Student activists should serve the socialist movement—not the other way around: Against R-32

Danny H. and Nate K. argue that delegates at DSA’s National Convention should remove R-32 from the Consent Agenda. The purpose of YDSA must be to develop future DSA members and cadre socialist organizers—not to function as an autonomous student organization.

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In a few days, delegates to the 2021 DSA National Convention will vote on a combined package of resolutions called the Consent Agenda. The Consent Agenda is a package of resolutions that received the highest levels of support on a delegate survey, and only resolutions without amendments offered are eligible to be on the Consent Agenda. While the Consent Agenda includes vitally necessary resolutions like R-14: Committing to International Socialist Solidarity, it also includes R-32: Strengthening YDSA, which proposes irresponsible and reckless use of our funding in a misguided attempt to fix YDSA’s historical structural problems.

Before delegates approve an omnibus package containing this dangerous resolution, we should consider its likely impacts, including extreme costs, burdens on member time, and inadequate remedies for burnout. Most troubling, R-32 attempts to break YDSA into an autonomous arm of DSA no longer subject to the political and budgetary will of our democratically elected NPC. In short, R-32 threatens not only to turn back the organizational progress of YDSA but that of DSA as a whole. 

Extreme Costs

Let’s start with the cost of this resolution, which would be prohibitive in its own right.

This resolution allocates an additional $401,444.80 to YDSA annually per the Staff and Budget & Finance Committee cost estimate. This is in addition to YDSA’s two existing full-time staffers, who cost $164,000 each ($328,000 total), and our two part-time YDSA interns (estimated $21,500 each for $43,000 total). R-32, then, would bring total YDSA funding to $772,444.80 at minimum. 

Students aren’t the revolutionary class—workers are

Not including YDSA annual convention and conference funds, these staffing requirements still add up between 12% and 17% of the total cost of proposals contemplated by the 2021 Convention, or more than 12% of DSA’s $6.3 million 2021 budget. Such a large spending commitment is unreasonable considering YDSA barely has 1000 members—little more than 1% of DSA membership.

From Leaders to Employees

This proposal also drastically restructures YDSA’s leadership, changing the YDSA NCC from a volunteer position into a job by allocating $86,000 in stipends for election winners. As a result, YDSA members—the vast majority of whom are college and high school students—can no longer run for leadership without committing to a 10-hour-per-week part-time job. Thus, rather than alleviating a perceived burden, this resolution makes the NCC position inaccessible for many members. At the end of the day, we could and should use this exact same funding to pay for more interns and full-time staff for DSA as a whole.

A Band-Aid for Disorganization

This proposal from Bread and Roses is a misdirected and inadequate fix for the supposedly constant burnout among national YDSA leaders under the caucus’s political leadership. In reality, YDSA’s “low capacity” is the direct result of ineffective leadership at the national level—instead of organizing and developing new leaders to take on responsibility and grow collective capacity, YDSA prioritized quixotic campaigns like the failed “Cancel All Student Debt!” petition drive targeting Joe Biden.

Structural issues in YDSA in recent years are largely a result of how these types of campaigns have been prioritized and run—too much time and energy spent on unfocused national-level mobilizations and “days of action” instead of internal organizing and mentorship. This approach was just repudiated at this summer’s YDSA convention, where Bread and Roses lost its NCC majority, and our members voted to abandon the old national campaign model and focus on developing local pressure campaigns to strengthen organizational capacity. With this new approach, we believe that YDSA is well-positioned to organize itself much more effectively moving forward. Having already gone to the root of the problem this resolution considers, this proposed huge investment is simply unnecessary.

A Student Vanguard

But perhaps the most concerning aspect of this resolution is the effect it could have on YDSA’s relationship to the national organization.

This proposal would make YDSA an essentially autonomous parallel organization with unaccountable free rein over funding, rather than a section of DSA that abides by our democratic processes. The resolution explicitly gives YDSA’s NCC “decision-making power” over YDSA expenses and the “final say” on staffing decisions, transferring power from our NPC to the NCC.

But students aren’t the revolutionary class—workers are. The purpose of YDSA must be to develop future DSA members and cadre socialist organizers—not to function as an autonomous student organization. And as long as YDSA remains underdeveloped and disorganized, which is the real problem that this resolution seeks but fails to address, YDSA’s NCC should not be expected to navigate this level of political and fiscal responsibility. YDSA should remain clearly subordinate to DSA and all decision-making power over YDSA’s funding and staffing should remain with the National Political Committee.

We must vote down R-32 by amending the Consent Agenda because student activists should serve the socialist movement—not the other way around.

Danny H is a co-chair of Wesleyan University YDSA and a member of Boston DSA. Nate K is a former co-chair of YDSA Georgia Tech and an officer of Atlanta DSA.

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