The 1995 AFL-CIO convention initiated a real but incomplete process of reform. How can labor activists fully realize its potential?
By Kurt Stand
socialistforum.dsausa.org/issues/spring-2021/the-afl-cios-regime-of-1995-a-partial-turning-point-for-labor/In Socialist Forum.
The list of workers looking to assert their rights through the collective power of unionism is long and growing: nurses, newspaper reporters, farm workers, tech engineers, warehouse workers, fast food employers, restaurant servers and bussers, retail workers, gig employees, college athletes, truckers, domestic workers, computer programmers, day laborers, auto workers – low-paid or comparatively well-paid, working at behemoths like Amazon and Walmart or at small non-profits and at coffee shops. Workers are showing resilience in sticking with union campaigns over the long haul. There is little evidence in mainstream, business or the labor press of unionizing employees attributing difficulties, setbacks or defeats to the limitations of unionism. The unfairness of our political system, the undue power of corporations and business executives, is no longer hidden.
That is a far cry from the 1980s and 1990s, when anti-union sentiment seeped into the general population. The media and too many politicians promoted the myth of overweening power wielded by union “bosses,” while the complacency and narrowness of too many union leaders made it all the more difficult to combat anti-labor lies and distortions. There were many in the labor movement, from rank-and-file members to some in national union leadership, who continued to organize on the basis of a genuine and consistent solidarity. But at the top levels of the AFL-CIO, and in some of the more seemingly stable unions whose leadership thought they could ride out any crisis, calls for solidarity were not backed by genuine conviction. In a time of devastating and unrelenting attacks on unionism, that combination meant not only defeat, but also pervasive demoralization.
At the same time, however, the outlines of a new orientation began to come into view. In 1995, the“ New Voices” slate challenged and defeated the existing AFL-CIO leadership at the federation’s national convention. John Sweeney was elected president, Richard Trumka secretary-treasurer, and Linda Chavez-Thompson executive vice president. Sweeney’s death in February 2021 provides an occasion to review the under-appreciated significance of that change, the progress that ensued, the possibilities that still need to be realized.
By Way of Background
The Secret IRS Files: Trove of Never-Before-Seen Records Reveal How the Wealthiest Avoid Income Tax
by Jesse Eisinger, Jeff Ernsthausenand Paul KielJune 8, 5 a.m. EDT
The lengthy document is covered by Creative Commons licensing – Thus it can be reposted.
Two major pieces of labor law legislation, both rooted in the concept of “sectoral bargaining,” are now being weighed in California and New York. California’s would represent a genuine advance for low-wage workers; New York’s would be a disaster.
Posted on Jacobin.
An important piece on labor law reform.
New York and California are the two largest blue states in the country, both with labor movements of creativity and power. Since congressional passage of the Protecting the Right to Organize (PRO) Act remains a long shot, much pro-labor legislative action still remains with the nation’s handful of progressive states, where the template for a new union movement — and the state laws sustaining it — is being forged.
So it’s important that in New York and California, some unions are pursuing two different legislative initiatives seeking to leverage the support they enjoy among elected officials in each state. At first glance both look good. But look closer and you see that one is an utter disaster, the other a social innovation with much progressive promise.
A Labor Law Reform Only Gig Companies Could Love
In New York, legislation that purports to create collective bargaining rights for gig-economy workers is being introduced in the State Senate, pushed by the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, and the Transport Workers Union, with support from the New York AFL-CIO.
Over three years ago, a group of close to two hundred DSA members came together to form the DSA North Star caucus. Many of us were veterans of decades of activism on the U.S. left and in DSA. A smaller number were younger, new to the left and DSA. What we had in common was a belief that the US was at a pivotal political moment, with the defeat of Donald Trump and the Trumpist GOP in the 2020 election being a political imperative. At stake was whether or not the U.S. would devolve into an openly authoritarian state of the far right with racism at its core, or maintain the elements of a democratic government we now possess, such as free and fair elections.
The founders of DSA North Star thought that DSA could and should play an important role in that struggle. There was extraordinary potential in DSA, given the growth of our ranks after the organization’s role in the 2016 campaign of Bernie Sanders and 2018 campaign of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. But we were concerned that the caucuses that had organized in DSA up to that point did not share our estimation of the importance of defeating Trump, and were instead guided by a sectarian opposition to meaningful involvement in electoral politics, either because they would only support third party candidacies or because they were electoral abstentionists. DSA North Star was a vehicle for advancing our political perspective on what DSA should do.
From its beginning, DSA North Star was something of an anomaly among DSA caucuses. We did not look to capture positions in the DSA leadership, but were happy to support NPC candidates from other caucuses whom we thought would make good leaders. We were not concerned if members of our caucus were also members of other caucuses, or of other democratic left organizations outside of DSA. Indeed, it was our experience that ultra-left and sectarian attitudes toward the world outside of DSA was invariably combined with factionalism inside the organization, and we were opposed to both. Over the three years of our existence, our major interventions inside DSA and the left – our statement of principles; our letter in support of AOC when she came under attack by ultra-leftists in DSA’s ranks; our letter of prominent socialists inside and outside DSA calling for a vote for Biden in 2020 that was published in the Nation; the essay by a number of our leading members of the dangers of entryism; our public forums – have been defined by a politics that sought to rise above sectarianism and factionalism to address the key questions of our moment.
After three years of existence, it is time to take stock of who we are and where we want to go. Part of the reason for doing so is take a look at what has changed – and not changed – in the politics of the U.S. Has the threat of a racist authoritarianism of the far right passed, or does it remain the defining issue of our day? And in what ways has DSA’s politics changed over the last three years? Do ultra-leftism, sectarianism and factionalism pose the same sort of danger within DSA that they did when we were formed? We should not assume that we are of a single mind on such questions, although we may well be, but instead have a full and robust discussion so we know for certain where we stand.
And part of the reason is that other caucuses in DSA are changing in ways that will impact us, and to which we will have to respond. One caucus has reached out to us and told us that they will tell their members who are also members of North Star that they can no longer remain members of both caucuses, and will have to make a choice between the two caucuses. How do we respond?
On the steering committee, there is common agreement on the value of continuing to articulate and organize our politics, inside DSA and the broader left. What is less clear is this: should we continue to call ourselves a caucus, even though we are different from other DSA caucuses in some major ways, or should we adopt a different term, such as a network, which may better describe the work we have done inside DSA and our views toward the broader left? The differences here may seem more semantic than practical, but how we choose to describe ourselves is a political choice, a statement of both of who we believe we are and of how we relate to the political world around us. It is a semantic choice that should be taken with care and deliberation.
We invite your thoughts. No decision has been made at this time.
A lively discussion among North Star members is continuing on our North Star list serve.
DSA North Star: The Caucus for Socialism and Democracy".
At the same time, however, there is risk that some members and/or organizational governing bodies will rely on these codes of conduct to avoid open discussion and debate of political differences. This route around political differences does DSA a disfavor. Use of codes of conduct in lieu of political discussion may intimidate a member or members from continuing to articulate a political position that might find additional support within DSA and will, if applied widely, effectively narrow the range of “acceptable” political positions. We will become a smaller rather than a larger tent organization and we will be less democratic.
North Star Steering Committee
Rising Protests Across U.S.
by Paul Garver
On Mayday, a lone man scrawled slogans in red paint on the front wall of the Myanma Oil and Gas Enterprise [MOGE] office on Pagoda Road in Yangon, Myanmar. The slogans demanded that four international energy companies, the largest being Chevron and Total, stop their payments to MOGE that provide monthly payments through their joint venture with MOGE that fund the murderous military machine that is at war with the people of Myanmar.
The man in Yangon was not standing alone. The legitimate civilian National Unity Government of Myanmar, now reconstituted to include representatives of the ethnic groups that have long fought for autonomy, made the same demands. Sheltering underground in Myanmar itself, Maung Maung, president of the largest union confederation, the CTUM, sent a similar message.
Around the world Burmese communities and solidarity organizations that support their cause have amplified that call for several weeks. Italia-Birmania Insieme [Italy-Burma Together] had already launched a GoFundMe appeal to provide essential communications equipment for the CTUM to maintain its network within Myanmar, and provided the platform for DSA to launch its own GoFundMe site for the CTUM. Campaigners from Info Birmanie in France, prior to the recent pandemic lockdown had demonstrated against Total’s payments to the military regime.
An informal working group of the Coalition against Chevron in Myanmar is composed of representatives of the various Burmese communities in the USA, together with organizations that have long been campaigning for human and worker rights in Myanmar, of several national environmental lobbyists and some members of the various subcommittees of the DSA International Committee. There is also a somewhat looser network that includes labor union representatives in the USA and Myanmar union leaders, some underground inside Myanmar, and others in temporary exile in the USA and Europe, together with their supporters and other Burmese and human rights solidarity organizers in Europe.
To date there have been significant organized protest actions targeting Chevron in Denver [April 11 and 16], Houston and Pasadena [April 17]; Washington DC, New York San Ramon [Chevron headquarters], all on April 16. Videos and other visuals available on the new public Facebook page of the Coalition against Chevron in Myanmar at https://www.facebook.com/groups/263548775494329. This Facebook page was created and maintained by the Burmese activists within the coalition.
Why target Chevron?
Chevron [ in its previous incarnation Unocal] has long been a target for human rights and environmental campaigners throughout the world. Its record throughout the world is notorious for its disregard for indigenous rights, in despoiling the environment and directly harming workers and communities. Besides Myanmar, Chevron is currently a target of environmental and worker rights campaigners in Ecuador and the Philippines, where it helps prop up Duterte just as it does the murderous military regime in Myanmar. In Richmond, California, Chevron spend millions of dollars to a failed try to unseat critics of its environmental pollution in that community [from one of its four large U.S. refineries].
In Myanmar Chevron and the French energy giant conglomerate Total are the major foreign partners in a joint venture natural gas offshore production and pipeline company with the military-controlled Myanmar Oil and Gas Corporation [MOGE]. Total and Chevron contribute directly to the military government through tax payments to the government and through direct monthly payments to MOGE. These revenues are currently the largest single source of income for the Myanmar military.
Burmese civil society organizations have taken the lead in demanding that payments to MOGE be suspended until the military stops their repressive actions and a more democratic government is installed. An appeal to Chevron and Total was endorsed by 403 Burmese civil society organizations: https://progressivevoicemyanmar.org/2021/04/20/open-letter-to-total-and-chevron/
Global labor organizations support this call. For one example, here is an official letter to Chevron from the United Steelworkers [USW] International President Tom Conway. The USW represents the workers at the Chevron refineries in the USA. https://docs.google.com/document/d/1gJxc8edR_FidQaH1TJxIx6eMB1qvaMYLC9kKcVyEuxQ/edit?usp=sharing
Media coverage resulting from the first wave of demonstrations
These demonstrations and statements helped call attention to how Chevron is bankrolling the Myanmar military’s war on its own people in the mass media.
The New York Times published an excellent report [4-23] on how Chevron is lobbying hard in DC against any restrictions on its profits from Myanmar. Chevron Lobbies to Head Off New Sanctions on Myanmar.docx – Google Docs
The editorial board of the Washington Post issued an Opinion supporting the goals of the campaign: https://www.washingtonpost.com/opinions/global-opinions/its-time-to-cut-off-the-gas-for-myanmars-military-coup-leaders/2021/04/22/83cdd5a0-a384-11eb-85fc-06664ff4489d_story.html
Action in the Biden administration and in Congress
Several environmentalist and labor organizations have been making the same case for cutting off payments from Chevron to the military regime in Washington DC. Sen. Markey conducted a subcommittee hearing of the Foreign Relations Committee that featured testimony from Thomas Andrews, the UN’s Special Rapporteur on Myanmar to the Human Rights Council. Andrews had made a comprehensive report that included his recommendation for international sanctions against MOGE and the natural gas joint venture. With action in the Security Council blocked by the threat of vetoes from Russia and China, Andrews made a plea for a coalition of member states to economically isolate the Myanmarmilitary.
With input from members of the Chevron campaign who lobby Congress on environmental and human rights issues, a bipartisan group of six U.S senators sent a letter calling on the Biden administration to freeze all foreign currency revenues and foreign exchange reserves held in state accounts outside of Myanmar. The senators said that the administration’s first step should be imposing sanctions on the state-owned Myanmar Oil and Gas Enterprise (MOGE), now under the control of the junta’s leaders.
The English-language The Irrawaddy [one of the few media sources that can still reach people in Myanmar] gave an extensive and accurate report: https://www.irrawaddy.com/news/burma/us-senators-call-for-sanctions-on-myanmar-oil-and-gas-enterprise.html.
This report was widely shared on social media in Myanmar that can evade strict military control of the internet. As the military crackdown continues, imprisoning, torturing and killing worker and democratic activists, reports like this keep hope alive that somehow worker rights and democracy can be restored to Myanmar.
The Coalition is planning more events and demonstrations in various places throughout May. Chevron is holding its annual shareholders’ meeting in San Ramon on May 26, while Total is holding its meeting on May 28 in Paris. If the companies have not voluntarily ceased payments to the military regime before then, there will likely be major protests in San Ramon. There may also be additional protests near the Chevron refineries in Richmond and Los Angeles CA and Houston TX sometime in May. For all updates and additional documents, go to the Coalition Against Myanmar Facebook site at https://www.facebook.com/groups/263548775494329
Posted from Beyond the Chron.
