On Hack Club

Published on ~ 38 min read

Table of Contents
  1. Preface
  2. The issues
    1. Community disconnect
      1. The case for a community-lead Hack Club
      2. Favoritism, decisions, and getting “into” HQ
      3. Culture of secrecy
      4. A false doOcracy with no member pathway for contributions
    2. Labor
      1. Misclassification of employess as “independent contractors”
        1. What this misclassification means
        2. Hack Club misclassification & the Law
        3. Communication with Zach on this issue
      2. Pay below minimum wage
      3. Community Team isn’t paid work
      4. Illegal volunteering
  3. Reforms
    1. Elections
    2. New bylaws
    3. Member resolutions
    4. Opening operations
    5. Staff unionization
  4. Letter from Hack Club Jail
    1. The context
    2. The bust
    3. Post-bust comments
  5. What I’m doing next

These are my reflections on the Hack Club organization; the issues I have with it, the reforms I believe are necessary to make Hack Club a more vibrant, transparent, & democratic community, and what I’m doing next.


I love the Hack Club community. I have made (hopefully) lifelong friends, found people that resonate with me, and had opportunities to build projects that I would not have been able to do without the community supporting me. I am indebted forever to the community for their support through some of the darkest times of my life, and I am proud to support them back.

I would also like to acknowledge a few people & organizations directly. They have been instrumental in my growth as a person, supporting me throughout my activism when I have been challenged, and have always been there for me.

Alex P, thank you for always sticking up for me, and just being a great friend. You have always been there for me in my darkest moments, supporting me with my anxiety, standing with me on CRT, being there when I was banned, and continuing to be my friend outside of Hack Club after my ban. Thank you Alex.

B, thank you for guiding me and providing invaluable knowledge, advice, and wisdom in how to conduct organizing & activist efforts. You have always been there to support me and help me better understand the world.

Labor Notes, thank you for providing an understanding of collective power, organizations, reform movements, and unionism that I am forever grateful for. Y’all have shaped my understanding of the world and how power works in ways that can help me build it for the many, not the few.

Austin DSA, thank you for giving me a sense of community in a place that values democracy and being a shining beacon among a dark tunnel of dictatorship. Y’all have provided a case study in how to conduct a democratic, fair, and membership-lead organization. In DSA, I feel that I have real say over the organization, something I do not feel in many other places.

The issues

I see two main issues with Hack Club HQ. The first is the community disconnect, how members are not the highest authority in our community, and how executive leadership consistently asserts their authority over the will of the members. The second is more labor-focused, how Hack Club HQ repeatedly appears to violate federal and state labor law, and does not respect the rights of their employees.

Community disconnect

First, I’ll address the community disconnect. I’ve harped on this many times, but I think it’s worth doing again.

I think it comes down to the core issue that “members” do not have the final say in HQ decision-making, and thus a disconnect is created between the community and the organization. It sets up this power structure that ultimately doesn’t put the “members” first.

I’m putting “members” in quotes because we’re not real members of Hack Club, we’re “members”, we don’t have voting rights, we don’t have any rights traditionally afforded to you as a part of a membership organization.

Hack Club is a private foundation, not a membership organization.

The case for a community-lead Hack Club

Why should members be the decision makers? Why a community-lead Hack Club?

I believe members should be put at the core of HQ because members are most affected by the decisions that HQ makes. Members run this community, the community that supports HQ, and they should get a say in how it operates.

I fundamentally believe in just organizations, and a corporate dictatorship is not just, regardless of how well it is performing or how efficient it is.

Hack Club is not a “gift” from HQ, and we don’t have to accept how it is now because it is “free” (it still takes our time & energy) to participate in. We, the members, are Hack Club, and we have the right to shape our community. HQ is not Hack Club, HQ did not give us friends, HQ did not give us belonging; we, the members, all do that together, for each other, and we should have a say in how our community happens.

Hack Club does not exist without our members, and it’s unfair to expect people to sink their time, energy, and social battery into Hack Club without getting any say in how the organization is operated. Hack Club is not a traditional NGO providing services because a community is not a service, a community is a group of people who have opinions, thoughts, and ideas about the direction of the organization they are a part of. It’s unfair to assume you can continue having a dictatorship whilst also cultivating a community — you can’t have your cake and eat it too without being unfair to members.

