A Socialist Right to Counsel?
DSA Observer Reports from the NPC Steering Committee Meeting
On July 15th, the Steering Committee of DSA’s National Political Committee (NPC) met for the first time in nearly a month and half. Much has transpired since the last SC meeting – just two weeks prior, on the day the Steering Committee would usually meet, the NPC instead released on the members-only Discussion Board a report on events leading up to the NPC elections at the August 2021 National Convention, and the fallout afterwards. The NPC Steering Committee also canceled their July 1st meeting as well, reportedly because they could not reach quorum.
This meeting began like most others with a report from the chair, Kristian Hernandez, who discussed plans for the upcoming meeting of the full NPC on August 13-14 in New York City and mentioned deadlines for the submission of reports and proposals. NPC Secretary-Treasurer Jen McKinney motioned for approval of the minutes from the NPC Steering Committee meeting on June 3. As of July 26, these minutes have yet to be published to the general membership. Jen M. concluded her report by listing all the Loomio votes that had closed since the committee last met on June 5:
Quarter 2 NPC minutes: passed 9 to 0
DSLC Membership Survey Plan: passed 13 to 0
Development Committee appointments: passed 12 to 0
Committee appointments for Tefa Galvis: passed 13 to 0
Committee appointments for Kevin Richardson: passed 13 to 0
Committee appointments for Marvin Gonzalez: passed 13 to 0
Voting Rights Committee appointments: passed 10 to 0
Dates and location for the August NPC meeting: passed 13 to 0
Endorsement for Tiffany Kumar for the Ithaca Common Council: passed 10 to 0
Independent investigation next steps: passed 10 to 4
Approving a new statement and next steps for the independent investigation: passed 9 to 1
International Committee’s letter writing campaign: passed 10 to 0
The penultimate vote listed above was notably a correction after the committee published the controversial report while failing to properly redact the sensitive names listed on it.
Next was the directors’ reports which began with the Operations Director who noted that staff had prepared a memo on the two locations being considered to host the 2023 Convention. At the last meeting of the committee, a decision had been made to narrow the list to two locations, Chicago and Phoenix. Committee members signaled that they were ready to choose Chicago as the location for convention at their early June meeting but were advised by the Operations Director to identify two possible locations to secure a more favorable deal on lodging and accommodations.
The discussion then alluded to a resolution proposed by the Disability Working Group to require the Convention be hybrid and allow delegates to attend either in person or virtually. The proposal—which the Disability Working Group had circulated on the Discussion Board on July 13 and which they continue to ask individuals, chapters and national bodies to endorse—was expected to be discussed at this meeting but instead will be on the agenda for the July 29 meeting of the SC.
Jen M. and Justin Charles, who both appeared to be in support of the hybrid convention proposal, were particularly interested in knowing how going hybrid would affect the costs of the convention, including whether DSA would be contractually obligated to any minimums for rooms or food and how any discounts may be affected if the number of in-person attendees decreased. The Operations Director said that she will get clarification on the matter and also noted that the costs of including a hybrid element to the convention itself may be upwards of $200,000 as it may require contracting with a firm for the equipment and hiring a dedicated staff to operate it.
In the end, no decision on the hybrid format was made but there was consensus that Chicago was the obvious choice to host the convention. After a quick temperature of the NPC members, most of whom were present at the meeting, Justin motioned to select Chicago as the location for the 2023 convention, and the motion carried unanimously. Staff are now empowered to prepare a final contract and bring it to the NPC for approval. While there is likely to be a debate over hybrid convention proposal at the next meeting of this committee, it seems all but certain now that the organization will have its 2023 convention at the Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago.
The final item from the Operations Director was a routine matter of approving the use of VAN for two states, New Jersey and Pennsylvania. While the Steering Committee approved VAN access for both, the plan by North New Jersey DSA to use the canvassing tool for their right to counsel campaign for Landlord-Tenant Court in Jersey City generated some interesting debate, when Gustavo noted (edited for clarity):
I think it’s okay to vote Yes to give VAN to these chapters, or whatever. But just on the subject of right to counsel campaigns, I personally think that we should discourage chapters from taking on these campaigns. I don’t think that they’re very socialist. It’s a defensive demand that is for the benefit of landlords to some degree. It’s building up the system to evict tenants. I know that a number of chapters have done it. It’s become like a ready-made, copy and paste kind of thing in DSA. But I think that there are more campaigns that build the strength of tenants in a more class struggle way, rather than pushing for a fairly defensive demand, which is giving tenants lawyers when they’re being evicted. I think that maybe that’s something that should be brought up in the Housing Justice Commission or with the field organizers or something in the future.
