Atlanta DSA Sharpens Focus on Electoral and Labor Organizing

On Saturday, September 24th, DSA members from across the Metro Atlanta area gathered for our chapter’s 2022 Local Convention. Over four hours, members strategized together in organizing workshops, debated political perspectives, and collectively decided on priorities for the next year. Going into 2023, Atlanta DSA is more ready than ever to fight for a democratic society.

 

Preparing for our first in-person “Convention”

What is our convention and why does it matter? As a democratic organization, Atlanta DSA holds annual conventions to elect officers and discuss political strategy. Our annual convention is the most important meeting of the year, so local organizers put a lot of effort into advertising the main event to members, in addition to facilitating pre-convention discussions ahead of the big day.

Prior to the pandemic, the only element that distinguished our larger annual meetings from monthly membership meetings was the election of new chapter leadership – we didn’t even use the term “Convention” before COVID. Back then, our chapter was structured around a “working group” model, meaning that organizing was concentrated in self-selecting, issue-based groups accountable only to the most-involved or -available activists. Due to recent bylaws changes, now all Atlanta DSA committees and campaigns need to be approved by a membership vote every 12 months to continue operating. So for this Convention, all groups were asked to work together to draft resolutions as guiding strategy documents and practical work plans for the next year. 

This process encouraged our organizers to re-assess their practices and responsibilities, and it also ensured that our organizing is accountable to the rank-and-file — every member had a right to speak and vote on what priorities and committees we should have. Thanks to this new practice, the 2022 Convention built consensus among members regarding how different campaigns and projects fit into the bigger picture of our collective strategy, and also enabled us to make changes to improve our day-to-day organizing.

Earlier in February, members voted to stop holding “hybrid” meetings, which were plagued by technical difficulties and awkward interactions. Instead, we use a proxy vote system that ensures all members are represented even if they can’t attend a specific meeting. As a result, Atlanta DSA has been holding in-person membership meetings for most of the year, which have proven an excellent opportunity for members to build community and comradeship in addition to our business and strategy discussions.

Many of our organizers had a very negative opinion of our fully-online delegate experience at DSA’s 2021 National Convention, so we wanted to make our Convention as engaging and inspiring as possible. The chapter decided to hold the Convention in-person and invest in promoting it a month in advance, so this was more of an escalation than an experiment. We still took COVID seriously by reserving a spacious venue and advertising masks and vaccines as mandatory for attendance, although people could take off their mask when speaking at a microphone.

 

The big day

The Convention started off with tributes to two members who recently passed away: Milt Tambor, the long-distance runner for democratic socialism who founded Atlanta DSA in 2005, and Marshall Rancifer, a steadfast advocate for Atlanta’s homeless community. Both organizers are major inspirations for our work, and we’re hopeful that the next generation of young socialists will carry forward the torch and continue the same struggle for social justice in Atlanta for years to come.

For the first order of business at the Convention, we discussed potential priorities. Atlanta DSA has a priority resolution system where “Chapter Priorities” receive additional resources and funding compared to our other committees and projects. Members voted to prioritize both electoral and labor organizing after contentious but comradely debate on a few amendments. 

Regarding electoral organizing, the Convention adopted a “class struggle elections” perspective. Members set a long-term goal of building an “independent working class political party,” and voted to specifically call out the anti-democratic nature of Georgia’s constitutional regime. Atlanta DSA is the largest DSA chapter in the deep-red south, so we’re working in a political environment that is often more difficult than the rest of DSA. At the time of this article’s writing, chapter members were hard at work getting out the vote to push Republicans out of government and clear obstacles out of the path toward progress. The midterm results weren’t what we wanted, but chapter members will work on voter turnout for the runoff election on December 6.  We plan to continue our political advocacy work in the Spring 2023 Georgia legislative session, particularly focusing on the fight to reclaim abortion rights. Looking forward, we are especially hopeful about drafting a member to run for office in the next election cycle.

On labor organizing, most of the discussion centered on our relationship to trade union leadership. Members adopted an amendment declaring our “full support and solidarity with rank and file union members in the militant defense and expansion of their rights in the workplace and society at large.” As a uniquely independent organization, Atlanta DSA plans to provide outside support, mentorship, and solidarity to unions. We’re planning to assist the self-organization of workers in hot shops at Amazon and Starbucks, and also support existing militant union campaigns already underway, like at UPS.

 

Takeaways

Although there were some amendment votes on labor and electoral strategy, the main debates centered on theoretical questions, not practical ones. Overall, the members at Convention were very unified around our chapter’s clearly “Democratic-Socialist” worldview. But even without major divisions to resolve, the discussions themselves were essential to build a sense of collective ownership over our strategy and mission. We dedicated about an hour toward workshops on our electoral and labor work, and even though these roundtable discussions didn’t have formal votes, they brought dozens of new or previously disengaged members into active involvement in our electoral and labor committees. We also had a great workshop with some of our elder members on the history of DSA, going back to its founding as a merger between DSOC and NAM, which was immensely valuable and educational for younger members who joined in the past few years.

In terms of internal structure, our biggest change was the creation of a new Operations Committee. Instead of continuing disparate Records, Finance, and Tech Committees, the groups were merged into a larger body, partially inspired by the Administrative Committee (AdCom) of Metro DC DSA. These existing administrative committees were transitioned into subcommittees with different portfolios of work under the more general Operations Committee, which now coordinates the day-to-day administrative work of our organizing, like reimbursing organizers for project expenses, renting event spaces, or organizing textbanks.

Finally, one of the last subjects of discussion was a resolution on coalition strategy. We affirmed the importance of coalition work to leverage the power of mass movements in the fight for collective liberation. We set our focus on the most progressive and class-conscious workers in Atlanta: Bernie supporters, union members, Black Lives Matter protesters, and reproductive  rights activists.

In our collaboration with external organizations, we plan to pursue a “united front” strategy to ally with non-socialist workers and organizations with whom we agree on specific issues – while always maintaining our own independent socialist identity and stances. For example, Atlanta DSA is supporting workers unionizing at Starbucks even if they aren’t socialist because we want to help grow the labor movement. Over time, we want to grow a larger community of progressive and labor organizations in the Atlanta area as part of building a broad, working-class movement for equality and social justice.

In 2023, Atlanta DSA is committed to rebuilding the labor movement, reclaiming abortion rights, and fighting for a truly democratic society. We have a world to win together. Let’s get to organizing!