With Surging Membership, DSA Braces for President Trump

By Ben Dalton

After immigrating from China, Lynn Wang’s parents lived in the United States for three decades without encountering discrimination or racial abuse, until the final months of the 2016 presidential campaign.

“My mom was leaving yoga, and a woman from our hometown just pulled up next to her, leaned out of her car and started calling her racial slurs,” said Wang, a student at the University of Southern California. “We’ve been in Manhattan Beach for decades and never had that kind of thing happen before.”

A desire to fight what she describes as the “toxic atmosphere” surrounding Donald Trump’s presidential campaign and victory is partly what drove Wang to join the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the country’s largest democratic-socialist organization. A veteran of the Bernie Sanders campaign, Wang learned of DSA from a fellow volunteer. As a member, she plans to organize on behalf of those “who feel particularly threatened by Trump’s rhetoric.”

“I’m afraid that bigotry won at the polls, and people think that bigotry has a place in the streets,” Wang said. “I hope that we will be able to take a part in the resistance against the Trump administration.”

Wang is among thousands of new recruits to have joined DSA in recent months, a “Trump bump” that has boosted progressive organizations across the United States. In the first six days after Trump’s victory, DSA signed up over 1,600 dues-paying, online members, an 18 percent increase in membership, according to David Duhalde, the organization’s deputy director. Even before Trump’s election, Duhalde says that DSA had grown in prominence thanks to Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist whose presidential campaign DSA supported. Facing a Trump administration, DSA and other socialist groups offer members a channel for organized resistance that goes beyond electoral politics.

“As a national organization with chapters in red states and blue states, in rural, suburban and urban communities we feel that we’re uniquely positioned to really build a national network and community of people that can confront this kind of rhetoric,” said Maria Svart, DSA national director. “We’re going to resist every bad thing they try to do.”

On election night, Chris Maisano caught a cab to Brooklyn with several other DSA members as the first results began to trickle in. Their plan for the night was to watch what they assumed would be a Hillary Clinton victory at a live broadcast of the leftist Chapo Trap House podcast. By the time he reached the event, Maisano realized that Trump had a real shot at winning.

“The mood quickly switched from slightly optimistic nervousness to just increasing demoralization and dread,” Maisano said.

U.S. socialists dislike Clinton, whom they consider to represent the neoliberal, anti-labor wing of the Democratic Party, but most nonetheless strongly preferred her to Trump. Now that Trump will be president, their list of worries is long. Foremost for many is the possibility that the Trump administration will follow through on the president-elect’s campaign rhetoric and target vulnerable communities such as immigrants, Muslims and LGBT Americans.

“The first immediate threat is that he has the Obama deportation machine,” Duhalde said. “I understand when radicals are like, ‘well, Obama’s already deporting people,’ but I think Trump will use it much more cruelly.” Duhalde pointed out that Trump will inherit lists of undocumented immigrants who are temporarily protected from deportation by Obama’s Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA) policy. The Trump administration could target those on the DACA registry, Duhalde said.

Another concern is that the Trump administration, together with the Republican-controlled Congress, will continue long-standing GOP efforts to undermine organized labor.

“The Republican Party has an opportunity to really go after the labor movement, what remains of it,” said Maisano. “They’re going to go after the [National Labor Relations Board]. They’re going to try to repeal many of the regulations about overtime and wages that the Obama administration put in place. It seems pretty clear that at some point they’re going to push to pass a national right to work law.”

Svart said that defending unions will be a priority for DSA under a Trump administration.

“For all of the flaws of the leaders of most of the labor movement, we have to protect unions,” she said. “They are uniquely positioned, and over history have done more than anyone else, to build a multiracial movement of working class people.”

The official topic at the first Brooklyn Jacobin reading group held after the election was socialist politics in Brazil, but the conversation kept returning to Trump.

“I think you should be in the first line against Trump,” said Pedro Fuentes, a visiting speaker and official in Brazil’s Socialism and Liberty Party (PSOL). Around the room heads nodded. “Anti-Trump. This is the first task you have.”

Since Trump’s election, left-wing groups have strategized how best to respond to his coming administration and Republican control of both the executive and legislative branches of government. One immediate reaction has been to organize and join protests against Trump’s victory, as well as offer solidarity and support to groups that have been targeted since the election.

Svart said that DSA held an emergency conference call urging local chapters to join hands with community organizations – religious institutions, other activists, clinics – that support vulnerable populations. Together with these groups, DSA seeks to create sanctuaries from the rash of hate crimes and harassment that has followed Trump’s win, Svart said. She believes that coordination with other groups will be necessary under a Trump administration.

“We’re also working with our DSA groups to have emergency meetings to talk about the new political terrain and publicly protest in several ways, one of which is actually in the streets, registering discontent with the election results,” said Svart. “We’re also having folks write letters to the editor, write opinion editorials, call into radio shows, and things like that, so we’re providing talking points.”

One question is whether socialists should attempt to pull the Democratic Party to the left by supporting its progressive wing, represented by figures such as Keith Ellison, the Minnesota representative seeking to become chair of the Democratic National Committee. Svart said she is open to serving as a kind of “Tea Party of the left” that backs progressive Democrats against centrists in primaries, as well as running independent candidates where they stand a chance of winning.

“We believe in both working with what we have and at the same time being independent and building an alternative,” Svart said.

Yet, many activists are skeptical that the Democrats can be transformed into a genuine, national party of the left, in large part because the party’s centrist wing remains so influential. Socialist critics contend that the party’s national leadership is isolated from its base and slow to respond to grassroots concerns. Longtime party leaders are not likely to cede control to reenergized progressives without a fight, activists said.

