DSA remains the largest socialist organization in this country in generations, with members in elected office all over the country at the local, state, and federal levels. The last two years since our most recent national convention in 2021 have been a challenging period for the organization, with slower membership growth in the post-Bernie moment. Despite these difficulties, however, the outgoing National Political Committee (NPC) has successfully built on our success, addressed problems, and seized opportunities. This article highlights some of the accomplishments of Bread and Roses (B&R) NPC members Laura Gabby and Sofia Cutler and B&R Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) Co-Chairs Cyn Huang and Jake Colosa during their 2021-2023 term.
Laura co-chaired the National Labor Commission (NLC) and built up the NLC to meet the recent uptick in the American labor movement. Under her leadership, the NLC became a better-resourced priority and undertook more focused labor work. The NLC transformed from an under-resourced body trying to do a little bit of everything and seeing very few things through, to a commission with a dedicated staffer able to focus on and carry out big projects and big campaigns. Here are some of the achievements Laura accomplished or actively helped accomplish with others:
- Pushed early on for the hiring of a labor staffer despite long standing opposition from management-level staff and some other political tendencies.
- Initiated plans to prioritize the UPS contract fight at the NPC retreat in November 2021, paving the way for DSA to eventually make the Strike Ready campaign a super-priority for the entire organization.
- Represented DSA in the Teamsters’ Community Coalition, a role we wouldn’t have earned without our early and strong support for Teamsters for a Democratic Union. Laura pushed continually and successfully against some opposition from members of the former DSLC Steering Committee, the NPC, and staff management to work directly with the reform movements in the Teamsters (TDU) and United Auto Workers (UAWD).
- Planned to establish the Labor Corps, a much-needed intermediary body between the NLC and chapters. The Strike Ready campaign built on this through the Solidarity Captain structure (conceptualized and brought to reality by many others).
- Moved the rank-and-file strategy pamphlet to completion and led a launch that eventually distributed 4,000+ pamphlets to dozens of chapters, YDSA Convention, Labor Notes conference, the Socialism is the Future conference, and more.
- Led the NLC Consensus Resolution through a process of debate and democratic input from NLC members.
- Co-ran the elections for the NLC’s Steering Committee (SC).
- Helped make Starbucks solidarity work an organization-wide priority.
- Overcame organizational opposition to allow NLC SC to directly reach out to chapter leaders about national priority labor campaigns. This greatly increased our contact with chapters that allowed our two major campaigns to flourish.
- Used her position on the NPC to secure the passage of two back-to-back budgets for the NLC that were much more ambitious than before, including budgeting $20,000 for EWOC, which allowed EWOC to hire additional staff.
- Got the Labor Membership Survey approved by the NPC SC, which has provided us with many times more labor contacts in DSA and a detailed snapshot of DSA members’ labor movement involvement.
- Brought back quarterly membership meetings.
One of Sofia’s major priorities this term was to scale up DSA at the chapter level by implementing the matching funds program. The program was proposed by B&R last convention and enables the national organization to give money and help chapters fundraise to open offices and hire staff. Sofia got this program off the ground, forming and actively participating in a multi-tendency subcommittee (of B&R and Red Star members) within the Growth and Development Committee.
Here are some of this subcommittee’s achievements that Sofia either accomplished or helped accomplish with others:
- Awarded grants of funds for five chapters of varying sizes and geographical areas to open offices. While only five chapters received funds, 15 chapters got trained on how to fundraise, find an office, and sort through legal compliance questions.
- Raised almost $90,000 through the Recommitment Drive. During the drive, Sofia led phonebanks for members interested in opening offices. She helped make this drive a success by successfully pushing to use matching funds as an incentive by which chapters who recommitted the most members would be considered first for the funds. This week, the NPC granted one of these chapters — North Carolina Triangle — funds to open their first office!
- Hosted a kick-off call with 50 members introducing them to the program and the basics of how to open an office.
- Overcame director-level staff’s risk-aversion and resistance toward this program by addressing the inordinate number of legal and compliance concerns they raised.
The NPC can be a very insular body, on which leaders and directors spend more time talking to each other than members. It can often focus narrowly on internal administrative issues and lose sight of the larger political questions facing the socialist movement. Sofia and Laura advocated for a model of leadership that centered politics and was transparent with membership about decision-making:
- Refused to immediately sign the non-disclosure agreements presented by our National Director and successfully amended them to make budget matters public to members.
- Regularly consulted members across the organization about major decisions like how to respond to Bowman’s vote on the Iron Dome.
- Published their rationale for major decisions in The Call so members could read them.
- Encouraged the NPC to be more direct and transparent with members. Through her role on the Convention planning Steering Committee, Sofia organized a pre-Convention NPC debate that had over 700 attendees. NPC members discussed the major political questions facing the organization, such as how to fight the right and how to relate to the labor movement.
- Helped write the pre-Convention debate guides for chapters to use across the country ahead of convention.
- Shed light on the exorbitant expense of our National Harassment Grievance Officer contract, which led the NPC to vote to terminate the contract.
Throughout the 2021-2023 NPC term, YDSA cochairs and B&R members Cyn Huang and Jake Colosa have advocated for investing in YDSA and helped tirelessly build our youth section. For the first time, YDSA has a budget that covers more than just its staff and national events. YDSA has also grown tremendously, adding more than 1,000 members despite stagnation and decline in DSA’s overall membership numbers. Today, many of YDSA’s largest chapters are located in the South, including University of Central Florida YDSA, which has more than 150 dues-paying members. YDSA chapters are planning more sophisticated campaigns, including successful union drives and pressure campaigns that win material demands for students and workers.
The growth of the organization and more ambitious campaigns have raised the level of political and strategic thinking in YDSA, exemplified by the debate around labor organizing orientation and approaches to internationalism at this year’s YDSA convention.
Cyn and Jake have:
- Organized to safely resume in-person YDSA national gatherings, starting with the 2022 YDSA conference. These events re-energized the organization and fueled a wave of successful campaigns.
- Worked for a YDSA budget that includes stipends for national leaders, funding for national committees, funding for chapter grants, an in-person NCC retreat, and funds to print and distribute materials.
- Helped plan and organize Red Hot Summer, YDSA’s labor training series. More than 500 young people attended RHS’s labor trainings and political education sessions in the last two summers.
- Supported recruitment and outreach efforts such as YDSA’s annual Fall Drive and launched the YDSA Monthly Dues Drive as an effort to increase the number of dues-paying members in YDSA.
- Engaged in local labor organizing as staff for UAW 2865 in the lead up to the largest academic worker strike in U.S. history and as a resident assistant organizing their coworkers.
- Supported the YDSA Labor Cohort, which facilitates labor organizing in chapters across the country. In the past two years, YDSA members have spearheaded student worker unionization drives representing more than 4,000 workers. This includes the University of Oregon Student Worker Union which will be the largest union organized by DSA members upon its certification.
- Forged relationships with socialist youth organizations around the world including JPT, Ogra Sinn Fein, Juntos, Australia Young Labor Left, Jusos, and New Zealand Young Labour. In September 2022, Jake attended the U.K. Labour Party Conference as a guest of Young Labour, connected with socialist leaders and members of Young Labour, and provided a report of the Conference to the NPC.