Lists And Transparency: A Report From The NPC Steering Committee Meeting Of May 20, 2022
The Steering Committee of the National Political Committee (NPC) met for their regular Friday evening biweekly meeting on May 20th where a number of subjects and proposals were discussed. The most significant actions taken at this meeting were the passage of a proposal to add a webinar discussion where NPC members would discuss how the current vacancies on the larger body will be filled and a proposal to direct staff to give the Labor Commission (DSLC) access to personal contact info of chapters leaders—the first time a priority campaign has been granted such access.
Notably, this was the first meeting of the Steering Committee in which the member observers were furnished with an agenda. The creation of a public version of the agenda was the result of a proposal by the chair of the committee, Kristian Hernandez, requiring “a public version to be shared with membership within 24 hours of the SC agenda being shared with the NPC.” This proposal passed two meetings prior, on April 22, but this was the first meeting in which the agenda was provided. Time will only tell if the “within 24 hours” provision will mean the agenda will, in the future, be released to the membership before the meeting.
With the absence of the chair, this meeting was facilitated by Secretary-Treasurer Jen M. and, despite her laudable strict adherence to good order, the meeting had a markedly more collegial atmosphere than recent meetings. This meeting, of course, comes on the heels of the NPC candidate forum on Wednesday, with the NPC expected to fill the three vacancies on the body by the end of the month. It also came two days before the NPC’s Fireside Chat on the ongoing crisis involving Bowman and the BDS and Palestine Solidarity Working Group, which the NPC attempted to “de-charter” in early March, only to partially rescind their decisions a few weeks later.
The first item on the agenda was a proposal on access to Airtable Enterprise. Airtable, which is described on its website as a “low-code platform for building collaborative apps” has become an invaluable tool in the organization’s arsenal. It is not an exaggeration to say the August 2021 convention, DSA’s first and perhaps last virtual-only convention, would have been a complete failure without it.
It would appear that the committee was presented with a proposal to acquire Enterprise-level access to Airtable for use by the entire organization, and the matter before the committee was on the question of how and when to grant access to Airtable to priority campaigns, committees, and working groups. It was difficult to tell exactly what the steering committee was discussing because, unlike all other documents, those prepared by staff were explicitly excluded in the resolution mandating the creation of a public-facing agenda. While the discussion on Airtable was difficult to follow, it appeared as if the committee took no actions on this proposal.
Following the discussion on Airtable, the Chair’s report encouraged NPC members to sign up for at least two Recommitment Drive phone banks as soon as possible. The committee then approved the minutes for the previous meeting during the Secretary-Treasurer’s report before moving on to the National Director’s Report. Maria Svart, DSA National Director, said that staff were anticipating guidance from the NPC on how they should prioritize their work in light of the leaked opinion from the Supreme Court that revealed the court is preparing to overturn Roe v. Wade. The National Director also announced that a new Field Organizer has just completed orientation and will be starting work at the end of the month. Next was the Operations report from the Fiscal Officer & Assistant to the National Director who announced the creation of a new memo, the 2022 State Corporate Contribution Limits, which has been added to the Compliance Library.
The Operations report also included a decision point for the committee, asking if staff should send the Central Connecticut Chapter the membership list for the Quiet Corner Chapter. As a rule, staff do not allow chapters access to the member list of other chapters without explicit direction from the NPC. However, the two chapters with one other in the region were in the process of a merger which has hit a snag because the Quiet Corner Chapter lacked the capacity to organize passage of a resolution approving the merger which, for legal reasons, is a necessary step in the process.
The committee unanimously passed a motion to grant the Central Connecticut Chapter access to the Quiet Corner Chapter’s membership list so they may assist their neighboring chapter passing the resolution. The motion was made by Steering Committee member Justin Charles, who noted that he had personally heard from an inactive Quiet Corner Chapter member that the merger was indeed welcomed.
Next came the report from the Organizing Department which has been shorthanded since three staff members quit on the same day at some point during the time of the BDS de-chartering. . The Organizing Director again noted the hiring of a new Field Organizer and how excited the staff were at the prospect of one day being back to full capacity. The report also noted that staff were working on ensuring that both they and priority committees are more effectively tracking chapter engagement. The Organizing Director also reiterated the request for the NPC to revisit its priorities to better inform the work of staff to meet the current moment and the impending Supreme Court decision.
The Recommitment Drive was the main focus of the report from the Development team, which noted that, 3 weeks into the drive, the campaign gained the recommitment of 1,213 members towards its goal of recommitting 5,000 members. Chapters have been slow to get going with only 12 of the 90 chapters that have identified a point person for the drive having requested phone banks for the campaign. The Development Director again encouraged members to sign up for Recommitment Drive phone banks which have shown encouraging results and have generally been “really great vibes.” The report also noted that staff was exploring a process for outreach in case of failed credit card charges to encourage members to update the dues payment method.
