Stand Up, Fight Back! YDSA Sets the Course for the Coming Year
DSA Observer Reports from the Young Dem Socialists National Convention
On Friday, July 22, 2022, about one hundred delegates from across the country came together at the aptly named Hubert H. Humphrey Center at the University of Minneapolis – Twin Cities for the national Convention of the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), the youth and student section of DSA. YDSA includes about 1,900 members of DSA, with approximately 130 chapters on college and high school campuses, 58 of which were represented at the Convention.
The 58 chapters theoretically represent about 1,200 of the 1,900 members. However, not all chapters were able to send enough delegates to represent their full voting power. According to Convention rules, one vote was apportioned to every seven dues-paying members per chapter. Each delegate who came in person could hold a maximum of three voting cards once seated. Thus, a chapter like University of Virginia, the second largest chapter of YDSA with 120 dues-paying members, only cast six of its 17 apportioned votes, since it only sent two delegates.
Convention represents the highest decision-making body of YDSA and meets annually, unlike the DSA National Convention, which meets every two years. The 2022 YDSA Convention considered 18 resolutions and 3 constitutional changes, along with 9 proposed amendments to these items. These proposals dealt with many of the same questions YDSA Conventions have debated over the last few years: national infrastructure and policies, YDSA’s relationship to DSA, and campaigns and strategies on a wide variety of issues. Various caucuses and other formations released their positions on the issues facing Convention before business began, which can be compared in a spreadsheet here. Deliberation over the three days lasted for a total of over 10 hours, with some proposals passing or failing quickly and others taking an hour or longer to discuss and debate. We have gone through each of them, breaking down the important elements, including the debate around them and the impact of their passing or failure.
Note: Vote totals are included when recorded. Otherwise they were considered by the chair to have a clear enough margin to not count votes individually. Constitutional Amendments required a two-thirds vote to pass. Both authors were also delegates to the Convention, sponsors or co-sponsors of various resolutions, and candidates for the National Coordinating Committee.
The text of all proposals can be found in the Convention Bulletin here.
Following self-organized breakouts, Walker G. and the presidium hosted a Robert’s Rules Training, including a training on how to use the YDSA app created for Convention. The app hosted the Airtable forms to get on stack, propose any motions, edit your proxy/delegate power, and read the Convention rules. The stack system was fairly smooth throughout Convention, however the online voting system didn’t work during the first vote, and Convention overruled the Chair opting for hand counted votes rather than the online votes throughout the rest of Convention. After the training, delegates heard brief committee reports recapping the work done by the National Coordinating Committee (NCC), the National Organizing Committee (NOC), National Political Education Committee (NPEC), and the Interim Youth Leadership Committee of the International Committee. Speakers outlined the major successes and some of the pitfalls of the year of organizing. (Written reports of each committee should be made available in The Activist soon, and were available in the publication’s Summer print edition, which was distributed at Convention.) Next, the Convention quickly moved into approving the rules and agenda proposed by the Presidium, both quickly passing unanimously by a show of voting cards.
The Convention first considered the five resolutions on the Consent Agenda, which was decided based on a survey sent to all delegates the week of the Convention. Any resolution without amendments that received 66% of support from the poll’s respondents was included. The one exception was Resolution 18 (R18), which was one vote short of 66% in the consent agenda poll, but was included on the consent agenda with the approval of the Resolutions Committee. The Convention adopted the consent agenda, consisting of Resolutions 1, 5, 6, 11 and 18, without any changes.
“R1. Resolution on Better Compiling Resolutions” proposed that YDSA adopt DSA’s process for compiling resolutions suggested by the 2021 Convention.
“R5. Resolution for Graduate Retention” created guidelines for reaching out to YDSA members after they graduate and encouraging them to continue work in DSA.
“R6. Establishing a Council of HGOs to Advise YDSA Leaders” established a National Grievance Advisory Council, intended to assist YDSA chapters with establishing and developing grievance processes in their chapter. If you would like to read a thorough explanation on why this body was proposed, you can read this article written by the co-author of the resolution.
