Austin Democratic Socialists of America

2018 Leadership Committee Survey

In advance of the Leadership Committee elections at Austin DSA’s 2019 chapter convention, members of the 2018 LC have answered a few questions about their experience.
1. To be successful, how many hours per week should an LC member be willing to commit to?

Dave Pinkham, Co-chair (he/him/they/them): 5-10

Monica Olvera, Interim Co-chair, former At-Large member (she/her/they/them): Depending on the tasks you have taken on or what the position requires from you, I guess I would have to say at least 7 hours a week. It’s almost like salary hours where you must be on call all of the time, except you’re not getting paid. Lol.

Kim Varela-Broxson, Membership Coordinator (she/her): 10

James Cole, Secretary (he/him): At least 5 (including attending committee meetings and events). Some weeks (especially those with big campaigns) wind up being more than that.

Stephanie Trinh, Treasurer (she/her): You should expect to spend 6-8 hours a week, depending on how much you take on, though much of it is responding to messages and checking emails.

Marcus Denton, At-Large (he/him): Averaged out about 3-5 on the reg at a minimum, not counting meetings. Though it varies by position and what’s going on, 5 should be enough if things are well-delegated. In addition there’s also some low-grade ongoing discussion and work that’s done over Slack and Signal and email that can be a daily or at least several-times-a-week commitment.

Ashkan Jahangiri (he/him): ~10, including other DSA committee engagements (eg 8 hrs LC, 2 hrs Health Justice)

2. What are some of the busier times/events during the upcoming year folks can expect to need to have more availability for?

Monica: LC meetings, GBM’s, special-called meetings, chapter fundraisers, forums, showing up at city hall and addressing city council, last-minute curveballs (especially when thrown during the week while at work or late at night).

Kim: The lege is in session, so I’d expect more events (especially ones needing to be coordinated on short notice, with coalition partners) around that at the beginning of the year. This is also a DSA convention year so there will be preparations needed, regardless of where the event is held.

James: The weeks of general meetings are usually really busy, any kind of major campaign or event takes up huge amounts of time and work from LC members (this includes parties, fundraisers, canvasses, packing the council, holding the convention, etc). We will also have a DSA convention coming up in 2019 which will involve a ton of work in planning and fundraising.

Stephanie: The things that should take up time are Endorsements/Elections, Fundraising, Convention Planning, basically large internal events should have the attention of the LC.

Marcus: On a monthly basis: before the GBM and to a lesser degree LC meetings. The local convention (January), national convention and lead-up (summer) and electoral stuff (maybe less this year) also come to mind.

Ashkan: General Body Meetings and any major DSA actions.

3. What was the best part of serving on the LC?

Dave: Getting to participate in DSA members’ growth into stronger organizers and leaders!

Monica: The camaraderie; talking about what will ultimately build our movement; having had a hand in making good things happen; learning from each other.

Kim: I’ve really enjoyed getting to know more in depth about the work Austin DSA is doing all across the city in so many different areas, especially meeting and working with people I may not have met in the committees I’m a part of.

James: This question has an easy answer: working with the other people on the LC to work towards building a better world. Getting to know my comrades better and learn from them has been really amazing.

Stephanie: It’s great to get to work with good conrads who work hard, be a part of DSA winning, see how many people attend GBMs, and to have good GBMs that have a positive vibe.

Marcus: I feel a genuine sense of accomplishment and growth from having served on the LC. It was hard work at times. And sometimes oh-so-shitty. But we really built something! Coming off the Danny stuff, and as the first LC, we had to do a lot of creating in terms of processes and procedures and establishing norms and working through issues I imagine most of us had never considered before but that are the nitty gritty of building a democratic organization. And we got thrown a lot of curve balls along the way. But I think we did a good job! And I think we’ve left the next LC in a good place to take the next step.

Ashkan: The best part of serving on the LC is having the responsibility to deliberately work with other LC Members—dedicated socialist organizers—in addressing issues and managing duties that arise as Austin DSA works to build socialism and bring in new socialists.

4. What was the hardest?

Dave: In an organization this large, someone is almost always unhappy with elected leadership because things aren’t going how they’d like. It’s normal and human for folks to have those feelings but it requires a fair amount of emotional labor on the part of elected leaders to try and engage with.

Monica: Issues that need LC attention while I’m at work. My work suffers during these times.

Kim: Realizing that it is quite impossible to make everyone in the chapter fully happy with every decision that’s made. At the end of the day you’ve got to do the best you can and that’s all you can do!

James: The amount of work has been a challenge and has meant making pretty significant sacrifices for my home life and personal life. It’s also been very frustrating and hurtful to deal with the occasional threat or very nasty personal attacks that comes with the position. Whether that’s from right-wing monsters, other groups on the left whodislike DSA, and a few DSA members upset with LC decisions.

Stephanie: It’s been really frustrating to be continually questioned by a small number of people who seem to want to complain, but don’t show up to do the work of the chapter.

It’s also been difficult to balance how to ensure folks are reflecting the will of the chapter while not squashing new energy.

It’s also difficult to balance LC duties and involvement in committees and campaigns. LC members should prioritize LC duties.

Marcus: Dealing with all the drama related to the electoral committee and our endorsement process was incredibly draining, both personally and in the chapter’s time and energy, and the attacks from that EC/North Star group have been painful. On an individual level, figuring out how to not over-commit and get overwhelmed was something I learned (am learning) the hard way.

Ashkan: The most difficult part of serving on the LC is recognizing the need to step back, but not disengage, from prominent roles in issue committees.

5. What are areas of improvement for the next LC?

Dave: Better organization, intentional distribution of work, building in intentional self-reflection.

Monica: Knowing how to collectively go “offline” sometimes.

