DSA general meeting, April 23, 2017
The meeting included social time from 1:00 to 1:30 p.m.
MCs Megan S. and Coleman introduced the meeting with the following themes and breakouts.
They addressed common questions: "Why do we have so few general meetings?" and "We are switching to a quarterly model?" Meetings take a lot of effort, but ot is still important that we all come together, in this case to vote on the bylaws.
Members talked to their neighbors: What brought you to DSA? What have you been working on with DSA? What are you interested in working on (if you're new)?
Why are we presenting bylaws? We need bylaws that meet the needs of the size of our organization and our goals. The bylaws are the legal document that supports our work.
They then covered housekeeping, including bathrooms, rules of the space, respect for the space, the no-food-or-drink rule, and walked through the agenda.
The goals of the meeting are to
- Learn how to get involved
- Vote on the bylaws
Inspiration and Current Work
Speakers spoke on the following topics.
- Jeremy: The current political situation and why socialism
- Mary Virginia: Organizing, democracy, and the exciting and boring work of building an organization
- Molly: Concrete examples of the work that we are doing
- Marianela: Upcoming events, including the April 26 rally in Sacramento, May Day events, and the May 7 canvass event
The MCs then led the meeting in some chanting.
Frances and Jeremy discussed the bylaws.
Frances thanked the group for coming back inside (the weather is nice) and then discussed the process for getting here and what you might see in the bylaws, followed by a small group discussion.
She returned to why we are updating our bylaws: organizational growth and goals need a structure. The bylaws are to be that skeleton for our organization to grow on.
The bylaws are provisional. We will review them again in one year. We will probably get some things wrong, but we have built in a chance to revise. She discussed what the process looks like, and noted that there is a provision for making amendments.
Bylaws can be thought of as like a constitution: short, not super detailed, and hard to change. They are important to have differentiated from policies, including
- A commitment to deep democracy
- Member involvement at every level
- Accountable leadership
- Tactical flexibility
Jeremy highlighted the broad stroke contours and covered the following.
- The preamble
- The meaning of democracy: Member power, the participation of the members in a group that you, the members, own. Participation is more important that votes or rules, and it is important to have. All power and authority comes from the General membership.
- Conventions are held at least once a year to decide policies, priorities, and campaigns identified by the general membership.
- We want to have a collective cohesive body that decides collectively what the best use is of our limited times and resources.
- Internal and external organizers and internal and external organizing committees
- The goal is cohesive organizing that can take on the goals set by the general membership in a coherent way.
He facilitated discussion of the bylaws sections. A jigsaw discussion mode is discussed, and this will lead to a question-and-answer period.
Frances tells the membership that they are empowered to serve as bylaws monitors over the next year and to note if the bylaws are getting in the way of their work organizing with East Bay DSA.
Questions and Answers
Groups were invited to bring questions that they couldn't resolve in breakout groups to the entire group for discussion. Frances notes the beauty of all these comrades reading the bylaws and discusses the amendments process. No amendments were presented for this meeting but can be presented in the coming months by the process laid out in the bylaws.
Jeremy explained that the June elections offer elections for new local council members and delegates for the national conference.
Questions were then asked of the panel.
- Rosa: The way that elections are held raised some questions particularly around the meaning of 50-percent-plus-one unless otherwise specified in the bylaws.
- The bylaws, regarding elections, specifies setting election rules and the role of the elections committee were discussed as well.
- Paul: Article 2, section 6, "unless otherwise authorized…prohibited…" What does the otherwise authorized look like or mean?
- A suggestion is made that this be unless authorized by the local council or general membership.
- Membership will elect each position on the council directly.
- Jeff: There is no language to describe who gets the roles on the local council, whether people run for specific roles or whether those are decided in some indirect smoke filled room.
- The idea this that people will be running for specific positions.
- The highest vote getters would get the two co-chair positions, for example.
- What are the internal versus external organizing committees?
- Molly differentiates this from the current structure: in the current structure people are being siloed into specific roles and they are not working in concert with each other. There is an effort to connect the organizing that we are doing through this bylaws change.
- This is an effort to house our work more clearly.
- Does that mean that the committees will be morphed into internal or external organizing?
- We need to have our goals match how we are structuring ourselves and we need to be talking about how this works.
- What are the roles of caucuses?
- Anyone can form a caucus for any reason. If five people can get together, there is an opportunity for official recognition.
- They are a way of encouraging our members to self-organize and self-advocate.
- Who are "our members" versus DSA members?
- On page 2, article 3, section 1 states that we have a definition of who counts as a members. We will re-insert the accidentally removed second half of a sentence regarding our jurisdiction. We do have a specific jurisdiction defined by national (a ZIP code range).
- A 501(c)(4) requires a president, but there is no plan for that in these bylaws.
- Right now, Jess has begun the process, but also national is working on a blanket 501(c)(4), so we are in a holding pattern regarding that right now.
- Eric: What about meeting frequency and notification for meetings?
- There was a debate in the Executive Committee and a vote on this with the majority favoring this structure so that in the case of emergencies meetings could be called with less notice. We wanted to make sure that we could act quickly. The side that won the debate emphasized how too many specifics in the bylaws about how notification was given could cause problems if quick actions needed to be taken.
- Did we send out results of the election?
- We did.
- John: Will we support capitalist politicians and the Democratic Party? And why doesn't section 2 have frequent enough meetings? He believes that monthly meetings are the only way to ensure democracy.
- The reason we are not having a monthly general membership meeting is that we have almost weekly meetings for each committee.
- Having everyone sitting in a pew for four hours monthly doesn't get the work done. Meeting regularly as smaller groups does.
- There is nowhere that says we can't do monthly meetings but that quarterly meetings are the minimum.
- Claudette: Regarding access to other members, who owns the lists? How would members access each other?
- The newsletter has been the way to call out information. People can submit to the newsletter.
- Respect for people's privacy and moderation is important.
- There is a Facebook member group. Everyone should please request to join.
- Sebastian: What are the responsibilities of the at-large members, how are they accountable, and what are their real responsibilities?
- Some thought it was important to have every seat have a role.
- Michael McCowan argues that the current structure is five officers and six at large. The proposal was for essentially the chairs of committees to be the at large meeting.
- Is it a political meeting or a staff meeting? Making everyone an organizer and saying that everyone has to be doing specific kind of organizing work lists who has a voice in leadership.
- Jeremy notes the importance of the disagreement about this that happened on the Executive Committee.
Jeremy and Frances explain voting. Result: All members voting in favor except one. The bylaws pass.
The membership engaged in small group discussions.
- How is East Bay DSA's vision of democracy similar to or different from what you are familiar with?
- The organizing questionnaire:
- What could have been better for next time?
- What events would you like us to follow up with you about?
- Any other comments your group wanted to let us know?
The meeting covered housekeeping announcements regarding the space and adjourned at 5 p.m.