The Collective Power Network (CPN) is a caucus of Democratic Socialists of America. We believe that DSA has the potential to become a mass vehicle for socialist politics in the United States, and our members, all DSA organizers, caucus together in order to democratically develop, organize towards, and advocate for our politics within local chapters and nationally. Fundamentally, CPN exists to build DSA into a mass vehicle for working-class power.
CPN members organize together because materialist politics are fundamentally about power. We believe there is a tremendous opportunity for the socialist movement to become a truly mass force in US society. Our goal as the socialist movement should be more ambitious than to be a pressure group or a strictly activist movement at the doors of power, but rather a real force able to play a commanding role in movements, and ultimately to govern.
In order to do this DSA must become a mass organization organized along a party-structure model, one that has robust internal democracy and a broad working-class base with deep social roots that is viewed by workers as a credible and common sense vehicle for political activity. This would not be a party in the sense of a ballot-line, but in terms of how it is internally organized and its mechanisms for feedback and decision making. Such a party-structure mass organization means striving to have a large membership, a dues-based democratic membership-model, and an organizational form that creates cohesion and unity of action from the neighborhood level all the way up to the National Political Committee. For more on our points of unity and vision for DSA and for society, have a look at our points of unity: https://dsaorganizer.org/who-we-are/
Want more updates from CPN on Convention 2021? Click here to sign up.
Headwinds on the Road to Power
Our historic growth has taken the organization from 10,000 members at the end of 2016 to 95,000 as we approach the 2021 Convention. While we have worked to absorb new members and achieve our political goals over the last two years, our organizing conditions have also shifted profoundly as the organization confronted the defeat of the Bernie Sanders campaign and the tragedy and limitations of navigating a deadly pandemic. Chapters continue to struggle to identify, develop, and retain chapter leaders and core members, and even large chapters have recently seen uncontested leadership elections. Membership engagement lags far behind membership growth. The national organization remains poorly connected to chapters and often struggles to direct and support political work. Much of our organizing has been forced online for the past 18 months. Chapters are working to reestablish in-person organizing work, having to find new meeting spaces, and work towards political priorities after a deeply disorienting period. It is sobering to consider how many new members over the last eighteen months have never attended a meeting or even met their comrades. DSA’s rapid growth since 2016 generates tensions and disjunctures between our past, present, and potential organizational models. The uncertainties surrounding DSA’s structural opportunities are also colliding with multiple drivers of interpersonal and political conflict that threaten our ability to seek unity, agree upon priorities, and fight for our vision of the future.
Strategy is about Resources
As the 2021 DSA Convention Compendium states on its first page, “Strategy is about resources!” While each proposal for the 2021 convention provides a report of costs and staff time, our success will not rest on how many hours of a staffer’s time is provided for a campaign, but on whether our 95,000 members and their chapters have the guidance and resources needed to execute them. Unless we acknowledge our capacity, we will continue to fall short of our own expectations. We must expand our discussion of shared “resources” to include things like our members’ time, members’ skills, institutional and political knowledge, transparent communication channels, training materials, and technical resources.
We can start with the limited resource that is our elected national leaders’ time and attention. Nearly every resolution put forth for 2021 requires some kind of NPC approval, monitoring, or assistance, including things that are on their face purely administrative. It is not a tenable structure for long-term growth for a group of 16 individuals to be asked to take on all of these roles and implement dozens of new mandates. We lack an intermediary body with regionally balanced representation and strong chapter connections to tackle these administrative, coordination, and planning functions, thereby allowing NPC members to focus on their intended role: setting the political direction of the organization and strategizing how we can best wield our members’ capacity and power. This situation, therefore, requires careful consideration of how proposals will conceivably be implemented, and by whom.
Forging the Socialist Future in 2021
This resource-focused analysis has guided our recommendations below. There are some resolutions that we oppose, not because we disagree with their intentions, but because we believe that the material conditions, and resources allocated, are not conducive to success. We support priorities that we believe consolidate and strengthen successful initiatives, lay out clear and realistic frameworks for implementation, and orient DSA towards becoming a mass organization.
We, as 95,000 members, old and new, must come together to make some difficult decisions about the direction of our organization and answer these internal questions of resource management and structural direction. We have achieved remarkable growth, development, and political sophistication over the past five years. The 2021 convention is a critical waypoint in our path to becoming a dynamic and powerful tool for building multi-racial working-class power.
