(As we post this today, the Fall 2020 issue of DL is live- you can download the whole issue here. Meanwhile, we thank DSA National Director Maria Svart for her smart opening words below. Eds.)
COVID-19 has killed more than 160,000 of us as I write this, but the worst economic contraction in U.S. history was a capitalist-made disaster. It did not have to be this way. Politicians could have taxed the rich to fund direct relief, enabling an extended lockdown early on. They could have provided Medicare for All, an army of contact tracers, and Personal Protective Equipment for essential workers. We saw what they did instead—the bidding of the bosses.
I won’t catalogue the horrors around us as the poor and working class, the sick, people of color, and the elderly are sacrificed and the political condition further erodes. Nor will I pretend our fightback is destined to win. But I will focus on the reasons for hope.
First, the need for an alternative to capitalism is undeniable. Jeff Bezos adds $13 billion in one day to his net worth while 30 million workers depend on unemployment checks that are held hostage by rich politicians. The staggering scale and visibility of this crisis cries out for a collective solution.
Second, our people are on the march—literally. The ruling class media may have moved on, but protests continue against police violence and for funding state and local budget programs other than police. DSA chapters were in the streets from the start of the uprising, and coordinated with the Movement for Black Lives on the Six Nineteen day of action in June. DSA tenants are organizing to block landlords from evicting families and clogging housing courts, and are coordinating through DSA’s Housing Justice Commission. Patients and healthcare providers are fighting for Medicare for All. And we’re demanding a Green New Deal to meet the climate challenge and rebuild our economy with millions of union jobs. Congress dragged its feet on COVID relief, but we know that street protest and pressure from the base are more strategic than insider maneuvering. They are also the best way to move past our fear and rage.
Third, democratic socialists are winning elections. In July, NYC DSA swept our nationally endorsed slate of five state senate and assembly candidates in the Democratic primary. Jabari Brisport joined Julia Salazar in the state senate and Marcela Mitaynes, Phara Souffrant and Zohran Mamdani stormed the state assembly. These shocking (to the Democratic machine) wins cement DSA’s reputation as a formidable enemy to the real estate industry and the New York Police Department. Now the “socialist squad” in Albany will join the “socialist six” on the Chicago city council in exploring the power of tag teaming on legislation and influencing the public discourse, only this time in state-level politics. Chapter-endorsed candidates also did well, with Jose Garza winning the race for district attorney in Austin and Shadia Tadros winning a race for judge in Syracuse. Detroit DSA member and incumbent Congresswoman Rashida Tlaib easily defeated a business-backed primary challenger. And St. Louis DSA member Cori Bush toppled a long-time incumbent and supporter of predatory lending companies to win her primary for U.S. Congress.
Finally, we’re building power in the economy by organizing our workplaces. The pandemic illustrates better than any pamphlet or meme the essential role of workers, and being essential means we have leverage. Whether it’s teachers and other school support staff striking to make schools safe, or restaurant and healthcare providers demanding PPE, when we stick together we can win, because otherwise the economy won’t run. Hundreds of people join DSA every week. The neoliberals tell us to go it alone, to take personal responsibility for solving structural problems imposed from above, but socialists know we are stronger together. Collective solutions are necessary, and we can only win them through collective action. We have built this organization accountable to no one but ourselves. Because all of our work is funded by member dues and fueled by your creativity, I hope you jump into our national recruitment drive this fall.
But more than building our power by growing DSA, there are other ways we need to prepare for November. It’s clear that Donald Trump will do anything to win, including destroy the postal service and hire thugs to intimidate voters. That’s why we must save the USPS so we can mail in ballots, and be prepared to strike alongside unions and civil society this fall. We need to build deeper ties in our communities to groups with a working-class base, and build stronger and faster mechanisms to communicate across chapters, regions, and the country, to ensure we can move as a powerful national organization when the need arises. Al Gore’s failure to demand a county-by-county recount in Florida in 2000 in the face of on-the-ground bullying from the Right, thereby handing victory to George W. Bush, is an important lesson about what happens when we depend on cautious and conciliatory leaders who capitulate to bullies. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that only we can save ourselves. Let’s get to it!