“R11. National Strategic Campaign Cohorts” reaffirmed the cohort system established previously which connected YDSA chapters running similar campaigns, with the most significant change being a consolidation into fewer but larger cohorts.
“R18. Recommitting to The Activist” was a basic recommitment to YDSA’s publication, The Activist, and included a suggestion for creating a writing workshop and the potential for audio content.
After the consent agenda was passed, the first resolution up for consideration was “R7. Developing Leaders in YDSA,” which mandated that the NCC “develop and execute a recurring series of leadership trainings” for chapter leaders. Most of the real debate was over the Amendment R7-1, which struck the following language from the original resolution:
“And be it further resolved, if a chapter’s leadership fails to attend any session over a year, then that chapter’s charter will be frozen following the end of the next summer Convention. A chapter whose charter is frozen is considered unrecognized by National until such time as at least one member of the chapter’s leadership attends a training session. A chapter with a frozen charter shall not be required to reapply for a charter unless the charter had expired normally.”
This amendment removed the mandate that chapter leaders face penalties if they fail to attend the leadership development series. Proponents of the amendment stated that punishing chapters is unnecessary and uncalled for. Speakers also referenced the lack of people attending the leadership trainings as an organizing problem that needed to be solved by showing the value of the leadership trainings, rather than mandating attendance. Speakers against the amendment stated that the amendment removed “the teeth” of the resolution, citing the many years of efforts from YDSA leaders and organizers to recruit chapter leaders and potential YDSA members to the existing chapter trainings. Ultimately, the amendment passed by the slimmest vote of the Convention—76 for, 73 against—and the underlying resolution passed by unanimous consent.
The next resolution up for debate was “R12. National Organizing Committee.” Resolution 12 made the National Organizing Committee a broader base of leadership with a wider purview and more responsibilities. Proponents of the resolution saw the lack of long term capacity in the committee, which is meant to act as a layer of leadership between the NCC and chapters. They stated that the current structure has committees siloed off from each other, which is a prime driver in forcing more administrative burden on to the already overwhelmed National Coordinating Committee. Opponents of the resolution stated that this would transform the NOC into a political body, create a structure of unnecessary meetings and committees within committees, and make the NOC “anti-democratic.” Proponents of the resolution argued that, like most YDSA and DSA national bodies, NOC membership is overseen by national leadership, and the body would be directly accountable to the NCC, as clearly outlined in the resolution. They also disputed the claim that the body would be made political, arguing that it inherently was as part of a political organization. Debate also centered on the potential bureaucracy where too many meetings would be required. The resolution failed by a vote of 56-76.
The first constitutional amendment to be considered was “A2. Amendment to Improve YDSA Democracy.” This amendment would make two major changes to the YDSA Constitution, the first of which would be to choose YDSA’s co-chairs from the nine NCC members elected, rather than electing them independently from the seven at-large candidates. This was intended to address the lack of competition in the NCC co-chair race, which has had only had two candidates for several years in a row. Several delegates questioned this process and the actual effect it would have on the competitiveness of the race, citing other structural issues which caused the lack of competition. Moreover, delegates opposed to the amendment felt uneasy about potentially putting someone on the co-chair ballot who would prefer not to serve in the position. The amendment also included language mandating that delegate races, as well as NCC and NCC co-chair races, would be conducted using Scottish Single Transferable Vote (STV). That this would be mandated to chapters was a subject of contention, with some delegates arguing it might not be easy or ideal for chapters to use STV, and others arguing for the merits of the practice and its accessibility. After little consensus was reached on the merits of the changes, the amendment failed to reach close to the two-thirds needed to pass.
The second constitutional amendment considered was “A3. Programmatic Unity in YDSA.” The amendment proposed two significant changes in the membership requirements of YDSA, removing the so-called “democratic centralist ban” and adding a requirement that members “accept the fundamental aims of the platform of the organization.” It proposed to change the membership ban from members who are “under the discipline of any self-defined democratic-centralist organization” to a ban on “members of any organization that endeavors to undermine the efforts of DSA or YDSA to work toward the realization of its platform according to the decisions made by internal democracy”. It also excluded law enforcement officers from membership.
