Next Steps in the Political Revolution

By Maria Svart 

I’m writing this column two weeks after the election, and the weight is only getting heavier on my shoulders. From the moment I wake up until I go to bed, my mind races. I worry about my vulnerable loved ones. I imagine my own future. I wonder how we can meet the challenges of our times and emerge in a place of collective liberation.

You, however, are my antidote. Two days after the election, when we held an emergency conference call for chapter leaders, more than 100 DSA and YDSers crowded the phone lines, first to mourn, then to brainstorm about organizing. At this writing, 2,800 additional people have joined DSA. And everywhere, new chapters are sprouting from these seeds and established ones are growing. By the time you read this column, and by the time Donald Trump takes the oath of office, we will have a new cohort of organizers already fighting back.

Our tasks right now are threefold:

1. Defend the most vulnerable in our communities. We must respond to the wave of hate crimes. We cannot let racism, sexism, and nativism become the new normal. Trump’s staff appointments to date promise more of the same, which means that we need to build solid relationships with every targeted community now for the struggles ahead. See below for more ways you can respond.

2. Stay in the streets. Don’t give in to “demonstration fatigue,” and do be creative about your protests. Trump’s white nationalist, anti-immigrant, and Islamophobic set of leadership appointments is a clear obedience test for the public, and we know he will move quickly to destroy the unions, which are currently the most effective organizations to build multiracial working-class solidarity. He will have complete control of both branches of Congress, the executive branch, and eventually the Supreme Court, but may be vulnerable because his constituents are unlikely to approve of gutting Medicare and Social Security as the Republican establishment wants to do.

3. Build a stronger democratic socialist movement, through growing our base of ordinary people taking action for racial, gender, and economic justice. Our base will need to mobilize in strategic ways, in and outside of formal electoral politics, and in and outside of the Democratic Party. We on the left are the only ones willing to talk openly about class and capitalism, about the ways white supremacy is intertwined with it and used by the ruling class to divide us. Talk about the fundamentally opposing interests of the 1% and the rest of us is talk that can motivate the close to 50% of voters who didn’t make it to the polls. Exploring why the “whitelash” occurred and who really benefits from it, while engaging together in struggles to protect health care, increase the minimum wage, and resist the violent policing of poor people is experience that builds relationships. And taking the time to reflect on the work, who the real enemies and allies are, and grappling with what it will take to win is intellectual practice that empowers and builds solidarity. The conversations will not always be easy. But they are essential.

As an organization with rural, suburban, and urban chapters, in blue states and red states, and with every generation represented in local and national leadership, we can make important contributions to a powerful and independent multiracial movement for justice. The millennial generation has shown an openness to democratic socialism unseen in decades. We’ll need to be strategic about how we organize in the Deep South vs. the Rust Belt, in the Southwest vs. bright blue cities already declaring that they will offer sanctuary for the undocumented. And we plan to be strategic, as we embark on a 50-state organizing drive in the wake of the election. As socialists, we know that acting in solidarity and mutual interest with each other across lines of difference is the only way to build power. I have great hope, despite the dark times.

WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW

1. Combat hate crimes. Reach out to organizations based in communities that are under attack and ask what you can do to help. Do so especially if you yourself are part of a vulnerable community—we must band together. These include

• Immigrant rights groups / churches, and so on, because the Obama deportation machine is already in place and would be easy to accelerate

• Mosques and Muslim community groups

• Synagogues

• Black churches / BlackLivesMatter

• LGBTQ centers or activist groups

• Planned Parenthood/ abortion clinics

Some things you can do are helping with physical protection such as community patrols or guarding offices and houses of worship, assisting with logistics for rallies, scheduling escorts for community members, whatever is needed.

You can also get together and practice what you would do if you witnessed someone being harassed. Many people freeze up in a horrible situation, but if you role-play in advance, it is easier to respond quickly in real life. There are memes and videos on the Web with step-by-step advice for nonviolent de-escalation.

DSA chapters across the country are developing “rapid response mobilization plans,” whether using phone trees, texting groups, or other technology that can be activated quickly.

2. Speak out. Intervene in the public discussion by speaking credibly as a member of your local community through opinion editorials (op-eds), letters to the editor, and calls into radio shows. Trump’s leadership team is composed of white nationalists, homophobes, creationists, and corporate lobbyists. He has already moved to denigrate public protest and control the free press. The mainstream media are normalizing his behavior, and moderate Democrats are refusing to take bold action. Finally, too many left of center are fighting over whether race or class explains the results (hint: it’s both, as outlined in the DSA post-election statement at www.dsausa.org).

3. Attend anti-Trump rallies and build coalitions. Solidarity is more important than ever. For example, one DSA chapter reached out to immigrant rights and legal aid organizations and is setting up direct action trainings for DSAers to be ready to intervene in deportations. Just because your community is not being targeted today doesn’t mean that it is exempt. An injury to one truly is an injury to all.

4. Order DSA pro-refugee, feminist, and other buttons from the national website and wear them everywhere to signal that you are unafraid and join with others in the struggle. Give them to your friends to wear, too, and ask them to join DSA!

5. Strengthen organizations you are already in, or organize informal meetings with friends, with the theme of “What does this mean for us?” You may be able to form a DSA local or recruit more people to an existing one. Regardless, you can

• create space for people to talk about how they feel and then help move them to action

• watch an online video about preventing harassment and then discuss and practice

• discuss the DSA National Political Committee statement on the election, available on our website

• decide to do solidarity work together

Maria Svart is the national director of the Democratic Socialists of America.

This article will appear in the winter issue of the Democratic Left magazine, due to arrive in members’ mailboxes this week.

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

What Is DSA? Training Call

May 30, 2017
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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
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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
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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
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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.
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  4. If you have questions, contact Bill Barclay, chocolatehouse@sbcglobal.net.
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Film Discussion: Pride

September 10, 2017
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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
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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.