September DSA Dispatch

Our country is in flames. The Republican Supreme Court nominee Brett Kavanaugh calls birth control abortion and basic health and safety regulations government overreach. Police can apparently enter a private home without cause and shoot a man because he’s black, Democratic and Republican politicians can purge tens of thousands of voters from the rolls, federal agencies can refuse passports to U.S. citizens based on a dubious administrative decision and the color of their skin, Congress might kick 500,000+ children off of food aid while screwing family farmers, and prison officials can leave prisoners to drown in a hurricane. Let’s also not forget that Trump is flatly denying how many Puerto Ricans died because of Hurricane Maria and his FEMA’s neglect of the island, and his foreign policy takes US imperialism to a whole new level.

This litany is enough to make even an optimist pause. But we socialists tend to be, to paraphrase the famous Italian political theorist Antonio Gramsci “pessimists because of intelligence, but optimists because of will.”

My optimism was strengthened by a call I got last Friday from a mentor of mine, a longtime economic and racial justice organizer with deep roots in the labor movement. She has tremendously more experience than I, and she said “Maria, I need you to know something. We are all watching and cheering. Your victories mean we’re all winning. When you win, we win.” Her work is not explicitly on the ideological left, but she was naming the fact that our existence creates tremendous space for others in the movements for justice and demonstrates for all that another world is possible.

To use a favorite phrase of union organizer Jane McAlevey, we are raising expectations.

First, our candidates keep winning. From Rachel Miller for Providence RI City Council to Julia Salazar for New York State Senate, voters like what we’re saying. And while we still have to scale up for bigger races, Salazar showed the way, with her 18 point victory against a corrupt Democratic Party machine candidate who threw everything at her with the big real estate money he’s been guzzling.

We learned two key lessons from Salazar’s primary win: 1) the neoliberal Democrats will resort to dirty tricks to fight off viable democratic socialist challengers, and 2) we can win with old fashioned grassroots organizing that focuses on working class issues that resonate and takes the conversation to people’s doorsteps. The famous quote is true: “first they ignore you, then they laugh at you, then they fight you, then you win.” The political revolution that Bernie Sanders unleashed continues and is carried forward by working class candidates and us and our allies pounding the pavement. We are winning because of our policy message, not in spite of it.

Second, people joining DSA today will have a way to keep fighting long after November. Many chapters are in the midst of corporate or legislative pressure campaigns to take power from the capitalist class. Whether teacher strikes or tenant organizing, the abolish ICE actions or divestment campaigns, we know the class struggle continues. Since most people don’t think of political action as part of their daily or weekly lives, our job is to invite all members, and everyone we talk to in our communities and workplaces, into the work. That’s why we are so committed to training members how to be effective organizers – it’s how we build power.

In hopeless times, we are working together to build the mass, multi-racial, poor and working class movement it will take to win.

To that end, here are some updates from the national staff.

FIRST, we’re back to school organizing:

This month our student wing the Young Democratic Socialists of America launched their College for All national campaign as part of their fall recruitment drive, with a September 9th kickoff call including international guests from the Quebec and Chilean student movements. Click here if you are a student or know a student who might want to start a YDSA chapter. Click here to read our DSA YDSA Mutual Mentorship Guide if you are in a DSA chapter and want to support your local YDSA group.

YDSA also published, jointly with the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission, a booklet on Why Socialists Should Become Teachers. The guide has already been featured on Fox News!

SECOND, we’re building power at the base:

In the first half of the year almost 300 chapter and organizing committee leaders participated in seven weekend long Regional Leadership Trainings (RLTs), intensive organizing trainings designed to help them better strengthen their chapters. Staff Field Organizers set them up by region, working with local elected leaders, and the curriculum was updated based on months of conversations with front line leaders about what they need now. Strategic campaign design, member mapping and capacity building, power mapping and leadership development are key themes.

We capped participation at 45 people per training to ensure the intimacy that helped leaders dig into the subject matter with trainers and each other and build strong relationships outside their own local groups. Feedback has been very positive. “This sounds sappy as hell, but it was probably the best political activity I’ve ever done. I’m excited to put those things into practice locally.” “Fantastic. Fun, informative, inspiring.” “Transformational for our chapter.”

So far this year we have organized RLTs in Atlanta, GA, Houston, TX, Long Beach, CA, Minneapolis, MN, Orlando, FL, St. Louis, MO, and Wichita, KS, and we are planning more in other areas of the country. We also offered organizing support upon request for statewide meetings, such as in WV, and members organized gatherings on their own such as in PA.

