Make That Leap

by Chris Maisano

by Chris Maisano
Democratic Left - Summer 2012

In the last issue of Democratic Left, Norman Birnbaum, the distinguished academic with a keen eye for European affairs, looked into the future and saw what he called an “asocial Europe” staring back at him. The tone of the article is deeply pessimistic. He concluded, “the socialist and social democratic compromise with capitalism no longer works: the new capitalism renounces welfare.”

The last few years have given us all the evidence we need to recognize the veracity of Birnbaum’s claim. Since the financial collapse of 2007-2008 and the grinding recession it left in its wake, European political and financial elites have taken advantage of the turmoil to impose a savage austerity program on the peoples of the most financially distressed countries in the European Union – Ireland, Portugal, Spain, Italy, and above all, Greece, where a book of “starvation recipes” reminiscent of those popular during the Nazi occupation has become a publishing sensation. Of course, this program has not solved the crisis. It has only deepened it and allowed it to spread, threatening the project of European integration itself.

The spirit of revolt that was born last year in the Arab Spring and caught by the throngs who occupied the state capitol in Wisconsin, the public squares of Spanish and Israeli cities, and the citadel of Capital itself in a tiny park in lower Manhattan, has finally made itself felt at the ballot boxes. After a campaign in which he declared war on austerity and the world of finance, François Hollande defeated Nicolas Sarkozy and captured France’s presidency for the Socialist Party for the first time in 17 years (and only the second time in the history of the Fifth Republic).

At the other end of the Continent, Greek voters put an end to not only a particular government, but an entire political regime. The center of Greek politics collapsed under the weight of social crisis as voters flocked to anti-austerity parties on the Left – particularly Syriza, the coalition of the radical Left that emerged as the clear winner of the election – and the Right. The Greek situation was incredibly fluid and ambiguous as we went to press, with the inability of the leading parties to form a stable coalition government pointing toward new elections in the very near future. But if Syriza can broaden its base and marginalize a growing threat from the far Right, the Greeks might strengthen the hand of anti-austerity forces everywhere and show the world that the exit from the crisis is on the Left.

On this side of the Atlantic, the contest between President Obama and Mitt Romney offers no prospect for a similar radical breakthrough in the electoral arena. But as DSA Vice-Chair Joseph Schwartz argues in his comment on the election, an Obama victory would likely result in a more favorable political terrain for the further growth and development of the social movements we need to change American politics.

In recent weeks, two issues have emerged as focal points in the campaign: student debt and women’s reproductive freedoms.

Student debt is on the agenda in no small part because of the rising tide of protest among students and young workers on campuses and in the Occupy movement. Young Democratic Socialists (YDS) activists have been on the front lines of the struggle, and YDS National Organizer Andrew Porter reports on their activities in this issue.

Since the Republicans swept the 2010 midterm elections, they’ve launched an all-out offensive on women’s rights that have restricted reproductive freedoms and cowed women’s ostensible representatives in the institutionalized feminist movement. New York-based YDS activist Amber Frost takes them on and makes the case for a bold and unapologetic socialist-feminism. “From resistance to counter-offensive, however, is a leap not yet taken.” That’s how Birnbaum concluded his assessment of our political fortunes. I agreed with him at the time, but I don’t think I’m still with him now. We’re poised at the edge of resistance, knees bent, getting ready to finally make that leap. Whether we land on our feet, however, is another question.

Film Discussion: When Abortion Was Illegal

March 26, 2017
· 11 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
· 25 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
· 29 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
· 52 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.

Feminist Working Group

April 12, 2017
· 13 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.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 9 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.