*CPN supports all the consent agenda items, except for R-32*
Should DSA intentionally organize with immigrants to build a stronger working-class base to win power? Absolutely. Is this resolution the best way to get there? No. Of the six resolved clauses in this resolution, one sets a national priority for DSA, four affirm political and moral stances on behalf of the organization, and one mandates that a national working group prepare educational materials. The resolution also calls for a staff position to execute the stated goals of the resolution, but those goals are vague and can’t be specifically measured for success. Finally, this resolution doesn’t incorporate our International Committee, which has a critical role to play in helping to build relationships with global workers’ parties and organizations, a role that will necessarily inform how we approach organizing in defense of immigrants and refugees. DSA has just sent its first delegations to Perú and Venezuela, and our IC has been strengthening relationships with internationalist leftist parties and organizations. It would be a mistake to sidestep the NPC-appointed IC, which all members can apply to join, in favor of a set-aside Working Group. This work would be more fruitful with deliberate intention and collaboration across the organization. CPN opposes this resolution, in favor of R-14, R-31, and R-35, which will all go a lot farther towards building organizational support of immigrants and refugees.
The development of a cross-caucus, multi-tendency approach to our organization’s labor strategy is exciting for DSA. But, as has been the problem for the last two conventions, we see again several labor priorities put forth with no accompanying structural conversation that presents a plan to build a DSLC through mass participation from all corners of the organization. The DSLC has only had two deliberative membership meetings since the 2019 convention and has started several campaigns and working groups: Save USPS, Health Workers Collective, Restaurant Organizing Project, Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee, rank and file panelists conversations, and the PRO Act campaign. This resolution recommits to these ongoing projects. While this work is worth doing, the lack of a cohesive, intentional structure feeds the same problems we see in chapters: siloing work, detachment from local organizing conditions, and a lack of meaningful deliberation on our labor strategy outside of the biennial Convention.
The DSLC should organize itself by industries and unions so as to better facilitate work, help foster and develop labor formations in chapters that don’t have them (most do not!) and develop structures that are clear, accessible, and open. We would love to see the DSLC be transformed in the same direction that the International Committee has over the last two years, from an opaque ‘national’ body to a robust, democratic, visible national formation, with accompanying local formations in chapters. We believe unequivocally that labor should be a core priority for DSA and that there is no path to a mass party that doesn’t center labor.
This resolution also requests a full-time staffer solely for labor organizing. But hiring staffers for particular issues or individual campaigns is not a realistic approach to building a robust, coordinated, national organization. Staffers who work on priority campaigns also have other responsibilities and relationships with chapters to manage. We support this resolution—we can’t leave Convention without an organizational labor strategy—but we also recognize that even more than a full-time staffer, the DSLC needs substantive structural reforms.
We strongly oppose secondary Amendment #2. Unions, like most institutions, are complex and imperfect. It has been suggested by some that unions are liberal reformist institutions that serve to stabilize capitalist crisis and obscure class identity by putting workers into collaboration with bosses via collective bargaining agreements. However, this explanation glosses over structural-materialist considerations such as the consolidation of industry groups like the Business Roundtable, racial segregation within the workforce, neoliberal economic and trade policy, structural unemployment in global manufacturing, relative expansion of the unorganized service sector, and many other factors. Until structural conditions significantly change, workers will always be subject to the confines of capitalist employment relationships. But unions’ existence within these structural confines doesn’t automatically render them reformist or retrograde.
Although unions often demonstrate a tendency toward regressive business unionism, they also present expanded horizons of possibility for working people engaged in struggle. History indicates that the presence and growth of unions has a destabilizing effect on capital’s power, not a stabilizing one. An organization’s ability to advance the working class toward self-emancipation comes down to the collectivity and solidarity it’s able to foster among workers. This amendment, from Socialist Alternative members, would push our labor strategy away from tactics that help us build a mass movement labor strategy and would be a huge step backwards for the organization.
