NPC Pre-Meeting Reader - September 17, 2023

NPC Pre-Meeting Reader - September 17, 2023

For the first time since the National Convention in early August, the full National Political Committee (NPC) of the Democratic Socialists of America will be convening as a full body. In advance of this meeting, we’d like to give you all a view into what Red Star is thinking about and provide some context for the resolutions we’re bringing.

On the Role of the Steering Committee

Before getting into the business of the meeting, it’s important to note that the National Political Committee, the 18-person body elected by DSA National Convention to run the organization for the two years between conventions, doesn’t really exist as a deliberative body between meetings. What we have right now is a 7-person Steering Committee, who assemble weekly in meetings attended by most of, if not all of, the National Political Committee. Non-SC NPC members are invited to submit proposals and participate in debate, but do not have voting rights. The Steering Committee often avoids making decisions on topics they consider controversial, opting to instead refer these important questions to the full NPC at the next full meeting or to an online vote using Loomio.

Normally, an organization will elect leadership to make decisions between meetings, allowing other members to focus on delegated work. In our current situation however, the Steering Committee is less of a leadership body than a group for the full NPC to project their political goals and exert pressure on. As a result, all 18 members still have to pay attention to the inner workings of the SC, even though they don’t have formal deliberative rights. We see two main avenues to address this issue.

First, the NPC must increase the cadence of full NPC meetings to improve the pace and quality of our decision making. We are glad that the NPC has already decided to meet monthly rather than quarterly as prescribed by the DSA National Constitution. This decision was also made at the beginning of the last NPC term, but our understanding is that this decision was abandoned as NPC members were unable to commit to having the availability needed to meet that frequently. We believe that a monthly deliberative meeting cadence is an important minimum expectation for the full NPC, and we hope that this NPC can stick to that schedule.

Secondly, we believe that the way we think of the Steering Committee’s roles should change. Some NPC members we’ve talked to see the SC as an “administrative body” while the NPC is the “political body” — but we in Red Star don’t think this accurately captures the reality of how it plays out. Administrative leadership and political leadership are not actually separable, and removing expectations of political leadership from our elected leaders simply creates a leadership vacuum and less clear direction for everyone. Many chapters have shifted away from an apolitical model for leadership, and we think this should apply to the national organization as well. We want to politicize SC and have a robust election process to determine its membership, trust them to make decisions, and recall them if needed.

NPC Business and Red Star’s Priorities

Many decisions put in front of the NPC SC were voted to be referred back to the full NPC, which means the NPC will have a lot to get through at our first in-person meeting. This will require being very precise about parliamentary procedure in order to move through business quickly and hold an open strategy discussion to move forward work passed by convention. Red Star recently held a Robert’s Rules (RONR) training for NPC members which was attended by our interim national chair and NPC members of all political stripes. We had a great time and feel a lot of progress was made. We’re hoping that helps, but do feel that continued learning on this by NPC members will be necessary.

Moving forward DSA’s work on Democratic Rights, Trans Liberation, and Bodily Autonomy

As part of our Four Tasks for Leadership, Red Star put forward a proposal for a United Campaign to merge the Democratic Rights, Trans Liberation, and Bodily Autonomy-related resolutions passed by convention. We believe the national organization should create an arc of national work over the coming year that can engage chapters in a multi-tactic fight for democratic rights, with a priority focus on Trans Liberation and Abortion Rights. This includes a platform that sets the frame for work, and campaigns that connect chapters to different terrains of struggle based on their unique conditions.

Red Star attempted to get alignment on a shared campaign structure to ensure work happened in tandem, but we weren’t able to get a strong majority commitment or consensus from resolution authors to formalize this synthesis as deeply as we’d hoped. What we’ve put forward alongside resolution authors is a pair of resolutions to implement both MSR 2: Defend Democracy through Political Independence and MSR21: For a Fighting Campaign for Reproductive Rights and Trans Liberation in a coordinated manner: both resolutions will establish campaign leadership bodies and form a shared coordination committee, and the Fighting Campaign will integrate the national program from Defend Democracy Through Political Independence into its messaging.

