DSA’s 2021 Convention, August 1-8, was held online in light of the COVID-19 pandemic. The 2021 convention would be the first “post-Bernie” national gathering of 1,436 delegates and alternates. Major themes included electoral orientation; internationalism; adoption of a platform; amendments to DSA’s internal operation; and the election of a new National Political Committee (NPC), the highest decision-making body in DSA between conventions.
Organizational reports took up the first day of business. National Director Maria Svart warned that new membership growth had “slowed to a trickle.” Secretary-Treasurer Kristian Hernandez noted a 60% increase in national staff. Written reports were filed and can be read at bit.ly/proposal-compendium.
Credentials challenges had to be considered, and convention rules had to be agreed upon. A delegate challenge to delegates in Portland, Oregon, was sustained, censuring and removing six delegates. Convention rules substituted Single-Transferable Vote (STV) for the originally recommended Borda Count, replaying the same change from 2019. As in previous conventions, this business put the body behind schedule and ended the first day without an approved agenda. Educational workshops from the intervening days can be found at DSA’s YouTube channel: bit.ly/DSA_Videos.
Returning Thursday, Aug. 5, the NPC issued a statement that one candidate would not be allowed to run for a seat on the incoming NPC due to a grievance situation that arose earlier in the week. Delegates put forward a motion to vacate the NPC ruling, which passed 726-333, reinstating the person’s candidacy. Having resolved this, the order of business was approved for the convention and the body continued on to the consent agenda.
The consent agenda, a package of resolutions voted on as a single item without debate, was assembled through a poll of delegates in the pre-convention period. Delegates voted to remove two resolutions from the agenda to be debated: R14 Committing to International Socialist Solidarity and R32 Strengthening YDSA. Debate on R14 concerned the resolution’s alliance to “mass parties” including Venezuela’s PSUV (United Socialist Party of Venezuela) and Brazil’s PT (Workers Party), questioning the record of these parties in power and the consequences for DSA. R14 passed 694-369, and DSA will affiliate to the São Paolo Forum. Debate on R32 took up the price tag of the resolution, ultimately flipping support for the motion, which failed 404-632.
On Friday, Aug. 6, the convention amended the constitution to strike requirements that the national convention rotate location regionally, but all subsequent constitution/bylaw amendments failed. Regardless of the political tendency of motion makers, amendments consistently won only a quarter to a third of delegates, well below the two-thirds needed.
On Saturday, the convention heard the outgoing NPC’s recommendations, a 44-page report submitted two weeks prior. Proposed convention/bylaw amendments were out of order per the DSA constitution’s requirements, so these were taken as resolutions and accepted by acclamation. The first-ever DSA platform was adopted, but a change to the constitution that would make membership predicated on agreement with the platform was voted down.
On Sunday, “priority” resolutions were passed by the convention unamended. These resolutions continue labor and electoral work in the vein of Democratic primaries and national campaigns for the PRO Act. Resolutions on matching funds for chapters and stipends for the NPC Steering Committee passed, as well as a resolution on universal childcare and another continuing immigration work.
Convention proposals largely approved of existing initiatives and did not stake out new ground. Changes to organizational structure all failed, preserving DSA in its form for at least the next two years. On balance, DSA stays the course it has been going over the last 18 months.