DSA 2019 Convention Report

The following is a report from the DSA International Committee focused on the international guests invited to the 2019 DSA Convention in Atlanta, Georgia. This report has been approved by the International Committee. Special assistance was provided by Committee member Ella Wind in drafting it. This report is hereby submitted to the DSA National Political Committee by International Committee Co-chairs Ethan Earle and Carrington Morris. 

Introduction and Guest List

The following is a list of convention guests and their affiliations, in no particular order: Bruno Magalhaes – Socialism and Liberty Party, Brazil (PSOL); Nuha Bakheet – Sudanese Professionals Association (SPA); Hanan Yahya – Yemeni Alliance Committee; Rasha Mubarak – US Campaign for Palestinian Rights; Seishi Hinada – National Assembly for Peace and Democracy, Japan (ZENKO); Congresswoman Katia Gilvonio – Nuevo Peru; Temir Porras – Proyecto Orinoco, Venezuela; Jose Aaron Pedrosa – Partido Lakas ng Masa, Philippines (PLM); Waltraud Fritz – Party of the European Left; Andre Frappier – Quebec solidaire; Oliver Schroeder – Die Linke.

This guest list was proposed by the International Committee and approved by the National Political Committee, and is intentionally characterized by its diversity, including political representatives from every continent, including large and small parties and solidarity initiatives with diverse left political ideologies, and touching on a number of the largest issues of political import to the international left. While the International Committee was generally happy with the international guests who ultimately attended, as with any such event, there were a few disappointments in terms of guests who were invited but could not attend. In this case, those included invited representatives from South Africa’s NUMSA; UK’s Labour Party; Mexico’s MORENA; India’s New Trade Union Initiative; Hong Kong’s SACOM; and Brazil’s PT.

The international guest program began with two informal meet-and-greets, the first on Thursday evening at the official DSA Welcome Reception, and the second on Friday morning over breakfast, just before the Convention’s opening plenary. These two meetings gave our guests who were interested the chance to meet members of the International Committee, the outgoing National Political Committee, DSA Director Maria Svart, and of course, each other. It provided a nice opportunity to speak informally, and to let our guests know what to expect about the weekend.

Friday Programming

Our formal programming began on Friday afternoon, from 5:30-7:00pm, with two parallel panels hosted by the International Committee. The first of these parallel panels was titled “Fighting the Right and Winning the World We Want: Lessons from Socialist Successes and Failures Abroad.” Its speakers included: Congresswoman Katia Gilvonio – Nuevo Peru; Temir Porras – Proyecto Orinoco, Venezuela; Jose Aaron Pedrosa – Partido Lakas ng Masa, Philippines; Waltraud Fritz – Party of the European Left; and it was chaired by Ethan Earle, co-chair of the DSA International Committee. 

At this official DSA Convention panel, our international guests had the chance to talk about their experiences in political struggle in their respective countries, including both their successes and failures. Each guest made introductory remarks outlining the general political situation in their countries, which were followed by two rounds of questions from the audience, after each of which all panelists had the chance to respond. This panel was attended by approximately 25 people, and the level of discussion was friendly, engaged, and of a very high level (with specific and additive questions and comments from the audience).

The second parallel panel was called “International Solidarity Against the Triple Threat of Climate Change, War, and Forced Migration.” Its speakers included: Bruno Magalhaes – Socialism and Liberty Party, Brazil; Nuha Bakheet – Sudanese Professionals Association; Hanan Yahya – Yemeni Alliance Committee; Rasha Mubarak – US Campaign for Palestinian Rights; Seishi Hinada – National Assembly for Peace and Democracy, Japan; and it was chaired by International Committee Middle East and Africa Working Group Co-Chair Ella Wind.

We had great attendance for this panel, the room was nearly overflowing, with around 50 people in total. There was a great long Q&A section, which made the panel go overtime, most people stayed until the end, and we heard positive feedback later in the convention. 

Immediately after these two events, the International Committee held an informal meet-and-greet, for DSA members to have the chance to speak at ease with our international guests. This event took place from 7:30-9:00pm. It was less well-attended, with around a dozen people showing up, likely because of the long day and desire for people to leave the formal conference space. It was nonetheless a nice chance to talk to our delegates more and give DSA members one-on-one time with particular delegates they were interested in talking with. 

