Transparency Requires Labor, Not Legislation

Transparency Requires Labor, Not Legislation

The resolution titled “Transparency and Accountability to Build Socialist Power” and proposed at the CDSA April General Chapter Meeting has admirable goals, but I have major concerns, both procedural and substantive, about the effects it would actually have on the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America.

First, the procedural concerns. This is a large omnibus resolution that makes a lot of changes that aren’t inherently related. One could support its changes to online voting but not to record keeping or vice versa. It was also written without the input of the entire Executive Committee (EC) or the larger CDSA community. Compare that to the Priority Campaign proposal from a few years back; that also made very substantive changes to CDSA’s structure but it was discussed at multiple EC meetings and other public forums before being brought up for a vote at a GCM. 

As an extensive amendment process would be very hard to do in a chapter meeting (and even harder in an online meeting), I think these procedural concerns alone are enough to vote against the resolution. The proponents can then redraft it with broader input. As it is not a bylaws change, it does not have to be approved at a chapter meeting. It could be passed at EC as individual parts and then confirmed at the next GCM as part of the consent agenda. Or a revised version could be proposed and voted on at the next GCM.

In addition to those procedural concerns, I have several substantive ones. First, many of the perceived problems that this proposal tries to fix are ones that only exist because of COVID. Many of our current organizational problems are “square peg round hole” issues caused by an organizational structure designed for in-person meetings being forced to exist entirely online. DSA’s in-person focus has long been a bulwark against “clicktivism” and it is something I know many of us are excited to return to in the coming months. Section 1 of this proposal has extensive, and very prescriptive, rules for posting on the chapter Slack about proposals. How relevant will those even be when we are meeting in-person again in a few months? 

Sections 3 through 7 of this proposal also set up very prescriptive requirements for how the Secretary does various sorts of record keeping. Since the Secretary currently has wide latitude in how they conduct their work (see Article V Section 3 of our Chapter Bylaws), a resolution from the membership is not necessary to allow them to do these activities. If you want to change what the Secretary does, run for Secretary! 

Most of the requirements in Sections 3 through 7 are good things in the abstract. Transparency is good, but it isn’t free. A large organization with paid staff could require this level of detailed record keeping, but requiring hours and hours of additional unpaid labor from the Secretary (or from people the Secretary delegates it to) is not something I find realistic. 

As someone who spent several years as Treasurer of CDSA doing the largely invisible and tedious paperwork and bookkeeping required to keep to chapter afloat, I can tell you that it’s very hard to convince people to do this sort of work. When I read through the extensive requirements listed in this proposal, I kept thinking about how I would react if something similar had been applied to me when I was Treasurer. 

Imagine a resolution being passed requiring the Treasurer to post to Slack every time the chapter spent money, reimbursed someone or received a donation. This would have been a dramatic increase in my required workload as Treasurer. I already spent hours each week doing bookkeeping and fundraising. I took vacation days to go to banks to fill out paperwork or drop off checks with vendors. A proposal written without my input that dramatically changed the expectations of the office would not cause me to redouble my efforts. It would have led to a vacated office of the Treasurer.

Again, if you want to change what the Secretary does, run for Secretary.

My last concern is around Section 2 of the proposal. EC meetings are for EC members to conduct business. They are not and should not be open forums for free-flowing discussion. They are business meetings.

This proposal has extensive rules that attempt to enable input from non-EC members (and, depending on your interpretation, non-DSA members) while also putting some limitations on the time allocated to that input. While I could potentially support some sort of compromise that made it easier for EC members to get on stack and then delegate their speaking time to a non-EC member, we should be incredibly careful about doing that. 

Anyone who was on the Left in the early 00s can tell you about that dark time of endless meetings that were brought on by the admirable belief that consensus, openness and horizontalism would lead to good outcomes. Instead, it led to a tyranny of the long-winded. We do not need to go back to those dark days of all talk and no action. We should be incredibly careful about policies that enable unlimited or nearly unlimited discussion from unelected representatives. That way leads to destruction.

I encourage the membership to vote against this proposal. It will lead to increased bureaucracy without increasing transparency or accountability. It is not necessary, as many of the problems it attempts to solve are temporary side effects of COVID. And it could make it even harder for the EC to build a socialist Chicago.