Hybrid Convention: Toward a Socialist Future that Includes Us All

(When the National Political Committee announced that the 2023 DSA Convention would be held in person, various groups and caucuses circulated documents presenting arguments for a hybrid convention or an in-person one.

Presented here are links to various arguments as well the perspective below  from the Disability Working Group. Lauren Katz argued that The NPC Must Approve a Hybrid Option for 2023 Convention, while former staffer and current DSA Fund Chair David  Duhalde explored what such a hybrid model might involve with a special emphasis on the option means for staff. The success of YDSA’s in-person conference in August sparked “Why the Next DSA Convention Should be Held In Person.” As the NPC considers the options for the entire organization, Democratic Left is happy to host the next stage of the dialogue. – Ed.)

Different caucuses are weighing in on what kind of convention DSA should have, but we in the Disability Working Group genuinely believe that disability is not a caucus issue. Disability is a part of the human condition, as well as a categorical construct in a capitalist society. It is a reality that everyone who lives long enough will inevitably experience. This ranges from broader oppressions defining disability as a lack of access to social and financial capital to more commonly understood medical conditions such as temporary afflictions like an illness or injury, as well as permanent changes in ability including the loss of ability that accompanies old age.

Disability intersects all aspects of our organizing work, regardless of whether or not we recognize those intersections as such. Often, conditions of disability go unrecognized by official medical diagnosis – just ask our comrades in the Medicare for All Working Group about the state of U. S. health care. Beyond disability as a medical condition, various forms of violent oppression from systemic racism, gendered constructs, and other forms of ableism have a disabling effect on marginalized people. These conditions “disable” us from fully interacting with one another and fully participating in our communities. The majority of the working class endures conditions of disability, from medical issues to lack of resources. This is the material reality of disability under capitalism that led many of us to socialism in general, and to DSA in particular.

When we propose a hybrid convention, we do not do so because of caucus affiliations but because living as disabled people under capitalism forces us to confront an uncomfortable truth: Those who have good health, the resiliency of youth, and ability to withstand the intensity of labor demanded by capital, can easily overlook those of us without those abilities or those of us disadvantaged by structures of white supremacy and discrimination. What may seem like a minor inconvenience to one can pose an existential threat to another.

A hybrid convention is an accommodation for those of us who are not able to participate in person. It is also an accommodation for our membership’s future. You may not personally experience disability in the year between now and the convention – and we sincerely hope you do not – but consider what your life would be like if you experienced any of the following. What if you:

  • Break a bone and require mobility assistance?
  • Get a serious illness such as cancer or long-COVID?
  • Decide to start a family or have a child you can not easily support? 
  • Must care for a loved one who requires your support?
  • Lose your job and inflation, gas prices, and plane ticket costs continue to rise?  

Would you still be able to afford your flights or gas to Chicago? Would you still be able to spend time away from home or from your job? Would you still be comfortable in a hotel? Would you at least appreciate the option to participate remotely? Would your chapter still be able to fundraise for you to attend? Would DSA still be able to provide enough financial scholarships to cover every delegate during times of inflation? 

A hybrid format supports the greatest advantage to the members of our organization who are currently facing or could be faced with these situations, and it provides for a contingency if social conditions continue to devolve.

With respect to the two statements from the comrades mentioned earlier, we would like to address two points:

  1. Hybrid would institutionalize unequal levels of participation. There can be no doubt this line of reasoning comes from a place of good faith and deep empathy. Unfortunately it also enables the worst aspects of identity politics. By replacing the concrete request for a hybrid convention from a chartered body of this organization with abstract proposals and suggestions of an imagined group of disaffected people, this argument serves not only to dismiss our request, but to uphold the status quo. We encourage comrades to consider the proposal put forward by DWG on its merits, and not to make assumptions about our level of participation, or the abilities of your comrades.
  2.  Hybrid is a difficult request to accommodate. We appreciate the level of nuance and historical knowledge that comrade Duhalde brings to the debate – the voice of (former) staff has been sorely lacking – but we believe this is ultimately an example of an austerity mindset. Positioning staff capacity against the access needs of remote participants as a zero-sum trade off is “reactionary” (we say this with love, not accusation), in that it proposes to “go back” to either in-person or virtual only. But we should not be one-sided. Instead we should move forward, embracing the modernization in organizing that the pandemic spurred,such as the mainstreaming of remote participation. Countless organizers improved their skills, built-out infrastructure, and broke down communication silos online during the pandemic. Many of those organizers now stand ready to work with staff to help realize a successful hybrid convention.

Having a hybrid convention requires going beyond the narrow standards of the Americans with Disabilities Act. It will most likely require spending additional money. It certainly requires strong leadership and a commitment to experiment in the face of the unknown. If we are ever to truly compete for state power and remake the economy, then we must continuously demonstrate the capacity for more and more sophisticated forms of organizing. 

We believe that accommodating disability is an investment in our collective future, and therefore needs to go beyond accommodating the relatively few who are able to be at an in-person convention. Whether you experience disability before the convention or decades from now, part of that experience will include the loss of youth and ability that capitalist society values above all else. Hybrid, by design, means that those who are able to attend in-person, can do so, but those who can not, are still able to attend virtually. If we are to envision a socialist future that includes us all, let us do the work for the future that gets us all there together.

 

The logo of the DSA Disability Working Group.
The logo of the DSA Disability Working Group