Chapter Analysis of Proposed Constitutional Amendments

Analyses by Delegates

Amendment #3: Increase NPC size to 24.

Delegate Kari Thompson

PROS: The amendment seeks to increase member representation opportunities on the National Political Committee, DSA's elected leadership body, by increasing the number of seats from 16 to 24. It increases proportionally seats reserved for women and people of color in the existing constitution.

CONS: This is too many people for the kinds of nitty-gritty yet consensus driven work the NPC needs to do. Additionally, while it's not likely to happen any time soon, DSA has had trouble filling the 16 seats that are already there (in part because these are really time-consuming positions!). The organization would be better served to fully implement the existing structures, such as the National Advisory Committee (Article IX). That body ought to be used specifically to fill in areas where the NPC feels underrepresented. The NAC has only been used in a limited fashion, if at all.

Furthermore, the amendment fails to include any parameters for ensuring more varied representation other than those already present in the constitution (such as geography or income).

A final reason for opposition is cost. The NPC has four in-person meetings a year, and rightly does its best to meet financial need for those NPC members who don't have large travel budgets. This increases by a third the potential number of folks who might need such subsidies. We need to get our financial house in order and prioritize other areas before spending money on this.

RECOMMENDATION: Vote no on amendment #3.

 

 

Amendment #8: Monthly Dues to Replace Annual Dues

Delegates Jon Danforth-Appel, Carol Newton, Matthew Taylor

The amendment and bylaws changes to make monthly dues the standard and provide an annual option only for “very low-income” members has generated broad discussion.

IS THIS OUR BEST OPTION?

The original amendment presentation claims that monthly dues will deliver organizational success: from member retention to easy accounting to financial solvency, w/o actually presenting analysis or proof that these benefits come from monthly dues. In contrast, some counter arguments posted on DSA Activist proposed that modest annual dues aid retention, build solidarity, and would attract a larger base of working class membership. Targeted fundraising is suggested to increase income from those who have more to give.

In our view, monthly dues can be an option in the future, but we want more and better data from a wide range of sources that shows the success, its threshold in membership numbers, and the planning to achieve it.

TRUE ENOUGH

Monthly dues allow for planning and create comfort for leaders, so they can confidently add staff and services. Monthly payments may make higher dues possible - a good thing - but some members have serious personal budget restraints. It’s tempting to imagine that 1,000 DSA-LA members paying $10ea/mo to national DSA yields a $2,000 rebate (20%) to DSA-LA. Or that 25,000 national DSA members would create a monthly national income of $250,000 minus 20% for an operating budget of $200,000/mo. But the chapter would be working every month this next year to assure those funds to national get locked in, and our yield/mo may be only $2/member.

“Very-low income” members will be allowed low annual dues of $27; all others will jump to $120/yr minimum at the end of the first year; and we worry that this substantial increase in national dues may reduce members ability to provide support for local chapters. Under this bylaw change, chapters may lose autonomy and the present system of federated chapters with control over their own programming could be compromised by centralization of dues.

We are also concerned about the question of dues sharing between local chapters and the national organization called for in other amendments. We would like to see more extensive reasoning behind the various proposals addressing how dues might be divided and distributed to local chapters.

Finally, we need to acknowledge that the increased dues may cause member drop out or otherwise adversely affect member relationships.

These are the views expressed unanimously by the DSA-LA Amendment 8 group:

1. That monthly dues would not be possible for many of us because of the size of the minimum; 2. A minimum monthly dues of $10 seems high but it was argued that $10/mo is the minimum we could collect as anything less would be consumed by banking fees;
3. Too little discussion has occurred at the chapter level due to the time available.

TO MAKE IT WORK

We suggest a “No” vote now followed by a national working group to study and share real options over the next 2 years, including how less than $10/month might be accommodated. We would hope to see proposals for a couple of alternative dues structures leading to an amendment and plan for implementation that we could support.

Meanwhile members with more resources could be encouraged to use the monthly dues option, which is presently available on the website. 

