Democratic Left

Civil Rights Needs Economic Rights

Jewish American Historical Society/Flickr

By Jack Rothman

It’s the 50th anniversary of the 1964 Civil Rights Act and celebrations are under way. Mark Updegrove, director of the LBJ Library, has announced a national Civil Rights Summit “to show the seminal nature of the Civil Rights Act and its transformational nature.” 

But skeptics question what has been achieved. Professor Joseph Schwartz of DSA and Temple University notes that due to the decline of our cities and rising African American unemployment, “economic apartheid” has caused average black families to currently own one-tenth the assets of their white counterparts. Nation columnist Gary Younge says that once core civil rights were won we had a hard time making further progress, because racism is embedded “within the broader context of economic and social inequities.” It is clear that 50 years after this landmark legislation, the march for racial justice is far from over—as shown by the sharp debate on economic inequality and minimum wages.

Let us begin with a hard look at our economic deficiencies.  It stands to reason that any economic system emphasizing maximum profit accumulation—labeled “greed” by that early Wolf of Wall Street, Gordon Gekko—as its fundamental philosophical value will generate wide income disparities that contradict our proclaimed creed of human equality.  For CEOs and business owners, it’s prudent to keep wages low. That practice, they believe, maximizes profits and allows expansion, while at the same time enriching entrepreneurs and glorifying those who succeed at this game.  It also creates a stratum of diminished people at the bottom.

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Salt of the Earth Remains Relevant 60 Years Later

By Deborah Rosenfelt
Salt of the Earth, 1954
This year marks the sixtieth anniversary of the film Salt of the Earth. With a story based on an actual strike in southwestern New Mexico, the film represents the struggles of working class miners and their families for decent wages and working and living conditions. It explores the tensions between male and female, Mexican American and Anglo community members, who finally come together to win a victory for the community as a whole. 

The real strike had taken place two years earlier in Bayard, New Mexico. As in the film, the community was challenged and changed when, after an injunction against the striking miners, the women of the Ladies Auxiliary took over the picket line. The film evolved through an unusual collaboration between blacklisted Hollywood filmmakers and members of the mining community of Bayard, the headquarters of Local 890 of the progressive International Union of Mine, Mill, and Smelter Workers. Most of the roles in the film were played by members of the mining community.

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Inequality: Political Origins, Political Solutions

Bill Rountree/AP

Bill Rountree/AP

By Joseph M. Schwartz

Nearly 40 years of bipartisan policies of the “4 Ds” of neoliberalism—deregulation, decrease in union strength, defunding of public goods, and decreases in taxes on the rich and corporations—have produced inequalities in income and wealth that rival those of the Gilded Age. The main task for the left over the next period is to build social movements capable of altering these policies. In our organizing, we must show that inequality is not foreordained. It has been the conscious political project of the corporate elite, and it can be reversed politically. 

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Meet Betsy Avila: DSA's New Youth Organizer

By Betsy Avila, Youth Organizer

Betsy Avila is DSA’s new Youth Organizer. She will be responsible for maintaining and growing our youth section, the Young Democratic Socialists. She will also serve as lead organizer for the winter and summer national YDS conferences. She can be contacted at bavila (at) dsausa (dot) org. -- Ed.

My name is Betsy Avila, and I am excited to serve as DSA’s newest Youth Organizer.

I am a Los Angeles native, and a first-generation college graduate from the University of Southern California. I got my start organizing during my time at USC, when I founded a student organization on campus under the ONE Campaign, a national campaign advocating against extreme poverty. I later went on to supervise campus groups regionally and worked as a Student Organizer with ONE and the Student Peace Alliance before organizing with electoral campaigns and the Service Employees International Union (SEIU). Most recently, I have held administrative positions with elected officials in the U.S. House of Representatives and the California State Legislature.

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We Remember: Women's Rights Convention, 1848

By Dolores Delgado Campbell

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Flickr/Adam Fagan

On July 19-20, 1848, 300 women and men converged on Seneca Falls, New York, for the first Women’s Rights Convention in the U.S. Elizabeth Cady Stanton and Lucretia Mott organized it.  The two had met in 1840 at the World Anti-Slavery Convention in London, England.  Theirs became a life-long friendship and commitment to organize and educate about the “status of women’s rights" in the United States.

