By Maine DSA Communications Committee
Originally published in Pine & Roses, a project of the Maine DSA.
On the weekend of January 21-22, Maine DSA held its first of two semi-annual conventions for 2023. Over the course of a chapter convention weekend, members gather both in-person and online for workshops on a range of topics, as well as business meetings where resolutions and amendments are debated and decided. At anytime during those two days, members are invited to fill out online ballots to elect candidates to open leadership positions. This piece recaps the workshops and business items, it does not address the election results.
During our opening plenary, we heard from Communications Co-Chair, Chris C, who spoke about the importance of developing mutual respect and camaraderie between members. We were left with a reminder that fellow socialists are first and foremost comrades. Even when we disagree about this or that strategy we must not view each other as essential political opposition. Instead, that designation should be left for the capitalists currently ruining our planet and communities within.
Maine DSA hosted seven workshops on Day 1, five of which were in person. These in-person events were hosted at the Quaker Friends Meeting House in Portland.
At the top of the morning we were joined remotely by the Emergency Tenant Organizing Committee. This group works with chapters across the country helping them set up autonomous tenant unions in every city. This is done largely through a mentorship program where local socialist organizers are guided through all of the challenges associated with launching a tenant union. We then discussed the challenges we face in Maine. How a tight housing market and poor tenant protections have cooled tenant organizing in our area. We talked about how existing social networks are very useful for building the trust needed for taking on landlords. For DSA, defeating the death grip of landlords and supporting bottom-up tenant power is the only path forward.
Meanwhile, at the local in-person workshops, comrades learned essential life-saving care measures most effective at stopping rapid blood loss typically caused by gunshot wounds. We owe a special thanks to Maine SRA for helping put this training session together. One of the attendees and hosts of this training returned later in the day to help with another workshop. After a lunch break, folks then had the choice of attending an Art and Capitalism workshop or a Membership Engagement workshop.
The Art and Capitalism workshop, hosted by Jon D, provided an in-person space for members to come together to not only make art but also discuss the struggles surrounding art. Important questions addressed in the session included: what makes someone an artist, how has capitalism changed art and its function, and what does art contribute to the socialist movement?
Meanwhile, Jake G and others discussed how to keep our membership engaged. There was an in-depth review of statistics comparing members in good standing v. constitutional members, and how to better focus on turning the latter into the former. A membership engagement survey sent out late last year provided good insights into ways that we as a chapter can do better to activate members. The floor was then opened to folks to suggest new creative ways to engage with current members, as well as reach out to new potential ones. This workshop was also hosted on Friday night before the convention. Attendees generated wonderfully creative ideas that will surely prove fun, if not effective. So keep on the lookout for some cool new events coming up this year, a game night is in the works as well as a few other atypical in-person events.
Later on that afternoon, Cam H led attendees in a speculative fiction workshop. Participants were encouraged to think about their utopian worlds, dystopian worlds, and what those changes might look like throughout several periods in the future. Folks then engaged in world-building, character development, and learning the basics of story structures. Attendees left this workshop with a beautiful handmade zine and an outline of a story that they created.
The last in-person workshop, led by Chris C, was a tent heater build. Maine DSA owes Maine SRA gratitude once again for showing up to help with this activity; they provided extra materials and knowledge that were critical to its success. Attendees were able to come together and collectively begin the process of building tent heaters, an essential tool for folks facing precarious housing situations. A few of the heaters from this workshop have already been distributed and some folks are continuing to build in order to distribute more.
At the same time, Rep. Grayson Lookner and Prof. Brendan McQuade hosted an online workshop on important legislative efforts happening this year. The focus was on abolition and abortion rights. Bills discussed included: efforts to defund the Maine Information Analysis Center (read our shadow report from last year for background), a bill to ban crisis pregnancy centers (see our website on this), shutting down Long Creek Youth Development Center, and building new social housing. If you’d like to stay in the loop on these and other issues Rep. Lookner is focused on this session, you can fill out this form. Anyone specifically interested in closing down Long Creek Youth Development Center should check out Maine Youth Justice. And lastly, for folks looking to learn more about the public housing crisis, we invite you to read this Beacon article and this Jacobin article, co-authored by Rep. Lookner.
After a first day filled with wonderful workshops, members reconvened that night to address a slew of business items. We had wonderful debates throughout. We were able to reach decisions on all business items with one exception. Citing time and a clear lack of consensus, our Digital Voting Results Policy was referred to our Steering Committee. Our Abortion Rights Working Group was rechartered and will continue its efforts fighting predatory fake abortion clinics, aka crisis pregnancy centers. We were able to settle on an electoral strategy that centers partnerships with candidates who are openly socialist and committed to working-class struggles. We also passed a coalition policy that will ensure Maine DSA is able to work in the open as socialists within Portland coalitions. And last but not least, with the DSA National Convention around the corner, we passed a resolution that will provide chapter funding to help our delegates attend without financial stress.