Delegate Kari Thompson

I am generally in favor of the proposed amendments in #8, however, I realize there have been a lot of different conversations happening around dues, so I feel like it's likely the stated rationale for these amendments has more to it now. If we want to fund some more organizers or communications staff as an organization, monthly dues are a much more sustainable model.

 

 

Amendment 9: Membership Petitions for NPC Consideration

Delegates Nickolas Ballard & Sam Dean

Having a means for the NPC to consider the concerns of the membership directly in the manner described in the amendment would be an effective means to maintain internal solidarity. Right now I believe the only way to request national's opinion on an issue is sending an email to info@dsausa.org and waiting for a reply (I've spoken to Maria Svart directly about this). The proposed alteration to the constitution formalizes a process that compels a well-considered response from the NPC.

 

However, in its current form, the amendment is light on details regarding the definition of an "issue" and the speed at which the issue must be discussed. Perhaps the brevity of the proposal should be reconsidered. We also asked the proponents' reasoning behind the 20% of chapters and 8% of members figures.

 

Delegate Sam Dean
Just to update Nick's analysis here with newer info—the Momentum slate made it clear that the 8 and 20 percent numbers are just picked out of a hat to represent a significant chunk of members but also not be prohibitively high. Math-wise, 8 percent is 2000 people (out of a 25k membership) and 20 percent of chapters is 33 chapters (if you include YDS in the count) and 26 if you don't. They don't mention whether they mean including YDS, or not, or what. Seems more vague than anything, since it's still not clear what these "responses" would look like, but could be an OK mechanism for making National go on the record about various issues/practical problems.

  

Amendment #10:

Delegates Kirk Duval, Carley Towne, Willie Waisath
Breakout Group at Chapter Meeting Concurred

Our current constitution allows new chapters to either adopt a standard constitution or submit their own in application for status. “Such Constitution shall contain provisions which call for at least two meetings per year of the Local. It shall contain provisions for the election of officers of the Local. It shall contain provisions for informing all members of meetings and procedures for the election of officers and delegates to National, Regional and State bodies and of decisions of the Local. Each Local shall submit to the National Office information about the financial status of the Local.”
If this amendment is passed along with the entire constitutional amendment, the Standard New Local Constitution would be automatically used by local chapters. However, chapters may choose to amend their Constitution at any point rather than waiting 6 months before they can amend.

Cons:
Before Spring Platform released a revised Amendment 10, members were concerned that they would be forced to adopt the Standard New Local Constitution for the first 6 months of their chapter, citing feeling a lack of agency and local control over their new Chapter. Now, however, Chapters can opt out of using the Standard New Local Constitution at any point during the creation of their local. Members might still object to having to opt out instead of opt in to using the Standard New Local Constitution. Based on informal comments and conversations, it became clear that some members object to the creation of a Standard New Local Constitution as an inherently anti-democratic document created by National to impose control over new locals.  

Pro:
Even when chapters could begin their formation with the drafting and creation of a constitution, the constitution had to include certain provisions. I believe this amendment codifies those provisions into a standard template which is automatically adopted at the formation of a chapter and can then be altered or amended at any time. It’s efficient, at a moment when time is of the essence, and un-oppressive, actually alleviating the conditions in which informal power is able to exert inordinate control during periods of structurelessness within organizations.

Our recommendation:
Vote to approve the revised Amendment 10

Amendment #13: Changing language on gender proportion guarantees within DSA’s National Political Committee

Delegates Maikiko James and Carol Newton

Argument FOR: All language used for DSA policies and governance needs to be fully representative.

Argument AGAINST: Language alone does not account for barriers to genuine representation in leadership. Language in the current amendment could still lead to a dominance of cis-male voices in leadership if a full 50% of positions are held by cis-men.

Analysis
While we are in full agreement of Amendment 13’s rationale and must ensure leadership across DSA is representative of all gender and non-gendered identities, we do not believe a simple change of language addresses the deeper systemic issue to which it points, and if not expanded upon, could result in a stagnation toward non-representative DSA leadership. Enforcing a cap of half men in any leadership group could also denote a guarantee of half men in said leadership group, and thus a minority of women-identifying and non-conforming individuals if and when both are present.

