Proposal to amend petition signatures

Aug. 22, 2018


Having successfully petitioned for an amendment to the NASW constitution (to add phrases that would allow NASW to join the Authors Coalition), I very much appreciated the 20-signature requirement.  The idea that an organization would send NASW money seemed strange or even illegitimate to many people, and it often took a while to explain it to them.  I was able, however, to discuss it with people at DCSWA meetings and on the listserv and persuade enough of them to sign to bring it to a vote, which passed it overwhelmingly.  As a busy freelance, to whom time is money, however, there was a limit to how  much time I could spend on this untried idea.  Convincing 20 people was doable.   Having to convince an additional 115, to meet the requirement of 5% of 2,270 members, might not have been.  At the very least, it would have required a much larger commitment of time and energy.  So some good, though seemingly off-the-wall, ideas might perish because of this.

So I believe that the signature threshold should stay where it is, attainable for someone without any organizational backing or large resources.  I don't believe that NASW members have proposed large numbers of frivolous amendments under the current system, and I do believe that the appearance (and reality) of democratic access is important, especially in an organization like ours that has a significant segment of members who feel they are treated as not quite first class citizens.  As to cost, I think that thanks in part to my 20-signature amendment, NASW can afford to spend some money now and then if that's what it takes to keep the organization as democratic as possible.

I think an important piece of information regarding this amendment is the frequency with which petitions are submitted.

If we are receiving multiple petitions each year, I would think it may be necessary to determine whether the petitions are frivolous or on-point.  If the petitions are frivolous, then this amendment is clearly warranted. If the petitions are on-point and occuring that frequently, we may want to take a look at our constitution and by-laws to determine whether a significant restructuring is warranted.

If we are receiving infrequent petitions, then I think the current procedure is working as it should and there is no need for a change.

Changing the petition threshold to 5 percent is a good idea, and it will not make NASW less democratic. Five percent is still a very low threshold. Finding that much support will not be an undue burden.

The recent reintroduction of the officer-eligibility petition that was defeated two years ago illustrates the problem of keeping the petition threshold artificially low.

Changing the bylaws is a serious matter. The vote two years ago was important, and I recall a heartfelt yet civil discussion among members who advocated on each side. I can only speak for myself, but the decision wasn't easy. I spent a fair amount of time reading the materials from both sides, often more than once. It makes NO sense to go through that again.

Raising the petition threshold to 5 percent will not prevent this issue -- or other contentious issues -- from arising in the future. But it might well save time and energy for each of us by preventing the needless rehashing, year after year, of issue(s) that have already been democratically decided. 

dkeller's picture

Jade makes a good point about rehashing proposed amendments that have already recently been defeated. One solution is to raise the proportion of member signatories to a pettiton needed to put forth a proposed amendment. Another solution to consider is to keep the present level of 20 signatories but to prohibit consideration of a proposed amendment that is substatially similar to one that has recently been defeated, eg, within the past 5 or even 8 years. One complicating factor would be who would determine whether a new proposal is substantially similar enough to the defeated proposal as to disqualify the new one from consideration. Possibly the Board would have to make that decision. By keeping the 20 signatory threshold but prohibiting reconsideration of a recently defeated amendment, the bar would be kept low enough that reasonable amendments could easily be put forward while at the same time eliminating the likelihood of frivolously regrinding an ax and beating a dead horse with it. (How's that for a mixed metaphor?) 

Drexel Science and Health Communication Concentration