Member Statements on 2023-07-GR12: GBM Accessibility Resolution

This is a thread of member statements on the proposed resolution “Accessibility at GBMs

IN FAVOR by Les P.

I’m writing to encourage my fellow Metro DC DSA comrades to vote IN FAVOR of Resolution: Accessibility at GBMs, which would require Metro DC DSA General Body Meetings to have a remote option for participation (i.e., members can attend online by calling in on Zoom or other virtual means). This amendment strikes me as something that is both a matter of principle, and something to be excited about. As laid out in the WHEREAS clauses, this resolution enshrines our democratic socialist principles in the way we conduct our GBMs. It means that all workers can attend every General Body Meeting, regardless of where they live in the Metro DC area, even if unexpected circumstances bring them out of town, if childcare falls through, if a coworker can no longer cover their shift immediately before or after the GBM, if they are immunocompromised, etc. That’s where this resolution is a matter of principle, in my view - it intends to make our general body deliberations as widely available within the chapter as possible - but it’s also what excites me. The thought of an ever-expanding membership, covering more and more neighborhoods in DC, NoVA, MoCo, PG County, consisteing of people who work jobs ranging from healthcare, to service, to construction projects in other areas of the region, people who would otherwise feel unsafe risking their or their loved ones’ health - that, to me, is a powerful, mass movement, and one worth striving for. As discussed at our most recent hybrid GBM, this is already something our bylaws stipulate as a responsibility of the Steering Committee “to the greatest extent that is logistically possible through electronic participation, without compromising members’ security.” Given Steering’s recent, very well done hybrid GBM on June 9, all that’s left is to make it official, with this resolution, that every GBM to follow will have a virtual component. So I hope chapter members vote yes!

IN FAVOR by Kaiser F.

Comrades, Making meetings accessible, having remote ways to join, will get easier the more we do so. But this requires us to affirmatively commit to the task. After several months of hybrid meetings, having remote options for meetings will become such a matter of course that the various steps to make it happen each time, will become as ingrained as starting with a land acknowledgment, using progressive stack, and using the ASL sign for applause – and lacking remote options will be as out-of-place as hosting a meeting in a place that is wheelchair-inaccessible. But this requires us to affirmatively commit to the task. It’s a good sign that nearly everyone agrees with the purpose. GBMs are important to chapter functions, enabling as many people as possible to participate is essential for a democratic organization, and there is something fundamentally wrong with shutting out comrades who are disabled or immunocompromised or otherwise too far in our geographically-spread-out chapter to join, regardless of intent. From our experience in the Northern Virginia Branch with running hybrid GBMs for a year now, there was a learning curve, but as we committed ourselves to this format it became much easier to the point of being as natural as reserving a meeting space. And the chapter is already off to a good start: the July GBM took lessons from the branches’ and various working groups’ experiences with hybrid meetings, and so steering and other members knew already which roles were needed and were even able to adapt to equipment problems. There were enough microphones, cameras, and connections; enough people monitoring the Zoom chat and camera to communicate between in-person and remote comrades; responsiveness and checks to make sure people could participate on either end – and feedback on how to make this even smoother next time. Plus (again speaking from experience in NoVA Branch meetings), as other comrades see that these various roles are less intimidating than they seem, it becomes easier to have newer comrades involved in running them. If we commit ourselves now to maintaining a remote option for every GBM, the next time we have a situation where perhaps a year ago we wouldn’t be sure how to pull off a hybrid format, we’ll already be prepared. So I urge you to affirmatively commit us to the task and vote in favor of this resolution. Thank you, - Kaiser F (they/them), NoVA Branch

IN FAVOR by Alex M-T

I am writing in support of this resolution because accessibility must be the foundation of our activism. This resolution requires that a virtual component be added to all General Body Meetings or GBMs (i.e., that all GBMs must be either hybrid or virtual). We should do this not only because GBMs serve a vital legislative function where members introduce resolutions, debate the suspension of working groups, and more (and we shouldn’t exclude people from those discussions) but also because of all the unforeseen positive effects it will have on our activism. There is something in disability activism known as the “curb-cut effect,” which describes how the introduction of disability-friendly features comes to be used and appreciated by a larger group. When miniature ramps, known as curb cuts, were introduced on streets and sidewalks, they were used not only by people with mobility issues but also by mothers and strollers, people carrying their groceries, and so many other groups that they stopped being widely perceived as a disability-accessibility feature. The same with close-captioning, where people now use it in bars and other noisy areas, even if they don’t need hearing aids in their day-to-day lives. This move for hybrid meetings will not just help people with mobility or autoimmune issues (Although I want to stress that that in and of itself should be a reason for us to do this) but all other groups that will benefit from this greater accessibility. We will be able to reach so many other groups of people who don’t have the time or energy to make it to Northwest DC, and in that way, we will make our Chapter that much stronger.

