October Dispatch: Elections Matter — and are Not Enough

I want to start this month’s Dispatch by celebrating the folks who helped lead the DSA charge against Brett Kavanaugh last month. Allie and Chris, NPC members who took action in Washington, DC; Kim and Renee who helped develop our Unleash Your Fury Socialist Feminist Working Group messaging; and Anna, Regina and Annie for creating beautiful art. Countless chapters organized marches, walkouts and actions at the grassroots, which gave our message the power to intervene in the national discourse — to the point that the Women’s March adopted the “No Justice, No Seat” message from the NYC march DSA organized with partners from the International Women’s Strike coalition.

The mobilization of many groups was not enough to stop Kavanaugh. But now that we have taken time to mourn, it is time to organize. Right now Trump controls all three branches of the federal government. The consequences at this point are quite clear, given the massive tax cuts for the wealthy last year and one of the first arguments made by the new Supreme Court Justice Kavanaugh, that the government should have the right to detain some immigrants indefinitely. Because they recognize the power of the vote, Republicans in recent years have closed over 1000 polling sites across the country where black, brown, poor and/or student voters have voted in the past. Naked voter purges and restrictive laws are happening before our eyes — impacting 460,000 in Indiana, 53,000 in Georgia, 70,000 in North Dakota. Meanwhile Wall Street Democrats, in some places like NYC doing their own voter purges, and in others having spent millions to lift up neoliberal candidates in primaries over left or populist candidates, urge us all to vote to protect ourselves from rising authoritarianism.

Yes. We must vote, we must get out the vote, we must spend every day between now and November 6 fighting like hell to protect our imperfect democracy from those who would go along with Trump’s increasingly violent rhetoric against journalists and the Left. If you have any doubt about what is in store for us should we not decisively defeat the Republicans, look to Brazil. Steve Bannon has helped the openly fascist candidate Bolsonaro whip the country into a frenzy. Or Germany, the Philippines or Hungary.

Bernie Sanders gave a speech recently about increasing coordination between neofascists around the world, and as democratic socialists we know that the only solution to the urgency of our times is a strong international Left, starting in the belly of the beast. In the face of catastrophic climate change, we truly only have a choice between socialism or fascism. And a key part of being a national organization is disrupting the national conversation which is dominated by neoliberals and the far-right.

However, while elections matter, they are not the only way to wield power. Collective action can occur at the ballot box, but it must also occur in our workplaces and communities. To illustrate, let me tell you about a counter-example, when collective action was a working class threat but not utilized.

In January 1933, Hitler came to power. Most of the German labor movement declared itself officially neutral, and on May Day 1933 union leaders marched in Nazi parades. The very next day, May 2, Nazis across the country occupied the buildings and offices of all the unions, seized their assets (German workers’ money), and arrested their elected leaders. Many were beaten, tortured and sent to concentration camps, or put on blacklists which prevented them from finding work. Eight days later, on May 10, the Nazis founded the German Labor Front, which included both workers and bosses and not only spread Nazi propaganda among the 7 million former union members but also exerted downward pressure on wages and working conditions.

Why was this one of the first acts Hitler took? Because he saw that the unions exercised significant and independent worker power. Many were under the influence of socialists and communists and they thus promoted a democratic and egalitarian outlook among the working class in their struggles against the bosses. Had they chosen to strategically exercise their power, the course of history may have been different.

As we head into an election where the results are uncertain and the spin will likely be fast and furious on November 7th, remember this history. Remember the need for mass collective action and the dangers of muting it. We must knock on doors and phonebank in the few days before the election. We will be stronger if the Republicans take major losses. Yet as socialists, we must remember that we have more than one tool in our toolbox, more than one strategy we should wield. As we do our get out the vote work, we must do so in ways that build our power — our lists, our skills, and our capacity as chapters, independent of candidates — so that we can pivot to the next stage of struggle once new conditions, new challenges, and new contradictions reveal themselves.

I encourage you to take time to read our National Electoral Strategy, discuss it with other members in your chapter, and use it to inform your approach to the home stretch until election day, November 6. The Strategy doc is far too long to print, but we made a two page flyer to prompt discussion locally if you wish. Click here for a downloadable version of this Dispatch.

October National Updates

ONE: Staffing

I’m pleased to announce our newest staffer, Heidi, who will be the Assistant to the National Director. Heidi is a longtime DSA member who has worked for the Rosa Luxemburg Stiftung since their New York office opened six years ago and before that did anti-sweatshop campaigns in the Brooklyn and Manhattan Chinatowns.

TWO: National Priorities Projects

National Electoral Committee

The NEC has been hard at work adding to the shared training videos folder, including instructional videos on voter registration and a training on direct action recorded in the runup to Kavanaugh’s confirmation. Let us know what you’d like to see more of and reach out to our electoral organizer Eric at [email protected] to connect with the NEC and learn about how national can support your electoral organizing.

Democratic Socialist Labor Commission

In addition to political education events, such as the Rank and File Strategy webinar with Kim Moody October 14, the DSLC is supporting union members and DSA labor committees standing in solidarity as workers across the country go on strike — from teachers to hotel workers to mineworkers and more.

