On February 23 and 24, about 50 comrades from DSA chapters across the Commonwealth converged on Diversity Richmond for the first Virginia Statewide DSA Convention. Organized by members from several chapters, including Northern Virginia DSA and YDSA, the event provided an opportunity for delegates to share successes, address challenges, and dig deep into organizing and other topics.
The convention program opened with a plenary session that emphasized solidarity. Rather than a single speaker, representatives from each group spoke for a few minutes outlining the history of their respective organizations and discussing local needs and how they have addressed them. Many of the topics introduced during the plenary came up later in the breakouts and during conversations over coffee or lunch.
The program was anchored by two main sessions led by experienced organizers. Bryan Conlon, a veteran union organizer with NC Piedmont DSA, led “A Quick and Dirty Guide to Having an Organizing Conversation.” The session was designed for anyone new to socialism or activism, or anyone looking to improve their communication skills in an organizing setting. Meredith Schafer, a member of Northern Virginia DSA and labor activist with the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission (DSLC), led “An Intro to Labor Organizing for Socialists,” which was partially based on DSLC’s workshop, DSA Labor 101. It provided an intersectional framework for understanding the importance of the workplace and worker organizing in our activism. Both sessions were well attended and set the tone for the rest of the event.
Scheduled around the main sessions, breakouts offered delegates the chance to discuss critical issues in a less formal setting. Breakouts focused on antifascism, ecosocialism, YDSA organizing, tenant organizing, prison labor, rural organizing, mutual aid, and electoral organizing. Each breakout discussion was led by a facilitator, but the delegates drove the conversations. These sessions often ended with delegates sharing contact information to continue the conversation.
Though we discussed a wide range of issues during sessions and over adult beverages, perhaps the most salient was National DSA and its shortcomings. Many delegates recognized that National provides calls to action. Since 2016, we've been encouraged to canvass for Medicare for All and, more recently, we've been asked to hit the streets for Bernie. But some comrades, particularly those from smaller or more rural chapters, suggested that offering a call to action is insufficient.
"Yes, but how?" asked one exasperated delegate. Another comrade shrugged and said, "If I wanted to join Our Revolution, I would have joined Our Revolution."
One delegate argued that National DSA is stuck in 1982, when it became a haven for socialists set adrift by the defeat of the New Left. Others suggested that National needs to move on from 2016. Several comrades identified the need for infrastructure, including a secure platform for communicating not only within but between chapters, as well as educational resources and organizer training. "Go canvass!" doesn't help smaller or more isolated chapters find the help they need to get started.
For the closing plenary, Richmond DSA Treasurer Joseph Rogers reminded us where we are, both geographically and historically, 400 years after the first African slaves were brought to Virginia and even longer after white settlers began murdering the Powhatan people. Joseph reminded us that the injustice we struggle against in the United States has deep roots, but he left us feeling empowered to change it. After a round of ASL applause, someone proposed we continue with clapping. The motion was seconded, and we switched to a noisier show of appreciation. We are indeed democratic socialists.
As we broke down the tables and stacked the last of the chairs, someone asked, “Will we do this again next year?” Many agreed that it sounded like a good idea, but we decided to table the question. I’m sure we’ll take it up again when the time is right. I wonder if our comrades in Charlottesville would be willing to host?