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.

DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

April 24, 2017
· 46 rsvps

DSA is in the process of forming a Queer Socialists Working Group. This call will cover a discussion of possible activities for the group, its proposed structure, assigning tasks, and reports on the revision of DSA's LGBT statement and on possible political education activities. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.

 

Introduction to Socialist Feminism Call

April 30, 2017
· 55 rsvps

Join Philadelphia DSA veteran activist Michele Rossi to explore “socialist feminism.” How does it differ from other forms of feminism? How and when did it develop? What does it mean for our activism? 4-5:30pm ET, 3-4:30pm CT, 2-3:30pm MT, 1-2:30pm PT.

DSA Webinar: Talking About Socialism

May 02, 2017
· 11 rsvps

Practice talking about socialism in plain language. Create your own short rap. Prepare for those conversations about socialism that happen when you table in public.

Join us for our latest organizing training for democratic socialist activists: DSA’s (Virtual) Little Red Schoolhouse.

This training is at 9:00pm Eastern, 8:00pm Central, 7:00pm Mountain, 6:00pm Pacific, 5:00pm Alaska, and 3:00pm Hawaii Time. Please RSVP.

Instructor:

Steve Max, DSA Vice Chair and one of the founders of the legendary community organizing school, The Midwest Academy

In Talking About Socialism you will learn to:

  • Have a quick response ready to go next time someone asks you about democratic socialism.
  • Create your own elevator pitch about democratic socialism and DSA.
  • Use your personal experience and story to explain democratic socialism.
  • Think through the most important ideas you want to convey about democratic socialism.
  • Have a concise explanation of what DSA does, for your next DSA table, event or coalition meeting.

Training Details

  • This workshop is for those who have already had an introduction to democratic socialism, whether from DSA's webinar or from other sources.
  • If you have a computer with microphone, speakers and good internet access, you can join via internet for free.
  • If you have questions, contact Theresa Alt <talt@igc.org> 607-280-7649.
  • If you have very technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt <schmittaj@gmail.com> 608-335-6568.
  • Participation requires that you register at least 45 hours in advance, by midnight Sunday.

 

DSA New Member Orientation Call

May 06, 2017
· 52 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.  2 pm ET; 1 pm CT; 12 pm MT; 11 am PT.  

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 18 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. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.