Your very own NAWC Process Committee Survey Report, complete with exciting proposals!!!!
For the past month, Peter Krause, Suzanne Griffith and I have been interviewing current, lapsed and ex-NAWC activists about their experiences & ideas for the Coalition's structure and long-term strategy. We got some diverse critiques & great suggestions for building a more dynamic & democratic coalition. There were some blunt criticisms, which we've got to look square in the eye if we really want to represent & organize the antiwar majority in our region.
Please take some time to look our results and proposals (below), especially the "standing committees" section in Part II of our proposal (Part I was voted on and approved at the last meeting). They could affect the structure of NAWC in a profound way. We had a favorable response at the last meeting, but we want to make sure that everyone gets a chance to consider and comment on them before we make a decision.
What do you like or not like about our ideas? Are they practical? Would you step up to the plate and serve on one of these proposed working groups?
I look forward to your feedback. You can send me an email or give me a call... just make sure I hear from you before the next NAWC meeting on December 9 - or better yet, show up at the meeting yourself. Remember, if you're against the war, this is your coalition, too!
for the NAWC Process Committee
These are the themes that were common to a majority of respondents:
What's good about NAWC:
- Focus on action.
- Democratic decision-making (in form, if not in function).
- Activists from diverse political backgrounds working toward a common goal.
- Regular rallies & other events offer a consistent outlet for antiwar feelings & keep the war in public consciousness.
Room for improvement:
- We need to do a better job of welcoming diversity to the coalition (especially more rank-and-file union members, people of color & students). Establish diversity and/or outreach committees.
- We have a tremendous wealth of people power available to us – artists, community organizers, educators, etc -, both members of our coalition and allies in the community. We should identify and encourage people’s skills, and not be afraid to ask for help from outside our main organizing body.
- We should expand the kinds of activities we organize (targeting lawmakers, counter-recruiting, etc), and think more strategically & less ideologically about our campaigns.
- We can’t and shouldn’t do everything as a coalition, but we should support the efforts of our member organizations by acting as an information clearinghouse.
- We should always look at ways to streamline meetings and plug people in where they could feel most useful – breaking into specific project committees could help.
- We should announce our agenda ahead of each meeting and take time at the meeting to explain our decision-making process and current projects – this will encourage new activists and folks who haven’t been at meetings in awhile to get more engaged.
The following concerns weren't universal, but were repeated by many respondents:
- One ideological framework (or a few similar ones - described variously as ‘socialist’ and ‘old-guard left’) has too strong an influence on the coalition’s structure and strategy (large street protests over, say, legislative activism or community organizing). Several respondents felt that when they dissented from this framework their positions were not respected by the group. Respondents cited specific instances of potential allies being turned off by what they perceived as NAWC’s strong identification with (or blurry distinction from) a particular party or ideology.
- Meetings are poorly facilitated and chaotic, but don’t need to be. We should consider facilitation training, and have people fill the roles of vibeswatchers and timekeepers to keep things running more smoothly and fairly.
- We need more time for community-building & getting to know each other – preferably outside of the business meetings.
- NAWC asks for support from unions, communities of color, & other busy activists, but rarely returns the favor. We should think of ways we can support other social justice movements.
- Some patriarchal tendencies in meeting structure. Strained civility passes for real solidarity, and micro-level (interpersonal) peace work is almost entirely overlooked. Respondents mentioned specific cases of dissenting voices being placated or dismissed by meeting chairpeople. Few women attend meetings.
- New people often feel unwelcome. Several respondents reported that no-one from NAWC showed interest in them when they came to their first meeting. They were left to figure out for themselves what NAWC is and how it makes decisions. New folks should be asked what they have to bring to the table (interests and skills).
- There seems to be a lack of trust between people – the whole group wants to review, and sometimes re-review even minor decisions that could just as well have been made in small groups. Some people in the group seem to have more power than others to force a re-vote.
These proposals are a way to respond to our survey findings. Some of them would radically restructure the Coalition and shouldn't be adopted lightly. Keep in mind that structural changes alone can't make a group welcoming, dynamic or democratic. This is something that has to come out of a real desire to make our meetings more participatory, our coalition more diverse, and our organizing more effective. These proposals are only tools to reach that goal.
1. Peace coffeehouse. Many people told us that they didn't feel particularly welcome at NAWC meetings, and sometimes personal stuff and venting interrupts our business meetings. We propose that NAWC host an informal get-together before each business meeting. Extend a special invitation to new people & folks returning to the meetings after a hiatus. Experiment with different styles (from totally formless hang-out time to a loose program led by reps of member groups). Begin ½ hour prior to the formal meeting.
2. Monthly calendar. NAWC can’t endorse everything our member groups do, but an important function of a coalition is to share information between groups. We propose that NAWC publish a monthly calendar of events to be posted on our website, listservs and myspace, and mailed to folks without internet access. All coalition member groups can contribute events, as long as they're vaguely justice-related (NAWC-endorsed events in highlight). Look into offering web pages to member groups that don’t have their own.
Part II Committees, committees, committees!
A. Working groups
NAWC can accomplish more when we work in small groups, rather than wrangling over minor planning details at large meetings. It's also hard for people to add another meeting to their already taxed schedule.
We propose that meetings continue on a twice-monthly basis, with the 2nd Sunday meeting dedicated primarily to action planning, and setting aside more time at the 4th Sunday meeting to talk about group process and long-term strategy. Post a tentative agenda for each meeting in advance to the listserv. We further propose that, following reports and necessary business in the large group, meetings break into small working groups to organize specific actions/events. Return to the large group for reports and follow-up.
B. Standing committees/working groups
We propose the establishment of 3-4 standing committees to tend to the group process & business end of things. These committees would replace our current executive committee and take responsibility for other details that unnecessarily tie up our large-group meetings. Each committee can set its own meeting time, of course, but meeting immediately before or after the coalition-as-a-whole might encourage greater participation. Minimum 4 members on each committee. No-one would serve on more than 2 (ideally one) committees. Committee reps would give a brief report at each meeting of the coalition-as-a-whole.
- Process. Responsible for facilitating meetings, welcoming new members (incl. hosting the coffeehouse) and staying attentive to interpersonal and power dynamics in the coalition.
- Finances. Tend to book-keeping and fundraising. They’d also be empowered to approve minor expenses (under $100?) by working groups.
- Outreach. Responsible for reaching out to new activists (tabling, leafleting) and groups, with special attention to broadening the Coalition's diversity. They'd also maintain a speaker’s bureau & work with the media.
- Vision. This committee would assess our mission statement and broad agenda, and help map out a strategy based on the needs and strengths of the Coalition and allies in the region. It could be temporary and reactiviated as needed (perhaps annually) & include reps from a broad array of member groups as well as seasoned local community organizers.
Committee members don’t have to implement everything under their purview. The finance committee, for example, could propose a fundraiser to the coalition and ask for volunteers to help organize it.
The committees should be gender balanced if possible, and strive for political, ethnic and age diversity.
Submitted by the NAWC Process Committee
November 30, 2007