MM 2018: Form a committee to explore ways to significantly grow the organization to a more sustainable size


#1

Currently, with a membership of about 800 and a budget of about $125,000 , we simply do not have the scale to properly pay staff to tend to our infrastructure, much less to carry on the movement building work specified by our mission as the fundamental reason for our existence.

We need to grow to at least 2500 members to have the budget needed to take us where we need to be.

Formally converting to a coop will help bring us closer to the movement, which will help with recruitment.

However, to truly grow the organization we have to acknowledge that our technology, while mostly stable and reliable, is prone to periods of unpredicatable slow downs and random outages, which is giving us a reputation as having unsuitable technology for serious organizing. We will never experience significant growth until we address this shortcoming.

Some ideas this committee would consider include:

  • Place default resource caps on most major resources and provide a price sheet for organizations who wish to pay more for more resources.
  • More aggressively turn off services for members who do not pay
  • Identify organizations to recruit and assign to organizers to follow up
  • Identify new communities to recruit and develop a communications plan to reach them
  • Find ways to allocate signficantly new resources for new hardware.
  • Re-organize our infrastructure to be more flexible and more effectively use the hardware we have
  • Explore the possibility of merging with other similar organizations
  • Explore new services (such as private Nextcloud instances)

Actualmente, con una membresĂ­a de alrededor de 800 y un presupuesto de alrededor de $ 125,000, simplemente no tenemos la escala para pagar adecuadamente al personal para que atienda nuestra infraestructura, y mucho menos para llevar a cabo el trabajo de construcciĂłn de movimientos especificado por nuestra misiĂłn como la razĂłn fundamental para nuestra existencia

Necesitamos crecer al menos a 2500 miembros para tener el presupuesto necesario para llevarnos a donde necesitamos estar.

La conversión formal a una cooperativa nos ayudará a acercarnos más al movimiento, lo que ayudará con el reclutamiento.

Sin embargo, para que la organizaciĂłn crezca de verdad, debemos reconocer que nuestra tecnologĂ­a, si bien en su mayorĂ­a es estable y confiable, es propensa a perĂ­odos de desaceleraciĂłn imprevisibles e interrupciones aleatorias, lo que nos da la reputaciĂłn de tener una tecnologĂ­a inadecuada para una organizaciĂłn seria. Nunca experimentaremos un crecimiento significativo hasta que abordemos esta deficiencia.

Algunas ideas que este comité consideraría incluyen:

  • Coloque lĂ­mites de recursos predeterminados en la mayorĂ­a de los recursos principales y proporcione una hoja de precios para las organizaciones que deseen pagar más por más recursos.
  • Desactivar más agresivamente los servicios para los miembros que no pagan
  • Identificar organizaciones para reclutar y asignar a los organizadores para el seguimiento
  • Identificar nuevas comunidades para reclutar y desarrollar un plan de comunicaciĂłn para alcanzarlas.
  • Encuentre formas de asignar recursos significativamente nuevos para hardware nuevo.
  • Reorganizar nuestra infraestructura para que sea más flexible y use más eficazmente el hardware que tenemos.
  • Explorar la posibilidad de fusionarse con otras organizaciones similares.
  • Explorar nuevos servicios (como instancias privadas de Nextcloud)

#2

It sounds like what you’re saying is the org is caught in a pickle. You can’t grow without improving the service. And you can’t improve the service without the resources that come from growth.

So whoever works on this committee needs to create a plan that could bounce back and forth - a little bit of growth, a little bit of improvement, repeat. (That description makes it sound easy but…)


#3

A pickle indeed. At the moment, through volunteer labor, we are significantly re-designing our software infrastructure to make things more solid, but the job will never be complete without some cash to purchase additional hardware.


