Nate K. and Michael S. argue that in order to strengthen YDSA, we should move toward a more standardized national dues system.
As socialists, we face an uphill battle. The bosses, landlords, and political elite have billions of dollars and the full force of the state to ensure their class’ domination over society. But while capitalists may have the cash advantage, we have the secret sauce: millions of working people, frustrated with the status quo, looking for a way to change the world.
Mass movements of working people have been the driving force of history. But to be effective, those movements have needed to cohere themselves into formalized democratic mass organizations like labor unions, community associations, and political parties. As Vladimir Lenin argued in One Step Forward, Two Steps Back, “In its struggle for power the proletariat has no other weapon but organisation.”
But it takes money to organize. Historically, such expenses include meeting halls, print publications, political campaigns, and professional revolutionaries: full-time staffers whose living expenses were paid for by the collective contributions of working-class members. The situation for Y/DSA today is no different: socialists need to fundraise from membership dues, just as millions before us have done for hundreds of years to advance the cause of the working class.
Much like the socialist organizations that precede us, Y/DSA’s membership dues allow us to build power independent of the capitalist class. Dues ensure that our organization is beholden to our working-class membership rather than a shadowy cabal of mysterious foundations and anonymous benefactors, as many liberal nonprofits and NGOs are. As members, Y/DSA is our organization — so when we ask someone to join, we’re not asking them to pay a fee for a service, but rather we’re asking them to join in our common struggle against the boss. When we ask someone to become a dues-paying member, we’re also telling them that their voice is important in the collective project of movement-building.
YDSA currently lacks a consistent strategy regarding dues and membership rights. In some chapters, membership is determined by whether or not someone has joined a GroupMe or Facebook Messenger chat. This kind of informal organizing can lead to all sorts of problems as a chapter scales up: for example, it makes a chapter especially vulnerable to having their meetings or elections raided by malicious outside groups. However, many other chapters keep detailed membership lists in spreadsheets that track dues payments and meeting attendance.
Our two chapters have different membership systems. At YDSA Georgia Tech, membership is determined by paying local dues of $5 per semester, or $10 for a year, to our chapter Venmo account. While this system raises hundreds of dollars every year, an unfortunate side-effect is that it creates two tiers of membership. In order to run for Executive Committee or Convention Delegate or to vote in Metro Atlanta DSA meetings, chapter members need to pay national dues in addition to their local dues. It has been cumbersome and alienating to our members to require additional fees as they get more involved. It is especially a hassle because National Convention delegates are allocated based on national-dues payers, not local dues-payers, so we have to ask members to donate solely to get our convention delegation increased. We are currently re-evaluating this system, and hope to shift toward using national dues only and requesting a semesterly budget from Metro Atlanta DSA instead, since they receive dues-share funding from our members who do pay national dues.
However, at UCLA YDSA we have a better system. We’ve made it a membership requirement to pay national dues. To have voting rights, one must attend two out of the last six meetings — this creates an incentive for our members to stay engaged and keep attending meetings, and also for our officers to keep good records. This practice has both increased participation and given our officers a better idea of which members are actually active. While this may seem like a small gesture, paying national dues connects our chapter to DSA-LA and to DSA chapters all across the country, and creates a greater feeling of solidarity and collective ownership around DSA within our members.
We hope that other YDSA chapters can learn from what has and hasn’t been effective at Georgia Tech and UCLA. To that end, we enthusiastically support the Dues Standardization Resolution, which will be heard at the National YDSA Convention. This resolution does the following:
- Establishes as a best practice membership in DSA National as a requirement for chapter membership
- Creates guidance explicitly allowing additional membership criteria, such as meeting attendance
- Requests a DSA membership form specifically geared toward YDSA
- Investigates ways for chapters to directly collect dues then pay national a lump sum
- Creates template language for YDSA chapters to apply for university conference funding
- Suggests YDSA chapters petition their nearest DSA chapter for a semesterly/quarterly budget
It’s important to note that this resolution intentionally does not create a mandate for chapters to change their practices. The reality is that many chapters have to deal with university policy that constrains how they can organize: for example, some universities disallow dues requirements. We shouldn’t disallow YDSA chapters from being formed on those campuses; instead we should encourage them to adapt to their circumstances and find ways to organize around these restrictive capitalist policies, keeping in mind that these policies were never constructed with the interests of the working class in mind. If a chapter is faced with bans on dues requirements, instead of forgoing dues altogether, they could organize their recruitment practices in such a way that paying dues is a prominent recommendation, while not being a technical, formal requirement.
While we want to raise funds from people who can contribute, we must recognize the reality that many student workers have very little disposable income, especially during the current pandemic and recession. To that end, the resolution upholds and emphasizes DSA’s current practice regarding low-income members: no potential member should ever be turned away for inability to pay. In fact, it aims to make free memberships more accessible to members by clearly advertising the dues waiver form on a YDSA-themed membership form, whereas the dues waiver form is currently not advertised at all on the web page to join DSA.
In order to make a chapter effective and efficient as it grows, it is critical that we have clear definitions of who can and cannot vote in meetings and elections, that we have clear rights and responsibilities defined for all members, and that we understand which members are actively engaged. We hope that delegates from across the country will come together in support of the Dues Standardization Resolution, which will guide YDSA chapters toward more effective organizing, and which will help strengthen national YDSA through financial independence. Remember: socialist cash beats capitalist trash!
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