May First Orientation

May First is an organization with a long history and many moving parts. This page is a collection of links to help orient you to our history and how we operate.

Who we are: Our Members, Mission and Program

May First is a movement building membership organization that focuses on technology.

As of 2020, we have 635 members in good standing, most are based in the United States, about 20% are based in Mexico and the rest spread out around the world.

About 23 of our members are organizations and the rest are individuals.

Our member organizations range from large organizations like Media Justice, CWA Local 1180, National Network of Abortion Funds and more to small street medic collectives, media production groups, and community organizations.

The issue areas range from universal healthcare to Palestinian rights to immigrant freedom and many many more.

Our mission, as approved by our membership in 2015, is:

May First engages in building movements by advancing the strategic use and collective control of technology for local struggles, global transformation, and emancipation without borders.

Our program, while complex, varied and changing, fundamentally flows from two inter-related areas:

  1. Movement work: engaging the broader left movement in conversation about the fundamental role of technology in our fight for a more just world and helping to develop a strategy for change that centers technology.

  2. Technology infrastructure and services: collectively running our own Internet-based technology services for our members to provide privacy and stability for critical movement activities and showcase and experiment with technology based on our values.

History and culture

When did May First begin? Was is 1994? 2005? Read more about the key points in our organization’s history.

Throughout our history, we have made a commitment to the leadership of people traditionally excluded from technology, which was formalized into a statement of intentionality on combatting racism and sexism.

Our culture also includes an agreement on how we interact with each other that identifies the behaviors and practices we strive for and those we try to avoid and also tips on scheduling and running meetings.

Mexico

As you can read from our history, we have a special relationship with activists and movement organizations in Mexico. The details are in the by-laws and the history document, but here is a quick summary.

May First is an international organization - we have members from all over the world and welcome anyone no matter where you live.

However, May First started in the United States and most members are based in the US. In 2011, the historic Mexican alternative Internet provider LaNeta decided to stop providing hosting services and asked if May First would consider absorbing their members. We agreed, and the LaNeta members approved, resulting in our first substantial number of members from a country other then the US (about 20%).

This arrangement aligned with our organization’s political vision - not only the idea that borders do not stop our movement building, but specifically recognizing the importance of the relationship between the movements of the US and Mexico, given the border, the economic pressures, xenophobia and racism that have distorted this relationship.

Although Mexican members are members just like anyone else, we have included in our by-laws a provision to reserve a number of board members from Mexico proportionate to the representation of Mexican members in our membership.

Structure and decision making

We have one of the most diverse leadership of any technology organization. To learn more, see our board membership page!

Our by-laws define the minimal requirements of our structure and decision making.

The by-laws state:

  • The membership elects 80% of the board, and staff chooses the remaining 20%. We currently have 23 board members.

  • The Workers Review committee of the Board hires and fires workers (workers include people who are paid and unpaid). Currently, we have three workers: Alfredo Lopez and Jaime Villarreal (paid) and Jamie McClelland (volunteer).

However, there is much more to our structure and decision making than what is defined in the by-laws.

For example, the board typically asks our members to help build a set of priorities for the coming year and then rank them in terms of importance at our annual membership meetings (see our current priorities).

Teams and Committees

Program Teams

May First engages our members in our work via two program teams:

  • The Movement Team: Covers engagement with the broader movement, such as conference participation/webinars/presentations, participating in campaigns and coalitions, political/popular education.

  • The Infrastructure and Services Team: Covers the management, development and support of all technology infrastructure and services.

All May First members (not just Board members) are encouraged to join these teams, which meet regularly (at least monthly) at clearly posted times, with at least one Board-appointed coordinator, preferable two.

The program coordinators are responsible for drafting a work plan, based on feedback from the program team, for discussion by the coordination committee and approval by the Board. Once a workplan is approved by the board, the program coordinators are authorized to make any implementation decisions consistent with the approved workplan.

The program teams are not formal decision making bodies - the coordinators retain the right to make final decisions within their scope of the work plan. Instead, they are designed to engage members in our work, brain storm and discuss program ideas, provide initial feedback on workplans and evaluation reports, and coordinate the work. Toward this end, they should be open, inviting, and flexible.

Program coordinators are also responsible for submitting evaluation reports at the end of the year (based on feedback from the program team). The reports should be submitted to the Board for approval and then presented to the membership during the annual membership meeting for discussion prior to the selection of the following year’s priorities.

Coordination Committee

The day-to-day work of the organization is managed by a coordination committee that meets weekly. The coordination committee requires a signficant time commitment and members are expected to attend regularly. Any member of the board is welcome to participate. Non-board members may participate as non-voting members.

The coordination committee hears weekly updates from and provides feedback to the program committees to ensure our work is coordinated and consistent.

The coordination committee is a formal decision making body and may make decisions to implement proposals that fall outside the scope of an approved workplan. The coordination committee may also decide that program team work falls outside the scope of the workplan and should be stopped or gain board approval to continue.

Any decision made by the coordination team can be appealed to the board.

Additional Committees

In addition to the program teams and the coordination committee, our by-laws specify a Worker Review committee that meets when needed (see above).

Other ad-hoc committees may also be formed, such as a membership meeting planning committee, to take up particular tasks. All additional committees are open to any board member and should be announced, along with a clear mandate, to the full board prior to formation.

How are proposals made? How do I get involved? What decision making process is used?

Typically, most major decisions start with the program team that it is relevant to.

Next, they move to the coordination committee for discussion.

If the decision is minor, or clearly within the scope of the already defined workplan, then it might be sent to a program committee to be implemented or to the workers to implement.

Otherwise, it goes to the board for a vote.

If the decision requires a change to the by-laws, then it must go to the membership meeting for a final approval.

Ultimately, final decisions can be made by the May First board via a simple majority vote. However, the culture is to make every effort to achieve consensus before resorting to a vote.

Responsibilities of Board Members

Board members are elected for 3 year terms. The minimum requirements of being a board member are:

  • Attend four, 1.5 hour online board meetings per year
  • Spend up to 1 hour per week reading and responding to email
  • Attend the annual membership meeting.

In addition, while not required, board members are encouraged to participate in at least one of the program committees.

Finances

May First workers are responsible for presenting a financial report to the board every year. See our 2019 Financial Report.

The board is responsible for approving the budget, based on the workplan, each year.

Tools

The main communications tools we use:

  • Email lists: all board members are subscribed to an email discussion list. The coordination team also has a list. Other work teams employ their own communication tools.

  • Nextcloud: The board and all workgroups rely heavily on our Nextcloud document storage system. We have folders for all committees and take regular notes for all committee meetings. Most proposals are written and saved in Nextcloud and final reports are kept here as well.

  • Discourse: Our Discourse server is a web-based discussion forum for members to comment on topics and proposal. We heavily use Discourse during our member meetings - so members can choose either to come to a live meeting if the schedule lines up, or participate asynchronously via the Discourse system.

  • Mumble: For all live meetings we use the mumble app. Mumble is an audio-only conferencing system. We use mumble because it support simultaneous interpretation and also because it works for people with old computers and poor Internet connections.