#4

I think it’s partly “improved service” but not completely. We recruit primarily through our political work and there is a problem there. Our movement doesn’t see technology as strategically central to its work and so joining MF/PL isn’t a political necessity. The amount of movement support and respect for our work goes way way beyond our actual membership.
In fact, ironically, I think our service is viewed as superior in terms of security and the attention we give members’ tech issues. But the problem is: why should anyone move all their data to a new server when it’s fine where it already is. In short, there is no political impetus to do that.
I think the key corrective is work pushing the political/strategic thinking. I don’t know how to do that but this is where my work is concentrated and I’m pretty sure this is a significant part of the problem.


#5

Perhaps one task of the committee would be to come up with a list of possible resources that could be called upon in the process of supporting the growth.


#6

Yes, that is the point that I was making during the meeting. I think there is a way out of the pickle and I plan to use the organizational resources I have at my disposal to help. I’d very much like to join this committee if the members approve its formation.


#7

I think there is a “political impetus” but maybe not an impetus from the standpoint of organizational efficiency. One way to change that viewpoint, however, would be to offer migration assistance and regular trainings on May First resources. That makes us provide more technical support, perhaps at the cost of political organizing, but in the end if we have more members we increase our profile.


#8

The migration work is indeed huge. We tried to address that last year by offering a basic membership (just one user account but no other services) for $50/year for organizations and $25/year for individuals - in other words, a much smaller amount to support us politically. We haven’t had a huge uptake on this offer (yet, we have not really promoted it all either).

Nonetheless, I think the problem remains: very few movement organizations have technology as part of their strategic outlook, even though it is central to almost every issue we work on on the left. We’ve spent most of our 15 years trying to convince the movement of the strategic importance of technology as the primary reason to join the organization.

Part of this proposal is acknowledging that we have to do more to get people in the door. In particular, we have to shore up our technology and ensure that we are presenting strong tech reasons why people should join.

The main task of this work group is balancing act. How do we proceed down this path of acting more like a business and a service provider to shore up our organization and get more people in the door without turning into a business and service provider?

All money has strings attached, whether it is foundation money or membership money. At MF/PL the memberhip money can put an enormous pressure on services at the expense of the mission of our organization, which is movement building.


#9

When the following bullet point was added: “Explore the possibility of merging with other similar organizations,” was the thought that we would explore merging with a similar organization in terms of services, or movement building? The distinction seems to be pretty important, because I do not know of any other organization that works on both of these tracks. Personally, I think it makes more sense to merge with an org that provides services but I’m interested in your take.


#10

I’m not sure we could separate the two. I fear that a tech service
organization with minimal movement politics, particularly one that is
much larger than us, would most likely be a poor environment to expand
our movement work and could simply swallow it up. I think ideally we’d
look for a group with some of both.


#11

(english version below)

Hola compañer@s, quiero compartir esta posición que relaciona el problema del crecimiento con las formas internas de organización. Disculpen la referencia en ambos foros, pero me parece necesaria.


Hello comrades, I want to share this position that relates the challenge of growth with the internal organization structure. Sorry for cross-posting it appeared to me necessary.


#12

Within the US and Mexico, or in other countries too? CĂłdigo Sur for example has a lot of overlap, based in Costa Rica and active throughout Latin America. Maybe other members of APC? Close partnerships could be an option a bit easier than merging.

I read the summary and the technical page. Does indeed sound like a lot of work and worthwhile!!

Does the network file system mean the MOSH names would no longer exist, and all users would SSH login to ourserver.mayfirst.org or something like that instead? An advantage of using last names as server addresses is that they don’t change between languages. Other than that, a single login for all our sites sounds great!

Does current MF/PL infrastructure support static site generators and processes, such as Gatsby, Netlify-CMS, Hugo? I’ve recently looked at these as a way to speed up web visitor experience and decrease server load. In some cases it doesn’t even require changing the experience of the website creators – Gatsby can use WordPress as a data source, so web creators can still use WordPress, while getting the advantages of a static site. Promoting and facilitating static sites could perhaps increase infrastructure efficiency.