Additionally, a community-run Hack Club would be more engaging for members, a stronger organization, and an organization that can do more for our community.

When all members are plugged in and have a say, they are able to contribute to the inner workings of the organization, allowing more work to be done and more ideas from different backgrounds on how the organization should be operated, ultimately being a better experience for members as well as building up a much stronger Hack Club.

A community-run Hack Club is fairer to its members, engages members more, and builds up the organization rather than being dictated by the top down which leaves potential volunteers in a taker of services role.

Favoritism, decisions, and getting “into” HQ

For example, who gets “into” HQ is an incredibly problematic process. Currently, people who will have massive ramifications on the future of the organization and by extension our community, are handpicked by the existing staff with little to no input from the community itself. It’s a completely opaque process where you just hope you get reached out to, or you ask and they say yes. You never have to make your case to the community, or have any community support to become a critical member of the organization.

Vermont Privilege is also a major issue. People living in Vermont have much more direct access to HQ executives, and thus are much more likely to get staff positions than even senior community members not in Vermont. Vermonters who were not active in the community at the time have been granted high-up positions, with real say over the organization - much more than the average member anyway. Wooing HQ executives should not be a valid pathway to a staff position, only solid contributions and community support should land you there.

Additionally, this is compounded by the inner circle and clique of HQ. When people join HQ, they become part of the inner clique and slowly become disconnected from the community they should be ultimately responsible to. I believe this is directly caused by the lack of openness and community responsibility at HQ. If you never have to show up to a general meeting, never even have to interact on Slack, only ever report to the rest of the internal organization & submit code on GitHub, and are surrounded by an internal clique/friend group — you’re no longer a representative of the community, you’re just a bureaucrat.

I believe nobody should have to get picked to join the organization to have some amount of say in how their community is operated. All members should be able to contribute their ideas, opinions, and vision for the organization and get a real chance to decide the future of the organization — not just people who get picked by the existing leaders, that’s just a dictatorship - and dictatorships aren’t fair, no matter how “benevolent” they are.

Culture of secrecy

Another example is the famed HQ secrecy, as best represented by #hackclub-leeks. Because HQ isn’t community operated, it has no responsibility to inform the community about new projects, or let the community shape the direction of Hack Club, the organization. If the project has already been greenlit by the time the community hears about it, did they have an opportunity to shape anything? no. Projects are just dreamt up internally, or by one outside proposal – with no community input at any stage. The community doesn’t get to participate in the group planning process, just submit a proposal and hope HQ likes it.

This is a classic issue for almost any reform caucus in an organization. Existing leaders want to hold on to their power tightly by not sharing information with members, making themselves seemingly invaluable to the future of the organization.

They also say that members are uninvolved, and thus that’s why the organization is not shared — but this is a self-fulfilling prophecy. If the organization is not shared, they have nothing to get involved in, they have been given no information, and crucially, no reason to be involved. This reduces the organization to just an NGO providing services, instead of a powerful, beautiful, community-built organization.

They don’t trust the members with their own organization, to the point where they are secret about the operations.

For more information about this, I encourage you to read this Labor Notes article, What to Do When Your Union Leaders Break Your Heart.

A false doOcracy with no member pathway for contributions

I often hear how Hack Club is a “doOcracy”, but this only applies to people already working for HQ. There is no pathway for average members to contribute projects or events to the organization, aside from “pitch it to HQ”. This both doesn’t include any input from the rest of the community, nor is fair to the submitter, as they just have to hope HQ likes it instead of garnering community support. No HQ like, no resources.

In other membership democracies, anyone can bring a “resolution” to a general meeting with a proposal for a project or event. They lay out the resources needed from the organization (budget, airtable, etc), as well as the timeframe for the endeavor. Once they made their case to membership, people can speak for or against it, and at the end membership votes on whether to move forward with the endeavor. Additionally, all members can participate in the endeavor (with very few exceptions), which is directly contrasted with the hiring and picking of teams currently.

Additionally, doOcracies in general aren’t super great and lead to a lot of informal power structures — which is what we’ve seen. Here’s a great quote from B about this:

I think the idea of “do-ocracy” sounds nice in theory but when put into practice often ends up creating informal power structures which can be difficult to engage with than ones more formally defined - frequently there’s not a clear path to getting involved with a project that someone’s already leading which can feel really frustrating. This is compounded by the fact that most decisions are only made by those who already are part of the decision-making process, excluding those who can’t figure out how to help/aren’t able to help currently for some reason (even though they may be just as, if not more, affected by the decisions).


