How a Dues Drive Could Organize DSA

By Ari Marcantonio, East Bay DSA

Comrade Sean Monahan’s piece The Case for Monthly Dues does a great job of explaining why switching from annual to monthly dues would benefit DSA, but doesn’t have the space to detail specifically how such a transition would take place and what benefits the process could offer. That’s what I endeavor to do here.

We are entering a new chapter in both the history of our organization and socialism more broadly. To ensure that we make sound decisions and invest our limited resources appropriately, it’s essential to first know what we are working with; where does power lie within the organization? Which chapters have successfully self-organized? Where will we face our most pressing structural challenges? Who needs support and how?

These are just some of the questions we must answer to effectively lead our organization through the next two years and into the socialist future we all desire. To begin answering them, we need to find ways to test and develop DSA chapters across the country with quantitative metrics and productive outcomes.


What is a Structure Test?

A structure test, sometimes called a stress test is an organizing tool to determine where an organization is strong, who the leaders are, and where attention should be focused, while strengthening the organization and building capacities. To accomplish these goals, a structure test asks a group to carry out a relatively difficult collective activity and closely monitors its work. For instance, a union local might ask all of its members to come to work wearing a pro-union pin on the same day. The shop stewards would be tasked with distributing the pins and ensuring that every member in their department show up to work wearing the pin on the right day. It’s likely that the departments with the most pin-wearers are the best organized and the ones with the fewest pin-wearers are those most in need of organizing.


National Dues Drive: A Structure Test for DSA

If a new, monthly national dues structure is approved at the convention this August it will present a unique, valuable and timely opportunity for us to test the strength of the organization and begin building capacities and relationships nationally. The following is a sketch of how such a dues drive could be carried out:


Pilot dues drive in one local; preferably one that’s well-organized and reasonably large

  1. Chapter leaders recruit at least 1 Lead per every 100 members. Leads will be responsible for recruiting, managing, and supporting Captains. They’ll also be responsible for organizing all necessary logistics of the drive, including training Captains.
  2. Leads recruit at least 1 Captain per every 20 members. After receiving training on how to do so, these Captains will be responsible for contacting 20 members each, explaining the new dues structure and having a conversation with these members that leads to them re-upping their dues, preferably during that same call.
  3. Keep detailed notes on how, when and by whom outreach was done and what the results of the calls were.
  4. Leads debrief Captains and compile feedback.

Roll out national dues-drive

Based on the successes and failures of this pilot program, the above protocol should be updated for other locals and/or regions to do the same. Locals should be given the option to use this protocol or develop their own method for carrying out their drive. We could then begin a regional rollout of the dues change, with chapters receiving support from national staff or a team of volunteer regional coordinators.


What Will We Gain?

Apart from successfully implementing a massive dues change for the organization, such a dues drive could teach us a number of key facts about DSA.

First, we would learn which chapters are already capable of carrying out a difficult collective task. These chapters could then be studied to understand their success and share it with others. Simultaneously, we would learn which locals aren’t yet there and invest in helping them build their capacity.

Second, we would learn specifically which local members are successful at organizing their comrades. Such people could be elevated in local or national positions or serve as mentors to others.

Third, we would get a wealth of valuable information about what kind of support and resources chapters across the country would need to pull off another major action, say a national campaign for Medicare for All. We could begin strategically investing in the chapters we know need support in precisely the appropriate ways. Across the board, we would learn how to thoughtfully spend our limited resources in a methodically targeted way to achieve the maximal result in whatever we choose to do going forward.

And finally, the heavy lift of executing a national dues change in a structured format, would necessarily result in a huge increase in our organizational capacity; hundreds, if not over a thousand members would be trained in the fundamental skill of having organizing conversations, while those who are more deeply involved would learn first hand how to carry out a difficult organizing task, thereby dramatically increasing our ability to organize going forward.