DSA Chapters Build Socfem Power
Democratic Left spoke with the leaders of DSA’s socialist feminist working groups, committees, and branches across the country about their work. It’s worth reflecting that, regardless of location, these groups have quite a few things in common. Notably, most are simultaneously externally and internally focused; that is, they are not only dedicated to organizing out in their communities (including doing work that revolves around reproductive justice, sex work, and fighting for the most marginalized members of the working class), but they also are actively involved in growing a feminist culture within their own DSA chapters. The latter includes advocating for child watch programs, educating members on socialist feminism through classes, presentations, and reading groups, and developing spaces that are more welcoming to comrades from marginalized groups. Both sets of goals have their own challenges, and have shown how important it is for socialist feminists to work within the feminist movement to make it more socialist and within the socialist movement to make it more feminist. This list isn’t complete, but it shows socialist feminism is a key part of the work that we’re doing, from New York, to Austin, to Iowa.
The feminist action committee of Austin DSA began their organizing by raising money for the National Network of Abortion Funds Bowl-a-thon, and since then has helped make Austin the first city in the south to pass paid sick leave. Members have built relationships with sex workers and their local chapter of SWOP (Sex Workers Organizing for Power) to participate in organizing around sex work. Within their chapter, they have been developing a code of conduct and, although they do not yet have the means to provide child care at every event, they have created a children’s box with crayons, radical coloring books, and toys for children who attend events. They are also dedicated to analyzing and addressing unevenly gendered participation rates in chapter meetings. After a statistical analysis demonstrated that women do not participate as heavily as men in both online and in-person forums, the committee hosted a surprise women and non-binary takeover of a portion of their September general membership meeting to illustrate the importance of creating feminist spaces in which male voices do not dominate over others. During the takeover, only women and non-binary folks participated in an engaging, well-articulated debate; socialist feminists gave a presentation on common issues for women in DSA chapters; and breakout groups encouraged non-men to speak up more in public and men to examine the origins of some of their uncomradely behaviors.
Boston DSA undertook an extensive sex-work education project and discussion across working groups. After SESTA/FOSTA passed (see Decriminalizing Sex Work), Jessica Lambert and Peter Morency wrote a chapter-wide resolution supporting the decriminalization of sex work that passed unanimously. They followed up by visiting every working group to discuss organizing around sex work. They were able to both educated their membership and bring a socialist feminist perspective to work done in seemingly disparate arenas: for example, Boston DSA’s electoral group incorporated questions about sex-work legislation on their questionnaire for candidates and endorsements. They have found that holding these in-depth conversations have deepened members’ understandings of sex work and reminded people that they must recognize “that we all have a lot of comrades that do sex work and that sex workers are our comrades,” Lambert says. Check out Who Is Good Enough to Have a Home? for more perspectives gained from their project.
Central Iowa DSA’s socialist feminist working group began with monthly meetings open only to women and non-binary folks to get to know one another and discuss projects in a safe feminist space. Organizers found that often having some time in a space without men was meaningful and allowed members to be more honest and open about their experiences. Alongside them, a men’s anti-patriarchy working group also gives men a place to talk about feminism while relieving women of the burden of having to introduce or accommodate men to feminism. Both groups have helped to establish a feminist tone and culture in their chapter, which has brought in new members. The socialist feminist group hosted a Socialist Feminist Convergence, where nearly 75 people from across Iowa met to learn, discuss, and connect. They also planned a Bread and Roses spaghetti dinner fundraiser where they raised $1,500 for the Eastern Iowa Community Bond Fund.
Chicago DSA’s socialist feminist working group raised more than $10,000 for the National Network of Abortion Funds Bowl-a-thon in April and hosted Socialist Feminism 101 in July, a two-hour crash course on the basic theory and praxis around socialist feminism. A copy of the course materials can be obtained by emailing [email protected]. The chapter also voted to adopt feminist process, a list of feminist principles for holding decision-making meetings and discussions, as part of its new bylaws at their June convention. These principles help to encourage comradely behavior and a welcoming environment for people from marginalized groups.
