Your First General Meeting

by Tim Collingwood

December 17, 2019

Something about the political climate is drawing you to come to a DSA meeting. It could be that the solutions you see from the usual political wheelhouses aren’t enough. You are tired of the two-party system’s grip on political discourse. You may have heard about Democratic Socialists of America or the work this chapter has done locally. Maybe you went to a brake light clinic, heard about the lead safety campaign, or the Green New Deal, and you want to learn more about the chapter behind that meeting. You saw on the local chapter’s social media that a meeting is coming up and you finally have the time to go. You are at your first DSA general meeting. 

You have a couple minutes to greet familiar faces from previous events and actions, but you eventually sit down so the meeting can begin. The meeting chair calls to order and explains who we are, what we believe in, and we go around introducing ourselves. We talk openly about how the meeting is set up with Robert’s Rules. The chair mentions that anyone can volunteer to chair or take notes. You see people you recognize agree to help for the next general meeting. 

Next, it is time for announcements. People around the room share events from local organizations we stand in solidarity with, educational opportunities, and general news from members who are involved in other activist groups. You want to know more, but in line with Robert’s Rules, usually talk is timed so business can proceed. “Old business” as it is called, are committee reports from every currently active committee. You listen, and you think about what piques your interest, what you want to do, and what you want to learn more about. Clipboards with sign-ups for committee mailings usually go around, as literature is passed equitably throughout the meeting, starting from announcements. You hear about our chapter budget from the treasurer, as well as other things steering is doing as a non-hierarchical, administrative committee that keeps our chapter running. Then, you hear new business, where decisions are made, discussions are had and tabled if time goes too long, or continued if there is consensus that it does continue. Then, based on decisions made about discussions, the chapter votes, and time clocked, the meeting adjourns, but not before someone mentions hanging out at the local bar or restaurant or community space, where we can move away from our organizing to be social with our comrades, aka “socializing with socialists.” 

Now that you have experienced your first general meeting, you might have lots of questions and lots of observations. I remember hanging out after my first general meeting and thinking: “this local chapter is very well organized.” I also remember thinking how much community is in the community, and how it’s not just talk, but walk. I remember thinking that there are so many things to be involved in, I hope that I can connect with this committee chair and that campaign and that learning opportunity. It can feel overwhelming, but based on your energy and capacity, you go where you go. Maybe this meeting will also encourage you to become a member, get on Slack, have a 1-on-1 with your comrades doing the work that interests you. And, you know that it is okay. It is okay because everything is transparent and shared openly. There is no privilege-of-information. There is openness and accountability. You can plug into this. 

If you are reading this, I hope that you can come to a general meeting. I hope you can find where you can plug in. I hope you can socialize with your comrades after too. I hope knowing this ahead of time can make it easier for you to manage. I hope to see you at the next one! 

Cleveland DSA holds a monthly general meeting every first Thursday from 6:30-8:30PM. We try to vary the location each month, so check our Facebook for event details!