See post on Democratic Left
Why NS members should run for delegates to the 2021 DSA Convention
As we enter the run-up to the 2021 DSA convention, DSA has achieved a size similar to Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) at its peak. This is no small accomplishment. DSA is also more geographically and occupationally diverse than SDS was, although not more racially or gender diverse.
Now we face a very different political terrain than at our 2019 convention, and that implies different organizational and political priorities. First, DSA, like SDS, has had the luxury of recruitment by default – that is to say recruitment driven by opposition. In SDS it was opposition to the War in Southeast Asia; in our case much of our growth over the past four years was the result of Trump and Trumpism. That luxury has now ended. Of course, Trumpism – and Trump – have not gone away, but he and it are much less able to dominate the media or drive the political issues and policies, to define the universe of political discussion, than over the past four years.
The biggest changes since our 2019 convention are, of course, the defeat of Trump in the 2020 election and, closely related, the shift of the center of political gravity in the Democratic Party, and much of the electorate, to the left. No, the electorate did not vote a socialist into the presidency. But the broad left, of which DSA is an important component, elected a president and – barely – a Congress much more sympathetic to progressive ideas and policies.
So, what does this mean for DSA and why is it important that North Star’s voice be heard at and prior to the 2021 convention?
Because of our growth and the range of 2020 successful electoral victories (AOC and Rashida Talib were joined in Congress by Cori Bush and Jamaal Bowman, and many successful campaigns succeeded at the state and local level), there is a temptation, a siren song that attracts many of our members. Let’s rebrand DSA as the leading progressive voice, claiming that we are the true keepers of the progressive flame and can, on our own, lead the U.S. progressive forces.
North Star believes that this is exactly the wrong strategy for the coming years. We cannot jump the queue of political influence but must continue to build gradually up the ladder of political success. Rather than seeking to separate ourselves from the broad left of environmentalists, racial justice advocates, feminists, liberal reformers, and labor activists, and claiming the mantle of leadership, we need to immerse ourselves in the left. We can do that by both running but also supporting socialist and non-socialist candidates. These candidates will, of necessity when the election is partisan, usually run on the Democratic Party line. But our electoral work should be joined with our non-electoral education, agitation and organizing, around both policies such as M4A and wide goals such as reversing the dynamics that drive the approaching climate disaster.
Second, we believe that, rather than remain in an oppositionist stance, DSA must embrace the Biden administration policies when they further our ends while continuing to educate, organize and agitate for policies and politics that respond more fully to the needs of our people, in health care, in attacking economic inequality and in fighting the looming threat of climate change. The current administration has opened avenues in each of these – and other – arenas that we can expand and that can be the basis of a new approach to recruitment.
But there is also a dark side of the situation in which we are doing our political work: Trump and the supporters he mobilized are not going away. In fact, there are strands in his universe that are even more committed to his cultural and political agenda. And here is the real threat: the right has, to an impressive extent, waged Gramsci’s warfare on the cultural front, creating both institutions and a “common sense” that validates the “stolen election” meme as well as the rejection of science and the rise of the irrational in our political discourse. While we know that much of this is rooted in the fears on the part of whites, especially older, rural whites, of “displacement” by people of color, the chain of “reasoning” that drives these politics is often opaque and hard to tackle directly. Of course, we should always support efforts to counter Trumpism. But, since we will not be able to convert – and it is a conversion process – many now embedded in the world view of Christian white nationalism, DSA must be deeply engaged in the struggle to not just maintain but expand voting access and registration.
Certainly, there are other areas of political struggle that we in North Star know are important, but the foregoing alone is an urgent call for North Star members to run as delegates to the 2021 DSA convention. Our goals importantly include keeping DSA in the growing river of the progressive left in the United States and not in a small creek of purism and to salvage a democratic society for ourselves and our heirs by expanding the electorate to populations that have been historically – and again today – found their access to the ballot box called into question.
Steering Committee. North Star Caucus
North Star Caucus
National Day of Action for Immigrant Rights
Sat May.| details
On International Workers Day and Immigrant Rights Day, we recognize and celebrate workers and their right to organize. This May Day also concludes the first 100 days of Biden’s administration. In the next 100 days, the President and the Congress will decide whether to create the pathway to citizenship for the approximately 10 million undocumented people who call this country home.
At this week’s Moral Monday, viewers were urged to attend Movimiento Cosecha’s May Day Action in Washington DC, where activists and allies will demand sweeping immigration reform. We Californians can show our support at actions taking place across the state. Find a May Day event near you.
A closer look-at-teacher-insurgency/trendingineducation.com/20a-closer-look-at-teacher-insurgency/
April 22, 2021
Mike welcomes Dr. Leo Casey, the Executive Director of the Albert Shanker Institute who has written a book called The Teacher Insurgency: A Strategic and Organizing Perspective. They begin with Leo’s upbringing by two New York City teachers, how he abandoned his dissertation to teach in Crown Heights, and how he began working with the union when his school shut down.
Leo then began to head the Albert Shanker Institute, a strategic think tank within the American Federation of Teachers which examines labor history, especially for teachers. Leo explains the origins of the 2018 and 2019 teacher strikes: theJanus case, post-2008 austerity, deprofessionalization, and movements like the Women’s March on Washington. Teachers saw both their compensation as well as their position in the classroom undergoing rapid decline.
The first teacher’s strikes were held in West Virginia, which had a history labor movement–both within education and beyond. From here the strikes spread, and ultimately the movement was successful in protecting teachers during COVID-19 times (in this context, MIke mentions Leo’s article on Black Lives Matter and the NBA.)
Leo notes his concern about both the early retirement of teachers and the paucity in the pipeline for new teachers. Leo also expresses optimism for the Biden-Harris administration, notably President Biden’s support of unions. Leo finishes up by discussing the discourses around how teachers see themselves, and the need for true civics teaching.
If you like what you’re hearing, tell a friend and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts. Visit us at TrendinginEducation.com.
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A DEMOCRATIC FOOD SYSTEM MEANS UNIONS FOR FARMWORKERS
By David Bacon
Food First, 4/14/21
BURLINGTON, WA - Migrant indigenous farm workers on strike against Sakuma Farms, a large berry grower in northern Washington State, blocked the entrance into the labor camp where they live during the picking season. The strikers wanted to stop the grower from bringing in contract guest workers from Mexico to do the work they usually do every year.
The people who labor in U.S. fields produce immense wealth, yet poverty among farmworkers is widespread and endemic. It is the most undemocratic feature of the U.S. food system. Cesar Chavez called it an irony, that despite their labor at the system's base, farmworkers "don't have any money or any food left for themselves."
Enforced poverty and the racist structure of the field labor workforce go hand in hand. U.S. industrial agriculture has its roots in slavery and the brutal kidnapping of Africans, whose labor developed the plantation economy, and the subsequent semi-slave sharecropping system in the South. For over a century, especially in the West and Southwest, industrial agriculture has depended on a migrant workforce, formed from waves of Chinese, Japanese, Filipino, Mexican, South Asian, Yemeni, Puerto Rican and more recently, Central American migrants.
The dislocation of communities produces this migrant workforce, as people are forced by poverty, war and political repression to leave home to seek work and survive. Any vision for a more democratic and sustainable system must acknowledge this historic reality of poverty, forced migration and inequality, and the efforts of workers themselves to change it.
California's Tulare County, for instance, produced $7.2 billion in fruit, nuts and vegetables in 2019, making it one of the most productive agricultural areas in the world. Yet 123,000 of Tulare's 453,000 residents live below the poverty line. Over 32,000 county residents are farmworkers; according to the US Department of Labor the average annual income of a farmworker is between $20,000 and $24,999, less than half the median U.S. household income.
Poverty has its price. It has forced farmworkers to continue working during the COVID-19 pandemic, although they are well aware of the danger of illness and death. As the gruesome year of 2020 came to an end, Tulare County, where the United Farm Workers was born in the 1965 grape strike, had 34,479 COVID-19 cases, and 406 people had died. That gave it infection and death rates more than twice that of urban San Francisco, or Silicon Valley's Santa Clara County. COVID rates follow income. Median family annual income in San Francisco is $112,249 and in Santa Clara it's $124,055. Half of Tulare County families, almost all farmworkers, earn less than its median $49,687.
Democratizing the food system starts with acknowledging this disparity and seeking the means to end it. And in fact, the broader working class of California has concrete reasons for supporting farmworkers. COVID and future epidemics, for instance, do not stay neatly confined to poor rural barrios, but spread. Pesticides that poison farmworkers remain on fruit and vegetables that show up in supermarkets and dinner tables. Labor contractors and temporary jobs were features of farmworker life long before precarious employment spread to high tech and became the bane of UBER drivers.
The rural legacy of economic exploitation and racial inequality was challenged most successfully in 1965, when the grape strike began first in Coachella, and then spread to Delano. It was a product of decades of worker organizing and earlier farm worker strikes, and took place the year after civil rights and labor activists forced Congress to repeal Public Law 78 and end the bracero contract labor program.
The grape strike was a fundamental democratic movement, started by rank-and-file Filipino and Mexican workers. Although some couldn't read or write, they were politically sophisticated, had a good understanding of their situation, and chose their action carefully. Growers had pitted Mexicans and Filipinos against each other for decades. When Filipinos acted first by going on strike, and then asked the Mexican workers, a much larger part of the workforce, to join them, they believed that workers' common interest could overcome those divisions. Their multi-racial unity was a precondition for winning democracy in the fields.
Philip Veracruz, a Filipino grape picker who became a vice-president of the UFW, wrote during the strike's fourth year: "The Filipino decision of the great Delano grape strike delivered the initial spark to explode the most brilliant incendiary bomb for social and political changes in U.S. rural life."
The strike's impact was enormous. Fifteen years after it started, farmworkers achieved the highest standard of living they've had in the years before or since. In the union contracts negotiated in the late 1970s the base wage was 2.5 to 3 times the minimum wage of the time, the equivalent in California of what would be $37-45 per hour today. The worst pesticides were banned, and for a decade union hiring halls kept labor contractors out of the fields.
By striking, farmworkers in 1965 were demanding the democratization of the food system. Winning the first and most basic step - a union contract - required overcoming the division between rural and urban people. Workers left the fields, traveled across the country, recruited allies, and stood in front of stores in the cities, appealing to consumers not to buy the struck grapes. Of all the achievements of the farmworkers' movement, its most powerful and longest enduring was the boycott. It leveled the playing field in the fight with agricultural corporations over the right to form a union, and led to the most powerful and important alliance between unions and communities in modern labor history.
Farm worker strikes have traditionally been broken by strikebreakers, and all too often, drowned in blood and violence. No country has done more than the U.S. to enshrine the right of employers to break strikes. From their first picket lines in Delano, members of the new union, the United Farm Workers, watched in anger as growers brought in crews of strikebreakers to take their jobs. The boycott couldn't end the violence, but after farm workers crossed the enormous gulf between the fields and the big cities, they didn't have to fight by themselves.
The boycott was a participatory, democratizing strategy, and since then it has become a powerful tool for community-based union organizing. Today alliances between unions and communities are a bedrock of progressive activism. Farmworker strikes and boycotts helped develop this strategy, and gave the UFW its character as a social movement.
In 2013 farmworkers used that experience when they went on strike against the Sakuma Brothers blueberry farm in Burlington, Washington. For four years they combined strikes in the fields with a boycott of Sakuma's main client, Driscoll's, the world's largest berry distributor. Their campaign succeeded in winning a union contract, and developed new ways to fight for rural democracy.
To see more photos go to the linked articles.
Since the mid-1980s a growing part of the migrant flow into U.S. fields has come from the states of southern Mexico, especially the indigenous Mixtec, Triqui and other communities of Oaxaca and the most remote parts of Mexico's countryside. Migrants speaking the languages of these towns formed a new union in the heat of the Sakuma strike, Familias Unidas por la Justicia. Their fight for higher wages was closely bound to the right to speak Mixteco and Triqui, and to develop indigenous culture in rural Washington state towns two thousand miles from their home villages. Their struggle for cultural rights expanded the meaning of rural democracy.
The strike at Sakuma Farms started when the company made obvious its intention to replace its existing workers with a new set of migrants, recruited in Mexico and brought to the U.S. in the H2-A visa program. The union fought successfully for the rights and jobs of Sakuma's existing employees, the Mixteco and Triqui farmworkers already living and working in the U.S. But in the years that followed their union also became the primary source of support for H2-A workers themselves, when they protested about abusive conditions.
Familias Unidas organizers came to the defense of workers at one company, who were fired and forced to leave the U.S. after protesting the death of an H2-A worker, Honesto Silva. They helped guestworkers on other farms protest exhausting production quotas. And when H2-A workers began to get sick and die after contracting the coronavirus in their crowded living quarters, Familias Unidas por la Justicia sued the state over grower-friendly regulations that allowed the virus to spread.
Sakuma Farms workers discovered in the course of their strike that the U.S. food system is a transborder system. In 2015 a similar strike movement began in Baja California, among the strawberry pickers at Driscoll's and other growers in the San Quintin Valley. Workers there come from the same towns in Oaxaca, even the same families, as the strikers in Washington State. Both groups found that challenging the big growers, and winning the right to a voice over working and living conditions, ultimately means cooperation and solidarity across the U.S./Mexico border.
