2023 DSA National Convention Retrospective: ‘The Point, However, Is to Change It'

The views expressed in this article are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the opinions of the Metro DC delegation, the Onward Slate, or the chapter as a whole. That said, we endeavored to reach out to the full delegation—seated delegates and alternates alike, members of the Onward Slate and members of other slates, and long-time members and newer members—to solicit a diverse range of reflections and experiences. We did our best to indicate throughout the piece where we are reporting factual information and where we provide our own commentary and analysis.

The Metro DC DSA 2023 Convention delegation, representing over 2,400 members in DC, Northern Virginia, Montgomery and Prince George's County in Maryland.

2023 Convention Recap

The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) held its biennial national convention this year from August 4–6. More than a thousand elected delegates descended on Chicago from across the country, with Metro DC sending 38 delegates and 4 alternates. Of the seated delegates from our chapter, 37 were elected representing the local Onward Slate and 1 as a member of the Roots and Branches Slate. 

Metro DC delegates represented the chapter in various plenaries throughout the weekend. Chapter chair Aparna R. spoke on “Multiracial Organizing: Organizing Across Identity Differences.” Josh A. discussed his experiences as a shop steward and union organizer during “Rebuilding the House of Labor.” And longtime member Chris R. reflected on her years of experience in the movement and her thoughts on how we move forward on “The Future of DSA.” Several chapter delegates also helped lead break-out sessions, including for the National Electoral Committee, Multiracial Organizing Committee, and a Stomp Out Slumlords panel.

Below, we report the voting results from the convention, highlighting the newly elected NPC, key resolutions and amendments, and core ideological and strategic questions that emerged this year. Following this recap, we provide an overarching analysis of the current political moment and what we see as the biggest challenges facing DSA today which also explore caucus dynamics and what the outcomes of this convention and the landscape of debate portend for the future of our chapter and DSA as a whole.

National Political Committee (NPC) Results

Eight-hundred and ninety votes were recorded in the NPC election, which used a single-transferable vote (ranked choice) method to determine victors. The results are shown below, broken down by affiliation:

  • 4 members of the Groundwork slate: Rose DuBois, Frances Gill, Cara Tobe, and Ashik Siddique
  • 3 members of the Bread & Roses (B&R) caucus: Alex Pellitteri, Kristen Schall, and Laura Wadlin
  • 3 members of the Red Star caucus: Sam Heft-Luthy, John Lewis, and Megan Romer
  • 2 members of the Socialist Majority Caucus (SMC): Colleen Johnston and Renée Paradis
  • 2 members of the Marxist Unity Group (MUG): Amy Wilhelm and Rashad X.
  • 1 member of the Anti-Zionist Slate: Ahmed Husain
  • 1 independent/unaffiliated: Luisa Martinez
  • 2 Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) co-chairs: Aron Ali-McClory (Constellation caucus) and Evan Caldwell (independent/unaffiliated)

The only incumbent member of the newly elected NPC is Ashik, who was voted interim chair pending the national co-chair elections.

Pictured above: the DSA's newly elected NPC for the 2023-25 term.

While the composition of the newly elected NPC does not significantly differ from that of the previous NPC on paper (six members between SMC and the Green New Deal slate, which we see as a predecessor of Groundwork, three members of B&R, and seven members from the various self-branded “left” caucuses), the outcome indicates a fundamental change in DSA’s underlying political orientation.

Bread & Roses sustains its base of support: Over the past two conventions, B&R has shifted from working primarily in coalition with SMC and GND/Groundwork to being considered part of the “left” bloc or as the “swing” center caucus. The caucus won the same number of seats they held on the previous NPC. The total vote share of first place rankings for this bloc went from 19.9% percent to 16.8 percent.

SMC and GND/Groundwork support was polarized, but sustained: Both groups went from being on the ballots of nearly every delegate in 2021 to polarizing much of the delegation. SMC and GND had previously received widespread support and approval from delegates across the organization, which was not the case this year (though their bloc won the same number of seats as in 2021). The total vote share of first place rankings for this bloc went from 37.4 percent to 35.8 percent.

