From December 11 to 12, 2021, the Metro DC chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (Metro DC DSA) hosted its second annual local convention to debate and collectively decide on the pressing questions not just facing our chapter, but also our movement as a whole. Additionally, for the second year in a row, and in conjunction with the local convention, the Metro DC DSA Steering Committee is providing an annual report to members as a summary of the past year’s activities and highlights in our chapter.
The compiling and drafting of this report — and the need to do so — marks an important point in the history of our chapter. The need to document our activities for future chapter members comes from the fact that our DSA chapter, along with DSA as a national organization, have shown that both will likely outlast the ebbs and flows inherent in US politics. Five years have now passed since the resurgence of DSA began during Senator Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign and as a response to the brutal, reactionary policies of the Trump presidency. The fact that DSA has continued to grow and evolve as Senator Sanders lost the presidential primary in 2016 (and again in 2020), and President Joe Biden has returned our country to a “normal” politics — though still egregiously unequal and in service of capitalism — is a testament to the commitment of DSA members to our organization and our movement.
Over these past five years, the Metro DC DSA chapter has become a working-class political and organizing force in our region. From 2016 to 2017, at roughly 1,000 members, we were largely a network of loose-knit formations acting independently under the chapter’s amorphous organizational structure. But through struggle, defeats and, ultimately, victories for our class, we have since become an interconnected machine of complementary activities and power-building.
In our chapter, endorsed electoral candidates, apartment building organizing, and mutual aid have all combined to deliver material benefits to tenants across the DC region — in what has become one of the most militant tenant movements in the nation. Labor-focused organizing has fused with the demands of ecosocialists to build a national campaign for the PRO Act — the first worker-friendly reform to the National Labor Relations Act in decades. Elected officials who are DSA members have fought for and successfully won tax increases on the rich in DC, a ban on private ICE detention centers and sweeping policy transparency rules in the state of Maryland and a cap on insulin prices in Virginia. And to facilitate our organizing, the chapter now has a functioning administrative core and geographic branches to maintain and push the bounds of logistics, communications and member engagement as we fight to win our collective campaigns. More so than ever, the whole of our chapter is greater than the sum of its parts.
Our chapter’s growth and development, however, is not guaranteed. Despite reaching a record-high 3,300 members in November of this year — and seeing a 35% membership growth since we began tracking membership totals in June 2020 — the number of new chapter members has slowed to a plateau in recent months. Lapsed dues among chapter members has also seen a net increase since September 2021. Falling membership rates may be understandable, considering the lack of in-person organizing possible during the COVID pandemic and a typical decrease in chapter electoral endorsements in odd numbered years. Our chapter has also not stood by idling during this period, as we have tactically used this time to build out our internal administrative, political and decision-making structures. Additionally, the high number of chapter campaigns next year will likely help to maintain and increase our membership rolls — as has happened in previous years of active external campaigning in our chapter — but the drop off in membership this year still shows that we must be intentional in retaining, recruiting and engaging chapter members. Our internal structures are now better equipped than ever to do so.
As we close 2021 and head into the new year, we hope comrades consider the information in this report. Being aware of, understanding and learning from our past activities will be critical to honing our strategies and tactics for future struggles. If the past five years have shown us anything, it is that a better world through democratic socialism is possible. The path to that better world depends on our collective abilities as a chapter, a national organization and a broader movement to build on our progress thus far.
As stated in our chapter’s bylaws, “The Steering Committee is the highest elected body of MDC DSA and is the political leadership of the chapter when the membership is not assembled.” In addition to political leadership, the Steering Committee — through the committee’s chair — is responsible for carrying out the “orders and resolutions” of Metro DC DSA members. In this sense, when members of the chapter pass resolutions or amend the bylaws, the buck stops with the Steering Committee and its members to ensure that those decisions are enacted. The committee has taken steps — like drafting and assigning portfolios — to ensure that committee members remain attentive and accountable to the chapter.