Justin responded, stating that eviction defense is “very much” part of the socialist tradition and that working with tenants is important in it of itself, as well as a way to bring people into the organization. Sofia argued that there are limitations to right to counsel campaigns, particularly with the focus on the municipal instead of state level but agreed that a right to counsel campaign can be powerful when tied to an overall tenant organizing program. It was then noted that this issue can be discussed at another time.
Since the items from the Operations Director were the only decision points from staff for the committee, the National Director offered to forego the reports from the other directors in the interest of time and in light of the Committee’s heavy business agenda. The Chair, however, asked for a report on the Recommitment Drive which, the Development Director noted, had just concluded with 5,906 recommitted members, exceeding the goal of 5,000. The drive generated $193,985 in dues, of which $41,074 are monthly recommitments representing a majority of the recommitted membership.
Next on the agenda was a report from the International Committee (IC) which is in the middle of its yearly leadership application process. Marvin Gonzalez, a new NPC member and one of the NPC liaisons to the IC, noted that he has forwarded to the NPC a list of recommendations for appointments to the leadership of the IC. During the following discussion, the NPC members discussed a number of his recommendations including the plans to restructure the IC by combining the IC Secretariat and Steering Committee, and either combining and dissolving a few of the thematic subcommittees.
Marvin also broached the subject of his recommendation to appoint a former member of the BDS and Palestine Solidarity Working Group (BDS WG) Steering Committee, who had left the committee prior to the NPC dechartering and suspensions. Outside of the Secretary-Treasurer reading out the Loomio votes, this was perhaps the first mention of the suspension at an official meeting of the NPC, but it did not generate any discussion. The rest of the discussion was about the logistics of how the NPC will vote on the appointments. In the end, a consensus was reached to allow Marvin and Ashik Siddique to create a consensus slate of candidates for the NPC to vote on.
A brief discussion of the Socialism Conference followed; DSA is planning to field several panels at the conference. Ashik and Justin, who have been taking the lead on DSA’s participation in the conference, reported that the National Political Education Committee is finalizing the contents of the DSA panels and that the DSA Fund, a sister 501(c)(3) organization, was proposing “scholarships for DSA members who want to attend but need financial help”.
Sydney Ghazarian began an hour-long discussion about DSA strategy on Roe v. Wade by giving a report on the work of the ad hoc committee that was formed after the initial leak of the Dobbs opinion. The Roe v. Wade Committee was formed by the NPC Steering Committee at its May 6th meeting. Sydney and Sabrina Chan were appointed to co-chair the committee, which has been populated largely with members of other existing committees. As Sydney reported, the committee was designated a priority for the organization for a period of two months. While a lofty primary objective of stopping Roe v. Wade from being overturned was originally proposed, that was struck from the proposal and replaced with only the statement: “To be determined by NPC”.
In her report, Sydney made a point to mention how the Roe Committee’s lack of primary objectives has been a source of confusion and led to a general lack of direction. However, the committee did accomplish the “Key Activities” proposed at its creation, including holding several national campaign calls, developing a toolkit for messaging, and a comms strategy. Identifying the Federalist Society as a target, several chapters organized bird-dogging actions at the society’s fundraising events. Several chapters have also become involved in state-level ballot initiatives, including notably in Kansas, where DSA chapters have formed a PAC to fight alongside Planned Parenthood for a Vote No campaign to defeat a constitutional amendment on the ballot on August 2nd.
Sydney noted that even though many people from various DSA national bodies have joined the committee, the Roe Committee is now seriously lacking in capacity. Jen M., who has also been working with the Roe Committee, similarly noted a lack of capacity and that a draft list of demands for the campaigns had been developed, and suggested that a meeting of the NPC be held to finalize these demands and give the Roe Committee some much needed direction.
The discussion revealed that broadly, there are two potential strategies for DSA being considered: backing federal legislation or supporting decentralized campaigns for state and local ballot initiatives. Jen M. noted that the ballot initiative strategy was a possible way to kick start the Statewide Organizations proposal, which was the first recommendation of the previous NPC and was adopted at the 2021 convention to encourage and facilitate the creation of state-level organizations in DSA. Several NPC members mentioned that Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez was working to introduce a bill in congress, and it was revealed that DSA has been holding regular meetings with AOC’s staff.
In the end, the Committee reached no firm plans and instead planned to meet again in the next few weeks to finalize a course of action. At this moment, the Chair indicated that there is one more item on the agenda to discuss a matter related to an expulsion proceeding and recommended that the committee enter an Executive Session. A motion to that effect was made by Justin, seconded by Sydney, and was carried unanimously. Observers were then removed from the meeting as the committee continued to meet in a closed session and the public portion of the NPC SC meeting was brought to a close.
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