The largest agricultural employers have responded to demands by workers for economic and racial democracy by proposals to expand the H2-A contract labor system, criticized for being "close to slavery." The largest recruiters of H-2A workers have enormous influence over immigration policy. With no limits on the number of visas issued annually, their recruitment of workers has mushroomed from 10,000 in 1992 to over 250,000 in 2020 - a tenth of the U.S. agricultural workforce.
Their principal proposal in Congress today is the Farm Workforce Modernization Act. It sets up the conditions for enormous growth in the H2-A program, and would likely lead to half the farm labor workforce in the U.S. laboring under H2-A visas within a few years. The bill will prohibit undocumented workers from working in agriculture, while implementing a restrictive and complex process in which some undocumented farmworkers could apply for legal status.
Instead of competing for domestic workers by raising wages, growers seek a supply of H2-A workers whose wages stay only slightly above the legal minimum. This system then places workers with H-2A visas into competition with a domestic labor force, depressing the wages of all farmworkers. As the program grows, domestic workers have to compete with growers for housing, and rents rise. When guest workers are pressured to speed up their work, an exhausting work pace spreads to the other farmworkers around them.
For farmworkers trying to organize and change conditions, the H2-A program creates enormous obstacles. When H-2A workers themselves try to change exploitative conditions, employers can terminate their employment and end their legal visa status, in effect deporting them. Workers are then legally blacklisted, preventing their recruitment to work in future seasons. Farmworkers living in the U.S., thinking about organizing or going on strike, have to consider the risk of being replaced.
Growers threaten that if wages rise, consumers will have to pay much higher prices for food. Yet a woman picking strawberries in a California field gets less than 20¢ for each plastic clamshell box, which sells in the supermarket for $3-4. Doubling her wage would hardly change the price in the store. Yet the food system is built on her poverty, and growers' efforts to build a labor force of temporary workers cements that poverty into place.
Democracy in the fields is based on the idea that farmworkers belong to organic communities - that they are not just individuals without family or community, whose labor must be made available at a price growers want to pay. When Familias Unidas por la Justicia set up a coop to grow blueberries, Tierra y Libertad, it sought to create instead a new basis for community, a system in which workers could make the basic decisions as a community - about what to grow, how land should be used, and how to share the work without exploitation.
Rosalinda Guillen, the daughter of a farmworker family and founder of Communty2Community, the main support base for the strikers at Sakuma Farms, believes that a democratic system for food production can't be achieved if farmworkers continue to be landless. "The value of what we bring to a community is blatantly waved aside," she charges. "We're invisible. Our contributions are invisible. That's part of the capitalist culture in this country. We are like the dregs of slavery in this country. They're holding onto that slave mentality to try to get value from the cheapest labor they can get. If they keep us landless, if we do not have the opportunity to root ourselves into the communities in the way we want, then it's easy to get more value out of us with less investment in us. It's as blunt as that."
Organizing a union doesn't give farmworkers land, and Guillen cautions that its goals are more immediate and limited. " It's not enough to say we've got X number of union contracts," she say. "Those workers are still in a fight. They're fighting everyday for their existence."
But getting land and reorganizing production requires political power, just as raising wages does. And the food monopolies controlling land and production won't give up their power without a fight. Unions for farmworkers, therefore, are the first, most basic step to power. Democratizing the food system without the organized power of the workers within it will remain just a dream.
BELLINGHAM, WA - Marchers commemorate the death of H2-A guestworker Honesto Silva, and support the creation of the new farmworkers cooperative, Tierra y Libertad.
Online Interviews and Presentations
Exploitation or Dignity - What Future for Farmworkers
UCLA Latin American Institute
Based on a new report by the Oakland Institute, journalist and photographer David Bacon documents the systematic abuse of workers in the H-2A program and its impact on the resident farmworker communities, confronted with a race to the bottom in wages and working conditions.
If the Left is to succeed where past generations have failed, it can’t allow sectarian organizations to operate as “parties within a party.”
BILL BARCLAY, LEO CASEY, JACK CLARK, RICHARD HEALEY, DEBORAH MEIER, MAXINE PHILLIPS, CHRIS RIDDIOUGH AND JOSEPH M. SCHWARTZ MARCH 30, 2021
The remarkable growth of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) over the past four years, from a group with a few thousand members to one with fifteen times that number, has made it the most significant U.S. socialist organization in nearly a century. Successful campaigns to elect open democratic socialists to public office have given the DSA real, if still embryonic, political influence. Four members -- Jamaal Bowman, Cori Bush, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib -- now sit in the House of Representatives. Together with Bernie Sanders in the Senate, this is the largest number of self-avowed democratic socialists ever to hold Congressional office simultaneously, to say nothing of the scores of DSA members who have been elected to state legislatures, county boards and city councils in recent years.
As DSA has grown in size and political influence, so too has the interest it has attracted from small political groups to its left. These “sects,” short for sectarian organizations, see opportunities for themselves in the large numbers of young people new to politics who have joined DSA, viewing them as potential recruits for their emaciated ranks.
The recent announcement of the Trotskyist organization Socialist Alternative (SAlt) that its members were coming aboard, followed by a similar declarationfrom its leading member, Kshama Sawant, has simply made public a process that has been underway for some time -- that various marginal Trotskyist organizations have infiltrated the DSA in a practice known as “entryism.”
What is entryism and what kind of impact could it have on DSA?
Let’s start with this disingenuous passage in the SAlt announcement:
We realize that DSA has a national “ban” on members of democratic centralist organizations joining. However, many DSA members we’ve talked to oppose this Cold War holdover and are excited about Socialist Alternative members joining. While this rule was originally created to prevent Marxists from joining DSA, in recent years, a new generation of DSA activists have changed the organizations’ politics for the better, many of them identifying as Marxist. We think DSA should remove this exclusionary rule as another useful step towards transforming the socialist left into an important component for the emerging class struggles.
We, the undersigned, were involved in the crafting and adoption of the DSA Constitution that the SAlt communiqué alluded to. We have been a part of DSA’s first generation of national leadership, and we have served in its two predecessor organizations, the New American Movement and the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee. SAlt’s claim that Marxists have been “banned” from joining DSA is a self-serving fiction, and they know it.
Many in the original leadership of DSA identified as Marxists. Michael Harrington, one of our two national co-chairs and our most prominent leader at the time of DSA’s founding, wrote a number of widely read books in which he made a case for Marx’s vision of socialism as democratic. Others of us who did not call ourselves Marxists never considered that they should be excluded from DSA.
Even if DSA’s founders had not included many self-avowed Marxists, simple logic dictates that if we did not want them in our ranks, our Constitution would have explicitly prohibited them from joining. It did not. Contrary to the fables of SAlt, there are no political or ideological tests for joining DSA, no “bans” on who can join, and no approval process for new members. Don’t take our word for it: Read the document as it’s written. Ask yourself how any member of SAlt, past and present, could have joined DSA.
DSA’s founders believed that we should assume the good faith of those who wanted to join our ranks, but we were not naïve. We were experienced and battle-hardened democratic socialists who had come from every part of the U.S. Left: women and men who had been leaders of the Socialist Party, the Communist Party, and various Trotskyist organizations, who were part of the Old Left of the 1930s and the New Left of the 1960s, and who came out of trade unions and civil rights, feminist and LGBTQ groups.
Assumptions notwithstanding, our rich collective memory told us that there would be small numbers of people who joined DSA in bad faith, that these people would behave in ways that were injurious to the mission and work of DSA, and that this behavior would need to be addressed. We knew from our history that the more successful DSA became, the more people would enter it for reasons other than advancing its mission. In the most extreme of these cases, DSA could well find that it needed to use the most serious penalty a democratic organization can levy against a member -- expulsion. And given the gravity of such a step, we wanted to make sure that the Constitution specified its conditions so it would not be employed capriciously. Moreover, we wanted to ensure that there was due process for the member being expelled.
With this in mind, we wrote the following:
Members can be expelled if they are found to be in substantial disagreement with the principles or policies of the organization or if they consistently engage in undemocratic, disruptive behavior or if they are under the discipline of any self-defined democratic-centralist organization. Members facing expulsion must receive written notice of charges against them and must be given the opportunity to be heard before the NPC or a subcommittee thereof, appointed for the purpose of considering expulsion.
The first two grounds for expulsion are self-explanatory. The last ground -- that a person was “under the discipline of any self-defined democratic centralist organization” -- requires some historical background.
Entryism in the 1930s
In 1928, the U.S. Communist Party banished a small group of individuals from its ranks on the grounds that they were associates of Leon Trotsky, the Bolshevik leader who had been purged from the Communist Party of the Soviet Union during a factional struggle that had broken out after Lenin’s death. For years, these renegades were spurned by the rest of the U.S. Left while they sought readmission to the CP in vain. By the mid-1930s and the start of the Moscow Trials in the Soviet Union, it was clear that their expulsion would not be reversed, and the Trotskyists began to look for ways out of the political wilderness in which they found themselves.
In the American Workers Party (AWP), organized by labor educator A. J. Muste, they saw a path back to relevance. The AWP was an attempt to form a uniquely American revolutionary Marxist party that broke with a U.S. Left whose politics were beholden to different strains of European socialism and communism. In its very brief existence, the AWP had done impressive labor organizing, highlighted by its leadership of the Toledo Auto-Lite strike -- one of the epic work stoppages of the 1930s.
Muste was initially skeptical of Trotskyist appeals to combine forces. The AWP was a more substantial organization with deeper roots in the labor movement, and he found the Trotskyist leaders to be dogmatic and uncreative in their politics. Nonetheless, New York intellectuals Sidney Hook and James Burnham convinced him that a merger was a good idea. But Muste did place one condition on agreeing to the merger: that the Workers Party (WP) would not enter the Socialist Party.
This was a key point for Muste because the French Trotskyists, acting under the direction of Trotsky himself, had just allied with the French Socialists in a maneuver that came to be known as the “French turn.” After a short stay in the French Socialists, during which they garnered recruits and promoted their politics, the Trotskyists split its ranks, denounced the Socialists, and reorganized as a purely Trotskyist party. Muste was promised that this would not happen in the United States.
Almost immediately, the Trotskyists went back on their word, forcing the question of entry into the U.S. Socialist Party. Weakened by the loss of long-term political associates who were unwilling to join forces with the Trotskyists, Muste lost the vote and the Workers Party, now firmly under Trotskyist control, entered the Socialist Party.
Once inside, the Trotskyists acted as a “party within a party,” maintaining their own leadership structure (which regularly plotted factional moves within the Socialists) and publishing their own newspaper (which criticized the policies of the Socialist Party and promoted such Trotskyist projects as the founding of a Fourth International). Most important, all of the Trotskyists in the Socialist Party acted as one, under a single organizational discipline: they followed a pre-established “political line” Trotskyist leadership had laid down in all debates and votes inside the Socialist Party.
In short order, the Trotskyists forced a split in the Socialists and left with a thousand new members for their Socialist Workers Party (SWP), including much of the Socialists’ youth section. After this stratagem was complete, Trotskyist leader James Patrick Cannon boasted not only of the Trotskyists’ success in growing their numbers, but also of the fact that they had left the Socialist Party in shambles.
Cannon took pride in having engineered a major setback for the U.S. Left: By the 1930s, the ranks of the Socialist Party had grown dramatically, making it into a potentially significant force in U.S. politics. But after a series of misjudgments and internal crises, cresting with its disastrous co-habitation with the Trotskyists, the Socialist Party ended the decade as a shadow of its former self. For U.S. socialists of the 1930s, a number of whom would co-found the DSA decades later, this was a searing political ordeal they would not forget. Muste himself was deeply shaken by these events, which he would describe as a violation of “working class ethics,” and he left the Trotskyists.
The Trotskyists’ entry into the Socialist Party, organized as a disciplined “party within a party” to garner recruits and split its ranks, established the template for what we now call “entryism” on the U.S. Left.
Entryism in the 1960s
Entryism is not a practice limited to Trotskyist sects, as the experience of Students for a Democratic Society (SDS) in the 1960s shows. The 1960s were a period of mass upsurge, much like the 1930s and our current time. The civil rights movement and the opposition to the war in Vietnam generated unprecedented levels of political activism among young people, and SDS grew mightily among white students, approaching an estimated 100,000 members at its peak. Much like DSA and the earlier Socialist Party youth section, the vast bulk of the SDS recruits were new to politics, making it a rich hunting grounds for small, disciplined ultra-left groups.
One of these was the Progressive Labor Party (PLP). Founded in 1962 after splitting from the Communist Party, PLP was initially supportive of Maoist China but would soon decide that even Mao was insufficiently communist for their tastes. It would then position itself as the most dogmatically Stalinist sect on the U.S. Left.
By 1966, PLP was recruiting inside the SDS, where it urged members to adopt its ultra-Stalinist politics and seize control of the SDS organizational infrastructure. PLP’s efforts at taking over SDS set off a destructive cycle, producing counter-factions that included a group that later became the Weathermen. Within a decade, the SDS would be destroyed.
Herein lie the dual dangers of entryism. On the one hand, it poses a threat to the organizational integrity of an open and democratic organization. Entryism is the sectarian equivalent to a hostile corporate takeover designed to split or seize control of its target organization. At a minimum, it seeks to poach members new to politics who may not be aware of the stratagem being employed. On the other hand, it disrupts the internal democratic processes of that organization, which depend on members engaging in honest debate and deliberation over policies and political strategies.
