ORMA Transition: The Back Story

Mission, structure and planning sound like bureaucratic jargon, but they are like the frame of a house: they define a protective container shaped and designed for warmer elements, the oriental carpets and upholstered furniture of collaborative culture and interpersonal trust.

When Mission, Structure and Planning (MSP) co-coordinator and Italian native Caterina Strambio De Castillia began attending the meetings of the group that became OR Cambridge last year, she loved those meetings. “[T]hey had the Bernie campaign spirit, including a collective spirit of ‘let’s work together,’ and ‘everyone’s welcome.’”

Caterina Strambio de Castillia

Strambio De Castillia grew up in Italy, where rich culture and social dynamics are an ancient heritage, and you don’t need a license to kill to have a political discussion.  “There are local groups where you go and have some coffee or some wine and talk politics. There are meetings where you might learn about issues and elect delegates but also they also provide an opportunity to meet friends.”

Over here, Strambio De Castillia contrasts, “Neoliberalism has destroyed the sense of community, and this keeps us isolated and powerless.”  Her quest to find or create trust and collaboration in politics is the story of the Transition Team.

In October 2016, after the Democratic Convention, a group of Bernie delegates gathered at Steve Camara’s home in Westport wishing to stay together and organize around the issues of the Sanders campaign.  They became ORMA’s original Interim Coordination Committee (ICC).  

To build a connection to the OR base in Massachusetts and begin to explore a vision for a statewide organization, the ICC organized a hugely successful kick-off meeting in Worcester the following January.  Break-out groups at that gathering brainstormed issues of mission and structure, and began planning for ORMA’s entry into the Democratic Convention.

Concerned with the tone she perceived within ORMA (perhaps a vestige of the contentious primary that brought them there), Strambio De Castillia decided to get more involved. She worked with the communication committee of the ICC (The Interim Coordination Committee) to create horizontal means of communication between ORMA supporters so that people could express opinions without filters. “I thought we should resist the idea of keeping things private,” she said. As a result the ICC created ORMA-discuss and FB groups that provided easy access to the experiences and opinions of OR’s base in Massachusetts.

But Strambio De Castillia wanted to go further.  Along with Matt Miller, Sean McFarland, Louise Parker, Robin Bergman and a couple of other people, she wrote a letter to the ICC encouraging them to “Create a democratic, accountable structure: Distribute minutes, make open meetings, and start planning right away for a founding conference.”

The ICC agreed to form the Mission, Structure and Planning (MSP) Working Group to incorporate the feedback from Worcester and propose a path and options to reorganize ORMA. Strambio De Castillia was invited to run it.

“We knew we needed to have a mechanism to ask people want they want,” Strambio De Castillia says. “How do we do that? Even amongst a small group, we had different ideas. We wanted to create proposals from what people said they wanted.”  Fortunately, one of the MSP members, Louise Parker, was well versed in survey design, and put together a first draft.

Five PrinciplesThroughout the process, Strambio De Castillia kept returning to five aspirational principles (see figure at right) that would form the foundation of the new ORMA, and one of these was a search for greater diversity “We kept asking ourselves, ‘How do we include non-whites, less educated? Liberals are always white and this is not going to cut it.’”  

On June 20th, Strambio De Castillia, along with Rich Levy and Bram Moreinis, presented the findings of the MSP working group to the ICC, including a proposal to replace the MSP with a Transition Team.  “I was completely surprised by the response,” she says. “Right after the presentation, the ICC quickly decided that the current working group would be in charge of forming a transition team. [This team] would adopt the recommendations of the working group, integrate strong affiliate participation and hold a founding conference no later than October 30th of this year.”

The MSP gave itself a month or so to create a Transition Team that reflected the Five Principles as well as possible, and turn over the keys by the end of July.  Determining the composition of the team would require compromises.  “We need to foster more inclusivity, but not in a way of filling quotas. Need to have women and people of color participate and come up organically. It’s difficult, but will happen eventually.”

Strambio De Castillia says she hopes the spirit of collaboration and collective decision making that has characterized the MSP will continue into the Transition Team, arising from shared visions and values rather than contentious political battles.  One support for this hope was the decision to kick off the Transition Team with a face-to-face meeting, which has been scheduled for July 29th in Shrewsbury. “Misunderstandings happen more easily if people are not in a room together.”  

To provide a solid hand-off, the MSP has worked hard to draft a meeting plan for the Transition Team to begin three ongoing processes:

  1. Forming itself as a collaborative team based on trust and shared purpose
  2. Designing a planning process for the Founding Conference in the fall
  3. Articulating paths to the future democratic and transparent structure of ORMA.

The event starts with two hours of externally-facilitated team-building time for team members to meet each other, discover shared values, and establish a collaborative culture strong enough to last through the Founding Convention to seed a new ORMA. The meeting ends with the Transition Team fully in charge of next steps.  

“As Bernie says, we must re-evaluate what we are doing in a holistic way and transform the way we behave,” Strambio De Castillia says.  “There is a big difference between representative democracy and participatory democracy. In order to get people on board, we must make sure they own the process.”

For more information about the Transition Team and process, visit http://ourrevolutionma.com/transition-team/.

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