NPC Faces Decision On Filling Vacancies In DSA’s Highest Leadership Body
Three separate resignations in just a few weeks by members of DSA’s National Political Committee have offered yet another challenge faced by the organization during a period of heightened conflict. The resignations of former NPC members Austin González and Matt Miller were part of the fallout from the ongoing conflict between the NPC and DSA’s BDS & Palestine Solidarity Working Group. A third former NPC member, Aaron Warner, resigned after making posts on his personal Twitter account that were found to be shocking, offensive, and unacceptable to members of DSA. Resignations were delivered to members via the internal discussion forum, and in the case of Austin, in a public statement posted on Twitter. On March 25, the NPC acknowledged the vacancies in the biweekly NPC newsletter and informed members that the process for selecting replacements to fill the vacant seats, an authority given to the NPC in Article VIII, Section II of the DSA National Constitution, would begin shortly.
It is worth noting that the three vacancies decidedly shift the balance of power on NPC; Austin González and Aaron Warner represented anti-imperialist and libertarian socialist tendencies, respectively, and were among the members of the ‘left bloc’ on the NPC. Matt Miller’s political base is less clear, and though he often sided with the left bloc, he notably broke to join the GDC/SMC faction with his deciding vote to decharter the BDS Working Group and discipline its steering committee shortly before his resignation.
Applications for the vacant NPC spots were opened to all members in good standing on April 15th and were accepted through May 5th. The application included questions about candidates’ organizing experience at the chapter and national level, their political vision for the organization, their approach to conflict resolution, as well as a request for references.
On May 11th, the NPC communicated to members that 20 applications were received during the application period, and an initial screening process removed candidates that did not provide references, were subject to active grievances, or were not members in good standing. This narrowed the candidate pool to 11:Alexander Morash, Bill Fletcher, Jr., Estefania Galvis, Irene Koo, John Lewis, Kevin Richardson, Marvin González, Nikita Amin, Shellee Billings, Stuart Karaffa, and Trey Cook. The email from the NPC included a detailed information packet with candidates’ responses to application questions, as well as a link to register for an open forum featuring the candidates the following week.Members were encouraged on the registration form to submit questions to be asked of candidates during the forum.
The NPC candidate forum was held on May 18th, with all eleven candidates participating. Each candidate was given one minute for an introductory statement. For the most part, candidates used their introductory remarks to highlight their organizing experience within DSA, within their union in their workplace, and within other organizations in the broader US left. Multiple candidates discussed the need to focus on the internal culture of DSA, and pledged to use their time on NPC if selected to increase mentorship opportunities, help members connect with each other, and improve the conflict resolution practices within the organization.
Following introductions, candidates were able to select three out of a total of six questions to answer in one minute responses per question. Three of the questions were written by the NPC, and three were selected from the member-submitted questions. The questions for candidates written by the NPC were high-level and focused on the nature of leadership, approaches to conflict resolution, and the orientation of DSA to the broader US left; in contrast, the questions selected from member submissions were more specific, including analyzing DSA’s approach to electoral and legislative work and how DSA’s multi-tendency nature can be maintained while still pursuing coherence in our external-facing work. Across the board, candidates handled the questions ably, relying on their experience organizing at both the chapter and national level to provide specific examples in their answers. A few broad trends emerged: Bill repeatedly mentioned the need for DSA to unite with the left and center-left to fight the far right, Shellee discussed the need to overhaul the Harassment & Grievance process at the national level. Both Marvin and Estefania stressed the need for political leaders to act with humility and vulnerability and provide a model of healthy culture for both leaders and rank-and-file members. Alex (Providence), Irene (Metro DC), and Stuart (Metro DC) highlighted their experience in leadership of their respective chapters, and both Nikita and Trey brought up the experience of organizing YDSA chapters at the University of Virginia and the University of Vermont, respectively.
One of the central questions facing the NPC and the organization more broadly is what criteria should be used to select replacements for NPC vacancies. Should candidates’ ability to demonstrate a clear political vision for DSA be prioritized over ensuring that the political tendencies in the organization represented by the former NPC members continue to have representation on NPC? Should specific experience in labor, electoral, tenant, or climate organizing be prioritized over experience building DSA chapters? As members familiarized themselves with the candidates and their politics, these questions were posed on the internal DSA forum, spurring a few individual responses from NPC members about how they personally were approaching the selection process and the criteria by which they would evaluate candidates. Notably, Bread & Roses caucus took a public stance that ensuring continued representation for the tendencies represented by the former NPC members should be a top priority.