A wide group characterizing the "left" of the DSA emerged in alliance from smaller regional caucuses across the country: The left bloc, which included a constellation of smaller caucus and regional blocs, received quiet support from the national Communist Caucus. This group includes two MUG candidates, who replace the more compromise-oriented Justin Charles of Emerge/Communist Caucus and independent Matt Miller from the 2021–23 term. This year also saw the election of two single-issue internationalism candidates: Luisa M. of the IC and Ahmed H. of  the Anti-Zionist Slate. Anchoring this bloc are three members from Red Star, a formerly San Francisco–based caucus that has expanded nationally and notably devoted a lot of effort toward outreach to smaller chapters in the run-up to the convention. Red Star and the former Renewal slate, which Red Star largely absorbed after 2021, won three seats and went from an 18.8 percent first place ranking vote share to 16.3 percent.

With no single caucus or formation securing an outright majority, some members of our delegation expressed cautious optimism about the multipolar nature of the new NPC. Diego J., who attended convention as an alternate and ran on the local Red Slate, noted that NPC members “will have to really negotiate with each other given that, depending on the issue, these coalitions will likely switch around and swap out. So in order to win a vote, you need to maintain good relationships with everyone. I think this will lead to a much healthier dynamic than last term, as it will reward cooperation a lot more.”

On the other hand, some members raised concerns that members of the new governing majority have publicly demonstrated more skepticism of the sort of mass politics campaigns that have characterized our chapter’s work.

Resolutions and Amendments

Excepting the consensus resolutions submitted by official national committees and NPC–submitted recommendations, all standalone resolutions, amendments to resolutions, and constitution/bylaws amendments required 300 signatures from DSA members in good standing to be considered at convention. Following the signatures deadline, delegates completed a survey indicating their support for and/or interest in debating the proposals that met the threshold, which then informed the final convention agenda.

This year, eight national committees drafted consensus resolutions concerning DSA’s key areas of work, both internal and external: the National Electoral Committee (NEC), Green New Deal Campaign Commission (GNDCC), National Growth and Development Committee (GDC), Housing Justice Commission (HJC), International Committee (IC), National Labor Commission (NLC), Multiracial Organizing Committee (MROC), and YDSA. All eight resolutions passed. 

The HJC consensus resolution passed as part of the consent agenda and committed to expanding on the success of the Emergency Tenant Organizing Committee, producing campaign toolkits for chapters on tenant organizing and social housing, and prioritizing training new tenant organizers.

The GNDCC consensus resolution reauthorized the Green New Deal campaign as a top national priority through the Building for Power campaign, which brings together electoral, labor, housing, and other forms of organizing within DSA around demands such as expanded mass transit, public power, and green social housing. The MROC consensus resolution reaffirmed DSA’s commitment to multiracial organizing through intentional recruitment, training and leadership development, conflict resolution and transformative justice through an anti-racist lens, and best practices for chapters. The YDSA resolution provided guidelines for better integrating YDSA chapters with their local chapters and national bodies and significantly increasing their funding. (None had amendments.)

The GDC consensus resolution passed with two amendments. Amendment A, Give Our 1% for the 99%, was introduced by the six NPC candidates on the Groundwork Slate. The amendment resolved that the GDC will organize a dues drive to prioritize Solidarity Based Income Dues (asking members to commit 1 percent of their annual income to monthly dues) as a strategy to deepen members’ commitment to and investment in our organization and address our growing budget deficit. Amendment B, State of DSA Reports and At-Large Member Program, authored by the three Red Star NPC candidates, called for an in-depth “State of DSA Chapters” report to examine chapters’ structures and internal democracy, external campaigns, and the tactics that led to their victories, and common issues facing chapters across the country. It also resolved to create an initiative to engage at-large members, including by helping them form Organizing Committees (OCs).