After much discussion on merits of an amendment (A3-1) which addressed concerns that the replacement language for the democratic centralist ban would still allow for removing members from YDSA in a harmful way, a floor amendment was accepted which added the word “external” before the description of organizations which are undermining DSA or YDSA. In the end, the amended amendment failed bya 62-64 margin.
The final item of the night saw YDSA unanimously agree upon a labor strategy for the first time in at least 3 years. For many years, the most contentious debates in YDSA revolved around the Rank and File strategy and whether to prioritize building a rank and file pipeline for YDSA members to move into existing unions and build those unions into vehicles for class struggle. This year, a different path was taken with “R2. National Labor Strategy” which included a wide mandate for the NLC to create industry-based cohorts, train “the next generation of labor militants,” establish pipelines for industrialization and salt placements post-graduation, organize next year’s labor cohorts, and more. The resolution passed unanimously.
Lastly, the Convention ended its Friday night deliberation session with a welcome rally with Socialist Minneapolis City Councilperson Robin Wonsley and State Senate Senate Candidate Sheigh Freeberg moderated by previous YDSA NCC member James E-T. James opened up the panel with a quote from Eugene V Debs’ Canton Speech delivered in 1918:
“The little that I am, the little that I am hoping to be, I owe to the Socialist movement. It has given me my ideas and ideals; my principles and convictions, and I would not exchange one of them for all of Rockefeller’s bloodstained dollars…”
Sheigh inspiringly told his story of radicalization growing up in a working class family perennially teetering between middle class and poverty after acquiring a risky mortgage in the 90s, one of many that fell apart during the 2008 recession. He spoke about the transformative power of the labor movement and his work across the city supporting the working class. Robin also spoke about the Black Lives Matter uprisings that erupted after the police execution of George Floyd and the power of the organized working class. Both speakers received repeated and tremendous applause.
The first item on Saturday’s agenda was “R4. Resolution to Match Funds and Put YDSA on Leadership.” The resolution directed the NCC to “work together with” the NPC to create a memo to send to all DSA chapters encouraging them to make some bylaw, funding and process changes to strengthen their relationships with their respective YDSA chapters. These changes, as suggested by the resolution title, are to match funds for YDSA members travel to Winter Conference and Summer Convention (up to 3% of chapter budget), a large expense for many chapters, as well as create a voting position on DSA chapter leadership elected by YDSA membership. This position was modeled on the system in NYC-DSA, where all chartered YDSA chapters within NYC collectively elect one representative to serve on NYC-DSA’s steering committee.
Two amendments, R4-1 and R4-2, aimed to change parts of the resolution. R4-1 targeted the implementation of these changes, removing the suggestion for a memo to DSA chapters and instead suggesting the NCC, the NOC, and staff to encourage YDSA chapters to organize within their locals for these changes themselves via an update to the 2017 YDSA Organizing Manual. This was criticized by some delegates who disliked the proposed chapter-by-chapter approach, with one delegate comparing the change to a “state’s rights” argument for local autonomy. The proponents of the amendment strongly refuted this description and argued for the resolution’s practicality in implementing these changes and actually getting more YDSA members involved in their DSA chapters. The second amendment struck the word “voting” from the description of YDSA representatives on DSA steering chapters, meaning that the representative could be voting or non-voting depending on chapter preference. Both amendments failed and the resolution passed, with delegates favoring the original proposal, which asked the NPC to push these changes among DSA chapters.
Next, “R3. Dues Sharing For YDSA Chapters” was introduced, which focused on creating a system for YDSA chapters, like DSA chapters, to receive a share of their members’ dues. The initial draft of the resolution had a few issues with how it related to DSA chapters’ dues share, but they were mostly fixed before the final draft, which read: “DSA members paying monthly dues and belonging to both a DSA and YDSA chapter be permitted to choose with which chapter their dues will be shared or to split their dues-share evenly between both chapters.” It is unclear how, operationally, this would be implemented by DSA and YDSA staff and it was not addressed in the resolution or during debate. The resolution passed quickly without much debate.
