From August 3rd through the 6th, roughly one thousand members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) gathered in Chicago for the organization’s biennial convention. This every-other-year meeting brings together delegates from chapters across the country to convene the organization’s highest decision-making body to debate and vote on resolutions and bylaw amendments that will outline DSA’s path for the next two years. The amount of delegates each chapter sends is proportional to its size, ranging from one hundred and three awarded to the New York City chapter, all the way down to the one representative sent from Pensacola, Florida. The Maine chapter was granted eight delegates and one alternate. And as the first day of proceedings started, delegates took note of a couple different stand out issues. One was the projected financial deficit that DSA is looking at after a slowdown in new membership in the last two years. The other was how well everyone was getting along. Conventions in 2019 and 2021 were marked by factional discord and some toxic social media behavior as members positioned themselves for policy showdowns. But this year was much less fraught with in-fighting from the very beginning, and instead replaced with a friendly atmosphere amongst all factions. What follows are some key takeaways that Maine’s delegates wish to share. You can find a full list of convention results here.
Maine Member Elected to National Leadership
For the first time in its history as a chapter, Maine DSA nominated members to run for National Political Committee (NPC), the highest decision-making body between conventions. The NPC is made up of sixteen DSA members plus two members from the organization’s youth wing, YDSA. This year’s NPC election was more competitive than in past years, with forty candidates running to fill those sixteen spots. In the end, Maine DSA member Rose DuBois was elected to join this high national office for a two year term through Summer of 2025. This is the first time in Maine DSA’s history that one of its members has been elected to the NPC and the chapter has expressed excitement and support for Rose as she takes up her new role.
Changes to the NPC Structure
Two proposals that would make substantive structural changes to the NPC were taken up for debate, with one being approved and the other rejected by delegates. The proposal that passed did so narrowly, with 51% approval. It calls for two NPC members to be elected as National Co-Chairs. These positions will be salaried, full-time positions and involve acting as spokespeople for the organization. An amendment to this proposal also passed, which requires that the National Co-Chairs be elected by convention delegates, rather than the NPC.
The structural NPC proposal that failed – Democratize DSA – was a fairly close vote. As amended, this bylaw change would have increased seats on the NPC from the current 18 to 35, and increased the NPC Steering Committee from 5 to 11 while assigning more functions to it. As a bylaw change, it required ⅔ (66.7%) approval to pass. After the passage of a number of amendments and after much debate, the motion was narrowly defeated, receiving 62% of delegate support. For the foreseeable future, the NPC will remain the same size.
A proposal that doesn’t directly affect the NPC, but could potentially in the long run, was the passage of the Democracy Commission with 90% approval from convention delegates. This resolution calls for a commission that “will investigate the structures of other parties and political organizations from around the world and which are organized on a democratic basis. And second, it will develop an analysis about what needs to change about DSA’s structures to make the organization more democratic and effective.” The findings of this commission and its recommendations will be made available in time for consideration at the next convention in 2025.
Both Proposals Endorsed by Maine DSA Pass
At Maine DSA’s Summer Semi-Annual Meeting in July, the chapter discussed and voted to endorse two national amendments being proposed at the convention. Amendment “O” called for DSA to emphasize running candidates in school board elections, in an effort to resist the incursion of ultra-right-wing candidates who have made concerted efforts to introduce hateful school policies and curriculum throughout recent years. This motion passed at convention with a giant 94% approval.
Amendment “B” was a motion to require the organization’s Growth and Development Committee (GDC) work with chapters to produce one or more “State of DSA Chapters” report(s). The motive behind the amendment was to create a centralized home for such report(s) within the GDC where chapters could refer to other chapters’ strategies, wins, and losses, in order to better learn from local successes and failures. This motion was passed by the convention with 72.7% approval.
