Turn the Chapter Into a "District"

Lead Contact: Matthew Taylor

Introduction

SUMMARY: Develop a more suitably complex organizational structure to facilitate political development, engage wider layers of membership, and enable and sustain the organization’s growth.

WHEREAS:

  • The current size and desired growth of DSA-LA presents itself as an obstacle given the organization’s current structural form.
  • The retention, activation and continued participation of members remains at undesirably low levels and has not been satisfactorily addressed, and this problem is universally acknowledged.
  • The chapter should desire and expect to grow further and eventually require more branches to accommodate expansion of membership.
  • In order to function effectively at increasing levels of capacity — and even its current capacity — the organization will need to remodel itself as a federated series of local branches constructed on a neighborhood level.
  • The coordination and concentration of citywide and regional political leadership would be the responsibility of a steering committee in part comprised of representatives from all branches of the local.

BE IT RESOLVED THAT:

  • In 2019, DSA-LA will experiment with a political form that gives branches elected coordinators and a representative on the Steering Committee chosen from among each branch’s coordinators, to develop a new layer of leadership in the chapter and lay the groundwork for further branch-building.
  • In the next year, Steering Committee will work with members and branch leadership to establish new branches, within and possibly outside of the three existing branches.

I. RESOLUTION DESCRIPTION & TIMELINE

Our chapter is rapidly approaching the point at which it must move from its present form— as a single citywide entity, with issue-based committees that function as the primary political units of the chapter and chapter meetings with uniform programming in several locations on the same schedule—to a more complex and sophisticated organization from the neighborhood level up. Our organization should be structured in a way to allow for habitual and maximum participation of members and the organization should reflect and respond to the actual geographic distribution of its membership.

At present, DSA chapter meetings function as a clearinghouse of decisions made, decisions to be made, and “report backs” from city-wide committees. This model is not conducive to long-term membership retention and development. There are very often few opportunities to address the chapter or branch as a whole and little space for sustained debate and meaningful discussion about strategy and priorities inside the general body. This is true even with branches of the size and scope we have now.

We should aim for a model in which a group of members meet on a scale in which they can regularly interact with one another, debate and make decisions together. We want the branch meeting to be the center of political life in DSA. We are arguing for an intentional transition from the committee to the branch as the cellular political unit of the organization. Committees would not be forced out of existence, but would no longer be where the organization works out its decision-making — in the current form, work is DSA-LA is fragmented, redundant, disorganized within a structure in which committees de facto compete for membership, resources and attention.

Whether at the workplace, the housing unit, or the ballot box, DSA-LA needs to be flexible enough to organize itself in as many different ways as its members and its base/periphery require. This will require long-term thinking and a deliberate strategy of rollout.

We are proposing the following organizational changes:

  • Each branch would be required to elect its own leadership body of five Branch Coordinators tasked with conforming branch work to Chapter priorities.
  • The Steering Committee (SC) would be subsequently restructured and composed of the following positions —
  • A Communications Secretary, Financial Secretary, Recording Secretary, and YDSA-Coordinator to be elected by general chapter-wide election; a representative from each branch chosen from among the elected Branch Coordinators; an Education Secretary and Organizational Secretary selected by appointment by the SC.
  • Existing ‘at-large’ positions on the SC would be abolished by the next election cycle. The Steering Committee will retain its right to appoint an additional at-large member in order to keep its size to an odd number and never risk a tie-vote.
  • The SC will be assigned the tasks of crafting general political perspectives for the entire chapter, and working with branches to design specific interpretations and corresponding local branch work. The SC will retain the authority to further subdivide branches as they grow and mature and necessitate new developments.

TIMELINE

By the end of the year, the Inter-Officer Subgroup Forum should have conducted meetings to discuss changes necessary to implement the resolution, new elections should have taken place to reflect the altered leadership structure, and the three existing branches should be meeting under the new format.

II. ALIGNED ORGANIZATIONAL PRIORITIES

This proposal intends to build upon the success and deepen the project of branching as elaborated in last year’s chapter resolution “Building DSA-LA Across All LA County,” especially with regards to the goals of better cultivating leaders in specific neighborhoods to address local issues with more capacity and participation and to build both a deeper and wider base.

This resolution fulfills the following priorities as defined in the DSA-LA Mission Statement & Organizational Priorities:

  • Build organizational structures that can support and manage anticipated growth of the chapter.
  • Articulate ongoing numerical benchmarks and defined paths for member engagement, ensuring that we can meet every new and experienced member where they are at.
  • Maintain workflow systems that support and empower all members to take on significant responsibility for ongoing cross-chapter communication and collaboration.
  • Recognizing that learning and growth as organizers includes and requires being challenged, encourage and support learning and growth in all members by offering opportunities to develop new skills and take on additional responsibilities.

III. MOBILIZATION AND MEMBER CAPACITY

As political education and trainings shape us into a politically confident organization of organizers, we should look to a future where smaller, intimate meetings take place with more frequency according to the needs of the members in a given branch and to the rhythms of work and life of the chapter’s audience from one location to the next.

We are trying to think several steps ahead, to when DSA-LA -- with thousands of members -- is made up of numerous neighborhood branches (ex: “Echo Park,” “Koreatown”) clustered together into geographical units (ex: “Central”) all under the umbrella of the Chapter/Local.

We don’t intend to break up the chapter into autonomous semi-chapters, nor do we intend to minimize the role of the Steering Committee. The SC will still be empowered to call together larger meetings of the Chapter on a geographic or even city-wide basis as is needed. We maintain that a central political leadership and perspective is necessary for DSA-LA to achieve greater coherence and effectiveness, facilitate ongoing growth, and develop our members’ leadership capacity. We argue that the branches must be outfitted to develop their own programming and leaders, in line with the priorities of Chapter Conventions and perspectives set out by the Steering Committee.

While we envision a continuation of city-wide committee work, we also envision a shift in DSA-LA to put branch meetings at the center of political life for the majority of members, where educational programming, and branch-specific work at the neighborhood level can be discussed and planned. Creating a layer of branch-level leadership is a necessary step in the direction we think any serious organization with ambition must go.

The present branches program, proposed by our Steering Committee and adopted at the 2018 convention, was a step in the right direction and the organization is now tasked with deepening this project — to give the organization its best opportunity for success, it must always be seeking out a more effective and productive form.

IV. COMMITTEE AND WORKING GROUP COOPERATION

Officially, the Issue-based Committees organize around “a core political issue by organizing discrete campaigns, events, and projects” and are “one of the primary ways we structure our work.” This proposal aims to support and advance the numerous goals spread haphazardly across the many committee platforms by centering political debate, planning, and work in neighborhood branches. This will substantially increase the available opportunities for members to engage in the kinds of work they presently must organize through a committee. It seeks to give the organization the chance to meet the committee goals by navigating away from the extant committee structure itself — we are arguing that in fact the present committee form and the committee goals are in contradiction.

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