Next, the Convention debated “R13. Support for a Growing YDSA,” which called on the NPC to grant broad funds to YDSA, including stipends of $1,000 per month for all NCC members, stipends of $2,000 per semester for leaders of the other YDSA National Committees, and at least $7,000 for chapter grants to support specific organizing projects. The first amendment shifted the amounts of the existing funds requested and requested an additional $15,000 in travel funds for the national conference and Convention. Opponents of the amendment with experience on the Winter Convention planning committee pointed out that $15,000 was less than YDSA originally received this past year. The second amendment struck the requirement for stipends, citing the DSA 2021 Convention’s removal of “Resolution #32: Strengthening YDSA” from the consent agenda and subsequent failure to pass the resolution, arguing that YDSA should not actively undermine DSA’s decision making. Both amendments failed decisively, and the resolution passed quickly.
“R17. Strengthening and Improving Staff-Leadership Collaboration” outlined some changes to the NCC’s relationship with staff, specifically increasing the control of the NCC over the work of YDSA staff and interns. To bring about these changes, the NCC and organizers would draft the NCC and organizers would draft project plans that would be coordinated between the NCC and staff. Interns would also be hired on a semester-by-semester basis to match a student’s schedule. An additional item included in this resolution was the request for an additional staffer to be hired, in addition to the two current YDSA staffer positions, to help support YDSA labor work. An amendment to the resolution added a clause requesting that the NCC motion to the NPC to approve the changes in relationship with staff. This was rejected, with arguments from delegates including the resolutions sponsors that this undermined YDSA’s already established authority over its staff once hired. The resolution as a whole then passed with a 67-54 vote.
After a break for lunch, deliberation resumed with “R14. For Abortion Rights, Bodily Autonomy, and Socialist Trans Liberation,” which called for YDSA to organize a national day of action for abortion rights in collaboration with DSA. This day of action would be oriented around demands on federal, state and local governments, and ideally in collaboration with labor unions, as well as other progressive and liberal organizations oriented around reproductive rights. The resolution also outlined a way for the NOC to incorporate reproductive health and trans rights campaigns into the campaign cohorts program.
One amendment, R14-1, was debated, which stripped the resolution of most of its content, leaving only a possible campaign cohort if interest was sufficient and at least one political education event. Proponents argued that R14 was similar to previous failed attempts at national campaigns and that it would be wiser to have a more limited focus for such national work. Proponents of the resolution argued the necessity of focus on abortion rights given the current context, and drew distinctions between this resolution and campaigns of the past such as the cancel student debt campaign. Eventually authors of the amendment and resolution compromised and a floor amendment was accepted which made the day of action non-mandatory in exchange for the amendment being rescinded. The resolution subsequently passed by a large margin.
With extra time left in the afternoon session before the afternoon break, delegates suspended the rules to move debate over “R9. Travel Equity in YDSA” which centered on how the location of the annual winter conference and summer Convention locations would be decided. Debate was relatively lively over this resolution, with delegates debating about the costs of setting up Conventions and conferences and how to make them accessible to as many YDSA members as possible. A floor amendment was proposed on the resolution to split the massive “Northern Region” outlined in the resolution, which failed. However, it did contribute to the display of maps of the proposed regions, leading to the auditorium chanting “Maps! Maps! Maps!” The resolution passed.
Evening deliberation on Saturday began with “R15. For an Independent Working Class Socialist Party,” which outlined guidelines for YDSA chapter involvement in electoral politics and support for a “dirty break” strategy. Debate began with Amendment R15-1, which suggested that YDSA chapters only work with campaigns endorsed by their local DSA chapter. Some favored more YDSA chapter autonomy in endorsement decisions. Others argued endorsements independent of DSA chapters would be harmful to YDSA-DSA cohesion and may lead to poor endorsement decisions. After some debate and a floor amendment excluding YDSA chapters with no local DSA from the requirement, the amendment failed. R15-2, which encouraged YDSA to support a potential 2024 Bernie Sanders Campaign, was withdrawn prior to consideration.
