Invest in the Future of DSA by Funding YDSA
In the coming weeks the DSA National Political Committee will vote on a proposed budget for YDSA. The YDSA National Coordinating Committee argues that fully funding YDSA means investing not just in a critical section of our organization, but the wider socialist movement.
At our 2022 Convention, YDSA overwhelmingly voted in favor of a strong budget to fund ambitious organizing efforts in 2023. A corresponding budget request has been submitted to DSA’s Budget & Finance committee by the YDSA Co-Chairs. We, the members of YDSA’s National Coordinating Committee (NCC), think it is imperative that we fully fund YDSA, one of the fastest growing segments of our organization. We’ve written this article to give Y/DSA members some insight into what’s in our budget request, why we requested it, and what this budget could mean for YDSA.
YDSA Budget Request at a Glance
In the past several years YDSA has exploded in growth, adding hundreds of members and dozens of chapters. YDSA has historically had no official annual budget, instead requesting funds piecemeal from DSA’s National Political Committee (NPC). In 2021, YDSA passed a resolution calling for an ambitious national budget, however its accompanying resolution at the 2021 DSA Convention was voted down. Despite this, YDSA was granted its first national budget by the DSA NPC in 2022. This budget included funding for an in-person NCC retreat, a stipend for The Activist Executive Editor (part of a 2021 YDSA Convention resolution), and some money reserved to support chapters.
At the 2022 YDSA Convention, delegates overwhelmingly voted in favor of Resolution 13, which tasked the NCC with submitting a similarly ambitious budget request to the NPC. The request submitted by YDSA’s Co-Chairs included monthly stipends for NCC members and semesterly stipends for national committee chairs, similar to those NPC Steering Committee members already receive, an in-person NCC retreat ahead of the YDSA/Labor/Electoral Conference, and additional funding for committees, chapter grants, and distributing printed materials. While this request is significantly larger than the funding YDSA currently receives, it is grounded in a strategic and material analysis of the importance of a growing and sustaining a strong youth section of DSA.
The Strategic Importance of YDSA
YDSA is uniquely positioned to recruit and develop future leaders of the socialist and labor movements. We come into contact with people at a point in their lives when they are most amenable to socialist politics. As young people form their own opinions and make sense of the world for themselves, YDSA plays a role in helping them realize oppression, inequality, and crises are inherent to capitalism and the need to fight for a socialist future. The potential for YDSA to do this work is already evident, with a generation of YDSA members who joined in 2016-2020 now holding leadership positions in DSA at every level of the organization and in chapters across the country. Furthermore, YDSA has immense potential to further connect DSA with the multiracial working class by starting new chapters at HBCUs, community colleges, and high schools across the country.
YDSA is currently severely under-resourced to meet these goals. Most of our members are full-time students, and many work one or more jobs in addition to their organizing work. Chapters and national bodies are thus plagued with capacity problems and burnout. These constraints mean that much of the National Coordinating Committee’s time is spent keeping up with the day-to-day work of running the organization: bottomlining committee work, contacting and meeting with chapter leaders, and constantly jumping from one project to the next. Stipends for national leaders would allow NCC members and committee chairs to work less hours at their part-time jobs and make the position more sustainable, expanding YDSA’s capacity and allowing for new organizing experiments and projects to be launched.
Not only would this budget increase the capacity of YDSA, but it would also give more meaningful stakes to future political decisions. With material resources and expanded capacity to back up our priorities, a budget would encourage the NCC and YDSA as a whole to think more strategically about how and where to expand our organization. This will deepen the strategic analysis of YDSA and develop more experienced leaders who will go on to become active members of DSA (if they are not already) after they graduate.
YDSA Punches Above its Weight
YDSA has a massive opportunity to develop future leaders of DSA. Even with its small budget it is already one of the most dynamic segments of our organization. At our 2020 Convention, YDSA had just 765 members in chapters across the country. Today, less than three years later, YDSA has more than 1,900 members nationally, an increase of 150%. This impressive growth comes in spite of the incredibly high turnover YDSA experiences. Every year, hundreds of our most experienced members graduate out of YDSA, and yet we have maintained steady growth for the past several years.
