are the main venues where funds are being collected for this. There is a request for a sound system for the fundraiser.

The fundraiser will be held at Modern Electric, Thursday, July 13.

Housekeeping

Bathrooms and housekeeping for today's election were discussed. Note was also made of food and ballots, and the agenda was reviewed.

Thank yous to the volunteers, elections committees, designers, website, and organizing committee, with special thanks to the food volunteers and the CNA for the use of the space.

Single-Payer Healthcare

The director of CNA provided a speech and an update on where the single-payer campaign stands today.

The speaker noted that this is the biggest group of socialists he has seen in a while. He's especially proud of the amount of collaborative work going on between CNA and DSA. He discussed the dynamics of power, what it means to be demanding healthcare, and the recent actions by the speaker of the state assembly, stating that he stopped the bill because the Democrats know that if it gets to the floor, they will have to vote for it.

He asked: Why are they afraid of the bill? Noting the building across the street, he discussed how, in the current system, the Kaiser health plan makes a billion dollars every three months. The speaker of the state assembly, meanwhile, gets hundreds of thousands from the healthcare industry and uses that to try to preserve a two-thirds majority for Democrats – but what's the use of a two-thirds majority if you don't pass single-payer?

The idea of the bill (as the speakers called it this week) as "woefully incomplete" is about stopping it from getting to the health committee. The question we're asking of elected Democrats is, "Which side are you on?" The side of patients or the side of Trump and his cronies destroying the ACA?

We're not going to defeat Trumpism with stale neoliberalism, and the rubber meets the road on this issue. The Democrats, however. refuse to do single-payer, the simple solution that works everywhere else.

It is our critique as socialists that can compete with the white supremacy and the corporate agenda. It is our agenda that can give people something to vote for.

There is one working class – not a white working class and a working class of people of color, and healthcare is an issue that can animate the working class. It offers security and peace of mind.

Remember, most Americans do not have $700 for an emergency, and a hospital ride costs $2,000.

Seventy percent of healthcare in California is already publicly financed. We're going to socialize healthcare and we’re not going to let any damn Democrat, including Speaker Rendon, stand in our way.

New Structure

Following the speech from the CNA director, two DSA members who have been active on the transition working group gave an explanation of the transition to a new structure based on our new bylaws.

The goal of the transition working group was to take the great work that is happening now and make it fit with our recently adopted bylaws.

The working group has interviewed the most active members of the chapter to ask about what is working well and what needs to happen. A plan will be consolidated from those interviews and presented to the new local council. While it is not final or yet voted on by the local council, the transition team has some ideas for a proposed new structure.

Proposal

The team explains an organizational chart that the transition team hopes can provide our local with a scalable model that gives everybody a place to plug in and get involved. The team also hopes gives us a reliable way of determining who meets when and how we meet.

We want to ensure that meetings are experienced as reliable settings that give people ways to plug in to and have a voice in the work of the local.

Next Steps

Open questions remain about where we plug in the work of the current IT subcommittee and much of the work of the communications committee.

The next step for the transition team is to synthesize interviews and make a proposal to the local council.

Local Council Elections

Two members who have been active on the elections working group brief the assembled members on how the local council elections will work. They note that if you didn't receive or don't currently have your election packet, it is online at elections.eastbaydsa.org.

Positions

  • Co-chairs: These two people are the public face of East Bay DSA and are responsible for chairing the local council meetings.
  • Vice chair: This person performs the role of the co-chairs if they are both unavailable.
  • Secretary: This person is responsible for maintaining the transparency of the organization, writes notes of general membership and local council meetings, and ensures that these are accessible to the membership.
  • Treasurer: This person is responsible for the administration of funds and fundraising.
  • Internal organizers: These three people are responsible for fostering a lively participatory culture within the organization.
  • External organizers: These three people are responsible for organizing outward-facing campaigns.
  • At-large members: These two people participate in the local council and are responsible for representing the membership at large.

Procedure

Nominations were made and accepted by a number of candidates. Some positions are contested and some are not. Nominations from the floor are permitted.