CPN fully supports this resolution, which was also adopted unanimously by the National Electoral Committee and presents a more coherent path forward for our organization’s electoral work. Since 2017, DSA has developed an electoral strategy that has resulted in the election of dozens of DSA members to local, state, and federal offices across the country. Those class struggle elections have not only resulted in winning some direct power but have also raised class consciousness and helped built chapters. Through our electoral strategy, we have brought thousands of members into DSA and brought them into other democratically decided campaigns. DSA’s status as a member-run organization that wins elections around the country is a huge strength, and we need to build on what works.
R-8 is a refinement of the 2017 and 2019 electoral resolutions, maintaining our focus on local chapters running class struggle campaigns that build towards independent power. DSA can be and increasingly is a powerful, member-run organization that is truly independent of the Democratic establishment and donor class. DSA should continue to do what works and focus on what we have found to be most effective, like prioritizing the recruitment of Black socialists and other socialists of color and focusing on state legislature races over Congressional races. R-8 is the way towards more power for DSA and the working class as a whole.
Lastly, we oppose secondary Amendment #5 to this resolution, which commits us to a “dirty break” from the Democratic Party, prescribing that DSA’s electoral strategy adopt specific tactics towards this aim. But fixating on the Democratic Party, either as an object for conquest, a villain to be destroyed, or a group to split from is strategically misplaced and misunderstands what that Party is. The Democratic Party of today is not a political party in the sense of historical socialist or communist parties. They are neither funded by member dues nor do they have strong mechanisms to enforce party discipline on members who are elected on their ballot line. Therefore, we support continuing to strategically use the Democratic ballot line to elect socialists. We reject the idea that third party ballot lines are a necessary precondition of a workers party or that pursuit of independent ballot lines as an end unto itself. Our goal is for strategic campaigns that grow the capacity and diversity of our organization, bring our ideas to a mass audience, and reshape the political terrain upon which the workers movement operates. In most cases the Democratic ballot line will be the most effective tactic to meet those ends.
With no less than eleven resolved clauses, R-18 is a mammoth compendium resolution that includes a mix of political and structural directives for the IC and DSA. Yet while we support roughly 35% of the resolved section of R-18, we find the other 65% so deeply misguided that, in our view, R-18 is the most troublesome Convention proposal for IC reform that we can remember.
Here’s our problem: “Resolved” clauses six, seven, eight, nine, ten, and eleven essentially elevate the IC Secretariat to the level of a parallel NPC for DSA’s international policy. IC members would nominate candidates for Secretariat and would put the nominations every two years to a Convention vote. This hulked-up Secretariat would be empowered to unilaterally write statements in the name of DSA, enjoy “broad autonomy” to set IC standards and priorities, and rewrite the IC’s mission statement at-will—powers currently reserved for the Convention and the NPC. R-18 would essentially re-found the IC as a self-contained internationalist organization within and alongside the domestic socialist organization. It would significantly decentralize national DSA by diluting executive power by 50% and separating political leadership into discrete domestic and international spheres. Moreover, segregating the “domestic” from the “international” is another way to diminish potential worker power and ensure a future where a weakened left continues to be divided and crushed under the imperial boot of capital.
Additionally, we oppose secondary Amendment #8 to R18, which would allow the IC to establish Memorandums of Understanding with informal groupings of members abroad, rather than explicitly pushing international members to organize with parties and organizations in the country they are living. The issue is not whether or not DSA members abroad should have a stronger role to play in the organization—certainly, they should. The question is what form should that participation take? And how would it support DSA’s diplomatic and internationalist objectives?
We believe that instead of pitching DSA’s tent in countries outside our own, DSA members abroad should become participants in the already-existing left in their countries of residence. As detailed more thoroughly in our entry for R-14 and our recent article on the politics of competing Internationalism resolutions at the 2021 Convention, we would prefer to develop mutual participation agreements with our international partners where their members living in the U.S. are invited to participate in DSA, and vice versa.
It’s vitally important that DSA engage in the tenant struggle and should develop and strengthen the Housing Justice Commission (HJC) to better support local chapters and their ability to run militant tenant and housing justice campaigns—there’s also a lot to like about this resolution. However, the best aspects of this resolution overlap with R-21, and where this resolution differs, we find clauses that are either not workable under current conditions or encourage moving the most essential part of a militant tenant movement—actual tenant unions—under the purview of a third party. The creation of a wing of the HJC dedicated to legal aid is something that is currently—and for the foreseeable future—better off being provided by outside organizations already doing this sort of work. Further, it is extremely unlikely that DSA or the HJC has close to enough capacity and expertise to provide legal aid related to tenant and housing issues, given that each chapter has its own set of laws and regulations to contend with—some chapters may even have multiple jurisdictions to deal with. It seems unlikely that a small group of volunteer organizers would be able to provide adequate legal aid relevant to hundreds of different settings. While we believe housing is a critical site of our organizing, we prefer R-21 as the path forward.