Secondly, I appear to have seen numerous labor law violations by Hack Club when employing my fellow members. This is a major concern as it shows Hack Club as an organization that disregards the law, and disregards law that is meant to protect their minor employees.

Misclassification of employess as “independent contractors”

Almost all Hack Club workers are classified as “independent contractors” instead of full employees — which is the same classification given to gig workers. This includes most part-time remote workers, temporary workers, and some in-person folk (primarily interns). Misclassification has major ramifications on these workers’ pay, benefits, and rights.

What this misclassification means

  • Contractors are able to be paid at any wage, even pay below minimum wage.
  • Contractors are responsible for both the employer & employee portions of FICA taxes (Social Security and Medicare taxes); unlike with individuals classified as employees, Hack Club does not have to pay the employer portion (source: https://work.chron.com/difference-between-independent-rep-employee-8945.html)
  • Contractors do not have the right to unionize unless they are reclassified by the NLRB.
  • Overtime laws do not apply to contractors.
  • Contractors are generally ineligible for workers compensation (this depends on the state)
  • Any other general employee rights do not apply to workers classified as contractors.

Hack Club misclassification & the Law

Each state has its own tests for how to determine if a worker is an independent contractor:

The IRS also has its own federal rules, which are less strict than state guidelines typically are: IRS Guidelines

Under California’s test (which is very similar to that of other states, including VT), known as the “ABC test”, I firmly believe that the workers should be classified as employees and not contractors.

Below I analyze each prong of the ABC test, and explain how it does not apply to these workers. All prongs must be satisfied to be correctly classified as an independent contractor.

Part A: Is the worker free from the control and direction of the hiring entity in the performance of the work, both under the contract for the performance of the work and in fact?

Hack Club workers are marked by standard employee relations as compared to contractor-style work environments. Additionally, Working at home does not mean the workers are not free from control and direction.

Part B: Does the worker perform work that is outside the usual course of the hiring entity’s business

Hack Club contractors are usually performing work within the usual course of business.

For instance, HCB ops workers that are classified as contractors are performing work within the usual course of business, considering that HCB is within the Hack Foundation’s usual course of business.

Summer interns working on various projects like Sprig and Blot are also within the usual course of business, as these are projects which are also worked on by full-time employees.

Part C: Is the worker customarily engaged in an independently established trade, occupation, or business of the same nature as the work performed for the hiring entity?

Hack Club workers become independent contractors when they are hired to work for Hack Club, and are not actually independent. These workers are not offering their services to other employers, nor are they freelance-types. They are not customarily engaged in an independently established trade. Additionally, becoming an independent contractor as a precondition of hiring does not satisfy this prong.

From what I can tell, none of these prongs are satisfied; the test requires all of them to be met, and so it is evident that these workers are illegally misclassified as independent contractors.

Communication with Zach on this issue

After I DMed some staffers regarding this issue, I was reported to the community team and Zach reached out to me. Additionally, when someone else posted about this publicly, they also got contacted by Zach.

Hey, I heard you’ve been DMing people doing work for HQ about their status as W-2 vs 1099.

Obviously we want to pay people correctly. I’m not aware of any misclassification, as all of the people who have strict schedule requirements (AKA in-person employees) are paid as W-2s and people working remotely hourly on contract are 1099s.

I’d encourage anyone who is paid by Hack Club who thinks they’re misclassified to speak with their manager. We don’t have a problem with paying anyone as a W-2 where that accurately reflects the working relationship.

I also want to say that Hack Club is a labor of love, from me and from many other people too - including both at HQ and outside it.

It hurts to read a message from you to people implying that we are trying to exploit them, or otherwise be underhanded.

It’s not accurate, and I wish you would assume good faith.

If there are areas for HQ to improve on this, and I know there are many ways HQ is trying to improve in other areas, we definitely want to do it.

We are a small team, without a lot of resources, and as HQ tries to do more to serve Hack Clubbers, we will inevitably face growing pains. Its important that people in the community see any areas of improvement in good faith, and try to help make Hack Club better.

I also want to say that I’m really open to hearing your ideas too!

