NYC-DSA Killed the 1-2-3-4 Plan. Delegates to the 2023 National Convention Must be Prepared to do the Same. 

One of the worst things you can do in the midst of a good day is to check the DSA Discussion Board. Between public infighting and long think-pieces, a visit certainly won’t brighten your day. And such was the case a few weeks ago, if you found yourself reading about the 1-2-3-4 plan proposed at NYC-DSA’s convention. 

The plan, authored by NYC-DSA members to be brought forward at the NYC-DSA convention on October 22nd, is fairly easy to understand. The resolution, dubbed “Plan to Build a Party-like Structure”, contains three commitments that are required from candidates (1-2-3), and four rules that candidates have to follow. The first commitment is that all candidates looking for the NYC-DSA endorsement will agree to run as a “slate”, with coordinated comms, branding, and press. The second commitment is that candidates must “explicitly, publicly, and prominently” identify as democratic socialists. The third commitment is that all candidates will run on three common issues, which will be determined by NYC-DSA’s Citywide Leadership Committee ahead of each campaign cycle. The four rules candidates must adhere to are as follows: 1. Pledge not to run if you do not get the NYC-DSA endorsement, 2. Downplay your identification as a Democrat as much as possible, 3. Endorse all other NYC-DSA endorsed candidates, and 4. Vote as a bloc once in office. 

There are clearly several issues with the plan.

To start with, you need look no further than the letter that went around NYC-DSA opposing the plan. The substance of the letter is not what’s important — look at who signed it. You will consistently see DSA members who have worked on electoral campaigns in NYC, along with the politicians that they helped elect. Among those NYC electeds who have signed onto the letter are nationally known DSA figures, such as Tiffany Cabán and Jabari Brisport. If officeholders and those centrally involved in electoral work do not support an electoral plan, then it is going to fail.

Within the actual plan, we see issues with all three of the commitments. The first commitment is probably the least harmful. While on some level, common branding and press can be good, particularly at building the DSA brand, the decision to take away from individual campaign branding is likely to cause trouble. It is very easy to see scenarios where the different candidates on the slate are arguing with NYC-DSA about the branding, wanting their race to take precedent, and thus to be more featured on the common campaign materials. 

 A big problem is with the second commitment, that candidates must prominently identify as “democratic socialists.” Why? What if a candidate is not a “democratic socialist?” We are, after all, a big tent organization, housing everybody from left-leaning Democrats to Anarchists. Many DSA members have most likely never used the term “democratic socialist” to describe themselves politically. If the goal is to boost the brand of DSA, would it not just be more effective and agreeable to ask candidates to display their endorsement from NYC-DSA on campaign literature and mailings? Also, if you make identifying as a “democratic socialist” equivalent to actually being in DSA, you could very likely see instances where non-DSA candidates co-opt the title of “democratic socialist” to confuse voters. 

The commitment to run on three common issues is also not a great idea. City council districts in cities with populations five percent of the size of New York City have vastly different needs between them. The idea that the three biggest issues to voters in the Bronx would be the same as those who live in Staten Island is laughable. This provision also implies that the Citywide Leadership Committee would be able to gauge exactly what the top three issues across all of NYC would be.

Several of the four rules also do not make any sense. Rule two, minimizing your identification as a Democrat, is one of those rules. On its own, this rule is bad electoral strategy. The fact of the matter is, many people in this country, regardless of how far to the left they lean, have some level of loyalty to the Democratic Party. These voters are crucial to win over in these tough primary battles, and muddying the waters about whether you as a candidate are a Democrat or not is a recipe for disaster. Now, when you read this rule, with the idea that Candidates should commit to identifying proudly as a “democratic socialist”, it makes even less sense. If a candidate is wearing “democratic socialist” like a badge of honor, why can’t they also emphasize their involvement with the Democratic Party? This rule can only be taken as saying that you can’t be a Socialist and a Democrat. 

Rule number four is the final loop on the rollercoaster of problems. All NYC-DSA elected officials will vote as a bloc. This rule ignores that there are countless political issues that DSA members might reasonably disagree on. When legislators find themselves at odds with each other, who decides which way the bloc is going to vote? Does everyone abstain? Does NYC-DSA make the final call on how the bloc votes? This rule demands for universal ideological purity, which is not possible to attain.

Ultimately, does any of this really matter? The 1-2-3-4 plan was defeated at the NYC-DSA Convention. But then you visit the DSA discussion board, back to the thread on 1-2-3-4, and you see so many individuals from chapters outside of NYC, weighing in on it. If the plan is good, if the plan is bad, if the plan doesn’t go far enough, if the plan should be slightly amended to make it better. The discussion on the 1-2-3-4 plan has already gone national, and so likely, we will see a similar proposal at the DSA national convention in the summer. The plan, as is, would be almost impossible to implement nationally. Many chapters across the nation do not have thousands of members like NYC-DSA does, and thus, they don’t have a large pool of people that they can run in electoral campaigns. So, these smaller chapters tend to endorse candidates who are not actually DSA members. If 1-2-3-4 was implemented nationally, it would all but guarantee an end to electoral campaigning for small chapters. Many chapters also might not be equipped to run comms and press for multiple electoral campaigns, which they would have to do under the plan. If a plan similar to 1-2-3-4 hits the convention floor in the summer, it must not pass.