A New Chapter in Accessibility: MDC DSA commits to hybrid GBMs

The Community & Solidarity Caucus is a local caucus operating within the Metro DC DSA. Caucus formations are not official bodies, but groups of members united along political or ideological lines.

When it comes to the operations of the Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America (MDCDSA), every decision matters. Robust democracy is not just for the organization itself but is representative of the democratic world we are all trying to produce. 

Recently, the chapter's Community & Solidarity Caucus motivated and successfully passed a resolution to make our General Body Meetings (GBMs) more accessible by requiring that they have a virtual component. However, the resolution's journey to passage was not a simple one, and we wanted to present our findings to both demystify the resolution process and highlight current barriers.

The Journey of a Resolution

The decision to advance a resolution happened due to our concern following the in-person exclusive GBM in June of 2023. The GBM was during the height of election season, and our faction did not like how this decision, most likely unmalicious, had excluded members from that conversation. Meetings used to be in-person entirely, but following the pandemic, the Chapter (under current Steering leadership) was able to build-up capacity for virtual meetings. This shift to in-person only had some members worried that we were moving in the wrong direction. 

Our journey began before even advancing the resolution. With the schedule for General Body Meetings (GBMs) — the main legislative process in the chapter — having yet to be announced at the time by the chapter Steering Committee (this would not happen until mid-July), we took the initiative and began advocating for an upcoming GBM to be held in a hybrid format. We saw this as not only a moral imperative – denying the ability to participate to anyone who cannot physically attend a meeting is an accessibility issue – but also as a practical strategy. After all, how could anyone argue against a requirement for something that has already been successfully executed?

Drafting the resolution was an uphill battle. We had to research the format of resolutions, review current policies, and navigate our way through an outdated copy of the bylaws on our website. (For example, the bylaw amendment moving the amount of GBMs from once a month to 6 a year is still not reflected there.) The lack of updated and easily accessible information is a significant barrier for member participation.

To submit our resolution, we used Red Desk, an internal ticketing system. Each resolution ticket requires 

  • a rationale, or a couple of sentences on why members should vote on it
  • a statement of purpose, which is a string of whereas clauses listing the reasons for the resolution. These are very similar to the rationale but a little more fleshed out. 
  • a statement of action, or what your resolution is doing. These must have therefore be it resolved or And clauses at the beginning of every statement.
  • authors, or who wrote it.  
  • sponsors, or other members who want to be listed on the resolution as backing it.

The process, unfortunately, was only briefly explained using a couple of sentences above each textbox, although there is a YouTube video explainer developed by our chapter's Administrative Committee which provides an overview of Red Desk more broadly. 

Red Desk is a great tool, but is notoriously glitchy, so make sure you have backed up your materials somewhere else (do not write your draft directly in the text box). We were also asked to provide a Google Doc of the resolution for it to be posted on the agenda — an unofficial requirement not previously communicated — and so we recommend starting in Google Docs or some other shareable doc software first.

The First and Second Reads

All resolutions have to go through a two-read process where members are given an opportunity to learn about and debate the resolution, which can happen at either a Steering or General Body Meeting.

The first read is less involved, where members provide feedback but not amendments to your resolution. Our first read took place at a Steering Meeting, where we faced technical questions that required a firm understanding of the bylaws. The process was antagonistic: not maliciously so, but merely because that’s how our current process is. It is not collaborative by itself, and so members must come into any first read with an air-tight understanding of our rules. 

This unofficial requirement is another accessibility problem. As for more substantial reforms, only members who feel they can navigate this process will begin to attempt it. We are not lobbying Congress here, but building an organization of comrades committed to forming a multiracial working-class coalition, and need to be able to facilitate reforms and ideas from across our organization. 

