“Only a crisis— actual or perceived—produces real change. When that crisis occurs, the actions that are taken depend on the ideas that are lying around. That, I believe, is our basic function: to develop alternatives to existing policies, to keep them alive and available until the politically impossible becomes the politically inevitable.”
This quote is not from Italian Marxist philosopher Antonio Gramsci, but rather our late arch nemesis, neoliberal economist Milton Friedman. He and his acolytes were responsible for the murder of our comrades abroad and built think tanks and astro turf operations at home for the same reason DSA has long fought to bring socialist ideas back to the center of political conversation in this country: Ideas have power. With the help of Bernie Sanders and his millions of supporters, socialists are back.
Now a crisis is upon us, the scale of which is almost unimaginable. Will we move in the direction of democratic socialism, or barbarism?
I write this piece as the government is on the cusp of forcing millions of people back into danger, absolving bosses of liability and accepting the coming deaths. In fact, the choice they prefer we make is between dying at work or starving at home. Donald Trump’s horrific handling of the pandemic will be compounded by a global economic crisis whether or not we force construction workers back to luxury condo work sites or UAW workers back to make cars that no one can buy. Police will continue violence as always in communities of color. And the virus will spread, with a hospital system decimated by decades of Republican and Democratic austerity cuts and restructuring to maximize profits and a growing pool of patients without health insurance— including 27 million who lost it since COVID-19 struck.
The stage is set for a crisis of legitimacy. It could allow us to build a new world on the rubble of the old, if we make the choice to fight for socialism.
But it will not happen naturally. Friedman’s ideological descendents are hard at work manufacturing consent. They say relief makes workers lazy, that we want to be the canaries in the coal mines, that half measures are enough, and that the government cannot afford to save our people, though it was able to hand trillions of dollars to corporate interests. And when we cannot “save” the global economy through sacrificing lives, hawks in both parties will deflect blame and push for war with China.
Socialists have two tasks: to envision the alternative world we can build together, and to organize.
A vision of safety and abundance, of cooperation and care means lifting up workers demanding to make ventilators, farmers giving their produce and dairy to hungry people, and hospital workers providing care—all by printing money the way most politicians seem happy to do for the already filthy rich.
A fight to build that world means joining mutual aid networks rooted in our communities, organizing tenants to withhold rent, finding creative ways to pressure politicians for relief, or building support for our candidates. It means everywhere creating lists of people and organizations to call on when your friends, neighbors, or someone you don’t know strikes for their safety or hazard pay. Because the strikes are coming. They have already started.
Here is a brief sampling of what your fellow DSAers are doing across the country to build grassroots working class power.
New Orleans DSA built a coalition of unions and community groups to demand the convention center spend $100 million for laid off hospitality workers.
North Jersey DSA organized “phone zaps” and car caravan protests demanding the local ICE detention center release detainees while also doing mutual aid to provide food for hundreds of families.
Los Angeles DSA filmed a direct action stunt at the Ritz Carlton with its 900 empty rooms and $270 million in taxpayer subsidies to highlight how the mayor made ultimately empty promises to move unhoused residents into hotels during COVID-19.
From Chico, CA to NYC, many chapters are doing aid work directly or via Solidarity Funds to raise and distribute relief. Twin Cities DSA effectively integrated its aid work as a tactic to support those in need while also enlisting people to pressure their local and statewide governments to halt evictions.
Philadelphia and Phoenix DSA organized call-Congress phone banks to push for the Emergency Health Care Guarantee Act, empowering Medicare to cover all healthcare costs for the uninsured and all out-of-pocket expenses for those with insurance for the duration of the coronavirus crisis.
NYC, North Texas, and other chapters are organizing against police violence and detention practices, including collecting letters for a community board safety meeting demanding accountability for disproportionate and violent policing of social distancing in black communities.
Denver, Chicago, NYC and many other DSA chapters are organizing tenants for #RentFreeze, #CancelRent, and #RentStrike campaigns at the state level as well as pressuring their Congress members to support the Rent and Mortgage Cancellation Act to create a national mortgage and rent suspension.
Louisville, Metro Washington D.C., Tacoma, NYC, San Francisco, Philadelphia, and Los Angeles are all supporting nationally endorsed candidates for local, state, and federal office, finding creative new ways to raise money and contact voters despite social distancing.
Dozens of DSA members in office released a joint letter laying out demands for a just local, state, and national response to COVID-19 and lifting our vision of an alternative to disaster capitalism during the pandemic.
And nationally, our Democratic Socialist Labor Commission has three worker organizing projects. The Emergency Workplace Organizing Committee, in partnership with the UE, supports workers anywhere fighting for improved conditions under COVID-19. The Restaurant Organizing Project organizes restaurant workers to fight for immediate relief and also a longer term vision to reshape the entire industry. And it just launched a Campaign to Save the USPS!
I welcome the thousands of people who joined DSA in the last few months and encourage you to look up your local chapter at dsausa.org/chapters and sign up for an upcoming call. You’re in the right place.