By Daniel B
Becoming a member of DSA is easy. After hearing about some cool project we're working on, you go to the website and fill out the form with your debit card number. Then comes the hard part - figuring out how to actually get involved. Can you just go to a meeting? Join a working group? Are people going to quiz you on the Kronstadt Rebellion or laugh at you if you listen to the wrong podcast? I was lucky, in that the newly formed Immigrant Justice Working Group spoke at my first branch meeting. I joined immediately, and through that working group I met the comrades who have encouraged me, supported me, and made me feel at home in NYC-DSA.
Generally, the easiest place to find work to do in the chapter is within the working groups.
Through my time in IJWG I have learned that there is always work to do in DSA if you're willing to do it, from knocking on doors to setting up tables at meetings, from filling out spreadsheets to printing flyers. While serving in elected bodies and making strategic decisions is valuable, this everyday work is what keeps the organization running and growing. Our campaigns need feet on the ground and administrative work, and our members need support to avoid burnout, find direction, and avoid frustration. If you just joined, or are a current member trying to get more involved, I encourage you to seek out the day to day, unglamorous, essential work: printing sign-up sheets or flyers, showing up to canvasses or phone-banks, keeping track of time at meetings. Ask how you can help, or better yet, recognize a weakness - something needs to be done - and volunteer to do it. When I joined DSA I hadn’t memorized any pithy quotes by famous revolutionaries, didn’t know anything about local politics, and had never canvassed for a candidate. But I knew how to show up, how to set up chairs and hand out flyers, and how to listen to what people have to say.
One of the most satisfying ways I have found to do this kind of essential, sustaining work is the Central Brooklyn Mobilizer program. Mobilizers are meant to form long-term supportive relationships with members, starting from when they join DSA, in order to increase our capacity. When we build relationships and learn we can rely on each other, we are more willing to contribute our labor to the organization, and thus are stronger. As a mobilizer I was given a list of new CBK-DSA members to get in touch with, and then contacted them to set up a meeting. Not all of the members I contacted responded to me, but each of the conversations I had was fruitful and interesting. Calling people to ask them to do things is hard, and keeping it up month after month is really tough-- but as we all work together the mobilizer program will continue to integrate members into the organization and connect them to meaningful work.
This kind of sustaining work for our branches and working groups should not fall entirely on elected officers. In the spirit of the society we want to build, we should value everyday tasks and share the burden of the less pleasant ones. I have proposed that we develop a rotation of members who have agreed to do things like phone banking, meeting setup, etc. Members of the list would indicate which jobs they were willing/able to do, and how often they are available to do them. Formlessness and voluntarism only reinforce the power dynamics of our current society, where some stand up and talk at meetings and others fill the snack bowls. The alternative-- a spreadsheet telling people what to do-- sounds a little weird, but it’s really about members agreeing that nobody in DSA should be up all night doing data entry, skipping their lunch break to print flyers, or running a meeting alone just because nobody else signed up to help