Together they wrote  “The Declaration of Sentiments,” a document that used the U.S. Declaration of Independence as a model.  Some 68 women and 32 men signed the document.

The Declaration raised many issues including the women’s right to vote, which was not achieved until August 26,1920, with the ratification of the 19th amendment to the U.S. Constitution.  Numerous other controversial issues were debated, as you can read in the document below -- 

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Summer Reads for Reds: Political Fiction

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Flickr/az

Sure, you’ll be out organizing and agitating this summer, but when you do take a break, here are some suggestions of political novels culled from among members of the Democratic Left board and DSA’s National Political Committee. If you try them out, we encourage you to order from a local independent bookseller. -- Ed.

The Green Corn Rebellion, by William Cunningham: This 2010 reissue of the powerful 1935 novel about the 1917 rebellion by Oklahoma’s tenant farmers, members of the Socialist Party, against the draft and World War I is still gripping. There is a fine introduction by historian Nigel Sellars, author of Oil, Wheat, and Wobblies: The Industrial Workers of the World in Oklahoma. I half-expected this to be mainly of historic and regional interest, but I was pleasantly surprised. It stands alongside Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath and Upton Sinclair’s better work. 
Stuart Elliot

Tell Me a Riddle, by Tillie Olsen: It’s not a novel, but I’ll make a case for including these four short stories. The book includes the working-class feminist classic, “I Stand Here Ironing,” the monologue of a mother reflecting on raising her youngest daughter in poverty. It’s fairly autobiographical. Union organizing and mothering four children (the first of which she had at age 19) prevented Olsen from being very prolific. She produced beautiful and insightful political prose, with an eleventh-grade education and very little time to dedicate to her craft.
Amber Frost

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Is the F-word Necessary?

by Sonita Sarker

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Flickr/ruminatrix

Is the F-word necessary any more?  And why should democratic socialism be anywhere near it?

This is the Democratic Socialists of America site!  What does the F-word (feminism) have to do with it?  Well, to me, socialism is not only about class in/equities, as is most commonly understood.  It is, yes, in this era of rampant neoliberal capitalism that spreads like an amoeba across the world, also about the exposing of hegemonies.  It always has been.  I promise not to use any more –isms, the three used so far should suffice, and I’ll quickly offer my understanding of ‘hegemonies’ before moving on.

Hegemony, as Antonio Gramsci in his Prison Notebooks (1928-1935) used it, indicated not only the “dominant system” but also the overwhelming power such a system exercised by appearing to be the norm, the normal, the normative.  And he was addressing Mussolini’s dictatorship. 

Capitalism and class stratification not only appear to be the norm, but are even normalized so as to seem natural and invisible. The fear and anxiety of political conservatives all over the world about socialism and feminism are not because economic power or social power will be redistributed, but because they expose how capitalism justifies economic inequality and patriarchy justifies social inequality. 

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June Jobs Report: Better, but Millions of Workers Still on the Edge

By Joe Persky

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The June employment situation is largely consistent with recent trends.  It is not remarkable, but those recent trends are better than what we had become used to in the years following the deep losses of the 2007-2009 recession.  Employment over the last year has risen 2.5 million, while employment growth for the last three months has averaged about 270,000 jobs, as the economy recovered from the harshest months of the winter. The report today suggests that the 2014 first quarter GDP decline of 2.9% was not a sign of major weakening, but rather the result of the bad weather early in the year.         

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Mississippi Freedom Summer Anniversary Conference – A Reflection

By Megan Harrison

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The Mississippi Freedom Summer 50th Anniversary Conference, held June 25-29 at Tougaloo College in Jackson, Miss., celebrated the rich legacy of civil rights activists who journeyed to Mississippi in 1964 to risk – and in at least three cases, lose – their lives to help register voters and empower disenfranchised communities.

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The Release of Cecily McMillan

by Jason Schulman

Cecily McMillan has been released from prison, but the American justice system has not yet allowed her to be truly free.

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