Stay Furious with Democratic Left’s Winter Issue: Socialist Feminism

DSA’s quarterly, Democratic Left, is now online — and it’s hard to express the richness of the Winter Issue on socialist feminism. But Maria Svart’s introduction, below, gave us a good start. Let us know what moves you the most! (Eds.)

First, Christine Riddiough reminds us of our forgotten history and points toward a twenty-first century socialist feminism. In DSA we have an opportunity to revive the socialist feminist movement, if we ensure a feminist analysis influences our class analysis, and a class analysis influences the feminist movement. The articles that follow elaborate on some key questions we face.

Marian Jones names reproductive justice as the more comprehensive alternative to the individualistic “choice” framing of neoliberal feminists. I’m reminded of a national march on Washington of my youth when women of color national organizations had to threaten a boycott to all of the mainstream national feminist organizations at the time to get the title changed from March for Choice to March for Our Lives.

The mainstream feminist movement still has that basic lesson to learn.

Angel M. Castillo brings a class analysis to the debate over sex-work decriminalization brought to the fore by SESTA-FOSTA bills earlier this year, while Waleeta Canon shows that class struggle, not individual empowerment, is how we collectively will get free.

Shelly Ronen and David I. Backer offer a socialist feminist analysis of the “rank-and-file” strategy for labor, and Laura Colaneri shows what socialist feminists across the country are doing. Abigail Gutmann-Gonzalez highlights Medicare for All as part of the solution for the “crisis in elder care”: unpaid labor of caring for our elderly.

Richie J. Floyd rounds out the issue by exploring the way we are socialized from birth into a harmful gender dichotomy glorifying violent masculinity, which not only inspires the far right but also weakens our own abilities to build a strong and resilient movement for democratic socialism.

What a fall it was! DSA members joined picket lines for hotel worker strikes; mobilized with direct actions, walkouts, and rallies against the appointment of Brett Kavanaugh to the Supreme Court; continued work with the nurses’ union for Medicare for All; and campaigned for members who ran for office and won.

As a socialist feminist, I admit I went into a bit of an emotional fetal position after Kavanaugh was appointed. I knew intellectually that this is how power works, but it was still a blow.

However, the struggle continues. People like you and me got right back into the fight, working with allies to elect members across the country, pass progressive ballot initiatives, and build the base we’re going to need in the months and years ahead. Blatant voter suppression demonstrated yet again that a capitalist economy normalizes undemocratic ideas, justifying not just the rule of the many by the few, but also the outright rigging of the system. Exit polls showed that too many working-class white women vote their race rather than their gender or class interests. The results on California Proposition 10 in support of rent control as well as various environmental ballot initiatives around the country illustrated the continued power of corporate money to sway the public, even in the face of a nationwide housing crisis and the threat of climate change.

As this issue of Democratic Left went to press, we heard that Stacey Abrams and Andrew Gillum recognized that they could not overcome the mass Republican disenfranchisement of black voters in Georgia and Florida. Education secretary Betsy DeVos proposed policies on campus rape that shields institutions and the accused. Police shot more black men. And the Wall Street Democrats signaled they would cave to Trump and the Republicans, rather than fight for bold, left-wing policies.

The lesson, as always, is that only collective action, only we ourselves, will save us.

Fortunately, we have the power to do it.

With the arrival of DSA members Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib in Washington, we’ve seen what a difference it makes to have warriors raising our vision and key issues on the public stage. But our true power comes from the grassroots. Our slogan during the Kavanaugh fight was “Unleash your fury.” The work now is to keep up the momentum and energy from the massive election turnout and catapult it into long-term, sustained organizing. One day spent on voting is not enough, no more than is any one rally or event. That is mobilizing. Now is the time for organizing.

Organizing is learning what will inspire people to move past their fear to action, how to build solidarity among them so that we grow our power. It is talking with and listening to those who don’t already agree with us and helping them see the choice we now face between socialism or barbarism.

Organizing is the only way we will harness our power. Teachers and other workers have learned this, as they lead the way in a massive strike wave unlike any in recent years. The ability to interrupt the flow of profits is our greatest source of power in the capitalist system.

Training the DSA Grassroots to Organize

At the 2017 DSA national convention, delegates made a commitment to training. One of the problems we face under neoliberal capitalism is the weakness of mass grassroots organizations, and in their relative absence it is critical to systematically train chapter and organizing committee leaders in all regions of the country in basic organizing skills. Our Regional Leadership Trainings are intimate spaces for local leaders to build relationships with staff and other elected leaders in their region and learn key organizing skills to help them strengthen their home chapters.

Workshops cover strategic campaign design; power mapping; coalition building; leadership development; building a healthy anti-racist, feminist organization; and having one-on-one organizing conversations. The national committees leading our three national priorities of labor, electoral, and Medicare for All each send a trainer to lead workshops, and we have breakout sessions by size of chapter and by state. After each training weekend, we update the curriculum based on feedback and participants take the workshops back to their home chapters.

By the end of 2018, we will have held 14 regional leadership trainings with more than 550 chapter and organizing committee leaders from every corner of the country, Alaska to Florida, Minnesota to Texas, Hawaii to Maine.

Preparing for the 2019 Convention

A key source of DSA’s power is that we are truly member run and independent. We are funded by membership dues rather than foundation or other institutional money, and members elect delegates who vote on organizational priorities and the National Political Committee at our national convention every two years.

The 2019 national convention will be this coming summer in the South! Feedback from the 2017 convention showed that members loved the cross-chapter discussions prior to the convention but thought that they came too late in the year and were too rushed. Many delegates arrived at the convention not understanding the NPC election process or the resolutions process.

This time, we are starting the organization-wide democratic process with a series of pre-convention regional conferences in February, March, and April. This will provide earlier and equal access to political conversations and information.

We will encourage the broadest member attendance possible and have small-group political discussions to create an even playing field and opportunity for deep participation for all members. Borrowing from our Regional Leadership Trainings, there will also be training on organizing and on using Robert’s Rules of Order in preparation for the convention. Working with our National Harassment and Grievance Officer, there will also be training for chapter Harassment and Grievance Officers. Watch my emails and the national website for details!

As we head toward the close of 2018, let’s work together to draw strength from understanding our differences and build the class struggle for 2019.