On Day 2, we heard from Heather Hillenbrand who is a National DSA Labor Membership Co-Chair. We discussed further efforts in organizing labor, where we have footholds already, DSA’s popular report with much of the rank & file of Starbucks Workers United, and how to prepare for further action and organizing in 2023. Heather also invited Maine DSA to send a chapter member to the upcoming Labor Corps Solidarity Call.
Day 2 was a little lighter on the workshops with only four total. This was welcomed, as most of the chapter membership was still recovering from a long and exhausting Day 1. All workshops on Day 2 were held remotely online.
The first workshop of the day was a study group on Salar Mohandesi’s article in Viewpoint, “Party as Articulator.” This was facilitated by Todd B from our Political Education Committee, and the author of the piece was in attendance to summarize its main points and respond to questions. After an introduction, we moved into break-out rooms where attendees went around discussing their biggest takeaway from the piece. We then reconvened as a broader body to further flesh out its more nuanced points, possible critiques, and questions. This discussion proved quite engaging, going 30 minutes over the allotted time.
In another Zoom call, we heard from Liz Trice of Maine Cooperative Development Partners to learn about the cooperative social housing model and the cooperative housing developments that MCDP expects to begin building later this year in Portland. Reservations for these are still available. Social housing cooperatives are an approach to creating permanently-affordable housing. Housing following this model is mutually-owned and governed democratically by all residents. During this session, a number of members expressed that they already had reservations to join MCDP’s upcoming Dougherty Court housing cooperative. The session closed out with an extended Q&A. You can find more information about Maine Cooperative Development Partners and their projects at mainecooperativehousing.com.
Maine DSA also hosted a discussion about logistics and labor. This workshop was hosted by Jeanne L and Spencer B. It included an open discussion on the role of Maine DSA in the potential UPS Teamster strike this summer. Attendees agreed that this would be an extremely important moment. This work will be qualitatively different from much of the chapter’s labor solidarity work up to this point due to the scale of the potential strike, the national significance of a bottleneck in logistics, and the radical open-mindedness of masses of workers. Suggested tactics included both material support and conversations asking about the contract, asking what workers care about, and discussing how it connects to the capitalist system in general. Other ideas from members included producing a pamphlet on the history of Teamster actions from a socialist perspective, and that we prepare contingency plans for the possibility of a Supreme Court ruling making workers liable for the lost profits of bosses. It was a lively starter conversation on a topic that will be discussed further both locally and nationally as socialists prepare.
As mentioned above, our Day 1 workshops had been hosted at the Portland Friends Meetinghouse. On Day 2 we heard from local Quaker activists. Sophie G, a member of Maine DSA and an activist with The Friends Committee on National Legislation spoke to us about the history of the Child Tax Credit, the impact of the latest lapse of the CTC, and what we can do to help. We also heard anecdotal stories from Julie, a micro-school employee and mom, about the impact and importance of the CTC. During this presentation, we contacted our national representatives with help and instruction from Sophie G.
Day 2 business was just as busy as Day 1, but we were still able to conclude on schedule. We were able to recharter our Pine & Roses working group, a chapter-backed journalistic project that offers an online publication, providing a New England based working-class viewpoint that is not represented in other major media. We also rechartered our Labor Solidarity working group, and approved a project for that group to utilize relationships with Maine labor in an attempt to gain as much union support as possible for the Pine Tree Power ballot initiative. We then passed an electoral strategy resolution on Day 2 that builds upon what was passed during business on Day 1. Maine DSA also voted to implement a mask policy in an effort to allow folks with compromised immune systems to engage with us and participate in spaces where they are usually prohibited via health risk. To cap off Day 2 business, we held a deep discussion on the chapter’s diversity requirements. In the end we voted to make a few tweaks to them, including some simplification to the language and hopefully reducing any undue pressure on marginalized members.
After business concluded, comrades came together on Sunday night at Portland Zoo. The dense roar of our collective chatter could be heard from the sidewalk as you walked up. Jokes were flying about the newly formed Lighthouse Caucus and the tongue-in-cheek possibility of future caucuses like the Franco-American Caucus, The Fists Caucus, and The Dark Tower Caucus. We collectively thanked and congratulated our outgoing Chapter Co-Chair Rose D for all of her hard work and incredible dedication to the chapter. To cap off the celebration and convention, we came together in song.
In our hands is placed a power greater than their hoarded gold
Greater than the might of armies, magnified a thousandfold
We can bring to birth a new world from the ashes of the old
For the union makes us strong
For the Union Makes Us Strong