A couple more things I just want to add before going to bed:

  • I know you have best intentions, and I appreciate that. I am very much in support of candid, open, and good faith discussion around HQ both in public and private spaces, including around things like compensation (that’s why HQ’s finances are transparent and why I spent hundreds of hours manually committing our finances to https://github.com/hackclub/ledger before HCB existed!)
  • My specific problem around your outreach to people paid by HQ is that it assumed bad faith and exploitation. I’m 99% sure people are properly categorized today, but if there is someone that I’m not aware of, maybe the answer is that HQ is overworked and understaffed and made a mistake, not HQ is trying to exploit Hack Clubbers. A positive solution is much more likely if you assume good faith, both in how you think about the situation and in how you act on it.
  • The absolute best thing you can do if you want to make Hack Club better is to be the change that you hope to see in the community. Write code, organize events in-person, and create projects and spaces in the Slack that other Hack Clubbers use and participate in. That’s the Hack Club way and how to gain respect and influence within the community.

I also want to say that I care deeply about making Hack Club the best it can possibly be. That’s why I started the organization when I was 16, and am still spending every waking hour thinking about it almost 10 years ater. I am always happy and excited to have a conversation around how to make Hack Club better, and you can always DM me around that.

My response:

Hi Zach -

Yes, as you are aware I have been asking people whether they are independent contractors or full employees. The reason I was doing this was because I was deeply concerned that Hack Club is paying people below minimum wage (as acknowledged by you publicly, and misclassifying employees as independent contractors. This allows HQ to not pay minimum wage & strips people of employee protections. I believe to the best of my knowledge, that in accordance with the ABC test, which is the standard for whether or not a worker should be an independent contractor in both Vermont and California, that these temps should be full employees. The difference is not remote work & flexible vs in-person and strict schedules. See [CA ABC Test], and [VT ABC Test]. The recent HCB ops position, which is paying $12.50/hr & is 1099, is not outside the usual scope of business, and the worker did not have an independent contractor business beforehand. It’s very difficult for me to see my fellow members being paid below minimum wage and potentially misclassified. I want to see Hack Club thrive just like you and I believe that proving working conditions and pay for employees will do just that.

I love being part of this community, and thank you for it.

His response:

I want to be someone who cares about the community and listens to everyone - and I’ve been doing this for 10 years. I know you want to be someone who listens and cares about the community. Thank you for this message.

I thought about it and am happy with our level of compensation, our work arrangement, and believe we are paying people under the correct classification. The ABC test is worded abstractly, and there is interpretation and precedent to support the types of contracts Hack Club has in place. We have previously had our contracts with Hack Clubbers reviewed by labor attorneys. Anyone who thinks they might be misclassified is welcome to speak to their manager and we are happy to make adjustments if necessary.

I’ve heard from multiple people that your messages to them have made them feel uncomfortable. I think its great that you’re questioning, but I also think you have so much potential to build things for the greater good of the community here at Hack Club, not assuming bad faith and trying to catch people in “gotchas” That’s not what Hack Club is about.

Hack Club’s focus and mission is supporting young people to learn tech skills and grow in their leadership and professional skills. I’m going to spend my time on that, and am happy to support you to spend your time on that too. Otherwise - I won’t engage on this further.

My response:

I’m not trying to gotcha Hack Club - I was legitimately concerned about this. I’ve gotten feedback before that just ranting in confessions/hq isn’t productive or does anything to change the issue, so I thought I would just tell people directly. For me, seeing that HQ has openings and paying below minimum wage was a very big red flag for me, and I was trying to understand people’s compensation better and raise the issue with people instead of trying to make a long post in #hq and hope it goes away.

I’ve heard from multiple people that your messages make them uncomfortable

I wasn’t trying to make anyone uncomfortable, nobody told me to stop or that they felt uncomfortable. I would have stopped immediately if they told me to. When they asked why I was asking, I told them my concerns. If you could get clarification on why they felt uncomfortable, or what I could have done to make them feel better when asking that would be great.

But anyway, I wasn’t trying to “gotcha” Hack Club, or see anything as inherently bad faith, but rather I had a legitimate concern about this and was trying to do something other than rant in #hq.

End of conversation.

Pay below minimum wage

Starting Hack Club workers are paid a wage of $12.50/hour, which is below the California minimum wage of $16.00/hour, and is extremely low for skilled, high quality, tech workers.

They are able to pay a below minimum wage rate because workers are misclassified as independent contractors and not employees.