During the second read of a resolution, members can introduce potential amendments, ask questions, and voice their favor or opposition. Our second read was held at a GBM to include wider feedback. There are now only a minimum of six GBMs a year, so opportunities for receiving this type of feedback will be more limited going forward. Steering meetings, which are held bi-weekly, are less attended overall. This reveals another accessibility concern, as current resolutions under the current process overvalue Steering input, because reaching the General Body for input has become more difficult to achieve.

At the second read of our resolution, members were allowed to speak for or against the resolution and were permitted to ask questions, though this happened at different times, and time overall was limited. If you want your voice heard, it’s imperative that you place yourself on the stack (i.e., the process we use to organize comments) immediately. Technically, the bylaws identifies an opportunity to introduce amendments to resolutions, but that didn’t happen for ours, and the process is not intuitive. If you are a new member, or even a long-term one who is new to these sorts of procedures, you would be unaware such a thing was a possibility.

The Comment Period and the Vote

Following the second read, we moved to a comment period where members could submit statements in support or against the resolution.

The comment period for changing the voting system for delegates at the national convention to approval voting, for example, was only a few days, and instructions were only posted on Slack. Only 12 members submitted statements in support (all were Steering members or in their direct sphere of influence), and no one submitted statements against the initiative.

We frankly do not have mechanisms to confidently reach even a simple majority of our 2400-member base, let alone get them to comment on resolutions. The Community & Solidarity Caucus is working to address this with an upcoming resolution that would extend the comment period by a week (see here), but more work needs to be done to expand our democracy in this area. 

Finally, we reached the voting phase. Although our local boasts 2400 members, only about 8% recorded a vote (198 /2400). This low turnout is sadly too common. The recent delegate election for the National Election, which itself ran 58 candidates, only counted 247 voters (247/2400), which is about a 10% turnout rate.

These turnout figures suggest to me that we have an engaged membership (and by that, meaning a membership plugged into our communications) somewhere between 8 to 10% of the total chapter’s membership, or around some 200 members. This state of affairs leads to a situation where a small coalition can easily capture votes by using social clout to reach out to the 2,200 unengaged members using either their own private whip lists or preexisting social circles, which is a testament to the social capital of long-standing organizers. 

Since, however, current communication apparatuses limit space for competitors to reach out to the vast majority of the chapter, and it's not exactly practical to go up to random people and ask them if they are in the DSA, this creates a hurdle for any new or old members who are not as plugged in to internal organizing. There are not many opportunities to reach out to people. The delegate election, for example, only had a new Slack channel and a happy hour at the tail end of the election, and that again overvalues established organizers with deep networks (as well as people who can make the trip to DC on a Sunday). 

Ultimately our resolution meets this pattern. It passed with 175 votes in favor, 19 against, and 4 abstentions, and its authors were longstanding members of the chapter with a deep base. This is the norm our chapter has created, and it’s one our caucus has every intention of tackling in the future. 

Looking Ahead

The journey to pass this resolution wasn’t easy, but it highlights the importance of each member’s involvement. We strive to be a working-class movement, and we need the voice and effort of every member to ensure our organization is truly representative of the diversity of the working-class.

To their credit, the steering committee has moved quickly on implementing the proposed resolution. Beyond committing to just setting up a virtual component, the steering committee approved a plan — which members outside of the caucus proposed — to invest in AV equipment and to develop a broadcasting protocol. Members will be trained in implementing this proposal, in the process developing a specialized skillset across our member base. Skills development represents a secondary boon from this new commitment to accessibility, as is investment in shared capital (AV equipment) that can be extended to enrich other areas of our chapter's organizing.

We believe this victory is just the beginning. Our caucus aims to make our chapter’s processes even more accessible, and we are asking for your help. We have an upcoming resolution to make the comment period more accessible, and we are soliciting chapter support. We also invite those interested in improving our chapter's operations and function to join our Community & Solidarity Caucus if you would like to learn more.

Internal politics can be daunting and uncomfortable, but navigating through these systems is imperative for building a collective future. As we move forward, we’re committed to making these processes more understandable, more accessible, and more representative of the diverse voices within our community.

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