by Jane Slaughter
Ten Detroit DSA members went to the DSA Regional Conference in Chicago April 13–14, along with folks from Minnesota, Indiana, Ohio, Missouri, Wisconsin, Iowa, Illinois and the rest of Michigan, close to 200 in all.
The purpose of the conference — besides making connections with our nearest neighbor-comrades — was to prepare for DSA’s biennial national convention, coming up August 2–4. People learned more about DSA’s national priorities, including the Bernie campaign, and got practice arguing politics in front of a large group.
Detroiters assigned ourselves to split up so that we’d be covering the various workshops. One of our goals was to spread the word about our Great Lakes Authority proposal for a Green New Deal for the Rust Belt.
The topics discussed:
- An explainer about apportioning delegates for the national convention and about how to submit resolutions and bylaw changes. (Detroit will elect delegates at our general meeting June 1.)
- An explainer on how DSA will run a Bernie 2020 campaign separate from the official one, as an “independent expenditure” campaign. This route was chosen partly because of campaign finance rules and partly to enable DSA to use our campaign to grow. DSA will have its own national campaign infrastructure that does not coordinate with the Sanders campaign. There’s no need for chapters to set up PACs, however.
- Active listening, how to.
- A panel on DSA’s four national priorities (Medicare for All, College for All, labor, and electoral work), followed by randomly assigned small groups. This was not a successful format, as there was little chance to discuss any one topic in depth.
- Workshops on Housing, Down-Ballot Races, Privatization and Labor, and Ecosocialism (you chose two, consecutively). In each, people presented on work their chapter was doing — for example, Chicago’s work to elect six alderpeople to the city council. In the panel on ecosocialism, we heard an overview from Matt Haugen of Huron Valley DSA; how Chicago DSA is campaigning to deprivatize the local electric utility (local laws allow this to happen if city council votes for it, followed by a referendum); and Detroit’s Great Lakes Authority proposal, presented by co-chair Natasha Fernandez-Silber. There was lots of enthusiasm for the Authority, with many people giving Natasha their contact info for future joint work. On May 2 we hosted a conference call with people from around the region, mostly Ohio and Michigan.
- Workshops on how to be a local DSA grievance officer, run strategic campaigns, raise funds for your chapter, and do political education. Jane Slaughter presented on Detroit’s Night School, and we learned a lot about sustainable and grassroots fundraising. These two-hour workshops were perhaps the most practical of the weekend and people were hungry for the ideas.
- Mini-practice on Robert’s Rules of Order.
- Plenary debates. These were intended to mimic convention debates and let people practice speaking from the floor. Three people gave two-minute talks on different aspects of these big topics:
1) How do we fight the right?
2) What is the role of the Bernie campaign in building the socialist movement?
3) What should DSA do about climate change?
Each was followed by one-minute responses from the floor. People did a good job of staying on topic and debating differences in a comradely way, which was different from the reports of rudeness we’d heard from other regional conferences.
There were clear differences, however. Some speakers were incensed, for example, that national DSA endorsed Bernie Sanders when only 24% of eligible members participated in the poll, while Detroit’s Jessica Newman argued that his campaign was an opportunity for DSA to put forward a radical vision “through the lens of Bernie.” Some people said the main way to fight the right is to deny a platform to right-wing speakers and advised spending sizable resources on internal security, while others said the surest way to fight the right is through a mass movement and that we should make sure we don’t inhibit our ability to build such a movement.
The conference revealed what a big tent DSA is, with widely varying levels of experience and political orientation.