Recommendation
We propose an abeyance to voting upon 13, or if passed, an option for continued examination and expansion past ratification. We also propose the following measures to ensure the spirit in which 13 was written can also be implemented in practice, and would recommend their exploration through 2019, prior to next convention:

1) An analysis of current DSA membership demographics with precaution to protect identities of participants
2) A task force or working group dedicated to leadership cultivation within underrepresented groups and documentation of best practices. To clarify, leadership cultivation is a responsibility across all DSA chapters and organizing groups, and this group would serve as an additional resource and metric-keeper for effective cultivation.
3) A consideration of overrepresenting the underrepresented in leadership. For example, if the data show that DSA national membership is 65% male, 30% female and 5% genderqueer - leadership may consider an NPC of 40% male, 45% female and 15% genderqueer committee members in order to create intentionality toward becoming representative (or 45% male, 45% female, and 10% genderqueer if more realistic in the next two years). No gender should hold a majority. We also encourage overrepresentation of leaders of color, when feasible. If an insufficient number of candidates can be found to meet these metrics immediately, the task force would be responsible to work with chapters to encourage individuals and potentially engage them in the following -
a) Recommended: Resources for leadership workshops or trainings (in alignment with facilitation and organizer training materials)
b) Recommended: A “clerkship” program for people who don’t feel ready but are interested in potentially running for a chair or titled position in the future, and can “shadow” and support a current official in their duties

Breakout Group at Chapter Meeting

We supported the overall recommendations that Carol and Maikiko made in their initial analysis, and mostly discussed key points that we agreed with, including:

  • Aiming for overrepresentation in leadership, versus exact proportional representation

  • Being as careful as possible with language and specific terms (e.g., specifying cis men instead of just men, so as not to exclude trans men) but recognizing the limits of language and terminology in addressing the “spirit of the law”

  • Emphasizing member cultivation and training to rather than addressing the issue of representation at the leadership level

  • Thinking beyond placing people into leadership roles and ensuring that work is balanced across the organization at all levels by asking people from dominant groups to take on work they typically wouldn’t be expected to engage in - e.g., asking or requiring cis white men to lead childcare efforts at meetings

 

We also identified some questions we’d like to see addressed at the Convention, from the organizers and the authors of the amendment:

  • If adopted, would this be one of the amendments included in the initial bylaws that all chapters are automatically enrolled into before they draft their own?

  • How would this play out in smaller chapters based in less diverse areas?

  • Would these changes be adopted immediately if the amendment is voted in before the NPC elections?

Amendment #14: Apportioning Dues to Locals

Delegate Kari Thompson

I am generally opposed to amendment #14. I think it's good to think about apportioning dues, but setting such a strict rubric seems potentially problematic to me. I would rather discuss a proposal to allow the national to incorporate dues collection for local chapters through their national builder site (or whatever), especially for smaller chapters that might not have the resources to get that off the ground. Additionally, what happens when folks join from an area without a chapter yet? The national gets to keep all of those dues. I suppose that creates an incentive for the national to organize areas not yet organized...but that's a really convoluted way to go about something like that.

 

 

Amendment #15: Changing the process for forming state and regional organizations

Delegates Louise McCune, Greg Gabrellas, Jack Suria Linares

 

AMENDMENT SUMMARY

Article IV of the constitution describes the means by which DSA members can form organizations on local, state, and regional levels. This amendment to Article IV proposes changes to the process for forming state and regional organizations. It also mandates the purpose/mission of these organizations. Finally, the amendment creates a number of new national roles and committees, charged with upholding the organizational structure it stipulates.

As the article currently stands, two or more locals can petition the NPC to create a state organization. Establishment of any state organization requires the approval of a majority of the locals within that state. The constitution defines an analogous process for the formation of any regional organization; when three or more locals petition the NPC to form a regional organization, the charter is granted if the organization is approved by a majority of locals within the proposed regional boundaries. It is important to note that in the current constitution the formation of state and regional organizations is voluntary and initiated by the local chapters which are constituent of that state or region.

