A Report from DSA’s National Convention

Austin DSA co-chair Ana P. reports on the Democratic Socialists of America’s largest-ever National Convention and reflects on the tasks of the socialist movement moving forward.

By Ana P.

The first week of August 2021, DSA hosted its biennial national convention. It was the organization’s first convention held completely online, with an estimated 1,300 comrades joining the highest decision making body of the organization to debate and vote on the vision and goals of our socialist movement.

Although non-delegates could not participate in workshops, there are plenty of excellent panels and speeches–from panels detailing how we build a multiracial working class organization and abolitionist politics in DSA to rousing speeches from Rashida Tlaib, India Walton, Jeremy Corbyn and Astra Taylor–on the DSA YouTube page.

Aside from hosting a virtual convention (which was admittedly challenging despite the accessibility benefits), DSA drafted and voted to adopt its first ever platform, a document to reflect the principles of the organization and define our political project a little bit better. We reaffirmed our commitment to the socialist projects of building class consciousness through rank-and-file worker power and a strong labor movement. We agreed on the importance of class struggle electoral campaigns that move us toward an eventual labor party.

The platform and the number of resolutions proposed covered a broad range of issues–from abolition of the carceral state to housing for all. As a growing movement, one of our greatest tasks is to synthesize a political program that effectively addresses this range of issues. We not only have to overcome the bleak reality of oppression and exploitation driven by the profit motive, but the atomization of our efforts to organize for something better. The list of short, medium and long term goals laid out in the platform may read more like a wish list than a concrete vision for how we arrive at a socialist future for now, but the resolutions passed show a growing consensus within the organization about the immediate ways to build power towards achieving those goals.

Among the resolutions that did pass as part of the Consent Agenda were a mass campaign to protect voting rights and end voter suppression in Black and Brown communities, a Housing Justice Commission to work on tenant organizing, Medicare for All state and local campaigns, and a Green New Deal that puts workers first. Despite their popularity and a clear national mandate, these campaigns will require a huge commitment of time and resources from our organization. If we want to carry out successful campaigns that empower working people we have to commit to organizing to make it happen.

Two resolutions were voted off of the consent agenda and debated on the floor, R14: Committing to International Socialist Strategy and R32: Strengthening YDSA. Surprising most of the Austin delegation, R32 failed among budgetary concerns about staffing costs. However, R14 did pass. DSA affirmed its intention to apply for membership to the Foro de São Paulo, an organization of leftist mass political parties in Latin America founded by Brazil’s Lula da Silva in 1990.

Some resolutions debated and passed outline specific campaigns membership wants to see DSA take on, like the formation of a national committee for reparations for Black people or Childcare for All. Others outline priorities like the defense of immigrants and refugees and Spanish translations and bilingual organizing. Still others reflect internal goals for our organization, like our commitment to building a multiracial, anti-racist DSA or a resolution outlining a process for chapters to secure matching national funds for staffers or office space. Winning demands like childcare, housing and Medicare for all are contingent on moving the masses.

The Democratic Socialist Labor Commission resolution 5 lays out a labor strategy that builds on the success of the national Protect the Right to Organize campaign and recognizes the key role of strategic workplace organizing. It makes clear our efforts in organizing within existing unions and points to the need for national networks of rank-and-file comrades within specific industries, especially sectors like logistics (i.e. Amazon) with the power to halt capital production. Finally, it once again calls for a full time labor staffer to support this critical work. After the same mandate came out of the 2019 convention and went unfulfilled, it is clear that national staff must be pressed to follow through with these plans.

Similarly, the National Electoral Committee put forward resolution 8, Towards a Mass Party in the United States. Electoral campaigns like Bernie Sanders’ presidential run or the many house, state and local representatives winning seats in places like New York have undoubtedly built our movement. Class struggle candidates are a priority because they can popularize our message and win reforms. Even in races where we lose, a well-run campaign is an opportunity to train new organizers and pressure politicians to adopt our politically popular programs. Finally, it underlines the importance of state level coordination in electoral campaigns–something we desperately need if we want to be successful in states like Texas.

Despite the challenges of procedural motions eating up precious debate time and the overwhelmingly broad program (as a chapter leader, I am definitely looking at this daunting stack of resolutions like how can we possibly accomplish all of this), participating in debate, listening to the same panels, and engaging with comrades in workshops at the national level connected me to other people across the country. Now that convention is over, we face the herculean task of implementing the vision laid out at convention to continue the work of winning socialism.

DSA is in a better position than ever to fight for the demands of our movement articulated at convention. At the 2015 convention, DSA had a little over 6,000 members. Today, we’re nearing 100,000 members and we’ve elected over 100 comrades to national, state and local offices. We were able to make millions of phone calls that flipped Democratic senators Joe Manchin (West Virginia) and Angus King (Maine) on the PRO Act, and we’re gearing up to do it again for New York Congressman Jamaal Bowman’s Green New Deal for Public Schools. Our movement is younger, more diverse and more energetic than ever before, and it is on us to do something big with all of that excitement and momentum.

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