CHAPTER AND VERSE: How to raise funds and build community

Congresswoman (and DSA member!) Rashida Tlaib greets celebrated DSAer Selma Goode at Detroit’s Oct. 5 Douglass-Debs dinner. Debs still lived when Goode was a baby. She marched with Dr. King, and joined DSA at the invite of founder Michael Harrington. Watch Means of Production’s video about Goode at [PHOTO BY Dana Ocker]


Ready for a socialist party? In Detroit, it’s the annual Douglass-Debs dinner, named for firebrand abolitionist Frederick Douglass and socialist icon Eugene Debs. Douglass-Debs is Metro Detroit DSA’s biggest fundraiser and a way to cement community ties and honor members and allies for their work.

This year’s dinner—chaired by U.S. Representative (and Detroit DSA member!) Rashida Tlaib—drew 300 people to the UAW Local 600 hall October 5 and netted $10,000 for the chapter. To get the party started, the Detroit DSA Marching Band burst in playing the union anthem “Which Side Are You On?” and later led the crowd in singing “Solidarity Forever” and the “Internationale.” In 2006, Douglass-Debs featured Bernie Sanders. This year, Tlaib shared the stage with Abdul El-Sayed, a doctor and Medicare for All advocate who ran for Michigan governor last year.

Tlaib presented awards to UNITE HERE Local 24 president Nia Winston, who led the 2018 Detroit Marriott strike, and Tameka Ramsey, whose group Pontiac Policy Council allied with Detroit DSA to host a brake light clinic. Honors also went to David Green, Detroit DSA chair from 1996 to 2018, and to Rick Haberman, founder of the chapter’s Medicare For All working group, who died last year in a motorcycle accident.

The event raised money in several ways. Venue (and union-made beer) were donated by Local 600. Tickets for the dinner—catered by a Bangladeshi women’s gardening collective—sold for $40 (additional solidarity tickets made it possible for GM strikers, students, and low-income supporters to attend). Allied organizations also bought 10-seat tables for $350 (or $750 to be listed as a patron). And ads in a dinner booklet enabled unions, businesses and individuals to show support ranging from $40 to $600.

STEAL THIS IDEA: Atlanta DSA has been doing a Douglass-Debs dinner since 2007. Chicago DSA has its own version, the Debs-Parsons-Randolph dinner and dance party.