Finally, we continue to organize online trainings and calls for members and chapter leaders.

  • The National Electoral Committee held a call about why electoral work matters with candidate for the Montana State House Amelia Marquez, Chicago Illinois Alderman Carlos Ramirez Rosa, Representative Mike Sylvester from the Maine State House, and candidate for the Pennsylvania State House Summer Lee, plus DSA members who have led electoral efforts in their chapters.
  • In response to white supremacists attempting to intimidate chapters, we organized a national chapter leader training about common sense meeting and information security practices.
  • We also organized a national direct action training for key target states with potential swing Senators, where chapters organized anti-Brett Kavanaugh actions.

THIRD, National Priorities Committees have updates:

Medicare for All

The Medicare for All campaign held its second Weekend of Action on August 11-12, when forty-seven chapters around the country participated in a coordinated set of actions to advance the fight for single-payer healthcare. We released a new turf cutting guide and held a training September 8 on how and why to cut turf – click here for the recording. We’re also asking DSA members to send letters to their congressional representatives, making sure those in the newly formed Medicare for All caucus in the House stay true to our 5 principles and asking those who haven’t yet co-sponsored HR676 or joined the caucus to do so.  Look for the letter templates to go up on our website soon.

If you’re looking for some inspiring reading to get your chapter activated in the fight for Medicare for All, check out “A Profound Break” by James Cole of Austin DSA.  Help us make Medicare for All a litmus test for all politicians this November!

Democratic Socialist Labor Commission

We have invited Kim Moody to discuss the history of the “rank and file strategy” on Sunday October 14 at 2pm EST / 1pm CST / 12pm MST / 11am PST.

Kim is the author of the pamphlet “The Rank and File Strategy” (originally published in 2000, and republished by Jacobin here.) He is also, among many other things, a co-founder of Labor Notes, and the author of many books, including most recently On New Terrain: How Capital is Reshaping the Battleground of Class War. Kim will be joining us on this zoom call from his current home in London, UK.

You must register for this call – click here to do so. When you register, you have the opportunity to submit questions for Kim in advance.

National Electoral Committee

The NEC has closed all national endorsements for the 2018 cycle, after making two final endorsements: Rachel Miller, running for Providence City Council in Rhode Island (who won her primary last week!) and Elizabeth Fiedler, candidate for the Pennsylvania State House.

In addition to the call for members with some of our elected or candidate members last month, our Training sub-committee is working on a series of additional training videos for chapters heading into November.

FOURTH, NPC and staff updates:

Staff Changes

It is with great sadness that I report the departure of Field Organizer Ryan Mosgrove. Ryan started with us as a campus organizer building up our YDSA program, then transitioned to DSA Field Organizer when we restructured the organizing department. Ryan will be going into the labor movement, but we expect him to become an active rank and file DSA member as well.

We’re also hiring! Click here to see job postings for Political Director and Field Organizer.

National Political Committee

Minutes from the July 21-22 National Political Committee (NPC), DSA’s elected national board, are now posted on the national website.

Included in the minutes is a report from a special, independent investigation into a member of the NPC. The NPC has accepted the report and is still considering next steps to fulfill the recommendations therein, but will be working with our National Harassment and Grievance Officer Paula Brantner to roll them out. All members are welcome to reach out to Paula with questions or concerns at nationalgrievanceofficer@dsausa.org.

FIFTH, conservative operatives target DSA:

As we see new growth and success, we also become the focus of increased scrutiny, surveillance, and attacks. Last week, James O’Keefe announced that he’s planning to release a video publicly exposing (aka doxxing) federal government workers who hold leftist political beliefs or engage in leftist organizing. The video clip includes images of the IRS, DOJ, EPA, and GAO buildings, specific reference to a “socialist organization,” and several voices of members of Metro Washington DC DSA.

Even if you are not in DC, if you work for a federal government agency or contractor, we recommend you take some time right now to lock down your social media accounts and activate two factor authentication on whichever platforms you use that provide that option. Click here to read our information security memo, and use Gizmodo’s guide to help make your social media accounts as private as possible.

Given our increasing success, it’s good practice to have a handle on what to expect and how you can best protect yourself against these types of attacks, individually as well as through the trainings we provide nationally for chapters, since we’re not backing down.

We are certainly at the stage where they are no longer laughing at democratic socialism.

So let’s keep fighting!