On May 25th, the NPC hosted a public discussion via Zoom to provide details about the selection process and to clarify the criteria by which candidates would be evaluated. NPC Steering Committee member Justin Charles moderated the discussion and asked the other NPC members to consider candidates in the context of two fundamental issues – the challenges of the current political moment, and the internal challenges that DSA is facing. The discussion opened with a wide-ranging back-and-forth about the forces shaping politics right now.
Kristian Hernandez was the first to speak and noted that as we mourn the victims of the shooting at Robb Elementary School in Uvalde, Texas, the right is working to politicize this moment while the left lacks a strong voice that can draw connections between multiple escalating crises. Later, she brought up how the ways in which people naturally come together during crises is hampered by the toxic online culture of DSA and the pressure that the NPC is under to make decisions for the organization. Jenbo spoke forcefully and emotionally about the need for the NPC to be in solidarity with each other and not tear each other down, and highlighted the importance of the Recommitment Drive to build DSA into a sustainable organizing space.
Justin talked about how the compounding crises we face highlight the lack of democracy in the United States at a fundamental level, and how this must animate all of our campaign work. He also touched on how, without a unifying external-facing project, it is tempting to turn inwards, and he lamented the inability of DSA to evolve beyond legacy structures designed for a much smaller and less complex organization. Sydney Ghazarian discussed the structural impediments to change posed by the Supreme Court and the need for strong leadership to guide DSA’s campaign work. José La Luz spoke at length about the desperate need for a mass organization rooted in the multiracial working class and how, due to the internal fallout from the controversy surrounding Congressman Bowman’s vote to fund the Iron Dome, DSA has failed to respond to this need. He claimed that the conflict had paralyzed the organization and hurt the Palestinian cause, and that disunity arising from internal factional disputes were preventing DSA from pushing forward the Build Back Better agenda in opposition to the corporate wing of the Democratic party.
The conversation then moved to focus on the candidates themselves, as NPC members were given the opportunity to talk broadly about the qualities they are looking for in potential NPC members and specifically about candidates that they feel exhibit these qualities.
Justin stressed the need for ideological continuity between the departed NPC members and their replacements, while acknowledging the need for balance with organizing experience and political vision. He brought up the tensions within the organization and the need to not exacerbate tensions by selecting new NPC members that would not be well received by the membership. Justin named Kevin, Marvin, and John as candidates that met his criteria and would be welcome additions to the NPC. Jen McKinney said after reviewing candidate applications that, like Justin, she feels that Kevin, Marvin, and John are candidates that are best suited to meet the needs of DSA in this moment.
Earlier in the conversation, Jenbo had named John and Kevin as two candidates that she feels would be ideal NPC members. Gustavo argued for appointing candidates that have been in leadership of campaigns that have won material victories and highlighted two candidates, Estefania and Irene, that he feels meet this criteria. Jose La Luz listed Kevin as his first choice and spoke at length about the experience that Bill would bring to DSA. Sydney and Laura listed Irene, Estefania, and Stu, and Marvin, John, and Estefania as their top three choices, respectively.
Ashik Siddique discussed the need for new NPC members to be able to step in and lead priority campaign work and highlighted Kevin’s experience with the newly-formed Multiracial Organizing Committee (MROC), and the potential for the electoral organizing experience of both Irene and Stu in his home chapter, Metro DC, to be leveraged to initiate work on the ‘Socialists in Office’ committee, which would foster closer relationships between DSA and its endorsed candidates once they were in office.
Justin concluded the nearly two-hour discussion by reiterating that the new NPC members would be announced to members by June 1st, but declined to provide any details on the process by which the current NPC would decide on who would fill the empty seats on NPC.
Between the information packet, candidate forum, and NPC discussion, DSA members have had the opportunity to be well versed on the candidates – their experience, their political vision, and their approach to issues such as electoral and labor organizing, as well as the preferences of some individual NPC members in selecting replacements. But DSA members don’t have a say in determining which of the candidates will be selected to serve on NPC.
Indeed, while the transparency and scrutiny regarding the candidates under consideration to fill the NPC vacancies is commendable, it is contrasted with the lack of clarity about the process by which they will be selected. It seems likely, based on the stated preferences of the current NPC, that Kevin, John, Marvin, Estefania, Irene, and Stu are the candidates under consideration, which leaves open the possibility that the ideological makeup of the NPC will shift significantly, depending on the who the NPC decides to help them guide DSA until convention next year.
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