July DSA Dispatch

I never thought the New York Daily News would publish an op ed from me about democratic socialism, but they did Monday! I’ve linked to it below, along with some updates from the national office.

But first, let’s think about the bittersweet and extraordinary political moment in which we find ourselves and our organization.

While the nation was transfixed with horror at the images from our borderlands, DSA members confronted Secretary of Homeland Security Kirstjen Nielsen in a Washington, D.C. restaurant and the video went viral. It galvanized us to organize a national Zoom call with the Immigrant Rights Committee, movement leader Erika Andiola and DSA member Linda Sarsour, and representatives from ally organizations Mijente and Movimiento Cosecha to launch the Abolish ICE campaign.

More than 1200 members RSVP’d to get on the call for ideas from DSA chapters doing direct action and to get organizing resources. For the last two weeks, the “abolish ICE eagle” art by a talented member has been seen in the streets and media coverage, as we helped pull the narrative around family detentions to the left.

Almost simultaneously, Pittsburgh police shot Antwon Rose in the back and then tried to assassinate his character. DSA members were in the streets for three days straight. While these demonstrations were going on, we organized a national civil disobedience training call with a Pittsburgh DSA leader, the Afro-Socialist Caucus, and Immigrant Rights Committee members.

That same weekend, dozens of members attended the single payer strategy conference representing our Medicare for All Campaign and spread the word about our second national weekend of action August 11 and 12.

Over 100 DSA members hitting the pavement in the Bronx and Queens with coalition partners helped Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez win her primary race against the Wall Street Democrat considered a possible successor to Nancy Pelosi.

And this week we continue to organize.  Our Democratic Socialist Labor Commission has a call for public sector union members to strategize post-Janus, and the National Electoral Committee is planning a call for members about our electoral strategy.

No wonder 4,000 new people just joined DSA. They see us keep going when it’s easy to lose hope.

Organizing is a roller coaster. But as a national institution rooted in dynamic chapters on the front lines, we can respond when disaster strikes. We stand and fight and bring new people into the struggle. As socialists we immediately name the enemy and we refuse to compromise on our values, vision, and demands. And we do that both in moments of crisis and during the hard and ongoing work of building power door by door, workplace by workplace, as the capitalist institutions around us try to grind us down.

In the face of the barbarism of the far-Right and the continued opportunism of the neoliberals, we are taking the opportunity to shift the narrative and build our power to fight for our lives.

It’s an honor to build this organization with you. We’ve heard you want more support for the grassroots. Based on your feedback, here are the latest updates from the national.

One: Organizing Support and Training

Field Organizers are now assigned regions, which enables us to build closer relationships with chapters and support state and regional coordination.

Anna – Northeast and Rust Belt
Hannah – Midwest, Plains and Mountain West plus Alaska and Hawaii
Ryan – South and Southwest
Me – West Coast

I am currently interviewing for an Electoral Field Organizer who will build on the momentum of our member Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s political earthquake inducing victory last week.

So far in 2018 Field Organizers and I have visited chapters and organizing committees in 28 states, from Louisiana to Oregon to New Hampshire. We visit chapters to listen to the grassroots and provide ideas and training to support local organizing.

Staff also provide training calls, such as office hours for members who are in the pre-Organizing Committee stage (after they have filled out an organizing interest form but before forming an Organizing Committee.) In July organizing staff will develop a new structure for Stakeholder calls (monthly chapter leader calls by region) based on feedback from leaders and grouped around organizing turf.

In addition to working with operations staff to organize the upcoming national convention and fall organizing drive of the Young Democratic Socialists of America, DSA’s high school and college campus wing, organizing staff have also worked with host chapters to organize DSA Regional Leadership Trainings in Long Beach, Houston, Orlando, and Minneapolis so far this year, and have several more planned, including Atlanta in less than two weeks. We believe trainings on strategic campaign design and leadership development are particularly critical as we dig in for the the long haul.

Two: National Harassment and Grievance Officer

After a careful search, we have hired a National Harassment and Grievance Officer. Paula Brantner is an attorney who has advocated for workers through Legal Aid at Work, the National Center for Lesbian Rights, the National Employment Lawyers Association (NELA), and Working America. She has a long-time association with Workplace Fairness, where she has spent 15+ years working with organizations to shift their culture, not just their policies, to be harassment free.

Paula has also appeared as an expert in many media publications, particularly around #MeToo, in recent months. She has extensive project management experience, and through her work with NELA is familiar with the challenges of working with numerous local chapters of a national organization. Finally, to tackle this task, she has assembled a team with experience in sexual harassment prevention training, sexual assault response and investigation and complaint investigation and adjudication.

Paula is charged with developing national infrastructure to train and support local HGOs and policies as well as investigate existing grievances. She is starting by finding out what exists so far in chapters so we can collectivize lessons learned already, and contacting all chapters with 100 members or more as outlined in the resolution passed at the national convention. She will also set up a national reporting process and publicize it among the membership as one of her first steps.

Three: Dues Sharing and Chapter Pipeline

Operations staff have been working to set up dues sharing infrastructure. We will soon begin disbursing a 20% share of monthly dues to chapters with bank accounts on a quarterly basis, retroactive to January 1, 2018. We expect to be able to begin after the July 21 – 22 meeting of the National Political Committee. We have begun to hold Zoom calls for chapter Treasurers in anticipation of the disbursements. Now is a great time to renew as a monthly dues payer since a portion will go to your chapter.

We have also been working to improve the chapter approval pipeline, by which people form organizing committees and then chapters, with a new tracking system and streamlined process, which should make it more efficient and clear. Once it is fully operational we will notify all organizing committees vial official email accounts. We’re also going to roll out a resource on moving from an organizing committee to a chapter.

Four: Internal Communication with Chapters and Members

This letter is the beginning of improved communication from the national office! At the end of next month, staffer Claudia will be able to dedicate her full time to internal communication, because she will be handing off her fundraising duties to our new Development Director.

Going forward, we will use the official chapter and organizing committee email addresses for the Leaders email lists, rather than the emails of individual leaders, to ensure uninterrupted communications. Remember to also check the member FAQ and the National Announcements pages on the national website. This is where we post NPC minutes as well as monthly updates.

Five: General Operations

National priorities committees, working groups and other committees now have access to Zoom video conference call lines and Asana for project management. Program Associate Lawrence is assisting with more streamlined support.

The national office is working on a number of other key priorities, including improving the membership lists we provide to chapters, better organizing the website, and generally refining our internal processes to support members and chapters while ensuring we armor ourselves against right wing regulatory or other attacks. This means spending adequate time on behind the scenes compliance questions. We have begun the search for a full time Operations Director to bottom line these expanded projects.

If we continue to work together to build our infrastructure supporting grassroots organizing on the front lines, we will be unstoppable.

As promised, you can read the New York Daily News article here: After Ocasio-Cortez’s victory, democratic socialists are just getting started.

I believe that we will win!