Ehrenreich, Hightower, Cohen Speak at Metro DC DSA Bernie Rally

IMG_1897b.jpg 

By Kurt Stand

Over 100 people attended Metro DC DSA’s “We Need Bernie” rally on Thursday, Oct. 24 in support of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders’ campaign for president.   Held at Busboys and Poets’ 5th and K Street location, the event provided an example of the depth of support for Sanders and for a genuinely progressive agenda rooted in civic activism. The rally also highlighted the relevance of democratic socialism to building a political alternative for our country.

The first speaker, Andy Shallal – owner of Busboys and Poets, peace activist and former DC mayoral candidate – raised the need to do more than just build support for Sanders, arguing that we ought to use his campaign to build a movement of direct action and public engagement that challenges the injustices everywhere visible in our society. Shallal also noted the need to address and overcome one of the critical weaknesses of Sanders’s campaign: the fact that it still has not developed sufficient support in communities of color, a fact emphasized by the overwhelmingly white composition of the crowd (which stood in contrast to most of the progressive forums held at Busboys).  He stressed that this should not serve as an excuse to withdraw from supporting Sanders, but rather should serve as a reminder to incorporate the message of Black Lives Matter in all work on behalf of his campaign, to address the issue of racism in its specificity – that (as he put it during the Q & A) is, understanding black and white as political categories.  By beginning the program in this fashion, Shallal underlined the seriousness of the rally, this event being more than a cheering session for Sanders (though indeed it was that too) but also a discussion of what is to be done, how to continue the organizing.

Barbara Ehrenreich, founding national co-chair (and current honorary chair) of DSA, followed with a talk that emphasized a theme that has long been at the heart of many of her books, including Nickel and Dimed: inequality.  Ehrenreich talked about the one-sided class war waged by corporations against working people and the importance of Sanders highlighting the disparities which have seen wages stagnate while profits rise, a reality that translates into millions struggling to get by while those who already live in luxury want more for themselves and less for everyone else.  This inequality, Ehrenreich noted, hurts all working people, but especially impacts on women, on blacks, on immigrants, on the already poor; Sanders’ insistence on that reality having already shifted the debate within the Democratic Party to the left.  She added, however, that Hillary Clinton disqualified herself from any pretense of being a progressive or a feminist by her support (never disavowed) of Bill Clinton’s 1996 Welfare Reform Act, which was racist and misogynist, blaming poor women for their poverty.  

Nonetheless, Ehrenreich’s message was consistent with that of Sanders’ campaign, focusing not on attacking others but on the importance of his policy reform proposals: taxing corporations and the wealthy to pay for universal social insurance programs, educational benefits and infrastructure plans, all of which will help the vast majority of Americans.  Certainly, she concluded, Sanders is not perfect – noting, for example, his inconsistent policy on the Middle East – but the question is not perfection but of recognizing how principled Sanders has been through the years in most arenas, and of using the opportunity his presidential run provides for further organizing on behalf of social justice for all.

This was a theme taken up by Larry Cohen, recently retired president of the Communications Workers of America, as he called upon the crowd to seize the moment Sanders’ campaign represents, a moment of hope that many in the room have long been working to create.  Currently chair of Labor for Bernie – the national initiative to build support for Sanders within the trade union movement – Cohen reminded those at the rally that Sanders was talking directly to working-class people about the issues that affect them:  massive student debt for their children, fear of running out of money when they retire, the danger of job loss, the difficulty of asserting union rights at work when employed.  The resulting insecurity alongside the too many defeats unions have suffered in recent decades have led many in labor to become defensive, which only leads to more defeats.  Sanders’s campaign, however, provides an opportunity for workers to go on the offensive, which is the reason his message resonates so strongly with many of them – and the reason why union support for him is growing, especially on the local level.

Moreover, Sanders is speaking to a wider working-class social agenda. Cohen noted his consistent opposition to “free” trade pacts, his support for labor law reform and campaign finance reform, his opposition to the Iraq War and his statement that climate change is the greatest danger to US national security. Sanders’s campaign, in all these aspects, is a campaign against corporations undermining US democracy, and in all respects represents a challenge to the system by bringing people back into the process. Therein lay what was perhaps Cohen’s most important point, that Sanders is creating a decentralized movement that enables people to act to bring about change – action that is key not only to the possibility of a Sanders victory, but also key to any possibility of carrying out his agenda.

