Convention 2019: An evaluation

BY:Dee Miles| November 26, 2019
Convention 2019: An evaluation


Editor’s note: The following was reported to the November 15 CPUSA National Committee meeting by Dee Miles, Chair, 31st National Convention Committee.


What Did We Learn: An Overview Evaluation of Our Convention Work

The purpose of this report is to extract some of what was valuable from our experience working on the convention.  We received several phases of responses to the call for evaluation and even before the call was issued, but if you did not send in your comments and want to do so, please send your comments to

The final report prepared by the credentials committee was sent out in preparation for this meeting. An income and expenditure report has not been finalized, but national level convention expenses this time around were about $121,000; last time expenses were close to $100,000.

All of the goals we set were closely approached or met. We set the goal of about 300 attendees at the convention, and with delegates, convention guests, and international guests we reached about 280. Adding in guest speakers and guest cultural artists, the participant number was a little over 300.  Early in the registration process for the convention, we noticed those registering were largely white and male.  We alerted the districts, and I want to congratulate the districts for doing the work which enabled us to have a composition at the convention much more representative of the composition of our working class. The convention was about 54% white, and 34% identified as female. We have to create the environment where the numbers and composition of our participants will grow and improve, and the building blocks related to improving, as represented through our convention work, is the content on which I would like to focus.

To my surprise, everyone expressed that they were overjoyed with their overall convention experience. Not one person expressed anything different.  Complaints had to do with the cleanliness of the dorm areas, but even those who complained made the point of repeating again and again they thought the convention itself was wonderful.

Our goal for the political direction and atmosphere at the convention was met in both content and form for the most part.  We started working on the convention one year in advance, and I suggest we start at least one-and-a half years in advance the next time.  I would really like to focus on process:1) the major process that enabled us to do what we did, and then 2) other processes about which we should also be conscious. These, I would argue, are the major processes that enabled us to achieve the desired result. So we want to examine the processes and identify major factors within the processes at play.

Our experience with convention work encourages us to take a serious look at the process of collective work: in this report most of our attention will be directed here.

But, also we’ll pay a little attention to:

  • the process of cultivating working-class democracy—which we need to really explore at another time— working-class political content, and working-class form.
  • the process of creating sanctuary for the working class.

The pressures of the massive task of working on the convention forced—and I want to emphasize the word “forced”—a level of collective work at which even we do not normally engage.  It forced objectivity as a direct challenge to, should we say, egotistical individualism or individualistic egotism. It forced thoughtful responsiveness to difficulties rather than unrestrained knee-jerk reactions.  It forced distinguishing between those issues that were worth struggling over and those that could be let go.

It forced confronting the reality that nothing was going to be perfect; perfection was not the goal. But, based on quality effort, what we produced could be good enough.  That’s a concept within psychology: parents don’t have to be perfect; they just need to be good enough.

My question to all of us is this: do we have to be in a situation where circumstances force this quality of collective work, or can we consciously make the effort to employ this level of collective work routinely?  This level of collectivity produces a different experience for those in the collective, and the quality of the product produced is different.  Can we capture the elements of this level of collectivity without forced circumstances and model it routinely? Not only do I want to argue yes, but even more I think we have to come to grips with the necessity that we must.

The key features of the forced level of collectivity, and you may know of others, were the need for objectivity as opposed to egotistical individualism, thoughtful responsiveness as opposed to knee-jerk reaction, and distinguishing between what merited struggle and what could be conceded.

A primary example is the process of developing the main report for the convention: forced objectivity, forced thoughtful responsiveness, forced distinguishing between major versus less major concerns.  The collective effort of the national exec, the national board, and the national committee produced a product that was fully embraced and appreciated by most if not all. In that context, I fully recognize the role of the individual in this effort.

The Process of Cultivating Working-Class Democracy, Working-Class Political Content, and Working-Class Form

This process of cultivation was reflected through extensive consultation and the struggle to have every activity at the convention be a learning experience toward improving our work.  The factors that came into play included allowing the political needs of the working class to be the focal point and addressing political differences in a less inflammatory manner.  Another factor was keeping everything in a style and form that could be embraced and would be welcomed by the working class.  We emphasized keeping everything powerful but brief, being as prepared and well organized as we could muster, given our limitations, and providing tools that would be useful.

Working-class democracy is very different from bourgeois democracy. Working-class democracy is based on broad engagement to develop well-considered proposals and draft plans that are then put before deciding bodies.  Most, if not all, of the proposals put before the convention went through a long process of consultation and reformulation based on input.  The final proposal or plan is not a simple meshing together of what everyone thinks, but a product based on an assessment of what we can realistically do developed out of the best ideas pulled out of the process.  The process helps us realize good opportunities, and sometimes the process helps us avert massive train wrecks. We need to create a space to explore even more what working-class democracy is, how it works, and how it,  with flexibility, is widely inclusive, creative, and effective.

Lastly, I want to just mention the process of creating working-class sanctuary.  We did the best we could to take into consideration safety needs.  We strongly encouraged allowing space for participants to engage and speak and discouraged domination of the floor or the podium by just a few. We created a space that celebrated working-class victories and struggles from presentations at the podium, to plenary workshop speakers, to banners on the walls and through the working-class music, poetry, and art interspersed not just as minor add-ons but as major aspects interweaved throughout. In response to the bitter cold of capitalism, creating sanctuary for the working class, as demonstrated within the convention, is something we can consciously and continuously do going forward.

These factors dominated how we worked and enabled us to produce a forced, advanced-level collective process and a quality collective product. The unanimous assessment that the convention was overall a great success proves that the magical nature of the collective product makes fighting for this level of the collective process a necessity.

The objective of the convention was to celebrate our working-class 100-year history, and in that celebrating spirit and atmosphere to complete the required work of the convention:

  • have a main report that was unifying
  • have workshops that were helpful to our work
  • adopt a new Party program and other resolutions
  • elect a new leadership

Our goal was to have every aspect of the convention a learning experience toward deepening our understanding of who we are as a Party and our reason for being.  We wanted the convention to upgrade our ability to engage in our work.

There were stumbling blocks: some committees got off to a very late start even after much prodding, and one or two never really got off the ground at all. Even so, by and large, most people engaged in the work admirably, and some people worked extremely hard.

Earlier, the term “magical” was used to describe the experience of the collective product.  Remember, Marx said that when an idea is taken hold by the masses, it becomes a material force.  Therein is the magic. When we are successful in having a good working-class idea embraced by the masses, it can become realized; and in becoming realized, it becomes a material force, and the experience of it is profound. Again, therein is the magic of the real process of transforming an idea into being, material realization.

I want to express my deepest appreciation to having been able to bear witness to these processes from the position of chair of the convention committee; I am well aware that I, as a lone individual, am not responsible for the collective product.   On behalf of the whole Party, I thank those who worked admirably and tirelessly.  I hope your experience was as rewarding as my own.


Photo: Al Neal, People’s World



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