This amendment would empower the NPC to create new statewide organizational bodies and to require the participation of local chapters in these bodies. It replaces state organizations with state communications councils that exist to facilitate communications between local chapters and the NPC. Each chapter in a state must elect a representative to this council in order to qualify for chapter status; that said, local chapters within a district may vote to consolidate representation between chapters.

This amendment also removes the option for chapters to organize regionally. Regional organizations are replaced with regional adminstrators, who are members of a communications task force that NPC would create to develop a communications system between state communications council and the NPC. The regional administrators are assigned by the NPC to be the point of contact for a number of state communications councils within a given region.

Finally, the amendment introduces a grievance process by which regional adminstrators may be replaced or reassigned. Should a state communications council determine by majority vote that a regional administrator is not carrying out their duties, they may issue a grievance to the NPC. The NPC would then appoint a special elections council to carry out a statewide vote. Should locals vote by majority to ratify the grievance issued by their state communications council, NPC would then appoint an impartial task force to investigate the grievance and determine the appropriate action.

 

QUICK-AND-DIRTY AMENDMENT SUMMARY

  • NPC creates a communications task force to create a national communication system.

  • State organizations are replaced with state communications councils.

  • Membership in state communications councils is required of all local chapters.

  • Local chapters are no longer empowered by the constitution to organize by region.

  • NPC appoints regional administrators to manage communication between NPC and the state communications councils within a given region.

  • There is a grievance process if a regional administrator is not fulfilling their duties to the satisfaction of the state communications council.

ANALYSIS

We like this amendment because...

We do NOT like this amendment because...

  • it identifies the need for the NPC to develop a clear line of communication between chapters and national. As the organization grows, it will be imperative to develop a system of communication so that all chapters, regardless of their size and formal/informal ties to national, can hear and be heard by the NPC.

  • it formalizes ongoing dialogue between local chapters by requiring that they organize on a statewide basis. We believe that state organizations have the potential to support long-term campaigns, to encourage solidarity and information-sharing between chapters, and to streamline communication between locals and national.

  • it requires that each chapter elect someone to the state communications council, with an option to elect by district. One-to-one representation to the council could empower smaller and/or newer chapters, while also leaving them the option to be represented by a more established chapter nearby, should they not yet have the bandwidth to elect someone from their membership to the state communications council.

  • it is far too prescriptive. It intends to address problems of growth by improving communication between national and local chapters and by formalizing communications between local chapters within a state; we believe these intentions are well-founded. However, whatever its intent, the solutions it provides are shortsighted and narrow-minded, and therefore they should not be written into our constitution.

  • it removes the option for chapters to organize themselves by region. As the constitution currently stands, local chapters may form regional organizations and may propose the boundaries for said region. This empowers local chapters to organize across state lines and around regional interests/affiliations that are important to them. By replacing regional organizations with regional administrators, this amendment precludes formal communication between chapters at a regional level by requiring that state communications councils be communicating in parallel with one administrator. The amendment would also leave it to the NPC to decide which states would constitute a region.

  • it replaces the current option for state organizations with state communications councils, thereby potentially limiting the capacity and function of the state organization. We believe that there are many reasons for local chapters to form state organizations; to facilitate communications between the NPC and local chapters is but one of those reasons.




RECOMMENDATION

  • Vote NO on this amendment.

  • Vote to make it a priority of the NPC to develop a clear line of communication between local chapters and national.

  • We would like to point out to our chapter that the constitution currently empowers local chapters to petition the NPC to form state and regional organizations. That this hasn’t been done yet is not an indication that our constitution needs amending, but rather a mark of the fact that chapters have been focusing their work more locally – not a bad thing! This amendment brings attention to existing language in our constitution that might galvanize those within our chapter who are passionate about formalizing ties with other chapters in the state of California or in our region, however defined.