That same evening, immediately following the meet-and-greet, the International Committee co-hosted an informal “happy hour” event with Jacobin magazine on the importance of internationalism in our socialist movement. The speakers at this event included: Pedro Fuentes – PSOL; Nuha Bakheet – Sudanese Professionals Association; Temir Porras – Proyecto Orinoco, Venezuela; Hanan Yahya – Yemeni Alliance Committee; Jose Aaron Pedrosa – Partido Lakas ng Masa, Philippines; and the event was chaired by IC co-chair Ethan Earle.

This was a very successful event. It was very well attended (perhaps 80-100 people), and the audience seemed surprisingly engaged even after a long day of debates and other panels. The slightly more informal setting allowed our guests to speak more at ease, and to deliver more rousing messages of political solidarity. After the relatively short (45 minute) program, the audience had the chance to speak more at length with our international guests.

Saturday Programming

Our International Committee programming began on Saturday with a semi-private lunchtime meeting held with DSA National Director Maria Svart. We got some interesting insights from the international guests on their views of DSA from the convention. Overall, they commented on being impressed by the commitment to democratic debate, the youth of our membership, and were excited about the size and scope of DSA’s work. There were some questions about how little DSA seemed oriented toward international issues.

After this, our international guests took part in the DSA Convention Fundraiser, held between 5:00 and 6:30pm on the main convention floor. The internationanl portion of this program was hosted by Ethan Earle, and our international guest speakers included: Rasha Mubarak – US Campaign for Palestinian Rights; Waltraud Fritz – Party of the European Left; Oliver Schroeder – Die Linke, Germany; Jose Aaron Pedrosa – Partido Lakas ng Masa, Philippines; Nuha Bakheet – Sudanese Professionals Association; and Bruno Magalhaes – Socialism and Liberty Party, Brazil. 

This was the biggest speaking event for our international delegates. A lot of DSA members (from comments and social media) seemed to appreciate the chance to hear from them. Our guests spoke for only 3-4 minutes each, and their messages were punchy, clear, and generally upbeat, even in the face of the enormous challenges that many of them (and we all) face in the socialist movement. It was an excellent opportunity for our international guests to address something like the full body of DSA delegates, and the Convention planning committee might consider more fully incorporating an international segment into the program for the next Convention.

After this event, the International Committee held another official event from 8:30-10:00pm, billed as an opportunity for discussion between DSA members about the International Committee and, more broadly, the politics of internationalism in DSA going forward. 

This was a somewhat tense meeting. It was small at first but more and more people trickled in as the meeting continued. Two DSA members from the Afrosocialist and Socialists of Color Caucus attended and read a letter to the IC criticizing some of our organizational and recruitment practices. IC members Ethan Earle, Ella Wind, Isaac Miller, Sanjiv Gupta, Penny Schantz, Jared Abbott, Brandon Rey Ramirez and Jack Suria Linares were present in the room to receive these critiques. After introductions, Ethan and other IC members tried to address some of the concerns and questions raised. We had a long series of back-and-forth discussions. 

It seemed like overall, a segment of people in the room were and remained somewhat skeptical of the IC’s selection process and its work more broadly. We did however arrive at a softening of positions over the course of discussion as the delicate diplomatic role of the IC was explained and the work we have done so far (in particular, the Yemen campaign and Venezuela campaign) was described. A lot of people were not familiar with the work IC had been involved in so far, since much of it doesn’t get officially labeled as “IC” work. We also had productive conversations about how to better separate the diplomatic role of the IC from the participation of DSA in international solidarity efforts. We also talked about the need to conduct better outreach with other national DSA groups, such as the Afrosocialist and Socialists of Color Caucus. We agreed to follow-ups to continue figuring out together how to better build DSA as a truly internationalist organization.

International Resolutions Passed at the Convention

There were multiple resolutions relevant to the IC proposed for the convention. The full text of them can be found here. What follows is a brief overview of the most relevant international resolutions and the work the IC has done or intends to do in order to fulfill the mandate given it by the Convention delegates.

