Organizing with Class and Identity

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Annette Bernhardt/Flickr

One of my favorite DSA T-shirts reads, “We organize with class.” It sums up what makes us different from other progressive activists. We understand that the capitalist class has an inherent interest in exploiting the working class and has structured society and all of our institutions accordingly. Yet, we also recognize that the ruling class shapes institutions and social relations not just to regulate and control people based on their position in the economy but also on their gender, race, age, sexual orientation, and other categories. In other words, based on other aspects of their identity.

For example, we women are taught from birth to be caretakers—of children, of men, of elderly relatives. In our capitalist system, we receive no economic support for carrying out these tasks. This has implications beyond the family, in that traditional women’s work, even when women are paid for it, is more devalued than that of men. Thus, child care, elder care, home health care, and food workers are some of the lowest compensated workers in our economy. It is to black feminists Kimberlé Crenshaw and those from the Combahee River Collective that we owe the insights of intersectionality, the idea that dominant groups use various aspects of our identities to exclude the subordinate groups from power and decision making and that these intersections of identity must be taken into account along with class when organizing for political power.

In other words, we don’t ask people to leave parts of themselves outside the door when we’re creating our political movement. We know that our unity is in fact stronger when we better understand the complexities of what we’re fighting, so we need everyone’s insights. We know that black women experience sexism differently than white women because of racism, and black women experience racism differently than black men because of sexism. Similarly, all men benefit from male privilege, but black men benefit less than white men because of racism. It’s a similar dynamic with class: working-class people have a common interest against capitalism, but precisely because racism and sexism exist alongside with and intersect with capitalism, we are vulnerable to the divide-and-conquer tactics of the economic ruling class.

Which brings us to the presidential election. Our first black president may be followed by our first female president, both of them good on some issues but horrible on others. Just as the far right whipped up a racist frenzy against Barack Obama, it will make misogynist attacks on Hillary Clinton. We must stand against these attacks for what they are, but also fight the idea that any one individual can inherently represent the interests of all who share some aspect of that person’s identity.

Some feminists celebrate Clinton simply for being a woman, rather than taking a holistic look at her policy choices related to women, and more important, her policy choices related to all women, whether poor women, migrant women, women workers, women of color, LGBT women, and so on. We don’t want individualistic, “Lean-in” versions of feminism. We want socialist feminism. We understand women’s shared interests as well as our differences and want to make sure no one is left behind just because one woman can break through the glass ceiling.

Cooperatively and democratically building the socialist movement to value the perspectives we each bring is the only way we can combat the seductive ideology of the ruling class: that individual merit can elevate anyone of any background to power, and that the current system is fundamentally fair and democratic.

That’s why I’m so excited about the Bernie Sanders campaign. Bernie knows that the deck is stacked against the majority of us, and in his campaign he does two things that are critical: he names the capitalist system for what it is, and he “speaks American,” meaning that he uses the U.S. idiom of fairness and inclusion to give voice to the powerlessness and anxiety so many of us feel. While we hope he develops a more proactively antiracist platform, we appreciate that Bernie points the finger at the worst culprit, Wall Street, rather than letting the ruling class scapegoat immigrants, people of color, or those it calls sexually deviant.

We know that Bernie’s presence will be the entry point for a new generation of political activists into progressive politics, and if we do our job right, many of those activists will stay as socialist activists long after the election, continuing to fight for collective solutions and transformation of society. We plan to organize our local chapters and members to build momentum and visibility for him and his politics. This will mean street and door-to-door outreach, organizing house parties and happy hours, putting together educational forums, attending political events at the local level, helping build grassroots coalitions to support him, and more, all done as proud DSAers. I hope I can count on your support as we build the DSA campaign. v

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

 


This article originally appeared in the summer 2015 issue of the Democratic Left magazine.

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.

Lessons in Organizing from the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union

January 17, 2017
· 51 rsvps

Join DSA Vice-Chair Chris Riddiough to explore what we can learn from the work of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union (1969-77), the largest of the socialist feminist women’s unions of the 1970s, which had a rock band, a graphics collective, the underground abortion collective JANE, and numerous other projects. Check out their website and join the discussion via internet connection.

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 41 rsvps
The Price We Pay blows the lid off the dirty world of corporate malfeasance — the dark history and dire present-day reality of big-business tax avoidance, tax havens - and what we need to do to stop this.  DSA member Bill Barclay, who has a cameo role in the film, will facilitate the discussion. Watch the film prior to the discussion.

Full film available on Vimeo.

How to Plug in New Members

February 01, 2017
· 10 rsvps

Is your DSA chapter growing quickly and you're trying desperately to find ways to plug new members into your chapter's work? Never fear! On this conference call an experienced DSA organizer will go over the basics of new member outreach and developing a plan for plugging new members into your chapter's work. Most of the call will be devoted to troubleshooting specific issues you're facing, so please brainstorm some issues beforehand that you want to bring up on the call.  8 PM ET; 7 PM CT; 7 PM MT; 7 PM PT.

Film Discussion: Salt of the Earth

February 05, 2017
· 7 rsvps

Join DSA members Shelby Murphy and Deborah Rosenfelt in discussing Salt of the Earth, a captivating film made in 1954 by blacklisted writers and actors about a strike at a New Mexico zinc mine. Well before the resurgence of feminism in the 1960s, these filmmakers were exploring gender inequality and solidarity. Available on Netflix.

Shelby Murphy is a Latina from Texas and former Young Democratic Socialists co-chair. Professor Emerita of Women’s Studies at the University of Maryland, Deborah Rosenfelt researched the making of the film and its aftermath for the reissued screenplay. Here is her blogpost about the film.

 

DSA New Member Orientation Call

February 15, 2017
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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: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 1 rsvp

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 check out their short the video on the Stand-Ins about a group of university students who led a movement to desegregate Austin’s movie theaters in 1961.

Film Discussion: The Free State of Jones

June 11, 2017
· 2 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.