By Maria Svart
DSA has almost tripled in membership in the past several months and quadrupled in the number of organized local groups in red and blue states. Our growth alone shows that people want to be for something, not just against Donald Trump, and they want to have a voice. We have an ideological perspective that was missing from mainstream political debate until Bernie Sanders’s primary run, and it’s now on us to carry out a strategy to match. For this, we need a socialist feminist approach.
What does it mean to bring a socialist feminist perspective to organizing? My own story may have some lessons in it. I grew up in a liberal but not left-wing household, watched my extended family win concessions from their bosses through participation in various unions, and became a feminist activist in college. My campus group promoted sex-positivity, abortion rights, and equal pay for women. But it wasn’t enough. I wasn’t satisfied but didn’t know why. Then I attended a Young Democratic Socialists workshop, and the socialist feminist ideas I heard there were like a bolt of lightning. Suddenly I realized what was missing!
My epiphany about the interlocking systems of patriarchy and capitalism led me to bring our feminist group into new fights, such as demanding farmworker rights. I argued that immigrant women in the fields faced unique struggles and asked why the growers chose to hire these particular workers instead of white, male citizens. My feminist group helped kick Taco Bell off our campus; the school then pressured the corporation that owned the Taco Bell brand to pay their suppliers more, who then paid their Florida tomato pickers more.
A similar bridge might be built today by socialist feminists. For example, mainstream feminists can forge solidarity with immigrants around the issue of domestic violence. Undocumented women often don’t report domestic violence to police if they fear deportation. This is a real concern. As I write, a woman sits in a detention center after being picked up by Immigration and Customs Enforcement in February at the El Paso County Courthouse shortly after she obtained a protective order to shield her from the man accused of abusing her.
The same expansive politics can expand the narrow fight for “choice” into one for reproductive justice. Some women now fear abortion will be made illegal, and many of us are contemplating mutual aid solutions, such as the underground abortion services provided by socialist feminists in the pre-Roe days. But poor and working class women already face often insurmountable economic barriers to getting a safe abortion. That’s why every spring DSA chapters across the country participate in the National Network of Abortion Funds Bowl-A-Thon fundraisers and use that opportunity to bring a class analysis to mainstream feminists (check this out on dsausa.org).
Working-class and poor women face many other issues, including affordable, quality child care and access to food stamps, given that almost one in four children live in hunger. The ability to raise a healthy family is a reproductive justice issue. Living-wage jobs, elder care, clean water for the families of Flint, Michigan are all feminist issues.
Healthcare, which we consider a human right and a means to promote democracy, is another bridge issue. Through a socialist feminist lens, we see that women are the primary caretakers of the ill and infirm in our society. Women also suffer disproportionately from medical bankruptcies. Medicare, which saved countless families from bankruptcy and desegregated hospitals virtually overnight, is an example of what we in DSA call a transformative reform. As socialist feminists, we organize not just to protect the Affordable Care Act (ACA) from the GOP, we fight for Medicare for All.
Fighting for Our Lives
Donald Trump and Paul Ryan have both released healthcare reform plans that would harm millions of people. Unfortunately, one reason they have a political constituency for these attacks is that although the Affordable Care Act is lifesaving for many people, for others, the coverage is terrible. Centrist Democrats don’t have an answer for its problems because they are in thrall to the insurance industry.
This is why DSA fights for Medicare for All, which cuts out the insurance corporations. East Bay DSA is training hundreds of members to canvass for California single-payer legislation. NY DSAers, including in areas such as the Lower Hudson Valley and post-industrial cities such as Buffalo, are beginning to organize for the NY Health Act. Our members are asking tough questions in town halls and local media from coast to coast as they reach out to organize the working-class base we will need to win on this and all our issues. Denying healthcare to millions may be more difficult than the GOP hoped, and we have a shot at single-payer plans in at least a few blue states.
The healthcare fight is a clear example of the “simultaneous defensive and offensive and ideological” strategy DSA pursues, one that should be seen through a socialist feminist lens. It’s not going to be easy, which is why we need to think about “resistance fatigue.”
Training Long Distance Runners
In the capitalist patriarchy, women are socialized to bear the unpaid burden of sustaining families and communities. Capitalism pulls us apart, isolates us, and forces us to compete, breaking down the social bonds that hold us together. In this moment, when we are dealing with extreme fear in many communities and near-constant activism, women often do additional emotional labor to heal, or at least keep at bay, the pain and exhaustion many of us feel.
Being socialist feminists means recognizing the importance of that work and learning to share that burden. It means never forgetting that we’re in this fight to link arms with each other and stand together across the walls that capitalism puts between us. We’re in this to build democratic socialist community. We’re in it for the long haul, and we’re in it to win.
|Maria Svart is the national director of the Democratic Socialists of America.|
This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of the Democratic Left magazine.
Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.