IN FAVOR by Andrew C.

Comrades, I am writing in SUPPORT of this resolution. The GBM is one of our chapter’s core democratic functions, where members hear updates from steering, working groups, and most importantly, vote on resolutions and candidate endorsements. Expanding accessibility to our members by making this a hybrid meeting to me is a no-brainer. Many working groups and branches already take a hybrid approach to meetings and I do not see any reason why this cannot also apply to our chapter GBM. As a NoVA branch organizer, I have seen how the hybrid meeting allows the best of both worlds – it allows members who can meet in person to build relationships while also creating a way for members who can’t meet in person (they live too far, they have a disability, etc.) to participate in the meeting. I view the hybrid meeting as another way for our chapter to be more inclusive – we already use progressive stack, use ASL claps, and read land acknowledgements at the start of our GBMs. I know that this can be logistically challenging at first, but many formations already have the experience to support steering in organizing hybrid GBMs, just like they did this past month. Please vote yes on this resolution and help make our chapter more inclusive to everyone! Solidarity, Andrew C (he/him)

IN FAVOR by Gary Z.

We demonstrated, at the general body meeting held on July 9, that this is a pretty easy task. Yes, there will be some technical hurdles, training costs, and norms to establish as we make this process a recurrent function. No on expects seamlessness or perfection — we’ll learn and perfect this process just as we have other processes our chapter centralizes. Many chapter members have already stepped up in support, and we have a member mobilization team around so that we can identify and mobilize people in our membership. A political organization of our size and ambition has to be able to perform basic utility of live streaming an event. It’s not enough to say that this is too hard or time-consuming. Other political organizations — much smaller than ours — have figured out this function. We’ve been shit-kicking on building up basic procedural acumen like this for too long. It’s time to move. A final note: our bylaws already stipulate that the Steering + Administrative Committees should be responsible for ensuring members can attend in-person meetings electronically (though the steering committee has the right to waiver in certain circumstances). This resolution affirms implementation of a process we should already be doing. If our steering committee wants to maintain their right to speak and act on the will of the chapter, they need to make sure the basic expectations outlined in our bylaws are actually being followed. Lets go.

IN FAVOR by Claudia S.

As evidenced by the discussion at the July General Body Meeting, including a hybrid component of GBMs is a popular, manageable, and useful practice. The pandemic has demonstrated the very apparent necessity of including immunocompromised members in a meaningful way – I don’t think any MDC DSA members voiced or feel any doubt about the importance of that – but equally important is establishing practices that meaningfully include members who are disproportionately inconvenienced by schedules (it’s hard to organize when you’re burnt out from a double shift on the weekend and then have to show up in person!) and location (public transit routes from PG County and parts of Virginia to the D.C. neighborhood, Mount Pleasant, to use last week’s meeting as an example, are scant and time-consuming). On the note of implementation: Steering members brought up an important point at the last GBM. Smoothly setting up the virtual component of a meeting requires work. Our seemingly universal familiarity with Zoom does not remove the labor that goes into securing all the moving parts of audio, video, and connectivity (as evidenced by the substantial effort Olivia put in this month!). That work, I believe, however, is the responsibility of our elected Steering Committee. Ensuring that our membership, who for any number of the aforementioned reasons, cannot make in-person meetings are provided a means of engaging with Resolutions and chapter-wide matters in real-time is an essential requirement of leadership. The labor involved can be distributed, or even delegated (ie to a new non-Steering “tech” committee) in a number of ways that Steering sees fit based on their capacity; however, to not codify the necessity of including all membership at GBMs through the guarantee of a virtual component, is not acceptable.

IN FAVOR by Michael K.