Resolution 4 was passed in the consent agenda. It mostly affirms the work the IC has already been doing and adds some new tasks to our mandate. Most importantly, Resolution 4 mandates us to: “issue to the general membership of DSA quarterly bulletins disseminating news and analysis of major international developments”; and “develop clear rules and standards governing membership in the Committee, and […] make these rules known to the general membership of DSA.” This task will be taken up by the Editorial Subcommittee. 

Resolution 35 mandates the creation of a national BDS and Palestine Solidarity Working Group. This group will be separate from ours. We have been in touch with the authors of this Resolution and have offered to support their work in any way we can. 

Resolution 39 commits DSA to “Petition Bernie Sanders for a People’s Foreign Policy Platform.” The IC has been communicating with new NPC representatives about this resolution, and is awaiting instructions about how best to approach this as part of our broader work around the Bernie Sanders campaign.

Resolution 50 commits DSA, broadly speaking, to a politics of “Decolonization, Self-Determination, and Anti-Imperialism.” It mandates the creation of a Decolonization Working Group, but without clear language on the structure of the group. Members of the IC have also reached out to authors of this Resolution to see how we can collaborate or organize with them. Following the convention, we helped draft a statement on this resolution for the NPC, with approval from the original drafters of the resolution. We should continue to follow up on this matter going forward.

Resolution 62, “Cuba Solidarity” mandates that DSA “formally declares itself in solidarity with the Cuban socialist struggle, […] unequivocally condemns the economic blockade imposed on Cuba by the United States and its allies, the American military presence in Guantanamo Bay, and any sanctions and actions that would undermine the self-determination of the Cuban people.” We drafted a statement on this resolution as well, which has since been adopted by the National Political Committee. We are now in the process of applying for membership in the National Network on Cuba, as mandated by the Convention.

Conclusion

Since the Convention, a number of our international guests have reached out to express their thanks for the invitation, and their positive impressions about the recent growth and work of DSA as an organization. Several uniformly positive articles have appeared in international publications, both inside and outside the invited organizations, and at least four of these organizations (PSOL, QS, PT, and Lakas Ng Masa) have officially invited DSA to reciprocal events (congresses, conventions, etc.). From this perspective, and in spite of those organizations that were not able to attend, this response would suggest successful work in the international component of Convention programming.

Rather less scientifically, impressions of our international guests on DSA Twitter and in informal conversations during the Convention were broadly positive. Even the somewhat tense open meeting with the International Committee served as an opening to allow DSA members to voice legitimate frustrations, and for the international work of the IC and DSA more broadly to grow stronger as a result. 

The international resolutions passed during the Convention showed an increasing appetite by DSA membership for the organization to develop its international politics. In the future, a more intentional approach to that conversation, and more space and time granted to DSA’s international politics, could serve as an opportunity for political education and productive conversation, and could yield even more positive results in terms of the development of our international political positions and profile.

The same could be said for the contribution of our international guests to the Convention. Their contributions were almost uniformly welcomed by DSA membership, particularly their speeches on the convention floor during the fundraiser. Their overarching message that DSA and the U.S. socialist movement are important to our shared struggles across the world is a message that helps to build unity within our organization and relativize which of our struggles are truly important—even matters of life and death—and which might be less important and even worth setting aside so as to focus on the many issues we agree on. Being able to convey this message from earlier in the Convention—and to let our delegates know that movements around the world are watching, and counting on them—might help to yield an even more focused and positive convention the next time around.

In terms of the International Committee, the Convention was invaluable in providing fresh direction regarding the orientation of our political work. We are seeking to support and in some cases lead the implementation of all international resolutions passed at the Convention, and to build on the spirit of those resolutions as we continue to reform and grow as a body seeking to serve DSA’s international political development. We also received both support and constructive criticism, particularly around the openness of our body and the way we communicate our work, that we are actively seeking to address in collaboration with DSA’s other national bodies (for example the Afrosocialists and Socialists of Color Caucus, the Ecosocialism and Immigrant Rights Working Groups, etc.), and in cooperation with the new National Political Committee.