Support Resolution #32: A Strong DSA Needs a Strong YDSA

DSA needs a strong student section. By investing in YDSA, DSA is helping train the next generation of socialist leaders.


DSA’s 2021 national convention should reaffirm the strategic importance of YDSA and the democratic decisions made at YDSA’s national convention by passing Resolution #32: Strengthening YDSA

R32 will confirm DSA’s support for resolutions passed at this year’s YDSA convention and nurture the growing power of YDSA by:

  • Granting decision-making power to YDSA leadership over YDSA expenses.
  • Hiring additional staff, as well as giving the YDSA National Coordinating Committee (NCC) the ability to give input in the hiring process.
  • Setting up more mentoring support for YDSA mentors appointed and/or elected by their local DSA Chapters. 
  • Establishing stipends for YDSA NCC members so that they can focus more time on organizing and less time working other jobs.

DSA’s student section, the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), is a campus-based organization made up of high school, community college, and university student organizers. YDSA is strategically important to the growth and diversification of both DSA and the socialist movement at large, and it runs and grows because the talent, energy, and creativity of its student organizers is backed with material and political support from DSA. We need to pass Resolution 32 to continue growing and strengthening YDSA.

How YDSA Builds a Diverse, Strong DSA

Simply put, investing more resources toward recruiting, training, and retaining YDSA organizers will help grow and diversify DSA into a mass organization that is rooted in the multiracial working class. This is because YDSA is uniquely positioned in several key ways.

First, the membership of YDSA is already more socio-economically and racially diverse than DSA, as it prioritizes building chapters at Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs), Minority Serving Institutions, community colleges, and high schools — all institutions that tend to reflect the composition of the working class. 

Second, YDSA meets young people at the point in their lives where they are still figuring out their politics. This puts us in touch with people who are open to having their lives transformed by an introduction to socialism. Without a YDSA presence on campus, students are more likely to be apolitical or to adopt liberal politics, and to choose their careers and areas of study without cultivating identities as present or future workers. YDSA members can instead become lifelong cadre of the socialist movement by choosing to become rank-and-file workers in strategic sectors or by contributing to fields of knowledge that strengthen our movement.

And regardless of what careers their members choose, strong YDSA chapters create effective and well-rounded socialist organizers. Because of the high turnover inherent to campus organizations, by the time each class of YDSA cadre graduates and joins a DSA chapter and/or union, they will have had a wide variety of organizational experiences and responsibilities, including leading their chapters, bottom-lining campaigns, doing intensive recruitment and political education. They’re also often connected to young socialists across the US through their work in our nationally cohesive campaigns like YDSA for Bernie, College For All, and student debt cancellation

How Resolution 32 Can Grow and Diversify Our Movement

Recruiting, training, and retaining socialist organizers who represent the multi-racial working class is not an easy task. What do we need our organization to look like in order for YDSA to successfully grow and diversify DSA? Resolution 32 proposes four areas where expanded DSA support will make the biggest difference:

  1. Hiring additional staff, as well as giving the YDSA National Coordinating Committee (NCC) the ability to give input in the hiring process.
  2. Establishing stipends for NCC members so that they can focus more time on organizing and less time working other jobs.
  3. Setting up more mentoring support for YDSA mentors appointed and/or elected by their local DSA Chapters.
  4. Granting decision-making power to YDSA leadership over YDSA expenses.

We need substantial staffing support to train and retain our existing 1300+ YDSA members and to send organizers to build YDSA chapters in schools rooted in the multi-racial working class. YDSA has two staffers and two interns, but all of them are stretched thin between the administrative and organizing work of supporting national committees and 180 growing chapters and organizing committees. (By contrast, the Sunrise Movement, our closest political analog on campus, has 110 staff members.) We need to hire additional staff for YDSA.

If we want YDSA’s nationally elected leadership body to represent the core of the multi-racial working class, YDSA leaders should have the option to take stipends if they need financial support to take on national leadership. These stipends would allow them to take a break from working for one or both semesters for the duration of their leadership term. 

Some YDSA chapters have benefitted from concerted mentoring from members of their local DSA chapters, helping new student organizers deal with challenges that established organizers already have experience with, from the nuts and bolts of starting up campaigns to navigating internal political disagreement. These relationships help develop student organizers’ confidence to lead and develop their peers’ leadership. 

Lastly, YDSA has no budget of its own. Instead, national leadership must make routine requests of the DSA Budget & Finance Committee to set up phonebanks, print and send materials to members, and to plan and design our national conventions and conferences. This prevents YDSA’s nationally elected leadership from executing democratically mandated functions of the organization in a timely manner and is infantilizing to YDSA leaders who are dedicated to building DSA and growing the socialist movement. Giving YDSA control over its own budget would not make YDSA an “autonomous organization,” but instead would allow YDSA to carry out its work and give NCC members budgeting experience they can apply to future leadership positions in DSA.

Socialist Cash to Beat Capitalist Trash

Critics of Resolution 32 have claimed that it invests 20% of the DSA budget for 1% of our membership. But this claim is based on the 2019 DSA budget, when DSA had nearly half as many dues-paying members we have today nationally. 

In reality, the resolution allocates $86,000 for stipends for YDSA NCC members, and $65,000 for a YDSA staffer, totaling $151,000 of funding. This year, DSA had an income of $6,550,214, meaning Res 32 allocated 2.3% of the DSA budget for an additional YDSA staffer and stipends for NCC members. Given the critical strategic importance of meeting and developing new socialists on working-class campuses across the U.S., this is a reasonable and strategic use of our budget.

As a membership-funded and membership-led democratic socialist organization, we decide where we invest our resources and we make those decisions based on how much closer an investment brings us to socialism, not on narrow metrics like proportionality to membership. Additional staff to train and recruit young socialist organizers and to keep the socialist movement growing and strong is a strategic investment for DSA. 

We encourage DSA delegates who share our vision of a vibrant, diverse, youthful movement to vote in support of Resolution 32. Supporters can also commit to increasing their monthly dues by $5, and can organize dues drives in their chapters to raise more socialist cash.

Despite a decline in new member enrollment across DSA, YDSA remains one of the fastest growing segments of our organization. In the past year the number of YDSA members has doubled, 40 new chapters have been started, and we’ve gotten over 60 commitments to start new chapters from our national campaign work. We can continue this exponential growth, further rooting DSA in the multi-racial working class and developing thousands of lifelong socialist organizers, but only with adequate resources to support the scale of this project.

Labiba is a member of NYC-DSA, City College YDSA, and the Bread & Roses caucus. She was the national YDSA co-chair from August 2020 to June 2021. Cyn is the current YDSA National Co-Chair, a Head Steward in UAW 2865, and a member of East Bay DSA and Bread & Roses. Kristen is a nursing student, member of NYC-DSA, YDSA representative to the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission Steering Committee, and a member of Bread & Roses’ national leadership. She was the 2019-2020 national YDSA co-chair.