wiki:projects/membership-meeting/2012/reports/director

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Director's Report

Note: Every year May First/People Link membership comes together to both elect the Leadership Committee and define the priorities for the upcoming year. The Leadership Committee's responsibility is to define the projects for the year that are based on the member defined priorities. This report is an evaluation of our activities last year compared with the priorities defined by the membership and projects approved by the Leadership Committee.

Alone, we cannot win.

As movement organizations, we need to always push our boundaries -- not only by expanding our relationships with our counter parts in other regions and parts of the world, not only linking our struggles to others -- but by integrating these relationships and struggles into our own politics and operations.

As a movement organization that focuses on the Internet and is un-constrained by foundation priorities, May First/People Link has a particularly important role to play in this process.

I'm proud that over the last year we have taken radical steps in this direction, and encourage us to continue pushing these boundaries in the year to come.

Structurally Sound

Priority 1: Bring our political processes and technology -- including resources, communication and support systems -- to a point at which all members of May First/People Link can have confidence in the reliability and control of their data. It is important to recognize varying levels of skill and interest in understanding technology.

Policies:

  • Formalize and expand the support team

May First/People Link has grown stronger every year, but last year was a particularly impressive.

We've grown from 550 members to 759 members. And, thanks to the tireless work of Hilary, we've spent the year following up with members who are behind on their dues. We can now say with confidence that we have 679 members in good standing and 80 members that we need to follow up with on outstanding dues.

Our staff, the people who provide weekly labor for the organization and consistently attend our weekly staff meeting has swelled from four to six: In addition to myself, we have Alfredo, Mallory, Ross, Enrique and Hilary.

As Ross shows in his support report, our volunteer support team has put in regular 12 hour work days every single first saturday of the month for the entire year. These support face-to-face meetings happen in addition to the support team's regular work throughout the week and at all hours of the day and night: answering tickets, providing maintenance and supporting each other via our IRC chat channel.

The core team members include Ross, Daniel (dkg), Joseph, Nat, Greg and myself. In addition, we've received significant support from Jon, and not to mention newer members Brandon, Stephen, Dana and Drew.

With the addition of Ross Glover as our second paid staff person (he is paid for roughly 50 hours of work per month), we've reached a much higher level of organized responses to support tickets.

Hilary's report indicates, we've consistently had more than $25,000 in cash reserves throughout the year (more than three times our average monthly expenses). Our financial standing was further strengthened by our new hosting contracts signed the end of August (which constitute the majority of our expenses). We now have 1/3 more electricity and nearly twice the bandwidth for less than we were paying before.

And most importantly: nearly all of our resources come from you, our members. Virtually our entire budget is financed by membership dues - we have barely received any money from foundations in our entire history. And, the vast majority of labor is volunteered by our members as well. We only have two employees paid to work between 30 and 50 hours per month and tasked with conducting the day-to-day operations. The rest of our staff, support team and internationalization team are volunteers.

This achievement, in the face of a global capitlist crisis, cannot be overstated. May First/People Link is thriving *because* we are not a capitlist venture, *because* we are neither a non-governmental organization nor a grant-seeking non-profit organization.

What we offer, and what has made us structurally sound is: the space to participate collectively in developing a powerful vision for a free and open Internet. Our politically focused mission is the source of our strength and must be preserved.

New Movements, New Technologies, Changed Thinking

Priority 4: Develop and build direct contact relationships with progressive organizations locally and internationally, and raise our visibility in public discussions, debates, and decisions. This is about (1) defining use of and choice of technology as political within our movements, and (2) contributing to debates about the internet including privacy, corporate and government surveillance, data sovereignty, censorship, and access.

Priority 5: May First/People Link will fully claim its role in building an international, alter-globalization movement by continuing our involvement in such movements as the Social Forum, Climate Change and the Palestinian rights. This would/could engage our membership in several ways: organizing delegations of members to summit events and relying on the political experience of our membership to guide our region- and sector-specific work.

Projects:

  • Continue supporting the United States Social forum
  • Continue supporting the World Social Forum
  • National and International policy work
  • Build spanish language infrastructure of the organization

Panels, Conferences and Partnerships

We had one of our most successful Left Forum panels in March, featuring 7 panelists, two where brought in over the Internet from Palestine. Each panelist addressed the question: what is the Internet that we need in the future? While diverse, the responses indicated that the left, in all regions of the world, depends on the open nature of the Internet to continue our work.

