In Defense of Campus DSA Amendment

This is a response to the criticisms of the proposal to rename the YDS. You can read the amendment draft and the lively debate that followed here, please continue any further debate on this post

I want to thank everyone who has taken the time read my proposal. I especially want to express my gratitude for those who have commented both for and against the amendment. Nearly all the comments have been well articulated and express sincere concerns. I believe no name may please all; many who have expressed displeasure in the name “Campus Democratic Socialists of America” do not like the name “Young Democratic Socialists” either. In this response I hope to clear up what I feel are some misconceptions about what the name change would alter in the constitution, the relationship between DSA and YDS, the claims of elitism, the needs of our democratic socialist project, and the question of linguistic chauvinism.

There are two important misunderstandings that must to be addressed first: the exclusion of non-students and the abolition of the youth section (YDS). As stated in the proposal, the amendment would only change the name of the organization in the YDS constitution. Amendment III of the YDS constitution reads,[m]embership shall consist of members of the DSA who are under 31 years of age or who are full or part time students. Members over 31 years of age may not hold elective office in the organization. This will not be changed. Dues-paying DSA members who meet this requirement will still be a part of Campus DSA. They will still have voting rights at conventions and be entitled to support from the youth organizer, youth section, and national office. I am phonebanking nearly 150 dues-paying members for the summer conference: many are not students or in chapters. I firmly believe that they have every right to be part of the youth section and should not be excluded from our activities because of their educational status.

YDS will not cease to exist if this name change happens. The youth will continue to have a separate, autonomous space within the Democratic Socialists of America. We will still have our own program, charter our own chapters, and elect our own leadership. This right to a youth section is protected in the DSA constitution. Article V of the DSA constitution specifically states that there is a DSA youth section. Article V, Section III further reads that the youth section exists “to provide a forum for communication and to promote the interests and concerns of members of the organization who are less than 31 years of age or who are full-time students.” Not only would Campus DSA, as DSA’s youth section, still be a venue for non-students under 31, it would also be a more appropriate space for older students. Campus DSA would be a more welcoming space for older students in chapters, but the nature of the organization would still be young because the majority of its members are under 25. This means non-student young DSA members will still feel comfortable in Campus DSA.

The relationship between DSA and YDS (or the youth section) seems to be muddled. YDS is a not a separate organization in the sense that we are completely independent from DSA. We do not have our own budget, we do not have an independent legal standing, and we do not keep separate membership roles. We are the chartered youth section of DSA, which makes us an autonomous section of DSA. This means youth have a special space within DSA. Don’t forget we are all DSA members. Being a member of YDS means you are a DSA member who may be 31 and/or a student.

So as DSA members, we have an obligation to help build DSA locals. I strongly feel that non-student young DSA members should be active in the youth section, but that activity should not be limited to a sole identity as a youth section member. By this I mean that I am in favor of pushing young people to build DSA metro locals while still participating in youth section activities (conferences, rallies, actions, publications, etc.). But if folks continually focus their energy only on YDS, DSA will continue to demise and there will be nothing to inherit. As democratic socialists, we have to build a democratic socialist organization not just our autonomous branch within a democratic socialist organization.

I have disagreements about the term Campus DSA being elitist, although I believe the critique comes with the best intentions. First, as stated above, not one will excluded if they are not a student because Campus DSA is the youth section’s name. Just like non-students are active in the current revival of Students for a Democratic Society, so would they be in Campus DSA. Secondly, a point that was not addressed in my original post was the issue of non-students leading a primarily student organization. Andrew Bowe made an interesting critique when he said it would be racist for a primarily white feminist organization called itself “White Women Feminists.” This is a very good point. But I also believe it was problematic when the International Ladies’ Garment Workers Union was run by men and the membership was nearly all women. Therefore, YDS as an organization whose active base is primarily students with substantial non-student leadership isn’t good either.

I have just not been convinced by the arguments and my own experience that this name change would be exclusionary. If we were starting from day one, I would be against Campus DSA because it would seem to excluded non-students. However, I am not convinced the name YDS has gotten non-students more active. In addition, it’s not as simple as to say we should try harder to build non-campus groups. For instance, in my two years only Edward Elam from Louisville and Christina Huizar from Austin expressed interest in starting a city YDS chapter compared to dozens of requests for campus groups. Edward would agree that I was very supportive and his plan did not work out. Building metro groups has not worked in the past decade while building campus chapters has. DSA chapters, however, do work in metro areas. We should be learning from our mistakes not repeating them.

Second, in my experience as organizer, I must contend that many youth chapters activists don’t know they are in DSA and many young dues-paying DSAers don’t know about YDS. The reasons for this are many: we are small, we are not a household name, we have little money to advertise, folks feel they are part of one organization not two, etc. Just because it seems simple enough for that YDS chapter activists should know they are in DSA does not make it so. We should stop making our lives difficult and just have DSA in the name.

As Edward Elam pointed out, the name change would be more inclusive because it would bring in professors and other DSA members of the campus community into one chapter. Campuses are really communities within communities (cities, towns, villages, etc.). To exclude members who have stakes in your community is not beneficial for our organization.

One of our major duties as democratic socialists is to build a democratic socialist organization. In order to have a stronger democratic socialist movement in the United States, we need to build DSA chapters. DSA chapters need young people to take them over or start them where they do not exist. Young people have more free time and more energy. Older DSA members want young people to take over locals. We would be in a much worse place if we were in an intergenerational power struggle.

This is not to say relations between the young and young-at-heart in DSA are perfect. I agree that we need to work to bridge the divide between generations to make DSA chapters more welcoming to young folks. However, intergenerational dialogue means young people need to listen to veterans members as well. That is why I worked hard to bring young people to the DSA convention. The young people brought energy to the gathering and also learned a great deal. We need more of that and less self-exclusionary activity.

With the issue of the name Democratic Socialists of America being chauvinistic, I am not going to disagree. As a latino, I do not like the idea of the United States being “America.” As a member, I actually like the old name (Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee) better. That said, “we are an activist organization.” Changing DSA’s name, however, is another matter and would need to be taken up a DSA convention. If you feel you cannot support this name change because of the word “America,” I respect that and will not argue it further.

I want to reiterate the fact that the name change will not change the inclusive nature of the youth section in the constitution or activity. Campus DSA will still be a space for non-students and older student members of DSA. Nor has the name Young Democratic Socialists proved to create more diversity. The truth is young people join YDS chapters and become DSA members for various reasons and will continue to do so. The name change to Campus DSA brings, as Christina Huizar wrote, “truth to advertisement.”

I am hard pressed to believe that if DSA disappeared, YDS could continue to exist. Members of this organization from different generations have an obligation to each other to continue our work. DSA needs more activist locals. In order to build a strong democratic socialist voice in the United States, we need more young members building locals. While this is easier said than done, each generation must make space for one another. However, young people building DSA locals will always have a space in Campus DSA to work with their young comrades and build a progressive youth agenda.

I hope I have cleared up any misunderstandings. I know I may not convince many of you. I do believe this will go the annual conference and we will decide the issue there as comrades. I hope that this post and others will create more feedback. Having everyone’s say is great and will enhance our final collective decision. I look forward to continuing this discussion.

Written by David Duhalde, National Organizer for YDS

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