Spring Platform – Part 2

The following proposals have been added to the Spring Platform as of July 6th, 2017. They were developed by a collaboration between the Spring Platform Crew, Jared Abbott of Boston DSA, and Sean Monahan of Rhode Island DSA.

  1. Petition Process for Debate: This amendment to the National DSA constitution creates a mechanism wherein 20% of locals or 8% of members can petition the NPC to take up an important issue and debate it out in the open, with reports back to the membership. This will give the membership of the organization a much greater say in the running of the national organization between biannual conventions, while increasing transparency and helping to keep the NPC accountable to members and locals. Importantly, the process of petitioning and publicly debating issues across locals and among national leaders will foster a culture of internal organizing and transparency, while also encouraging members to be more engaged and national leaders to be more inclusive with important decision-making processes. Finally, such a culture of open and inclusive debate and deliberation will contribute to the education of members in DSA politics and strategy, so they know why we are taking this or that course of action, and are equipped to critique and protest if needed.
  2. Reviving the National Advisory Committee:  Article IX of the DSA Constitution reads:

    Section 1. Members of the National Advisory Committee shall be available to consult with the NPC and the officers of the organization. It shall, however, have no decision- making authority.
    Section 2. Members of the National Advisory Committee shall be chosen by the NPC and must be members of the Democratic Socialists of America. In electing members to the NAC, the NPC shall act so as to ensure fair representation of women and minorities.The National Advisory Committee (NAC) has not been active for many years and we think it’s important to bring it back. The body, which could consist of representatives from each chapter or from different regions and constituencies, will allow for much better communication between the NPC and locals. Currently, the only regular and direct communication between national and locals takes the form of email blasts and surveys, occasional check-in calls with DSA mentors and sporadic ad hoc or informal interactions.In the long-term, we would like to use the NAC to build the foundation for a congressional system in DSA, where all established locals elect a member to serve as a designated point-person translating information from the local to the national and national to the local.With the NAC, the NPC could be much more transparent and accountable to locals, having to engage with the NAC, hold joint discussions with them, and much more regularly share information, answer questions, and respond to concerns.
  3. Internal Bulletin/Debates: While many DSAers across the country are actively engaged in critical debates around socialist theory and strategy online, in print and in conversation with each other, DSA currently lacks any forum for sustained and structured organization-wide debate around key strategic and theoretical questions. Our various publications (Democratic Left, DL blog, Talkin’ Union, etc.) do offer important updates on DSA’s organizing work and provide useful analyses of various political questions from DSAers and fellow travelers, but none allows DSAers with different strategic and tactical perspectives to engage each other directly and publicly around key organizational questions. This both inhibits the degree of internal democracy within DSA as well as limits our capacity for effective organizational decision-making. To begin the process of remedying this situation, we propose a monthly or bimonthly internal discussion bulletin that curates key debates within DSA and offers a center of gravity around which important organizational questions may be debated. We also propose quarterly debates around DSA’s highest-priority strategic questions that will consist of quarterly recorded debates between 3-4  DSA leaders representing the range of perspectives on a given issue within DSA and which will include extended Q & A based on questions taken from DSA members.
  4. Strategy Discussion: While internal bulletins and debates will certainly help to raise the level and quality of structure of democratic debate within DSA, they allow for only minimal participation of DSA’s membership. This is a problem both because radical democracy depends both on the full participation by our membership in key organizational decision-making, and also because political analysis and debate is a skill that must be learned through practice. Consequently, we view the cultivation of an internal culture of active political debate to be an essential educational tool for our membership. To this end, we propose that DSA develop a yearly process of organization-wide strategy discussions around key organizational questions leading up DSA’s annual national meetings (currently DSA holds conventions every other year and does not have a national gathering in off years, we propose to change this below). This process would consist of monthly conference calls or videoconferences around a different strategic or theoretical question each month for the 4-6 months leading up to a given DSA national meeting. All DSA leaders and activists will be encouraged to participate on the calls, and would be provided with key background readings and questions for discussion leading up to each set of calls. These calls would culminate in state or regional-level meetups where DSAers from a given area can come together to discuss and debate the key issues coming out of the previous 4-6 months of strategic debate and discussion, and each state/regional-level meetup will be joined together through a virtual conference where the state/regional meetups can engage in debate and discussion with each other. This process will serve both to increase the critical strategic and theoretical skills needed by all DSA members as well as ensure broad conversation occurs across DSA around key strategic and organizational questions.
  5. Caucuses: DSA prides itself on being a multi-tendency political organization, but for most of its history it has also actively discouraged the development of distinct political tendencies within DSA out of concern over the potential divisiveness they might produce and a feeling that theoretical debates around key strategic and theoretical questions were unwelcome distractions from the business of organizing. Yet in the absence of organized tendencies key political questions are resolved largely based on staff and elected leaders interpreting what the “mainstream” political views of DSA are, and key strategic differences within the organization are never discussed explicitly. This results not only in undemocratic decision-making (similar to the way the absence of political parties undermines the effective aggregation of political preferences among a given electorate), but also produces limited clarity among DSA’s membership about the key issues facing the organization and strategic incoherence around DSA’s political decision-making. We will work to facilitate the development of a range of political caucuses in the organization that will both provide critical educational spaces for DSAers to develop their political perspectives as well as serve the invaluable function of aggregating the political preferences of DSAers into coherent programs that will give substantive voice to the full range of political perspectives within DSA.
  6. Reviving the Activist Conference: Article 7 of the DSA Constitution establishes a “National Activist Conference” to be held in off years between DSA’s biannual convention. The text reads as follows:Section 1. A National Activist Conference shall be held at least once between Conventions in the year in which a Convention is not held.Section 2. The National Activist Conference shall include the officers of the National organization, the members of the National Political Committee, Chairs of Commissions, the Honorary Chairs and Vice-Chairs, two delegates selected by each Local, and any additional DSA members who want to attend.