In terms of structure, our chapter’s Steering Committee has four officer seats and seven at-large seats. The Treasurer, Secretary and Campaigns Coordinator are directly elected to the Steering Committee and each officer chairs the Finance Committee, Administrative Committee and Campaigns Council, respectively. The Steering Committee chair is the only officer position that is not directly elected, but is instead selected by fellow Steering Committee members. Finally, though not an officer, an at-large Steering Committee member chairs the chapter’s Political Engagement Committee, which is responsible for coordinating the chapter’s external political activities, including electoral endorsements and legislative advocacy. The remaining at-large members are responsible for tasks set out in the portfolios assigned to each Steering Committee member.
The sections following this one provide summaries of the permanent committees mentioned above. Immediately below is a summary of activities (not included in the permanent committee summaries) for the 2021 Metro DC DSA Steering Committee:
For the next year, and for the new Steering Committee, the current Steering Committee chair recommends focusing on developing a standard Code of Conduct procedure, strengthening membership retention measures and narrowing portfolio assignments for Steering Committee members. However, the work plan for the next Steering Committee will ultimately be at the discretion of the members of that committee.
The Finance Committee is responsible for the financial organization of the chapter, including but not limited to fundraising activities for the chapter, compliance with any financial regulations the chapter is subject to and maintenance of transparent financial reports.
This year, our cash reserves grew from $44,383.91 to $62,625.01, an increase of $18,241.10. $21,593.00 came from the National Dues share, which represents the last quarter of 2020 through the third quarter of 2021. We averaged $1,799 in dues per month. $17,846.59 came in through donations. In total, we averaged $3,286.63 in income each month
Our spending is summarized as follows:
Additionally, we opened up the chapter’s online Merchandise Store and fundraised for our campaigns:
The Administrative Committee (AdCom) is a chapter entity sanctioned by the Steering Committee to oversee and accomplish the general administrative functions of the chapter, among other duties as outlined in the bylaws. AdCom is organized into departments — for example, communications and operations. Within those departments are teams — for example, events (within operations) and social media (within communications). Both departments and teams are led by stewards, with the chapter secretary chairing AdCom.
AdCom has formally existed since late 2020 and has evolved along with the chapter. For instance, AdCom added a security department following the events of January 6th. The security department enshrined vetting and threat assessment for the chapter. Most members interact with AdCom through Red Desk, our chapter's internal ticketing management system, where members submit requests for social media posts, vetting, onboarding, mass texts and many other items.
The past year has seen successes and challenges for AdCom. The most potent as well as unresolved challenge has been the struggle to find stewards for various teams, which makes fulfilling the complex duties of AdCom more difficult by putting a higher — and most times unsustainable — burden on department-level stewards and the chapter secretary. This will continue to be a primary focus of the committee for the foreseeable future.
Despite this struggle, the accomplishments of AdCom can be measured in many areas of the chapter, most immediately by the amount of Red Desk tickets closed this year. As of December 11, 2021, the number of closed tickets sits at 1,018. The chapter has grown by leaps and bounds since AdCom's inception, and this metric shows that AdCom has scaled and grown alongside our organizing activities. This level of success has led to DSA members running for leadership in other chapters or national formations on platforms of starting their own AdCom or the equivalent.
Behind each ticket is a team that works without pay to keep the chapter running and growing. Without these dozens of volunteers, none of this would be possible.
AdCom is far from perfect, but it will continue to grow and refine itself alongside the chapter.
The Campaigns Council is a comprehensive board and gathering space of working groups and priority campaigns. The Council is responsible for providing both visibility across MDC DSA’s various campaigns and updates on campaign progress to the broader chapter membership. In the past year, its first, the Campaign Council met on a monthly basis to promote coordination and cooperation among and between chapter formations.
For each of the completed quarters of this year (not counting the most recent quarter), we had an average of nine formations (including all priority campaigns) submit reports that detail the activities of those formations and their plans for the upcoming quarter. While nine per quarter is impressive, the Council can improve by encouraging further engagement with the bylaw-mandated reporting requirements. Another area of potential improvement is a streamlined way of moving submitted reports to the member portal, which has thus far been unevenly done. A final area for improvement would be the standardization of the cadence of the monthly and quarterly meetings and greater publicization of those meetings.