Major Issues at Convention
There were a few issues that seemed to rise above others during convention weekend, and one was the direction of DSA’s electoral strategy. The overriding question was how much independence does the organization wish to build between itself and the Democratic Party. With 96% voting in favor, the convention approved a motion by the National Electoral Committee (NEC) to recommit DSA to the importance of electoral contests as a major priority for the next two years. An amendment to the motion was also approved that calls for DSA to build more organizational independence from the Democratic Party, but still use its ballot-line where it makes strategic sense. Part of this amendment included building a “Socialists in Office” program that is independent of the Democratic Party, starting the process of creating a space for socialist politicians to communicate and coordinate more easily. The one electoral amendment that was defeated was Amendment “P,” which would have established firm standards, or “red lines” that DSA endorsed politicians would have to abide by, or otherwise face disciplinary actions. It also would have established a Socialists in Congress Committee, which would have met with nationally endorsed politicians regularly to discuss actions, votes, and strategies. Amendment “P” was defeated with only 41% of delegates supporting it.
Two separate motions regarding trans and abortion rights were both passed by the convention, Resolution 21 and Amendment “L.” Resolution 21 established a national campaign for reproductive rights and trans liberation, and tasks the NPC with establishing the structures that would be necessary for such a campaign. This includes creating coalitions with other like-minded organizations. Amendment “L” situates this campaign within the National Electoral Committee (NEC) and calls upon national staff to work and coordinate with local chapters in this fight.
Another big issue of this convention was how to address labor. The National Labor Committee put forward a motion to recommit DSA to the rank-and-file strategy, and approve salaries for DSA Labor Committee’s two co-chairs. What “rank-and-file” means is building labor militancy from within unions by encouraging DSA members to get jobs in logistically important unionized industries, and organizing within to encourage union membership to be more confident in its demands. Two amendments to this motion were defeated, one of which would have permitted cooperating with establishment union management when deemed strategically valuable. The other amendment would have nixed the salaries for full-time Labor Committee Co-Chairs, and allowed sharing of national labor mapping with chapter leaderships. The one amendment that did pass calls for the establishment of local Emergency Workplace Organizing Committees (EWOC). Up until this point, EWOC was solely a national body that helped people who wished to organize their unorganized workplace. What this amendment does is allow for building local EWOC stations within individual chapters, allowing EWOC to train more members, and respond better to direct local circumstances. In the end, the original Labor proposal was passed as amended with 96% of delegates voting in favor.
Lastly, one of the most contentious revolved around the organization’s Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions Working Group (BDS WG). This was a working group established at the 2019 convention to specifically work to support Palestinian equality and liberation and to oppose the oppressive Israeli apartheid regime. However, over the course of the last year, the BDS WG had come into conflict with the NPC over differences of opinion regarding the Working Group’s autonomy, expectations of endorsed politicians, and social media messaging. At this convention, the NPC motioned to absorb the BDS Working Group, and all further ongoing BDS work, into the International Committee (IC). There was lots of debate, including heart-felt testimonials from both sides as to why or why not this motion should pass. In the end, delegates narrowly voted to approve the change with 52% in favor. Its passage is in part due to an amendment that was approved that reiterated and strengthened DSA’s commitment to BDS, specified that national endorsements will include questions about BDS, and narrowed and clarified the scope of work.
Speaking of the International Committee, the convention approved the IC’s resolution that solidified it as the diplomatic arm of DSA, allowing no other DSA committee to deal with international actors without NPC approval. It also included an approval for the IC to begin a process of joining the Progressive International, in order to strengthen coordination with global left-wing organizations.
These are just some of the important key takeaways from DSA’s 2023 National Convention. There are many more issues that were taken up, and many that were not due to time, and you can find the full record of what was debated and voted on here. But, as the weekend wound down, there were still those two things delegates noted on the first day: 1) the organization is currently spending more than it’s taking in, and 2) there was much less vitriol between caucuses and factions this year than in recent conventions. As to the first issue, the incoming NPC will be tasked with tough decisions that will require re-organizing some resolutions’ budgets and prioritizing wisely. And, the convention also approved a new dues drive that will reach out and encourage members who can afford it to pledge 1% of their income as dues to DSA. As for the welcoming atmosphere, while there was some serious disagreement on a number of issues, it was widely noted that attendees were cordial and excited when chatting outside the debate hall, and happy to see faces they hadn’t seen in some time. Delegates reported that there seemed to be a renewed energy that congregating and deliberating in person brought along with it, now it’s up to the next two years to see how accurate that optimism was.