Our April 30th fundraising event raised nearly $3,000, all of which was put into our day long People's Movement Assembly at the Allied Media Conference in Detroit last June. This event was remarkably successful - packing the room to capacity. It was among the most race and gender diverse groups we have convened to discuss the future of the Internet, resulting in a direction for our own development.

We are now in our second year as members of the International Committee of the World Social Forum, and in particular with the Communications Commission. In 2012 we've focused most of our efforts on preparing for the World Social Forum on Palestine, to be held in November in Brazil. We're sending two volunteers, who have been actively working both with the International body and with the US Social Forum organizing group to spread the word here in the US and help prepare the tech to make for a successful forum.

Our involvement with the Association for Progressive Communications (APC), the international body of organizations similar to MF/PL grows stronger every month. This year MF/PL staff member Mallory was hired last winter to join the communications team of APC and MF/PL Director Jamie was invited to South Africa to participate in the APC strategic planning meetings to set the agenda for the next 5 years.

Integration of Mexican Members

By far the most far-reaching and signficant development of our organization this past year has been our integration with our Mexican members and as a result the internatiolization of our organization and infrastructure.

We've made tremendous progress, with the newly developed Internationalization team, which provides not only translation support but some of the best thinking in terms of how to logistically, politically and culturally transform our organization from a primarily US based group to a truly bi-national organization.

We expect to have new Leadership Committee candidates from Mexico and will continue to incorporate remote connections to Mexico into all of our US events and vice-versa for our Mexico events.

And, we will be addressing many difficult quetions: In the context of the new MF/PL, what does it mean to working internationally? Can we define a politics that incorporates the trends and general state of our members given the vast differences in the political climate of our countries?

The answers to these questions are far from obvious. In addressing them we will certainly make mis-steps. However, if we tackle them boldly, and with honesty and sincerety, we will have an opportunity to show through action a direction that can lead the way for our movement.

Response to movements

In addition to these events that we directly organized, MF/PL participated in and supported many other movements and activities.

The Ingignados movement in Spain had a huge impact on the world, and MF/PL members participated in full.

MX Toma La Calle, a recent MF/PL member, was among the first. Inspired by the Indignados in Spain (and before the US Occupy movement began), MX Toma La Calle began organizing assemblies and developing a consensus based, non-hierchical structure that is still going strong today.

It was months later that the movement came to the United States. I'm proud to report that last Fall, soon after the Zucotti Park occupation began, May First/People Link wasted no time in standing with the Occupy Movement - offering to waive membership dues for any group organizing an occupation or a general assembly. This generous act of solidarity spread around the globe, resulting in over 70 occupations joining our organization, many of who would neve have had a web or Internet presence without us.

In addition to small occupations, ranging from small towns in the rural south all the way to Pakistan, we're supporting some of the larger occupations. Occupy Boston has a particularly strong and active tech team. Similarly we're working with members of the NY Occupy tech team on projects to provide CiviCRM and WordPress installations to yet more occupations.

The occupation movement is significant for the left in the United States. After years of capitlist crisis with very little change in our dialogue about capitlism, the movement has shifted our debate, opening up new possibilities for questioning capitalism.

This development is particularly important for May First/People Link. The debate over corporate control of our resources, trust in corporate data companies like Google, and our general conciousness around the very issues at the core of May First/People Link has advanced in ways far beyond our expectations.

For example, the unanomously passed Occupy Boston resolution to use all free and open source software for communications brought by MFPL'er Ross Glover was a major milestone in the development of our movement. It demonstrates a similarity in core values between MFPL and the occupiers, a similarity not previously shared by large segments of the US left.

The importance of independent providers was further re-enforced when the FBI seized a server housed in our cabinet. Together with Riseup and ECN, our immediate condemnation of the seizure, with full disclosure of the details (down to publicizing a video of the FBI returning the server) was a clear departure from the often secretive workings of law enforcement and the Internet. And it raised awareness of the importance of developing software that can withstand single nodes being taken down.

