New Member Handbook
Welcome to the largest socialist organization in the country. We need you (and two or more of your friends) to build a working class movement in North Jersey. There’s no time to lose, and everything to win.
The Democratic Socialists of America has its roots in the surges of socialist activity in the early 20th century, which at its peak had six-figure membership for the Socialist Party and hundreds of mayors and state legislators across the country. In 1982, a merger of Michael Harrington’s Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee with the New American Movement led to the creation of DSA, bringing together feminist, anti-Stalinist, and anti-imperialist currents from across the American Left. DSA is a “big tent”: We’re a mass organization for everybody who wants to work together to win socialism.
In just the past few years, national DSA membership has grown to over 90,000 members in all 50 states. Here in North NJ, our active membership has grown even faster, as we were three members meeting at the Main Branch of the Paterson Public Library in 2014 to suddenly taking on hundreds of new members two years later. An all-volunteer force built the chapter as we know it (its structure, processes, and culture, and this handbook) over the course of 2016 and we continue to grow and evolve. We’re figuring it out as we go, and as we all seek to understand and act in a new political context.
We’re a mix of experienced union and community organizers, long time activists, newly minted socialists, and everyone in between. This guide is to help you get started. We’ve got a beautiful movement to build!
First, plug in to keep up to date with what’s going on at the chapter. Follow us on Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram, and subscribe to our email list if you haven’t already. Besides these platforms, the main way we communicate outside of meetings is through our chapter Slack. You can learn more about using this platform on our How to Use Slack guide. After you become a dues paying member, you should receive a welcome email with a subject line that starts with “Thank you for being a DSAer!” When you do, forward it to email@example.com so we can get you on Slack and help you join the discussions.
Join An Event
If you don’t know where to start, attend a
Learn About Socialism
As democratic socialists, weaving together our political action with a strong historical and theoretical background is an imperative. It imparts lessons that can help us avoid common pitfalls and grounds our thought in the world as it is. Equally important is learning together, which enables us to gain a broader understanding informed by various perspectives. As such, we highly recommend attending a Political Education event (check the Calendar for the next one). We welcome everyone, regardless of experience in this movement, to collectively learn about class struggle, socialist history, and strategy and tactics for building socialism in our current and future contexts.
The following is a breezy paraphrase of the official by-laws for North NJ DSA:
The primary bodies are the General Membership and the Executive Committee (EC)
THE GENERAL MEMBERSHIP: That’s all of us and where power rests. We meet as a body to set priorities at a yearly convention, and gather regularly for general meetings to vote on important questions.
THE EXECUTIVE COMMITTEE (EC): This is the elected leadership and the second-highest body after the general membership. It manages the chapter’s day-to-day affairs, provides oversight, and resolves conflicts. It consists of seven elected members who serve one-year terms. The EC consists of nine members, seven of which are selected by the Chapter at-large. These are:
Two Co-Chairs: The two Co-Chairs shall be the democratically elected lead representatives of NNJDSA. The Co-Chairs shall serve as liaisons between the National Office, other DSA locals, the NNJDSA Executive Committee, and the general membership of the organization. The Co-Chairs shall coordinate and preside over meetings of the general membership and Executive Committee and are responsible for ensuring that the policies and procedures of the organization are appropriately followed.
Membership Coordinator: The Membership Coordinator shall preside over the membership records of the organization and shall serve as a communicative liaison between the Executive Committee and the general membership. The Membership Coordinator shall engage in regular outreach to group members and, in conjunction with the Secretary, shall be responsible for ensuring that members are notified of upcoming meetings and are in receipt of meeting materials.
Engagement Coordinator: The Engagement Coordinator is tasked with maximizing the public presence and engagement of the organization. The Engagement Coordinator shall coordinate with the Executive Committee and general membership to ensure that NNJDSA is an active partner to like-minded organizations in Northern New Jersey and the surrounding areas and that NNJDSA members are aware of local events and actions in line with the purpose of the organization. The Engagement Coordinator shall also administer the social media presence of the organization.
YDSA Coordinator: The YDSA Coordinator shall be the central point of contact for all NNJDSA-related activities at high schools, Universities, or other youth-oriented locales and shall engage in regular outreach designed to foster active participation of young members of the organization.
Secretary: The Secretary shall be responsible for taking minutes of the meetings of the general membership and the Executive Committee. The Secretary shall coordinate with the Co-Chairs to oversee the operations administration of these meetings, including the coordination of meeting space, the distribution of meeting materials, and the maintenance of organization records.
Treasurer: The Treasurer shall be responsible for establishing a bank account, maintaining records of funds collected and disbursed, and providing regular (at least quarterly) updates on fund balances and expenditures to the membership.
Two additional members are on our Executive Committee, which are any elected Branch co-chairs. As of writing, NNJ DSA has two branches: Essex County and Hudson County
Essex Branch Co-Chairs: The Essex Co-Chairs are elected once a year by members of the Essex County Branch, and are given a voting role on the Executive Committee. They are tasked with the day to day operations of the Branch along with coordinating meetings of Branch members.
Hudson Branch Co-Chairs: The Hudson Co-Chairs are elected once a year by members of the Hudson County Branch, and are given a voting role on the Executive Committee. They are tasked with the day to day operations of the Branch along with coordinating meetings of Branch members.
NEW! Hudson County Steering Committee: As of 2023, Hudson County has an elected leadership committee of the 2 co-chairs plus 3 branch members to administer organization of the branch. The 3 members do not serve on the chapter EC.
You can get to know our EC here.
Priority Campaigns, Working Groups, and Committees
2023 Priority Campaigns
BDS and Palestine Solidarity Working Group
CREW – Caucus Representing Education Workers
Electoral Working Group
Ecosocialist Working Group
Health Justice Working Group
Immigrant Justice Working Group
Labor Working Group
Media and Communications Committee
Member Engagement Committee
Political Education Committee