Comrades, I would like to urge passage of the GBM Accessibility Resolution. I am a co-sponsor of the resolution for two reasons. One, I believe that as socialists, accessibility should be a political priority, and two, because I believe that it is an important tactical commitment. I recognize that there are some challenges that come with the passage of this resolution, but I am convinced that these are challenges we can overcome and the benefits are well worth the effort. First, as socialists, we should always look to be as accessible as possible to as many as possible. We are aiming to make a better world for everyone. This includes our comrades who might find meeting in person for a GBM to be something that they cannot do in person, but would like to do virtually. It allows for our comrades who have health concerns or any other number of reasons why going to a particular meeting might be challenging to fully participate in the life of the chapter. GBMs are were comrades are able to have their voices heard in the direction of the chapter, and it is important that all of our members are given the opportunity to participate. Secondly, we should be working to lower barriers of entry into the life of the chapter for new activists at every opportunity. While it is exiting to see how we have grown over the years, we need so much more to make the kind of change that we are looking to make. Therefore, we should do everything in our power to get as many as possible plugged into the life of the chapter. This resolution allows for people who might find it difficult to make it to a specific location at a specific time to still participate. I recognize that there are some challenges that come with this resolution. I don’t want to in any way suggest that it doesn’t take work to make this commitment to hybrid meetings and it may be necessary to appoint tech volunteers for the smooth running of a meeting. If anything, the last GBM proved the concept as sound. We at the NOVA Branch have been doing hybrid meetings for some time and they have been an important organizing tool. I have every faith that Steering as well as other volunteers can make this work. I also have every faith that comrades will have grace and patience as meeting organizers work out technical issues as they come up if it means we can be more accessible. Also, it has been brought up that hybrid meetings might make certain locations unusable in the future for GBMs. The library worked wonderfully, in my opinion. If we have to be more choosy about locations in the future, I think the payoff for this far outweighs the time to consider the location. Further, if a location like the Friends Meeting House requires a sound system, I would happily donate to a fundraiser for this, as I have no doubt that my fellow comrades would join me, if it meant we were more accessible. For now though, having a space at the library seems an ideal solution. In summary, I urge you to vote in favor of the GBM Accessibility Resolution as a matter of principle but also as a matter of organizational growth. I believe that any issues that pop up by adopting this can be solved efficiently and the work involved is well worth the commitment. In Solidarity, Michael K., member MDCDSA Chapter | NOVA Branch | NOVA Labor Working Group

IN FAVOR by Beth S.

I am writing in favor of the Resolution on Accessibility at GBMs (Resolution for Accessibility at GBMs - Google Docs), which will require GBMs to have a remote participation option. I feel that this is a good idea that supports our principles and our goals. People with disabilities The first and most obvious beneficiary of hybrid meetings are those with any of the many different types of mental and physical disabilities or medical conditions that can impede their ability to move about the world with ease. They may need to consider how to transport important medicines or equipment, or how safe they will be in a crowd, or if they will be able to meaningfully participate in the physical environment of the meeting, or if transportation is even available to them on the day of the meeting. If they can’t resolve their health, safety, and comfort needs, an in-person-only meeting will cut them out of participating. There are other benefits to hybrid, too - one comrade who attended the last GBM in-person noted that the hybrid format allowed them to follow the conversation more easily, since they were able to connect to the Zoom meeting and turn on the captioning! We should be looking for every opportunity to make it easier for our comrades and comrades-to-be with disabilities to participate, and hybrid meetings are one tool in the box. It is true that hybrid meetings are not zero-work, zero-investment affairs, but it is also true that people with disabilities are often expected to put in more personal effort, more time, and more money to get even an average result. Workers with disabilities have some of the worst and most unfair labor conditions of all of us. If we don’t look to elevate their needs first, I have a hard time seeing how we’re not building our foundations on sand. People with caretaking responsibilities Another group that will benefit are those with caretaking responsibilities. Comrades who have children, who are responsible for aging parents, or who have partners or roommates with disabilities who depend on our chapter members for assistance are not always able to take the full time and distance away from their people for a meeting. Even if there was a plan in place to allow them to come, things don’t always work out on a given day. Care work still disproportionately falls on women, girls, and AFAB folks, so keeping this option open is another way to increase and maintain participation among those groups. For parents specifically, this is an excellent complement to the reinvigoration of the Red Cubs childcare program - we want our parents to participate, but children get sick all the time. Sometimes you need to stay home. Basic transportation issues In this area, transportation is always a hot topic. The basic business of getting around can turn into a major logistical headache pretty quickly, and people may not always have the time for the commute. Our chapter’s geographical area is huge! East to west alone, we’re halfway to Annapolis in Maryland, nearly all the way to Front Royal in Virginia. Perhaps we don’t have a huge presence in Fauquier County, but I’ll be damned if any comrade out in Hume, VA, doesn’t deserve every bone we can throw them. Speaking from my own experience - I live in Alexandria, near a Metro stop. I chose to attend the latest GBM in person, and I elected to take public transportation. I left home at noon. Due to a Metro signaling problem at one stop and a medical emergency at another, I arrived at the library at ten minutes to two. After the meeting, I did not attend the happy hour. I walked in my door at a few minutes after 6. That’s six hours for a two-hour meeting. Yes, that was a rough Metro day, but not everybody has the time or the endurance for all that. And I live close by. Everyone else Let me get really mercenary and speak to people’s sense of enlightened self-interest for a moment: as with any other disability accommodation, hybrid meetings will be directly useful to everyone else sometimes. An entrance ramp into a building assists not only those with all sorts of short- and long-term mobility issues, but also those pushing baby strollers or carrying packages. Perhaps one day you will be unavoidably out of town when an important DSA meeting featuring your key issue is going to happen. At the meeting time, you find yourself alone in a hotel room without a single piece of business or pleasure to command your attention. Sleep is unappealing, you’re not hungry yet, and you’ve done any local exploring you wanted to do today. As you sit on the bed and absently flip through the hotel’s TV channels for the eleventh time, you try to imagine how our discussion is proceeding, and haunt the Slack for clues. Wouldn’t you rather have an established ability to call in to the meeting and participate yourself? Conclusion Some meetings we will choose to miss on purpose, in favor of other commitments or the need to look after ourselves, which is perfectly understandable. That is not what hybrid is for - never to pressure people to give up their rest, or shove aside and dismiss their lives outside DSA. Hybrid offers a real option for those who want to participate in a certain meeting, who have the time and capacity to participate in that meeting, but simply cannot be in the room with us. Hybrid meetings are one way of not only keeping the door open, but inviting people in. Committing to hybrid meetings can make a habit of participation sustainable for some of our members, leading to broader action and better retention. If this means a few moments of uncomfortable reflection on our past and current practices, and enduring the inevitable embarrassing tech issues as we all learn and adjust, so be it. We can survive a little social discomfort. Mistakes and missteps are not inherently tragic, but a refusal to change is. Perfection is unattainable, but improvement is possible. We will only improve if we practice, and the time to commit to practice is now.

