Austin Democratic Socialists of America

Colin Gray

Do you self-identify as a man?:
Yes

Do you self-identify as a person from a traditionally marginalized group?:
Yes

Please describe your involvement in Austin DSA:
In my early days in the Austin DSA, I co-founded the Tech Committee and coordinated the efforts of many talented people to revise and improve the public Facebook page, create the new Austin DSA site, launch our official twitter account, and set up the slack account. Our goals were to address gaps in and modernize Austin DSA’s online presence, make it easier to keep up with events, create more effective and efficient communication for day to day work, and prepare for and build the tools necessary to accommodate Austin DSA’s explosive growth in membership and the vastly increasing needs for coordination, organization, and consistency. I am happy to say we achieved most of our goals with a very high degree of quality.

More recently, I have been extensively involved in the Queer Coalition. We aim to create alternative queer spaces for members of the queer community who are seldom or never represented or welcome elsewhere. We provide counter-programming against Austin’s depressing and harmful rainbow capitalism, a system that excludes, at times with overt hostility, trans, non-white, non-binary, low income, and other members of the queer community who don’t fit neatly into rainbow capitalism’s recognized boxes. Last year we put on the successful and massively fun Drag Prom, handed out radical literature at Pride, and conducted a queer socialist reading series. This year, in coordination with other queer groups and coalition partners, we will be combatting the worst of the Texas GOP’s legislative proposals and figuring out how to more thoroughly address issues facing the queer socialist community such as cops at Pride.

To a (significantly) lesser extent I contributed time and energy to the M4A / Paid Sick Days efforts and various other campaigns and initiatives.

What strengths would you bring to the leadership committee?:
I’m empathetic, patient, thoughtful, and always try to see the best in people. Fostering relationships between disparate people, groups and ideologies is and has always been a high priority of mine, and I think I’m pretty good at it! I am always available to answer questions or find the person who can, and have consistently and by request acted as an advisor to various people in leadership positions in the chapter. I have a steady hand, and take time to deliberate about how to respond to difficult situations; I am moderate in my interactions with comrades but firm in my beliefs and commitments.

Additionally, having joined the chapter in 2016, I have witnessed and absorbed the perspectives of both longstanding members and folks who joined yesterday. I believe this, along with my strengths outlined above, aids my ability to foster relationships and bridge ideological differences. People who have been members since the 1980s will have different ideas about the organization than someone who joined during the Sanders campaign, and both will differ from younger members who only recently discovered the organization. Whatever my own ideological leanings (housing, healthcare, education, democratic control of the economy, employee-controlled businesses all as basic rights, strip Jeff Bezos’s assets and blast him into space, a hotdog is a sandwich), I am very adept a recognizing the emotional states and needs of people and promoting the understanding that we have a duty to care for each other and consider each other’s circumstances.

If elected, what would be your priorities be for the leadership committee and Austin DSA?:
Despite its name, the main task of the LC isn’t leadership, but facilitation. The LC exists to fulfill functions that are absolutely critical to the success and wellbeing of the chapter, and to keep our asses out of the fires set by the many opponents of socialism. To function, the chapter needs people who can devote significant time, attention, and expertise to facilitating communication, financial security, preventing / dealing with harassment, drafting general body meeting agendas, juggling disparate individual and group needs and ideologies, and so on. The LC does not *lead* the chapter, it provides the foundation that makes it possible for the collective will of the chapter to be expressed. To be clear, I believe the LC has been quite successful at this, but I would like to further promote this in ways that reduce stress and tension for both the LC and the chapter as a whole. As a member of the Leadership Committee, I will be guided by this truth and encourage others to do the same.

Members of the leadership committee must successfully fulfill their official duties, but they must also contend with a wide array of unstated responsibilities and numerous stresses as well. Among other things, LC members are the focal point and primary recipients of any and all criticisms of the chapter and tasked with managing some extraordinarily difficult issues, subjects, and crises. Understandably, this can foster a certain amount of defensiveness and insularity as a method of self-defense. I am very empathetic to their position and do not intend this as an attack but rather an observation. One of my priorities will be to ensure that the LC is able to deal with and overcome these stresses, and continually incorporate the views of rank and file members into their decision making. It can be very frustrating to deal with constant criticism (some of which is unfair or unwarranted) but we must not protect ourselves in a way that also deflects valid member concerns.

Other priories:

-Timely start and conclusion of general body meetings and enforcement of the 90 minute limit.
-Set up semi-regular check-ins with committee co-chairs to better assess needs and issues that need to be addressed
-Leadership Committee “open house” meetings, twice a year or quarterly per schedule realities, to give the LC the opportunity to share actions and projects they are excited about and chapter members the opportunity to ask questions and share thoughts in an informal, low-stress setting. These will not be decision-making meetings.
-Have fun

What is your approach to resolving conflict and achieving consensus among differing viewpoints?:
Centrist pundit “both sides”ism. Just kidding!

My approach is:

Listen carefully and react deliberately. In the heat of the moment, people often react quickly or harshly and end up saying things they don’t mean, or advancing their argument in an unclear way. It is critical to understand what is actually being argued – otherwise you’re working in the dark.

Acknowledge people’s feelings. In Austin DSA, even in the absence of painful crises and controversy, we deal with subjects that inspire strong feelings. Even the most basic questions about what we should do as a chapter can lead to hard conversations and hurt feelings. This is normal, after all, our project is to transform the world!

Identify common themes in order to bridge gaps. We may not agree on chapter priorities, our political orientations range from social democrat to communist, we are distinct people with different lived experience and backgrounds. But in general, we’re all here to make the world better. What are the baseline things we agree on? Are those applicable to the conflict?

Navigate conflict gracefully. When I observe a conflict that I think I can help with or am directly involved in, I nearly always contact people on an individual basis in private. This can range from asking, “how can I help?” to saying “slow your roll, buddy.” Working behind the scenes often defuses tension more effectively.

Encourage using overlooked resources/procedures/guidelines. At times, conflicts arise because people are hurt that their issue isn’t being addressed- but sometimes their issue isn’t being addressed because they are raising it to a general audience instead of the individuals or groups with expertise or authority in the matter. When there’s an easier way to do things, do it.

There are times when ideological differences are insurmountable and it would be insulting to all parties involved to pretend there is a solution that will make everyone happy. Some conflicts cannot be resolved and there are issues where achieving consensus is literally impossible. Yet, we must remember that we are all in the chapter together and have committed to community agreements. The chapter as a whole and/or the Leadership Committee has to make decisions. We are a democratic body, and by definition that means we respect votes and therefore not everyone will get the outcome they desired. These are simple realities. From day one, I have endeavored to foster connections among people and groups, encourage kindness, and decrease tensions. When consensus isn’t on the table, we can still treat each other with care and respect.

Do you identify with any caucus or political tendency, either within DSA or in general?:
socialist

Is there anything else you’d like to add?:
I’m real, I’m strong, and I’m your friend.