Moreover, these numbers fail to capture the true scale of YDSA, which is dependent on dues-paying members filling out an affiliation form to indicate they are part of their YDSA chapter. Additionally many YDSA chapters have dozens of active members that are not yet ready to commit to paying dues, and we have 100 unofficial organizing committees (OCs) at various points in the chapter forming process with hundreds of members not included in our official membership count. Our ability to transition these OCs to chapters and students to members has been hampered by a lack of capacity at the national level, where leaders must balance supporting strong chapters in their campaign work and bringing new members and chapters into YDSA.
Though YDSA remains a relatively small segment of DSA, our chapters consistently punch well above their weight. Last year, University of Michigan YDSA won a $15 minimum wage for temporary and student workers across the entire UM system. We also held a national day of action for reproductive justice in October with thousands of students at more than 50 campuses taking part. At Barnard, the day of action was the culmination of a successful effort to get medicated abortion offered on campus, a demand which other YDSA chapters have since taken up.
YDSA’s work is not restricted to pressure campaigns. In the past year, YDSA members at more than a dozen campuses have organized or are in the process of organizing undergraduate labor unions. At Dartmouth, a strong strike authorization vote forced the university to accept all of the union’s contract demands, including a $21/hour starting wage. University of Oregon YDSA launched an effort to organize a wall-to-wall union of undergraduate student workers, a unit that includes thousands of workers. Across these organizing efforts, YDSA members have committed to building democratic unions, developing strong rank-and-file organizers, and employing militant tactics to win their demands. Additionally, in California, YDSA members played integral roles in the historic UC academic workers strike by organizing as students, rank-and-file union members, union staffers, and members of organizing committees and bargaining committees.
Many of these organizers, inspired by their first-hand experiences with labor organizing and YDSA’s commitment to the rank-and-file strategy, will go on to play an important role in rebuilding a class-struggle current in the labor movement, reforming and strengthening their unions, and connecting class struggle unionism with the socialist movement. YDSA members are already getting rank-and-file jobs in strategic unionized industries upon graduation and are participating in strategic new organizing campaigns at Starbucks and Amazon.
YDSA members have also played an indispensable role in electoral efforts across the country. In Florida, YDSA members formed a sizable portion of the volunteer effort to elect DSA-member Richie Floyd to the St. Petersburg City Council, who won by only a few hundred votes. YDSA chapters in NYC also consistently turn out to support endorsed candidates and members have served in volunteer and staff positions on many campaigns, from first-time field volunteers all the way up to campaign managers.
What a Strong Budget Could Mean for YDSA
Not only does a strong budget for YDSA facilitate the wide scale development of labor and socialist cadre, but it would also allow the organization to explore new methods of expansion, organizing, and development.
Stipends for national leaders would allow YDSA NCC members to play a more active role in the organization. We could expand on efforts like our winter break chapter leader check-ins to have more regular communication between national and chapter leaders throughout the year. Increased communication will not only make chapter organizing more successful, but it will help YDSA members feel more connected to DSA and more likely to stay involved after they graduate. This budget would also help strengthen other parts of our national work. With more capacity national committees could be further connected to each other and their DSA counterparts and systematically build institutional knowledge to improve our future organizing.
More than just improving and expanding upon existing practices, stipends would allow the NCC to experiment with new responsibilities and ways to promote YDSA. For example, having more time to dedicate to the role would allow NCC members to do interviews, speak to the press, and otherwise represent the youth socialist movement in the United States. We know that socialism is more popular with young people today than it has been in decades, but with much of the NCC’s time focused internally rather than externally, this opportunity for explosive growth is largely left untapped. The vast majority of new YDSA chapters have been started by self-selecting individuals who are already interested in or know about DSA. With more capacity to commit to their role, we can explore new recruitment strategies to expand YDSA to new campuses, especially those in working-class and non-white communities.
In early April the NPC will meet to discuss DSA’s budget for 2023. The NCC unreservedly endorses the YDSA budget request for 2023 and calls on the NPC to approve it in full. We further encourage YDSA members to observe the April NPC meeting to learn more about the budget process and DSA’s national leadership.
The NCC has also included the provisions of this budget request, mandated by the 2022 YDSA Convention, in the draft of YDSA’s consensus resolution for the 2023 DSA Convention. No matter how the NPC votes on this budget request, we encourage Y/DSA members and future delegates to support this proposal to meaningfully invest in YDSA.
YDSA has exponential potential to grow the socialist and labor movements in the United States and develop organizers to join and lead these movements in the decades to come. By investing in YDSA, DSA can seize this opportunity and commit to sustaining the socialist movement for the long term.