Medicare for All

I’m thrilled that one of the foremost policy experts on Medicare for All, Sanders Institute fellow and former DSA national director, Michael Lighty, is touring to help DSAers organize the South and South West. The ALL IN tour has stops in Texas (Fort Worth, Dallas, San Angelo, Austin, Edinburg, and Houston), Florida (Orlando and Miami), Louisiana (New Orleans), and Arizona (Phoenix and Tucson), and ends in Oakland with an event with Jovanka Beckles.

THREE: Additional Regional Leadership Trainings

Our elected leadership, the National Political Committee, approved a budget expansion so we can organize more of the popular Regional Leadership Trainings (RLTs!) After our first round across the South and Midwest, we are now working with chapters to host trainings in:

  • Tacoma, WA
  • Sacramento, CA
  • Phoenix, AZ
  • Salt Lake City, UT
  • Asheville, NC
  • Portland, ME
  • Columbus, OH
  • Others not yet confirmed.

RLTs are intimate trainings for chapter leaders to build relationships with staff and other elected leaders in their region, and get intensive trainings on key organizing skills that can help them strengthen their chapters.

FOUR: Regional Pre-Convention Conferences

We are already planning for the 2019 national convention! The first thing we did was review the feedback from the 2017 convention. That year, our pre-convention process involved in-chapter meetings as well as a national “un-conference” via video conference online. Members loved the cross chapter discussion, but felt it was too late and rushed. Members also felt the NPC election process and the convention timeline was too opaque.

To respond to this concern, and recognizing that we are now doubled in size from 2017, I and other staff proposed to the NPC Convention Planning Committee that we organize a series of pre-convention regional “unity conferences” next spring. The goal is to improve on the process by providing earlier and equal access to conversations and information across the entire organization, because there are differences of opinions and perspectives about strategy across the country.

We would encourage the broadest member attendance possible (not just chapter leaders) and have small group political discussions to create an even playing field and opportunity for deep participation for all members. In accord with our “big tent” nature, we believe the political prompts should get at the central debates in the organization and be developed by people representing different political tendencies. We also proposed that there be a training component.

FIVE: New Organizing

We have officially lifted the moratorium on chapter and organizing committee applications and worked with a few applicants to beta test a new, more efficient process. As of today we have 26 applications that we are reviewing nationally, with many more folks working to organize in the pre-organizing committee phase. We have 52,000 members at this time and we are not losing steam – DSAers continue to organize.

Our student wing, the Young Democratic Socialists of America, is also going strong. In fact, Monday, October 15 is their first College for All day of action.

SIX: Building a Socialist Feminist DSA

Socialist Feminists, unleash your fury! We were not able to stop Kavanaugh, but the fight illuminated several things. One, the dangers of ignoring the political arena as a site of struggle. But two, the fact that sexual assault and harassment are widespread and far too often ignored.

To build a DSA culture where all members can fully contribute to our work, we must arm ourselves with the tools to fight and proactively prevent harassment. Our National Harassment and Grievance Officer Paula Brantner is attending the upcoming National Political Committee (NPC) meeting, October 20-21 in Los Angeles, to do a training and discuss next steps for her work, since she has identified a number of patterns across the organization. Her highest priority is grievances of people based on race, gender, or other aspects of identity, but we are also discussing a Code of Conduct and training for chapters around bullying in general. Paula hopes to provide trainings at the regional unity conferences in the spring. You can reach Paula at [email protected].

I also hope you find this Socialist Feminist Reading List, developed by Sarah Leonard and the Socialist Feminist Working Group in NYC, to be a useful tool for you or your chapter. In keeping with DSA’s big-tent best practices, the list includes a variety of political perspectives so members may reach their own political conclusions.

Finally, save the date October 23rd for a national webinar on abortion rights and the relationship of socialists to the courts. We’ll announce more details soon.

SEVEN: Resisting the Right

As you may know from my October 3rd email or the national training call we held for chapter and OC leaders, DSA has been targeted by the far-right’s Project Veritas, which released heavily-edited videos, obtained by secret cameras, of DSA members who work for federal agencies, identifying them by name. Left organizations have always been infiltrated by cops, other government agents, and provocateurs.

A key role of Project Veritas is to provide propaganda for Trump. Attacking democratic socialists in federal agencies can hit two birds with one stone — giving an excuse to undermine federal employee unions and feeding the narrative about Democrats in a “Deep State” undermining Trump. I expect this is part of their pre-election narrative building.

How should we respond? We should keep being open, proud socialists focusing on our positive vision of a world for the many, not the few, avoid paranoia, and refuse to feed Project Veritas and other trolls. Watch our training video with Project Veritas Exposed to learn how to protect yourself, your chapter, and your privacy. But keep doing what you’re doing! If you’re canvassing, schedule more tabling or door-knocking events. If you’re organizing rallies or marches, make them even bigger. Red-baiting and infiltrating Left wing movements is nothing new. The right uses these tactics in order to divide us and distract us so we become paranoid and take our eyes off the prize. Don’t fall for it!

In the coming weeks, we will be holding national webinars about the history of intervention in Left wing movements by outside actors and how we can build a resilient organizational culture. In the meantime, keep your eyes on November 6.

In this moment we must support each other to continue the struggle, no matter what happens.

In solidarity,

Maria Svart
DSA National Director