I agree that promoting more political thinking about computer tech choices can encourage people to shift from, say, Google Docs to NextCloud OnlyOffice. Just yesterday at a political meeting some of my fellow educators laughed when I said “you know there’s an alternative to Google Docs, run by a membership-based political organization using software libre.” Today I sent them the same documents in NextCloud and Google Drive so that they can compare for themselves. The coordinator of the educational process had never heard of real-time collaborative document editing, and paid some attention when I asked why she would give political economy classes about factories and farm labor, but ignore the political economy of the computer tech she uses, and that sparked her into conversation. While she expressed concern about it, at the end of the conversation, the question is “What tool can I use to get this organizing task done right now?” If software libre can compete functionally, then we can gain members when they ask this question.

Some software libre that’s capable of doing useful things has only recently reached functionality, such as OnlyOffice+NextCloud (still can’t do some things, but way better than what we had two or three years ago when Google Docs was already well established). The ability to respond to movement needs with functional systems makes a big difference. Contact sync, for example, still didn’t work a year ago on NextCloud, so I paid for an annual subscription to EteSync – it’s software libre, and it works well, and it fills a very important role in stepping away from Google-Apple-Microsoft-etc by backing up my contacts in a secure, private way. As far as I know MF/PL doesn’t have a functional solution for contact backup and syncing.

Migration assistance could be very useful, and in some cases easy and in other cases very complex. A step in that direction might be some migration guides for shifting from common services and software to MF/PL systems.

Regular trainings on MF/PL resources sounds useful, both for recruiting members and for the benefit of existing members. I would make sure each training starts and ends with a political explanation of MF/PL, in order to keep the political essence strong. Maybe think of it as a (very low budget) monthly TV show, maybe live, mixing political ideas with computer tech tutorials and maybe a tech profile and testimony of one or two member organizations. I’ve been a member for 7 years and I’m an intermediate to advanced computer user, and I’m sure such a training or TV show would help me learn something new about MF/PL, stimulate my political thinking, and increase my understanding of our services.

This seems key. In some ways, I see it as a matter of self-organization… how do we keep movement building central when we make decisions about what to focus on? In this sense, I find Holistic Management useful (started as ranch management framework for governance and decision making, focused on sustaining family quality of life, economic viability, and ecological viability) – describe our vision, and not divide it into multiple goals, but rather see it as a single, holistic goal. For each decision, there are a set of “testing questions” to ask, and one is, “Does this move us closer to our vision?” Maybe this sounds naive or simplistic, and maybe the decision making processes in MF/PL already deal with this – to me, it’s a very useful tool.

Honestly, in my experience as a member, I know that somewhere out there MF/PL is doing political work, and sometimes a detail crosses my awareness… participation in the US Social Forum, the Tech and Rev gatherings (I listened to the recordings, much appreciated). But in a big way, my experience of MF/PL is as a participatory service provider – I can participate in improving the services, and I have a sense that this is a political process, and the services are very useful… I know that the power relations between the people who maintain the services and between them and me are much more aligned with my political vision than the power relations at some generic mega-hosting provider… and as someone who works in computer tech and cares about power relations, this means a lot to me and I understand it mentally and feel it personally.

Most of my knowledge of MF/PL comes from emails that I receive. I’ve never met anyone from MF/PL in person. I don’t live in New York or Mexico City, and (due to my own forgetfulness) I don’t know where the leadership committee live besides NYC and Mexico City. I know there were Tech and Rev gatherings in other cities, but I don’t know where. I don’t know if there are any other MF/PL members in Houston, where I used to live, and I doubt there are other MF/PL members near me in South America where I’ve lived for two years – but I don’t know, and I’d like to know. Meeting people face-to-face would give me an even stronger sense that this is different than just a service provider, that we are a group of people with a shared political vision and a commitment to crafting this vision together.

In order to strengthen my understanding of MF/PL’s political activities / movement building, maybe an email every so often describing recent activities would work? I realize that for privacy of the movement we’re not going to put all the details of movement building activities on the support wiki in such as organized way as the technical details of the computer/network services. A summary, without sensitive details, once every three or four months? And integrated in the TV show I describe above.