Entryists enter all debates and votes not with an open mind and a willingness to be persuaded, but with the express intent of advancing a political line that has already been decided in advance. Such tactics can quickly poison democratic political cultures, especially when opponents resort to the kinds of tactics they did in SDS.
To be politically effective, democratic socialist organizations need to develop methods of unity in action. These include open and full discussions of issues, democratic decision-making processes, and a commitment by all not to impede or undercut decisions once they have been democratically made. When entryist sects function as a disciplined “party within a party,” they undermine that unity in action.
Just as DSA’s founders remembered what the Trotskyists did to the Socialist Party in the 1930s, its first generation of members saw what Progressive Labor did to SDS in the 1960s. Two organizations that gave the Left its best chance to exercise real political power in the U.S. had ended disastrously, in large measure because of sectarian entryism. (These techniques similarly sabotaged a promising national movement of socialist-feminists in the 1970s.)
DSA’s Constitution singles out members “under the discipline of any self-defined democratic-centralist organizations” for possible expulsion to prevent these very outcomes. The drafters chose their words carefully: they do not specify a political belief or even membership in an organization, instead targeting those who aim to form a “party within a party” like the Trotskyists and the Stalinist PLP before them. This language has everything to do with ensuring the survival of an open, democratic institutions and absolutely nothing to do with “Cold War” politics.
The Socialist Alternative understands this, despite its claims to the contrary. After all, SAlt is the progeny of one of the best-known entryist projects in international socialist history, the Militant Tendency of the British Labour Party. From their founding in 1964 to their expulsion in the 1980s, these Trotskyists operated as a disciplined “party within a party” inside of Labour, using the entryist tactics described above.
SAlt was founded as Labor Militant in 1986 by members of the British Militant Tendency who had moved to the United States as part of an organized effort to create a Trotskyist international. (It adopted its current name in the late 1990s.) Perhaps unsurprisingly, the organization has splintered into several smaller factions since its founding amid personality conflicts, and there now exist competing internationals, although SAlt remains the largest group in the United States.
Why, then, is it trying to join DSA? SAlt’s own statement indicates that it opposes the very strategy that has allowed DSA to grow over the last four years -- campaigns to elect democratic socialists to office, using the Democratic Party ballot line -- so it would be hard to make a case for a political convergence. In this light, SAlt’s call to eliminate any barriers to entryism in DSA constitution is telling.
Openings for socialists don’t come along often in United States: only three times in the last 100 years has the Left had a change to make a major political breakthrough. DSA, with its rapid growth and electoral victories, could be central to such a breakthrough. Which is why we must acknowledge the deleterious role entryism played in the radical movements of the 1930s and 1960s. If we are to succeed where past generations have failed, it is vital that we not repeat their mistakes.
BILL BARCLAY is an economist who served as Political Secretary of NAM and was a member of its National Committee; he was a member of DSA’s National Political Committee at its founding.
LEO CASEY is a teacher unionist who was a member of NAM’s National Committee; he served as the National Field Director of DSA and a member of its National Political Committee at its founding.
JACK CLARK is a workforce educator who was the first national organizer of DSOC and member of its National Committee; he was a member of DSA’s National Political Committee at its founding.
RICHARD HEALEY is a political organizer and strategist who served as National Director of NAM and was a member of its National Committee; he was a member of NAM’s National Political Committee at its founding.
DEBORAH MEIER is an educator who was a Vice-Chair of DSOC and a member of its National Committee; she was a member of DSA’s National Political Committee at its founding.
MAXINE PHILLIPS is an editor who served in that role for the national publication of DSOC and DSA, Democratic Left; she was a member of DSA’s National Political Committee at its founding, and would later serve as its Executive Director.
CHRIS RIDDIOUGH is a strategic planner in the field of information technology who was a member of NAM’s National Committee; she was a member of DSA’s National Political Committee at its founding, and would later serve as its Executive Director.
JOSEPH M. SCHWARTZ is a political scientist who was a national organizer of DSOC’s Youth Section and a member of its National Committee; he was a member of DSA’s National Political Committee at its founding and for many decades after.
Originally published as Opinion, in In These Times. March 30,2021
ON THE DREAM & PROMISE & THE FARM WORKFORCE MODERNIZATION ACTS
For 35 years, NNIRR has been an organization committed to the human rights and dignity of all migrants and refugees. We have challenged punitive policies that have led to the criminalization of migrants and the militarization and terrorization of communities in the border region, and have uplifted the important work of grassroots organizations across the country in their organizing for protections, rights and justice. As an organization rooted in the intersectional struggles of the experiences of migrants and refugees, we cannot support the two bills that passed the House on March 18, 2021 as they are currently written.
The passage of the American Dream and Promise Act (HR6) and the Farm Workforce Modernization Act (HR 1063) in the House of Representatives attempt to resolve a longstanding debt to dreamers, farmworkers, and TPS holders. While these legislative bills begin to address long-standing challenges, they are still far from fulfilling the Biden administration's commitment to modernize and re-imagine our immigration system —a promise made by this administration to recognize the essential work of immigrants in the United States.
The Dream and Promise Act’s broad criminal bars and secondary review processes mirror the deep-rooted racial bias of the criminal justice system, effectively blocking youth of color, who have been targeted by racist policing, from the possibility of ever regularizing their status. For those that would qualify under this program, the proposed ten-year conditional status would subject applicants to years of negotiating a permanent residency through administrative procedures, appeals of denial, and even removal orders. This bill assumes the continued political will of the executive, congressional and judicial branches of government beyond the current administration’s time in office. Dreamers and TPS holders should be regularized unconditionally and expeditiously. They have the right to remain in this country, where they belong.
Similarly, the Farm Workforce Modernization Act recognizes that our food and agricultural systems fundamentally depend on migrant workers. However, the bill mandates a long and complicated path to legalization, expands exploitative guest worker programs, and imposes salary freezes, among many other provisions that perpetuate labor injustices. Migrant farmworkers are one of the most exploited sectors of our workforce. For decades, the Agrobusiness industry has gone unregulated, forcing workers, documented and undocumented, to accept low-wages and exploitative working conditions that deter them from accessing healthcare, food security, and safe housing. These administrative barriers, in the form of complex procedures or restrictive interpretations, and the lack of labor oversight, undermine the purpose of this legislation.
Dreamers, TPS holders, and farmworkers continue to be on the frontlines of the Covid-19 pandemic without basic labor or health protections. They have waited many decades to regularize their status, working in the shadows with no social safety nets. NNIRR urges congressional and community leadership to oppose provisions and legislation that would exclude thousands, if not millions, of Black, Latino, and Asian youth as well as elderly farmworkers, from gaining timely access to residency and citizenship.
NNIRR stands with Dreamers, TPS holders, farmworkers and community organizers who have worked tirelessly for legislative relief for migrant communities. This is the time to push further for broad and inclusive legislation that regularizes the status and ensures the full integration of all undocumented migrants and refugees. It has been almost 35 years since the last window for regularization and we can’t wait another year to bring meaningful relief from fear of deportation.
National Network for Immigrant and Refugee Rights.
MARCH 19, 2021 by DON MCINTOSH, PUBLISHED ON DEMOCRATIC LEFT.
Bronx Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, best known as AOC, is DSA’s foremost socialist superstar. Her June 2018 primary win—a 29-year-old taqueria bartender defeating the third most powerful Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives—inspired up to 10,000 people to join DSA.
The Netflix documentary Knock Down the House details her life story leading up to that victory. Since then, her influence has only grown. Earnest, fun, relatable, and fierce, she became one of Congress’ best known members overnight, and used the attention to pull the national conversation leftward. In October 2019, her endorsement revivified Bernie Sanders’ campaign following his heart attack.
Today—with over 12 million Twitter followers, her picture on the December cover of Vanity Fair, and mass cultural appeal to teens and the not-yet-political—she continues to use her unasked-for celebrity to build support for a democratic socialist agenda. On Jan. 28, more than a quarter of a million people streamed her impromptu teach-in on the gamer platform Twitch.tv. The topic was the GameStop stock market rebellion, but the discussion encompassed a critique of Wall Street and a plug for a wealth tax.
AOC spoke with me by Zoom Jan. 26.
What was your path to joining DSA?
I love this question because I think that my path in DSA very much shaped my organizing strategy. I didn’t grow up in an incredibly ideological household. I have friends that grew up the children of unionists, professors, individuals two or three generations deep into working class movements. That was not my family. I grew up very working class. My mother cleaned houses. My father had a small business. Both my parents grew up in extreme poverty.
What initially drew me to DSA was the fact that they showed up everywhere that I showed up. I started my work as a community organizer before I even knew about the existence of DSA, and I was busy doing work in my community, working with children, working with families, advocating for educational equity. A friend of mine invited me to a DSA meeting in the Bronx/Upper Manhattan Branch. We were in the basement of a church uptown, in Washington Heights I believe. It was my first time being exposed to DSA, and to me it was like, ‘Okay, we’re hearing all this rhetoric and having discussions.’ And I’m like, ‘Okay, another group of folks talking.’ Like this is great, this is encouraging.
This was around the time when DSA was picketing one of the major camera companies in New York City, trying to call attention to the warehouse workers. And they brought undocumented warehouse workers to the meeting, and translated their testimony. And on top of that, the chapter had free childcare provided to anyone who wanted to show up. And that to me … at the end of that meeting, I was like, ‘Okay, this is real.’
You know, there’s a lot of people who talk about class issues, there’s a lot of people who are deep in the discourse of struggle. But to me, as someone who grew up in these environments, it was the translation to action that was distinctive to me.
That is what made DSA initially distinctive to me, and made it something that was flagged to me as worthy of continued attention. And then Jabari Brisport ran for City Council. It felt like something fundamentally different to me, even in the context of electoralism.
Ironically enough, before I ran for Congress, and before Jabari had run for City Council in that first race, I myself had huge doubts around electoralism. That’s why I dove into community organizing, because I was one of those folks that felt, “We’re not going to get any substantive change through electoral politics. It’s just not going to happen.”
I felt that way because I grew up around Bronx machine politics, where there was a lot of cynical use and weaponization of identity under the guise of lobbyist-driven policies and corporate policy. I had essentially given up on it, and I felt the only way we’re going to do this is by committing ourselves to our communities.
And so it was that first meeting that I felt, ‘Okay, this is something that’s real.’ Also, in the history of New York City and in communities of color, when you have the Young Lords and you have this organizing heritage, there has historically been tension between DSA and these organizing collectives of color, whether it was Latino and Puerto Rican collectives, Chicano collectives, black collectives…. It was like, “Oh, it’s these white folks. [LAUGHS.] There was this historical fissure. But it really felt like a moment where we were coming together. And so when I would see DSA showing up providing real structural support at BLM rallies, or support for abolishing ICE, where we felt like there wasn’t this class essentialism, but that this really was a multiracial class struggle that didn’t de-prioritize human rights, frankly, I was really impressed. And I felt like it was something worth being part of.
My run for Congress, so much of it was based in coalition building. In the New York City context, I wasn’t a DSA candidate that was homegrown from the start. I went through a process of earning the DSA endorsement. And that was in addition to stitching a collective together of the movement for Black lives and the movement for immigrant rights. Our congressional district is half immigrant, extraordinarily working class and just incredibly diverse in the Bronx and Queens. Along with Senator Sanders’s campaign, which I also proudly worked on, prior to all of this, you know, all of that, I think, really contributed to this moment.
And, for me, there’s a real distinction between us saying that we’re about something and us really being about it in our actions. And it was really that distinction, in the action and in the praxis, that made it distinctive to me and made it something to be a part of.
What a great story. Thank you for sharing that.
DSA’s priorities really are your priorities as well, Green New Deal and Medicare For All in particular. There’s no getting around the fact that each of those are going to require an act of Congress. What is the most strategic thing that DSA members and chapters could be doing right now to bring that about?
I’m a big believer in exercising a dual approach. First of all, I think you’re right, there is no Medicare For All without an act of Congress. The thing is legislation after all.
I think sometimes people fall into this trap of wishful thinking about a poll question, thinking that support is solid, and that it is unsusceptible to the propaganda of corporate lobbyists and the health insurance industry. I think the first thing we need is real honesty about the work to be done ahead of us. There are some issues that poll really well, and the polling is concrete. There are other issues that poll one way or another, and the polling can really fluctuate with just one ad campaign.
Actually, we experienced this in a positive way with the Green New Deal, in that the oil and gas lobbies have gone in so hard to try to give the Green New Deal a bad name. And even after the total hammering that it experienced by the Republican Party, it still doesn’t poll that poorly. However, one thing that we do see is that even in areas where it may not poll as well as we would like, what we find is that it’s highly susceptible to positive messaging. Once we go in and either send organizers, or have other forms of messaging, and actually explain what the Green New Deal is, polling skyrockets for the issue. And so, in terms of tactics and what’s needed, I think we need to actually make the case for single payer health care that is free of cost at the point of service. And we have to say what we mean by Medicare for All, because as we know, there are a lot of cynical actors that try to add all these ellipses, like “Medicare for All who want it that make less than $100,000 per year.” And that’s why we have to engage in the work of organizing.
So I would say in terms of our strategic priorities, yes, it’s continued organizing, yes, it’s also continued support on the state level, for various health care initiatives, such as the single payer proposal in the state of New York.