In just its first year of existence, the Political Engagement Committee (PEC) has proven to be an effective body. The chapter received 12 questionnaire submissions from electoral candidates seeking our chapter’s endorsement this year — more than any previous electoral cycle. Members submitted nine endorsement resolutions, which, again, was more than any previous cycle. Also for the first time ever, chapter members evaluated all possible endorsements simultaneously, rather than at separate times.
Highlights from the PEC over the last year are below:
The chapter’s Steering Committee created a YDSA Liaison position in 2021 to provide assistance to local YDSA chapters. Before the position existed, there were only two active YDSA chapters in the Metro DC area: University of Maryland College Park and Howard University. With support and facilitation from the YDSA Liaison, there are now 11 active YDSA chapters in the Metro DC region at American University, Catholic University, George Mason University, Georgetown University and George Washington University. YDSA chapters have also been established at secondary schools in the region: Schools w/o Walls, Watkins High School, Colgan High School, Northwest High School, Walt Whitman High School and Montgomery Blair High School.
Below are 2021 highlights for select YDSA chapters:
The Branch Commission was chartered by the Steering Committee to examine ways to improve the operation of branches in Metro DC DSA, to improve communication between branches and the chapter and to offer recommendations on how to alter our chapter’s branch system to catalyze and capture future growth of our membership across the chapter.
The Commission to date has conducted four main types of research: branch bylaws comparisons with other chapters, historical research on past iterations of Metro DC DSA branches, interviews with DSA members and a general member survey. Bylaws tend to center branches as electoral districts for chapter bodies or as powerful nodes that are the basis of chapter representation. Interviews centered on learning from past branch systems, as well as looking at branches in other membership organizations like Our Revolution and the Brazilian Worker’s Party (PT). Historical iterations of branches prior to the 2016 membership surge in Metro DC DSA were intended to give members in Virginia (Northern Virginia began as its own chapter) and Maryland a way to allow members to meet closer to home and strategize around political interventions outside of the District of Columbia.
The Commission has not yet met to debate and finalize recommendations to the general body, but is considering merging overlapping efforts with the mobilization committee. Emerging points of consensus center around promoting permanent remote participation in chapter bodies and decisions, incorporation of all remaining territories into at least two branches in the District of Columbia, political education and organizing training for branch leadership, and supporting efforts to create hyperlocal sub-branches at the municipal, ward or neighborhood level.
The mobilization commission was created after a series of conversations between chapter mobilizers in the Administrative Committee, the Northern Virginia (NoVA) Branch and Defund MPD. The purpose of the commission was to create a space to discuss our chapter’s practices and systems for mobilizing and engaging members.
The commission broke up into small groups to investigate specific aspects of our chapter’s mobilization and engagement practices. These included our chapter’s member survey, events/action organized by the chapter, formation onboarding capacities, etc. The initial findings of the Commission were that there was a necessity for a chapter-wide institution to consolidate best practices among the formations already involved in mobilization.
The commission worked together to draft the bylaws amendment for our 2021 convention that would create a permanent Member Engagement Committee, which could act as the institutional space discussed in commission conversations. This committee would also house our chapter’s organizer training efforts, as well as any future chapter-wide recruitment efforts. In the first few months of 2022, the commission will continue to research and consolidate best practices for our chapter, which can then be institutionalized into the new MEC.
The Stomp Out Slumlords (SOS) Working Group fights evictions and supports tenant organizing throughout the Washington metro area.
Below is a list of Stomp Out Slumlord’s activities in 2021:
The Labor Working Group organizes with workers across the region to fight bad bosses, build new unions and campaign for pro-worker policies. Inspired by a rich history of socialist thought and practice, the Labor Working Group believes that workplace organizing — whether through traditional union models or other forms — is central to building power and making tangible changes to fight exploitation and oppression.
