DSA Convention: New Strategy for a New Era

The newly-elected National Political Committee with National Director Maria Svart and Deputy Director David Duhalde. (Peg Strobel, NPC member, not in photo) Photo Credit: Reid Jenkins

By Barbara Joye

DSA and YDS delegates from across the country set the organization’s course for the coming years, shared skills and insights in numerous workshops and joined in song during a three-day convention Nov. 13-15 at a retreat center in rural Pennsylvania.  The attendees agreed that the “Bernie moment,” which has enabled DSA’s accelerated growth in recent months – reflected in increased attendance compared to previous conventions, justifies optimism about the future of democratic socialism in the U.S. and of DSA in particular.

[Maria Svart delivering her National Director’s report (left) and Group Photo (right)]

“It was the best DSA convention I’ve been to!” said veteran National Political Committee member David Green from Detroit DSA. He was re-elected together with seven other incumbents, who were joined by six new members. Six members are now under the age of 32, continuing the transfer of leadership to a new generation, which has been underway in recent years and was also reflected in a significant contingent of YDS members and recent YDS “graduates” attending the convention.

Most previous conventions were held in major metropolitan areas and included an evening of public speeches and entertainment, but this one focused more on internal matters.  Notably, the delegates voted to approve a new, detailed strategy document, culminating a two-year period of dialogue and debate, which included numerous conference calls and a “virtual” discussion that brought together some 100 members last May. The document will be edited for style, posted on the website and distributed to members, followed by a much shorter version for use in outreach. (The previous document outlining our strategy was updated in the late 1990s.)  

[Intersectionality plenary with Michele Rossi, Natalie Midiri, and Jack Suria Linares (left) and Young Democratic Socialists meeting (right)]

The convention also passed the customary “priorities resolution,” which guides the national staff in its use of the organization’s limited financial and personnel resources. The priorities included 1) building DSA and increasing public awareness of democratic socialism through grassroots work for Bernie Sanders (but independent of his official campaign); 2) implementing the approaches to organizing laid out in the strategy document; 3) increasing DSA involvement in local anti-racist coalitions; 4) electoral work to defeat the Right while building the Left and a stronger DSA; and 5) rethinking our organizing practices and structures to facilitate our longer-range strategy. The priorities resolution will be posted on the DSA website, along with resolutions supporting local work to promote public banks, use of social media to build DSA and support Internet democracy, and a DSA Environmental Justice Network. [Update: See below for the priorities resolution.]

Two new working groups were established in addition to the one addressing the environment: one charged with reviewing DSA’s approach to international issues (including membership in the Socialist International), and a social media committee. Those interested in joining these groups should contact the national office.

The 2016-17 National Political Committee elected members are: Jared Abbott, Hope Adair, Theresa Alt, David Green, José Gutierrez, Elizabeth Henderson, Frank Llewellyn, Sean Monahan, Simone Morgen, Brandon Payton-Carrillo, Joe Schwartz, Peg Strobel and Russell Weiss-Irwin. The convention also voted to add two new honorary vice chairs: Deborah Meier and Bhaskar Sunkara. 

Barbara Joye is a member of Metro Atlanta DSA.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.

National Political Committee (NPC) Priorities Resolution Passed at the 2015 DSA National Convention

Whereas national conventions set the main political and organizational priorities that govern national DSA work over the ensuing two years, particularly the time and resources of national staff and the elected national political leadership devoted to these tasks;

And whereas the campaign of democratic socialist Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Party presidential nomination provides a unique opportunity to enhance public knowledge of democratic socialism and to recruit for and strengthen DSA;

And whereas the completion of the new DSA strategy document provides the opportunity to educate our members and interested parties as to the role of a socialist organization in the United States – and to recruit to and build that organization,

Be It Resolved That:

National DSA resources and leadership and staff time will be primarily devoted to the following five areas:

1. Building DSA through the Sanders campaign

To accomplish that task, the NPC and national staff, working with the national DSA Sanders Committee, will help locals and future locals to

a. table and canvass with DSA materials related to the Sanders effort

b. engage in effective recruitment to DSA of people who sign up through DSA tabling and canvassing efforts

c. organize well-publicized DSA forums (or co-sponsored forums) on such topics as “Sanders and Building a Socialist Movement” and “Building a More Racially and Class-Diverse Sanders Campaign”

d. develop broad, multi-racial coalitions that can continue the work of the Sanders movement after the campaign is over. Such coalitions are essential to building a stronger U.S. left and a stronger socialist current within that left

