My “day job” requires a lot of conferences, continuing education, and meetings. So believe me when I say that Socialism 2022 in Chicago this year was amazing. Another attendee and I agreed afterward that none of the presentations we attended were bad. I attended informative and lively discussions on just about every topic of the democratic socialist struggle.
This gathering of socialists from different organizations is important to gain a better perspective on what we in DSA are doing. Socialism and democracy are not just goals but also activities. We organize democratically; we attempt to listen to different ideas; we work together.
Judging from informal conversations, the COVID-19 pandemic and the apparent inability (until very recently) of the Democratic Party to govern has taken a toll on many of us. Our Knoxville, Tennessee chapter has recently taken what I see as a participation hit. Socialism 2022 was encouraging to me and others that our movement still has energy and accomplishments. The liberal establishment denied that any type of student loan forgiveness was impossible just a few years ago. Socialists still pushed for it. We have a small victory. Starbucks employees know the socialists are on their side, as do many other workers. Socialists are again gaining the notice of organized labor.
The day I returned home, the partners of one local Starbucks store walked out on strike. It was encouraging to see this group standing up for each other. It was even more encouraging to see other local unions turn out to help.
Prison and police abolition was the subject discussed by Ruth Wilson Gilmore during the first plenary session. Ruthie (as she introduced herself) has a lifetime’s body of scholarship on this topic and her address to the conference was a fascinating primer. It is hard to enjoy such harsh injustices, but listeners gave her a standing ovation for it.
Debtor power and organizing appears to be a new and crucial arena for socialists. The global neoliberal financial sector seeks to reduce the ideas of citizenship and ownership to the have-nots having nothing while living forever in cycles of debt. Student loans and medical debt resistance and cancellation are solutions for Americans. Yet, there are many predictions that such debt relief would lead to a “housing boom.” While this is presented as good news, it is merely transferring one form of debt to another. Overpriced schooling could become overpriced housing, and then overpriced transportation. The financial crisis of 2008 exposed the abusiveness of housing lenders. Debtor resistance has the potential to bring about an overhaul in the financial system.
The bigger issues – long-term goals such as the Green New Deal and Medicare for All – do not look impossible either. Socialists are getting ready for a renewed effort toward the Green New Deal. Abolitionists, disability rights activists, and healthcare for all advocates are carrying on discussions about their commonly held issues. Abortion rights activists are joining this conversation in post-Roe America.
The DSA meet-up was noisy but not chaotic. Two small groups were offered. I took part in the Green New Deal. This is one area I need a better definition of what our organizing and goals are. What are the policy proposals? What sources of information are we using to develop these proposals? Is GND the same vision as eco-socialism? Do we propose a type of “Green Front” for political action? We did not have enough time to discuss these questions. However, the variety of projects and ideas shared were interesting.
Derecka Purnell described her political education in a workshop titled “Becoming Abolitionists: Police Protests, and the Pursuit of Freedom.” The approach she took allows for more democratic development of material. The problem with political education is how to get people interested in taking part. For example, education on the basics of capitalist economic problems versus socialist solutions does not generate enough interest. Perhaps, this is because most committed socialists know these subjects already. On the other hand, many argue that what we read together leads us to new types of action if we approach political education in ways that tap into how socialists are already educating themselves. This way of political education, many suggest, will inform us on how we make democratic decisions and how we make American governance more democratic politically and economically. I am still thinking about how we encourage people to bring their ideas to discussions with a view toward decision-making.
Ukraine is an ambivalent topic for many people in DSA. I listened to Yuliya Yurchenko, a Ukrainian democratic socialist, talk about the position Ukraine is in, between competing imperialist powers. My own personal history makes me sentimental toward Ukraine, so I am careful about discussing the topic. There was an overwhelmingly negative response from my fellow attendees when a sectarian group – International Bolshevik Tendency – declared their support for Russia during the Q&A.
I bought way too many books. I exhausted myself with meetings. And I am “conferenced out.” But many of the comrades I met are committed to making the possibility of a new world a reality. I am encouraged by this.