Sometimes (like right now), my membership dues go overdue (like by 4 months). Cutting off my services might motivate me to pay, but sometimes I just don’t have the money, or decide that it’s better to pay later when I have more money. I think that if there were an option to pay monthly or pay in installments, I would be much more likely to stay up to date with my dues. If there were a way to set up automatic payment of $8.34/month (=$100/year), I might never fall behind on dues. You might say, “well then just save that money each month until your invoice arrives.” Easier said than done.


#13

I’m a bit concerned about this idea of growth will lead to financial stability. I feel like upping efficiency and creating a better bedrock on which to grow, and becoming better at collecting existing dues seems like the clearer path. 2500 members is a LOT more complexity and is both a huge task of recruitment and service. It will require competing and recruiting organizations that currently use commercial services and are not as politically minded in their tech, or it means cannibalizing or integrating other similar orgs.

I feel that a more productive conversation is finding ways to up Mayfirst’s capacity. Mayfirst needs more workers and new tech to allow for more scability and stability. I feel like fundraising for these specifics things, with a long term plan of growing the organization membership to support the maintenance of the new workers and infrastructure is a safer way to go about things.

I know the committee obviously isn’t like an immediate action plan to grow, but, I am cautious of entertaining the idea that membership growth will somehow lead to sustainability or stability.


#14

Growth doesn’t always leads to sustainability or stability - it all depends on what you are doing. If you are a consulting firm and you don’t exploit your labor -then more jobs means more work in a fairly even trajectory and will not always lead to stability or sustainability. If you are a foundation funded movement organization and you can only get project grants, then each grants comes with more work that has to be done.

However, neither of those models fits MF/PL. We’re a movement organization funded via membership dues. Our services benefit from an economy of scale that means each additional member cost less to provide services for while at the same time increases our political organizing potential.

Ultimately, though, improving our technology and sustainability only lays the groundwork. The only way we will grow to 2500 members if we develop and organize the movement around the idea that all of our struggles require the kind of organization that MF/PL provides.

On the question of merging with other organization - generally we want to partner with any organization that shares our values. In the context of this proposal, however, I think it would mean working with an organization with the resources that could help us grow to a more sustainable size, regardless of where they are.

Does the network file system mean the MOSH names would no longer exist, and all users would SSH login to ourserver.mayfirst.org or something like that instead?

Nothing is set in stone, but based on discussions Jaime and I have been having, we are envisioning a single server providing shell access for everyone (shell.mayfirst.org) and then web directories are mounted over sshfs or shell.mayfirst.org can be used as a jump host to get to your actual host.

I also like the activist names for servers, however, I don’t like litering the support queue with pieces that can be used to build a map of our network. I’m leaning toward a system of more randomly generated real names for servers (e.g. webstore-xw3jvs.mayfirst.org) that resolves via DNS and then “tag” names (aka dorothy) that are applied to each one and can be used in service advisories and member communications. So, members will see via the control panel that they are on dorothy, but dorothy.mayfirst.org doesn’t resolve to anything externally (only internally from shell.mayfirst.org).

Does current MF/PL infrastructure support static site generators and processes, such as Gatsby, Netlify-CMS, Hugo?

The site https://mayfirst.org/ is generated via hugo. Since we support static html sites, we support all of them :). However, it’s not easy to use them. I am in favor of providing more automated tools for users to use this kind of system, since currently it requires a lot of technical know how to both get started and maintain such a site.


#15

I was a member of Our Revolution Texas Gulf Coast, which itself is (still) a member of MF/PL. We struggled to get our own members to use the MF/PL tools for organizing: Nextcloud, email, mailing lists, etc. I think that if we could figure out how to help member organizations better communicate with their own members, and have those members better communicate amongst themselves instead of using, e.g., text, Google Docs, Facebook, Slack, etc., then those end-user members would have more exposure to MF/PL (at least as a service provider), and as they learn more, might then find it compelling to become individual members of MF/PL.

In other words, it may help MF/PL grow if we can figure out how to help member organizations recruit their own members to join MF/PL.