What is the Goal of Socialist Organizing Today?

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Reading List & Discussion Questions below.

Steve Williams, “Demand Everything: Lessons from the Transformative Organizing Model”

  1. What is Williams’ primary critique of the U.S. left over the past few decades?
  2. Why did Alinsky reject explicit left-wing organizing, why did he seek to be “anti-ideological?”
  3. Why does Williams disagree with Alinsky’s model? Why does he believe that articulating a vision of an alternative to capitalism is essential for the success of the left?
  4. How does Williams differentiate transformative organizing from traditional organizing? What are the different time horizons of success for each of these models in Williams’ view?
  5. What does it mean to “walk with vision”?
  6. Why was it important that POWER called for free public transportation for all young people, rather than just low-income young people?
  7. Why does Williams call outreach “the most fundamental ingredient of organizing”?
  8. Why does he call effective outreach an “exchange” between the organizers and the community members with whom she interacts?
  9. How does Williams believe organizers should strategically choose the activist struggles in which the participate? Why is Gramsci important for him?
  10. What are some of the criteria POWER used to assess the “revolutionary edge” of reform struggles?
  11. Why is democracy important for more than moral/ethical reasons?
  12. In what ways can democracy be instrumentally helpful in activist struggles, and in why is democratic participation so important for transformative organizing in particular?
  13. What is Williams’ critique of “leaderless” activist organizations (like Occupy)?
  14. How does Williams understand leadership, and how is this different from the way leadership in understood in many traditional organizing models?
  15. How does the pedagogy of Freire and Horton differ from traditional pedagogical models, and why was POWER willing to sacrifice time they could have spent on organizing to educational trainings for members and staff?
  16. Why does Williams think that coalition work based solely on tactical unity rather than strategic vision limits transformative organizing, and what alternative methods does he propose?
  17. How does POWER’s conception of solidarity (following Machel) differ from other conceptions of solidarity, and what concrete benefits has POWER seen thanks to Solidarity work?
  18. Why does Williams think it’s so important to focus not just on transforming society through collective organizing, but also on transforming individuals by focusing on the specific needs and concerns of organization members? How does POWER focus on the individual needs of group members?

Liza Featherstone, Doug Henwood and Christian Parenti, “Action will be Taken: Left Anti-Intellectualism and Its Discontents,” from Radical Society

  1. How do Featherstone et. al characterize the ideology of the contemporary activist left, and what are the key features of this ideology for them?
  2. Why do they think the ideology of contemporary activists reflects contemporary capitalist ideology?
  3. What are some examples of the negative consequences of “activistism”?
  4. What are the practical effects on left organizing of not having a larger vision of social change within which to situate local struggles?
  5. What is the relationship between the decline of Marxism and activistism, and what are the practical effects of Marxism’s decline, in the eyes of Featherstone et. al?
  6. What is the relationship between activistism and non-profit culture for Featherstone et. al, and why do they find this relationship problematic for left politics?
  7. What is Featherstone et. al’s alternative to activistism? Is it convincing?
  8. How do Featherstone et. al characterize the differences between activist culture in the United States with activist culture in other parts of the world. Is this a fair assessment?

Film Discussion: The Price We Pay

January 30, 2017
· 44 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
· 12 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
· 9 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.

 

Film Discussion: Documentaries of People's History in Texas

April 02, 2017
· 3 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 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.