Maine DSA

Maine DSA Member Handbook

Maine DSA

Member Handbook

The Maine DSA Member Handbook was last updated Tuesday, October 11, 2022.

Who we are

The Democratic Socialists of America was first formed in 1982 and, after a huge amount of growth following the 2016 election, is now the largest socialist organization in the US. We are not a political party but rather a political organization. We are democratically led, meaning that all decisions are made by members and the people we elect. We welcome all with anti-racist, anti-fascist, and anti-capitalist ideologies. Our focus is on developing leadership within the working class to fight for the working class.

How we relate to National DSA

Maine DSA, which was formed in 2016, is one of the many chapters that make up the national DSA body, which is generally referred to as National. National’s primary leadership body is called the National Political Committee (NPC), which is elected every two years at the national convention by delegates from each chapter, who also vote on DSA’s national priorities and rules. Our Chapter’s work is supported by and cannot conflict with National, but we are otherwise an independent body.

Fun Fact: Maria Svart — whose name shows up on National DSA’s emails — is the National Director, a position appointed by the NPC.

What does it mean to be a member?

To be a member of Maine DSA, you must live in Maine, have joined National DSA, and either pay dues or have received a dues waiver. This lets you vote in General Meetings and hold elected positions.

How we get work done

All of our work is done by members who volunteer their time and skills to the movement and organization because we recognize that this is how we can bring about the change that we believe is necessary. While we may not be friends with the tens of thousands of other members, we’re all comrades in the struggle and should treat each other with respect and grace.

Political identity and theory

We are socialist because we share a vision of a humane social order based on democratic control of resources and production, economic planning, equitable distribution, feminism, racial equality and non-oppressive relationships. We are democratic because we know this transformation cannot be won from the top down, by a small group of elites who claim to have all the answers, or even by well-meaning politicians. This transformation can only come from the bottom up, when millions of working-class people stand together.

We are constantly in the process of figuring things out. This is one of the most exciting parts of DSA, to learn alongside comrades as we democratically decide on campaigns together, work together, and reflect on what works and doesn’t. It is often helpful to look to history for previous lessons learned and recorded. This sort of reading or learning is not required to participate in DSA, but part of the responsibility of having a democratic say in what work our Chapter undertakes is having an informed opinion on the work we do. We recognize that democracy is the beating heart of socialism, and we strive to avoid dogmatism where there is only one ‘correct’ answer. We are strongest when working from diverse viewpoints to reach a common goal.

You can read more about our national platform here.

Overview of theory of power

Power is the ability to act or change circumstances. Bosses, landlords, and cops might have power over us, but as socialists we know there is a way to build greater power with each other, and we do that though organizing both people and resources.

Each one of us is part of multiple social networks like workplaces, neighborhoods, and friend groups. To organize is to strengthen and grow those connections in a way that builds awareness of and works towards a shared goal as a cohesive whole. Organizing can take many forms: talking with your neighbors to get your building repaired, increasing voter turnout, or even setting up a game night with your friends.

Opposing capitalism doesn’t protect us from having to exist within it, and as such we need money to do our work. Part of DSA’s power comes from the freedom of being funded by membership dues and small donations, which ensure that the most important decision maker in our organization is our membership. As we pool our money together and democratically decide how to spend it we’re able to accomplish things we could never do by ourselves.

DSA works because we collect our skills, experience, and funds to form an independent, unified body that works as one towards an equitable society.

Organizing & mobilizing

You have probably mobilized in the past. If you’ve gone to a protest, or voted in an election, that is a form of mobilization. Mobilizing is temporary, or a single event. Organizing, by contrast, is long term and aimed at larger goals. Organizations act as containers for knowledge and resources in between the events we mobilize for. Both organizing and mobilizing are essential. However, it’s only through organizations that we are able to look past any single issue and start to effect systemic change. It can help to think of our Chapter as the trunk of a tree of change.

Relationships are the building blocks of organizations. We have tried our best to write all these words down to help you navigate the Chapter, but it’s only through relationships that we can exercise power with each other. By having one-on-one conversations with people we do and don’t know, we expand our potential power. By holding these relationships together within an organization we empower long term planning, and give people the chance to step back when they need to without having to start all over. The easiest way to help form DSA into the organization you want is to organize with other members and build your ideas together. You can have the smartest, most correct argument in the world, but if you don’t have the trust and buy-in of the people who will have to put your idea into practice, it will fail.

Our Work

Political education

We must be able to articulate not only why it’s pretty messed up that your boss gives you only a fraction of the value you produce but how being a part of a mass movement can accomplish change. DSA is a small part of a rich, complex, and developing story of collective power and class struggle, rooted deeply in the history of conflict between oppressed and oppressor. There are many theories of how we can build socialism to discuss and even more lessons to be learned from testing those theories. It is critical that we make this knowledge easily accessible and apply it to our work to ensure that what we do is in line with our values.