The socialist feminist caucus of East Bay DSA worked within the Bay Area for Reproductive Justice coalition to organize the largest counter-rally against the March for Life in their area in several years, where they focused not only on abortion but on other aspects of reproductive justice such as infertility and hormone therapy and how reproductive justice ties in to Medicare for All. The group also helped to organize a counter-rally against fascists in the Bay Area and has started working on advocating for unhoused people and registering them to vote by partnering with other advocacy organizations and domestic violence centers. This coalition-building simultaneously serves to help expand their chapter membership and to bring a socialist perspective to the Bay Area’s wider feminist movement. Within their chapter, they also provide joint political education on oppression and exploitation through a socialist feminist lens.
New York City DSA’s socialist feminist working group has developed a socialist feminist syllabus (see “From ‘Choice’ to Justice”), and its current main campaign is fighting to pass the New York Health Act, which would provide single-payer healthcare throughout New York State.
In Philadelphia DSA, the chapter’s socialist feminist working group is dedicated to achieving gender parity within their chapter and ensuring that it is a safe and accessible space for all. It has set the goal of having child care available at meetings and events. Because general meetings can sometimes be difficult to follow for newcomers, members strive to make their working group meetings full of natural language, human connection, breakouts, and consensus. Philly socialist feminists spoken and rallied at the International Women’s Strike, raised money for the West Virginia’s teachers’ strike, and rallied in solidarity with prison abolitionists for May Day. They are planning a Socialist Feminist Convergence for April 2019 to help connect and organize socialist feminists from throughout their region. Email [email protected] for more info!
Further west, in Pittsburgh DSA, the socialist feminist committee has focused on two major projects, one internal and the other external. Within the chapter it has developed the Socialist Sprouts, a child watch group staffed by volunteers that allows those caring for children to more easily participate in chapter events and meetings. The group is currently able to staff over 50% of child watch requests and also hosts family events like picnics with children’s entertainment that allow parents to connect with one another. Externally, the Pittsburgh socialist feminists have implemented a widespread anti-Crisis Pregnancy Center campaign called Expose Fake Clinics. They plugged into a nationwide campaign and added a socialist perspective to reproductive justice organizing, putting together locally focused pamphlets, flyers, and a website. Members have canvassed in front of CPCs to provide correct information and discuss the kind of healthcare people deserve: free, honest, and comprehensive.
Portland DSA’s socialist feminist caucus organizes both DSA members and the nonaffiliated in order to provide an access point to DSA that is less saturated with white cis men. The caucus pushed for the chapter to provide child watch at general meetings, but insisted that the responsibility not solely fall on female comrades, and men have stepped up to provide this service for their chapter. The group’s main projects have revolved around reproductive justice, including lobbying and educating around the statewide Reproductive Health Equity Act that was passed in 2017 and now incorporating that work into the Medicare for All campaign and running an “expose fake clinics” project.
In Seattle DSA, the queer and feminist caucus developed out of a socialist feminist reading group where readings focused on queer and women authors and theorists. Providing a small-group setting that encourages queer and women comrades to get more involved has helped to develop them for leadership and organizing. Additionally, they have co-hosted reading groups with Seattle Clinic Defense; raised money for the National Network of Abortion Funds Bowl-a-thon; presented on Socialist Feminism 101 for a general membership meeting; and co-hosted a documentary screening of Live Nude Girls Unite! with the local chapter of SWOP to draw attention to sex workers’ rights and organizing.
In Silicon Valley DSA, socialist feminists have organized several meet-ups for non-male identifying comrades to connect and begin developing projects. One of their goals includes putting together menstrual hygiene kits to distribute to unhoused people.
Twin Cities DSA’s socialist feminist branch held a Mother’s Day fundraiser for the Minnesota Freedom Fund where proceeds went to bail out incarcerated mothers. One of their members authored a resolution in support of sex workers following the passage of SESTA/FOSTA that was passed with overwhelming support by the chapter’s general membership. They also have an active reading group and led an educational session on identity politics and the Combahee River Collective at a general chapter meeting.
Thank you to the socialist feminists across the country who provided information for this article.
Editor’s Note: Due to space constraints, a shorter version of this article was published in the print edition of Democratic Left.