The NEC consensus resolution passed with three amendments; one amendment failed (see “Electoral” below). The NLC consensus resolution passed with two amendments; two amendments failed (see “Labor” below). And The IC consensus resolution passed unamended (see “Internationalism” below).

The NPC also submitted several recommendations for consideration at convention, all of which passed except one. Other exciting resolutions and amendments of note included adding public ownership of railroads to our platform, requiring fair NPC elections by prohibiting official DSA committees and working groups from endorsing candidates, and establishing a DSA Editorial Board to revitalize and professionalize our publications (all three passed as part of the consent agenda).

The DSA's internal politics have grown sharply polarized along different lines than we have seen in past conventions. This year’s debates revealed fractures on key priority issues and suggested political divisions along regional lines and between smaller, more developing chapters and larger chapters.

By way of example, these two charts illustrate the vote breakdown for Amendment P to CR-6: Towards a Party-Like Electoral Strategy between delegates from chapters that have 1,000 or more members and delegates from chapters with fewer than 1,000 members.


Notably, NPC Recommendation #8—to house Boycott, Divestment, and Sanctions (BDS) work in DSA under a subcommittee of the IC—passed with an amendment co-written and introduced by local chapter Steering member Kareem E. This vote was particularly contentious in the weeks leading up to the convention and on the floor, with some members fighting to remove it from the agenda on process grounds. However, after extensive debate, the campaign-oriented vision for BDS organizing ultimately prevailed. 

Among other provisions included in NPC Rec 8:

  • a pledge for DSA to support legislation that furthers the cause of Palestinian liberation and a pledge to oppose legislation that would harm Palestinians;
  • require questions be added to DSA’s national candidate endorsement questionnaire about BDS;
  • and clarified expectations for candidates and electeds around trips to Israel and affiliations with the Israeli government and Zionist lobby groups.

In terms of the underlying resolution, we would be remiss not to acknowledge that the BDS Working Group has been at the center of the most fraught, intractable conflicts wracking DSA over the past two years, initially stemming from the controversy around Rep. Jamaal Bowman. Although the NPC recommendation passed with a narrow margin (51 percent in favor), the convention voting to move the previously “autonomous” working group under the IC will hopefully ensure a productive path forward for this important work, as well as reaffirm the organizational norm that official national bodies do not exist to foment crises and function as pseudo-caucuses but rather to prioritize DSA’s shared goals and remain accountable to the membership.

Another contentious debate at the convention concerned the B&R–submitted amendment to the IC consensus resolution (Amendment C, For a Class-Struggle Internationalism). Supporters of the amendment argued that our current orientation aligns DSA with authoritarian countries that repress workers movements internally, and critics of the IC maintained that DSA’s stance on issues such as the war in Ukraine, conflict between China and Hong Kong, or the labor movement in Belarus has cost us members. Delegate and IC member Doug T. also raised the broader question of whether DSA’s stated positions on international issues constitute a real or effective strategy:

"The most high-profile [IC] campaigns are those around ending the blockade of Cuba and of de-escalating the calls for a ‘new Cold War’ with China. Those are uncontroversial and admirable goals, which I think nearly everyone in DSA agrees with. But what is the theory of change here?

These interventions are all working at the level of Discourse. As if the problem can be solved by convincing Americans to change their views, and in turn, the empire will listen. This seems like an extremely naive understanding of how US politics operates. … I have no problem in theory with delegations and high-level diplomatic relations, but if our focus is attacking the US empire at home, how’s this really doing it? There’s no easy or obvious strategy to fighting imperialism within the US, so maybe we shouldn’t limit ourselves to the current approach."

Opponents of the amendment felt that the language would restrict DSA’s engagement internationally to small groups with little demonstrable working-class support and lead to DSA taking sectarian positions attacking various left-wing governments in the Global South. They also argued that, as socialists in the imperial core, our primary role is combating US imperialism and promoting a world where the United States is no longer the hegemonic superpower. The amendment failed by a supermajority, affirming DSA’s current international orientation.