Amendment R15-3 added a clause encouraging chapters to pursue the rank-and-file strategy. It also replaced clauses suggesting that the NOC create a pamphlet and political education events on the dirty break with a clause suggesting an electoral campaign cohort. R15-3 failed and debate on the resolution as a whole began. Delegates in support of the resolution argued for the necessity of splitting from the Democratic Party as soon as it was practical in support of an Independent Workers Party, while opponents argued that doing so wasn’t necessary to a successful socialist electoral movement, pointing to examples such as Central Connecticut DSA’s electoral success. Another delegate spoke in favor of realignment within the Democratic Party, while another spoke to the difficulty of implementing the dirty break strategy in conservative states. Ultimately, the resolution passed.
The last resolution discussed on Saturday, “R10. Integrating YDSA into the International Committee,” was one of the most contentious resolutions of the entire Convention. In fact, discourse surrounding the resolution began on Twitter before the start of Convention, which included a tweet by NPC member Marvin G and scrutiny over the role of the Activist and YDSA twitter, which led to a clarification by the NCC. The resolution’s motivation focused on the work done this past year between the past NCC, the International Committee, and the Interim Youth Leadership Committee (YLC) to create a functional body between the previously siloed sections of the organization. An amendment to R10 called on the YLC to support “independent trade union rights, free and fair elections, and a lack of corruption abroad” and reject “campist tendencies.” In the opening motivation as well as arguments in support of the amendment, proponents spoke about the record of campism in the International Committee, highlighting both DSA’s delegation to Venezuela, which met with Nicolas Maduro, and the IC’s lack of a statement in solidarity with the Hong Kong Trade Union movement. Other proponents argued that political autonomy in a potential YDSA International Committee would be good for leadership development.
Opponents of the amendment gave both pragmatic and political arguments. Pragmatically, opponents pointed to the amendment’s proposed shrinking of the IC’s multi-tendency nature by rejecting certain political frames including “campism.” They alleged that passage of the amendment would make the resolution ineffectual, the IC would never allow a body within itself to reject its big tent structure and ideals. This would make implementing a resolution that would create such a body impossible. Politically, many delegates pointed to imperialism as a prime driver of history, rather than something that can be marginal or opposed to class struggle. One delegate from Dartmouth YDSA spoke as the “children of imperialism” while another delegate said that passing the amendments would be a “slap in the face to socialists working in the global south to resist western imperialism.” Two delegates invoked their Nicaraguan heritage back-to-back, with one speaker in support of the amendment and one opposed. After an hour-long debate, the amendment failed by a vote of 53-74, and the resolution passed unamended.
Finally, the night ended with a friendly trivia competition, with questions ranging from socialist history to One Direction (both a reference to maps/directions and the band). Teams were sorted by star sign, with the Aries team receiving first place and Gemini one point behind.
Sunday morning kicked off with co-chair speeches from the two candidates running for the two co-chair positions on the NCC: Jake C and Leena Y. Both were elected by unanimous consent. Quickly, then, the presidium asked the Convention to move forward the debate on “R8. Anti-Fascism and YDSA” in order to prepare for the following committee breakout sessions. The Convention obliged and quickly moved to pass “R8. Anti-Fascism and YDSA” without significant debate. The resolution formed a National Organization Safety Working Group to assist chapters in dealing with safety threats. Thus, at about 11:40, deliberation recessed as delegates and alternates attended the breakouts: National Grievance Advisory Council (NGAC), International Committee (IC), National Labor Committee (NLC), National Political Education Committee (NPEC) + The Activist, Mentorship, Antifascism, and National Organizing Committee (NOC). The purpose of these workshops was to provide some background on what the committees have done, info on any pertinent resolutions, and establish some preliminary goals in the upcoming year.
Following committee workshops and lunch, delegates gathered back in the Convention auditorium to hear two minute speeches from the 13 candidates running for at-large NCC. Due to the required racial and gendered quotas of the NCC (at least 50% of the NCC must be self-identified women or gender non-binary people, and at least 45% of the NCC must also be people of color), all persons of color running for the NCC were guaranteed victory. This included Aron A-M, Kaya C, and Lance J. With seats filled due to racial quotas, the Single Transferable Vote system in practice became a first-past-the-post with votes decided based solely on delegates’ first rank. Evan C, Taylor C, Margot G, and Kayla S were the remaining NCC members elected. Bread and Roses thus won all of the seats they contested for the NCC, holding 4 of the 9 positions and remaining the most represented caucus in YDSA.