  • Vote to make it a priority of the NPC to investigate amendments for 2019 that would encourage or potentially require locals to join state and/or regional organizations, without being too prescriptive.

 

Chapter Meeting Breakout Group

Currently, Article 4 of the Constitution says we can form regional organizations;, however there is no definition of what a region is. This amendment gets rid of the two clauses on regional organization and requires participation in new state communication councils created by National/the NPC. They would facilitate communication between locals and national with assignments handled by regional administrators. There would be no more process for locals to form our own regional organizations and National would set the parameters.

Members emphasized the importance of a formal, regional/state-wide communication mechanism--a component of this amendment.

However, there was a shared concern that while this amendment contains important considerations around facilitating formal communication, that its design weakens grassroots organizing efforts. Key comments included below:

  • “Whatever we do we don’t want to dilute the autonomy of local organizers. Strong state communication channels are important but not if they are built top down. We have to maintain our grassroots organizing.”

  • “I would like a requirement of state orgs and regional councils that is autonomous from National. We need to do regional/state-wide work to make our campaigns stronger. This amendment eliminates the formation of regional organizations and councils for things that aren’t necessarily communication, or even state campaigns (border states and immigration for example)”

  • “It would be a mistake to impose a structure from National. If the majority of locals want to join a state/regional org you can require all of them after a vote. Locals should have option to participate in a regional body by voting.”

There was consensus that this amendment was too narrow, and a call for a formal, state/regional communications structure (which would preserve democracy/transparency in communications), and allow chapters to communicate effectively with each other, in addition to alternative configurations that would guarantee more autonomy and a wider scope of work for regional/statewide organizations--much of which would be shaped by of local chapters.

 

Amendment #16: Renaming “Locals” as “Chapters”

Delegate Robert “Gabe” Gabrielsky

I stand opposed to Amendment 16. First, it is inaccurately and incorrectly motivated. DSA did NOT adopt the designation "Local" as its unit of organization because of its identity with organized labor. The designation of "Local" for the unit of organization for American socialist organizations in fact predates DSA, DSOC or even the old Debsian Socialist Party of America. It goes back to the Socialist Labor Party (SLP) of the 1890's and even beyond that. From the beginning American socialist parties were interested in winning political power, and the way to win political power in a representative democracy is to win elections. So, from the beginning (again, dating back to the SLP in the 19th Century), American socialist parties were organized in ways not dissimilar to the capitalist parties. State parties were referred to and characterized as "Sections." County parties and large city parties were organized as "Locals" and smaller units (small municipalities and community based party organizations) were subordinate to Locals and characterized as "branches." As the organized democratic socialist movement in the United States grew increasingly weaker over the decades, it naturally began to more resemble a collection of small local clubs that a serious political association actively seeking to gain power, so naturally members began to think of and characterize their local organizational unit as a "chapter" even though the old designation stuck in the organization's constitution. In addition the largest organization of the last generation of radicals, Students for a Democratic Society (SDS), was a campus based group and so naturally characterized their unit of organization as "chapters" as YDS does today. It should be pointed out the the Socialist Party, USA, one of the elements besides DSA that resulted from the 1973 break up of the old Socialist Party of America, still characterizes its units of organization as Locals, even though it is one twentieth the size of DSA and has virtually no relationship to organized labor. When the Socialist Party of America was first organized in 1901 it claimed a membership of 10,000, though its actual membership was probably closer to 5,000. That is it was at least only 40% and perhaps only one fifth the size of DSA today. Yet, when it was organized, it designated its unit of organization as "Locals," NOT because of its relationship to organized labor, but essentially for one thing borrowing from the older SLP and for another organizing around a strategy of winning elections in a representative democracy. Given the recent explosive growth of DSA, far from scrapping the term "Local" for the more modest notion of a "chapter," we are, for the first time in 90 years, in a position to re-assert the older table of organization of state-based "Sections," County and big city based "Locals," and smaller and subordinate small municipal and community-based "branches." Vote No on Amendment 16.