A report back from preconvention

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This is a weekend event recap, state of the movement, and personal account all wrapped into one, from the Midwest pre-convention regional conference in Chicago.

Like a ton of my Twin Cities DSA comrades, I’ve only been organizing for a few years. TCDSA has become an important part of my life in a short time: as a cocoon for my larval organizing skills; as a support network; as a place to safely complain about the soul-killing core of capitalism; and as a regular check on my ego by much smarter and more talented comrades.

Last weekend’s pre-convention regional conference gave me even more confidence in our chapter, and overwhelmed me with the rad shit other chapters are doing, but also helped me identify a couple of things we could be doing a lot better.

I’ll start with the Good Stuff. About ten of us booked a train to Chicago the day before the Convention—a train made hours late by some combination of underfunding, track competition with Bakken oil shipped from North Dakota, and incredibly foul weather—and I got to know two or three comrades I’d barely spoken to before. Train rides are dope, even absurdly delayed ones, and we should all get to know each other more. I’d recommend more DSA train rides!

I’m perpetually scrambling to get to get places on time, so I was unsurprisingly hella late for Day 1. I finally showed up in the middle of a close listening exercise, scanning the packed room for people I knew, trying to figure out how to elegantly insert myself into the program. I finally got caught up right as we launched into the business: an overview of What You Need to Know for the Convention and a brief description of the national Bernie 2020 campaign.

It’s pretty obvious to anyone who’s even done a little bit of DSA organizing work that Bernie 2020 is going to take up an enormous amount of people’s attention—maybe as a core part of our work, or maybe just as a campaign we keep an eye on. I have, to put it very mildly, mixed feelings about orienting DSA around Sanders’ campaign. (That feels weird to say, because many of my friends and family assume I’m a frothing supporter. Which, you know, there are times.)

But the structure national laid out on Saturday should leave room for TCDSA to do as much or as little work on Sanders’ campaign as our individual organizers want. The national organization will be shifting resources to DSA’s independent expenditure, to help Sanders win the primary and the presidency. Canvassing for Sanders has a good chance to bring people to socialism. Meanwhile, our chapters’ work defending our communities from the ravages of capitalism and building a future without profit, pollution, or prisons should show new DSAers that Bernie Sanders doesn’t define socialism—we do.

Fortunately, the national org isn’t just spending money to get Bernie elected. They’re providing new digital tools for chapters: primarily, a database of voters we can use to run effective canvasses for local campaigns, electoral or otherwise. This was a pretty hefty investment and is (in my opinion!) something we should take advantage of.

The upcoming National Convention will give us a chance to define this movement. Folks from national showed us how the amendment process works, how to propose resolutions, and how to gather enough support for resolutions and amendments to trigger a vote. There are going to be big, contentious questions asked at the Convention. Should the National Political Committee have regional representation? Should NPC vacancies be filled by appointment or special election? Can Twin Cities DSA exclude cops? Can you be in DSA and be a cop…period? This stuff might seem trivial, but it has a huge impact on how we’re represented and how decisions are made.

Next, we shifted into a small group discussion of the three national priority campaigns: Medicare for All, Labor, and College for All. I’m pretty exclusively doing my work in the Ecosocialism Branch—’cause of, you know, the impending death of the planet—but it’s really clear that these campaigns speak directly to people’s immediate material needs in a way that climate change doesn’t. (Incidentally, the national convention will be a chance to add a demand to this list that speaks much more effectively to people’s material needs: the Green New Deal.)

After lunch—which was good and didn’t give me indigestion, unlike most food at conventions—we split into issue breakout groups. In the afternoon, I met easily a dozen comrades from around the Midwest doing great work: a campaign to municipalize an awful electric utility in Chicagoland; one in Detroit to create a Tennessee Valley Authority-like entity called the Great Lakes Authority; and a fight to stop privatization of St. Louis’ airport. I’d maybe heard of these campaigns, but hadn’t really given them much thought. There are clearly transferable campaign ideas here (I’m looking at you, CenterPoint!), but there are also ways we can actively support these campaigns, right now. Maybe Rep. Omar should be a champion for the Great Lakes Authority. And maybe we should make Rep. Stauber up in Duluth clearly explain why he isn’t.

My biggest critical takeaway from the day: we absolutely need to coordinate better across Minnesota and across the region. I don’t know what this looks like in practice. But if the national org is already devoting significant resources to electing Bernie Sanders president, it should perhaps also devote resources to improving communication between chapters, to identifying common campaigns and tactics that build power across the state or across the region. If Twin Cities DSA and Twin Ports are both working towards Medicare for All, are they working towards the same ends? Duplicating efforts? Pressuring the right legislators? If we’re doing a phone action against Line 3, can we build a list of trusted comrades who can throw down against a project that crosses multiple states? Here, too, the upcoming convention gives us a chance to chart a path forward—a couple of amendments proposing regional structures that would help us make these connections are already in the works. I’m looking forward to seeing DSA strengthen its foundation for building power.

Tim S.

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