Restoring American democracy was at the center of keynote speaker Jim Hightower’s presentation.  Former Texas state agricultural commissioner and publisher of The Hightower Lowdown, the progressive populist has long scored the corrosive impact of big businesses on U.S. politics and economy and has long been a fierce advocate of the needs of American working families, and of the need for people to take collective action to regain power from our country’s elite.  

He reminisced about buying a Bernie button when Sanders was running for local office as an independent socialist in Burlington, Vermont many years ago, and thinking then as now that buying a button (or attending a rally) is a good first step only if followed by other steps, by organizing.  Hightower’s support for Sanders in this presidential run stems from his support for Sanders’ call for a political revolution to put our country back in the hands of the people rather than allow it to remain in the hands of the wealthy, the unelected small minority, who have bought control of the political process.

Following the speakers was a lively Q & A session on a host of issues relevant to our collective engagement, ranging from differences over foreign policy to concern over how a focus on the national election might impact local campaigns; from more discussion of Black Lives Matter to questions of how to sustain the work now being done.  And the question of democratic socialism came too, with Cohen mentioning that Sanders will be making a major presentation defining his views, but noting that in short form it means building a system rooted in universal social justice and political participation.  DSA Deputy Director (and local Metro DC DSA member) David Duhalde came to the front and added that DSA strongly supports Sanders’s calls for labor and political rights, for national health insurance and an end to college debt, but that we see these as first steps to a socialism which will make the US more fully democratic and egalitarian.

The event was organized by a committee of Metro DC DSA members and is itself projected as a step in the process. More actions will be taken in the future, hopefully involving many of the 100 + who came, listened and took part in the local “We Need Bernie” rally.

Kurt Stand is a member of Washington, DC DSA.

This article previously appeared in “The Washington Socialist” newsletter.

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

Paid for by Democratic Socialists of America www.dsausa.org. Not authorized by any candidate or candidate’s committee.

 

 

DSA Queer Socialists Conference Call

May 25, 2017
· 31 rsvps

Join DSA's Queer Socialists Working Group to discuss possible activities for the group and its proposed structure. 9 pm ET/8 pm CT/7 pm MT/6 pm PT.

 

What Is DSA? Training Call

May 30, 2017
· 40 rsvps

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.

Film Discussion: Rosa [Luxemburg]

May 31, 2017
· 90 rsvps

Join DSA member Jason Schulman to discuss the film Rosa, directed by feminist filmmaker Margarethe von Trotta. View it here at no cost before the discussion. Marxist theorist and economist Rosa Luxemburg (1871-1919) played a key role in German socialist politics. Jason edited Rosa Luxemburg: Her Life and Legacy and has a chapter in Rosa Remix. 9 ET/8 CT/7 MT/6 PT.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 25 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.

Introduction to Democratic Socialism

June 13, 2017
· 2 rsvps

Join Bill Barclay, Chicago DSA co-chair, and Peg Strobel, National Political Committee and Feminist Working Group co-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. 9:30 PM ET; 8:30 PM CT; 7:30 PM MT; 6:30 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 Bill Barclay, chocolatehouse@sbcglobal.net.
  5. If you have technical questions, contact Tony Schmitt, schmittaj@gmail.com, 608-355-6568.

Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
· 7 rsvps

Join DSA members Eric Brasure and Brendan Hamill to discuss the British film Pride (2014). It’s 1984, British coal miners are on strike, and a group of gays and lesbians in London bring the queer community together to support the miners in their fight. Based on the true story of Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners. The film is available for rent on YouTube, Amazon, and iTunes. 8 ET/7 CT/6 MT/5 PT.

Film Discussion: Union Maids

September 24, 2017
· 5 rsvps

 

Join DSA member and labor historian Susan Hirsch in discussing Union Maids (1976). Nominated for an Academy Award, this documentary follows three Chicago labor organizers (Kate Hyndman, Stella Nowicki, and Sylvia Woods) active beginning in the 1930s. The filmmakers were members of the New American Movement (a precursor of DSA), and the late Vicki Starr (aka Stella Nowicki) was a longtime member of Chicago DSA and the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. It’s available free on YouTube, though sound quality is poor. 8ET/7CT/6MT/5PT.