The 2021 DSA Convention: Many Steps Forward, and Many Lessons Learned

2021 DSA National Convention

The 2021 DSA convention has come to a close. This weeklong event with nearly 1500 socialists around the country participating represents a massive moment for DSA. The Atlanta chapter elected 19 delegates and 4 alternates, and many of us had the chance to speak and voice our views on different topics.

DSA is unique from other organizations. Unlike most nonprofits, our funding isn’t from grants or large donors. Most of our money comes from ordinary member dues, making us accountable to our 85,000+ membership base. In addition, our leadership and political priorities are decided democratically. It’s this aspect where the convention is important. Chapters around the country elected and sent delegates to participate. Some of this was in voting on resolutions and constitution/bylaws amendments. Delegates also participated in amending and approving the first DSA National Platform. Finally, we elected the National Political Committee, the 16-member body that makes the political decisions for the organization for the next two years.

There’s a lot to process and sift through, and this article is by no means a complete accounting for everything that happened. But we will try to present the major decisions in as clear and concise a way as possible.

The Big Picture

ResolutionIssue1-year costStaff hrs/week
R2 – ReparationsReparations$37,388.923.5
R4 – Voting RightsElectoral$37,388.923.5
R12 – GNDEcosocialism$239,286.68172
R21 – Tenant OrganizingHousing$187,286.6840
R28 – Grievance ReformStructure$40,042.805
R31 – MultiracialStructure$360,107.9080
R35 – Spanish TranslationStructure$1,450.000
R37 – Medicare for AllHealthcare$170,334.0040
R08 – NEC ElectoralElectoral$755,848172
R27 – Beyond 100KStructure$187,286.6840
R23 – Childcare for AllElectoral$75,0003.5
R14 – ICInternational$81,487.202.3
R30 – Matching FundsStructure$20,555.605
R1 – ImmigrationImmigration$40,987.3010
R29 – StipendsStructure$144,416.000
R5 – LaborLabor$732,800.68172
Table created by Nikhil P

Our political campaigns cost money, and they require labor. When members want to propose a campaign for DSA to take on, they do so by submitting a resolution outlining the purpose of the campaign and the strategies and tactics DSA should use. Every Resolution has a cost estimate attached. In addition to paying for materials, digital tools, etc., DSA has to compensate our national staff for carrying out the labor to implement those campaigns. Since we are an organization built around the dignity and rights of workers, our staff are compensated with a living wage and organize within their own union, recognized by the NPC.

All together, the resolutions passed by the convention allocated a total of $3,111,667.36 to various campaigns and structural changes. This includes compensating a total of 748.8 hours a week of staff labor.

Of our political campaigns, we put the most money towards Electoral and Labor efforts. Our Labor campaign was defined through Resolution 5: Building Worker Power to Win Democratic Socialism. This resolution affirmed DSA’s support for labor rights through efforts like passing the PRO Act, supporting union struggle in workplaces like Amazon, and encouraging our members to organize their workplaces.

The convention passed several resolutions related to electoral efforts. The biggest was Resolution 8: Towards a Mass Party in the United States. This resolution affirmed our existing electoral strategies supporting socialist candidates who are contesting offices at various levels of government. We also passed Resolution 4: Mass Campaign for Voting Rights. As socialists in the South, we have observed firsthand the voter suppression efforts by the reactionary state governments. This resolution provides resources for supporting the right to vote and combatting undemocratic voting laws. Finally, the convention passed Resolution 23: Childcare for All. After being amended, this resolution gives the National Electoral Committee (NEC) resources to help local chapters campaign for universal childcare through ballot initiatives.

A less costly resolution, but requiring an equal amount of staff time as the Electoral and Labor campaigns, was Resolution 12: 2021 Ecosocialist Green New Deal Priority. With climate change already devastating communities around the country, this resolution empowers a national, working-class-centered campaign to build a Green New Deal. 

Breakdown of staff hours per week allocated by resolution grouped by area of focus
Breakdown of staff hours per week allocated by resolution grouped by area of focus
Source: Nikhil P

Other key resolutions included Resolution 1: Resolution on the Defense of Immigrants and Refugees and Resolution 2: Formation of a National Committee for Reparations to Black People.

