DSA’s Year of the Woman

Of the 28 candidates that DSA national has endorsed in 2018, 16 are women. Most notable, of course, is Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who defeated incumbent Joe Crowley in the June primary in New York. But Ocasio-Cortez is one of many progressive women running for office.

At press time, the following nationally endorsed women candidates had won their primary elections:

  1. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, US Congress, New York’s 14th District
  2. Jovanka Beckles, California State Assembly, District 15
  3. Summer Lee, Pennsylvania House of Representatives District 34
  4. Sara Innamorato, Pennsylvania House of Representatives District 21
  5. Kristin Seale, Pennsylvania House of Representatives, 168th District
  6. Elizabeth Fiedler, Pennsylvania House of Representatives, 184th District
  7. Amelia Marquez, Montana House of Representatives, 52nd District
  8. Jade Bahr, Montana House of Representatives, 50th District
  9. Kara Gloe, Moorhead, Minnesota, School Board

For an organization that is about 75% men, that’s not a bad record. But was it a strategy or luck that evened the odds for DSA women running for office? Of those 16 women almost half are women of color. And those are only the national endorsees – chapters have endorsed additional candidates, including Rashida Tlaib in Detroit who will be one of the first Muslim women in Congress. Is this DSA’s ‘Year of the Woman’ or the start of an effort to make DSA a more diverse organization?

While the national electoral committee did not have an explicit strategy aimed at ensuring that half of our endorsees were women, it was a consideration for some members of the committee. DSA National Director Maria Svart noted that “Working and poor people are all genders and racial identities, that is one reason the capitalist class is able to divide us against each other. Any strategy that doesn’t recognize that and build unity across our differences is doomed to fail. Our candidates are diverse because so is the working class.

Of course, the Year of the Woman has been proclaimed many times before. In some ways the first ‘Year of the Woman’ was almost 100 years ago when women in the United States achieved the right to vote. But women were a negligible force in electoral politics until the second wave of feminism in the 1970s brought attention to the second-class status of women. Shirley Chisholm’s presidential candidacy brought that to the forefront of the 1972 campaign. Twenty years later it was still an historic event when six women served in the United States Senate – six out of 100 was a record number. And so 1992 became the next Year of the Woman.

We’re hearing it again today. Women organized the largest mass mobilization in 2017 and have been leading the resistance to Trump since then. This year’s election has brought out record breaking numbers of women candidates. But for democratic socialists ‘the Year of the Woman’ isn’t just about the hundreds of women running for office or even about the election of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib to the US House of Representatives.

The ‘Year of the Woman’ is about challenging the power of the corporate elite – mostly male – to make decisions about women’s health, women’s families, women’s livelihood. It’s about giving women the power to control their own lives in a community and country that values women as human beings.

But as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez said, “It’s not just that I’m a woman of color running for office. It’s the way that I ran. It’s the way that my identity formed my methods.” For DSA and its National Electoral Committee, that’s true as well. It’s not only that a focus on women, particularly women of color, begins to level the playing field of politics, but that the women we endorse represent through their work and their campaigns the struggles we are involved in, struggles to build a just and fair society.

2018 is only the beginning; 2019 will see state elections in Virginia and New Jersey as well as many local elections around the US. And of course, 2020 looms on the horizon. DSA has made a good start but it’s just a start. Women in DSA must begin planning now for their campaigns in 2020 and beyond.

The author in September 2018, just before her arrest when protesting the confirmation of Brett Kavanaugh to the U,S, Supreme Court.