After a brief recess, deliberation resumed. The final constitutional amendment for debate was “A1. A Voice For Disability”, which added a requirement that one NCC member be disabled if at least one candidate self-identified as disabled, and that disabled members of the NCC be accommodated whenever possible. Debate saw delegates, including several who are disabled, arguing in favor and against the resolution, with proponents supporting the change as a small step forward for representation of people with disability, and opponents opposing the quota requirement and arguing more structural changes were needed. Issues were cited with the quota system as a means of achieving representation, with some viewing it as insufficient but incremental improvement, while others perceived them as harmful. The amendment failed to reach a majority and thus fell significantly short of the two-thirds threshold required to pass.
The final resolution debated by the Convention was “R16. Fighting Bigotry and Inequality” which directed the National Organizing Committee to coordinate and connect chapters with experience running campaigns related to “fighting bigotry on their campuses with the explicit intention of building strong cross-chapter mass demonstrations, mutual aid networks, statewide pressure campaigns, or other organizing projects as deemed appropriate by such chapters.” The resolution passed quickly without much debate. Before deliberation ended, delegates successfully motioned to thank the staff and volunteers who made the Convention possible, and to sing happy birthday for a delegate.
Finally, with all business successfully dealt with by the Convention, delegates sang “Solidarity Forever,” miraculously making it through all four verses, a significant improvement over the “Solidarity Forever” sung at the end of this year’s Winter Conference.
What Comes Next
Ultimately, the test of any Convention remains in how its decisions will be implemented. YDSA is asking the NPC for a huge investment in the YDSA section. R3 calls on the establishment of dues sharing for YDSA chapters. R4 calls for the NPC to send a memo to all DSA chapters urging the creation of a voting YDSA representative on their steering committees. R13 calls on the NPC to grant a variety of financial resources – Stipends for NCC members and committee leaders, money for printing materials, and a chapter grant system ($108,000 annually for NCC, $2,000 per semester each for Activist Editor and Committee leaders, $7,000 for chapter grants). R17 calls on DSA to hire a third YDSA Organizer to support labor organizing ($150,000 minimum). Especially as DSA is in a high cost year planning the 2023 Convention, it seems unlikely for the organization to be able to fulfill these requests from what remains a less than 2,000 member section of the organization.
Strategically, YDSA’s decisions at Convention in many ways dovetail with the decisions made at the DSA 2021 Convention and enacted by the NPC. The unanimous passing of R2, the YDSA labor strategy, potentially reflects the consensus resolution passed at DSA Convention with broad support, setting forward a labor strategy encompassing various approaches and tactics. R14 sets forward a struggle for Abortion Rights, Bodily Autonomy, and Socialist Trans Liberation which, although not specifically reflecting any of the resolutions passed at the 2021 DSA Convention, mirrors the NPC’s recent prioritizaiton of abortion access organizing. Alternatively, YDSA’s passage of R15, For an Independent Working Class Socialist Party, in some ways marks a departure from last year’s DSA Convention, particularly with the failure of the amendment requiring YDSA chapter’s local DSA chapter to endorse and the rejection of the dirty break amendment at the Convention.
The Convention made some important strides forward in expanding YDSA infrastructure, but also rejected certain changes seeking to help national YDSA bridge the gap between itself and chapters. Delegates voted to establish two new national bodies, the National Grievance Advisory Council and the National Organizing Safety Working Group, which will directly work to assist YDSA chapters develop grievance processes and keep their spaces safe from fascist threats. The Convention also voted to continue the work of the Youth Leadership Committee of the IC as an integrated body between DSA and YDSA. However, delegates rejected attempts to expand the NOC and create compulsory leadership training, both of which were argued to have expanded the role of the national organization and help it reach more chapters.
Following the Convention, the NCC got right to work with a four-hour orientation meeting to begin the process of carrying out the will of the delegates along with their other duties. We wish the elected NCC the best in achieving the tasks set out by Convention and leading the youth and student section of the largest socialist organization in the United States!
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