    Section 3. The Conference Planning Committee for the National Activist Conference shall include members of the NPC, chairs of Commissions and a Youth Section representative.

    The national activist conference has not been held in decades, with the result being that DSAers only have a chance to gather once every two years. This places an undue burden on the DSA convention to serve both as a space for activist training, theory development and political debate. We propose to bring back the off year activist conferences, which will focus primarily on organizing training, in order to free up the National Convention to focus primarily on guiding DSA’s political perspective over the subsequent 2 years.

  7. Changing our Dues Structure: To make the most of our recent growth and keep the momentum going, and in order to carry out ambitious plans like a national Medicare-For-All campaign, DSA needs to expand its operations in a big way. More conferences, regional offices, organizers, and materials all cost money. Unfortunately there’s a real danger that a lot of the new members who started joining after Trump’s election last year won’t renew, and our membership dues money will plummet, forcing us to cut back at a time when we should be boldly expanding. That’s why we support the proposal for a constitutional amendment authorizing a switch to a system of monthly instead of yearly dues. Dues would be based on members’ own ability to pay. The rate would be set by the NPC, as per the current rules outlined by the Constitution, but we could for example set it at 1% of members’ monthly income, allowing them room to choose within a certain range above or below to account for their individual situations. Exceptions would be made for those with very low-income and brand new members. It would be a system in which dues are a small, reasonable portion of someone’s income, but which add up to much more than our current dues over the course of a year. We could develop a system in which local chapters could receive 20% of their members’ national dues back, providing them with a comfortable stream of funds for their own use. The extra money that the national takes in could be very substantial. It would go not only to national and regional activist conferences, and to expand all of our operations, but importantly to implement an extensive system of regional organizers to help develop Organizing Committees and teach chapter activists important organizing skills while helping build other political and educational capacities. This kind of expanded capacity is essential to building a vibrant, inclusive, high participation and democratic organization.

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