Our concerns about R-20 are mild compared to our concerns about secondary Amendment #9, which doubles down on the directive to the HJC to develop a legal-aid wing outfit, and outright forbids HJC from organizing any campaigns unless they are specifically led by a autonomous, non-DSA tenant’s union. Strongly oppose.
Campaigns for universal childcare are undoubtedly important and should be taken on by DSA as a whole. However, like any other campaign, they should be pursued where local conditions warrant it and the local chapters have capacity to take on such a campaign. This resolution does not make an attempt to give chapters appropriate resources to run and win these campaigns or outline a strategy that could help local chapters begin new work in this arena. This resolution attempts to address issues with a similar resolution passed at the 2019 convention through hiring a half-time staff member. A half-time position is inadequate for the amount of work this resolution calls for, though, as even a full-time position would likely be insufficient to develop tax mechanisms to finance universal childcare programs across even one state. Additionally, this resolution dictates terms of staff pay, and even the most well-intentioned and favorable terms voted on by membership undermine staff efforts to collectively bargain.
Beyond financial concerns, Resolution 23 is based on a flawed understanding of why universal childcare campaigns are not more widely-pursued. While acknowledging that many of the specific internal and external conditions that lead to DSA Portland’s successful Universal Preschool NOW campaign are not present in large swaths of the country, the solutions offered by Resolution 23 are increased awareness of this issue and development of specific tax policy and ballot language. However, what prevents chapters from pursuing this or any other project is capacity. In order to campaign for and win universal childcare for all, chapters will need training on strategic campaign planning, support in developing leadership, and guidance in engaging and recruiting parents, childcare workers, etc. in our collective struggle. Thousands of dollars, research into tax schemes, and general consciousness-raising through another national campaign-in-a-box offered by this resolution will not be enough.
Amendment #10 to this resolution attempts to address some of these strategy concerns. It creates a $75,000 Childcare For All grant fund to which locals may apply to assist with research, legal advice, and any other expenses associated with drafting viable policy for local Childcare for All campaigns. It calls on the NEC to take applications and administer the fund.
This amendment, while well-meaning, is not feasible given DSA’s current capacity and financial considerations. First, 3.5 hours a week of staffer time is not nearly sufficient for the amount of work that this amendment alone would require. DSA has never, to our knowledge, undertaken this kind of funding mechanism. It will take an enormous amount of administrative, financial, and tax work by the NEC, a body we have no reason to believe has the capacity or inclination to take on such a responsibility. There is no logical reason to put the administration of this fund into their purview.
Additionally, there is the unfortunate truth that DSA has to make some tough financial decisions this year. As reported in the Convention Financial Report, we have consequential financial decisions to make this week. The constitution and bylaws changes are estimated to be $270,764.40. The resolutions we will be debating could come to $3,062,271.06. The proposals on our consent agenda could cost $1,316,931.22. Approving every single item could total $4,649,966.68. In 2019, DSA’s total income was $3,018,438,
Apportioning $75,000 of that budget to an open fund would mean that we will not have the money available for other campaigns, ones that are more directed, developed and, at this point, winnable. The amendment provides no information about what chapters could or should use this money for and whether it would help build capacity or education around the issue.
We hope to see DSA take on childcare as the serious and crucial issue that it is. However, this resolution, amended or not, is not the proper vehicle to begin this work.
Over the past few years, the NTC has been very disorganized, structureless, and lacking in political direction. As a result DSA has been severely under-equipped in terms of organizing technology, leading to a lot of redundant administrative work within our organization. We have dozens of different websites in need of maintenance and support, we lack a unified membership database and CRM (with national and locals using different email services), and the project to develop a membership portal for members to log in and update payment information is far behind schedule. As it stands, investing in better tech tools could have a high impact by improving membership signup and retention rates and automating administrative work such that staff and organizers can focus more on political organizing at the national and local levels. This resolution puts forward a concrete vision for the purpose and scope of the NTC, clearly defining it as an administrative body under the direction of the NPC, not a technology-themed advocacy working group.
