February 2021Theory

Building Dual Power: The Spreadsheets of Revolution

Following months of political unrest, many organizations on the left have found themselves awash with new recruits, motivated to donate time and talent to bring about meaningful change to our political and economic system. Metro DC DSA has been able to channel this explosion in political engagement by making a common set of sophisticated systems and technologies available to our members and working groups. These groups require a gamut of operations to execute a wide range of political actions (e.g., mass texting, digital meetings, communications support, design work, etc.), and making sure these working groups have the tools and support they need are one of the core operations of a DSA chapter formation.

But how does all of this happen? How do we ensure the systems and technologies needed of our various working groups are well-kept and consistently available? 

Over the past few months, while many had been hitting the streets to battle the twin terrors of police brutality and fascist entrenchment, groups of volunteers within Metro DC DSA have been building a technical operations team tasked with making sure the multivariate capacities required of mass-movement mobilizations are available to socialist organizers. These volunteers make up what is known as the MDC DSA Administrative Committee, or AdCom. They help develop and curate a wide range of technical, logistical and operational functions needed by the various groups within DSA to carry out a diverse range of political action. This means managing software, building out logistical plans, executing member mobilization processes, and making sure these capacities (and the volunteer base to staff them) are operational and accessible to any chapter campaign or function. 

AdCom's actions are a vital component of our chapter’s ability to host and maintain a wide variety of anti-capitalist political activism. We can look to AdCom as a bellwether for future organizational success.

DSA's Evolving Cyber Command

Before AdCom there was the Technology Committee. The Tech Committee worked closely with National DSA to bring on Action Network and mass texting. Both were heavily used to direct the volunteer army that worked behind the scenes in each of our chapter’s electoral efforts over the past year. Knowing physical meetings would be on hold for a while, MDC DSA launched a series of websites in mid-March as we fine-tuned our digital presence, anticipating that a lot of organizing and political work would be happening virtually in response to quarantine. The Tech Committee was instrumental in making sure our chapter could adapt to the new post-pandemic reality.

Subsequently, Red Desk, our chapter’s support request system, expanded to allow any member or chapter entity the ability to call on chapter resources or aid where needed. The days of relying on “who you knew” to get support for your campaign or action were over. Joint committees were established to ensure chapter entities responsible for tasks, such as communications and mobilization, could access common resources with greater ease. In many ways, the newly developed protocols in response to the pandemic became a matter of circumstance meeting opportunity.

The Tech Committee reached 30 members in September 2020 before it reorganized in October 2020 to become AdCom. The express purpose of AdCom is to identify common infrastructure and tools used to deliver chapter functions, and mobilize a base of volunteers who can maintain or specialize in chapter systems and tools. We keep AdCom staffed by using our member survey to match members in possession of skills they are looking to donate with technical operations in need of support. This allows us to build alternative ways for leftists, socialists and allies -- who may not be comfortable (or able) to engage in direct action on the streets -- to help advance democratic socialism. AdCom now has nearly 70 volunteers as of January 2021 -- meaning we can identify and remedy issues and meet working groups’ requests across a wider range and level of expertise much greater than before.

As AdCom works independently of our individual working groups and campaigns, it facilitates their activities with low friction. It has allowed our chapter to form highly specialized teams that are able to embed themselves in a working group’s operation and fulfill support as needed. This allows activists and organizers to focus on building more sophisticated political strategies to advance their respective causes, rather than get caught up in the minutia of executing tactics.

For instance, our in-house mass texting system is maintained by a team that is trained and specialized in managing and executing that specific function, lowering the barrier of entry for chapter working groups to utilize mass texting to draw turnout or engage membership. This operation was essential for ensuring our supported electoral efforts last year had a deep bench of volunteers for GOTV embarked by our DC Council elections working group.

Even this website — a product of MDC DSA’s Publications Team — was developed with the aid of AdCom, which helped identify comrades willing to donate designing, coding, editing and writing expertise and plug them into ongoing operations. This allowed our publications working group to focus on writing content, build connections with street activists, collect data and research relevant to working group activities, and engage in quality control campaigns to make sure MDC DSA’s communications mechanisms are reliable and of high caliber.

Upcoming projects will give tools to non-AdCom leaders to identify areas of their political operations that need additional support. In keeping such a wide base of volunteers mobilized, we can make sure our members and working groups who get involved in political activity always have a reserve of volunteers at the ready. This not only allows us to field a wide array of operations but reduces incidents of burnout among volunteers and comrades. 

The spreadsheets of the revolution go far beyond bureaucratic minutia — we are setting the stage with organizational blueprints that can be replicated in other chapters across the country so that we can operate as one collective body of engaged socialists. This kind of polished organizing strength helps propel DSA onto the national stage toward the ultimate goal: dual power.  

Experimenting with Dual Power

Dual power is a political strategy that advocates for building spaces free of connection to capitalism’s super-structures. That doesn’t just mean building independent means of production or material supply chains distinct from capitalist connection – it means building an operations base without the models of hierarchy or exploitation which propel capitalist modes of production: organizing resources and norms democratically, managing shared infrastructure cooperatively, and ensuring equal access to infrastructure and services. The idea posits that these counter institutions could compete, and then eventually replace, the institutions which sustain capitalism. 

This administrative and technological infrastructure -- although far from the scale and sophistication needed to truly subvert institutional capitalism -- is an attempt to build out an operational base from which dual power structures can be plugged into in the future.

We realize we’re not the first to have grand designs of subverting capital, though exploiting active political currents means we are able to work with more volunteers than previous anti-capitalist efforts. New technology allows us to utilize labor-saving, open source software to automate the otherwise arduous, mind-numbing tasks that are essential for keeping the chapter operational — freeing up more volunteer hours and reducing stress placed on individual organizers, reducing burnout. Using these alternative software also allow us to avoid being reliant on large tech firms who profit from the data we produce, or who may cut us off from the software we use in the case of crackdown.

We have a long way to go, but our chapter should look at our accomplishments and ability to adapt to rapidly changing political dynamics with pride. With membership at an all-time high and the fervor of working-class power booming, now is the time to refine our organizational strategy and position ourselves for long-lasting effectiveness. To achieve this feat, we must continue to build and curate common infrastructure and tools that can benefit all our diverse working groups. 

The expansion of AdCom’s endeavors is paramount to the function of our chapter, but we also hope that this expertise can eventually be shared with our allies among the political left. We’ve seen over the last year that leftist ideas can move when we are able to sync up and act in unison. If we’re going to escape capitalism, the path forward must be paved with true solidarity — ensuring that all our comrades are equitably equipped to harness the tools enabling a working-class revolution.

Interested in joining AdCom or want to get help with your working gorup/branch/committee? Email brendandsamerica@gmail.com or message the #helpdesk channel in our chapter Slack.


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