Hoboken, New York, Phoenix or Chicago?
A DSA Observer Report from the NPC Steering Committee Meeting: June 3, 2022
New York will host an in-person meeting of the DSA’s National Political Committee (NPC), and Chicago and Phoenix are the top contenders for hosting the 2023 convention. These are just two of the tidbits of information learned at the June 3 meeting of the NPC Steering Committee.
Much has changed in the background since the Steering Committee last met for their biweekly meeting. Responsible for decision-making between meetings of the NPC and for the supervision of all offices and staff of the organization, the Steering Committee consists of Chair Kristian Hernandez, Secretary-Treasurer Jen McKinney, Justin Charles, Laura Gabby, and Sydney Ghazarian, together with the YDSA co-chairs, Cyn Huang and Sarandon Elliot, and the National Director, Maria Svart, all three of whom serve “as ex officio members, without [a] vote.” While all of those personnel remain the same, just two days before this meeting, the NPC had added three new members: Tefa Galvis, Marvin Gonzalez, and Kevin Richardson, who will now join the peanut gallery of these biweekly meetings.
As non-Steering Committee members, the new NPC members would typically not be expected to participate in this meeting and that was certainly true here. Gonzalez was the only one to make his presence known when early in the meeting he perhaps jokingly typed “Hoboken” into the chat as a suggestion for where the NPC should meet in person in the near future. However, the committee settled on New York as the location for the meeting, which would be only the second regular meeting of the NPC held in-person since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Besides that, the only other notable item in the chair’s report was a notice that the process of filling committee assignments for the new NPC members has begun with the chair surveying the new members for their preferences.
The Secretary-Treasurer, after routinely motioning for approval of the minutes from the committee’s meeting on May 22, listed out the nine asynchronous votes held among the NPC since the Steering Committee last met. These were:
Matching Funds Incentive Proposal: PASSED 10-0
Appointments to the National Political Education Committee: PASSED 11-0
Electoral Grant to Metro DC: PASSED 8-0
Electoral Grant to Denver: PASSED 8-0
Electoral Grant to Peninsula: PASSED 8-0
Endorsement of [an electoral candidate]: PASSED 6-2
DSLC Rank-and-File Pamphlet Request: PASSED 12-0
NPC Slate #1 (John Lewis, Galvis, and Gonzalez): FAILED 5-8
NPC Slate #2 (Richardson, Galvis, and Gonzalez): PASSED 10-0 with 1 abstention
DSA members can find more details on these items, including the name of the soon-to-be-announced newly endorsed electoral candidate, on the NPC vote tracking spreadsheet maintained by the Secretary-Treasurer.
Next, the National Director began the staff reports by noting that she was working on making sure that new NPC members meet senior staff and receive orientation materials and training. The Organizing Director reported that the team was planning on revisiting two existing training series: “Kickstart Your Chapter” and “Strategic Campaigns” and will be working with the Growth and Development Committee to offer these to DSA chapters. They will also work with YDSA which plans to hold a one-day “Strategic Campaigns” bootcamp in August. The report also included a short overview on the recent visits by a staff member to a few chapters in the larger NYC metro area.
The Organizing Director’s report concluded with a request for guidance from the NPC Steering Committee on what they would like to see on forthcoming DSA and YDSA chapter reports from the Organizing Team. Committee members suggested reports on what training chapters are receiving from the national organization or via regional organizers, and how much time staff spend on outreach, and particularly which chapters receive attention. They also suggested reports on how YDSA chapters recruit members, especially at the start of the school year, and the general composition of YDSA and its chapters. Committee members asked about the ongoing effects of the COVID-19 pandemic on chapters and if they have returned to in-person or hybrid meetings. They also asked if chapters used a priority campaign model, if those have been successful, and how chapters engage members on these campaigns. One other notable request was for information on any chapters they feel are “culturally healthy” and what do they think makes them so.
Operations presented the committee with a series of four requests for guidance or decisions. The first was a revisit of the conversation from the previous meeting on acquisition of enterprise-level access to Airtable and to expand use of the tool beyond current staff use. After reviewing an updated memo from the Organizing Tools Coordinator, the committee immediately concluded purchasing enterprise access was cost prohibitive and maybe overkill without knowing if national bodies will put it to use. Instead, McKinney motioned to pre-approve the purchase of one Airtable Plus account for any national bodies that request it and to permit them to upgrade to Airtable Pro as necessary. After some clarifying discussion, the motion passed unanimously.
The committee was then asked to weigh in on the recent decision by YDSA’s National Coordinating Committee to allow members to use rapid tests, or time stamped home tests, to meet the COVID-19 testing requirements for attending the YDSA convention. At the 2022 YDSA conference, professionally administered polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests were required, and attendees were also permitted to get a rapid test the same day before registration. The testing requirements were strictly enforced, and the conference had no outbreaks. However, the Operations Director also pointed out that the masking requirements were difficult to enforce. After some discussion which included some concerns that YDSA members may not have access to free PCR tests through their university as readily as then used to, the committee unanimously voted to mandate PCR tests, not allow rapid or home tests, and directed Operations to include testing, as well as transportation costs needed for testing, as part of the scholarship program for attendees.