This resolution is attempting to do a few loosely related things: provide training for direct actions, incorporate direct actions and boycotts into existing campaigns “to the maximum degree possible,” and perform a study to “to determine how best to fund and develop local and national worker cooperatives, community land trusts, and other independent institutions.” We question how valuable such a study will be if it is driven by a national resolution when the viability of such efforts will vary widely from local to local.
Further, the Red Rabbits working group established at the 2019 convention, which provides training for marshalls, operational security, best practices, and more regarding direct action, already exists. We also object to the statement that direct actions and boycotts should be incorporated into existing campaigns “to the maximum degree possible.” We should not become enamored with any one particular tactic, whether it’s a boycott, a sit-in, or an electoral campaign. Instead, we should choose the tactics that are most relevant to our current conditions and prioritize the tactics that will increase our ability to achieve material wins.
And we oppose secondary Amendment #12 to this resolution, which specifically puts this work into the hands of the Mutual Aid Working Group and the Antifascist Working Group and cuts out the Housing Justice Commission and the Growth & Development Committee, which would be far more suitable bodies to house this work in our opinion.
This resolution was drafted by the current Steering Committee of the National Growth and Development Committee (GDC). GDC was created in 2019 to carry out a number of popular resolutions from the 2019 National Convention including R-2 “Creating DSA Growth and Development Committee”, R-84 “Socialist Organizer Trainings”, and R-55 “Grassroots Fundraising.” This resolution recommits to existing GDC projects: coordinated national efforts for intentional recruitment, volunteer-led and developed trainings, distributed at-large organizing, and a national chapter mentorship program. This resolution further outlines prioritizing people of color in recruitment and development through political campaigns and demands that win clear material change. This resolution specifically mandates the development of a template membership pipeline that can be implemented in all chapters. GDC will also be charged to develop standard training materials for this pipeline in coordination with the National Political Education Committee and prioritize recruitment and development in YDSA. Additionally, this resolution seeks to formally integrate YDSA in GDC and place youth recruitment and development under the jurisdiction of GDC, which, in our opinion, is a more substantive investment in supporting and strengthening YDSA than R-32.
This resolution offers $2,000 monthly stipends to all members of the NPC steering committee. We understand the time and capacity that our NPC comrades must invest in order for the NPC to operate on a meaningful level, and we understand that the time commitment required to serve on NPC is a serious barrier for many members. As also happens in chapters, leadership roles therefore often go to people with the most time, whether that’s because they have flexible work schedules or fewer family demands, which skews the political perspective of our organization. But the revolution will not be staffed, nor will it offer its revolutionaries a modest stipend. Let’s not turn the NPC into a nonprofit Board of Directors. Let’s not throw money at an organizing problem. We don’t want to double-down on a dynamic in which the NPC is an administrative workhorse body, instead, we want to push for the NPC to be a political body composed of working-class political leaders. Above all, this resolution does not get to the core reason of NPC burnout: instead of throwing money at the issue, we need better separation of responsibilities and delegation of national campaigns and committees.
R-30: Strengthening DSA From the Bottom Up Through National Matching Funds for Chapters to Hire Staff and Open Offices
This resolution begins with the bedrock assumption that DSA will become a larger, stronger organization with local paid staff and local offices, and from there, establishes a “national matching funds program” to aid chapters in attaining their own local offices and/or paid staffers. A chapter can apply to receive 50% match from national for local fundraising efforts for these expenses if it raises at least 25% of the necessary funding and fills out an application which is outlined in the resolution.
The resolution as drafted is quite unclear on its requirements. It’s not specified whether the necessary funds are specifically for a single year of office space and/or paid staffing, whether the paid local staff would join the staff union, or whether chapters could simply rely on their budgetary reserves to meet this 25% threshold. And, there are no guidelines written for which chapters will receive funding first or under which priorities as fundraising progresses.
