Rundown: NPC Meeting, February 5-6, 2022
On February 5th and 6th, the DSA National Political Committee held its winter meeting. This meeting sprawled over two days and focused on the plan of work, the budget, and organizational priorities for the upcoming term. Major take-aways are:
Spring Recommitment Drive
The NPC and staff were realistic in outlining the major challenges DSA currently faces. Staff cited “political malaise” among members, and noted that many chapters were demotivated by political and interpersonal conflict. According to the recent chapter survey, at least a third of chapters are struggling. The staff report also noted that many of their chapters are citing “atrophy and loss” in their desire to engage with national work, and are instead retreating to chapter-level work.
Development staff cited financial concerns around the slowing rates of membership growth and increased percentage of expired (people who have not paid dues in one year or less) and lapsed (people who have not paid dues in over one year) members. Finance staff cited a “significant drop” in monthly membership income, and noted that finance staff will be withholding dues shares from chapters who do not complete compliance and audit paperwork.
Development staff outlined the plan for the upcoming “Recommitment Drive” aimed at re-engaging the 12,000 expired members and 7,000 lapsed DSA members. The drive will take place over six weeks and have the following goals:
Build infrastructure for retention and member engagement;
Recommit 50% of expired members and 25% of lapsed members, both as dues payers and as engaged DSA members;
thus bringing DSA’s membership to or near 100,000.
Staff and the NPC noted that this drive is the most important priority for DSA for the upcoming months, both for our finances and health as a mass organization. The Recommitment drive will be followed by a Recruitment Drive around the primaries. A new volunteer Development Committee (not to be confused with the Growth and Development Committee) will be formed to grapple with the questions around fundraising, to leverage the skills of fundraisers already in DSA to increase our fundraising capacity.
Both NPC members and staff stressed that the organization’s national priorities need to be integrated into and platformed within the Recommitment Drive. Glenn, staff Organizing Director, underlined the importance of having clear priorities that are easy for chapters to plug into for this drive’s success. Chapters may not be motivated enough to help National raise more money for its internal bureaucracy, but they will be excited if they have more help in engaging with national campaigns and plugging their members into work. There was consensus that the NPC should draft a national strategy document in conjunction with the Recommitment Drive.
Kristian stressed the importance of this drive in terms of defining what it means to be a DSA member - It should not be just paying dues but actively fighting in a shared project, as defined at Convention, and to make our members aware of our priorities. Further, the drive itself will be important in showing DSA’s power when we come together for a shared goal, and in providing staff with clear direction about where to spend their time.
Sofia opined that ex-members will not recommit just to contribute to DSA’s bureaucracy, but because there are projects they are excited to fund and participate in. NPC members agreed it was paramount to have clear externally-facing national priorities to support this drive and to focus the organization’s many demotivated members. Sydney stressed the importance in having a cogent outward-facing narrative regarding our priorities and plan to support the Recommitment Drive. Justin stated that they need to do a better job of engaging chapters in both external national campaigns, and the necessary internal-facing work that largely powers our volunteer-driven organization. Aaron cited concerns that focusing national priorities on federal campaigns could be limiting their ability to reach out to demotivated people who “don’t live big national lives.” Jen M. argued that the NPC and any priorities it states need to address the work that chapters are actually working on, whether that work officially falls under an umbrella of a National Priority or not. Ashik concurred that while the locus of communications and feedback during the last NPC term was between the NPC and National Working Groups/Committees, this NPC should focus on building relationships with chapters and addressing their needs.
Several NPC members (Aaron, Jose, Justin) also stressed that it is important to get the Multi-Racial Organizing Committee (MROC), created by 2021 Resolution #31, up and running to support growth that is targeted at increasing diversity within our organization. Kristian confirmed that MROC is in “beginning stages.”
