The first Neoliberal Project Steering Committee is a chance to establish norms and to set the tone of how the movement governs itself for years to come. While the plan laid down by Colin, Jeremiah, and Alex is a good starting point, I think that the committee should iterate on it and make some changes. Further, I think that the committee should work on some questions about movement governance in the next year.
My name is Tom Fish; however across parts of the internet, I am known by my handle Guerillero. The governance of online movements is something I have been involved in and have thought deeply about. Between 2015 and 2016 I did a two year term on the English Wikipedia’s Arbitration Committee. I currently serve as an administrator and functionary in the English Wikipedia. My undergraduate thesis was about how Wikidata governance was established and developed up until 2015.
I have been involved with the Neoliberal Project since early-2017 when I first discovered the subreddit after the 2016 election. Being at the right place at the right time, I attended the first Neoliberal Meetups in DC and became the DC-area lead. The DC chapter is unique as part of its role is to help us build friendships on the hill, in journalism, and in the think tank ecosystem. It acts more like an extension of the national organization than a normal local chapter.
There are two main areas of governance that I would like to work on: committee and movement. On the topic of committee governance I would like to do four things. I think it would be important to add three expansion seats to the steering committee to expand the diversity of voices on the committee. I would like to rearrange how the committee is structed to make the internal work easier. I would like to create a group of subcommittees to involve more people in the decision making process. Finally, I would like to use a consensus-based governance procedure instead of a majority-based governance procedure.
On the topic of movement governance I would like to do two things. I would like to expand beyond our current geographic affiliates by adding intersectional affiliates to make our organizing stronger. Additionally, I would like to standardize the rules that we enforce across all of our platforms to make enforcement easier and to allow for members to have a consentient experience across our venues.
The current six person committee with everyone in a role is too small to capture the diversity of the neoliberal movement. Further, having everyone elected is a recipe for uniformity in the people selected. To increase the range of experiences and backgrounds on the committee, I propose adding three expansion seats to the committee. These three people would be chosen by the six elected members to augment the skills, background, and perspectives of the representatives chosen by the movement. This is not a unique idea. The Wikimedia Foundation’s board has four of the ten members chosen by the board for this reason.
Directly electing the chair and vice chair(s) of a board of directors is not standard in nonprofit governance. The chair needs to have the confidence of the entire committee due to the power of the chair and the way the chair speaks for the committee to the professional leadership. I do think that Colin, Jeremiah, and Alex’s central idea of designating a voice for a non-US based chapter lead, a college campus chapter lead, and one for someone who is not a chapter lead. I would convert the vice chairs into seats for those groups. Further, I would convert the chair and vice chair position into at-large seats. Once the seats are chosen by the movement, the committee should be able to elect its own officers. Additionally, I do not see a reason why someone in one of the committee selected expansion seats should be barred from being an officer if my expansion seat idea is put into practice.
I see the steering committee as a vision-setting and final say institution, but not an institution as concerned about specific details. Specialized and detailed work is best left to threshing subcommittees (who thresh out details) where committee members can be joined by movement members who have skills, experience, and interest in a particular field.
For example, the steering committee is supposed to review the finances of the Neoliberal Project. It is very possible that all of the elected members do not have experience in this area. On Slack there are several accountants who do this kind of work full-time. It would make sense to create an Audit Subcommittee made up of the treasurer and two or three movement members with experience who can do the needed work and report their findings back to the steering committee.
This will do three things. First, it will spread the work over a wider array of people who will be doing the kinds of things they enjoy. Many hands make light work, especially hands that want to do what they are doing. Second, the subcommittees create a pipeline for interested people to join the committee. I hope that future candidates for the steering committee can use their experience on a subcommittee to show the movement that they are the right candidate for the 2022 elections. Finally, subcommittees provide a place for committee members to rotate onto while maintaining a connection to the movement. To remain dynamic we need fresh people on the steering committee, but we do not want to lose our committed volunteers. Subcommittees provide a place for the steering committee to call on the experience of members emeritus.
I am a member of the Religious Society of Friends (you probably know us as Quakers) and also a Wikipedian. Both groups use consensus as a way of making decisions rather than the the standard Robert’s Rules/majority rule. While awkward at first, I think that there are lessons from Quaker decision making that allow for more voices to be heard. One of them is that nobody gets a second chance to speak until everyone has had a first chance to talk. Another is that a single no vote oftentimes pushes a decision off a month for people to consider the points made by of the minority.
Finding common ground and making compromises will make our movement stronger. I worry that our current way of making decisions allows for the conversation to be dominated by a small number of people. Consensus might be a good paradigm to use when thinking about how we make decisions.
The neoliberal movement is growing. This is great, but the growth is showing some weaknesses in how we currently organize. I think it is time that we move beyond geographic organizing and allow for more intersectional affiliates with the Neoliberal Project. For example, we a few trans people involved in the movement. If they would like to create a Trans* Neoliberal chapter who wanted to focus on trans issues globally from a neoliberal prospective and wanted to do outreach to other trans people, I think that it would be a great idea. Additionally, I would be in favor of career-based organizing and outreach. If the Neoliberal Lawyers wanted to try to be an alternative to the Federalist Society, I think we should let them.
Something I have noticed across the various Neoliberal Project platforms is the shifting and inconsistent rules. This is off putting to people who are new to our work. Additionally, inconsistent rules allow for pockets of toxicity. I think that we need to create a unified set of rules for reddit, our twitter accounts, the Facebook group, Slack, in-person events, and virtual events. This will make enforcement of the rules easier for moderators because there is only one ruleset to remember. It will hopefully make a consistent experience for our members nonmatter where they are in the neoliberal ecosystem.