Electoral Work

Many people think about politics in terms of the ballot box. While many of us recognize that the electoral system in the United States is rigged against the working class, we can and must bring people to the movement and make our vision for the future known. We can demonstrate power by organizing around candidates, competing in elections, and putting pressure on government officials. Learning about the system we exist in and working to change it can demonstrate its flaws even in a loss; a win on a municipal or state level can yield real material gains. Either way, we strive to heighten and clarify the contradictions that exist in a bourgeois democratic electoral system.

Mutual Aid

The point of mutual aid is to develop the support and independence necessary to free up the capacity of the working class for more political activity. While we strive toward the horizon of an anti-capitalist future, we can build power by caring for the people in the communities capitalism harms. For example, the Black Panthers’ Free Breakfast for Children program provided necessary food while showing that the government finds mass hunger acceptable. This aided in building the Party, organizing, and educating the community. A good mutual aid project is sustainable, set in communities we have relationships with, and politicized in some way. We build power by demonstrating our collective effectiveness when we are organized and connected to a broader struggle. That said, mutual aid takes an incredible amount of pre-planning, coordination, and work to sustain.

Workplace and Tenant Organizing

A primary goal of our movement is facilitating, encouraging, and supporting working people at any site of struggle, particularly in those where workers have extra leverage due to their unique position as the sole source of value in production. We must support unions of workers and tenants so that they can collectively bargain with their bosses and landlords for fair treatment. We do this by providing material support (printing flyers, bringing food to picket lines) and showing up in person to community canvasses, rallies, and pickets. Most importantly, we can develop skilled tenant and workplace organizers within our ranks. By having conversations with our coworkers and neighbors about our material conditions, agitating for change, and then laying out a plan for that change, we can grow the movement all around us.

Chapter Structure

Fun Fact: Each piece of the Chapter structure is built to help us work together on a shared mission. Any member can take part in all Chapter events or meetings, and you can always reach out to membership@smdsa.org with questions.

Working Groups are smaller groups oriented around specific projects, like making this handbook, or supporting unions. A member can start a working group by finding four other members and submitting a charter, which outlines the group’s goals and work plan. The charter is then submitted to the Steering Committee for approval.

Committees are led by 3-5 elected members that develop and then run the entire Chapter’s primary initiatives. These campaigns are crafted around our political priorities alongside the chapter’s strategic needs and capacity.

The Steering Committee is the elected leadership body for the Chapter made up of eight people, with two committee members in each of the four working groups; Agenda, Communications, Finance, and Membership working groups. These four working groups carry out the day-to-day administrative operations for all Chapter business.

Community Norms

Code of Conduct

Our code of conduct requires that members carry themselves in a genuine, considerate way and to treat other members with respect. Though we may disagree, we are all working towards a shared goal. This is expected in internal, public, and online spaces. Every member is expected to:

  • Participate authentically and actively. In doing so, you contribute to the health and longevity of DSA;
  • Exercise consideration in your speech and actions;
  • Attempt collaboration before conflict;
  • Share analysis and opinions rather than accusations;
  • Comply with applicable Community Agreements;
  • Refrain from demeaning, discriminatory, or harassing behavior and speech;
  • Avoid making assumptions. If you don’t know someone’s gender, and you can’t figure out what pronoun to use, just ask or look at their name tag, where you may find their name and pronouns;
  • Ask before touching anyone at our events. It’s easy, and the worst outcome is that someone says no! That includes hugging – you might not know that it makes some people uncomfortable, but it does, so please ask first;
  • Be mindful of your surroundings and the other participants. Alert community leaders if you notice a dangerous situation, someone in distress, or violations of this Code of Conduct, even if they seem inconsequential.

Unacceptable behavior includes (but isn’t limited to):

  • Harassment and abusive behavior whether physical, verbal, online, or via any form of communication. This includes comments related to gender, sexual orientation, transness, physical appearance, body size, technical choices, lack of technical knowledge, ability, ethnicity, socioeconomic status, religion (or lack thereof), and other personal conditions and choices;
  • Posting or threatening to post other people’s personally identifying information (“doxxing”);
  • Non-consensual physical contact & unwelcome sexual attention;
  • Minimizing other people’s experiences;
  • Speaking on behalf of the Chapter, a branch, or a campaign without first consulting the relevant leadership body.

Elected leaders are allowed to remove someone from a Chapter space or spaces temporarily due to any of these behaviors in DSA spaces.

Grievance policy

The Chapter has three elected Harassment and Grievance Officers (HGO’s), each of whom require a 90% approval vote to ensure that they have the trust of membership. They are not allowed to hold another elected position.

Their role is to help mediate conflict, solve interpersonal issues between members, and help navigate the grievance process if necessary. If you feel that someone’s behavior is negatively impacting your ability to participate in DSA, please reach out to someone in leadership that you trust or any of our HGO’s at hgo@mainedsa.org.

Meetings

When meetings happen

Chapter General Meetings are on the second Sunday of each month. Meetings alternate between voting on Chapter business and in-depth discussions of specific topics. Agendas are sent out via email to all members prior to the meeting. Any member can request to have an item added to the agenda via the agenda request form.