Logistically, the resolution relies on Chapter and National fundraising as the primary source of funding, not direct payments from the National Organization’s budget. The cost memo for this resolution quotes $20,000, which includes the staff support to launch this fundraising campaign (5 hours a week), but not direct contributions from National to chapters. According to the Budget and Finance Committee’s Memo on Costs of Proposals, DSA has 240 chapters/OCs and YDSA has 130, while the comprehensive cost of a full-time staffer is $163,950. Even if we contemplate a part-time staffer or relatively inexpensive, yet still ADA-accessible spaces for rent, the price tag for National’s share for a single chapter could easily be in the thousands. Collectively, more than 100 chapters requesting matching funds could be in the hundreds of thousands, if not millions. We do not believe that the single staffer (5 hours per week) budgeted in this Resolution could possibly meet these fundraising requirements. The total fundraising for 2019 was $490,460. The fundraising to cover this resolution would likely have to top this total. Even attempting a fundraising push this big could interfere or overwhelm other fundraising efforts in the organization.
Finally, this Resolution proposes that the NPC review and approve each application for funding. We believe that the NPC should be asked to do less administrative decision-making, not more. The glut of requests could potentially overwhelm the already over-tasked individuals on the NPC. We believe that DSA chapters should become fundraising, budgeting powerhouses. There is intrinsic value in having money in the bank. But this proposal could draw funds away from the collective organization to offer more financial support to chapters that are already better-resourced than others. We can do better. CPN opposes.
Certain parts of this resolution correctly identify the need to bring in YDSA closer with DSA work and closer to mentorship (specifically, the resolved clause focused on the YDSA Mentor Program is a positive contribution). However, this resolution’s primary goal is to hand YDSA organizational autonomy that fundamentally works against the goal of integrating YDSA more coherently into DSA. YDSA is an organization of 1200-1500 members, mostly students. We already employ two YDSA-specific staffers and give YDSAdisproportionate representation on the NPC. Committing to another full staffer is an attempt to alleviate organizing challenges by throwing money at the problem. YDSA is an important and valuable part of DSA, however, no other committee, working group, section, or national body has control over their own budget in the way that R-32 calls for, which lays the groundwork for more sections and committees to dual-power or third-party DSA, and effectively move resources outside of the collective control of the organization’s political leadership.
DSA does need a permanent organizing body built around Latine workers. However, in its current form, this resolution places critical work in a working group, when that work that should be prioritized by and carried out by the national organization as a whole. This sets us up for siloing by identity. It requests national priority campaign status and a full-timer from the national organization while maintaining an ambiguous relationship to the national organization, saying the DSA LatSoc Working Group will operate “both independently and in coordination with existing national staff” and the NPC. Similarly, this resolution would give editorial control of DSA’s national Spanish-language website to a board chosen by DSA LatSoc, thus moving an important national resource outside the collective control of DSA’s elected political leadership. Rather than placing the burden of translation for DSA National on a working group, we should make it a priority to provide DSA National with the resources it requires to conduct this work on an ongoing basis. CPN opposes this resolution, in favor of R-14, R-31, and R-35, which will all go a lot farther towards achieving what R-36 sets out to do.
This resolution should be read in the context of two key debates. First, the electoral priority resolution, R-8, “Toward a Mass Party in the United States” is a more comprehensive and thorough commitment to an electoral organizing strategy in DSA. The good parts of R-38, such as wanting candidates to continue movement-building while in office, are also contained in R-8. Much of the resolution continues practices the National Electoral Committee already uses, such as requiring candidates to be open socialists. Delegates should be cautious of some of the language regarding independence from the Democratic Party, as this analysis often leads to symbolic third-party runs, and misunderstands the nature and function of the ballot line and Democratic Party apparatus in the United States. Both R-8 and R-38 claim to continue the electoral strategy set out in 2019, but it is our opinion that R-8 does a better job and that we should not pass redundant and competing resolutions. CPN opposes.
Lastly, we oppose secondary amendment #14. As detailed in our opposition to Amendment #5 to R-8, we do not believe there is intrinsic value in running candidates outside the Democratic Party, a position we have written about extensively. Nor do we think that committing electeds to donating portions of their salary to the organization is a strong mechanism for holding electeds accountable. Instead, it will ensure that a greater portion of our funding is dependent on having politicians in office, which seems like a mechanism for holding the organization accountable to the politician, rather than the other way around.
