Some questions about a DSA endorsement of Senator Sanders

This week’s meetings re Sanders hold some of the same passions as these furriers in 1934. Via Wikimedia Commons, which cites So Philip S. Foner: The Fur and Leather Workers Union. Nordan Press, Newark 1950, page 469.


Starting right now, DSA’s membership is participating in an advisory poll on whether the organization should endorse Bernie Sanders right now, instead of going through its standard process via chapters and committees. The discussion here at DSA Weekly has been so lively that it’s spilled over on social media. Below, Dave Kamper elaborates on some questions he first raised on Twitter, to help the dialogues happening in chapters and homes everywhere. — Ed.

  1. What does it mean, in practical terms, for DSA to endorse Senator Sanders?  DSA is a nonprofit, strictly limited in what it can do in terms of electoral politics.  No DSA staff, for example, could be tasked with electioneering, and no substantial sums of DSA money could be spent to support a Sanders candidacy.  Moreover, it has been made clear in messages to the membership that no local chapters will be obligated to take action in support of the endorsement.  Therefore, it’s not at all clear to me what an endorsement would actually mean in terms of who would do what with what resources during what timeframe.  And, if there are things that will be done to support an endorsement, what things will DSA stop doing to free up time and resources for those endorsement activities?


  1. How do we weigh the risk of losing important members and leaders in DSA that may arise from an endorsement?  While I suspect Sanders has more support than any other potential 2020 candidate, there are also people in DSA who strongly oppose Sanders.  Many of these folks are strong DSA leaders, and already some have said that a Sanders endorsement would make them feel unwelcome in DSA and that they would likely leave.  How are we weighing that factor? On the flip side, we ought to ask how a Sanders endorsement might affect our ability to recruit new members from the ranks of non-Sanders supporters.  Will potential members stay away if they don’t support Sanders?


  1. How will Senator Sanders himself react to our endorsement?  Were I a mercenary political strategist working for Sanders, I would have already written a memo about how Sanders can increase his appeal to more moderate Dems with a selective attack on the most controversial parts of DSA’s platform.   Even if he doesn’t take the initiative in raising them, we can be very confident that at some point he will be asked about them, starting with BDS.


  1. How will DSA’s most well-known members react to an endorsement?  Neither Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez nor Rep. Rashida Tlaib, DSA members in Congress, have made an endorsement yet.   By no means should they have veto power over a DSA decision, but it matters where they stand and it’s fair to ask what would happen if they were to reject our endorsement and back someone else.  We also ought to ask whether a DSA endorsement of Sanders now would place either of them in an uncomfortable political position in their current role within the Democratic Party; again, that should not be a top concern, but it isn’t meaningless.


  1. How will an endorsement play out in DSA’s internal dynamics?  Will NPC members be expected to publicly support the endorsement, even if they were personally against it?  Will new NPC members, elected at the next convention, be expected to support the endorsement? Will local chapters be punished or rewarded for their decisions on whether or not to act in support of the endorsement?


  1. Do we really believe that an endorsement from a 50,000-person organization, most of whose members live in blue areas, will have any appreciable impact on the outcome of the primary?  If so, how? Tens of millions of votes will be cast in 2020 in the Democratic primary. Who are the voters whose decisions will be swayed by a DSA endorsement (especially given the limitations from Question #1, above)?  Hundreds of other groups, from unions to community advocates to business interests to social justice organizations, will be issuing endorsements; many of those organizations will have membership numbers much larger than DSA, and much deeper pockets.  


  1. What would an endorsement of Sanders do to our electoral efforts at other levels?  DSA only has so much oxygen. Even if we were to elect the perfect socialist to the presidency (leaving aside the question of whether Senator Sanders meets that standard), they will accomplish nothing without support in Congress, state legislatures, and elsewhere.


  1. What do we expect to gain by making an endorsement?  If the claim is that we will gain members, I’d like someone to explain how.  If the claim is that we will gain influence over Sanders’ agenda, or that an endorsement will give us leverage to influence his stance on issues, then we need a clear answer to Question #3.  If the claim is that an endorsement will give us media attention or raise our public profile, then someone needs to explain how that attention will last longer than one or two media cycles before the press finds something else to cover (provided that our endorsement could get an significant amount of public attention anyway – which is a debatable proposition, especially if Reps. Tlaib and Ocasio-Cortez aren’t on board), and how much that media attention is really worth.  


  1. What do we gain by making an endorsement that we wouldn’t also gain by individual DSA members engaging in political activity on their own?   IF chapters won’t be expected to do anything, and IF NPC members won’t be bound by some kind of collective responsibility to a decision, and IF DSA’s biggest public figures aren’t on board, and IF DSA won’t really be able to do full-scale electioneering anyway, because of our nonprofit status, how would this endorsement be more significant than individual actions by DSA members inclined to take them?