An opportunity was given here for nominations from the floor. No nominations from the floor were made

Rules were set forward for speeches. Candidates can each give a two-minute speech unless they are running uncontested, in which case a one-minute speech is permitted.

Speeches

  • Co-chair: 1 candidate gave a speech, uncontested election
  • Co-chair: 1 candidate gave a speech, uncontested election
  • Vice chair: 1 candidate gave a speech, uncontested election
  • Secretary: 1 candidate gave a speech, uncontested election
  • Treasurer: 1 candidate gave a speech, uncontested election
  • Internal organizer candidates: 4 candidates gave speeches, contesting 3 seats
  • External organizer candidates: 4 candidates gave speeches, contesting 3 seats
  • At-large candidates: 4 candidates gave speeches, contesting 2 seats

National Convention

One member of the current local council who has been working closely with DSA's national offices discussed what will happen at the upcoming national convention.

Breakout Groups

Goals were set for a discussion to occur in breakout groups.

The primary goal is that we have a fulsome discussion that the delegates can use to inform their positions at the convention.

While there will be a number of issues discussed at the convention as priorities resolutions, perhaps the issue of top impact on our new and growing membership is the question of dues and DSA's budget.

There is a proposal that will likely be presented at the convention regarding monthly dues with a low-income option. The current low income option of $27 per year would remain in place, but an income-based structure would be suggested for monthly dues from members who could afford them. Exceptions for hardship would be available as well.

Discussion Questions

The following questions are among those recommended for discussion.

  1. What are the relative merits and problems of raising dues?
  2. What are we going to do with the money that we do or don’t raise?
  3. What are our goals, where do we want to be going, and what is the value of organizing as socialists?

We have 35 people running for delegates, and those who are running need to hear what people think.

Discussions

The membership divided into groups of about 10 members each for the small group discussion of priorities and political strategy.

Report-backs of the group conversations were facilitated by a member of the elections committee. One member of each group discussed the pros and cons of raising dues and the general sentiment of their groups.