Constitution and Bylaws Changes
Support if amended / Oppose if not amended
As DSA has grown so has the size of our National Convention delegations. With over 1,000 delegates plus staff, observers, guest speakers, and media to accommodate, it makes sense to revisit our criteria for selecting convention locations. The current mandatory rotation between regions may not make sense any longer and may be unnecessarily restrictive. This proposed bylaws change requires a more centralized location to be selected for all future conventions by striking the rotating regional requirement language. However, as originally submitted, CB-1 strongly suggests that Chicago, specifically, would be the ideal host city for each convention going forward. As a diverse national caucus with members all over the country (including in Chicago), we want to balance the concern for delegate travel expenses and time with our own desire for future delegations to witness how socialism can blossom across the nation.
Luckily, an amendment to CB-2 exists, which strikes the language that calls for conventions to be held in different areas and regions each time—and removes the original proposal language that is overly restrictive concerning location requirements. Importantly, this amendment preserves the original language requiring all National Conventions to only patronize union hotels and convention sites. By removing the regional requirements while still allowing the NPC some flexibility in selecting the host city, DSA will be best positioned to create more accessible conventions for all.
The rationale for this amendment is clear: The workload of our all-volunteer NPC is significant, and some attrition can be expected during each NPC term. When that happens, the highest decision-making authority in DSA, delegates in Convention, should be empowered to fill expected vacancies. CB-3 changes the method by which we fill vacancies: Instead of the NPC appointing replacements, this provision adds 4 “candidate members” (the 4 members next in line via ranked-choice voting, or positions 17 through 20 on the results list) to the NPC in an ex oficio (non voting) role. As proposed, CB-3 would have the benefit of ensuring that any replacement NPC members would come into their role already oriented to the work and with established relationships with their NPC comrades. And it ensures that the membership, through the Convention, would maintain full authority over the national leadership.
It’s natural to compare and contrast this solution with CB-5, which (among other things) changes the DSA Constitution to require Special Elections to fulfill any NPC vacancies. This solution is less than ideal, as elections require a suite of work, including candidate recruitment, off-season campaigning, promotion of the upcoming election, and an all-member electronic voting period. CB-3 is more straightforward, better geared toward leadership development, and far less expensive. CPN supports.
The authors of this amendment rightfully point out that the national director position is not and cannot be truly apolitical. CB-4 attempts to ‘call the question’ on this contradiction in our organization and politicize the national director’s role more openly but fails to grapple with the organizing reality of DSA’s national structure. The truth is that a tiny fraction of a percent of members who are actually capable, by the nature of their position in the org, of evaluating the work of the National Director—they are the members of the NPC. For a rank-and-file member, or even a dedicated chapter leader, the work of the national organization can often feel opaque.
CB-4 opens up the possibility of conflicts of interest, both legally and politically, by putting an NPC member on a separate payroll, even as it turns the selection of National Director from an administrative duty into a popularity contest. Furthermore, a minority on the NPC could hold undue influence if able to whip votes to elect an affiliated member to the National Director position, undermining the representative nature of our national leadership. Finally, and perhaps most concerningly, it also could strip DSA’s staff of influence over their own management. Our current system of depoliticizing staff through clauses in their contracts is not by any means perfect. But this is not the solution.
Our organization already struggles to keep up with the administrative work of a nearly-100,000-member organization. There is no way to measure whether CB-4 would meaningfully be able to achieve its stated aim, to hold the national director “democratically accountable to the membership.” In addition to the potential for conflicts of interest and undue influence as noted above, CB-4 also could bring instability to our organization by, like clockwork every two years, upending relationships between staff and our elected leadership. CPN opposes.
There is plenty to like in this amendment, and some of the contemplated reforms, such as the ability to recall NPC members, or the requirement that all votes not in executive session be roll-called, would be worth considering on their own. Unfortunately, however, the amendment to Article VIII is a total nonstarter. When NPC members have to vacate their role mid-term, there should be a democratic process for replacing them. CB-5 calls for special elections to fill NPC vacancies. seats. As detailed in our entry on CB-2, we believe that special elections between Conventions would be enormously costly and resource-intensive for the organization with little return. Our members’ attention is a valuable resource, too, and special elections also risk pulling valuable attention away from local organizing and ongoing national campaigns. Instead, we support CB-3’s solution to this problem, which preserves the democratic mandate of Convention delegates, minimizes disruption to the NPC’s work in times of vacancies, and is a more cost-efficient use of members’ dues.
