Report from Mayfirst Members Meeting

On Sunday Oct 28th, I and several members of OBIT attended Mayfirst's annual member meeting at the Brecht forum in New York City. For those that aren't familiar with the organization, Mayfirst is Occupy Boston's hosting provider. Mayfirst is not a Verizon, Google, or Godaddy; they're activists who work on providing technology tools to the broader left. And they're really awesome people. I spent Saturday night with one of the tech team members, who was generous enough to let me crash on his couch.

Mayfirst is a small organization, with two part-time paid staff, and an annual budget of around $110k. Despite their small size, Mayfirst provides hosting to some 600+ members and member organizations. Roughly one-sixth of Mayfirst members are from Mexico, Central America, or South America. Last year, 85% of the organization's income came from member dues. It's very much a shoestring budget.

In the last year, Mayfirst gained a presence in Mexico city, and a commitment toward becoming a fully bi-lingual organization. This had a big effect on how the membership meeting was run. The meeting was held in two locations, New York City and Mexico City, with streaming audio between the two sites. Participants had the option of wearing radio headsets, to hear English translation of Spanish speakers (or Spanish translations of English speakers). Members of the tech team stayed up until 1:30am Saturday night, configuring the streaming audio servers (and they showed up at 8:00am Sunday morning for meeting setup). Some members participated remotely, by tuning in to the audio streams and providing feedback over IRC.

A large portion of the meeting focused on priorities for the coming year. The proposed list of priorities was:

  • Ensure stable, fast, secure, and reliable hosting services.
  • Actively target recruitment and develop leadership of people historically blocked from accessing, developing, and having ownership over technology.
  • Participate in and provide technology support to major left movement struggles.
  • Help build the movement for free/open source software and an open and accessible internet, particularly within the broader left.
  • Raise the technology capacity of our members to use free and open source tools for organizing.
  • Promote the internet as a means for strengthening international alliances and struggles.
  • Build unity among MF/PL members around a shared vision of the future of the Internet.

During small group discussions, members had the opportunity to revise and edit this list, using a piece of web-based software. This was an interesting process. The priority list was written in English and Spanish, and groups had the option of editing the English version, the Spanish version, or both. There were moments of confusion, but it was a useful experiment in finding ways for people with different backgrounds to work together. Now, it's up to the (elected) leadership team to turn this into a coherent priority list.

Mayfirst's leadership team provided a series of annual reports. If you're interested in an overview of what happened during the last year, Jamie's Director's report and Hilary's Finance Report probably the first ones to read. The full set of annual reports is available from https://support.mayfirst.org/wiki/projects/membership-meeting/2012/reports, and there's an archive of meeting materials and notes here: https://support.mayfirst.org/wiki/projects/membership-meeting/2012.

Overall, it was good meeting. I met some great people, and I feel good about being part of this organization.