The new political concsiousness and momentum from these developments in 2011 and 2012 has brought enormous energy to the development of new free and open source software, particularly software taking aim at the centralized marketing platforms of Twitter and Facebook.

While it may be years before the fruits of the labor are apparent, May First/People Link has taken a signficant move in this regard, launching https://friends.mayfirst.org/, built with the free and open source Friendica software. Providing social networking features similar to Facebook or Twitter, it is build in a federated manner - meaning you are not limited to friends on our site - but instead can interact with friends on any of the hundreds and soon to be thousands of sites running the same software or using the same network protocol.

Additionally, you can link to existing accounts on Facebook or Twitter, allowing you to post once on friends.mayfirst.org and publish everywhere.

We strongly encourage all members to participate in what we believe is one of our most significant developments in network applications of the year.

People of Color techie training project

Priority 6: Continue the existing collaboration with members the Praxis Project, the Progressive Technology Project, and others, to train activists of color to become more capable technologists, and expand that work to include women, and people from less traditional backgrounds. Also, continue giving support to and building on current training initiatives, while working towards the future to expand training programs in the Global South with partners and member organizations as opportunities are identified.

Projects:

  • Launch the People of Color Techie Training program

After years in development, and with the help of May First/People Link members and project Partners the Praxis Project and the Progressive Technology Project, we launched the People of Color Techie Training Institute. We have two mentors and 6 mentees from all around the country and have two of the four quarterly face-to-face trainees under our belt.

This program is a milestone for us. Just like free software or international solidarity, our approach to addressing racism and exclusion in the tech field is to put our ideals into practice.

This project is an integral part of our overall goal to collaborate. The very same motivation that drives us to build and integrate relationships across borders also drives us to address the divisions within the United States - of which racism is among the biggest.

Priority 2: Define what engaged membership in MF/PL actually means. This definition must come from the membership itself, prioritizing grassroots groups of people who face racial, gender, economic or other form of oppression, and who are currently MF/PL members in name but might not feel themselves to be members in practice. The definition should also draw from existing models of membership in our movements. This includes identifying rights and responsibilities of membership as well as opportunities for members to become more actively involved. The responsibilities and expectations of members to other members and to MFPL as a whole will be included.

Priority 3: Development of governance models for May First/People Link as a membership organization, drawing from the experience and expertise of members and member organizations.

Policies:

  • Organize Membership Meeting
  • Launch MFPL member training and feedback series
  • Define MFPL structure and decision making process

Our progress in the area of democratization has not fully met the goals as identified by our members or laid out in the projects defined by the Leadership Committee. In particular, we have failed to launch a member training and feedback series.

As director, I take full responsibility for this failure to prioritize an area clearly identified by our members. The reasons do not reflect a disregard for the importance of this work, but instead it reflects a response to political opportunities resulting from the Occupy movements and the relationship with our Mexican allies.

I believe that our prioritization of political organizing during the past year significantly furthered our mission and work in ways that would not have had the same impact if we waited or delayed the work.

Ever year we are stronger and have more capacity. We have already started planning a monthly webinar training series on using the various parts of MF/PL technology (such as the control panel, configuring email (web, mobile phone, and desktop), using our social networking tool, etc.). Although we are behind on this part of our development, we have not forgotten it.

Despite nascent stage of our development in this area, I'm proud to report the progress we have made. We've completed our first cycle of a democratically elected Leadership Committee, which approved nine projects based on the membership's six priorities for the year.

We've completed a draft structure that outlines the process for decision making and how members fit into and influence the direction of the organization.

I'd also like to specifically thank the four Leadership Committee members (Alfredo, Jack, Daniel S. and Mallory) for participating on the emergency response team. During the FBI server seizure, this team repeatedly (and on 10 minutes notice) dropped everything they were working on to collaboratively plan our response. We spent well over 10 hours on the phone during the first week after the visit. And, the joint thinking from this team was a significant reason for our thoughtful and powerful response.

Conclustion

When planning for our future we must understand the ways and reasons behind our successes. I have no doubt that our successes are a result of our strong political commitment to a free and open Internet, backed by a combination of both political and technical organizing.

Together, we can win.

Last modified 6 years ago Last modified on Oct 26, 2012, 10:13:38 PM