Next on the agenda were reports from Finance and Communications directors, both of whom were absent. In their stead, the National Director encouraged the committee members to read the FYIs in the agenda and direct any questions to her. The meeting moved on to Committee Reports without comment.
The first committee report, a proposal from the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission (DSLC), appeared to be the most anticipated of the meeting. Laura, NPC liaison to the DSLC and the newest member of the NPC Steering Committee, presented the proposal to grant the DSLC a copy of the list of chapter leaders’ phone numbers and emails. According to the original proposal, the use of the list would be conditioned on the DSLC SC using “the greatest discretion” in coordination “with staff, the NPC, and other national priority campaigns through the national communications committee” so as not to overwhelm chapter leaders.
Following introduction of the proposal, the National Director and Organizing Director took turns offering more context and considerations that the committee members should take when making this decision. The National Director noted the desire of the staff to work as partners to the NPC, various committees and DSA members, and she encouraged everyone to be measured when speaking about staff in external channels. She also pointed out that requests from NPC and priority committee members directly to staff sometimes put them in uncomfortable situations. Therefore, she said, it was encouraging to see this proposal come via official channels, as the ultimate decision is and should be the NPC’s, as a collective body.
The Organizing Director pointed out that this list is the most precious resource of the organization, and the staff use it sparingly. Rarely, if ever, do they give it to other formations in the organization. He pointed out that recently it has only been used for targeted outreach for the Recommitment Drive and to encourage chapter leaders in the most recent Chapter Survey. He noted that the action was irreversible and that, once the list is out, it can never really be retracted. The list is an exhaustible resource, he added, and if chapter leaders become overwhelmed with outreach when added to the list they may hesitate to keep the list updated after a turnover in leadership.
Justin Charles expressed his support for the proposal but pointed out that this decision would be precedent setting, and they can likely expect requests from at least other priority campaigns for similar access. In light of this, he suggested perhaps a standing policy on the matter should be drafted separately from this request.
Next to speak was Steering Committee member Jenbo who made an argument in support of the proposal as labor organizing was the most important work for a socialist organization. She also pointed out that the NPC is not the U.S. Supreme Court and not obligated by policy or tradition to defer to prior precedent as the committee was free to reconsider its decisions or consider matters on a case-by-case basis.
Steering Committee member Sydney Ghazarian, who appeared to have been writing an amendment during the ongoing discussion, presented her amendment for consideration. The committee took a moment to read the amendment, which made a number significant changes to the original proposal, including restricting access to the full list to only the NPC liaison (i.e. Laura in this case), who would then cut shorter lists for use by the DSLC, and explicitly forbidding use of the list for “for caucus or other non-sanctioned purposes”. The amendment also delineated other best practices, shifting administration of the list to occur at the monthly priority campaign meetings, not through the National Communications Committee.
Laura Gabby seconded the motion, which was adopted with only Justin Charles choosing to abstain. Justin’s hesitation seemed to be either based on his belief that the amendment should be a separate proposal, or that coordination should be run by the National Tech Committee. Nonetheless, the proposal as amended passed unanimously, with Justin also voting in favor of granting the DSLC access to the list of chapter leaders’ personal contact information.
Following this, Justin presented the Growth & Development Committee (GDC) report, which included a motion to extend the Recommitment Drive for an additional month until the first week of July. The Drive was showing positive returns, but was slow to get off the ground, he pointed out. He also noted that extending such campaigns was not without precedent and that the 100K Drive was extended to great success. The motion passed unanimously.
The meeting then moved on to New Business, with the only item being a proposal by Jenbo to amend the NPC Appointment Process. Jenbo introduced her proposal by discussing how difficult serving on the NPC has been, that the committee rarely takes the time to struggle through difficult political questions, and that the general membership also rarely gets a glimpse into the thinking behind the NPC members’ voting. She compared the role to being at City Hall, coming to meetings only to vote, and rarely getting the opportunity to talk to the rest of the committee as comrades.
Jenbo continued to make an impassioned appeal for changing the dynamics at work in the NPC including reading a passage from The Second Declaration of Havana. She noted how serving on the committee has not been fun. Unfortunately, she began to experience audio issues.
Jenbo’s proposal changes the date of the announcement of replacements for the vacant seats to June 1, and adds a webinar of NPC members on May 26, 60–90 minutes in length and “open to the membership, to discuss the needs of the organization, and what each candidate could bring to fulfill those needs.” There was a subsequent discussion after a suggestion from Sofia to add an executive session. While the committee agreed that an executive session should be held to discuss sensitive issues related to harassment and grievance matters that may be relevant, they noted it was not necessary to amend the proposal, and it passed unanimously. This exhausted the agenda, bringing the meeting to an end in just over an hour—a rare occasion loudly celebrated by the committee members.
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