By Zelig S
When I joined DSA, during the first Sanders presidential campaign, the entire national organization’s membership was less than the current membership of NYC-DSA. This growth is the result of an increasing crisis of legitimacy for the capitalist order. Broad sections of the population no longer believe that capitalism is just, and more importantly, they're beginning to believe that an alternative order is possible. As a result, they're searching for a means to change the world, and tens of thousands have looked to DSA to be that means.
In my years organizing in unions and on the left, one lesson I've learned over and over is that people’s anger at their own oppression and exploitation is not enough to move them to action. They must also believe that they have the power to achieve something better. If DSA wants to retain the masses of members we currently have, and if we want to grow into an organization of hundreds of thousands, we have to approach the coming years with a high level of seriousness in order to show our members and broader sections of the working class that we're an organization capable of fighting and winning. No other organization has emerged in decades that addresses the gravity of capitalism's crisis. If we don't take up our tasks effectively, this moment could be lost.
NYC-DSA has, for the most part, done a good job consolidating the past two years of massive membership growth and channeling it toward effective action. However, as the scale of our internal organization and our external struggles grow, we're quickly outpacing the capacity of an all-volunteer organization. A staff person is necessary for both organizational effectiveness and for democratic accountability. An organization without these characteristics can't earn the confidence needed to move masses of people to action on a scale necessary to challenge our capitalist enemies.
A staff person’s primary job (read the original proposal here) would be to ensure that our organization can follow through on the tasks we democratically set for ourselves. Their full attention would be focused on following up on the democratic decisions of the Convention and CLC, as well as providing our volunteer organizers with the resources and support needed to make our organization work.
As a mass organization, the bulk of the work we carry out will always be done by member/volunteers, from the member who comes to one rally or canvass a year to the citywide leaders who spend sometimes dozens of hours a week organizing. Volunteer labor has its limits, however. Volunteers work around their work schedules and personal lives. They're necessarily limited in focus and follow-through by other demands on their time. This isn't a criticism; it's merely a fact about the way our lives are structured under capitalism. As the scale and complexity of our organizational tasks grow, tasks will begin (or already have begun) to fall through the cracks without the full-time support of someone dedicated to their execution. This is not only a question of effectiveness, but one of democracy. If we vote to do something as an organization, but fail to carry it out, our democratic choice was undermined.
Staff have been a crucial element of our most exciting and successful campaigns. NYC-DSA’s biggest victories have been our fights to elect Julia Salazar and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. In both cases, the campaigns relied on effective staff to bottomline a mostly volunteer operation. The scale and effectiveness of these campaigns have surpassed anything else we have been involved in. These campaigns not only mobilized thousands of our own members, but meaningfully engaged much broader sections of the working class.
We should be extremely proud of these victories, but the struggle for socialism must be far broader than electoral politics. NYC-DSA should be able to run equally extensive campaigns in communities and workplaces for Medicare for All, Universal Rent Control, Immigration and Racial Justice, or anything else we democratically decide to focus on. If we're dedicated to fighting for socialism, we should take everything we do as seriously as an election campaign.
This is not to diminish our other impressive campaigns, such as passing the Right To Know Act or our partial victory in the struggle over the Bedford Union Armory. But even in our other, smaller-scale fights, we've relied on staff of allied organizations such as Communities United for Police Reform, Physicians for a National Healthcare Plan, or New York Communities for Change. NYC-DSA needs to match the effectiveness of these organizations so we can take the lead on our own large-scale campaigns and become more potent coalition partners. This is especially true as we aspire to more radical demands than our progressive allies where their resources may be less available to us. This is why every large-scale, anti-capitalist organization has had an army of professional organizers, from reform oriented parties like Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS) in Bolivia to revolutionary groups like the Black Panthers in the US or the the Confederación Nacional del Trabajo (CNT) in Spain.
Of course, NYC-DSA needs to spend money on other important things. Chief among them is our desperate need for a centrally located office/storage/meeting space. We also have innumerable smaller scale expenses, like paying for photocopies, or renting meeting spaces. A staff person will dramatically expand our capacity to sign our members up for monthly dues and to organize external fundraisers. I'm extremely concerned with the need for space (truly we need an office in each borough) and I believe that the expanded fundraising capacity provided by hiring a staff person is the best path toward that goal. We have the money right now to hire a staff person and continue to fund our regular operations at the same rate.
I'm also aware of the many difficulties that will come with employing someone. Questions like how to direct their time, how to ensure they're fairly treated, etc. These aren't easy questions, but they're questions that every serious anti-capitalist organization has had to grapple with. As the scale of our organization and intensity of our struggles continue to grow, we will face equally challenging questions at every step of the way, but we cannot shy away from them.
We have an obligation to expand our organization's ability to meet the needs of our time.