An Open Letter from Some DSA Menbers
In 2019, the United States Congress will seat a powerful tribune of working people, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. Her recent primary election win was a historic victory for our movement: Ocasio-Cortez is an open democratic socialist, and ran as such with the active support of the New York City DSA Local Chapter. Since she won in a Congressional district where the Democratic Party nominee is a prohibitive favorite, she is headed to almost certain victory in the general election this November. We celebrate this advance in our struggle.
The election victory of this woman of color, running as an open democratic socialist, has created a thunderbolt of excitement on the left with 5,000 new members joining DSA in the three weeks following Ocasio-Cortez’ victory.
That Ocasio-Cortez will give voice to the voiceless inside the halls of Congress was reason enough for many foes of the Left to launch attacks on her, from the ranks of Trumpists on the far Right to neo-liberals threatened by the growing presence of democratic socialists. And as Ocasio-Cortez is a Puerto Rican woman of color, these attacks have often had racist and misogynist overtones.
On the Right, one notable critic is Joe Lieberman, who took to the pages of the Wall Street Journal to call for Ocasio-Cortez’s defeat in November. Lieberman was particularly exercised over the fact that Ocasio-Cortez had criticized the Israeli government’s occupation of the Palestinian West Bank, with its illegal settlements, and had described the killings of Palestinian protestors on the Gaza border as a “massacre.” Her willingness to criticize the policies of the Netanyahu government proved to be a common theme of right-wing assaults.
Attacks from the right do not surprise us. But what does surprise and dismay us is attacks from people who identify as leftists, including some members of DSA.
A recent petition circulated by some DSA members criticizes Ocasio-Cortez for supporting a two state solution to the Palestine-Israel question and not aligning with a long list of demands regarding Palestine and Israel. Should Ocasio-Cortez fail to agree with this list of demands, the petitioners are calling for DSA to revoke her endorsement. These attacks on Ocasio-Cortez have come despite the fact that she has staked out positions which will make her one of the strongest advocates of Palestinian rights and self-determination in Congress.
DSA has supported the Palestinian fight for national self-determination, including the right to establish an independent Palestinian state, since our founding in 1982. Unlike DSA’s actual position of broad support for Palestinian self-determination, the attacks on Ocasio-Cortez demand that she adhere to and articulate narrow conceptions of support for Palestinian self-determination. This reflects a limited and counter-productive conception of how liberation struggles develop and how democratic socialists in the global North can best support them.
Even if the many maximalist demands in the petition against Ocasio-Cortez were consistent with DSA’s position on Palestine and Israel, it would still be wrong to insist that DSA members are under an organizational discipline to adhere to them. The right to dissent and to express views different from those of the majority and the organizational center is a fundamental part of DSA’s democratic and socialist-feminist decision-making. DSA has taken a position to be actively involved in electoral politics, for example, but those who have a different view – including many signers of the petition against Ocasio-Cortez – are still free to express that perspective. We would have it no other way.
DSA’s strength as a democratic socialist organization depends upon this freedom of thought and expression and the right to dissent. It makes it possible for all DSA members – and especially voices that are not always heard – to be part of the ongoing collective development of our politics and vision. The fact that DSA members are not reflexive mouthpieces for an established ‘line,’ but speak honestly and genuinely out of sincere conviction, gives DSA a political credibility that is absent in organizations where members are required to follow organizational edicts in their public pronouncements. In DSA, we believe in unity in action, not homogeneity of thought and expression.
We stand with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. The position she has taken on Israel and Palestine are principled stances, worthy of a democratic socialist, in its recognition of both Palestinian humanity and rights and Israeli humanity and rights. On this issue, as many, she will be a voice for the voiceless in Congress.
Mark Alper · Robert Ambaras · Steve Askin · Ted Auerbach · Jackie Bailey · Ron Baiman · Bill Barclay · Noah Baron · Miriam Bensman · Ned Burke · Siobhan Higgins Burke · Jules Bernstein · Enrique Calvo · Duane Campbell · Tom Canel · Leo Casey · Patricia Chadwick · Adam Chaikoff · Jack Clark · Kevin R. Coulson · Charles Curry · Susan Davidoff · Eric Dillon · Peter Dreier · Joshua Dreis-Ornelas · Eric Ebel · Tom Ellet · John Elwell · Anthony Emerson · Itzhak Epstein · Bob Feldman · George Fish · Paul Garver · David Green · Ingrid Goldstrom · Paul Gottleib · José Gutiérrez · Richard Healey · John Heppen · Karyn Hollis · Maurice Isserman · Kim Jones · Barbara Joye · Michael Kazin · David Knuttnen · Benjamin Kreider · David Kusnet · Bonnie Lambert · Charles Lenchner · Jonathan Lewis · Jone Johnson Lewis · Jere Locke · Leslie Singer Lomas · Walter Malakoff · Jesse Mannisto · Tom Martin · Sahar Massachi · Deborah Meier · Marshall Meyer · Harold Meyerson · Mike Mitchell · Barbara Molfese · Sarah Morris · Michael Nye · Ed Oswald · Carl Pease · Nathan Newman · Bob Quartell · Elliot Ratzman · Sherrie Raymond · Robert Reutenauer · Walter Reeves · Skip Roberts · Roger Robinson · Michelle Rossi · Diane Sandrowski · Max Sawicky · Jay Schaffner · Penny Schantz · Hilda Schlatter · Glenn Scott · Steve Schwartz · Richard Schultz · Tim Sears · Eli Sennesh · Randolph Shannon · Rich Smith · Steve Sherman · Kurt Stand · Daniel Stevens · David Stevens · Peb Strobel · Milton Tambor · Bridget Tobin · Jim Tourtelott · Zachary Wiita · James H. Williams · Spencer Veale · Matt Young · Gary Zabel · Martin Zank
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