A Big Tent with 30 Pages of Agreement?

By Annalisa W

You may have seen mention in emails from the Steering Committee, or seen events on the calendar, or — if you’re a DSA super-nerd like me — in the Citywide Leadership Committee (CLC) bulletins for the last two CLC meetings, but for those who haven’t been following: over the last four months, our 5,000+ person citywide chapter has put a policy platform on paper (a lot of paper)  that outlines what direction NYC-DSA would like city and state policy to take. I took some time last week to talk to some, to use Tascha V’s most hated term, “supervols” who were behind the enormous effort involved in capturing our big tent on 30 pages: Evan G, an SBK CLC rep; and Justin C, an NBK CLC rep.

A resolution proposing a similar effort but without a detailed creation process was defeated at the last citywide convention. I asked Evan where this renewed effort came from. He reminded me of the first 2018-2019 CLC cohort’s meeting which was light on resolutions and long on discussion time. Coming out of that discussion, some CLC and Steering Committee (SC) members strongly felt that there was a need for a policy platform like this. Fast-forward to February 2019, when the ad hoc committee for the policy platform submitted a resolution to the CLC. The proposal outlined a process for drafting the 12 planks with working groups, and 3 town halls and google forms for feedback. For approval it would go through a CLC referral vote, followed by a convention approval vote. Both bodies would have a chance to amend the platform as well. It passed the CLC unanimously in February and set the clock ticking on the countdown to the Citywide Convention the first weekend of June. Could this all happen in time?

The initial committee was joined by some new volunteers and gave everyone 2 policy planks to draft.  They reached out to the working groups and people in the organization with policy expertise where applicable. Both Justin and Evan agreed that the hardest part were the planks without a corollary working group, like Taxing the Rich, where the authors had to take on a lot of responsibility for learning and developing the content themselves.

The committee knew they had to have the 12 planks ready for a CLC meeting that would happen the first week of May at the latest. That meant that the town halls needed to be scheduled throughout the month of April at the latest. We all know how hard finding affordable space for 50+ people in Manhattan is, let alone planning three events in one month. Even four weeks advance notice is not a lot of time. Evan credits “savior” Andrea G, SC Rep for Queens, with working out an arrangement with the Sixth Street Community Center.  

The town halls themselves were a learning process, requiring tweaks to the structure each time. Each town hall was focused on four particular planks that were released shortly before. They featured an MC and presenters for each of the planks. Both Evan and Justin say that the first one was too much like a “Q & A,” with the policy plank presenter responding to the comments directly, while what they were aiming for was more of a discussion. “I feel like we finally got the closest to what we were hoping for in the third one,” said Justin. Part of what restricted discussion, according to Evan, was clarifying the purpose of the policy platform itself. “There were some people who thought that this was supposed to be national in scope and would be sent to the national organization, then you had some people who thought this was going to be more of a ‘where we stand document,’ instead of just an expression of demands on the local state.” A ‘where we stand document’ would require more discussion about political analysis and had the potential to reveal more deeply the political divides within the organization, which Evan said could be an interesting exercise for the chapter. That said, he sounded fairly exhausted from this effort alone.

At the town halls, note takers were present to record feedback, and throughout the town halls and presentations at working group and branch meetings, members were also sent emails with forms requesting feedback on the planks. “Most of the feedback was additions,” Evan said. When asked about what was excluded, I was told, “If anything was too controversial or contradictory we tried to leave it out. The goal of the document was to reach a certain level of agreement across the organization.” The reams of notes and feedback were parsed and applied mostly in a two-day scramble before the text of the platform had to be sent to the CLC for the May 5th meeting.

The CLC spent a grueling 3-hour session going plank-by-plank through the platform, asking questions and submitting amendments. (I should admit here that as a major contributor to the total tally of amendments, I am certainly partly to blame for the length of the session.) At the end of the day, however, the vote on the platform as a whole passed unanimously, referring it on to the convention.

At the convention next weekend, there will be time on the agenda for a final few amendments that were submitted to the convention committee. Then the convention will be asked to vote on the platform, now 15 planks, as a whole. If it passes, it will become the official policy platform for the NYC-DSA.

When I asked Justin and Evan about what they would like to see happen if this thing passes, they both had similar answers. “If people want to know what we’re about, if they align with us, now they have a way of finding it out,” said Justin. Evan put it in coalition-building perspective, “If a group comes up to [NYC-DSA Co-chair] Abdullah and asks, what does DSA think about x, now Abdullah can actually answer that question, without having to start by saying, well DSA is a big tent organization...” Both also mentioned that this could guide the work of working groups and other parts of the organization, especially regarding endorsements and parsing which politicians align with us. Evan also mentioned repeatedly that if you really want to know what the policy platform should be used for, there’s a list of seven things in its introduction that you can read.

Overall though, both were satisfied with how the process had turned out. We’re a big tent — it’s true — but here are 30 pages of positions that, it seems, we can all agree we want to see enacted in New York City and State. That’s pretty remarkable.

Now let’s start crossing some of them off the list.

And just a final note for the record, the “hero’s effort” award for the work put into this policy platform — by all surveyed — goes to Evan, who did the administrative work of convening meetings, taking notes, and following up with people throughout the process. The original committee was 6 people and grew to around a dozen by the end. Thanks to each of you for your work on this!