By Erin N, Madi M, and Charlotte A
If you’re in NYC-DSA, you’ve probably heard “Working Groups are the core of the DSA,” “Working Groups are where the work happens, or “they’re the lifeblood of the organization!!!!” We agree! Central to this proposal is the question: should working groups—organizing bodies deeply involved in issue-specific projects and campaigns, coalition work, and leadership development—have a dedicated representative, elected by their membership, with a voice and a vote on the Citywide Leadership Committee, the highest citywide political decision making body outside of convention?
Our answer is yes. In order to fulfill DSA’s political responsibility of being a holistic and intersectional political body, representing a complex of interrelated perspectives (housing issues are ecosocialist issues are immigration justice issues are socialist feminist issues, etc.), we must amend our constitution to add one representative from each working group to the CLC. This representative will be elected by and accountable to their group, giving it a voice and a vote on our chapter’s highest political decision-making body.
While some delegates to our present CLC are also members of working groups, currently there is no way to guarantee that every group is represented on the body. Further, because CLC delegates are not elected by the working groups themselves, they may not be the best advocates for working group needs. Perhaps they are less active members, who are not as fully informed about the group’s work. Further, delegates are not beholden to their working group—they are beholden to their branch. Ultimately, there is no requirement or structure in place for CLC delegates to get input from or report back to the working groups the way that they do with branches. This is a problem.
Because CLC elections happen solely on the Branch level, and because working groups are distinct, even often siloed off, from the Branches, comrades who are active predominantly in the Working Groups are at a disadvantage in chapter politics. Working Groups currently do not have official city-wide representation anywhere within NYC-DSA, meaning that our political bodies often make decisions that greatly affect working groups without their input. This proposal seeks to remedy that error. Lack of working group representation is a problem for many reasons, but two that strike us as particularly important are:
This structure makes it difficult for budding working group leaders to take the jump into citywide leadership roles. By selecting CLC representatives only at the branch level, we are restricting a powerful flow of leadership, which disrupts organizational development across the chapter. Those who are most active in a working group are less likely to be active in their branch, making it difficult to be elected for citywide leadership. This undermines a core value in the DSA, which holds that our job as organizers should be to facilitate learning and leadership opportunities throughout the organization. Creating a dozen additional leadership roles that are largely political and have a low level of administrative burden compared to the responsibilities of active working group membership, and are thus feasible dual-positions for a motivated member, will sharpen our collective politics.
Exclusively electing delegates at the branch level puts the CLC at a disadvantage when it comes to issue-based expertise. Because CLC membership is not structured to ensure a diversity of issue-based knowledge and perspectives, smaller but no less important working groups are often without representation on the body. For example, in a time of impending climate doom, to vote against electing a dedicated representative from the Ecosocialist Working Group, or a representative dedicated to the Immigration Justice Working Group given the heightened and escalating border crisis, would be unacceptable-- we should work to ensure both a voice and a vote from each Working Group. Ensuring representation is also particularly important when we vote on political endorsements where the candidate takes a stance on issues that affect multiple working groups or when we debate a campaign, such as Stop Amazon, that also affects the work of multiple working groups.
We want to acknowledge and respond to some of the thoughtful criticism and questions we’ve received about the proposal, including:
How do we determine if a working group is active enough to justify having a seat on the CLC?
The CLC passed a Working Group Census proposal at our last meeting, setting up a process for the Steering Committee to determine whether working groups are functional or not. This proposal understands that process to be a sufficient way to determine whether or not a working group should be considered “active.”
Doesn’t having representation from working groups on the CLC incentivize/ disincentivize the steering committee to dissolve working groups?
It is not our perspective that the steering committee would have any reason to dissolve a working group for the sake of one vote on the CLC. Additionally, if a working group is dissolved, they have the ability to appeal that decision to the CLC, undermining the ability to dissolve working groups for political reasons.
Won’t 12 extra seats make the CLC unwieldy?
No! More people at the table, more voices in the room, more hands on deck... more democracy! Working Group representation gives the CLC a more holistic perspective, a good thing for the chapter. Logistically, larger bodies can be difficult to accommodate, but because the CLC meets at UAW, and UAW can easily fit a larger body, we see no reason why an additional 12 members on the CLC would make the body unwieldy.
Shouldn’t representation from working groups be proportional?
This proposal is more concerned with establishing minimum requirements for working group representation on the CLC. Currently, there is no minimum requirement. Because this proposal is the first step towards ensuring representation on the CLC, we do not want to over-dictate the process. Instead, if we start with one representative per working group, we can use our experience with this process to inform whether or not we should ensure proportional representation in the future, and how.
How do you define membership in a Working Group?
This proposal does not seek to dictate how a working group should conduct elections. Working Groups already conduct elections to determine their organizing committees, endorsements, and priorities. They should continue to to conduct their elections for a CLC representative similarly-- using the democratically decided upon methods they have been using.
In conclusion, if we are to take our political project seriously, we must prioritize weaving together distinct but interrelated struggles. A step towards accomplishing this is ensuring that the comrades most involved in this issue-based work have a dedicated representative on our highest political body. We must understand that no one knows everything, but together we know a lot. Our collective knowledge and experience is a source of great power--- and we should work to ensure that our political bodies can fully harness that power in the pursuit of democracy and socialism for all. A vote for working group representation on the CLC is a vote to enable the cohesion and prioritize the politics of this sprawling and vital work.