In fulfilling these goals, DSA locals and activists will emphasize in their Sanders work the need to emerge from the campaign with a stronger socialist organization (DSA) and an increased socialist presence within U.S. politics. The Sanders campaign has raised public consciousness as to how unrestrained corporate power subverts democracy. DSA’s task is to increase public awareness of the democratic socialist alternative to capitalism

The national organization will provide training in the skills necessary for this work including training for one-on-one recruitment

The national organization will set local and YDS goals to ensure that work is not only done but also evaluated

The national organization will consider (weighing our limited resources) organizing activities inside and outside of the Democratic National Convention aimed at recruiting Sanders delegates to DSA and at recruiting activists in the streets who will be demanding that the Democrats advance a pro-labor economic and racial justice program

DSA will also work in the Sanders movement to broaden the racial, class, and gender base of the Sanders movement and to build local progressive coalitions and relationships with organizations and protest movements that last beyond the campaign

2. Building the Organization by Implementing Our Strategy

Over the next two years the national leadership and staff will aid our locals in expanding their activist core – and the skills of that core — so that the organization can begin to implement the strategy document at the local and state level

The National Office (NO) and NPC will work with each local and YDS chapter to develop a concrete plan to build a more visible and effective socialist organization in their localities. Locals should come up with a feasible set of tasks to increase their capacity do “mass work” or “coalition politics” while bringing a unique socialist perspective to the work.  DSA locals will work to advance this socialist perspective through public and internal education and by injecting more demands for anti-corporate measures and non-reformist reforms into our coalition work. 

When possible, the national organization will aid stronger locals in developing their own projects that are complementary to existing progressive projects so that we can maximize our own visibility as socialists (e.g., campaigns for public banks or for financial transaction taxes to finance expanded public goods or for living wage legislation)

This work will include developing study guide materials for reading and study groups to discuss the strategy document and the issues in socialist vision, analysis, and strategy raised therein

3. Increasing DSA Involvement in Local Anti-Racist Coalition Work

To build a stronger, more diverse Left—and ultimately a more diverse socialist organization—democratic socialists must increase their involvement in coalitions fighting for racial justice

The NPC and national staff will develop materials and training to aid our locals in engaging in more anti-racist coalition work.  The national organization will also help locals to develop knowledge of their local political communities, as well as to enhance their organizing and political skills. Depending on local circumstances, anti-racist work may involve joining struggles against mass incarceration and police brutality; the fight to defend and expand voting rights; struggles for more equitable public education (e.g., campaigns to end “the school to prison pipeline”); and/or the fight for immigrant rights

4.  Electoral Work in 2016: Defeating the Right, while Building the Left and a Stronger DSA

While building the socialist wing of a stronger Left, we also recognize the importance of defeating the increasingly successful right-wing campaign to control state and national governments at the executive, legislative, and judicial levels. Such control threatens basic labor, voting, immigrant, and reproductive rights

Thus, our electoral strategy will have two primary components: building a stronger socialist electoral presence in U.S politics, and defeating the right and center’s unconscionable attacks on the welfare state, labor rights, immigrant rights, and reproductive justice.

In the summer and fall of 2016 DSA locals will engage strategically in electoral work, depending on local circumstances. Where Democrats face serious challenges from the extreme right, locals may work to ensure electoral victory over Republicans. Where Democrats do not face such a threat our focus may be either on supporting left-wing Democratic candidates in primary challenges against centrist Democrats or in supporting independent socialist and other third-party candidates (often in non-partisan local races) if they serve to strengthen independent socialist electoral capacity

In either case, we will use these campaigns as opportunities to push substantive issues (such as raising the minimum wage, expanding basic democratic rights and participation, reversing climate change and increasing community oversight of police) as well as to build ties between diverse progressive constituencies that can be deepened after the election is over.

5. Rethinking our Organizing Practices and Structures

We will also evaluate how our organizing practices and organizational structures can be best adapted to facilitate our longer-range strategy.