There’s a lot of that work that we can do outside of electoralism. But there is critical electoral work to be done as well. I think the strategy of supporting candidates, when that strategy is very calculated, focused, precise, when we aren’t casting our net too wide beyond the capacities of any given local organization, is extremely effective. Mounting continued primary challenges or just supporting candidates in general, putting candidates in open seats … I’ve seen the impact of it from the inside—how much even incumbent members of Congress will totally reinvent themselves in a far more progressive direction, because they know that their communities are watching.
In the best case scenario, we get incredible new members of Congress, or we win these open seats, you know, Rashida Tlaib was an open seat. And at worst, we get almost a radical change in the agenda of the incumbent that is presently there. And so in many ways, it’s a win-win in getting that internal traction, that is necessary.
We’ve heard again and again from conservative Democrats, that an AOC style agenda might fly in Queens or the Bronx, but it can’t win in more competitive districts out in Middle America. What’s your answer to that?
I think it’s totally false. I think that their critique may be more aesthetic, to be honest. After all, I was born in the Bronx, and I’m bred in this community. And this is my community. So of course, you know, if I just walk over to another state in Nebraska or whomever, they’re gonna suss out real quick that perhaps I’m not a Nebraskan. But I don’t think that that is really related to policy. I think it’s because I’m a New Yorker, and I act like a New Yorker. And you know what? I need to act like a New Yorker so that I can represent New York’s 14th Congressional District. But I don’t think that critique really holds water in terms of the actual policies that we are supporting. Sure, in terms of my style of advocacy, it’s not going to be the style of advocacy for another local community. But I’m aware of that. And that’s not my job. My job is not to represent any other district than mine right now.
It also applies the other way: They could not come to New York and to our district and be successful here. So it cuts both ways. And I think it’s important that we send the message that our communities are just as necessary, and just as critical as any other. But that said, again, this has nothing to do with the actual policy. A lot of times, it’s the style of that advocacy, and I think that you can just see the importance of a multiracial, and multi-identity, multi-gendered, geographically diverse movement. That’s ultimately the strength and beauty of our collective work with Bernie.
There are communities that I’m able to speak to and organize, there are communities that Bernie and I are able to speak to and organize, and there are communities that Bernie is able to speak to and organize. And when we come together, we’re able to build trust, and expand that collective power among all the folks that resonate with each of us individually. The idea, like, “She’s not going to win in this one community or another community” … I’m not trying to, you know? What we’re trying to do is build movement in that community. And that is a very different question than trying to litigate one personality versus another.
Some on the Left have looked at Biden’s record and his differences with the Bernie wing of the party, and they conclude that no progress is going to come out of the Biden administration. What’s your view?
Well, I think it’s a really privileged critique. We’re gonna have to focus on solidarity with one another, developing our senses for good faith critique and bad faith critique. Because bad faith critique can destroy everything that we have built so swiftly. And we know this because it has in the past, and it’s taken us so many decades to get to this point. We do not have the time or the luxury to entertain bad faith actors in our movement. But also we have to value our solidarity with one another. For anyone who brings that up, we really have to ask ourselves, what is the message that you are sending to your Black and brown and undocumented members of your community, to your friends, when you say nothing has changed? Perhaps not enough has changed. And this is not a semantic argument. Just the other night, we in collective struggle were able to stop the deportations of critical members of our community. And that would not have happened in a Trump administration.
They were just on the belt ready to go. And you just cannot say that nothing will change. We can make the argument that not enough is changing fast enough. And these really are not nitpicking questions of semantics, because this is how the language that we use communicates to individuals who is included and who do you consider a person. When you say “nothing has changed,” you are calling the people who are now protected from deportation “no one.” And we cannot allow for that in our movement. That’s not a movement that I want to be a part of. And I know that’s not the movement that we are a part of. We’re so susceptible to cynicism. And that cynicism, that weaponization of cynicism, is what has and what continues to threaten to tear down everything that we have spent so much time building up. We’re allowed to win too, by the way. [LAUGHS.]
I prefer winning, actually.
Millions of people are excited about you being in Congress and rooting for your success. But at the same time, no other figure has been targeted by the Fox News crowd quite like you have. Why do you think that they worked to make you such a bogeyman for the right wing, and what’s it like to be on the receiving end of that?
I think they’ve done it because they know that we are a threat. Particularly because of the fact that I’m a movement candidate. If I was just some kind of one-off singular candidate, I do not believe that we would be attracting the energy and attacks that we attract. So much of this organized power and organized capital has frankly correctly identified that my candidacy is not an individual venture, but that it is representative of an actual working class movement. There is a rush to define me to the country before I have the opportunity to define myself. And if you can get enough people to just tune me out or tune any other person out before they even get the opportunity to hear what one has to say, you’re able to go a long way in preserving the current power structure. However, I don’t think that strategy lasts the test of time. I think it was a very strong short-term strategy. I mean, it continues to be a strategy. But I honestly believe that what was just attempted was: We’re going to throw the book at any candidate like this. We’re going to make an example out of her for everyone else. And then we’re just going to tar and feather her in the press. And then we’re going to mount a $3 million Democratic primary challenge against her that’s bankrolled by Wall Street, that was also a Latina, down to having a hyphenated last name. [Ed.: AOC was challenged in the 2020 Democratic primary by Michelle Caruso-Cabrera.] And it was just the most cynical, disgusting thing. But it was also trying to convince Democrats that this is too dangerous, and that this is a liability. They did that in hopes that it would succeed. And not only was it not successful, but we crushed them, just completely crushed them.
It was very exciting to see that result.
It is exciting, because they weaponized all the cynical powers of trying to get someone of my ethnicity, trying to even confuse people in terms of the name—Caruso Cabrera versus Ocasio Cortez. And [her campaign] had, you know, $3 million, she was a CNBC anchor, so she had TV and camera training and all of it. And the fact that it was so desperately unsuccessful, I think really speaks to the strength of this movement, that there is a glimmer of hope that it will not be distracted by all of the kind of tricks up this corporate establishment’s sleeve. And then beyond that, we went to a general election, which had $10 million behind it, backed by a Republican who then tried to do this whole … I might be getting my my music references mixed up, but trying to do like this whole like “John Mellencamp” vibe, trying to convince people that he’s not actually Republican, that he’s just a working class dude. So it really shows what their strategy was, which is “we’re gonna throw the book at her,” and we’re gonna try to wound her so badly that she doesn’t win re-election and this just becomes a flash-in-the-pan thing. I mean, in the general election it was the second most expensive congressional race in America.
I did not realize that.
Yeah, in the United States, it was the second most expensive race in the country. And so their strategy was to make quick work of us. And they threw everything that they could, and it didn’t work. And now I think they have a problem on their hands. [LAUGHS]
Yeah, because you got re-elected. In fact you absolutely crushed.
And not only that, but we also expanded our presence with the election of Jamaal Bowman and Cori Bush. It’s really showing that this is not going away.
You’re one of 435 representatives in the House, four of whom are open socialists now. Pessimists might look at that and find that daunting, but you put on a recent Twitter video in which you listed all the specific things you personally got done in two years. You tried to do it in two minutes. It took you four, talking as fast as you could. So for our readers, what are some of the most impactful items on that list?
Well, for me, I’m already thinking about this term so far, things that aren’t in the video but have already been early wins. And by the way, this just speaks to talking about how nothing will change … we’ve already had really two very significant wins. One non-electoral, which was the Hunts Point Produce workers, being able to support them in securing wage increases and protecting their health care in their strike efforts. [Ed.: At the nation’s largest wholesale produce market, located in the Bronx, Teamsters struck for first time in 35 years. AOC skipped the presidential inauguration to join them on the picket line. After a week on strike, they won $1.85 an hour raises]
The reason I bring this up is because I do not believe that they would have had the structural and community support they were able to generate, if we hadn’t been building momentum on both electoral wins and non electoral wins. You know, if Joe Biden didn’t win the presidency, that would have been a harder strike. Even though they don’t seem connected, there is something to be said about the morale of seeing your actions manifest into change. I don’t know if as many elected officials would have shown up if they didn’t feel like more people weren’t paying attention. And so to have that institutional support for their demands, really allowed the community to rally around, along with the on-the-ground support that DSA provided.
You know, I thought one of the things that was so inspiring in talking to many of these unionists was that they expressed to me shock, every night that I was there, that so many young people showed up to the picket line. They had no idea what was going on. But they were thrilled. And they knew that it was adding so much power to their strike efforts. And it really kind of goes both ways too. It elevated the consciousness of even the unionists, of the fact that they weren’t alone, and that their struggle was part of a larger collective one, really made the strike stronger. And the other [win] was being able to secure $2 billion for FEMA reimbursements for funeral expenses.
For those who died of COVID.
Yeah, for individuals who have died of COVID. And there’s a couple of reasons why this was so important. First of all, this was a homegrown effort. New York 14 was the most heavily impacted congressional district at the outbreak of the pandemic. And Elmcor and our constituents in East Elmhurst, which is kind of in the shadow of Elmhurst Hospital, the most heavily hit hospital in the country at one point, they reached out immediately. And they said, this is a disease that is disproportionately impacting people along lines of race and class. It is disproportionately impacting the Black, the brown and the low income. And as a consequence, the subsequent deaths, particularly at the beginning, were concentrated among Black patients, brown patients and low income patients.
So you take that a step further, and the expenses for a funeral can go $5,000 to $10,000. That is a life-altering expense for a working class family, when the average American has 400 bucks in savings, especially in the middle of a pandemic, when this is not something that is planned or expected at all. That’s the kind of death that is earth-shattering, that can put a family under for a decade plus, if not more. I experienced this myself when my family lost my dad, and we saw how expensive it was. And it took a decade to get out from that debt.
So when you target this for reimbursement, it’s actually quite a progressive cash transfer. Because when you are reimbursing those who have died of COVID, and COVID is disproportionately impacting the Black and the brown and the working class, you are able to lift those families or at least patch them through to prevent inequity and inequality from further bottoming out the bottom. And that’s the reason we prioritized it so much. The fact that we were able to actually pass it on to the Trump administration is pretty remarkable. We were able to get $2 billion authorized under Trump. Now that FEMA is operating under Biden, we can now work with the administration to administer these funds, and dole them out in a way that is not going to be as stonewalled or corrupt as it would be under the Trump administration.
One of the exciting things about your early days in Congress was your willingness to break from convention, like when you blew the lid on the freshman orientation that was crawling with corporate lobbyists, or appeared at the Sunrise Movement sit-in in Pelosi’s office. Has your strategy shifted at all from those days?
I don’t think so. I do think that the pandemic has complicated those things a little bit, because a lot of stuff really does happen behind closed doors. And it’s funny, but you know, people will say and do things at a cocktail party that they will not do on a Zoom call. So I would say that the opportunities for disruption have varied a little bit in this digital situation that we’re in, but I still think they exist.
One thing I do think has changed is that I do believe we’re getting more sophisticated. I think about all of our tactics as different tools in a toolbox. And when I first started, I had a hammer. And when you have a hammer, everything’s a nail, as they say. But then as you learn about other methods, you can get a wrench, and then you get a screwdriver, and then you’re able to add a lot more to your tools. You add the tools of electoralism — supporting other members to join. You have the tools of sunlight.
There’s this one moment I’ll never forget. We were going through the appropriations process, I believe in 2019 or so. And basically, this is how we fund the entire government, we go along and we fund each agency after the other. And there are these massive multi-thousand-page packages. And I remember finding … sometimes it’s as simple as hitting Control-F and just trying to find every policy-related keyword, to see what’s getting appropriated, and see what you can dig through. That’s literally how some folks go about this, when you’re given 1,000 pages of legislation 48 hours before it drops. But we found this really bizarre appropriation for fossil fuel facilities, and it was like a multi billion dollar giveaway, I believe, at the time. And we were like, “Where did this come from? Did someone slip this in?” And we were gonna propose an amendment to take it out. So we raised the question about this. And because no one wanted to ‘fess up and actually own that they were the one who put that in, it was withdrawn without actually making it a floor fight. Yeah. I don’t think we ever got to the bottom of who was behind that. Clearly, you know, this is lobbyist driven. This was a lobbyist’s language that someone asked to put in. But because the actual line item was so shameful, no one wanted to actually ‘fess up to the fact that they put this in.
There are so many of these wins, that aren’t necessarily public fights every time. They are wins to the tune of millions and billions of dollars that could then be shifted to other priorities. Some of that work is quiet, but it is just as significant as some of the public fighting and organizing. Not to disparage that either, but they complement one another.
You’re famous for skillfully clapping back at haters from time to time, but you don’t come off as mean, and you never punch down. How do you stay so positive?
Oh, thank you. Well, you know, positivity is an organizing tool. And I say that with so much earnestness. There’s a reason why Jabari [Brisport] won, there’s a reason why Zohran [Mamdani] won, there’s a reason why Marcela [Mitaynes] and Phara [Souffrant Forrest] — these wins that we had on the state level, why those candidates won. Look at them. They are relentlessly positive. They are people that you want to be around. And they are not cynical, and they do not engage in “more socialist than thou.” They are just relentlessly positive.