Below is a summary of the Labor Working Group’s activities in 2021:
The chapter’s Defund MPD Working Group operates in coalition with Black-led and racial justice organizations to defund the DC Metropolitan Police Department, remove police from schools and free our neighbors from occupation and incarceration as a path toward abolition — a world without cops and prisons. As part of our chapter’s vision for racial and economic justice, the Defund MPD Working Group — alongside allied organizations in the Defund MPD Coalition — demands that the funding removed from police and prisons be reinvested in real public safety: housing, schools, jobs, healthcare and mental health services, community-based support programs, violence interruption and other public goods and services.
Below is a summary of the Defund Working Group's activities in 2021:
Metro DC DSA’s Green New Deal Working Group organizes to fight the existential crisis of capitalist-driven climate change and environmental racism in the DMV area.
As a broad grassroots movement, we build and exercise power through labor and tenant unions, electoral campaigns, diverse coalition-building, political education and policy change. The working group’s vision is to decommodify and guarantee human needs, democratize and decarbonize the economy by 2030, and repair the generational effects of oppression and displacement of Black, Indigenous and people of color.
A summary of the Green New Deal Working Group’s activities for 2021:
At the January 2021 general body meeting, it was announced that Metro DC DSA members voted to endorse Karishma Mehta, candidate for Virginia’s 49th District in the House of Delegates. The Karishma for Virginia campaign knocked on nearly 20,000 doors — 12,000 of which were by chapter members — made thousands of phone calls and talked to voters about Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, Universal Pre-K and a Home Guarantee, all rooted around the belief that a better world is not only possible but on the way. The campaign ultimately reached a 75% name recognition rate, which is remarkable for a first-time candidate.
The Karishma for Virginia working group showed its dedication to workers’ rights and health justice by:
Through canvasses, the working group mobilized many first-time organizers who are now active in the chapter. Through our potlucks, jams in the park and watch parties, we built camaraderie and solidarity in NoVA, which led to many in the campaign joining other working groups in the chapter. While the campaign did not win in the end, working group members gave their all to fight for a greater NoVA, and the chapter is proud and grateful for the work so many people put into the campaign. As Karishma said, “We have shown Northern Virginia that our policies are popular here, that a dignified life is possible here, and that this district is not just for the wealthy and privileged few, it’s for all of us.”
The chapter’s Medicare for All Working Group (M4A WG) aims to work locally on healthcare advocacy to affect change regionally, nationally and internationally. This includes identifying and seeking to rectify the racial disparities in healthcare, such as disproportionate Black maternal morbidity and mortality and the uneven distribution of COVID-19 vaccines to BIPOC communities in DC.
The M4A WG has formed coalitions with local healthcare advocacy groups to push for comprehensive single-payer healthcare — both nationally and at the state level — that would cover all residents of the District of Columbia, Maryland and Virginia. Additionally, the working group has sought to combat global health inequities caused by the US government, such as the medical blockade on Cuba, which has impeded Cubans’ ability to get medicine and inhibits Cuba’s effort to vaccinate the Global South.
A summary of activities for the Medicare for All Working Group in 2021:
The Food | Justice Working Group strives to create a shared space for Metro DC DSA members, in collaboration with local community partners, to grow produce, learn about the land, connect with each other over food and break down barriers by spreading knowledge and materials related to agriculture. This working group exists as a space of belonging where everyone who is interested in growing their own food and cultivating relationships with their environment is invited.
Food | Justice Working Group highlights from 2021:
The Political Education Working Group provides a central hub for chapter political education, supports political education done by other working groups or caucuses (where this is consistent with their own work), supports the political work of working groups and caucuses, and works to increase capacity across the chapter for doing political education work. The working group does this through two main areas of activity. First, the chapter’s Socialist Night School. Second, a newly formed ongoing reading group program.
