A Guide for Smarties and A Rebuttal: On the Proposal for Transparency and Accountability Image by Katie Bourgeois

A Guide for Smarties and A Rebuttal: On the Proposal for Transparency and Accountability

If you’re a member of Chicago DSA, you are likely to have heard one comrade or another make mention of the Transparency and Accountability to Build Socialist Power proposal that is up for a member-wide vote this Saturday. (If you are yet to RSVP for this meeting, the first one in over a calendar year, take a moment to do so now! We’ll be here.) It is one of five proposals on the agenda, and we want to uplift the work of those comrades. There will be a preliminary discussion to the General Chapter Meeting where each author of the proposals will be able to answer questions, Friday at 6 p.m. Those other proposals are:

The Transparency and Accountability Proposal (TAP) has been brightly advocated for in order to let CDSA members at large know how important the questions of power, conduct, and community are posed within our organization. The same morning that we finished writing a full companion guide to TAP, a comrade’s oppositional op-ed was published. While we disagree with the arguments and assertions made in the piece, we do wholly respect—and appreciate—the author’s willingness to engage in a discourse of ideas and strategies. We also encourage our fellow CDSA members to continue engaging with TAP through discussion and generative submission of amendments, the deadline for which is 5 p.m. on Thursday, April 1st.

The proposal Transparency and Accountability for Building Socialist Power has not just garnered a lot of attention; the proposal has brought forth serious questions about what we, as the general membership, expect of the Executive Committee (EC), as well as what we all have the capacity to build moving forward. We look forward to many future engagements in ideas and strategy grounded in matters of power, equitability, and accountability.

Let us begin.

Rebuttal

[TAP] was also written without the input of the entire Executive Committee (EC) or the larger CDSA community.

This is a red herring, that is to say, a distraction. Almost 25% (10 out of 45 members) of the EC was and is actively involved with this proposal. This is in contrast to a recently passed internal elections code authored by only one comrade currently on the EC. We do not see anyone making specific opposition to the policy based on this alone. A coalition of over 30 comrades along with the Chicago Afrosocialists and Socialists of Color Caucus, listed as signees, collaborated and combed over the fine points of the proposal. 

Critics are correct that this proposal impacts the whole chapter. This is specifically why we drafted and submitted it in time for the upcoming General Chapter Meeting, as opposed to a monthly EC meeting. We find it a priority that all members would have immediate and equal access to the proposal, just as the same as those serving on the EC. We’ll give another boost to the amendments submission form so that all CDSA members alike may give input on how to build up the proposal and its goals for transparency of information and equitability across the chapter. At its core, TAP is here to advance member engagement.

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.

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? 

Online proposals, debates, and votes conducted through email happened during non-COVID times just as often between EC meetings as they do now, and proposals remain outside of the membership knowledge or view for a while. Voting online between EC meetings is enshrined in our very bylaws—refer to Article VI Executive Committee, Section 2 (p. 6). Our proposed specifications to how this information is conveyed with chapter membership is to address a lag in accessibility of said information.

And while not a specific rebuttal in regards to TAP’s content and context, we are compelled to push back on the assertion that in-person meetings “return to in the coming months” makes the proposed changes on how we communicate the EC’s processes on electronic proposals moot. Many of our comrades are able to organize more directly and consistently within CDSA now that meetings and discussions have moved online. This is not a matter of accessibility depending on preference or convenience on meeting place; there are many CDSA members whose abilities make in-person meetings untenable. A shift in baseline accommodation in organizing practices should and will stay with us for a long time to come.

If you want to change what the Secretary does, run for Secretary! 

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. 

Of course all members have a right to run for a chapter officer role (which are: two co-chair positions, secretary, treasurer, communications chair, political education chair, and campaigns coordinator). Why, though, should the responsibility of reporting EC business fall onto one person?

The proposal’s specificity in how to relay EC conduct to general members explicitly encourages the Secretary to delegate out this work. In the organization we want to build, we seek to distribute work to not only avoid organizer burnout but also to foster leadership development for our larger movement. No one should be doing an excess of labor, regardless of if it’s for a good cause. Three or four comrades can accomplish more tasks with less individual bulk of responsibility than one alone. We hope to foster a larger culture where sharing and delegating our work (which is a practiced organizing skill) is a norm.

The requirements of this proposal are not at all onerous. For example: “EC Proposals shall be published to the General Membership within 24 hours of when an EC member seconds the motion to adopt the proposal,” 1.2.1 (p. 4). Once the ad hoc committee establishes practices and sets things in place, it becomes a matter of run-of-the-mill record-keeping.

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.

Member comment is integral to the EC’s function; it is a body explicitly intended to represent the general membership. We wholeheartedly acknowledge there are different approaches to democratic representation. All TAP does is add 10 minutes per proposal for member comments for the proposals the EC votes on. This is not too much. 

A significant responsibility of being a member of the EC is to listen and there is a balance to be struck between member input to foster informed debate and “endless meetings.” Ten minutes is the least we can do.

It will lead to increased bureaucracy without increasing transparency or accountability.

To quote the TAP Guide for Smarties, FAQ answers 8 and 13:

8. Is more transparency actually less transparency?

Increased transparency isn’t about inundating members with information. It is about making it accessible for when you need it. We trust our comrades to be able to handle the information that we make accessible. It is important to remember that different comrades may have different priorities, so making some things available and others not is not an option.

13. We should try to reduce bureaucratic blockage, and I fear this does the opposite!

While we are not fans of bureaucracy for its own sake, we do believe that there are certain necessary systems that must be put in place to empower members, and we believe that empowering members is worth the little bit of extra work.

 

Read the full TAP Guide for Smarties