Why DSA Needs a Review of Our Organization

This article has been edited for clarity. — Editors

Since 2016, DSA has grown almost exponentially. We’ve added tens of thousands of new members and hundreds of new chapters and organizing committees. We’ve taken on national campaigns for Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, and in support of Bernie Sanders’s 2020 presidential campaign. We’ve also sharpened our strategic approaches toward labor and electoral activity, with many of our chapters running electoral campaigns and doing strike support, and many of our members working on campaigns and organizing in new and existing unions.

Much of our adaptation to this growth has been ad-hoc and circumstantial. Our staff at the national level remains small, especially for an organization of our size, and certainly for an organization that seeks to grow to 100,000 members in just a few months. While many resolutions passed at the 2019 DSA Convention called for dedicated staff for projects and campaigns, we have not been able to provide this level of support for most of them.

Many chapters have complained about lack of support from the national organization, and while this situation has certainly improved over the last couple of years, we think we could still do better. Similarly, we’ve started to break down silos at the national level — between committees, campaigns, and working groups — but there is still much work to be done on this front.

Our staff is stretched thin, with regional organizers also taking on campaign work. We’ve only just recently hired a communications director. We haven’t yet replaced our development director, who left staff in August of this year.

Meanwhile, the political conditions around us are changing constantly. We’re facing a potential second Trump term, mass unemployment, and a pandemic with no end in sight. DSA has a huge role to play in pushing back against the austerity that has defined the last six months of American political life, and against the threats to our democracy posed by this year’s presidential election, by organizing a mass working-class movement that can fight through this moment. In order to do that, we have to coordinate our resources and make sure we are making the most of all of the talent, energy and political power we have built over the last four years.

In order to make sure that we’re up to that task, we need to take stock of our organization.

That’s why at this month’s NPC meeting, we will be supporting a resolution to undertake a six-month-long organizational review of DSA.

This resolution proposes that we form a committee composed of both DSA members, NPC members, and close fellow travelers, supported by a hired reviewer, to help us figure out the answers to the following questions: what’s working well in DSA? What could be improved?

Of course, there are many, more specific questions to answer: Are our chapters getting enough support, and of the right kind? What about our campaigns? Where are the breakdowns in the organization that lead to siloing? How do we remedy these?

In order to answer these properly, we propose that, in the process of reviewing the organization, the committee interview staff and national leaders of the organization, as well as campaign and chapter leaders. Each of these groups has a distinctly different vantage point on and experience of the organization, and it will be crucial for our development to understand each one.

By the end of this process, this committee should present the results of the report to DSA membership, and the NPC should deliberate on recommendations for how to make organizational improvements.

We’re excited to put this forward this week and believe it is a necessary next step to ensuring the health and longevity, and sustained power, of DSA.

— Keon L, Labiba C, Marianela D, Megan S, Natalie M, Neah H