Hello and happy Monday everybody! :)

The HCB team has some ✨ exciting ✨ news! We have 1-2 HCB Operations Contributor 1 positions opening up on our team! This position offers up to 10 hours weekly at 💰️ $12.50 / hour.

This position has a 3 month contract period starting 12/4/23 and ending 3/4/24.

✅ Responsibilites would include:

  • Overseeing and processing HCB perks such as Sendy, Domains, 1Password, Hackathons Directory, and/or PVSA within HCB’s 24-hour tumaround time
  • Responding to emails about these perks as they are assigned within the 24-hour turnaround time
  • Meeting 1-1 with your HCB direct lead at least once weekly over Zoom (and be in contact regulary via Slack) to ensure perks ar geting processed on time and blocks are being resolved.

✅ Prerequisites:

  • Be either a prior or current HCB user
  • Be a high school student

If you’re interested in this position, please message me in Slack introducing yourself, and tell me why you’d like to join the HCB team! Applications will close this Wednesday at @ 12:00 PM EST. I’m so excited to meet you and excited about the possibilty of working together!

— Daisy

hey @alex (chaotic enby)! these 3 month positions are similar to a 3 month internship vs being an independent contractor. the payment you receive is not a compensation for work performed, it’s more so a stipend to help break barriers.

as for what governs internship programs and stipends:

  • you’re working at a place while undergoing education elsewhere
  • there is an agreement between you and the employer that there is no definitive promise for a job once the 3 months is over
  • you work on a temporary basis and agree to a fixed payment in lieu of your work

the fixed payment in our case is up to $125 / week and you’d receive a 1099 at year’s end. hope this answers your question, I know the official wording has been somewhat muddy we’re working on clearing that up!

— Bence

hey @alex (chaotic enby) happy to chime in here since this is something we’ve given a whole lot of thought to. we wanted to come up with a system that felt fair when taking into consideration that minimum wage drastically varies from state to state (and even between counties in some state!).

in vermont (and most other states) there is a different minimum wage for students (its 11.2/hr and 4.25/hr for the first 90 days). this is why you’ll note that our entry level positions for HCB have a starting rate of $12.50 and are designed to last 3 months. after three months there’s an opportunity for the contract to be extended and a discussion around compensation occurs.

im always happy to discuss wages since this is something i really want to make sure we handle well for each of our positions. if you have any follow up questions id be happy to chat more about this. feel free to dm me or post them here

zach chimed in earlier this year on a similar question posted in confessions if you want to check it out

— Mel

Hi, happy to respond to this. This is difficult because everywhere has a different minimum wage, and there are big differences in pay across regions, especially for students.

I also want Hack Club HQ to be very open and transparent around things like this, so please don’t feel like you need to ask this behind a proxy. Would be totally happy to discuss publicly in #hq or elsewhere at any time.

For now, Hack Club has standardized on a starting wage of $12.50/hr with opportunities to grow that. That’s universal across all paid positions in the community.

Please note that most places, including Vermont, have different minimum wages for whether or not someone has to financially support themselves. In the case of Vermont, the minimum wage for students is $11.20/hr and $4.25/hr for the first 90 days.

— Zach

Community Team isn’t paid work

Unlike every other team at Hack Club, Community Team members aren’t paid workers, they’re volunteer positions. These are skilled and trained community moderators that do many hours a week building our community, and it’s not fair that they’re not compensated for the quality work they do like the rest of Hack Club HQ.

Illegal volunteering

”Volunteers” at Hack Club often perform work of the same nature as employees without compensation, which is illegal according to the Department of Labor under the FLSA (Fair Labor Standards Act).

Typically, such volunteers serve on a part-time basis and do not displace regular employed workers or perform work that would otherwise be performed by regular employees. In addition, paid employees of a non-profit organization cannot volunteer to provide the same type of services to their non-profit organization that they are employed to provide.


For example, volunteer event staffers working alongside the paid staffers at Outernet is something that clearly broke the FLSA.

Outside of events, “volunteers” do lots of engineering work that would “otherwise be performed by regular employees”, which breaks the FLSA and they should be compensated for their work.


What could be done to fix this? What could be done to put members in charge? These are a few ideas of mine on how Hack Club could be reformed. Ultimately though, this requires a culture shift more than anything, a culture shift of putting members first.