Oppose unless Amendment #3 passes / Support if amendments #2 and #3 both pass
The National Organizing Committee amendments proposed originally get a lot right. They create a large “legislative” governing body that can serve as a regular intermediary between more local and regional chapters in DSA and the national organizing. This amendment is offered by DSA members who believe that the NOC as written is likely the ideal future organizational and governing structure for DSA, one that is similar to the governing structures of many mass socialist organizations and parties around the world.
However, CB-6 suffers in that the structure it offers is premature: it creates a body made up of state or regional representatives when DSA is not yet organized along state and regional lines. It further provides this wholly new body with an exceptional power that is currently reserved only for the National Convention: the ability to change the organization’s bylaws between conventions. It should be clear that such a power should be granted only very thoughtfully, and certainly not to a body that currently has no track record of making any decisions, much less governing the organization.
Two amendments to CB-6 have been offered: One (Secondary Amendment #3) removes the ability of the NOC to change our bylaws. The primary authors of CB-6 have indicated that they support Amendment #3, and CPN does as well, as a minimum amendment. We strongly oppose establishing the National Organizing Committee unless Amendment #3 passes.
The second amendment (Secondary Amendment #2) is co-authored by CPN members and endorsed by CPN and grants the NOC solely advisory power “if fewer than 80% of DSA members and two-thirds of DSA Chapters are represented by existing state or regional organizations.” As amended by #2, CB-6 would maintain the NOC as the organizational structure that DSA should build into, while not granting the NOC any non-advisory powers until DSA has reached a level of organizational complexity to support it. Just as we need a NOC-like legislative body to serve as an intermediary between chapters and the NPC, we also need regional and statewide structures to run democratic and effective cross-chapter campaigns and to provide a constituency for NOC delegates to be accountable to.
CPN has long argued for the creation of intermediate state and regional organizations to tie chapters together as an intermediate body between local chapters and the national organization and offered a resolution and bylaws amendment at the 2019 National Convention to prioritize building these organizations. Those questions were tabled by the Convention, but CPN members have since prioritized building such state and regional organizations in the regions we live in. We think that DSA should further prioritize helping these state and regional organizations work effectively and maintain a consistent role within the organization across the country, prior to regions becoming formal constituencies for national. We believe building these intermediate bodies first, prior to establishing a powerful legislative NOC, will provide members with the governing and leadership experience necessary to make the NOC an effective body.
CB-7 attempts to enshrine Single Transferable Vote (i.e.proportional representation) in our constitution as the standard system for all internal elections. STV is a valuable tool to protect the rights of minority opinions within our big-tent organization. However, using STV for all elections would be naive and impractical. In a healthy, developed chapter where members can work together despite disagreements, it may be sensible for two groups that have a 60/40 split within the membership to have a similar 60/40 representation on the chapter’s steering committee. In smaller or less active chapters, however, STV could be used to guarantee someone a seat in leadership based solely on support from a tiny clique of friends despite widespread disapproval from the collective membership. In the worst-case scenario, this amendment could worsen factionalism and in-fighting and cause serious dysfunction in chapters, while providing membership with no recourse other than the most extreme actions of recall or expulsion. Ultimately, different chapters face different internal political conditions and should be free to determine their own election logistics. CPN opposes.
A-8 raises and answers a valuable political question: Why does the organization need to adopt a platform in the first place? Post-Bernie, our organization has struggled to find coherent and strategic political direction. A platform addresses that head-on by clearly articulating what it means to be a DSA member in 2021. A political platform can turn DSA into a more coherent, more disciplined organization, and one that is more capable of fighting with necessary unity for working-class interests. By explicitly tying DSA membership to acceptance of the national platform, it clarifies the boundaries of our big-tent and enshrines in our constitution the democratically adopted and mutually agreed-upon political stances of the organization across a variety of issue areas. While this bylaw amendment would not necessarily be easy to enforce, it would give the organization grounds to censure members who act in direct opposition to our values by, for example, organizing against the deepening and strengthening of democracy, the abolition of white supremacy, or housing for all. This is a simple change that will help to better articulate a baseline of political agreement in DSA, something that will make our fight for a better world more viable. CPN supports.
Want more updates from CPN on Convention 2021? Click here to sign up.