It’s no secret that DSA’s 2024 budget is in a rough place. The number of dues-paying members has decreased over the last few years, but our expenditures have remained consistent. Furthermore, at the 2023 DSA National Convention, we passed many historic proposals — such as National Political Committee (NPC) and National Labor Commission (NLC) co-chairs, renewing the National Activist Conference, and investing in YDSA — that will undoubtedly enhance our organizing and grow our organization but are also very expensive.
We are going into this budget season with a seven-figure deficit. While a deficit of that size is certainly serious, DSA leaders from across tendencies have stepped up and are working together to solve this and balance the budget.
Over 1,100 members, including over 100 members of the Bread & Roses caucus, are already donating at least 1% of their income to DSA, generating tens of thousands of dollars per month. These donations are largely due to solidarity dues phonebanks and text banks, which hundreds of members have participated in. And recently our convention-elected co-chairs have been visiting local chapters encouraging members to step up, resulting in double the solidarity dues margins in those chapters.
We applaud the efforts of our comrades who have helped raise funds. Unfortunately, a deficit this large could require us to reduce spending on parts of DSA that many of us use, and we will need to adapt to organizing with fewer resources. However, we are hopeful that by doubling down on fundraising and making targeted cuts in areas that will least disrupt organizing, we can get through this difficult financial period and continue our project for years to come.
Our Budget Philosophy
The guiding principle of our approach to the 2024 budget is that the NPC has a duty to enact what was passed at the 2023 National Convention. Members elected us to put the proposals that they voted for into action. We are happy that much of this has already been done: we held an election for NPC co-chairs and the Democracy Commission; appointed an editorial board; and are working to integrate the language from consensus resolutions into our organizing. However, there are still questions about whether NLC co-chairs will be paid full-time and there have not been concrete discussions around the logistics of our National Activist Conference.
We understand that we are facing a large deficit, but any budget cuts must come from non-convention mandates. We recognize that this will make balancing the budget more difficult, but we are committed to finding solutions. We were elected to navigate difficult times while remaining accountable to DSA’s membership and moving our organizing forward.
We also believe that we should do everything we can to ensure any budget cuts have a minimal impact on the day-to-day organizing of chapters and do not stunt their growth.
Chapter organizing is the lifeblood of DSA and it is also how many people become dues-paying members of our organization. One of our largest expenditures is dues sharing to chapters, which totals $716,000. We are committed to doing everything possible to not implement cuts to dues sharing so that chapters can continue to launch exciting organizing campaigns that grow our membership. We recognize that many chapters rely on dues sharing to fund their day-to-day operations and that forcing them to come up with this money another way would only diminish our capacity. We also believe that if a chapter has a successful organizing campaign that recruits many new members, they should directly see the fruits of their work and have more dues shared as a result.
At the 2021 DSA National Convention, the B&R resolution to start a national program to help local chapters open offices and staff with matching funds passed overwhelmingly. Last year, the first funding cycle of the program resulted in a competitive contest for grants that saw high member interest, and five chapters received funding. Those chapters are starting to open their offices now. The NPC earmarked $88,000 to make sure this program is funded, and our 2023 convention — again overwhelmingly — passed the Growth and Development Committee’s resolution to “help…10-15 chapters open offices by 2025.” We believe all of these funds must remain in the budget to meet our shared goals. Local offices are a crucial part of growing into a mass membership organization, and cutting matching funds and member-driven programs like it at this point in DSA’s development would be penny-wise but pound-foolish. Fortunately, matching funds are a sliver of our budget, and unlike many other types of DSA allocations that pass without remark, qualification for these funds requires strong demonstrations of chapters’ fundraising capacities and high chances of success.
Our Budget Ideas
Going into this budget cycle, Bread & Roses is putting forward two concrete budget cuts to begin with: 1) closing the national office in New York City and 2) immediately ending our contract with Grievance Officer Paula Brantner of PB Work Solutions.
Closing the National Office
The lease for our national office is ending in a few months and even if we rent a smaller office in a cheaper area, the projected expenditure is still $120,000 for rent and utilities.
Some directors have made clear that they believe closing the national office would be a mistake, but we believe the costs far outweigh the benefits and there are more inexpensive alternatives to a national office. The national office is used by director-level staff for meetings because most of them live in New York City. However, if a senior staff member leaves or decides to move to another state, this could change. Virtual meetings are quite common in DSA and other organizations, and we believe it is appropriate to ask those who use the national office to meet virtually.
Furthermore, some DSA leaders and staff have argued that having a national office is needed for keeping financial documents, being able to easily make copies, having a mailing address, and/or for storing equipment. Is that convenience is worth $120,000? We believe it is not and we should opt for less expensive options such as renting a storage unit and digitizing our records. In fact, the New York City chapter has an office, and we are already looking into making an arrangement between national staff and NYC-DSA.
Ending the Grievance Officer Contract
Due to its massive cost, last term’s Bread & Roses NPC members led a successful effort to end the contract with Paula Brantner of PB Work Solutions, who handles national grievance issues. At our 2023 convention, our comrades in another caucus put forward a resolution to put that effort into official effect, and it passed by a wide margin. However, many months after this decision was made, PB Work Solutions is still on payroll. This is because before DSA can end her contract, we must find a replacement. Per her contract, before she departs DSA, she must spend at least a month training a replacement and is required to complete end-of-contract deliverables. Because of this, for every month DSA retains PM work solutions, DSA spends $30,000 and must pay an additional $30,000 at the conclusion of her contract.
We recognize the importance of a grievance officer: inadequately handled misconduct has destroyed other left organizations and we must not allow that to happen in DSA. But we can protect DSA without this staggering cost. It’s time to end the contract once and for all and stop hemorrhaging this money.
There is an ongoing debate over whether to hire a staff member to be our grievance officer or to hire another, less expensive consultant. While it is less clear to us what the best long-term solution is, we believe that we should appoint one or multiple temporary grievance officer(s) from our membership. This could be a member of the National Grievance Committee, an experienced chapter-level grievance officer, an NPC member, or some combination of these. With PB Work Solutions providing guidance for at least the first month, the NPC will still be able to process grievances and handle any urgent issues without unnecessarily spending money.
Like any other budget, the DSA budget is a political statement of our values and priorities. Bread & Roses is committed to budget transparency and we hope that this article contributes to political discussion about our budget. We look forward to hearing any responses to our proposals and arguments, to spirited debate around our finances, and ultimately, to moving on from the budget to focus on our work to revitalize the labor movement, build towards a workers party, and fight for justice around the globe.