The Operations Director took a break from the requests for decisions to highlight a staff report available to NPC members listing the chapters which are currently having their dues shares withheld and why, which is often because of some lack of compliance by the chapter with accounting requirements. This report was not accessible to observers and time will tell if it will be included in the minutes for this meeting which only become available after the Steering Committee’s next meeting.
The next item on the agenda was perhaps the most interesting: the NPC appears poised to make a decision on the location of the 2023 National Convention. The Operations Director reported that staff have found that at least two hotels, one in Chicago and one in Phoenix, seem to meet the organization’s needs for a convention venue, while several cities were considered. The Hyatt Regency McCormick Place in Chicago, which is playing host to the Socialism 2022 conference in September, to no surprise to anyone according to the Operations Director, is offering DSA an attractive deal with a significant discount on food while the room costs are higher. The identity of the hotel in Phoenix was not revealed during the meeting but was presumably detailed in the staff memo not accessible to observers.
The committee was ready to approve the Chicago hotel, which Charles nicknamed Comrade Hyatt Regency, but the Operations Director advised that pitting these two hotels, from two different national chains, against each other for competing bids for this possibly $1.5 million contract may yield some significant concessions. Since food has historically been the highest expenditure at in-person conventions, far exceeding the minimums outlined by the hotels, staff may be able to negotiate for better deals on other costs such as receiving merchandise. McKinney motioned to direct Operations to further investigate both hotels and continue negotiations. The committee unanimously approved the motion. The Operations Director expressed the desire to have a hotel contract approved by the NPC and signed by the end of August, about a full year before the expected date of the convention.
The last decision point from Operations was a complicated question that has been rearing its head more and more often for the committee since the advent of the many successful Starbucks unionizing efforts across the country. As DSA itself is an employer, the organization has compliance considerations when making in-kind and direct contributions to unions. As outlined in a compliance memo when the committee was last confronted with the issue during consideration in early April of the Labor Solidarity Fund proposed by the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission (DSLC), Section 302 of the Taft-Hartley Act prohibits certain payments from employers to unions and has historically been applied very strictly.
In this instance, the committee was being asked to weigh in on a request to staff from the Central Vermont chapter to create an Action Network sub account for Starbucks workers at a local store organizing with the national union Workers United. This use of Action Network, a paid service, would constitute an in-kind contribution requiring DSA possibly having to hire an attorney to investigate the union’s constitution on whether DSA employees are among the types of workers the union is allowed to organize and accept into its membership. In the light of this, the committee reached a consensus to refer the matter to the DSLC to explore the matter with assistance from staff and in communication with Workers United.
The National Director presented the committee with one more request for a decision from the Finance team. The Afrosocialists and Socialists of Color Caucus is requesting to turn over $500 raised independently of National staff on GoFundMe. The committee was asked to allow staff to treat these funds similar to other budgeted items and, if not spent by the end of the year, the funds would be rerouted into DSA’s General Fund. The reason given for this request was to make the administration of the funds manageable. McKinney made a motion to the same effect which passed unanimously.
The Communications Director noted that, in anticipation of the possible release of a decision from the Supreme Court on overturning Roe v. Wade, communications staff have met to prepare a rapid response strategy. With an opinion expected to be released sometime in June or July, the communications staff was also developing a narrative strategy along with some Steering Committee members. The National Director also noted on behalf of the Development and Member Services Department that the Recommitment Drive remains their top priority.
The last item of the meeting was continued consideration of a collection of work plans submitted by DSA national bodies for NPC review. Work plans are how various formations of the national organization inform the NPC about their plans for the next two years and communicate their requests for resources and funds. The chair outlined a schedule for reviewing and approving work plans that would take at least the remainder of the month to complete and would include an optional work session meeting of the NPC. McKinney noted that a number of committees and working groups had not yet submitted work plans and suggested that the first meeting be pushed back a week. This would mean final approval of work plans would conclude by the second week of July.
As there were no items in the New Business section of the agenda, the committee adjourned early after about an hour-and-a-half long meeting.
DSA Observer is a service provided by the New Majority Education Center for the benefit of DSA members, by DSA members. Subscribe for free to receive new posts and support our work.
If you enjoy our content and want to support more reporting on self-organization and strategy, please consider subscribing and supporting us on Patreon. You can reach us through our contact form or email us at email@example.com if you have suggestions about topics you’d like us to cover in the future or have any other inquiries. Suggestions and ideas for how the organization should operate should be directed towards the National Political Committee at firstname.lastname@example.org.