Staff Priorities and Outreach Plan
The discussion of priorities coalesced around the following proposal from Gustavo, which passed 13-4 (no’s were Austin, Jen M., Jenbo, Kara). The priorities for staff until August 2022 were decided as:
Growth and Recommitment drive which weaves in our Labor, GND, and electoral work
Electoral primaries, with particular emphasis to NPC-identified cadre candidates
Hiring the labor staffer to begin that component of the DSLC work plan. Amazon Salting drive in the Spring and Starbucks organizing.
Austin argued that it was a mistake to exclude foreign policy and internationalism as a priority, and Jen M. noted that she has concerns regarding the electoral priority, though she does support a DSLC staffer.
The Priorities come with a Priority Outreach Plan which was also passed. Under this plan, the Growth & Development Committee will take the narrative developed by the NPC around our priorities and build a communications plan which ties the priorities to the Recommitment Drive. It will include direct outreach to chapters regarding both the Drive and our priorities, culminating in a mass call.
Ashik noted the importance of being able to make adjustments to the priorities and plans of work based on discussions with chapters and shifting national political conditions.
Five Year Growth Plan
This term, the NPC is taking on the project of looking at DSA’s internal structures, and reassessing based on interviews with other mass organizations around the United States and worldwide.
National Director Maria Svart noted the challenge in DSA’s current structure where Committees are very siloed, making coordination by staff difficult, and leads to unclear messaging to chapters. The Plans of Work written by NPC members, in consultation with National formations, will help with this siloing. Additionally, internal infrastructure, processes, and relationships will be re-examined during this project, with recommendations to be drafted and implemented.
NPC members had several thoughts on how to improve the organizations’ internal structures, including:
Building infrastructure to allow a plurality of chapters to participate in big national projects (Justin)
Addressing the challenges of having volunteer leaders overseeing non-political unelected staff (Sofia)
Building an infrastructure to share documents and information across the organization nationally (Jen M).
More field staff to better engage with chapters (Matt and Ashik)
Field Organizer focused on diversity and BIPOC organizing (Jose and Gustavo)
Increased transparency, including “fireside chats,” casual group discussions hosted by the NPC for members to attend (Sofia)
This will be an ongoing project, led by Sofia and Ashik, and will culminate in a written five year growth plan. Interviews with other mass organizations, used to assess their structures, are ongoing, and they continue to work on a list of organizations to interview.
The NPC passed a 2022 budget of over $6.9 million. This budget vote comes at the end of a months-long process where national formations were asked to provide annual budget requests. The budget went though the Budget & Finance Committee, which made recommendations to the NPC.
Matt M. noted that this budget comprises a doubling for national committees and working groups over previous budgets. However, many of the funding requests by National Working Groups were rejected by the National Budget & Finance Committee. Notably, the budget includes $300,000 for Resolution 30, Strengthening DSA From the Bottom Up Through National Matching Funds for Chapters to Hire Staff and Open Offices. The NPC will focus on funding office space for chapters, as staffing raises legal questions related to the National DSA staffers’ union contracts and other issues.
However, NPC members brought forward several floor amendments, overriding the recommendation of the Budget & Finance Committee to increase the budget by over $200,000. Major additions that passed, along with smaller consent items, were:
Increase budget for multi-chapter gatherings by $22,000 (Gustavo);
Increasing Green New Deal funding by $39,180 to bring the total Green New Deal amount to $55,000, matching the PRO ACT budget (Gustavo); and,
Increase NEC budget by $127,500 to provide grants to Nationally Endorsed Campaigns (Sabrina).
The NEC budget addition required the most discussion. Sabrina stated that the grants would come in amounts at maximum $7,500. This amount would allow for seventeen grants at maximum, more if less money is given to each candidate. The NPC will vote on grants on a case by case basis.
Proponents of the amendment cited the desire to invest national resources into our electoral priority and, as Ashik cited, “stand behind our candidates”. Others cited concerns regarding the lack of compliance guidance, ambiguity in amounts chosen, and a concrete plan around this funding.
