Sunday, May 21, 2017

Types of ONDNA Membership and Old North Collective Action (260)

Over the years I have noticed that the minutes of ONDNA meetings often refer to Old North residents attending a meeting who are not Board members as “visitors” or “guests.”

Strictly and literally speaking, both these labels for resident meeting-attenders are false. Under City of Davis rules for the functioning of City-recognized neighborhood groups (of which the ONDNA is one), all residents of a designated area are members of its official neighborhood group whether they like it or not.*

Without paying dues (which cannot be a requirement of membership), all residents have the right to know in advance of all ONDNA meetings, to speak at meetings, and to vote in all matters stipulated by the City-reviewed and approved by-laws.

This misuse of language has prompted me to think more generally about ONDNA “membership” and, in particular, forms and levels of it.  Contemplating the topic, I have come to the view that “membership” is an under-analyzed and acted-on matter in ONDNA functioning. So, in the spirit of exploration and clarification, let me think-aloud here about ONDNA “membership.”

I think precarious, voluntary associations such as the ONDNA may be best served with a conception of degrees and forms of membership that allow potential participants to engage the organization in diverse and specialized ways.

At the moment, the scheme of membership seems binary: Board Member versus inactive residents who turn up sometimes as “guests” or “visitors.” Perhaps, however, there is merit in thinking about a few added degrees and/or forms of membership.

1. Board Members. At the “top” is of course the elected seven or so members of the Board, who are responsible for policy formation and execution.

2. Committee Members. The by-laws have always allowed for creating committees whose members are not necessarily also members of the Board. This option has not been exercised very often and there are, for example, no standing committees on such staid and on-going matters as Financing, Internet Presence, Street Signs, and Communications/Public Relations. I would guess there might be at least a few Old North residents who might not want to serve on the Board, but who might have a specialized interest in a committee matter.

3. Project Members. Committees address never-ending administrative requirements. But there is more than this to ONDNA life. Instead, there are time and task-bound topics that have a foreseeable end-date and have a crisis nature. Such matters require a “project” orientation. People in addition to Board members had best be recruited to address them. Project matters at the moment might include the school district property redevelopment, traffic calming, and the future of the street sign program (which is fading away unless the ONDNA organizes rescue action). As with committees, there are hopefully at least a few OND non-Board residents who can be recruited to work on projects of these sorts.**

4. Meeting Members. Any resident who shows up at a meeting might be called a “meeting member” (and perhaps encouraged to attend again by means of appropriate recognition).

5. Inactive Members. Old North Davis has a physical human population of about 500, which is 500 “on paper” ONDNA members -- plus an unknown number of absentee property owners and area organizations. It is perhaps accurate to refer to anyone who has never attended at least one meeting as an “inactive member.” This category would appear to include virtually all residents. But, through the meaningful elaboration of the committee and project categories of membership, “active” members as an encompassing category might be increased.

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There should be, of course, the question of: What is the point of all this? My answer is that the Old North area has a number of physical and social relations problems that residents might organize to address if circumstances can be structured to encourage them to interact with one another on matters of mutual neighborhood concern.

In my view, one main task of the ONDNA is to try to create social situations and settings that support people in identifying and interacting with fellow residents on kindred neighborhood problems and providing them supportive structures in developing collective action. The forms of ONDNA membership listed above hopefully help to create such "situations," "settings," or "structures."

I welcome additional ideas addressed to this problem of facilitating collective action among Old North residents. Write them up, send them to me and I will happily publish them here on Old North Davis Chat (and/or on a new website the ONDNA might be launching -- which is another topic altogether).

* The term resident includes all property owners and established organizations in the area and not only the humans whose physical bodies reside in the rectangle bounded by B, 7th, 5th and the tracks. Under City rules, all are equally stakeholder members of the ONDNA. 

** In post #259 on ON traffic calming I describe the concept of ONDNA "working groups." The idea of "the project" is the same, only the terminology is different.