Metro DC DSA hosted a regional organizing retreat in early September that brought comrades from as far away as New Jersey and Charlottesville to discuss organizational tactics and strategy. All told, 25+ DSA members from Central New Jersey, Charlottesville, Southern Maryland, Fredericksburg and West Virginia were in attendance. The report at Metro DC DSA’s September GBM thanked the DC Arts Gallery for hosting the largely in-person event, which provided successful organizer trainings and the exchange of skills and information to lay the groundwork for further cooperation.
Eric Wimer, who is DSA’s staff regional organizer for our region, said after the event that “we were interested in bringing chapters together so they could learn from each other. Online trainings can be effective, but nothing beats working through tough challenges together with folks from a variety of situations and experiences. Ideally, each attendee leaves with a new appreciation for their fellow chapters and a clear sense of what they're building towards that can help them to understand how they're building power locally and how they can work to improve.”
The event echoed a regular monthly meeting of all Maryland formations, including our branches in Prince George’s and Montgomery counties, with similar practices of familiarizing our understanding of the strengths and challenges that can be unique to each branch or organizing committee as well as the established Greater Baltimore DSA chapter.
One participant from our MoCo branch, Tim S, said:
I found the training quite helpful and would encourage people who have the opportunity to attend future trainings to consider doing so, even if they don't necessarily think of themselves as leaders. What I'd hoped to get out of it was a clearer sense of how the DSA, locally and nationally, sort of thinks about itself and makes decisions – obviously the DSA is the members, but I assumed there was an explicit mindset, set of heuristics, strategy, etc., and the presentations at the training definitely clarified a lot of this information for me.
This is, I think, important because it gives me a conceptual vocabulary in common with other organizers locally and nationally, apart from the more general (and often, let’s be honest, pretty abstract and contested) vocabulary of socialism or Marxism. Most of the content about national strategy, choosing campaigns, and deploying specific tactics was stuff that I'd guessed at from being fairly involved in different work here in the chapter, but it was helpful to see it made explicit, and to see how it all fits together.
The information that really stuck out to me, though, was the frank discussion of understanding and building capacity. I was aware that recruiting, mobilizing and developing members is an important thing for us to be doing, but because it's really not my comparative advantage or something where I have a strong background, I hadn't thought too hard about it. But the trainers did a really good job of explaining how important these tasks are, and how developing good systems for doing these tasks integrates well with our campaign-oriented strategy to make our outward-facing work build capacity rather than spend it. They really sold me on the importance of not just doing kind of prosaic stuff like maintaining lists and running meetings, but on the importance of getting good at doing that work effectively and strategically, while giving what I thought was, for having only so much time, a really good rundown of tips we can bring back when we have to do this work. I've done some work with lists and running meetings so far, with varying degrees of efficacy, and this has motivated me to work a lot harder at doing that stuff well, rather than treating it as a chore that's separate from what we're actually trying to accomplish.
As far as regional organizing goes, I certainly did enjoy meeting comrades from around the region, and was impressed by the amount of energy and excitement of people organizing in places that seem much more difficult to work in than our area. But as Hayden said at the GBM, I don't think this will lead to regional campaigns in the short to medium term. Several of the chapters are very small and very new, and so it seems to me like the best thing we can be doing with them is helping them build capacity (e.g., by holding events like this, where we have the human, technological and physical infrastructure accessible in ways that would be difficult for small chapters), and hopefully by finding other ways to share knowledge or take advantage of our capacity (like helping them with grant-writing to national or something, not sure how that works). It seemed like Charlottesville – along with Baltimore, the only fairly established chapter represented – is really excited about tenant organizing, which is great, and that’s where there seemed to be really good opportunities for knowledge sharing. I hope that happens going forward, but it's an area I don't know well.
Hayden G, MDC DSA steering member who reported back to the September GBM on this first regional event, added:
The ROR represented a few different opportunities for the chapter and DSA. It is a beautiful thing to see comrades building connections that were not already made. It is deeply rewarding to hear from folks engaged in the same struggles and conditions that we do, but in a different location. National staff did a fantastic job putting on training sessions throughout the weekend. Members from all participating chapters came away having learned the value of making the most out of limited resources.
So often, we all read critiques about how ‘DSA should’ do a specific campaign or action. Among the values that were expressed and internalized during this regional retreat is that DSA is not a third party. We are DSA and we are enabled to achieve our desired outcomes when we put in the work to make them happen. Be that through the electoral process, supporting the labor movement, or supporting tenants, developing chapters got to see examples of how we’ve won and learn what it took to win.
“In terms of opportunities going forward, there are campaigns coming up on the horizon that we did not foresee when planning the retreat. Overlapping training and coordination across the region is going to be key during our labor support campaigns taking place in the next year, specifically in the logistics sector. It also cannot be understated the value that participating members from MDCDSA received from the retreat. The information from the training sessions and lessons conveyed by our comrades will be brought back to various working groups. That is something to be excited about.
Overall, I’m thrilled with the outcome and I’m grateful for everyone who was a part of putting in the work to make this happen. It truly is an honor for our chapter to be the host for such an event and this is a testament to the strength of our movement in the DMV.