This is the easiest, and most useless reform. Executives & team leads at HQ could be elected by membership/the team, as to hold them accountable to the membership or their team. However, this does not solve any of the systemic issues around transparency as the electeds can hide information from membership too, but it at least gives a path for members to gain control of Hack Club.

New bylaws

New bylaws (rules that govern the organization) are needed that bring members into the fold as the highest authority in Hack Club, as well as democratic processes for governance. Without these changes, Hack Club will continue to be a dictatorship lead by a closed Board of Directors.

For a solid example of democratic bylaws, see Codeberg’s bylaws.

Member resolutions

A process for resolutions to be introduced and voted on by membership is key to allowing membership to have full control over the organization. This will allow members to propose projects & events, get feedback from membership in an open process, and then members will be able to vote on greenlighting it. A process like this allows members to truly shape Hack Club, in ways only HQ can do now.

From the A false doOcracy with no member pathway for contributions section:

In other membership democracies, anyone can bring a “resolution” to a general meeting with a proposal for a project or event. They lay out the resources needed from the organization (budget, airtable, etc), as well as the timeframe for the endeavor. Once they made their case to membership, people can speak for or against it, and at the end membership votes on whether to move forward with the endeavor.

This also needs to be the only way projects get started at HQ, that way members must approve of each and every project - which serves to put members in the driver’s seat as well as being much more transparent.

Opening operations

All Hack Club operations should be known to members at all times, and members should be free to contribute to all Hack Club endeavors barring technical constraints. Members should know what events are in the works, be able to contribute to the shaping and planning process, and otherwise engage with the organization. Teams should also not be arbitrarily limited to those the lead wants which only serves to lock out potential contributors.

Staff unionization

A Union and a Union contract would be able to effectively do two things:

  1. Ensure all Hack Club staffers are paid fairly, treated fairly, and respected on the job. No more murky labor law violations when you have a strong contract and an elected steward to stick up for you.
  2. Break down staff favoritism through seniority, grievances, and the contract. One of the key things Unions attempt to dismantle is favoritism, which is a huge problem at Hack Club and it could be addressed by a strong, fair contract. See Seniority Basics by United Electrical for more information on this.

Letter from Hack Club Jail

I have now had some time to reflect on my recent ban from Hack Club. Initially, I believed a ban was warranted as my organizing was poor, not constructive, and tore down the community. New information has since come to light that shows Hack Club as fundamentally opposed to all organizing, challenging of leadership’s power/authority, and union activity. This is the story of how Hack Club union busted myself, my friends, and my colleagues.

If you want a largely unbiased run-down of what happened: https://hackmd.io/@alexjs/Bkm1KIpxR

First, I must confess that over the past few years I have been gravely disappointed with the white moderate. I have almost reached the regrettable conclusion that the Negro’s great stumbling block in his stride toward freedom is not the White Citizen’s Counciler or the Ku Klux Klanner, but the white moderate, who is more devoted to “order” than to justice; who prefers a negative peace which is the absence of tension to a positive peace which is the presence of justice; who constantly says: “I agree with you in the goal you seek, but I cannot agree with your methods of direct action”; who paternalistically believes he can set the timetable for another man’s freedom; who lives by a mythical concept of time and who constantly advises the Negro to wait for a “more convenient season.” Shallow understanding from people of good will is more frustrating than absolute misunderstanding from people of ill will. Lukewarm acceptance is much more bewildering than outright rejection.

— Martin Luther King Jr. Letter from Birmingham Jail

The context

ORGANIZING IS AN ATTITUDE Organizing is first of all an attitude. It’s the attitude that you and your co-workers together can do something to make things better. It’s the attitude that action is better than complaining. It's the attitude that problems are just waiting for a solution, and that strength in numbers is part of that solution. It’s the refusal to be discouraged—at least not for long. It’s the willingness to listen to others with respect, so that the plan you come up with reflects the good ideas of many people. If you have the organizing attitude, you feel it is necessary to respond to unfairness. You are committed to building power with your co-workers, not just talking about it. You believe in collective action and want to get better at putting others in motion. THE ORGANIZING ATTITUDE * Action is better than complaining. * Problems are waiting for solutions. * Solutions are collective, not individual. * People can be brought together to make things better.