Austin noted a concern that the NPC is “putting the cart before the horse” in providing this fund without a broader discussion of electoral strategy, particularly when other national Working Groups were denied funding in the name of belt tightening. Sabrina noted that any implementation will follow any compliance guidance to come from staff. Jenbo requested clarification on how the number $7,500 was chosen, whether it was based on something specific. Sabrina explained that it was not. Jen M. put forward an amendment to the amendment to cut the amount in half because of budgetary concerns. The sub-amendment failed 8-9 (Aaron, Austin, Jen M., Jenbo, Justin, Kara, Matt, Sarandon voting Yes), while the overall funding of $127,500 passed 10-6-1 (Ashik, Gilman, Gustavo, Jose, Justin, Kristian, Laura, Sabrina and Sofia, Sydney voting Yes, and though Sarandon was not present, she was counted as an abstention).
The NPC addressed the NPC Accountability Proposal drafted by Sydney. The proposal, among others, requires the NPC to:
Refrain from engaging in any harassing, abusive or retaliatory behavior as outlined in Resolution 33.
Refrain from retaliatory behavior including confidentiality breaches or organizing to avoid accountability (including public shaming)
Maintaining confidentiality and impartiality around grievances
Refrain from accusations and name calling publicly
The proposal put forth consequences to breaches, which include:
Using mediation to work through NPC conflicts
Revoking access to confidential information and participation in Executive Session
Suspension or Expulsion if a member is found to have breached confidentiality or interfered in a grievance process
Censuring, suspension and removal from the NPC
This proposal comes at a time of high conflict for the organization. Conflict within the NPC has played out since the term began in August over conflicts related to calls by the BDS Working Group and multiple chapters to expel Rep. Jamaal Bowman for voting to provide Israel with funding the Iron Dome missile defense system among other funding, as well as his trip to Israel sponsored by J Street. These conflicts have taken place largely over Twitter and the Forums. Additionally, staff reported high levels of conflict at the chapter level.
Sydney stressed that this resolution codifies requirements and abilities that NPC members are already beholden to, but reaffirms an abiding commitment to holding each other accountable. Members stressed their support for setting an example as leaders for good behavior and modeling positive conflict resolution to membership.
All NPC members who spoke in this section underlined the need for accountability by the national elected membership. Both Aaron and Jose noted that historically leftist organizations in the United States have been brought down by internal, not external conflict.
Matt put forth two proposed amendments to this proposal. The first would have defined “organizing to avoid accountability” in the document as “asking members or external organizations to lobby the NPC on their behalf, or threatening to damage the reputation or functioning of the organization” and “threatening to damage the reputation or functioning of the organization, in order to secure their preferred outcome in any vote or debate.” The second would have outlined a process for censuring, suspending or removing an NPC members’ access, requiring written notice and a ⅔ NPC vote before taking action. It would have also limited the resolution so that it cannot be applied retroactively, which was discussed and removed to the amendments prior to the vote.
Those opposing the amendments cited that the definition of “organizing to avoid accountability” was vague and potentially limiting. As to the written process and retroactivity concerns, Sabrina argued that both the conduct addressed and remedies thereto were not new, but codifying already in place expectations and practices. Therefore, the resolution could be applied retroactively and processes outlined in the bylaws and under current practice.
The amendments failed, with Aaron, Austin, Jen M., Jenbo, Justin, Kara and Matt voting yes, and the remaining members voting no. The resolution itself, unamended, passed unanimously. This exhausted the weekend’s agenda, nevertheless, the chair requested a motion to adjourn the meeting, and it was brought to a close in that way.
The video recording and the record of votes from this meeting will be put out on the Forum by the NPC. The Observer will boost that information when it is available. We may also make corrections or additions to this report after able to review the recordings.
This article was corrected on 2/10/2022 to reflect that the Retroactivity Amendment for the Accountability resolution was removed by Matt prior to the NPC voting on the amendments.
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