By James J Jackson, Jr.
First let me open with a disclaimer, this is not the opinion of our entire delegation. This is my take as both an individual member of DSA and as one individual delegate to the 2019 convention.
As an elected delegate I feel obligated to be as forward and as transparent as I possibly can be about my intentions and priorities to both my chapter’s membership and to the members of our organization as a whole who will be affected by our decisions at the convention.
With all of that said, I want everyone to know that I am strongly against resolution 22.
Resolution 22 is titled the “Local Dues Autonomy” Resolution. While that may sound appealing, it is a resolution that could kill our organization.
Resolution 22 reads as such,
“By March 1 2020, National DSA shall create a mechanism to join DSA directly through a person’s local chapter, so that members pay dues directly to their Local, and the Local in turn pays National DSA on their behalf.”
In the simplest of terms what it means is that the resolution takes the burden of responsibility for collecting and distributing dues away from the national staff and puts it onto the backs of unpaid chapter volunteers. This means instead of our funds being distributed by a paid professional in a centralized manner, they would be in the hands of hundreds of decentralized individuals - who would be next to impossible to keep track of. This not only creates an unfair distribution of work on our already overburdened, unpaid volunteer members, it increases the likelihood of corruption and mismanagement of funds. The more hands you have handling the money, the more likely it is that someone will get access to the dues collections who is either 1. Inexperienced in financial stewardship or 2. Has questionable intentions.
The resolution puts a further burden on the local chapters by letting the individual member decide how their dues can be allocated between the local and the national:
“When paying dues through the national website, members shall have the option to allocate money to their local, if such local is able to accept the funds. Members joining through the local may specify the allocation between the Local and National DSA, but not less than 20% to National DSA, or if they do not specify an allocation, half shall go to the Local and half to National DSA.”
The resolution might as well ask the NPC to reinvent the wheel! No healthy functioning organization, be it any political party, any activist collective, or any union, has such a module in place that controls distribution of dues in this manner. The reason being that such a mechanism does not exist and would be a logistical nightmare to manage.
There is also no way to implement this module without our national staff working on it, and the wording of the resolution itself would move the needed funds to complete such a project away from national. In other words, it is a self-defeating resolution. It needs funds from national to come into fruition, but it takes the funds it needs from national away.
Another issue with this resolution is that it assumes all locals are in the same position to be accepting and collecting dues. The resolution takes for granted the dozens of organizing committees that have not yet become recognized chapters, nor does it take into consideration how many chapters are still undergoing the incorporation process. The Sacramento DSA chapter has been working on getting a bank account in order to collect our national dues stipends for over 2 years now. The only reason we are close to finally completing this task has been the hard work of our already overburdened treasurer. To put the burden of incorporating on the shoulders of a single unpaid volunteer is bad enough, but to put the burden of administering the allocation of dues for every single chapter member on their shoulders as well? The thought is unconscionable.
The more one analyzes the resolution the more one can see that it creates more problems than it solves. There is no language about who is responsible on the national level for organizing this new mechanism. There is no language about how to keep chapters accountable when they handle these funds. There are no safeguards in the resolution’s language protecting locals from fraud or embezzlement.
I may run for treasurer of my chapter in our next election. I want to see to it that our incorporation and bank account projects are completed. I want to assist my co-chairs by handling our chapter’s till so they can focus on recruitment and training our members. What I do not want is the responsibility of individually allocating the dues of each one of our 650+ members, we have a national staff whose job it is to do exactly that! While I agree that this is a lot of responsibility to put in the hands of a few individuals, it is a better safeguard against fraudulent practices and it streamlines transparency. It is much easier to hold one or two paid staffers publicly accountable than it is to monitor and coordinate hundreds of unpaid volunteers.
I am not unsympathetic to the intentions behind the resolution. We all want a bigger cut of dues from national and there is both a need and desire to give local chapters more control over the organization's direction. However there are much simpler, much better, much less risky ways to do so.
Resolution 22 just makes no sense and would be impossible to implement without actively sabotaging the national organization. It must not come to pass. I encourage my fellow delegates to join me in voting it down if it comes to the convention floor.