Harassment and Grievance Officers and their Important Role in creating a Socialist Future

By: Sarah Glomski, HGO

Madison Area DSA (MADSA) is currently accepting nominations for a Harassment and Grievance Officer. Per our constitution and bylaws and in accordance with National DSA policy, our chapter has two Harassment and Grievance Officers (HGO), who are responsible for ensuring that the chapter is a safe space for our members and community. This is an extremely important role in building a socialist future.

As socialists, we are working to create a better world. If we do not deliberately counteract problematic dynamics between ourselves, the same dynamics will occur in our chapter. Nearly everyone has a story about themselves or others being harrassed in a workplace situation, and finding that there was no one to turn to, or feeling that nothing would be done if misconduct was reported. This is especially true for women, LGBTQ folks, people of color, and others from oppressed and marginalized identity groups. Those same dynamics can appear in socialist and anticapitalist spaces, and if left unchecked can undermine the trust we need to have to organize with each other. Ultimately they can cause organizations to implode. These dynamics also contribute to underrepresentation of the aforementioned groups in socialist and other left spaces, which undermines our ability to do good political work. 

The role of the HGO is to offer a solution to this problem.

An HGO is a position in the chapter who DSA members can go to with an official complaint if someone has taken actions that make them feel unsafe or unwelcome in MADSA. All who participate in MADSA functions are expected to abide by our code of conduct (Available at https://madison.dsausa.org/resources/code-of-conduct/). If an individual in a DSA space has violated the code of conduct, the offended party may reach out to the HGOs through our confidential email address dsamsnhgo@gmail.com. Those without email are also welcome to speak to an HGO in person.

As HGOs, our principles and processes are grounded in restorative justice, which seeks to center the rights of the offended, as well as to repair harm and prevent future harm. An important aspect of the work is educating the offending party as to why their behavior was harmful, including the principles of intent versus impact, and the way power dynamics and privileged and marginalized identities impact our interactions with each other.

Madison DSA’s HGO team also sees our role as much more holistic than just responding to issues that are reported. We also seek to educate members and cultivate a space that is welcoming and vibrant. Some of the ways our team has worked to do this are by regularly giving brief announcements and presentations at general meetings reminding folks of how they can contact an HGO, what types of issues an HGO might be helpful on. HGOS have also provided brief education at chapter meetings, on topics such as bystander intervention and how to apply “step up/step back” being mindful of other comrades’ social cues and give all folks an equal chance to contribute in meetings.

One of the HGO team’s goals for 2020 is to plan and execute a 3 hour long training on verbal de-escalation and harassment prevention. I have provided similar trainings my work as a mental health and substance abuse counselor, and have seen firsthand how equipping someone with tools around assertive communication and conflict de-escalation can be incredibly transformative. In an ideal solicaist world, all children would receive this type of training in the public schools, which would prevent a lot of problems that occur. As we work to build a socialist world, we will provide these tools and support to each other.

How do I become an HGO?

It is important that HGOs be democratically elected and accountable to the membership.  Interested parties should indicate their interest in candidacy by emailing a brief statement about themselves and why they would make a good HGO to dsamadison@gmail.com

Some of the qualities that make a successful HGO are: good communication skills, understanding of the principles of restorative justice and a commitment to upholding them, ability to have difficult conversations with care for all involved, including being trauma-informed, and the ability to keep information confidential and uphold the code of conduct.

Further questions about the HGO team? Feel free to contact HGO Sarah Glomski at sarahelizabethch@gmail.com