In November 2016, DSA had fewer than 10,000 members. This year, 12,000 new people joined just between October 1 and November 11. And by the time this issue arrives in your mailbox, that number will have grown. At more than 85,000 members, we are getting closer to our goal of 100,000 organized democratic socialists. Imagine our power. Imagine what we can accomplish together!
And we will need each other. Republicans fully embraced Trumpism and massively increased their turnout, using the enormous disinformation system they set up to begin expanding their base demographically. Even as we continue to face the raging pandemic, economic devastation, and coming austerity cuts, we must examine the lessons of the fall.
On the Democratic side, labor and social movements won this election: Ilhan Omar boosted turnout in Minneapolis to deliver Minnesota; Rashida Tlaib boosted turnout in Detroit to flip Michigan; UNITE HERE members canvassed tirelessly in Philadelphia, Las Vegas, and alongside a vibrant immigrant rights movement in Phoenix; and in Atlanta, Black Lives Matter and Black community organizations transformed the state’s electoral terrain. Yet expectations of a blue wave did not pan out, and Democratic Party leaders were quick to blame socialists and the uprising against police violence.
Yes, the “blue wave” fizzled, but there was a true red wave—our kind of red! We won 29 out of our 40 nationally endorsed campaigns; we now have “squads” in state legislatures in Minnesota, Montana, North Dakota, Maine, Hawaii, Massachusetts, Vermont, New Hampshire, New York, Delaware, Pennsylvania, Rhode Island, Maryland, California, and Michigan; and we won eight out of eleven major ballot initiatives.
We’re still a political organization, not a party, but contrast the visions of our endorsed candidates and our campaigns with those of a Democratic Party leadership that fails to listen to working-class people and fails to invest in building grassroots power. Is it any wonder that close to 80 million eligible people still didn’t vote in this election?
Let’s talk about what will inspire people to vote—and to build power between elections. Here’s a sampling of nationally endorsed DSA victories.
Portland Maine DSA passed initiatives that expanded tenant protections; mandated a $15 minimum wage and time and a half during a declared emergency; added enforcement to the ban on city officials’ use of facial recognition technology; and enacted a local Green New Deal with green building, pro-labor, and affordable housing provisions for certain developments, including city-funded projects. A fifth initiative, restricting short-term rentals, was heading for a recount as this issue went to press. Despite being outspent 40 to 1, DSA and the coalition it built prevailed.
Portland Oregon DSA passed a socialist feminist referendum that is both pro-family and pro-worker: universal (not means-tested) pre-K with a massively increased wage for providers, all paid for by taxing the rich.
Florida DSA chapters fought for and won the $15 minimum wage, and Boulder DSA won a “no eviction without representation” ballot initiative. Plus we had a slew of locally endorsed initiatives.
Heartbreakingly, we came close but still lost Proposition 15 in California to close a tax loophole for large commercial properties and capture billions for public services, but we won close to 75% of our campaigns by making demands to benefit the entire working class and doing the painstaking direct voter contact to reach them and turn them out to vote. As we wrap up 2020, every DSA member must be asking these key questions:
How and why were we able to win, and what does it tell us about the political moment?
What kind of power do we need, and what is a strategy that builds it?
What are the campaigns and practices that will allow us to talk to the 80 million people who didn’t vote this time?
Our chapters in every state of the country are out asking our coworkers and neighbors how we resist both fascism and neoliberalism and build a better world. I hope you will look up your local DSA or YDSA group and get involved today. There’s never been a more critical time.