Organizing for Socialism

Hannah Allison talks with Maxine Phillips


If you’re in a DSA chapter you may have already heard from DSA’s new full-time organizer. We caught up with her in between trips and asked about her enthusiasm for DSA.—Ed.

   MP: Why did you join DSA?

   HA: Friends I trusted were joining DSA. One in particular— a social worker like me, who is a leader in his union — had a one-on-one conversation with me and asked me to join. I pay monthly dues because I believe that we’ll win by organizing people and organizing money. No one but us is going to pay to overthrow capitalism. 

   MP: What is your organizing background?

   HA: I’ve been an organizer (paid and unpaid) since college. I got my start working for a small environmental organization called Appalachian Voices. They brought community members together to fight mountaintop removal coal mining. Since then, I’ve been a student and community organizer in places like Saint Louis, Missouri and Raleigh, North Carolina. As an organizer for Missourians Organizing for Reform and Empowerment, I organized neighbors and community members to save families’ homes from foreclosure. I also helped fight to increase the minimum wage in Missouri and to stop tuition hikes at state schools in North Carolina.

   MP: What excites you about what’s happening with DSA?

   HA: In this political moment, DSA has a unique opportunity to be THE place to build a mass socialist organization—the kind of organization that can be an ideological anchor within the broader movement for social and economic justice. In a recent piece for Jacobin, Paul Heideman notes that, during the development of the Socialist Party of America, “class conflict was not something talked about in small rooms, but a fact of life for Americans as varied as Texan farmers and Chicago stockyard workers.” I’ve visited DSA chapters across the country and I can tell you, we’re not watering down radical politics in places such as Fargo, North Dakota. We’re reviving a tradition of American socialism that spans the diverse landscape of this vast place. We’re building an organization of the working class to fight for the things that matter to our lives—universal healthcare, free education, affordable housing, and economic institutions where workers own not just their labor but the means they use to produce goods and services that benefit us all.

   MP: What challenges does DSA face?

   HA: For a socialist organization, DSA is big, but we need to get even bigger. We are in a battle for the hearts and minds of working and poor people in this country. And I believe they are with us. Why? Because they’re us. We’re people from across the country who are tired of being sick and tired. We’re ready to create an economy and a society that works for all of us.

The other challenge for us as an organization is to stop talking so much about how white and male we are and just fight like hell to dismantle patriarchy and white supremacy within our organization and in the world. Oh, and we’ve got to keep showing up for each other. Ella Baker, who organized poor black folks and young people in the South and was thought to be the more radical, grassroots counterpart to Martin Luther King, is one of my organizing heroes. While working to win the right to vote, she would travel around the country and stay with the people she was organizing. People would always say of her after she left that it was clear she really cared about them and their families and their lives. We have to be like Ella. We can’t stop caring about each other. Not now. The stakes are too high. This once-in-a-generation opportunity to build a different world is too great. 

This article originally appeared in the Summer 2017 issue of Democratic Left magazine.

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