And I think the most important thing that we can do in order to win is to be people and spaces that people want to be around. And that is our organizing priority. We have to make Medicare for All something that everyone wants to be a part of. We have to make Green New Deal something that everyone wants to be a part of. I think people sometimes are dismissive of this, in thinking that it’s less serious than study. But who’s gonna join your book club if it sucks? Who’s gonna join your reading group if they feel judged? So the important thing we need to do is to really create something … excuse my language … but that’s fucking fun.
On March 16, eight people were killed at three different spas in North Georgia including six Asian women. We are heartbroken by these murders, which come at a time when Asian American communities are already grappling with the traumatic violence against Asian Americans nationwide, fueled by the United States’ long history of white supremacy, systemic racism, and gender-based violence.
As we collectively grieve and respond to this tragedy, we must lead with the needs of those most directly impacted at the center: the victims and their families. And during this time of broader crisis and trauma in our Asian American communities, we must be guided by a compass of community care that prioritizes assessing and addressing our communities’ immediate needs, including in-language support for mental health, legal, employment, and immigration services.
We must also stand firm in decrying misogyny, systemic violence, and white supremacy. We must invest in long-term solutions that address the root causes of violence and hate in our communities. We reject increased police presence or carceral solutions as the answers.
For centuries, our communities have been frequently scapegoated for issues perpetuated by sexism, xenophobia, capitalism, and colonialism. Asians were brought to the United States to boost the supply of labor and keep wages low, while being silenced by discriminatory laws and policies. From the Chinese Exclusion Act in 1882, to the incarceration of Japanese Americans during World War II, to the forced migration of refugees from U.S.-led military conflict in Southeast Asia, to post-9/11 surveillance targeting Muslim and South Asian communities, to ICE raids on Southeast Asian communities and Asian-owned businesses, Asian American communities have been under attack by white supremacy.
Working class communities of color are disproportionately suffering from the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. The Trump administration’s relentless scapegoating of Asians for the pandemic has only exacerbated the impact on Asian business owners and frontline workers and inflamed existing racism. The hypersexualization of Asian American women and the broad normalization of violence against women of color, immigrant women, and poor women make Asian American women particularly vulnerable. Hate incidents against Asian Americans rose by nearly 150% in 2020, with Asian American women twice as likely to be targeted.
We are calling on our allies to stand with us in grief and solidarity against systemic racism and gender-based violence. Violence against Asian American communities is part of a larger system of violence and racism against all communities of color, including Black, Brown, and Indigenous communities.
In this time of crisis, let’s come together and build just communities, where we are all safe, where all workers are treated with dignity and respect, and where all our loved ones thrive.
To sign on to the statement as an individual or a group, or make a donation to communities in need, go to https://www.advancingjustice-atlanta.org/aaajcommunitystatement
This statement was initiated by Asian Americans Advancing Justice-Atlanta and developed in collaboration with the Georgia NAACP and several BIPOC organizations; within 24 hours, more than 800 organizations in Georgia and around the country had signed on.
En Dolor y SolidaridadMARCH 17, 2021
We mourn the lives of the 8 people, including 6 Asian women, who were murdered last night in Georgia and send love to their families and communities.
These attacks fit into a xenophobic pattern of anti-Asian violence that the capitalist class not only condones, but welcomes as a scapegoat for their complete inaction in the face of the COVID crisis. Of the thousands of incidents targeting the AAPI community, many have been geared especially toward women, the poor, the elderly, and the undocumented.
That the gunman’s victims were chosen due to perceptions about their workplace reflects the ongoing misogyny, objectification, and hypersexualization of Asian women, rooted in a long history of imperialism, a continuous dehumanization of the Asian working class, as well as the ongoing criminalization of sex workers. We all deserve safety in our workplaces. While there is a rush to classify these crimes as hate crimes, it is not hate that is allowing this violence but power: the power of white supremacy and capitalist exploitation whose violence is minimized as hate between individuals based on race and/or gender. The response so far has been an increase in police presence: violence met with more violence. We know the carceral state protects white men who kill individuals, shielded by white men in power who continue to inflict violence on the masses. As long as both the Republican and Democratic parties continue to sustain the Sinophobic rhetoric as related to COVID and US-China relations, the attacks against Asian Americans, regardless of their ethnicity, will continue. So we commit to building socialism and dismantling the systems and structures that uphold white supremacy, empire, and perpetuate racist violence.
We stand with the Asian-American community in grief and solidarity.
Rest in peace, Delaina Ashley Yuan, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Yan, 49; and Daoyou Feng, 44.
En Dolor y SolidaridadLamentamos las vidas de las 8 personas, incluidas 6 mujeres Asiáticas, que fueron asesinadas anoche en Georgia y les enviamos amor a sus familias y comunidades.
Estos ataques encajan en un patrón xenófobo de violencia antiasiática que la clase capitalista no sólo aprueba, sino acoje como chivo expiatorio por su completa inacción ante la crisis de COVED. De los miles de incidentes contra la comunidad de la AAPI, muchos se han dirigido especialmente a las mujeres, los pobres, los ancianos y los indocumentados.
El hecho que las víctimas del pistolero fueron elegidas debido a las percepciones sobre su lugar de trabajo refleja la continua misoginia, objetivación e hipersexualización de las mujeres Asiáticas, arraigada en una larga historia de imperialismo, una deshumanización continua de la clase obrera Asiática, así como la continua criminalización de las trabajadoras sexuales. Todos merecemos seguridad en nuestros lugares de trabajo. Si bien hay prisa por clasificar estos crímenes como crímenes de odio, no es el odio lo que permite esta violencia sino el poder: el poder de la supremacía blanca y la explotación capitalista cuya violencia se minimiza como el odio entre individuos basados en la raza y/o el género. La respuesta hasta ahora ha sido un aumento de la presencia policial: la violencia enfrentada con más violencia. Sabemos que el estado carcelario protege a los hombres blancos que matan individuos, protegidos por hombres blancos en el poder que continúan infligiendo violencia a las masas.
Mientras el partido republicano y el partido demócrata continúen sosteniendo la retórica sinofóbica relacionada con COVED y las relaciones entre Estados Unidos y China, los ataques contra los Estadounidenses de origen Asiático, independientemente de su origen étnico, continuarán. Así que nos comprometemos a construir el socialismo y desmantelar los sistemas y estructuras que defienden la supremacía blanca, el imperio y perpetúan la violencia racista.
Apoyamos a la comunidad Asiática-Americana con dolor y solidaridad.
Descanse en paz, Delaina Ashley Yuan, 33; Paul Andre Michels, 54; Xiaojie Yan, 49; y Daoyou Feng, 44.
The NPC of DSA
I would suggest that perhaps more relevant than what went on in the SWP is what went on in SDS. Heather Booth, Evie Goldfarb, and Sue Munaker wrote this up in Toward a Radical Movement - a paper that was among the things that ultimately led to the founding of the Chicago Women's Liberation Union. There's more at cwluherstory.org. I've also put a lot of these documents up on my website at www.riddiough.org/CWLU. The film, She's Beautiful When She's Angry, also documents these issues.
By David Bacon
Members of the Yakama Nation of Native Americans join farmworkers and other immigrants to celebrate May Day in 2017 and protest continued deportations and detentions. (Photo (c) David Bacon)
The current guest worker system prioritizes agricultural growers' profits over immigrants' and workers' rights. Joe Biden should seek a different way: building an immigration system based on family reunification, community stability, and immigrant workers' rights to decent wages, health, and housing.
The intention of the US guest worker program for agriculture, called the H-2A program, couldn't have been stated more clearly than it was by agriculture secretary Sonny Perdue in a January 2020 speech to growers. He wanted, he said,
International Women’s Day is intended to honor the contributions of women and femme-identified folks. What we know for a fact is that women, femmes, girls, and their families are suffering. This ongoing pandemic has created illness, joblessness, challenges caring for small children, and shuttered businesses. The American Rescue Plan is not perfect, but it’s a start towards the relief we need to thrive during these unprecedented times.
The People's Bailout is hosting a Livestream event at 7pm ET on International Women's Day, Monday, March 8, called Bread & Roses: Demanding Care & Relief. International Women’s Day is the eve of what may be the Senate vote for the American Rescue Plan. Senators will be voting on a bill that would mean relief to millions of hurting families.
During The People's Bailout Bread & Roses: Demanding Care & Relief livestream, we'll hear from organizers and leaders across the nation; we’ll also have an opportunity to take action demanding bread, a bailout, and roses, too! Highlander is proud to support by sharing the livestream on our Facebook page Monday.
Register today: http://bit.ly/bread-roses-21.
Poor People's Campaign
Healing the earth means healing our people. That’s why on Monday we’re lifting up struggles from across the nation to protect our land and freedom from the evils of ecological devastation, poverty wages, environmental racism and denial of health care. From the struggle to defend Apache sacred land in Oak Flats from a corporate mining giant to Cancer Alley in Louisiana to toxic factories in West Virginia and Chicago, to name just a few, we’ll hear directly from communities that are fighting back and demanding economic and environmental justice.
Join us on March 1, 2021 for Moral Monday: Heal the Earth, Heal our People at 3pm ET / 12pm PT and hear the stories of communities who have been targeted with destructive practices by corporations and governments, but are building movements that hold the key to a sustainable future. Join us Monday as we continue to push Congress and the White House to enact our 14 Policy Priorities to Heal the Nation.
***The online event will be ASL interpreted and open captioned***
Reposted from the Washington Socialist.
I have been in DSA since the spring of 2016. Like many, I was tired of feeling politically lonely and isolated. I saw DSA as one of the only places where I could find others that shared my anger at the state of the world, but with a focus on doing whatever possible in our area to improve things. By joining in early 2016, I was fortunate to watch as wave after wave of new members came into the chapter. Each new group helped propel the organization forward and continue our momentum.
Regardless of the particular circumstances around each new wave of members joining, I found one trend that repeated itself over and over again: the “liberal-to-ultraleft pipeline.” This discovery is not my own and I have heard it talked about in chapters across the country, so I don’t believe it is unique to my own chapter either. Many people are familiar with Peter Camejo’s work on the subject, but he was fortunate enough to organize before the existence of online aesthetic leftism. Almost a year after the zenith of the Sanders campaign, this pipeline has become increasingly relevant as prominent left podcasters declared that they “radicalized so quickly over the past year” that they “basically skipped DSA.” I hope to talk about the pipeline briefly so we can identify it when it is happening, specifically address it in our organizing practices, and hopefully, break the cycle from repeating itself over and over again.
Identifying Ultraleftists: Liberals with Radical Aesthetics
It is funny to use the term ultraleftist in 2021 when thinking back on what it meant historically. To the Bolsheviks, an ultraleftist was typically someone that wanted to do a bombing or assassination campaign. In the contemporary US left, this phrase refers broadly to the amalgamation of anti-capitalists whose entire ideological motivation and self-conception is that they are “to the left” of XYZ, typically DSA. While there are organizations that participate in this sort of branding, it is most commonly done on an individual level. We can disagree on whether ultraleftist is a helpful term, seeing as it is best defined by an “I know it when I see it” approach, but I think the title applies to enough of a grouping that it is worthwhile. Terminally online, constantly accusing others of being sheepdogs or sellouts, and rarely working with others to expand the socialist movement through mass action are some of their calling cards. Their actions speak to wanting to be King of the Smallest Kingdom.
The liberal-to-ultraleft pipeline is often accompanied by an obsession with labels that have no applicability outside of branding on internet forums. What’s the difference between a De Leonist, Council Communist and a Syndicalist when none are able to fill the room they reserved at the library with working people?
So why are newly radicalizing liberals so susceptible to ultraleftism?
First, because it allows them to continue their sense of superiority felt that they had from being the furthest left in the room and most moral for most of their lives. For many newly radicalizing liberals, their political beliefs have always been deeply tied with their sense of self as a good person. This is described by Ben D., another MDC DSA member, as the liberal tendency to imagine politics “as something you have and not something you do.” With this approach, having the correct position, the most moral one, or the one that stakes out the furthest left position, is practically the same as being a good socialist.
A common meme that floated around following both the end of the Sanders 2016 and 2020 campaigns
Secondly, because newly radicalized liberals develop an obsession with “radical tactics.” Many radicalizing liberals look briefly at the history of organized mass movements of working people and correctly gather that we need to learn from their successes. But instead of recognizing the steps in between where the US left is today and where we need to be, it just becomes an army of internet leftists tweeting #GeneralStrike and saying that anyone who has skepticism of its effectiveness is a scab. This also applies to electoral abstentionists, many of whom were loudly and proudly part of the mass support for democratic socialist candidates in the past. These newly radicalized liberals then abandon the very mass work that brought them and countless others into the movement in favor of “more radical tactics.” The obsession with radical tactics comes from the fact that liberals believe that they had always been armed with the right morality and analysis but had simply lacked the right tools to succeed. This ignores the fact that there is no such thing as an inherently radical tactic. Almost all tactics have been used by various political actors of differing opinions throughout history to fit the needs of their strategy at the time.
Thirdly, a skepticism of mass politics. This was ultimately Camejo’s thesis. But the major distinguishing point between those with a socialist analysis and those without one is the role of the masses. Socialists, even those with vanguardist politics, unquestionably support mass politics and do everything in their power to deepen their ties with mass movements with the goal of one day leveraging those connections for revolutionary change. Liberals and ultraleftists view many of these efforts as opportunism or betrayal. For socialists, we recognize that change is only possible with the masses on our side. So even if we have the correct ideas, we are powerless to enact them unless we engage in mass politics.
