Building a New Generation of Socialists; Revitalizing Socialist Strategy

The 2013 DSA convention, held in Emeryville, Calif. from October 25-27, brought together socialists from across the country to rejuvenate DSA’s organizing capacity and reorient our strategy.

Neoliberal capitalism’s attack on unions and the social safety net has weakened working people and the public programs we demanded and won from government during the New Deal. But the dramatic rise in inequality caused by bipartisan policies of austerity and upward income redistribution has given rise to grassroots resistance by low-wage workers, immigrants, and indebted former college students. Convention sessions focused on how socialists can strategically help build these new movements. The convention also marked the beginning of a generational transformation within DSA, as those under the age of 35 constituted almost one-third of the 100 attendees.

The Friday plenary session on “Understanding Power and Oppression” introduced a series of caucuses in which delegates reflected on issues of class, gender, age, race, and sexual orientation.  To accelerate the recruitment of younger members, convention delegates committed to expanding DSA’s “Drop Student Debt” campaign. The campaign works for a short-term alleviation of the student debt burden through an expansion of the Obama administration’s Income Based Repayment program, while raising the long-term transformative goal of free and universal higher education. DSA local chapters using the campaign have increased their visibility and recruited younger members into their activist core.

The convention also began a two-year, organization-wide grassroots strategy discussion designed to build on DSA’s historic strengths while reshaping our politics so as to respond to 21st century neoliberalism. Introductory talks by me, DSA Honorary Co-Chair Gus Newport, and National Nurses Union Political Director Michael Lighty (who served as DSA national director from 1990-1993) set the context for the “strategy reboot.”  I addressed the need for the socialist movement to root itself among a young generation that is skeptical about capitalism.  Newport, the former mayor of Berkeley, Calif., and a veteran civil rights activist, urged socialists to join mass struggles against the prison-industrial complex and voter suppression. Lighty argued that neoliberal capitalism’s belief that “there is no society, just individuals” yields a politics of austerity and environmental degradation that impoverishes children, guts pensions, and threatens the future of the planet. 

DSA National Vice-Chair Joseph Schwartz’s Saturday morning plenary address set the stage for small group discussions. He argued that DSA’s founding strategy assumed that socialists would be the left wing of a revitalized New Deal coalition grounded in the traditional labor movement.  But since DSA’s 1983 founding, the Democratic Party’s national leadership has embraced a bipartisan consensus favoring “the four Ds of neoliberalism”: deregulation, de-unionization, decreasing taxes on the rich, and defunding social services. Thus, DSA strategy, Schwartz argued, has to both defeat the anti-democratic far right and build ties between a weakened labor movement and movements of the dispossessed: immigrants, low-wage workers, victims of the prison-industrial complex, and indebted recent college graduates.  Finally, Schwartz held, DSA should be more militant in its critique of capitalist injustice, while offering a visible socialist alternative. 

The East Bay DSA chapter hosted a packed house of delegates and Bay Area supporters for a public event featuring rousing speeches by Nation writer John Nichols, LeftRoots co-founder Steve Williams, and Catherine Tactaquin, executive director of the National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights (see excerpts from and links to videos of their speeches on this page).

Author, photographer, and immigrant rights activist David Bacon illustrated the grim results of global capitalism run amok with his moving presentation and slideshow at the convention banquet. Remarks by Tom Hayden, the other banquet keynote speaker and veteran social-change activist, are available at www.dsausa.org/convention_2013_report.

Our convention affirmed that to take on the capitalist oligarchy, DSA chapters must be rooted in the local grassroots resistance movements.  Only by building an international movement that prioritizes human and labor rights over the accumulation of profit can we accomplish that task. Building DSA at the local and national level, delegates affirmed, will contribute to this project of a lifetime.

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 44 rsvps
The Price We Pay blows the lid off the dirty world of corporate malfeasance — the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, tax havens - and what we need to do to stop this.  DSA member Bill Barclay, who has a cameo role in the film, will facilitate the discussion. Watch the film prior to the discussion.

Full film available on Vimeo.

How to Plug in New Members

February 01, 2017
· 12 rsvps

Is your DSA chapter growing quickly and you're trying desperately to find ways to plug new members into your chapter's work? Never fear! On this conference call an experienced DSA organizer will go over the basics of new member outreach and developing a plan for plugging new members into your chapter's work. Most of the call will be devoted to troubleshooting specific issues you're facing, so please brainstorm some issues beforehand that you want to bring up on the call.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 7 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Salt of the Earth

February 05, 2017
· 9 rsvps

Join DSA members Shelby Murphy and Deborah Rosenfelt in discussing Salt of the Earth, a captivating film made in 1954 by blacklisted writers and actors about a strike at a New Mexico zinc mine. Well before the resurgence of feminism in the 1960s, these filmmakers were exploring gender inequality and solidarity. Available on Netflix.

Shelby Murphy is a Latina from Texas and former Young Democratic Socialists co-chair. Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, Deborah Rosenfelt researched the making of the film and its aftermath for the reissued screenplay. Here is her blogpost about the film.

 

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 3 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 check out their short the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 2 rsvps

Join Victoria Bynum, Distinguished Professor Emeritus of History, Texas State University, San Marcos, to discuss The Free State of Jones. STX Entertainment bought the film rights to Bynum's book of the same title. She also served as a consultant and appears in a cameo scene. What was the Free State of Jones? During the Civil War, an armed band of deserters led by Newt Knight, a non-slaveholding white farmer, took to the swamps of southeastern Mississippi and battled against the Confederacy in an uprising popularly known as “The Free State of Jones.” Joining Newt in this rebellion was Rachel, a slave. From their relationship, there developed a controversial mixed-race community that endured long after the Civil War had ended. View the film here for $6 before the discussion.