In the late Summer of 2018, a year’s worth of organizing and planning came to fruition for three days. Thirty chapters in the Rust Belt Region would make this possible.
Planning began in late 2017, with the idea of using this convention to build a regional structure for DSA. Another idea was to make this an event made by the local chapters and for the local chapters. As such the only influence of National DSA would be funding.
Early on, it became clear PGH would take on the bulk of organizing. In deciding convention planning matters, each chapter got one vote. The chapter hosting would have to be responsible for logistics. Pittsburgh DSA ended up hosting with a unanimous vote.
Preparing the Convention
To make organizing the event feasible, a Rust Belt Con committee formed. In general, multiple subcommittees would cover specific areas that needed addressed. Specifically these areas were: location, logistics, housing, fundraising, and content.
First, location needed addressed. Conveniently, the chapter was in the middle of a search for a new Chapter Office and meeting space. Therefore, when Community Forge ended up the new home of PGH DSA, it became the site for Rust Belt Con 2018.
Next came the logistics, housing, and financial barriers for the convention. Now with location secured, housing over 100 out of state comrades became the next pressing issue. To solve this, there were three options: church, PGH DSA member housing, or on their own. In particular, the church was a nice option that provided a bulk of the guests.
With the ambition of this Convention high, having the logistics down pat was extremely important. In order to meet the needs for a 2 day convention, the food situation had to meet certain criteria. To do so, guests would put in dietary preferences/allergies when they bought a ticket. Whatever the results, the planned lunches were all vegan with gluten free options available.
Next came the fundraising for the convention. To meet the costs, the chapter would have a couple of fundraising events. But ultimately, the big driver of funds came from registration costs and merchandise. In particular, a system for comrades in the DSA to sponsor a person who didn’t have funds. At the end of the day, PGH DSA raised over the cost and then some.
With that surplus, the Convention Committee decided to split up for different causes. One of the bigger uses was donating a percentage straight to Charlottesville DSA. For when the convention was happening would also occur on the one year anniversary of A12. In a sign of solidarity, Charlottesville DSA would receive 20% of the surplus after the convention.
Finally, came the content of the Convention; this was the part of the planning that required more than PGH DSA. With a set deadline, Chapters sent their proposed seminars and talks to the convention email. When the deadline passed, the content committee approved the seminars and scheduled appropriately. More importantly, making sure no chapter had too overwhelming of a presence. And with that, the convention started on schedule.
The Rust Belt Convention
For an in-depth analysis of the convention, read Carl Wilhoyte’s article: “Abandoned, remade, rebuilt: A look inside the 2018 DSA Rust Belt Convention“.
Needless to say the convention succeeded in bringing chapters and comrades together. In particular, the security team did an amazing job keeping over 250 attendees safe. Other than that, the attendees also highly praised the choices of food. Also praised, the Saturday Night social party. By the end of the convention on Aug 12th, people wanted more Rust Belt Conventions in the future.
Nevertheless, the convention also had room for improvement. For example, the breakout sessions (of various groups based on race, religion, etc.) received criticism for lackluster scheduling. Though attendees rated the food highly, logistics forgot to buy things like paper bowls. Finally, attendees who stayed at the church found it difficult to walk to Community Forge. With all that said, the positives outweighed the negatives from the feedback.
The Future of Rust Belt Convention
One of the expectations after the convention was to follow it up with another in 2020. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 pandemic made such plans impossible. While some work for a digital 2021 convention, it may have to wait till 2022.
Some of the lessons learned from the 2018 Convention will make the next convention better. Specifically, that one person shouldn’t have the onus of responsibility to make the convention happen. There needs buy in from to others to do the work to plan and execute. With that, Rust Belt Conventions will always succeed and stay a hallmark for the DSA.