It's difficult to tell if this image is satire or something else. When asked whether he agreed with the labels, @ProudSocialist shared this image in early February, adding that "It’s not a perfect chart, but it’s not wrong either. The only thing I’d say is the far left box needs more socialists/communists. This moment in history demands revolutionary change so I wouldn’t trust anyone peddling the status quo right now."
Fourth, a view of “the left” as a consumer subculture and not organizations. Many newly radicalized liberals approach politics as if it's about what podcast you listen to or magazine you subscribe to. This thinking promotes acting as a fandom rather than an organization. This can be seen most recently with leftists on social media circulating their own rankings of other left twitter accounts and podcasters as if the left was a fantasy sports league. Whether it's flag emojis in their bio, revolutionary symbols in their handle, or even coordinates on a political alignment chart, all of these are an attempt to signal to others that they’re part of the in-group of real revolutionaries. Think of how many people online spout off how they’re “not a SocDem” as if there truly was any organized coherent social democratic movement in the US currently. What they mean by it is “I’m not a sellout, I want a revolution, unlike those other guys.” But it’s as relevant to modern politics as saying “I shop at Target, not Walmart like those other guys.” It's an attempt to cultivate a unique brand of having correct politics, even if those politics have no bearing or influence on the world at all.
How We Got Here
For the past five years, Democratic Socialists of America has unquestionably been the natural place for the left wing of the movement that supported Bernie Sanders to coalesce. This was key to DSA’s explosion of growth as millions became aware of democratic socialism through Bernie and tens of thousands ultimately joined DSA. The American “Progressive” movement has almost always been extremely incoherent in its beliefs due to its lack of a uniting organization or specific base as is the case for the left in other countries. Though the Sanders campaigns helped shape this progressive movement into having a more clear message around class politics, it was unable to fully convert the existing progressive movement into a democratic socialist one. This meant that many new members of DSA were joining as liberals. This is nothing we should be ashamed of, in fact, it's something that we should be proud of. DSA, through political alignment, branding, and its campaigns was able to bring many liberals into the tent. The issue is thinking about what happens (or doesn’t) next.
DSA is a multitendency socialist organization. From its inception, as the merger of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee and the New American Movement, it was conceived explicitly so. This was meant to distance DSA from the sectarianism and splits that were so common during that time. But, this multitendency nature was importantly not meant as a rejection of its socialist identity or place within the socialist tradition. During the upsurge of growth from 2016 onward, many took multitendency to mean “anyone believe anything” and that the organization was not explicitly a socialist one. This hampered efforts to provide coherent socialist education to our members. This problem was exacerbated by the fact that many of our new members were liberals. I want to clarify that I don’t mean this in a derogatory sense. They were liberals because we as an organization were failing to do the education necessary to get them to think and act in a socialist framework.
This lack of education left a void. There comes a time for many people on the left where they realize that Sanders’ platform might not be enough to avert climate catastrophe, enough to root out systemic oppressions or enough to redistribute power in society. It’s at this time that these “former liberals” go exploring for answers. Our members were looking for a “political” political education curriculum but it was nowhere to be found. If there is one thing that can be said about those on the fringes of the socialist movement, is that they often focus on political education and readings to a fault. These groups swooped in. Podcasts, YouTube and caucuses became some of the primary providers of political education within the organization. There was no systematic approach to helping members break with their liberalism. In its place was a Twitter-driven, clout-based media ecosystem that rewards outlandish opinions and is completely disconnected from the way membership organizations function or how to think like an organizer.
I wish I had a magic bullet to solve the problem of the liberal-to-ultraleft pipeline. Luckily, for those that stick around in DSA, many of them eventually develop socialist politics based on concrete analysis of concrete situations. I really can’t emphasize this enough, some of DSA’s best organizers are former ultraleftists that developed better politics. But a wait and see approach is not fast enough when we are trying to build DSA into a mass organization. It would be a recipe for an SDS-style disaster, where one half of the room is chanting for Warren and the other is chanting for Hawkins.
I have a few suggestions: one based in political education, one based in recruitment, and the final in mass organizing.
Regarding political education, we really can’t shy away from a DSA-focused approach to political education. This means a curriculum that we strive to get all new members through that doesn’t avoid talking about what we believe, why DSA is different, and how our organization works. We shouldn’t apologize for our work and shouldn’t hide the fact that the US left has been a largely marginal force for decades and our job is to end that. We should also try to explain some of the many dead ends the left has fallen for in the past with the goal of steering our members away from those in the future.
Regarding recruitment, we have to recognize that the era of Sanders-branded passive recruitment might officially be over. The Sanders coalition, especially in the second campaign, was incredibly diverse and fundamentally rooted in the working class. Despite this, DSA’s primarily online approach to recruitment has disproportionately brought in its overly online segments. We need to commit ourselves to recruit less through online outreach and more through organic relationships in our communities and workplaces. The DSA100k campaign was an incredible expression of how powerful our members can be when we collectively prioritize recruitment. Efforts like this should be a natural part of all of our work.
Lastly, we should always prioritize winnable campaigns that place members into direct contact with other working people. Campaigns that involve canvassing or speaking with workers outside of the left are the ultimate antidote to ultraleft opinions. It’s hard to believe that the General Strike is just a few weeks away when you meet a worker at their door who will only vote for your socialist candidate if they ban 5G. These campaigns shouldn’t aim to dispirit the newly radicalized or curb their ultimate ambitions, but show them how well planned and strategic collective action can help make a difference.
These proposals may seem insufficient to the scope of the problem we’re facing. But I am confident that this organization and movement, with more members and supporters, will be able to win bigger and better victories until the day when revolutionary questions are actually relevant. I am confident of this future because I am a socialist and I believe in mass action.
ed. note. I recommend going to the on line issue of Washington Socialist to see the great graphics in this piece. Use the link below.
SEE MORE IN CATEGORY RETURN TO ISSUE
by José Pérez,
Atlanta DSA met Saturday, February 27; first meeting I've gone to in a few months. I did so specifically to oppose a resolution that at its core stipulated that:
Atlanta DSA will campaign to pass the PRO Act as our number one priority through May 2021.
I opposed it because right now there is a war raging in our state legislature over Republican voter-suppression bills. Dozens have been introduced because Republicans know that come 2022, they are likely to lose statewide again, and the way to prevent it is to try to stop "those people" from voting. DSA is abstaining from this fight, even though among those leading the resistance at the state house are actual DSA members, even if they're not too public about it (and given the DSA's reputation among Black and Latino activists, never mind the other political liabilities, I can hardly blame them). I just posted on twitter a thread explaining my position. Here it is:
As the battle against Republican voter suppression bills rages in the Georgia state legislature, today the Atlanta DSA voted to instead "campaign to pass the PRO Act as our number one priority through May 2021."
I say "instead" because I spoke against adopting that as "our number one priority," saying that the fight to defend the right to vote had to be our top priority. A supporter of the resolution spoke after me saying the Democratic Party was already taking care of that issue.
The PRO Act is a very good and necessary proposal but it is simply not an issue people are talking about or moving on in Georgia. By focusing on it, Atlanta DSA is, in effect, taking a dive, deserting the Black and Latino communities in the heat of battle.
And it is not just Atlanta: the DSA's national leadership has also has made the PRO Act "our top external priority," even though the huge political fights in the country are around Biden's Covid rescue bill, $15 and legalization of the undocumented.
In practice, this class reductionism is white supremacy in socialist drag. You prioritize "class wide" demands that also directly benefit anglos; but those that "only" address the specific needs of the most oppressed, like Black and Latino communities, go to the back of the bus
Moreover, there is a total disconnect between the DSA and the democratic socialist movement's real national political leaders, Bernie in the Senate and the squad in the House, especially AOC. They support the PRO Act but that is not a central battle they are waging right now.
And this is a repeat of what happened in November, when Bernie campaigned for Biden and DSA did not. And it was just repeated in the GA runoff: AOC endorsed Ossoff, and DSA would not put his name on DSA's canvassing palm card.
Is DSA becoming a bait-and-switch fraud? People join inspired by Bernie or AOC but then chapters like Atlanta follow a different, sectarian policy. Result? Atlanta has maybe 2,000 members, less than 100 came to a Saturday afternoon zoom meeting.
I honestly believe that almost certainly the DSA is headed towards a catastrophic explosion, and I'm thinking perhaps that would be preferable, compared to it becoming a socialist sect, given the size, influence and resources it now has.
I honestly believe that unless it changes course, the DSA might be headed towards a catastrophic explosion as happened to SDS a half century ago, and over exactly the same issues.
José Pérez, Atlanta
Another view of the vote.
At the Atlanta DSA meeting yesterday I spoke out and voted in favor of making the PRO act a priority for Atlanta DSA. I did so for the following reasons.
First, the PRO act would do much to increase union power in representation elections and collective bargaining. The act provides for serious penalties for violations of worker rights, ends captive audience meetings, prevents the replacement of workers on strike, prohibits the misclassification of workers as independent contractors, overrides right-to-work laws, and removes restrictions on boycotts and picketing in support of other workers.
Second, Atlanta DSA members were already actively engaged in support of PRO since one of Georgia's Democratic members of Congress had voted against it. Working groups targeted this rep over the past month with a blizzard of calls urging support of PRO and made contacts with unions who were lobbying the rep as well.
Third, the chapter was intent on building relationships with unions thru joint work. The labor working group had initiated programs on labor history, begun planning a labor film program, surveyed its members about their work and union affiliation, organized industry circles for teachers, nonprofit and digital workers.
Finally, the chapter would not be able to provide added value as a separate organization in taking on voter suppression. With Tracey Abrams organizing network and Coalition for a Peoples' Agenda doing the critical heavy work, the best that DSAers could do would be to volunteer in their organizations.
The discussion on the resolution at the meeting was open. Only one person spoke against it. The vote in support was near unanimous. The chapter also endorsed one member who is running for Atlanta Council, heard reports from the Afro-socialist caucus, defund the police working group and the social event "eat drink and be Marxist." I am impressed with the work of this newly elected chapter leadership.
To Honor Black History, Fund Our Front Line Workers
By Lee Saunders and Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II February 25, 2021
AFSCME President Lee Saunders and Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II address delegates to AFSCME’s 42nd International Convention in Las Vegas on July 20, 2016. (Photo by Tessa Berg)
You cannot add jobs by subtracting jobs.
That is the simple truth behind desperately needed aid for states, cities, towns and schools. Over the last year, some 1.3 million public service jobs, many of them held by African Americans — including nurses, teachers, EMTs and sanitation workers — have evaporated because of holes the pandemic blew open in state and local budgets.
One of the most effective ways for Congress to crush this virus and get our economy moving again is to help states, cities, schools and towns bring these workers back and hire more of them. It would also be a way, during Black History Month, to remain faithful to our past and continue advancing the cause of racial justice.
For generations and to this day, public service jobs have been a sturdy ladder of opportunity for African American families climbing their way to the middle class. At a time when systemic discrimination blocked so many pathways, African Americans were hired in the public sector as postal workers, teachers, librarians and more.
These jobs came with security and stability — not just a decent income, but good health care benefits, a pension and very often a union card that provided surefire rights and protections. To this day, one in five African American workers have public sector jobs, helping close the racial wealth gap. Among those employed in the public sector, white households have about twice the wealth of Black households. That is troubling to be sure; but, by comparison, in the private sector, that gap becomes a chasm — Black households have only about a dime of wealth for every dollar held by white households.
Through their work in public education, public transit and public health, millions of African Americans have been able both to provide for their families and strengthen their communities. But now, those jobs are on the chopping block. Without federal aid, more layoffs loom, dragging down the entire job market with it. How do we know? The same thing happened a decade ago.
With the nation in the throes of the Great Recession, politicians of both parties responded by drastically cutting spending. Austerity became the watchword. Right-wing activist Grover Norquist, who once famously said he wanted to shrink government to the size he could drown it in the bathtub, had his day in the sun. States and communities nationwide slashed public services to the bone, and African American families took the biggest hit. In 2012, 200,000 fewer African Americans held public sector jobs than just four years earlier.
Ten years later, inexplicably, we are in danger of making the same public policy mistakes again. It is devastating enough that African Americans are disproportionately contracting COVID-19 and dying at higher rates than the population at-large. But because of the gutting of public services, we are also being pummeled economically. In just a year’s time, between September 2019 and September 2020, the number of Black people on the nation’s public payrolls shrunk by 211,000. This is one of the critical, yet often unspoken, reasons the pandemic has raged out of control. Giving pink slips to the very people who can bring the virus to heel is the worst possible crisis management strategy.
And things will get worse if Congress does not step in. Who will get shots into arms if more public health professionals are axed? How will laid off Americans get the unemployment benefits they have paid into when states shed more claims processors? How will small businesses survive when basic services like sanitation, clean water and road maintenance — normally so dependable that they are never included in any business model — erode even further?
In the immediate term, we need Congress to come through with emergency aid to save these jobs and services. But in the long term, to vanquish the virus, build a prosperous economy for all and ensure that people earn a living wage as well, it is time to bury for good the fake news of austerity: that somehow a race to the bottom will take us to the top.
This is the moment to remind people about the power of government action, especially but not exclusively during moments of crisis. When it is run competently, when public services are performed by dedicated and compassionate people, government can affirm human dignity, provide basic needs and improve lives on a grand scale.