At convention, delegates recommitted to the “party surrogate” model (distinct from realignment, the “clean break,” or “dirty break”), wherein socialists run strategically on the Democratic Party ballot line while building the infrastructure to operate independently and function, for all intents and purposes, as a mass, working-class party. This strategy has been the prevailing model for the organization and has led to chapters across the country successfully electing or reelecting more than 100 socialists to office to date. 

One key takeaway from the electoral debates is that every proposal to move towards a more sectarian, one-size-fits-all model failed, in part thanks to members from our chapter speaking against items that would have encroached on our ability to carry out our democratically decided electoral strategy. These included approaches setting inflexible red lines for candidates and electeds and creating shortcuts to “accountability” through discipline (i.e., censure, unendorsement, and expulsion).

While rejecting these approaches through relatively close votes, delegates did affirm organizational and strategic independence from the Democratic Party and grant-funded NGOs. The delegation authorized an independent campaign to defend democracy during the 2024 elections while removing a provision that would have mandated public disapproval of DSA electeds who endorse Biden against Trump or attend rallies with centrist Democrats. By a large margin, the convention also passed an amendment to the NEC consensus resolution (Act Like an Independent Party) to build our own infrastructure and emphasize our independent, explicitly democratic socialist political identity. Finally, the convention overwhelmingly passed amendments and resolutions committing DSA to fighting the far right, protecting reproductive rights, and protecting queer and trans youth by contesting seats for school boards (given their significant overlap, these proposals will likely be consolidated by the NPC).


The labor debate block largely reflected consensus around DSA’s current labor strategy. Of the three amendments to the NLC consensus resolution, only one (Local EWOC NLC Amendment) passed. The amendment provided more detailed language about DSA’s approach to the Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee (EWOC)—a project co-founded by DSA and United Electrical, Radio, and Machine Workers of America (UE) during the pandemic to support workplace organizing campaigns—laying out a strategy to form local or statewide EWOC formations in coordination with local DSA chapters.

For a DSA Ready to Move in the Labor Movement, introduced by three Groundwork NPC candidates, aimed to build DSA’s labor capacity by identifying sectors to prioritize for recruitment and opportunities to unite labor around legislative priorities. However, those speaking against focused on the struck-out line “our two [NLC] co-chairs must become full-time elected positions, paid for as full-time employees of the organization,” arguing that paid co-chairs are necessary if DSA is to treat labor as a serious organizational priority (the amendment replaced this language with “the provision of stipends or other compensation”).  

We Are Workers: DSA in a Resurgent Labor Movement, also introduced by the two Groundwork NPC candidates from the Los Angeles chapter, underscored the reality that DSA’s membership is made up of workers across diverse sectors and industries, and we should therefore ground our labor strategy in organizing the unorganized everywhere, not just in strategic industries or through industrializing young cadre. Some opponents argued that the amendment was mostly stylistic, reflecting language preferences without offering substantive changes to the underlying resolution. Others took issue with the authors striking the line “DSA rejects a strategy that prioritizes building relationships within the union establishment,” arguing that it oriented DSA to business-friendly, top-down unionism. However, supporters noted that the amendment preserved “DSA will prioritize building relationships with rank-and-file union members, support them in their efforts to challenge for union leadership” and that the language change would simply give DSA organizers the flexibility to work with union leadership when doing so would be strategic.

The consensus resolution as amended passed overwhelmingly and reestablished labor as an organizational priority. It reaffirmed our continued application of the rank-and-file strategy, in which DSA members are encouraged to take jobs in unionized workplaces and agitate within their unions to make them more democratic and militant (advancing “class struggle unionism”); explicitly committed DSA to building and supporting Labor Notes; committed to growing the National Labor Solidarity Fund, a resource for chapters to provide material support to workers in struggle (such as by contributing to a local union’s strike fund); and reprioritized labor organizing efforts in the logistics sector (e.g., within UPS and Amazon).

