Internal Organizing: Being Ready for the Next Crisis

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Three political threads swept the Twin Cities this year. Presidential campaigns. Coronavirus. The police murder of George Floyd on May 25.

Each of these threads intensified each other and manifested all the symptoms of the capitalist exploitation and racist oppression that characterizes the United States. Every crisis brought out millions of people with demands on the state, the economy, and our society, with 15-26 million Americans taking part in the summer uprising [source].

In Twin Cities DSA, our Health Justice group transitioned from canvassing for Medicare-for-All to action alongside front-line medical workers. Members provided food for people in the streets and we participated in a wave of labor struggles across the Twin Cities that have altered the terrain for good. Twin Cities DSA membership doubled in size from about 900 at the end of 2019 to 1800 by the end of 2020.

But the reality is that the movements from this summer faltered. Many people were de-activated by the false promise of Minneapolis city councillors to abolish the police. Thousands took to the streets when actions were visible and we were fresh, but we were unable to follow or support once police repression drove organizing underground. Mutual aid projects headed by activists ran out of steam and resources. We were forced to confront a gap in our organizing: how do we sustain projects for the long term? 

Where is the strength of an 1800-member socialist organization? Why are new members so unclear on how to get involved? Why do activist members experience burnout so often? Why do we struggle to answer the most common question, “How can I help out?”

Some of these questions are an inherent part of the fight. Some of it comes down to our chapter structures. Specifically our internal organizing, including “onboarding” (orienting new members to the chapter) and “inreach” (reaching out to members already in the chapter, as opposed to outreach to people not yet in DSA). After the reactive organizing of 2020, in 2021 Twin Cities DSA must re-prioritize internal organizing.

After conversations with elected and rank-and-file leadership in Twin Cities DSA, I’m convinced that in 2020 we were not structured to organize with the thousands of people in the streets of the Cities. Based on these conversations and my own organizing at Iowa State University, where turnover of even dedicated members is extremely high, we need better internal organizing. I offer these merely as starting points of discussion for what we, collectively, will decide. 

So what can we do differently? 

We can prioritize three key things: neighborhood organizing, new member onboarding, and expanded political education and skills trainings.

First, we need to continue developing our regional and neighborhood groups with onboarding calls to new members. In late October, over 40 members attended an organizing conversation training which led to the early formation of our regional groups. These mass trainings should continue into 2021, and should intentionally grow into our regional organizing work.

A top priority for internal organizing should be identifying and training members in each neighborhood to make these onboarding calls. If new members have someone close by to follow up with, they’ll feel much closer to DSA. While neighborhood groups are developing, we should start onboarding calls to all members to get to know them and develop reliable onboarding practices.

In conversations with leaders, one issue came up again and again: members leading onboarding should not also be leading a working group, branch, or committee. This is a key cause of burn-out among activist members and a major barrier to onboarding new members.

Second, we need members in each branch, working group, and committee to welcome newcomers and offer ways to meaningfully contribute to the group’s work. 

Currently, we don’t have members in each branch, working group, and committee whose main role is to welcome new members to that group. That means that even if we had a robust initial onboarding system, only extremely self-selecting new members will feel welcome. Given the patriarchal and racist society we live in, this means subgroups dominated by white men, instead of leadership that reflects the Twin Cities region.

Third, we need to build upon our existing political education offerings and develop a robust series of monthly trainings. 

Currently our TCDSA 101 training is geared towards new or interested members who want to learn about DSA, how we organize, and how to best use chapter technology (like Slack, Signal). Further trainings can expand on these themes to include a socialist theory of change, what it means to be a member of a political organization, power-mapping, and the basics of organizing conversations. Ultimately, we have to train members how to train. We can make it an explicit expectation that all members will attend these 101, 201, etc. trainings as they’re able.

People should be encouraged to go to these trainings, but not punished for failing to attend. There might be a fear that a lack of training would bar members from taking on leadership. Currently, our crisis as a chapter is that we have informally disqualified hundreds of members from being as active as they would like by not offering enough trainings to begin with. Not every member will devote 10 hours a week to socialism, but every member should be equipped with organizing skills.

Taking these three priorities together, we can see that internal organizing depends on members who see their primary role as internal organizing, whether in neighborhood organizing, within branches, or education work. 

Finally, for interested members, there will be a TCDSA Inreach Committee Meeting on Saturday, January 9, from 12:00pm to 1:30pm. We will discuss and develop our internal organizing strategy, including inreach and onboarding. See more on the #inreach-turnout slack channel. If you’re not on slack, you can go to tcdsa.org/slack.

– Javier M.

Authors’ opinions may not reflect those of the TCDSA.

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