Breakdown of expenditures allocated by resolution, grouped by area of focus
Source: Nikhil P

Beyond political campaigns, a large amount of funding was allocated towards structural reforms in DSA. These include Resolution 31: Multiracial Organizing, Resolution 30: Matching Funds, and Resolution 29: NPC Stipends.

Overall, there was a strong consensus at the convention to focus on broad, outward-facing material campaigns, and to develop DSA’s internal structures to reflect a more coordinated, growing organization.

The DSA National Platform

For the first time, DSA has a national platform comprehensively describing the principles, goals, and perspectives of the organization. This is an exciting development for DSA becoming more than just a loose coalition of leftists. 

The platform encompasses a broad range of issues, broken down in the following sections:

  • Deepening and Strengthening Democracy
  • Abolition of the Carceral State
  • Abolition of White Supremacy
  • A Powerful Labor Movement             
  • Economic Justice
  • Gender and Sexuality Justice                        
  • Green New Deal
  • Health Justice
  • Housing for All
  • International Solidarity and Immigration Justice

It remains to be seen how the DSA platform will directly impact both our internal- and external-facing messaging. The convention voted down Constitution and Bylaws Amendment 8, which would require that members accept the platform as passed, although it would allow for disagreement. The convention also voted against resolutions which would require nationally endorsed candidates to support the platform. 

Nonetheless, the platform serves as a useful reference to point towards DSA’s shared principles and stances, and may hopefully develop further at future conventions.

NPC Elections and Testing DSA’s Commitment to Democracy

As mentioned before, one of the unique aspects of DSA is our internal democratic structure. But sometimes, the disagreements democracy allows and protects can escalate. On the first day of convention, the delegates voted on a contentious investigation in regards to the Portland DSA delegation. This chapter had barred three candidates from running before their delegate elections were even held, due to those candidates’ political views and unresolved grievance investigations. The National Convention voted overwhelmingly to censure the leaders of this chapter and remove them as delegates. The message was clear – while political disagreements and personal conflicts may arise in organizing, they should not be used to undermine the democratic structures we are committed to.

Unfortunately, we had to revisit this topic just two days later, when a group of delegates released a document alleging personal misbehavior from three NPC candidates. Two of these candidates, along with two others on the same slate withdrew from the race (one of them would later re-enter). One of the three accused candidates, Kara H, refused to withdraw. In response, the outgoing NPC chose to remove her from the NPC ballot.

The convention overwhelmingly voted to overturn this decision and reinstate Kara H on the ballot. Although any grievance and allegation of personal misbehavior should be taken seriously, the processes behind this must be followed comprehensively and should not interfere with the basic principles of democracy and elected leadership.

In the end, from 20 candidates, we elected 16 members of the NPC via Single Transferable Vote (STV). The new NPC will consist of Gilman B, Jennifer B, Sabrina C, Justin C, Sofia C, Laura G, Aaron W, Sydney G, Austin H, Kara H, Kristian H, Jose L, Jen M, Matt M, Ashik S, and Gustavo G.

The full list of NPC members elected. Does not include ½ votes from YDSA co-chairs

Lessons Learned

The issues discussed at the national convention at times may feel abstract and distant from our own organizing. But there are a number of ways in which the resolutions passed may directly affect our chapter. Georgia has long been on the front lines of voter suppression, and it may be possible that our chapter will apply for national resources to help combat this. Atlanta has long been a hotbed for evictions and foreclosures, meaning that DSA’s commitment to tenant organizing may directly benefit us. Furthermore, DSA’s commitment to multiracial organizing and providing matching funds to local chapters could mean chapters like Atlanta could take advantage of greater coordination with the national organization.

Beyond the direct material outcomes of the convention, there are also lessons to be learned about how chapters across the country can handle internal disputes while maintaining internal democracy. We must not allow political disagreements to be conflated with personal attacks. And we must develop a culture of good faith engagement and mutual respect.

There is no organization like DSA. No other organization in modern American history brought together as many committed socialists under a member-driven, democratically structured framework. It remains the strongest vehicle for meaningfully taking on the corrupt, capitalist world we live in. If you live in Atlanta and want to contribute to the struggle for socialism, please join DSA and more than that, participate in our democratic structures. Help us build the left you want to see.