Organizational Structure

Different factions and caucuses have introduced constitution/bylaws amendments at every national convention since 2017 to expand or reform our national leadership structure, though all efforts to date have failed to reach the necessary supermajority threshold. This year was no different, though the margins have slimmed.

The SMC–authored proposal Democratize DSA 2023 would have expanded the governing NPC to 51 members and the Steering Committee to 13 members, with motivators citing a trend of leadership burnout, lack of capacity, and an outdated structural model (the NPC’s current structure was created at a time when the organization was 5 percent of current membership). Others speaking in favor argued that a larger leadership body would help depersonalize conflict and allow more political tendencies and chapters to be represented in national leadership. 

Opponents, however, held that expanding the NPC would not necessarily address capacity problems, disagreed with the more explicit division of responsibilities between the NPC and its Steering Committee, and concern over implementation and coordination of a wider body. Despite last-minute negotiations and amendments to win support from other caucuses—including passing an amendment from the floor that reduced the proposed size of the expanded NPC to 35 members—the C/B change as amended narrowly failed, with 62 percent of delegates voting in favor.

Other structural changes, however, were successful. Of note, the convention voted in favor of creating two full-time, salaried national co-chairs. Proponents of the resolution argued that DSA’s lack of public-facing political leadership is primarily a structural problem—in short, that our elected NPC members cannot effectively prioritize their DSA responsibilities as part-time volunteers. Opponents argued that the proposal, with an estimated cost of more than $340,000, was unaffordable and irresponsible given the DSA’s financial situation and expressed concern about blurring the line between staff and elected political leadership. The resolution narrowly passed with 51 percent of the vote, and convention delegates will elect two members of the new NPC to fill these positions by November 1.

The convention also voted to create a Democracy Commission—a 21-member body elected by the convention delegates tasked with studying left parties and democratic political organizations from around the world and making recommendations for consideration at the next national convention. The commission’s findings will likely have a significant impact on shaping DSA’s future staffing and overall structure.

The Big Picture

One of the key challenges emerging in the aftermath of convention is that several of these proposals come with a steep price tag, even as DSA faces a budget shortfall and shrinking membership. Bakari W., the chair of the MDC delegation and a chapter Steering member, reflected:

"I think the events of this convention have a good chance of growing DSA and helping chapters across the country to launch and win campaigns, while letting chapters respond to local conditions in a way that works for them. I'm worried about how we'll afford all the things that were passed at convention, but hopefully we'll be able to fundraise, grow, and win enough to get through it stronger."

Delegate Chris R., a former NPC member and a decadeslong DSA member, added:

"I was impressed with the Metro DC delegation, which was well organized and led the way on several important issues. That said, I was disappointed that some of the resolutions that passed—for example, the one on elected co-chairs—wasn’t really thought through strategically by many of the delegates. I think outside of MDC and a few other delegations, there was little [understanding of the] reality of the budget implications of many of the resolutions. And most importantly, I think our delegation’s way of looking at the resolutions through a lens of organizing was critical."

Over the next two years, the NPC will face difficult questions about how to implement the resolutions passed at convention, sustain our day-to-day operations, and continue to support chapters’ work. To that end, 1% for the 99% will be especially important, and we’re heartened that in the weeks following the convention, several members have already switched to income-based dues. That said, active recruitment and recommitment drives at the national level—particularly through formations such as the GDC and MROC and through concerted efforts to prioritize recruitment in the work plans of every national campaign—will be critical. 

At the chapter level, we hope to continue building on the incredible work our members have done to bring new people to the socialist movement across all areas of work, from recruiting new members where we live, work, or attend school; engaging people through community events and political education, such as our Socialist Night School walking tours; disseminating socialist ideas to a broad audience through our online newsletters and publications; mobilizing paper members and strengthening our internal onboarding processes; and developing new leaders and organizers through our external-facing campaigns.