Secrets of a Successful Organizer

Over the past few months, I had been attempting to forge a real movement for Hack Club democracy and potentially a staff union in the private channel #hack-clubbers-united as well as in a few Matrix rooms before that. This would be where we discuss grievances with HQ, share information with one another, and decide how to proceed to hopefully fix these issues. It was where we dicussed the issues surrounding employee misclassification (see Labor for more info), which eventually culminated in many employees being switched over. It was where we discussed the lack of open applications and transparency with HQ positions at the time, which also reached a resolution with applications for many HQ positions now. You get the idea.

Unfortunately, people (and sometimes myself) would air grievances in #confessions, which would stir drama, cause harm, but ultimately not do anything to advance the cause. I regret any influence I had in stirring that drama, and fully apologize to everyone who was mentally impacted by it (even I had to take a break at one point).

However, before my ban, we were about to launch Hack Clubbers United for Democracy (HCUD) as an open reform caucus to campaign and pressure HQ in a positive way to be more democratic, listen to members, and instead of starting drama, focus on building up Hack Club. We were going to be focused on building a strong coalition of members, a base of power, that could truly challenge HQ on these issues. I invite anyone else who want to take this on to do so if they wish, but be warned of the hammer that will inevitably come down on you.

The bust

Recently, #hack-clubbers-united was raided and taken over by Chris Walker - kicking out every member and essentially disbanding all organizing efforts. Everyone that I know who was involved in organizing at Hack Club was inside this channel, not just myself. This allows him full access to every private thing we sent, every tactic we planned to use, and every grievance we had. None of this was ever intended for HQ to see, and people that are not myself are legitimately disturbed by this takeover. We do not have access to see what we posted in the channel previously.

After this happened, I was notified by Chris that I am banned from Hack Club for a maximum term of 1 year. The escalation ladder provided in the Code of Conduct was not followed as I had recieved no warnings previously.

At the time I believed this was for causing drama, while an extremely long term, would be fair as I did have some hand in causing some toxic drama around these issues which I totally acknowledge and regret. I don’t believe I caused the bulk of it, it was caused by OPs in #confessions, but that’s neither here nor there.

As it turns out, as shown in the post-bust comments below, I was banned for organizing, caucusing, and union activity in general. This ban had a chilling effect on all organizing in Hack Club, as I was the primary driver of it.

This feels completely unfair to me, as I believe organizing is something we all have a right to do in organizations we participate in.

Post-bust comments

Here a bunch of comments from Chris Walker regarding my ban, the union bust, and their thoughts on organizing in Hack Club. Below each comment I have provided my commentary on what they said.

Up to them if they want to come back. And a year is just a ceiling, we are reopening the topic at the end of summer. What I need to see from reese is acceptance that Hack Club Slack is an operational space for a private foundation, not a forum for disruptive activism. Not everything can or should be a democracy.

— Chris Walker

This comment shows how by rejoining, I would have to give up my right to unionize, protest, and campaign for what I believe is right — they want to stop me from challenging their power in any meaningful way. I’m free to believe what I want, as long as I don’t do anything concrete about it.

The second big well-defined thing was the caucus

That was the thing that pushed me from “Ok we need to find a way to address this” to “Nope, this ends now”

The thing that I didn’t like in that channel was stuff about building a base of power, forcing our hand, winning things etc.

REESE: I think you know my views around what I think Hack Club should be differ from that

Yeah but at the end of the day if you don’t get the outcome that you want you have to sometimes accept that. You are one voice among many, and nobody forces you to be here

REESE: Community organizing like that is how large reform happens in organizations. Building a base of people to further change in a specific direction, is that not allowable?

It can be a problem yeah Like, protest/boycott… these are things that are not just a matter of voicing opinions. They work by creating problems for people in charge

And at some point you cross a line from voicing an opinion to deliberately creating problems for people because you think they are giving you free stuff in the wrong way

The way you can further change is through the ways we’ve always said are the way to do it. Build things, prove that they work, make your case, and sometimes yes accept the outcomes when an executive decision is made that isn’t what you wanted

REESE: Sorry for pushing this but I want a straight answer to my question though, am I not allowed to join together with other members explicitly to further change at Hack Club?