The date and time for meetings held by Working Groups and Committees are subject to change and are posted on the Maine DSA calendar.

How meetings are conducted

Some meetings are very laid back, while others are more structured.

For meetings with a lot of people where important decisions need to be made with formal voting, we use a form of Robert’s Rules. We do not expect all members to come to meetings with a complete understanding of Robert’s Rules and we encourage members to ask questions.

Our goal is to foster an environment where everyone feels comfortable asking questions and sharing ideas. To make sure the conversation is diverse, we use a method called “stack” to set the list of speakers. During online meetings, members type “stack” into the chat when they would like to speak, and in person you can raise your hand so the person taking stack can add you. The facilitator will then call on members to speak.

Meeting norms

Online Meetings

  • Remember to keep your microphone muted when not speaking.
  • Type “stack” in the meeting chat to get in line to speak.
  • Type “+” signs into the chat to indicate that you agree with the speaker.
  • Add your pronouns to your account name.

In-person

  • Raise your hand to get in line to speak.
  • Do not interrupt others when speaking.

Every meeting has a designated facilitator and minute taker.

  • The facilitator is the person guiding the meeting conversation through the agenda, keeping the conversation on track, and naming and resolving decision points. The facilitator can be the chair of the group, or in some cases just a general member. This varies from group to group.
  • The minute-taker is the person in charge of taking meeting notes. Meeting notes are the formal documentation of chapter business and are used as a tool for future planning.

Bylaws

Maine DSA’s rules are laid out in our Bylaws and Policies. Bylaws are the Chapter’s governing framework– they define the basics of the organization: including things like the name of the Chapter and how elections are held. They’re usually changed at the winter bi-annual meeting and any changes require a ⅔ majority vote.

Policies are more specific, outlining things like our grievance process or data security. Policies can be modified, created, or suspended at any business meeting with a simple majority vote.

Full text of our bylaws is available here.

Glossary

When any organization shares work, we start to develop shared vocabulary to quickly convey ideas. This can make it hard for newer members to get plugged in, so don’t hesitate to ask what something means– there is almost definitely someone else wondering the same. That said, here are a number of terms that’ll come up often.

  • Committees. Committees, or Standing Committees, are a subgroup of the Chapter meant to provide accountable deliberation on an issue of central importance to the Chapter. The issue should be set at formation. They produce proposals to be voted on by the Chapter and then carried out by the committee. Deliberations should be routine and expected to justify frequent elections.
  • Focus. A focus is a type of proposal that committees present to the Chapter. The specificity of these proposals is left up to the committees, but they should provide at least the subject matter the committee will be focusing on for their term.
    Body. A defined group of people.
  • Canvassing. The systematic initiation of direct contact with individuals, commonly used during political campaigning, grassroots fundraising, community awareness, membership drives, and more. Examples of canvassing include going door to door, walking along busy areas in a downtown area, and setting up an information table at community events.
  • Campaign Committees. Campaign Committees are a special type of committee used for researching, proposing, and conducting Chapter campaigns. Voting membership of committees is set at formation, and is closed to additional members. They can be either Chapter-wide or focused in a particular local area.
  • Chapter Campaigns. These are the membership’s primary effort, and are approved by the general membership. These campaigns can be focused on electoral causes or membership growth, and are expected to have a timeline of 6 months to a year.
  • Charter. A document outlining the function, mission, and membership of a group of people within DSA. Typically this includes who within a working group will be reporting to the steering committee, the group’s membership list, what the goals are of the group, how they intend to meet the goals, and a general timeline.
  • Electoralism. Work within the existing public political system, e.g. getting representatives elected to office or passing policy.
  • Majority. Commonly used in a vote, demonstrated by 50% + 1 of a present voting body.
  • Petition. A formal written proposal, signed by people within a voting district or region, for a specific cause to be addressed at the governmental level.
  • Constituency. A body of voters in a specified area who elect a representative to a legislative body.
  • Motion. During business, members can make a motion or “move” to take an action on the floor.
  • Agenda. A document outlining the items of business for a meeting and the time allotted for each in the order in which they will be taken up by the body. This may include reports, new business, old business, and other matters of concern to the meeting.
  • Minutes. The written record of talking points and decisions made during meetings. These are usually located directly on the agenda and are taken actively by a member as a meeting is being conducted.
  • Dissolve. To cease conducting business as a body.
  • Quorum. The minimum number of voting members needed to make binding decisions.
  • Consensus. A decision-making process where all members must not disagree in order for a proposal to pass.
  • Capacity. Another word for “workload’. This is representative of the amount of time and energy you have available. When someone tries to do more work than they have capacity for, they risk “burning out” and feeling overwhelmed and disengaging. This can be prevented by looking out for and checking in with each other.
  • Stack. A method of maintaining a speakers’ list in both online and in-person meetings.
  • Working Groups. Working Groups are subgroups of the Chapter focused on a specific task, which is defined at formation and given a set timespan. They are open to all members in good standing.
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