Statement on National’s Proposed Sample Chapter Bylaws by DSA-LA Steering Committee

We, the Steering Committee of DSA Los Angeles, object to the proposed sample bylaws sent out by National on December 19 and the review process currently being carried out.

Democracy, done right, takes a lot of work. DSA-LA has recently undergone the process of writing and ratifying new bylaws to expand the rights of members, so we understand what an immense undertaking this can be. In our own local bylaws reviews process, we emphasized transparency, comprehension, and ongoing discussion with our entire membership, including opportunities for additional amendments at our upcoming Spring 2018 Annual Convention.  The undemocratic content of the sample bylaws, and the rushed and exclusionary process being pushed by National, contradict a basic tenet of DSA—that truly democratic decision making processes must be embedded in every level of the organization. We call on the NPC to abandon this proposed timeline, and take the time to do this right.

The drafted bylaws seek to impose on new chapters a corporate-inspired Board of Directors with the power to fully and unilaterally set policy and program of the organization, without the input or approval of the membership.  A rank and file member of this new DSA chapter would not have the ability to organize anything on their own initiative, and this Board of Directors would have sole power to amend the bylaws be responsible for conducting their own re-election, all without a provision to allow the recall of leaders by the membership.  At a very basic level, it is neither legally necessary nor politically wise to concentrate such power in the Board of Directors without ensuring the rights of the membership to set the course of their chapter. We offer a more detailed critique of the draft bylaws in our formal submission of feedback to the NPC.

The nature of the review process, which provided only a brief window for feedback over the holidays, indicates a desire to limit instead of expand feedback from DSA members. Any fair process would be accessible to DSA members, and conducted only after meaningful, proactive outreach to chapters and applicable working groups. The anonymous authors of these sample bylaws seek to justify both their haste and the undemocratic, top-down governance structure they propose by invoking the specter of legal compliance.  They do this without referencing the specific federal and state laws they aim to be in compliance with, or providing an understanding of why they decided this structure was preferable. Instead, we are offered a set of sample bylaws that may be legally compliant, but are certainly undemocratic in form. Finally, we believe that the failure to disclose who drafted these bylaws and how they were approved for release is intended to obscure their origin and limit opportunities for critique. Without knowing more about their origin and the process that formed these bylaws, it would be irresponsible to recommend that new chapters adopt them.

Los Angeles’ rapid growth in 2017 necessitated urgent organizational reform that could accommodate the hundreds of enthusiastic new members eager to collectively build a democratic socialist organization. Shortly after its election in May 2017, an Interim Steering Committee set about to draft revised bylaws that would de-emphasize top-down leadership and center DSA-LA’s diverse committees and working groups as the most significant working unit of our organization. Through a multistage process that gave members ample opportunities to read the proposals under review, give feedback, and offer revisions, DSA-LA members ratified (by a 91% majority of members voting) a new set of bylaws that

  • ensure that all members can propose and organize their own projects and committees, even over the objections of DSA-LA leadership
  • entrust the nomination and election of Local officers to an independent Nominations Committee
  • establish the Steering Committee as a non-hierarchical 9-member body responsible for realizing the Local’s democratically determined Mission and Organizational Priorities
  • expand the recall process for Local officers;
  • recognize the rights of members to form political caucuses in disagreement with chapter policies;
  • and establish an Annual Convention as the highest legislative body of the Local.

After publicly discussing proposed bylaws revisions over the preceding months, the Interim Steering Committee publicly notified members of the timeline for formal bylaws revision and review a month before the process was set to begin. Before calling for a vote on the proposed revisions, the Interim Steering Committee released a full draft of the revised Bylaws for a 2-week online public comment period on October 1st.  DSA-LA members were asked to review the draft and bring feedback to a chapter-wide meeting on October 14th, where the draft document was reviewed with members in multiple small groups for responses. Member feedback was then compiled and summarized over the following week. Modifications were included in a revised draft if they were raised by multiple members or addressed major omissions or contradictions with existing policy. A final draft was put to members for an online up or down vote from Oct 21-31, where it was approved overwhelmingly. Finally, a commitment was made to hold the first Annual Convention within 6 months, where members are encouraged to organize for and pass amendments to continue to refine our governing documents.

We stand in solidarity with other chapters such as DSA SF & Orange County DSA and the Libertarian Socialist Caucus which have issued their own statements of concern regarding these sample bylaws and the review process. We trust that the National Steering Committee will take these concerns into consideration, abandon its proposed timeline, and provide ample time for response and democratic feedback.

Steering Committee of DSA Los Angeles