“These faction fights are fascinating because I don’t feel that one side can truly dominate the other,” Duhalde said. “The important thing is for the progressives just to keep challenging and not give up.”

Since the election, DSA members have organized and joined protests against Trump, a form of direct action that Duhalde said will be important given how little leverage the left will wield in a Republican-dominated government. The organization plans to protest Trump’s inauguration this January in Washington, DC.

Despite opposing Trump’s rhetoric and policies, DSA members cautioned against demonizing his voters.

“I think the wrong narrative to take away [from this election] would be that half of our population is stupid, racist, bigoted and ignorant,” Wang said. “I think that the greatest failure of the liberal left so far has been that they’ve failed to come up with a counter-narrative to Trump’s rhetoric.”

For Maisano, only the left can provide an effective alternative to Trumpism, one that speaks to the millions who sat out the election or even voted for Trump because they felt that conventional politicians had forgotten them. Activists will need to find the right balance between defending against a hostile Trump administration and building a viable alternative, Maisano said.

“Liberalism is not going to protect us against this,” he said. “They’re not going to offer an alternative.”

And even with the damage he believes the Trump administration will do, Maisano said that the future of U.S. politics belongs to the social democratic constituency that emerged during the 2015-16 campaign.

“It is still far too early to tell how all of this will play out, but despite my fears about what a Trump administration will bring in the short term, I am optimistic that the most dynamic and emergent forces in U.S. politics today are on our side,” he said.

 Ben Dalton is a freelance journalist based in New York City.

Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here


Film Discussion: When Abortion Was Illegal

March 26, 2017
· 12 rsvps

Directed by Dorothy Fadiman, When Abortion Was Illegal (1992, nominated for an Academy Award, Best Documentary Short Subject) reveals through first-person accounts the experiences of women seeking abortion before the Supreme Court legalized abortion in Roe v. Wade in 1973. We are one Supreme Court nominee away from a return in many states to back-alley abortions. Join Amanda Williams, Executive Director of the Lilith Fund, to discuss challenges to reproductive justice and abortion access. (Lilith Fund funds abortions for women in need in the Central and South Texas area.) Learn about how to participate in April Bowl-A-Thons to raise funds for low-income women. View the film here for free before the discussion. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

March 30, 2017
· 39 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 PM PT.

LGBT Activism: A Brief History with Thoughts about the Future

April 01, 2017
· 50 rsvps

Historian John D'Emilio's presentation will do 3 things: Provide a brief explanation of how sexual and gender identities have emerged; provide an overview of the progression of LGBT activism since its origins in the 1950s, highlighting key moments of change; and, finally, suggest what issues, from a democratic socialist perspective, deserve prioritizing now. John co-authored Intimate Matters: A History of Sexuality in America, which was quoted by Supreme Court Justice Anthony Kennedy in the 2003 Lawrence v. Texas decision that ruled state sodomy laws unconstitutional. 1 pm ET; 12 pm CT; 11 am MT; 10 am PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Peg Strobel, peg.strobel@sbcglobal.net.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 30 rsvps

Join DSA members Glenn Scott and Richard Croxdale to discuss videos produced by People’s History in Texas (PHIT), a project that brings to life the stories of ordinary people in significant socio-political movements in Texas. They will discuss The Rag, their newest documentary, which tells the story of an influential underground paper based in Austin, Texas, from 1966-77. Click here to view Part I (the early years as an all-volunteer paper covering the student, anti-Vietnam and Civil Rights movements), Part II (the impact of Women’s Liberation on the paper) and Part III (building community: covering local politics, nukes, co-ops, feminist institutions). But also check out the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT. Here's a blog post about PHIT.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

April 04, 2017
· 53 rsvps

Join Rahel Biru, NYC DSA co-chair, and Joseph Schwartz, DSA Vice-Chair, on this webinar for an overview of what we in Democratic Socialists of America mean when we talk about "socialism," "capitalism" and the goals of the socialist movement.  9 PM ET; 8 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 6 PM PT.

  1. This webinar is free for any DSA member in good standing.
  2. You need a computer with good internet access.
  3. Your computer must have headphones (preferred) or speakers; you can speak thru a mic or use chat to "speak".
  4. If you have questions, contact Joseph Schwartz, schwartzjoem@gmail.com.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

What Is DSA? Training Call

April 05, 2017

If you're a new DSAer, have been on a new member call, but still have questions about DSA's core values/strategy/core work and how to express these ideas in an accessible way to the media, as well as to friends, family and others who might be interested in joining DSA, this call is for you. 

We will talk through the basics of DSA's political orientation and strategy for moving toward democratic socialism, and also have call participants practice discussing these issues with each other. By the end of the call you should feel much more comfortable thinking about and expressing what DSA does and what makes our organization/strategy unique. 8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT. 70 minutes.

Feminist Working Group

April 12, 2017
· 15 rsvps

People of all genders are welcome to join this call to discuss DSA's work on women's and LGBTQ issues, especially in light of the new political reality that we face after the elections.  9 pm ET; 8 pm CT; 7 pm MT; 6 pm PT.

DSA New Member Orientation Call

April 16, 2017
· 6 rsvps

You've joined DSA - Great. Now register for this New Member Orientation call and find out more about our politics and our vision.  And, most importantly, how you can become involved.  8 pm ET; 7 pm CT; 6 pm MT; 5 pm PT.