Below are the 2021 highlights of the Political Education Working Group:
The Internationalism Working Group uses its strategic location in the heart of the empire to further the global struggle against militarism, imperialism, authoritarianism, right-wing nationalism and capitalism. The working group aims to ensure that democratic socialist organizing in the United States incorporates a global perspective and builds transnational solidarity in pursuit of a world of peace, cooperation, equality, liberation, democracy and socialism.
Below are the 2021 highlights of the Internationalism Working Group:
Metro DC DSA established an organizer training series this year that trained two cohorts of chapter members in organizing theory and skills. These organizer trainings are intended to increase attendees’ capacity to organize within and outside the chapter through five different training modules. Even though the trainings were held online, they were still able to foster a sense of camaraderie among participants through small group exercises, social meet ups and one-on-one exercises. These trainings were anchored by coordinators and featured chapter members from across working groups and other chapter formations as trainers.
Highlights from the chapter’s 2021 organizer series:
The Publications Working Group coordinates the two regularly published periodicals that chapter members depend on to roadmap regional, national and international socialist activities and activism. Those periodicals are the Weekly Update — usually sent out on Friday mornings — and the monthly Washington Socialist, a newsletter of articles sent on or around the first of every month.
Well over a hundred of the chapter’s leaders have direct access to the Weekly Update as it is assembled throughout the week, and an increasing number of chapter leaders have begun using that access. All Metro DC DSA members (plus qualified nonmembers) are welcome to contribute articles to the newsletter, and many do. The Publications Working Group looks forward to more of the chapter’s diverse membership contributing such articles. In addition to the recurring Weekly Update and Washington Socialist content, the working group creates one-offs — brochures and special-purpose literature — working closely with the chapter’s superb designers and artists.
Highlights for the Publications Working Group over 2021:
The Afrosocialists and Socialists of Color (AfroSOC) Section successfully applied for section status after submitting an application and bylaws for the new section. The section also elected a five-person leadership council.
Highlights from 2021 for the AfroSOC section:
The chapter’s Queer Section also converted from a caucus to a section in 2021. After a recent leadership change, the Queer Section looks forward to regrouping and forging ahead with the section’s organizing in 2022.
Like the Queer and AfroSOC Sections, the Socialist Feminist (SocFem) Section converted from a caucus to an official chapter section in 2021. Below are 2021 highlights for SocFem:
The Veterans Section was started as a way to organize military vets in the Metro DC area to lend their unique background and experiences in support of our chapter’s mission to enact democratic socialism. The section started in order to apply continued pressure on Senator Mark Warner to support the PRO Act, expressing the important impact it has on Metro DC communities. Section members continue to recruit more members and contribute in efforts to empower workers.
Highlights from 2021 for the Veterans Section:
The Montgomery County Branch is one of three sub-chapter geography-based formations — along with the Prince George’s County and Northern Virginia branches — that exist as another level of support for chapter organizing and administration. The Montgomery County Branch was charted in 2017, and its members have consistently expanded the reach and capacity of the branch since then.
Below are some of the 2021 highlights for the Montgomery County Branch:
The chapter’s Prince George’s County Branch was chartered at the annual local convention in December 2020. Members of the branch hit the ground running in 2021 with a range of organizing activities.
Below are the Prince George’s County Branch highlights from 2021:
The Northern Virginia Branch of MDC DSA was established in 2017. Branch members organize in the Northern Virginia area, from the Virginia side of the Potomac River to Prince William and Fauquier counties. The branch’s objective is to center socialist organizing in the Northern Virginia area while also supporting coalition partners and fellow Virginia DSA chapters.
Below are 2021 highlights from the Northern Virginia Branch:
The Metro DC DSA Steering Committee hopes that the information in this report is useful. The diverse array and sheer number of activities recorded here — all occurring in just one year — has been unprecedented in our chapter. The work we all have collectively contributed has decidedly built power for and delivered material benefits to our class.
It is also important to note that the accomplishments documented in this report did not simply happen out of thin air. Every item in this report was the product of volunteers who have dedicated themselves to a better world. We engage in this work not for direct personal gain, but because we understand that every material benefit won for our class brings us closer to a brighter future.