Kim: Hopefully this year’s LC has set enough of a base that next year’s LC can really flourish. Formalizing outreach and developing leaders from within are two specific areas I think we should focus on in the coming year.

James: Public communications. We worked on this a lot and never really settled on a unified social media and traditional media strategy. It was difficult to figure out when to make public statements, what to say in those statements, and who ought to make those statements. What do we do about the most recent Trump outrage? What do we do if a committee wants to release a statement that the majority of the membership wouldn’t agree with? We don’t really have a strong system set up for that, and we definitely need to improve it.

Stephanie: The LC should:

  • communicate more with committees
  • more clearly delineate roles of at-large LC members
  • consider using a project management system like Trello
  • vote on a calendar for GBMs and LC meetings and stick to it.

Marcus:

  1. Conflict resolution- This was most pronounced in dealing with the EC but also manifested in things like when, if ever, to moderate posts in Discourse Corner or ask for accountability from endorsed electeds or other members. It’s a tough line to walk–figuring out how to assertively but constructively deal with conflict, without avoiding it or being heavy-handed. For the most part we were very hands-off, and while I think there are times for that, in the long-run I feel that hurt us more than it helped us by setting the precedent that some people could avoid accountability to the organization. But it’s tough either way and people will be upset either way. I think the LC could play a very positive role in this regard by generating buy-in for a member-developed code of conduct.
  2. Clearer division of labor- I think the LC could benefit from a clearer assignment of tasks among the LC members, as well as clearer links between LC members’ duties and chapter volunteers (example: for the Membership Coordinator, since that is such a big job, they could coordinate working groups that members could volunteer for).

Ashkan: The next LC would do well to deliberately work towards and monitor a more evenly distributed workload amongst LC Members.

6. What are the most important characteristics of a good LC member?

Dave: Patience, dedication, clarity of vision coupled with willingness to learn and evolve.

Monica: Being a good listener; being willing to learn and grow; being flexible, the ability to hold constructive discourse; not being afraid to ask questions when you don’t understand something.

Kim: Being a clear communicator, a willingness to hear out an opinion that on its face you might disagree with, and an ability to adequately estimate your own capacity. And knowing when to take a dang day to yourself so you don’t burn out!

James: Reliability and patience. A huge challenge of organizing in an all-volunteer organization is people volunteering to do work and then not following through; it’s really

important that LC members reliably do the work they volunteer for. Being on the LC involves a ton of administrative work and when it doesn’t get done it really sets things back for the entire organization.

Related: Being on the LC takes up a ton of time. LC meetings routinely lasted 3 or 4 hours (usually on weekday nights!) and often took a ton of time to schedule and reschedule. A lot of LC work is pretty boring and involves lots of conversation, listening, note taking, administrative work, getting yelled at, and following up with people. Patience is really important!

Stephanie: LC members should:- be critical thinkers and problem solvers

  • act diplomatically and judiciously
  • not be a Committee Co-Chair, they should try to find a replacement as soon as they get elected
  • prioritize what’s best for the chapter above all else
  • take initiative and step up to tasks
  • be able to follow-through on commitments
  • be able to plan, be organized, delegate and manage projects
  • be able to balance process and substance
  • think big picture and one step ahead

Marcus:

  1. Ability to work well with others- staying even-keeled, being willing to cooperate and work to reach consensus
  2. Dedication to the organization- putting in the time to do what needs to be done, even when it’s not glamorous; putting the organization’s well-being first
  3. Thoughtfulness- considering tradeoffs, thinking in terms of process, considering the full range of a decision’s implications, connecting democratic socialist politics to chapter organizing and administration, advancing a proactive agenda and staying out of the outrage cycle
  4. Good politics- we’ll all have different definitions of what this means, but a lot of what becomes inter-personal conflict is really unstated political conflict, and an open discussion of political tendencies needs to be part of the LC selection process. We didn’t have this last election, and I think it led to remnants of the Danny stuff getting transferred to other places, and explains most of the LC – EC dispute.
  5. Ability to say no- There is an understandable temptation to try to tackle everything. But we can’t do everything, at least not well, and if we don’t say “no” to some things, our “yes” won’t mean anything.

Ashkan: The most important characteristic of a good LC Member is total dedication to the socialist project as the means of universal liberation. Beyond that, the minimal necessary qualifications or characteristics in my opinion are simply (1) the ability to truly commit 10 or more hours a week to DSA, considering that LC Members are of course still rank and file DSA Members and (2) the self-determined ability to work along with a team such as the LC, produce documentation relating to LC duties, be able and willing to assist other LC or DSA Members beyond any previously assigned duties, that sort of thing.

7. Anything else that you think would be valuable for future LC members to know?

Dave: Socialism will win.

Monica: Definitely think of this question when proposed (or proposing) any idea: Will this advance DSA’s agenda? We have limited resources and we can’t work the people who consistently show up for things to the point of exhaustion if it doesn’t.

Also, make sure members know that they must go through LC before planning to speak on behalf of DSA. A lot of folks don’t realize when other orgs/journalists/media ask you to speak, be interviewed or help with their forums or events, they are asking you as a representative of DSA. Before you know it, you are described as a representative and the voice of DSA.

James: Socialism will win.

Stephanie: Being an LC member comes with legal liabilities, so it’s not something to take lightly. But you’ll have good folks to work with and rely on. It’s a rewarding gig if you put the time in!

Marcus: Happy to talk to anyone with other questions about LC life!

Ashkan: The next LC should self-monitor the extent to which LC Members are meeting their assigned roles and duties and be able to adapt and redistribute work as necessary. It is more difficult to address any issues the longer they linger; a shared understanding of duties, responsibilities, and explicit opportunities for checking in and adjusting will help the LC run smoothly.