Building Bridges and Locals

[attached below this open letter is a proposed resolution ~ ed]

Dear comrades,

The last few years have been wonderful for the Young Democratic Socialists. We've experienced amazing growth and, perhaps more importantly, wonderful retention rates.  Not only are we stronger politically, but we are a nice network of people too. We're able to build lifelong relationships and have dynamic, collective ownership of a socialist organization; also, we’re capable of introspection and self-criticism without the usual threat of splintering or collapsing.  Our national organization is conscious of its physical limitations and holds no illusions of being the mystical vanguard of American socialism. We work earnestly at challenging the status quo, educating and empowering students and community members, building lasting relationships with other progressive organizations, and creating new possibilities for substantive social change.

That being said, YDS is not an organization free of illusions or shortcomings.  YDS members do not take enough ownership of programming, organizing, and staff support.  Multigenerational discrepancies have grown in the largest American democratic socialist organization, the Democratic Socialists of America.  We fear that many younger members misconceive the size and nature of DSA and don’t feel that it is imperative that we put extra effort into building a stronger DSA on the ground.  Nor do we believe that there is enough effort in building new DSA locals by the National Office and National Political Committee.

As aging YDSers, we are keenly aware of the need to take the vivacity and growth that we've seen in the ranks of the youth section and carry it into DSA.  We’ve spoken to many former YDS activists who graduated from college and when asked if they were DSA activists said “I was really involved in college, but after graduation there was no DSA local where I moved.”  Granted, they are now radical journalists, professors, or organizers and still do great work.  However, just being a chapter activist when you are young does little for the long-term viability of socialism.  If we, as young socialists, fail to put ourselves to the grueling (and sometimes frustrating) task of building new venues for public discussion and substantive social change then all of the work we did as youth is marginal and near pointless.  We need to work towards closing the gap between YDS and DSA.  Therefore, we need to have a new process to facilitate the creation of new DSA locals, where our YDS members who graduate college or age out of campus-oriented activism move to join or build a DSA local.

We are living in a time where the consequences of neoliberalism and capitalist globalization have seriously hit home.  It's a time where you can go into a grocery store and hear clerks talking about how economic deregulation is destroying the American family.  How often, however, do you turn on the radio and hear open discussion about organized labor and wage justice?  If we don't work on the ground level with labor and grassroots organizations to actively challenge local and national legislators, we're not going to see anything but bare-boned, short-sighted liberal reforms that will do nothing but temporarily pacify the populace and re-stabilize American capitalism.

Today, a socialist organization in America is critical and necessary.  Unless we are building a left-wing, democratic, and anti-corporate role within the progressive movement, reforms will inevitably be based on lousy compromises.  Unless there is a visible socialist organization, the right-wing (as they do today, although not as well as before) will red-bait any reform, such as Obama’s pro-corporate healthcare plan, as “socialist.”  There is no “historical determinism” that assures we will have socialism, much less a powerful or influential socialist collective.

For YDS to flourish, DSA has to flourish.  We must create an organized left (and DSA) by spending more of our time and effort on creating chapters, opening up channels of communicationbetween organizations and locals, and lifting our voices to be heard. We have to build a culture of conscience, and the only way to build that is to start in your own back yard.  We should build a group that is welcoming, non-sectarian, and has a fun culture like at these retreats.  This is a multi-generational responsibility: one that can not be hived off and covered up by cheap excuses.  Young people must participate in DSA and not use age as a reason to abandon socialism.  Older comrades must work to create a welcoming space and not be stuck in their ways and wonder why their locals are dying.

For example, Kenny Grand has been recruiting and organizing around Little Rock, AR.  His group is building a rural cooperative on the outskirts of the city. They're in the process of purchasing an old YMCA to build a popular education and outreach center which would be operated by the new DSA local membership and would be a community affiliate of the AFL-CIO.  The members are running canvasses and holding public forums on the Employee Free Choice Act and building a labor movement in the South.  They have weekly food distributions, a bicycle kitchen, and skill-sharing and public education seminars at least eight times a month.

In Boston, David Duhalde has joined the DSA local.  In the past few months, he organized the largest Boston DSA event of the year: a workshop about the Employee Free Choice Act with Jobs with Justice and United for a Fair Economy.  This gathering attracted over forty people, and just as important recruited three new young people to get active in the DSA local.  As a member of the executive board, David represents DSA around the city and has increased DSA’s presence in Jobs with Justice, healthcare activism, and general progressive struggles.  New energy has moved DSA and raised the level of participation of older members, too.  Former Wooster YDS activists and Coordinating Committee members Kat Brausch and Andrew Porter will join him in Boston.

Our two examples illustrate that 1) you don’t have to find a DSA local to start one and 2) young people can join a DSA local and not only make it better, but also take leadership.  We are honest that our experiences have not been trouble-free.  With that said, we challenge the youth and young at heart to rethink how we are organizing.  In the following resolution, we propose several reforms we think would help build the Democratic Socialists of America and the Young Democratic Socialists.

Love and solidarity,

Kenny Grand and David Duhalde

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We want to pass following resolution in spirit at the summer conference.  Then we’ll take it to the DSA National Convention this fall to institutionalize these reforms.

1) National Office via staff must give Local Development Committee and National Organizing Committee Facilitator new contacts monthly.  The volunteers can follow-up with new recruits and facilitate grassroots democratic socialist organization.  The national staff is overwhelmed; we must assist them in building new locals and chapters.

2) YDS’s National Organizing Committee Facilitator must join DSA’s Local Development Committee to facilitate connection between youth chapter building and non-youth local building.

3) The Young Democratic Socialists should work on DSA’s national priorities such as the Renegotiate NAFTA petition.

4) Chapter leaders should be mandated to send contact lists to National Youth Organizer to expand connections between the base and the national leadership.

5) Quarterly calls between YDS and DSA activists on programming actions and ideas.

6) Establishment of a key-list email listserv of DSA and YDS members for email discussion.

7) College graduates must both seek and be provided information on DSA locals in their areas.  If there is no organized group, they should start one.


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