I couldn’t wait to get to convention this year.
I attended the 2017 DSA convention in Chicago as a greenhorn organizer largely unaware of the internal political debates of the organization. Arguments and disagreements largely went over my head, and I voted based on my gut feelings on who was talking more than what was being said. I was eager to go back this year with a sense of purpose and vision and knowledge to share. It was a relief to see promising maturity for our energetic and growing organization. Disagreements were largely good-faith and productive, members were eager to share experiences with and learn from each other, and we’re leaving the event with a sense of unity and camaraderie rather than confusion and apprehension.
As opposed to the Chicago convention, DSA went into Atlanta with broad agreement on the major tasks of our organization. The national level of DSA needs more capacity and local chapters need more resources. We need to engage with the Bernie Sanders campaign at every level possible. We’re seeking to be a mass movement that gets the goods for the working class, not an inwardly focused formation that acts as a gatekeeper for socialism. Our disagreements were about how to accomplish these tasks, not whether to embark on them at all.
The emergence of a multitude of caucuses and political lines within DSA contributed to these healthy debates. Bread and Roses, Collective Power Network, Build, Libertarian Socialist Caucus, and Socialist Majority—of which I am a member—each presented their own views of strategy, leadership, and tactics for the renewed socialist movement. These ran the gamut from a decentralized network model where the national office primarily supports local organizers to a vision of a cohesive and coherent national organization that leads as much as it follows.
On the whole, it was the latter vision that left the convention as a roadmap for DSA. Delegates supported resolutions that would empower the national office to build organizer trainings, help chapters fundraise and organize, and hire more staff. Measures decentralizing leadership, providing stipends to chapters, and delegating tasks to local organizers largely did not have enough support to pass. The roadmap laid out at convention is only complemented by a new National Political Committee that has representatives of almost every organized political line in DSA.
For me, one of the most fascinating aspects of these debates was the diversity in both ‘for’ and ‘against’ camps on these resolutions: Organizers with disabilities spoke for and against a resolution on accessibility, organizers in small chapters spoke for and against the ‘Pass the Hat’ stipend amendment, organizers from marginalized communities spoke for and against a resolution to start an anti-fascism working group. This was a beautiful repudiation of the conservative rhetoric we sometimes see in our movement, that pits socialists against each other by their geographic location.
The lessons from how these debates played out are important for socialist organizers. Our positive, holistic vision for the world is what separates us from liberal political formations that are constantly reacting to attacks or fighting for incremental change; we seek to forge a world free from oppression and exploitation, where each person can exercise their democratic power in the halls of government, at the workplace, and in the home. The most effective arguments at the convention led not with process arguments or factional grievances, but with the positive vision of democratic socialism. Whether you’re asking someone to join a union, become a DSA member, or get involved in their own neighborhood politics, this horizon is what animates and moves people. We’d be wise to bring it into every corner of the country and be absolutely clear about our endgame.
If 2017 was the beginning of DSA’s awkward growing pains, 2019 is the year we button up, get a new haircut, and finally ask out that cute comrade in math class. We’ve got two members in Congress and even more local legislators; campaigns for rent control, paid sick time, and new unions; socialist night schools; community gardens; kickball teams; and hundreds of thousands of people hearing the good news about socialism every day. Linda Sarsour, in her fundraiser speech at the convention, stressed the urgency of our moment and that we must seize this opportunity—not just for DSA, but for the working class of the entire world. We’re ready to hit the road.
The author is a labor organizer and outgoing co-chair of Twin Cities DSA.