Over the last few years, DSA has amassed a significant deficit. This comes from years of overspending without increasing our income. The 2023 convention only expanded this deficit by passing many high cost resolutions without regard to the financial commitments necessary to implement them. At the January 2023 NPC Budget meeting, this crisis came to a head, and the NPC had to make significant budget cuts across the entirety of our organization. These cuts hit YDSA hard, but we still have received a significant share of resources to build DSA’s youth section.
In this article we will hope to counteract recent statements from various caucuses and YDSA leaders who have criticized all cuts to our budget and instead argue for a different path for YDSA members to engage with our parent organization, DSA.
Setting the Scene
The current budget deficit comes from multiple places both within and outside of our immediate control. We’ve seen widespread political malaise since the election of Joe Biden to president as well as the decline of various other progressive organizations. Since this moment, even as membership started to dip, DSA’s spending remained high with future growth in mind. Some members have been discussing this trajectory since the 2021 Convention. The previous NPCs failed to sufficiently address the looming budget crisis.
This helps to set the scene for the 2023 DSA Convention, where high cost proposals ranging from paid National Co-Chairs to a Green New Deal Staffer were passed without any idea of how to afford it or prioritize. The 2023 Convention produced an impossible budget with no discernable priorities. To be clear, while the blame here partially lies with convention delegates, it also reflects a failure to create structures for prioritization of our limited resources and capacity. Both YDSA and DSA suffer from this issue. Yet, the reality is if we had implemented all resolutions from the 2023 Convention with their full costs, DSA would bankrupt itself in early 2025.
Like many others proposed in 2023, the YDSA Consensus Resolution was an extremely ambitious proposal, at least in price. High cost items in the resolution include stipends for the National Coordinating Committee, stipends for YDSA Committee chairs, large committee and chapter grant budgets, and investigations towards Dues Share for YDSA chapters. This amounted to an estimated cost of $212,317 for the first year of implementation. This is notably in addition to the 2 full-time YDSA staff positions and the Intern program, which all together makes YDSA the most funded section of the entire organization. This isn’t to argue against the resolution; many of these high cost items we believe are strategic costs worth taking on, but it is important that we judge budgetary considerations with the entire understanding of our orgs' cost commitments and member activities.
What did the NPC Do?
So, what did the NPC do in the January budget meeting, particularly to YDSA? We might as well start with the largest single budget cut: Instituting a hiring freeze. This means that we will not hire most of the currently vacant staff positions in DSA. After amendments, this includes both YDSA organizer positions, both YDSA interns, Development Database Coordinator, and no back-filling in case of internal hires/promotions for Finance Analyst and Events Coordinator. After a motion by the YDSA Co-Chairs to remove one of these YDSA organizer positions from the staff freeze failed, another motion passed to reallocate one current member of staff’s time to YDSA. This is a tough loss to face as YDSA has had at least one staffer for the past several years, but understanding the current deficit and DSA staff union Collective Bargaining Agreement helps to make this decision more clear.
The Collective Bargaining Agreement mandates that if layoffs are to occur they are done by inverse seniority, meaning within a job classification (for example “organizing”) the most recently hired member of staff would be let go. This means that if we were to hire a YDSA Organizer and our budget situation were not to improve in the coming months, they’d be the first member of staff to be let go. One of the major benefits of full time staff is the institutional memory they can bring, bridging NCC terms and learning the ins and outs of the entire organization. Hiring a new YDSA organizer to immediately lay them off if our financial situation continues to decline would be a costly misstep. While ideally YDSA could have a full time staff member with experience in YDSA and campus organizing, we recognize that is not a risk we can currently take and are excited that the NPC believes that having full-time YDSA staff support is important.
Outside of staff, the NPC voted to cut NPC Steering Committee stipends (while exempting Treasury, Secretary, and YDSA Co-Chairs), make the YDSA Summer Convention virtual, and end YDSA committee chair stipends in July. Notably, the NPC did not decide to reduce NCC stipends, meaning NCC members will be the only paid political leadership in the organization other than the NPC Co-Chairs, Treasurer, and Secretary. This year YDSA’s work and membership have expanded tremendously, which is in part a result of these stipends. Constellation is proud to have played a role in maintaining this vital funding through our conversations with NPC members.
With this overview of the cuts to YDSA’s funding, it is worth looking at the entirety of DSA’s organizing budget and committee requests. Constellation compiled these requests here and found YDSA received less cuts on average when compared to any other part of the organization: 28.47% without staff and 37.31% with staff. That means YDSA is now the largest portion of the non-staff & non-dues share organizing budget by far: 49.9% without staff and 44.6% with. This also does not include the essential role that non-YDSA staff play for our youth section: keeping our membership lists clean, managing our shared tech tools like Spoke & Action Network, tracking new and returning chapter applications, helping to run both conference and convention, and plenty more.
As these numbers further show, the reason the NPC budget meeting had to vote on so many YDSA budget items was that the Budget and Finance Committee made virtually zero cuts to YDSA’s budget, while all other national committees took significant cuts. All in all, the reductions that affected YDSA’s funding were not disproportionate or greater than other committees or sections of DSA.
Numbers aside, we believe it is exceptionally important to reflect on how various members and caucuses of YDSA and DSA responded to the NPC’s decisions on Jan 21st and the following days on Twitter, the discussion board, and in meetings. Broadly, these responses reeked of bad faith accusations, including suggestions that YDSA was “punished” for its politics or structures of democratic engagement. We recognize that some YDSA members and alumni have worked for a very long time to secure the funding given to YDSA at the 2023 Convention, but this does not excuse some particularly uncomradely attacks and reactions. Rather, as in all of our work, we have the responsibility to be thoughtful, compassionate, and comradely. Acting rashly harms us all as well as the organization and movement we must build.
To focus on YDSA’s response, immediately after the NPC meeting ended, the NCC hosted a debrief meeting that we found incredibly frustrating. With a large attendance of members from one caucus including many people who are not currently YDSA members, the vast majority of callers spoke about how angry or disappointed they were with the NPC, and various members of the NCC called on YDSAers to go to Twitter to hound NPC members for their votes. This type of space fosters an especially unhealthy orientation towards the rest of DSA and relies on a lack of clear presentation of the financial situation DSA is in and the arguments made by NPC members in their votes.
In the future, we hope in circumstances like these the NCC can wait a few days until people’s emotions have settled and create a more structured meeting where context and arguments from NPC can be delivered.
Where We Are Now
In the midst of a seven figure deficit, YDSA has stipends for political leadership, including both NCC and NPC stipends for Co-Chairs, the full time staff of one DSA staff member, and only moves one in person gathering online. This means we are in a phenomenal spot to organize and build given the current deficit the organization is facing.
We see the path to return to a specialized YDSA staffer and a return to in person national events through successful fundraising and solidarity dues. There are no shortcuts to building a strong and viable member driven organization. The path to these increased YDSA funding items does not lie with harassing NPC members on Twitter or the forums or trying to pass every possible funding request YDSA can make. These activities did not protect any part of the YDSA budget at the NPC meeting and actively hurt talks to save critical organizing resources. Rather, we hope in the future YDSA can make important decisions about what funding to prioritize and work to discuss with DSA members and leaders why these specific funding items for YDSA are effective. We further look forward to a strong YDSA Dues Drive this Spring that can get the entire organization’s budget back on track.