  • Group 1 stated that the general sentiment of this group was in favor of a monthly dues system being developed as long as there is a sliding scale.
  • Group 2 raised the question of under what conditions the dues will be raised and allocated. Money, they noted, is important and needs to be raised and spent in ways that are accountable. Dues could be paid locally with a share going to national as opposed to raised nationally and dispersed. The group also asked the question of whether local paid organizers would be elected.
  • Group 3 identified as a highly skeptical group. They raised concerns about dues posing barriers to entry to people who we are trying to organize and cautioned that dues could amount to a flat tax.
  • Group 4 raised the concern that increasing dues could discourage lower income people's engagement and give workers less agency, but was generally open to the proposal as long as monthly dues are kept local.
  • Group 5 noted point of entry as a concern, stating a belief that if there is a raise in dues it should be a point percentage of member's income and based on ability to pay.
  • Group 6 noted the wish for a physical space to work out of as a concrete need that raising dues could meet.
  • Group 7 was generally in favor but raised questions about how to collect dues. They also advocated for dues to be voluntary and related to income.
  • Group 8 suggested a system by which dues collected could allow chapters in well-off areas to subsidize chapters in less well-off areas.
  • Group 9 was largely in favor but echoed the concerns about transparency. They stated that it is easier to stomach local versus national dues and that there is a need to know how dues are used. They also stated a wish for a progressive dues structure with fear about the potential impact of dues on membership (if it is negative) because we rely on a large membership and on human effort.
  • Group 10 reiterated the need for transparency and suggested that we have visible fundraising efforts for local measures. It was suggested that when we develop campaigns and raise funds by saying "We want to affect these things locally, and it will take this much money." The group discussed a wish for a sliding-scale dues structure and a two-year goal of putting people in Congress in two years.
  • Group 11 reported unanimous support for raising dues as long as those dues are used to support local chapters, increase transparency, and show added value. They noted a risk of chasing funding and stated that there should be no more staff than needed. They also noted that we can't lose sight of the people power we'll need to build because we'll never beat the corporate parties in fundraising. They would be in favor of a monthly dues option.
  • Group 12 stated that they were conditionally in support if there is a tiered system and that support for dues is conditional on transparency. Members of this group stated that this is particularly important to organizing so when we talk to prospective members we can be clear about where dues money goes. The group noted that national organizers are likely needed for DSA to have an impact in less urban cosmopolitan areas than our own. They put forward the idea of splitting dues between local and national and the idea that dues sent from locals to national should be re-distributed so that chapters with more high-income people don't get a higher dues share.
  • Group 13 reiterated the idea that for a dues increase to work, transparency is needed. There was general support but concern about exclusion of low-income people from joining. A favorite idea of this group was to set up systems of sponsorship of members who can't afford to join by members who can afford to cover their dues.
  • Group 14 reported being generally in favor on the condition of a sliding scale so low-income people can join. They also stated that bigger donations need to be anonymous so that big donations don't mean informal power.
  • Group 15 was also generally in favor, but noted that there are important tensions to be aware of between the need to become a more powerful organization and the pull to ever more bureaucratization as well as the dangers of professionalization.
  • Group 16 stated that quarterly dues might be more palatable than monthly dues. They also suggested that members might want to be able to specify where their money goes and suggested considering a "humble bundle" model.
  • Group 17 was in favor of dues, joking that "If politicians can be bought, then it would be great to buy some of our own," but also suggesting that it would be good to be able to renumerate the unpaid labor that goes in to building these events. They stressed the idea that any dues should be optional and that fundamentally there should be no cost to becoming a socialist.
  • Group 18 offered a critique of the idea of a sliding scale, stating that, "You need a budget," and sliding scales make it hard to know how much you are getting each year from each member. They noted that the model of sponsorship might work better than a sliding scale.
  • Group 19 took on the question of where we see DSA in two years. They focused on a wish for a national staff that is able to support new organizing in new places. They stated that socialists in Midland–Odessa, Texas, should have support as well as socialists in urban and progressive areas. They also questioned the idea coming from many groups about dues inhibiting participation from low-income people. Working class people know about the challenges – janitors in the union of a member of this group union are paying two percent of their income to their union. The union organizer in this group stressed that working class people want to pay dues, they know what capitalism is, and they know that fighting it requires money.
  • Group 20 noted the differences between the conditions of our chapters resources and those that other chapters have or don't have. We are lucky to have in experienced organizers in our midst, but other chapters need support, and that means paying experienced organizers to support them. The member making this point also noted that the Socialist Party used to charge two percent of income in dues, and that currently the ISO charges four percent of income with some adjustments based on income level.

History and Future

Two members discussed the reasons for the convention and the delegate election process.

A member who has been involved in socialist organizing for many years discussed the history of DSA. He explained that DSA was formed by the merger of New American Movement and Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. Initially, DSA was under the leadership of Michael Harrington and at the time of the joining had 10,000 members. From there it didn't grow very much. In 2014, the organization had 4,000 members. There were 20 people locally who were meeting monthly and a membership list of about 80. Now, nationally the group has grown to about 25,000 with potentially 800 delegates going to the next conference.

The outgoing co-chair of the local discussed the importance of the current moment. He noted that we are becoming a left that isn't marginal or confined to college campuses. We have broken out of activistism and now have to go build a national movement. We are not competing with our comrades nationally, but we want to be with them and build the movement together.

Delegate Expectations

The outgoing co-chair and the chair of the elections committee discussed expectations.

The responsibility of the delegates is large. In the month before the convention

  • There will a Bay Area Summit of delegates that our chapter and the delegates will have to organize.
  • Top delegate vote-getters will serve as whips. Members should vote for people that they know are good at being responsible and reasonable.

Candidates were introduced and asked to stand holding their name and had the chance to say their names but not to make a speech.

Delegate Elections

Elections occurred, and there was an explanation of the vote-counting process by three members. They explained how ballots would be counted, how results information would be distributed, and how fundraising would work. The ballot-counting team was convened, and donations boxes were passed around the room.

Conclusion

The meeting was adjourned. Elections results were later broadcast to the membership.