Using power builds power

A report from the DSA convention

THE AYES HAVE IT: Day 1 of DSA’s 2019 convention in Atlanta. Photo by Steve Eberhardt

On the first weekend of August, 1,056 delegates from around the country attended DSA’s biennial national convention in Atlanta. It was the largest decision-making gathering of socialists in the United States since the 1940s.

Delegates debated and voted on resolutions for three days, and at the end elected a new National Political Committee. The proceedings closed with the sound of a thousand socialists singing “Solidarity Forever,” something that hasn’t happened in the United States for decades.

As one outside observer — Nathan J. Robinson of Current Affairs — put it, “My God, I thought, they are actually going to win.

The convention began with the passage of a resolution to support a campaign for a Green New Deal. Delegates then reaffirmed the organization’s commitment to fighting for Medicare for All and voted to continue the work of the National Electoral Committee and the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission (DSLC).

The convention then passed a package of items that had been assigned to the consent agenda — a category of proposals considered uncontroversial by the delegates — including resolutions to fight for abortion access, build the DSA international committee, defend immigrant and refugee rights, demand the decriminalization of sex work, affirm support for open borders, and “turn the Rust Belt green.”

On electoral politics, it was decided after vigorous debate that DSA would endorse no other Democratic Party candidate for president besides Bernie Sanders, and that we would petition Sanders for a more robust foreign policy and issue recommendations on his housing program. The delegates voted to narrow the criteria for national endorsements to those who openly identify as socialists, oppose oppression, and demonstrate that they view their chief political role as organizers of the working class. Local chapters will establish their own criteria for endorsements.

On labor, the convention passed three resolutions that featured overlapping elements. The first provides for hiring a full-time staffer for the DSLC and commits the body to developing programming for regional workplace organizing schools. The second affirms that our orientation will be toward building power within the rank and file, not labor bureaucracies, and stipulates that the DSLC will coordinate to assist DSA members in getting rank-and-file union jobs in strategic sectors. The third commits DSA to develop a strategy to organize workers outside of existing unions.

The convention passed a package of three resolutions pertaining to international matters. The first recommits us to solidarity with Palestine and support for the Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions movement. The second commits us to the full decolonization of United States territories. The third specifically expresses our solidarity with socialists in Cuba.

Two resolutions focused on the U.S. carceral state also passed, the first creating a national Police & Prison Abolition Working Group and the second creating a national committee to promote the abolition of cash bail. After a passionate discussion, the convention also voted to create a national Anti-Fascist and Direct Action Working Group.

The convention then passed a package of three resolutions on housing. The first encourages chapters to adopt eight strategies for housing organizing, including launching campaigns for just-cause eviction and universal rent control and incorporating housing demands into our Green New Deal work. The second creates a Housing Justice Commission that will develop a toolkit for chapters to start tenant organizing work. And the third affirms that DSA believes that fair, safe, stable, accessible, and affordable housing is a human right.

Delegates deliberated over a number of resolutions pertaining to internal matters, a subject that drew heated debate. In the end they voted to invest in a national political education program, develop a plan to intensify grassroots fundraising efforts for small chapters, expand childcare in DSA, improve our national grievance procedure, and develop a two-tiered socialist-organizer training program for all members and for chapter leaders.

One of the highlights of the convention was a speech given by Sara Nelson, the International President of the Association of Flight Attendants-CWA, AFL-CIO. It was Nelson’s union that stopped Donald Trump’s government shutdown by threatening to go on strike.

“People think power is a limited resource, but using power builds power,” Nelson told DSA. “Once workers get a taste of our power, we will not settle for a bad deal. And we won’t stand by while someone else gets screwed, either.”

Using power builds power. In that spirit, we are ready to begin another two years of socialist organizing in DSA. We are witnessing now a rare window of opportunity for class politics in the United States. It’s clear that DSA is devoted to seizing that opportunity and transforming this moment into a movement. <

Be it resolved …

Delegates approved dozens of resolutions setting DSA priorities and policies. Here are a few highlights: 

NATIONAL PRIORITIES Delegates established the following as DSA’s priorities for the next two years: Ecosocialist Green New Deal, Medicare For All, National Electoral Strategy, Labor, Childcare, Housing, Decarceration, Political Education, Grassroots Fundraising, and National Growth and Development 

BERNIE DSA will urge Bernie Sanders to support expanded public housing and renters’ rights, and will create an online petition urging him to commit to a multi-point People’s Foreign Policy Platform. If Sanders doesn’t get the Democratic nomination, DSA won’t endorse another Democratic Party presidential candidate. 

OPEN BORDERS DSA supports the uninhibited transnational free movement of people, demilitarization of the U.S.-Mexico border, abolition of the agencies of Immigration and Customs Enforcement and Customs and Border Protection, decriminalization of immigration, and a pathway to citizenship for all non-citizen residents. 

SEX WORK DSA supports the full decriminalization of sex work. 

CLASS-STRUGGLE ELECTIONS National DSA will only endorse candidates who identify as socialists and use their public profile to popularize a class-struggle perspective. 

HOUSING JUSTICE A Housing Justice Commission comprising representatives from each local chapter that has a housing justice working group or campaign will coordinate campaigns for tenants’ rights. 

ANTI-FASCISM A National Antifascist Working Group will provide information to help DSA members disrupt fascist organizing and resources and training to help DSA chapters ensure security at meetings and events.

NEW WORKING GROUPS National working groups will be formed to work on BDS (Boycott, Divestment and Sanctions), ending cash bail, police and prison abolition, and decolonization (self-determination for indigenous nations and overseas territories).

See the full text of all convention resolutions at