The 2019 National Convention of the Democratic Socialists of America
The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) held its biennial convention from August 1-4 in Atlanta. There were 1,056 delegates, representing 80 local associations from all over the United States. As a representative of Québec solidaire, I had the privilege of being among the international guests at the event.
Over the past two years, DSA has doubled its membership from 25,000 to 40,000, and that expansion translated into an increase in the number of delegates to the convention, from 700 to 1,000. The election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018 and Rashida Tlaib in 2019, both members of the DSA, to the House of Representatives helped spur the organization’s growth.
Many of the delegates were new members attending their first convention and they were mainly young people between the ages of 25 and 35. Women and the LGBT community played an important role. And while there were many people of colour among the delegates, the majority was white.
The upcoming elections were the main topic on everyone’s mind. But since Ocasio-Cortez did not attend the convention, the delegates had to discuss issues and strategy in the absence of any official political report or assessment of the last elections, which were a major success for the DSA.
Last March, the DSA decided to back of Bernie Sanders, who is not a member of the DSA, in his bid for the nomination as the Democratic Party’s presidential candidate. The debate at the convention focused in part on whether to endorse any other candidate in the event of Sanders’ defeat. The delegates decided that if Sanders loses the Democratic primary, it will not endorse another presidential candidate
A variety of political currents were represented at the convention, including Build, Bread and Roses, Socialist Majority, Collective Power Network, the Libertarian Socialist Caucus, and Reform and Revolution and that inevitably gives rise to certain tensions.
According to Tatiana Cozzarelli of Left Voice magazine, many of the activists behind Build and the Libertarian Socialist Caucus are uncomfortable with the DSA’s electoralist orientation that brings in a sudden influx of members with little knowledge of internal policies and mechanisms, which opens the door to a centralization of power in the hands of a group with a clear and disciplined strategy, the case in point being Bread and Roses in conjunction with Jacobin magazine.
Accordingly, one of the hot debates at the convention revolved around the organizational and financial centralization of the DSA versus greater decentralization and better financial support to help local chapters. Centralization won the day.
Another important discussion took place around the Rank and File strategy, which was adopted, albeit by a slim majority. Members decided to focus their energy on in working in both the organized and unorganized sectors of the labour movement in order to help foster a broader political consciousness that goes beyond trade union consciousness. The goal is to create workplace or union-based discussion groups with a view to undertaking joint action down the road. It was agreed that the national executive would work with the Labor Notes group to allow DSA members to take advantage of the latter’s political education forums.
The convention unanimously supported the Green New Deal and passed a motion in favour of decarbonizing all sectors of the US economy by 2030. The delegates also decided to strengthen the DSA’s fight for immigrant rights by advocating for the demilitarization of the border with Mexico and the abolition of Immigration and Customs Enforcement as well as the Customs and Border Protection Agency.
With a large international delegation present at the convention, international questions were also discussed: several workshops provided an opportunity for guests from Sudan, the Philippines, Peru, Japan, Brazil, Venezuela, Germany, Belgium and Québec to express their views on the importance of international solidarity.
For my part, I was asked about the Left in Canada and spent some time explaining the particularities of the Left in Québec and the movement for independence. It underscored for me the ongoing challenge of building ties between the Left in Québec and English Canada and the need to develop a shared progressive approach to the Canadian state.
Translated by Andrea Levy.
André Frappier is a regular contributor to CD. He also serves on the editorial board of the online weekly Presse-toi à gauche and has been a member of the FTQ Montréal Labour Council for many years.