California DSA Unites Two Dozen Chapters in Statewide Federation

All politics may be local, but some problems need statewide action. At its 2021 convention, DSA delegates committed DSAto developing state-level organizations and orienting toward running candidates for state legislatures, both as a means to contest the power of state government and to build capacity for statewide and federal races.”

California’s  statewide federation launched on February 19, 2022, when 85 delegates elected from DSA chapters across the state convened the inaugural meeting of CA-DSA’s State Council. 

Going back to at least 2018, California chapters have worked together informally in statewide electoral and labor campaigns. That year, several chapters banded together in the Prop 10 campaign to remove state restrictions on local rent control. We shared lessons during the 2019 teachers’ strikes in Los Angeles and Oakland, building alliances we put to good use in the fight for Prop 15 to tax corporate real estate. This informal, multi-chapter collaboration also extended to DSA’s  Sanders campaign, which won big in California. 

These experiences prompted a growing recognition of the importance of formalizing a space for the coordination of California chapters on issues of statewide concern, as well as the benefits of cross-learning among chapters. “I had gotten involved with the Prop 15 work through my experience through the National Electoral Committee providing campaign finance support for DSA chapters,” says  Renée Paradis, an East Bay DSA member who helped lead the statewide exploratory committee and is now one of CA-DSA’s two co-chairs. “Coming from NYC-DSA, where we did powerful statewide work, it struck me that California chapters could have the same power if we banded together.”

At its first meeting, CA-DSA’s State Council adopted resolutions to create statewide labor and electoral committees. These early actions point to some of the exciting possibilities for the external-facing mass political work the new federation hopes to spearhead in a state with nearly two dozen chapters. 

Organizing campaigns touching multiple chapters are underway at Amazon facilities, Starbucks, and many other work sites. Unionized workplaces hold other major opportunities for California socialists, both on and off the shop floor. For instance, a potential strike by the militant International Longshore and Warehouse Union could shut down major ports in  Oakland and LA. Meanwhile, as DSA and YDSA members increasingly take union jobs in education, healthcare, and logistics, many could participate in a brewing statewide teachers’ strike wave and coordinated contract campaigns by three unions representing academic workers at University of California campuses. There is also a possible Teamsters’ strike against UPS next year. 

Matt Milholland, a leader with Inland Empire DSA and an organizer of CA-DSA, says the statewide organization “will enable us to deepen and grow our relationships with labor unions and rank-and-file workers in order to firmly root socialist politics in the multiracial working class.”

The Electoral Committee also sees the chance to make the whole of DSA in California more powerful than the sum of its parts. DSA chapters have already helped elect over half a dozen democratic socialists to local office, including city council members in Oakland, San Francisco, Sacramento, Los Angeles and several smaller cities, as well as one member to the State Assembly. The work of the Electoral Committee will include expanding the bench of democratic socialists in state and local elected office and mounting successful statewide ballot campaigns. 

That will mean developing strategy and infrastructure, such as a candidate pipeline and a Political Action Committee, and sharing lessons among chapters from past successful campaigns. More than that, class-struggle electoral campaigns will allow CA-DSA to take our politics to a mass constituency. “We’re not just out to win elections,” says Ryan Andrews of DSA-LA, “but to build a lasting coalition with working-class membership organizations as a prelude to an independent workers’ party.”

A third resolution made social housing a priority campaign of CA-DSA. Taking housing off the speculative market, social housing alone can provide a solution to asset inflation driven by incalculable sums of global capital that flow into our communities at the click of a mouse. Assembly member Alex Lee, a member of Silicon Valley DSA, introduced a social housing bill, and a great deal of local organizing is happening across the state in fights for decommodified housing. Tal Levy, an organizer with DSA-LA who proposed the social housing resolution, said the aim was for CA-DSA “to engage with statewide tenant organizing groups and unions like SEIU CA and the California Nurses Association, to win permanently-affordable housing at the scale we need.” 

CA-DSA didn’t happen overnight. Soon after the 2020 election, a statewide exploratory committee was formed, with leadership from multiple tendencies, including Paradis, Milholland, Levy, and Will Shattuc, then a member of the East Bay chapter. The exploratory committee developed a three-pronged vision, wrote  bylaws, and brought those documents  to chapters around the state for debate and votes. The DSA National Political Committee approved the bylaws, with one amendment, and then chapters elected delegates based on membership, with a minimum of one delegate per chapter.

Following its first meeting, the 85-member State Council elected a nine-member executive committee, which works between quarterly Council meetings to carry out the political direction of the delegates. The executive body elected Paradis and Samuel Sukaton of DSA-LA as CA-DSA’s co-chairs.

It is still early, and a major next milestone will be engaging dozens of comrades from every chapter in both of the new campaign committees. But there is every reason to believe that, within the year, this new statewide organization will be an active part of the life of all our chapters and a sought-out partner by other working-class membership organizations.