So it shouldn’t come as a surprise over 500 members responded to the first ever Communist Party USA membership survey over the fall of 2017 and many have strong opinions about the organization.
“We were elated by the response, said Rossana Cambron, CPUSA membership coordinator. “It’s almost overwhelming. Members spent a lot of time reflecting and giving thoughtful answers, criticisms, suggestions and ideas to help improve the work of the organization.”
The survey along with regular communications, webinars and phone banks are steps the Party is taking to increase membership engagement. It provided a treasure of responses and experiences and will take time to process.
One is immediately struck by the fact that seventy-six percent of respondents have been Party members for five years or less. As Joe Sims, CPUSA Party and Social Media coordinator, remarked to the National Conference, “We basically have a new party.”
Most members are involved in their communities and in a range of labor, social justice, environmental and peace organizations.
Among the labor activists are trade union leaders and members of central labor councils, retiree organizations, Jobs with Justice and the Fight for 15.
Others are involved in feminist organizations including Planned Parenthood, defense of abortion clinics and the new #MeToo movement.
Many are involved in racial justice groups including Black Lives Matter and the NAACP, immigrant rights, LGTBQ organizations and disability rights groups.
Members were involved with Bernie Sanders campaign and are continuing their activism in Our Revolution, Swing Left, Indivisible, Working Families Party, statewide groups like the New Virginia Majority and local Democratic Party groups and 2018 electoral campaigns.
Several members are elected officials.
For others, joining the CPUSA was their first political act. They are disgusted with the current politics and Trump’s election was the final straw. They are trying to find their way to broader political participation.
The responses force us to think more deeply about how members see relating to the Party and even more broadly, how people affiliate given today’s political culture. Only 21 percent attend local meetings either because they live in an area where there is no party club or they relate to the organization in different ways. For example, 65 percent read and share articles from People’s World while 44 percent do the same with cpusa.org. Over 55 percent pay dues and make donations.
Twenty-nine percent attend online educational discussions. Many were not aware these presentations were archived on the CPUSA YouTube channel and could be watched at their convenience.
Nearly 57 percent follow the CPUSA on Facebook, 27 percent on YouTube and 23 percent on Twitter.
Most felt the communications they receive including emails and texts were informative and effective. Several members noted the ease with which information can be accessed through their cell phones.
“I do find the CPUSA site and Peoples World very accessible and readable,” said one member. “(I) Found the party website to have an excellent Q&A section, with very well written responses to many different topics. An excellent resource to anyone new to party concepts or Marxism in the modern day.”
However, others feel overwhelmed by the amount of email they receive especially those who are also receiving communications from other organizations. Some suggested better email templates and more news about local Party activism.
Many felt the communications in no way substituted for getting members together at the local level. In many cases, they are the only members in an area and would like face-to-face contact with others. About fifteen percent said they have never been contacted by a party organizer.
One member suggested improvements in use of language. “We can’t have a Movement Politics without the Movement. I find that the language used to engage members partially uses the language of a movement, but does not come from the grassroots movement itself.”
“This is in conflict with our proclamation or solidarity. I say this to explain what I find lacking in the email and online presence of the party. It feels hollow, and without the substance that comes only from volunteers out on the street – not campaigning – but providing services,” said the member from Michigan.
Another member expressed an opinion shared by others, “Web video presentations (i.e., YouTube) would be beneficial. Examples like the Young Turks, Humanist Report or like the Real News method.”
And a member from California wrote, “I believe your FAQ pages needs more information. When a potential member explores the website, you need to realize that they probably have also visited our sisters and brothers at DSA, Socialist Party USA, and the Progressive Caucus of the Democratic Party. Your FAQ page really, really, really needs to clarify how CPUSA is different and similar to those other groups who, more or less, are our allies.”
Some suggested establishing a forum to exchange information among members and local club organizations. Still others expressed frustration the Party has not been able to break through to a wider audience.
Similarly, members expressed a range of opinions about the Peoplesworld.org . Many felt it provided excellent news and analysis while others expressed a strong desire for more in-depth articles from a Marxist perspective.
Suggestions included expanding coverage, sending out daily updates of new articles, ramping up the Spanish language version Mundo Popular, more cartoons, illustrations and videos.
Some suggested resurrecting a print edition, which was discontinued several years ago in response to digital publishing revolution and overwhelming cost. In response to requests for the abbreviated weekly downloadable edition, they are now being sent to club and state leaders.
Since many joining the Party are millennials, there is an affinity with social media. Nearly 60 percent follow the Party and People’s World on Facebook, 27 percent on YouTube and 24 percent on Twitter. About 43 percent share content from both websites on social media.
Members expressed a strong desire to offer their skills and talents in the Party’s work. Over 120 volunteered to help set up new clubs in their communities. They are now included in the work of the Membership Engagement and Organizing Committee.
Nearly half said they would contribute articles to the peoplesworld.org and cpusa.org websites and 40 percent offered to edit. Among them are several professional editors.
Another forty percent said they would volunteer with social media promotion. Others offered help with fundraising, video production, photography, art and graphics, memes, outreach to new members and fundraising. The Membership Engagement and Organizing Committee is discussing ways to follow up on these offers to help.
A set of questions dealt with the CPUSA’s public presence, image, the growing acceptance of socialist ideas and impact of anti-communism. The results are too much to discuss here and will be the subject of a future article.
Many expressed appreciation for the survey and the opportunity to share their thoughts.
“I think I’ve already said a lot. I don’t want to bog you folks down,” wrote one member. “I hope what I’ve said is seen as a criticism out of passion for an organization I desperately wish to see succeed. The survey was a nice touch. I felt like I finally had a voice.”
Another wrote, “Thanks for continuing to exist and thanks for reading my comments. This level of engagement most parties overlook. I feel reasonably certain that someone will read my response and even think about the merit of my arguments. That is part of why I am a member.”
Rest assured, comrade, your responses are being read and taken to heart!