It depends enormously on how you go about it. But honestly, there isn’t a way to give a straight complete answer to the question when the methods involve things that do harm to the organization. The thing about conflict-oriented changemaking is that the rightness of it is ultimately not really separable from the rightness of the underlying cause being pursued

The issue here is that the persistent drama in the slack was doing actual harm

Is it justified? Well, depends on whether you think the underlying cause for the drama is justified

Of course you think it is, and other people think it isn’t

Which means that what is “allowable” ultimately resolves back to a question of who has the power to decide. It resolves—unsatisfyingly—to might makes right.

I’m saying that when it comes to whether a strategy that does harm to the institution is or just, it’s not separable from the question of whether the cause is just. So if we have a space where we want to allow all “just” strategies, is a strategy that does harm allowable? That is inseparable from the question of whether the underlying cause is a good one

— Chris Walker

Conflict-oriented changemaking is definitely one way to describe organizing, that’s for sure. In all seriousness though, there’s a couple ideas there that I want to engage with.

  1. This idea that organizing, protesting, using strategies to win, is only allowable when you’re right, and the only people allowed to determine if you’re right is HQ.

    According to him, existing power decides who gets to challenge power.

    This goes against the fundamental principles of free expression, as well as the fundamental principles of a community. People should be able to caucus, campaign, and fight for their vision for the organization — which should ultimately conclude with democratic choice.

    Here’s a great quote from Bread & Roses’ website about democratic organizations:

    A democratic organization is one in which members have power through collective political deliberation and voting. Direct decision-making by a membership body is one part of this democracy, and members should also elect accountable representatives to act on their behalf. In these elections, candidates should run on platforms that allow members to vote for or against them on political grounds. Members should also be free to organize together on political grounds to promote their vision for the organization.

    We oppose horizontalist practices that distort democracy into a series of endless meetings, replace accountable leadership with the tyranny of structurelessness, and drain decisions of consequences. We must make decisions about priorities and then commit to carrying them out.

    There is also no other method for large structural reform in Hack Club, because the organization is set up to deter large change by concentrating power in the executives - not in the members. No caucusing, no change.

  2. This idea that as a member of the community I have to just accept the executive decision and cannot meaningfully challenge it.

    I think it’s completely unfair to members of this community that they should be expected to obidiently fall in line, instead of having rigourous debate and organizing around the future of our organization. Challenging decisions is how an organization gets better, but from the perspective of power is a pain.

    This idea stems from the idea that the members are not the core of the organization, and are not supposed to be the real decision-makers.

I feel ultimately kinda mixed because to be honest I’m pretty relieved there wasn’t an announcement of Hack Clubbers United for Democracy, because then it wouldn’t have been like… a kafka trap where we can’t ask someone to stop because it’s silencing a person, it would be a narrative of like “You are busting a union”

— Chris Walker

I hate to break it to you, but you were busting a union. We were both actively trying to organize a staff union and organize a community movement to pressure HQ. The reform caucus was mere days away from launching, but we had been doing work for months before that. Honestly, what this tells me is we had the numbers to go public with our campaign and didn’t.

But if he’s going to be here he has to accept that Hack Club is a nonprofit run by staff who have to make decisions, and those decisions may not be what he wants

— Chris Walker

I addressed this with the previous long comment, but I felt it was worth spelling out directly. It is totally ridiculous that members are not allowed to meaningfully challenge HQ decisions. Members should be the highest authority, and should always reserve the right to challenge a staff decision. Staff is not more important than members - but in Hack Club, they are. Organizations like Hack Club do not become valuable to people through staff-dictated programs, but rather through deep membership engagement throughout the organization to build it from the bottom up.

What I’m doing next

I do not plan to return to Hack Club in the same capacity as I was involved previously.

I have realized whilst reflecting on my ban that collective organizations are important to me, I have been involved with them all my life, and will continue to care & thus be disappointed by Hack Club.

I have also realized that activism is core to me as a person, and if Hack Club can’t accept me as a person, why should I stay?

If I am unbanned, I will rejoin and likely attend events, but I will not be as active as I once was. I agree to not do any more democracy activist work within Hack Club, not because my views have fundamentally changed, but because I am giving up. I will not be winning this battle, so why fight it.

Instead, I am building up a new organization for creative technologists like us, Hard Fork. Hard Fork is a democratic community that puts members first, and values transparency, democracy & collective organization building. If this is something you are interested in, please become a member at hardfork.obl.ong! We’d love to have you in our community.

Hard Fork, a democratic community for creative technologists

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Made with ❤ by Reese Armstrong, the finest in Procrastination since 2007