IN FAVOR by Reana K.

Accessibility is a non-negotiable. Regardless of our individual levels of comfort with technology, it is beyond dispute that we live in a digital era, one in which use of machines and software to transmit voice and video is common. For any member of the DSA to suggest that it is the burden of those who request accessibility to make it so is unconscionable. If this were truly our response to fundamental accessibility requests, we would see marginalization and disenfranchisement at scales such that we would fail to retain even a shred of organizational respectability. Let all who are able to help make DSA a more welcoming, functional, and transparent place put in their hands – but let us not resort to the tac of “any who ask, must also do”. Basic accessibility functions should sit with the leadership of any organization. That is not to say that leadership cannot or should not seek assistance when needed. But given our charge as Democratic Socialists, I cannot see how values like justice, transparency, accessibility, and equity are not above all others the responsibility of leadership to steward and shepherd. This resolution does not ask for transformational or novel work. It is a basic ask born out of basic, 21st century needs. It is an ask that not only increases accessibility for our disabled and immunocompromised members, but for so many others for whom meeting in person (for whatever reason) is simply not feasible. It also democratizes and makes DSA more equitable overall, ensuring that critical meetings and discussions are accessible no matter your geography or financial ability. Good leaders are not those who have memorized enough arcane procedure to get their way, good leaders are those who take as personal responsibility the basic values and functions of the organizations which they purport to lead. I hope this will be an easy vote of support for all members, and leaders, of Metro DSA.

IN FAVOR by Alex Y.

I cosponsored and am in favor of this resolution because it is an obvious choice that should be formalized. I’ve helped setup the in person devices for hybrid branch meetings in NoVA in the past simply by showing up a few minutes early to be able to assist with getting the meeting running. I would encourage any chapter member who lives close to wherever we hold GBMs in the future to do the same and help out. The last one was an hour away from by metro, but should they be hosted closer in the future, I certainly will help out. Our choice is really whether we’d like to remain fully virtual or put in the work to host hybrid GBMs, as I view only in person GBMs as too excluding to our members that have autoimmune diseases or live with some who does. Additionally, the wide area our chapter covers make it hard for our members at the periphery of it to be able to consistently attend in person as well. Thank you for considering voting in favor of this resolution.