We are excited for the opportunities these resolutions provide to develop a new model of strategic development for local work, but do have some reservations on performing these campaigns without formal synthesis. We worry that the Fighting Campaign For Reproductive Rights And Trans Liberation will have trouble breaking through inertia and soliciting participation from national bodies, which is why we believed integrating it more directly with the Defend Democracy campaign would be a way to ensure chapters can be pulled in to this work by combining our chapter-outreach efforts. The Reform & Revolution caucus members we’ve engaged with have put a sharp focus on speed and autonomy to implement the resolution independently, but we believe a deliberate approach is needed to ensure the campaign doesn’t end up segmenting itself away from the critical path for most chapter leaders. We had hoped that the resolution authors had shared our vision of using this campaign as more of a uniting factor through that synthesis. We hope that we can achieve this goal through integrating the program into the messaging of the campaign, and working closely through the coordinating committee to make sure chapters have an understanding of what work they should prioritize at what times.

We’re also concerned that the Defend Democracy Through Political Independence, with a campaign now titled “For Our Rights,” may end up disconnected from practical activity and that DSA will fail to move the national program into action. Resolution authors have talked about the political education behind the campaign, which will be important, but we believe that a national program not tied to a specific candidate or political campaign presents a major opportunity for programmatic unity across many facets of DSA’s work, and the model for an updated version of DSA’s National Platform. We hope that by coordinating with the Fighting Campaign For Reproductive Rights And Trans Liberation, that For Our Rights can learn lessons about how to connect to chapter work, and prioritize practical activity after the Fighting Campaign ends its first phase.

National Program Discussion and Other Considerations

Beyond our campaign resolutions, we’re also looking forward to some robust debate about what may seem like procedural topics: how will we be running the full-time National Political Committee and National Labor Commission co-chair elections, as well as the Democracy Commission election? Sounds simple enough, maybe, but there are real political questions around the administration of these elections and we’re looking forward to hearing what our fellow NPC members are thinking. We’ll also be making a plan to address the Convention mandate that this NPC develop an actionable plan/program – we see this as a real opportunity to rethink our priority committee model and develop a more holistic approach that sees us tackling cohesive campaigns across committees and – ever the scientific socialists – measuring and adjusting in order to achieve some big goals. Given that we have very limited time to discuss the program at this meeting, we believe it’s best accomplished in a consultative process, with the SC or a delegated group responsible for development. The SC or delegated group should move quickly and synthesize discussion to bring a proposal forward for the following NPC meeting in October. We think that DSA should be picking some big fights and winning them, and we think good planning and a scientific approach can help us do exactly that.

List of NPC Members

Bolded name denotes interim SC

  • Ashik Siddique (Chair), At-Large (NC) - Groundwork
  • Ahmed Husain, Denver DSA - Anti-Zionist Slate
  • Alex Pellitteri, New York City DSA - Bread and Roses
  • Amy Wilhelm (Secretary), Seattle DSA - Marxist Unity Group
  • Cara Tobe, Louisville DSA - Groundwork
  • Colleen Johnston, Denver DSA - Socialist Majority Caucus
  • Frances Gill, DSA Los Angeles - Groundwork
  • John Lewis (Treasurer), New Orleans DSA - Red Star
  • Kristin Schall, At-Large (NY) - Bread and Roses
  • Laura Wadlin, Portland DSA - Bread and Roses
  • Luisa M., Portland DSA - Independent
  • Megan Romer, At-Large (NY) - Red Star
  • Rashad X, Lakefront DSA - Marxist Unity Group
  • Renée Paradis, East Bay DSA - Socialist Majority Caucus
  • Rose DuBois, Maine DSA - Groundwork
  • Sam Heft-Luthy, DSA San Francisco - Red Star
  • Evan Caldwell (YDSA Co-Chair) - UCF
  • Aron Ali-McClory (YDSA Co-Chair) - Constellation