Toward Action, Everywhere

With the broader US left experiencing a period of retrenchment in the post-Trump era, DSA has faced significant organizing challenges as a result of the shifting political landscape.

The external conditions that spurred DSA’s growth for four years between 2016 and 2020—the naked cruelty of a far-right presidency, the hope and possibility of a Bernie Sanders presidency, and flashes of working class militancy, such as the George Floyd uprisings—have faded, and with them, a key source of our organic membership growth. Today, for better or worse, we find ourselves in a period of relative stagnation that has affected our internal politics and external political orientation in profound ways.

What became apparent at this year’s national convention is that chapter success is highly uneven, and real, tangible campaign victories can seem out of reach for socialists in the vast majority of the country. Developing chapters that have not received the national-level support they need to launch winnable, strategic campaigns have retreated and, in some cases, disappeared altogether. In light of these struggles, we increasingly see a version of socialist politics that is less oriented toward Marxism as a method of analysis—wherein theory and practice inform one another to move workers in the millions—but is more fixated on staking out the right opinion on a given issue.

Delegate and Stomp Out Slumlords organizer Doug T. reflected on this inward shift, observed through various debates and publications around this year’s convention:

"External organizing projects are very hard to start. It’s scary to risk failure. … When a chapter doesn’t have anyone offering external projects for membership to get engaged with, in that vacuum, members may see internal organizing as the solution. Members with understandable desperation are latching onto idealist thinking. They say the problem with DSA is political: that with the correct line, the organization will be revived. But I do not measure DSA’s power by meeting attendance. … Because without external power, there are no stakes."

Similarly, delegate and labor organizer Eduarda S. shared:

"One thing that really stuck out to me at convention was the differences between small rural chapters and larger metropolitan chapters. I quickly noticed a pattern where small chapters who have less opportunities to organize actual campaigns in their communities are more preoccupied with ideological arguments and national conflicts. … On the other hand, I think larger chapters that have had more experience running successful campaigns have a clearer focus on what it actually takes to win socialism in the US. It concerns me that there are chapters that are so far removed from real grassroots organizing that they think posting articles online has the same value as getting a DSAer to elected office."

Over the next two years and beyond, our delegation expressed a sense of renewed energy and commitment to engaging outside of our local chapter and avoiding siloization. Coming together with comrades from across the country underscored that socialists have to move together and that we have a shared responsibility to learn from and support each other’s work. Stephanie B. and Rob W., both long-time organizers with our chapter’s Stomp Out Slumlords campaign, met with members of the Los Angeles chapter shortly after convention to talk about housing-focused organizing; Stuart K., in his role on the NEC, was approached by chapter members from Houston asking for support in running a successful electoral campaign; Katlyn C., a Northern Virginia branch member and Stomp Out Slumlords organizer, spent time connecting with other Virginia chapters and strategizing with a Charlottesville comrade about tactics to fight evictions; Kareem E. was approached by Greater Baltimore DSA organizers eager to discuss opportunities for our chapters to collaborate; Tim S. and Michael M. connected with treasurers and secretaries in other chapters to share successes from our Administrative Committee about building up effective internal structures and maintaining seamless operations; and this fall, Stephanie B. will be traveling back and forth from Philadelphia for six weeks to train new tenant organizers and help develop their chapter’s housing program.

When DSA was growing and the possibilities seemed endless, our mantra was, “The left can win.” In our region, we know and have seen that an organized left can still win, even under extraordinarily difficult organizing conditions, from a mass movement that won rent control in Montgomery County, to a landslide victory to pull thousands of tipped service industry workers out of poverty, to organized tenants winning rent strikes during a pandemic, to the elections of tribunes of socialism like Janeese Lewis George and Gabriel Acevero.

In order for our national project to succeed, we must do more than tread water and retreat to the inward-facing tactics of failed sects—our challenge is to lay out a strong vision for DSA, one that analyzes how our chapter has been able to build power and how every chapter in the country can do more than just stay afloat but actually thrive and remain in this fight for the long haul.

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