Let’s get public service workers back on the job and bring back real investment in the essential services that sustain us all.
Lee Saunders is President of the American Federation of State, County and Municipal Employees. The Rev. Dr. William J. Barber II is the President & Senior Lecturer of Repairers of the Breach, Architect of the Moral Monday Movement and Co-Chair of the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call For Moral Revival.
BILL FLETCHER JR
FERNANDO E. GAPASIN
The late AFL-CIO leader John Sweeney was an admirable figure who had a vision for reinvigorated US labor unions. But he only tried to reform a union movement that needed a more fundamental refoundation.
Essay in Jacobin Magazine.
Of course John Sweeney was a member of DSA for a number of years. It was not a part of his leadership of the AFL-CIO.
This history is important in understanding labor’s past, present and future.
In Celebration of Black History Month.
Manning Marable was a prolific African American scholar, academic, writer and political organizer who made significant contributions to building the U.S. left and Black left from 1980 until his passing in 2011. He was the founding director of the Institute for Research in African-American Studies and the Center for the Study of Contemporary Black History at Columbia University.
Manning’s first book, How Capitalism Underdeveloped Black America (1983 & 2015), along with Race, Reform and Rebellion- The Second Reconstruction and Beyond in Black America, 1945-2006, ( 1983 & 2007), provide crucial political and social history of African American struggles while developing a Marxist tradition of scholarship and activism Let Nobody Turn Us Around (2000 and 2005 co-edited with Leith Mullings), which traced the history of “transformational” (left) politics in black political writing from the time of slavery to the present, became one of the most widely used textbooks in black studies. He wrote or edited more than twenty-two books throughout his extraordinary career. His final book, Malcolm X: A Life of Reinvention, 2011, a carefully researched, critical study of an extraordinary, political leader, was awarded the Pulitzer Prize. Marable’s scholarship and publications were superb and widely recognized within academia, and were read by activists throughout the world
In 1983, Dr. Marable was a professor of economics and history and the director of the Race Relations Institute at Fisk University. He went on to direct the Africana and Latin American Studies program at Colgate University, and then chaired the Department of Black Studies at Ohio State University. Marable also taught at the University of Colorado at Boulder. In 1994, he joined the faculty at Colombia University, where he established the Institute for Research in African American Studies. During the 10 years he directed the Institute, he molded it to be not only a center of critical scholarship, but also to produce initiatives and work that was useful and accessible to the black community. He was also the founding editor of Souls: A Critical Journal of Black Politics, Culture, and Society, where many currently well-known black scholars published their early work. He completed his academic career as a professor of public affairs, political science, history and political science at Columbia University where he directed the university’s Center for Contemporary Black History. until his death in 2011. In these programs Dr. Marable created pathways for graduate study for generations of African American scholars that are now teaching in universities throughout the nation.
In addition to his academic career, Manning was extraordinary for his lifelong commitment to his role as a public intellectual making his scholarship accessible to all. Beginning in 1976, his nationally syndicated column “Along the Color Line, “ was distributed free of charge to more than 100 newspapers and journals in the United States, the Caribbean, Africa and India.
Democratic Socialists of America
Dr. Marable played a significant role in creating left organizations and promoting left unity in the U.S. He was particularly interested in bringing a Marxist analysis to the project of creating a left built upon pursuing racial and gender justice. He was a leader in NAM ( New America Movement) and the National Black Independent Political Party and helped to negotiate the merger of NAM and DSOC (the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee) in 1980-1982. The new organization became DSA. With his participation, the negotiated points of unity between NAM and DSOC were carefully drafted to reflect the strengths of each organization including the vision of creating a multiracial, feminist inspired, left- a major step forward for this time.
In the summer of 1983 Manning organized a conference of Third World Socialists (people of color ) at Fisk University, bringing together a diverse group of left academics and activists. At this conference DSA created new commissions each focused on self-determination: a Latino Commission, an African American Commission and an Anti-Racism Commission within DSA. These commissions went on to support the Jesse Jackson run for President in 1984, and then convinced the DSA itself to support the Jackson effort in 1988.
One of Manning’s many contributions to DSA was to develop a new journal, Third World Socialist, that brought together a widely diverse group of activists and scholars of color. In addition to writing columns in the African American press with the by- line Along the Color Line, he spoke at hundreds of college campuses promoting a multi -racial democratic socialist perspective among faculty and students.
Dr. Marable was both a Vice Chair of DSA and a member of the National Executive Committee ( later the National Political Committee) where he provided a strong Black voice for supporting the efforts of socialists in Third World struggles and for attracting a significantly multiracial membership to DSA.
As a result of his frustration that DSA’s anti-racists work did not grow significantly over time, Manning shifted some of his political activism to the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism in 1995. Nevertheless, he remained a strong supporter of anti-racism efforts within DSA and was a frequent speaker at DSA Youth Section conferences.
Committee of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism
On December 6-8, 1991, some 900 plus members left the Communist Party and formed the Committees of Correspondence. The new Black led C of C was dedicated to” renewing the struggle for social progress and socialism, and putting an end to what they saw as the undemocratic practices that damaged the Marxists and Communist movement.” 1
Manning Marable joined the new CofC and made enormous contributions to the building for the new CoC’s national conference in July 1992 which brought together 1,300 diverse left individuals and organizations. He and others drafted the declaration of principles of the Committees of Correspondence – “Where We Stand”-- for the founding conference, reflecting the need to seek the broadest possible unity to achieve immediate goals.
Manning Marble was elected as one of the five co-Chairs and he served on the National Coordinating Committee. Within the CoC he guided the development of the People of Color committee and provided political guidance on left unity and anti-racism. Manning Marable enthusiastically undertook the organizational tasks of building a new organization (e.g. CoC), but always held firm to the idea of left unity and multi-racial action – that the unity of left forces was essential for building independent progressive political forms. (In 2000, the CofC changed the name to the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.)
The Black Radical Congress
In 1995 Manning, along with 4 other prominent Black activists Barbara Ransby, Abdul Alkalimat, Bill Fletcher, and Leith Mullings, each from diverse political backgrounds met to plan a response to the deterioration of the lives of Black people in the nation and around the world. They were soon joined by some 35 prominent Black activists from diverse left organizations—socialist, communist, radical feminism, revolutionary nationalism from around the country to organize what became the Black Radical Congress.
They had not initially planned to form a new political organization but instead find ways to encourage coalition building and joint activities among existing groups.
However at the first conference, in June 1998, with over 3,000 in attendance, the energy and enthusiasm of assembled group convinced them to form a united front of Black progressive politics--a network that self-identified as anti-capitalist and rejected the class reductionism among the white left and the growing patriarchal trend in Black U.S. politics.
The National Council of the BRC adopted a mission statement on 26 September 1999 in East St. Louis, Illinois.
The opening paragraph states:
The purpose of the Black Radical Congress (BRC) is to promote dialogue among African American activists and scholars on the left; to discuss critical issues on the national and international scene that pertain to the Black community; to explore new strategies and directions for progressive political, social and cultural movements; and to renew the Black radical movement through increased unified action.
The BRC formed local chapters that worked on a range of issues including police brutality, incarceration, public education, labor rights and gender justice, promoting a Black left with the critical inclusion of Black feminist positions within the Black community , Black scholarship, and Black politics until 2008.
Several members attended the World Conference Against Racism, Racial Discrimination, and Xenophobia sponsored by the United Nations and held in Durban South Africa in 2001. This conference, and the follow up reports from the conference highlighted the long tradition of including an internationalist perspective within the movements of the Black Left.
The struggle of Marable and the BRC attempted to address the longstanding tendency in much of the left-leaning social movements and scholarly literature to view black social movements with ambivalence, dismissing them as “identity politics” that compare unfavorably to social movements explicitly calling for revolutionary change.3
Noting that the black freedom struggle has always contested both race and class inequality, scholar and co-founder of the BRC Leith Mullings notes,
“If progressive forces are to move forward in the United States, it is essential that they deal honestly with the role of racism and recognize the coproduction of racism and capitalism rather than dismissing anti-racist struggles
as “identity politics.” 3.
Marable’s work and that of the others in the BRC:, as well as the National Rainbow Coalition; the successful electoral campaigns of Harold Washington for Chicago’s mayor in 1983 and 1987 and the tens of thousands of community-based organizations produced many activists connections to the exciting explosive growth of the current broad based Movement for Black Lives.
Black and Indigenous Resistance in the Americas : From Multiculturalism to Racist Backlash, edited by Juliet Hooker,
Lexington Books, 2020.
This tribute by:
Duane Campbell, retired professor Bilingual/Multicultural Education, California State University -Sacramento former chair of Anti Racism Commission of DSA (1983-2004) and currently a co-chair of DSA’s Immigrants’ Rights Working Group,
Carl Pinkston. Operation Director of Black Parallel School Board (Sacramento) and former member of Liberation Road and Institute for Social and Economic Studies.
This tribute written for the forthcoming, ENCYCLOPEDIA OF THE AMERICAN LEFT,
DSA should focus our energies on joining and building a Left alliance capable of winning socialist demands.
BY SUSAN CHACIN - WINTER 2021
The Left in the US is facing unprecedented challenges. Fortunately, we bring unprecedented resources to this struggle. In this article, I will argue for a refocusing of DSA’s resources to join and build a Left alliance capable of winning socialist demands.
The ruling elites in this country have managed to mobilize widespread support for an anti-democratic, authoritarian assault on our civic institutions and the very democratic process by which we purport to govern ourselves. They have done this by feeding conscious and unconscious white supremacy and jingoistic patriotism, by channeling well-founded working class mistrust of the power structure, and by nurturing and amplifying disagreements among progressives.
The strength of right-wing forces mobilized against us must not be minimized. Historical precedents suggest that we could see a demagogue more capable than Trump attempt an authoritarian, neo-fascist takeover in the mid-range future. But even without considering dangers down the road, we face a current majority of white voters, even white women, who supported the most racist, grifting, con man ever to occupy the Oval Office. Adherents of ludicrous right-wing conspiracies are a minority of Trump’s supporters, but they demonstrated their virulence when they stormed the US Capitol in January.
The self-styled “Christian” Right originally gained power opposing the Equal Rights Amendment, abortion, gay rights, diversity in textbooks, and most recently transgender rights. “Patriot” churches have recently emerged supporting an explicitly pro-Trump gospel. The Business Roundtable and rightwing think tanks funded by deep pocket donors such as the Koch brothers and Robert Mercer have been organizing to defend capitalism since before Reagan. The California “taxpayer revolt” movement that originated in 1978 was still strong enough in November 2020 to defeat restoration of equitable industrial and commercial property taxes. The opposition overcame labor, community, and DSA support with a massive advertising campaign. California’s nominally “blue” electorate in November also defeated gig-workers’ employee rights and refused to restore affirmative action.
The white supremacist movement surged after Obama’s election and new adherents such as the Proud Boys have joined the older neo-Nazi, skinhead, militia, and KKK varieties of racists. Death threats against election officials and elected representatives since Trump’s defeat and the invasion of the Capitol prove that the right’s violent rejection of democratic norms and repudiation of our institutions have become widespread. Racist police murders defended by cities around the country and the reported strength of proto-fascist elements in the military represent an armed element in the array of forces against us. The number of Republican representatives and senators who voted to overturn the election is further evidence of the erosion of support for democracy.
At the same time, in part because of the Right’s success, progressives have mobilized unprecedented forces. The Left’s mobilization has been fueled by the crisis of the neoliberal economy, horrifying evidence of fast worsening climate chaos, rampant homelessness, crimes against immigrants, the erosion of workers’ rights, student and consumer debt, widespread hunger, and police violence. This mobilization is continuing, committed to achieving universal healthcare, climate and environmental justice, immigrant and refugee rights, income equality, workplace safety, protection for Social Security, reproductive rights, housing, police accountability, and voting rights. The Left must fortify itself in the Biden administration’s early days and be ready to surge forth when needed to confront Congress and the administration.
Where Does DSA Stand in This New Political Landscape?
I am worried that DSA will miss the opportunity to make the most positive contribution we are capable of in the coming political period. DSA could represent a socialist voice in a strengthened united front if we are willing to stand in solidarity with other progressives. The reason I am worried is not because we lack energy or momentum. It is because as an organization we were on the sidelines of the historic campaign and strong voter turnout for the 2020 elections. Elections are not, and should not be DSA’s principal focus. However our approach to electoral coalition work is indicative of our general attitude toward the rest of our organizing. To be part of a unifying progressive Left, we must learn to play well with others.
In a recent article titled “On the Sidelines: DSA Abstentionism on Biden vs. Trump,” labor organizers Peter Olney and Rand Wilson argue that “It’s time to acknowledge that ‘Bernie or Bust” was a major tactical and strategic error.” They compare the challenge national DSA will face in attempting to influence the new administration to “a faction within the union deciding that they don’t like the leaders of a strike or their politics. The faction doesn’t participate in picketing, or the strike kitchen, or the mass demonstrations. Then these ‘do nothings’ who essentially sat out the strike, come to the union hall insisting on a major role in determining the terms of the strike settlement.”
Olney and Wilson acknowledge that members of DSA were more aware of what was at stake than our leaders. “The heroes of this election victory are the thousands of grassroots political activists who busted their butts to defeat Trump by working for Biden, particularly in the key battleground states. Thousands of our comrades in the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) and other socialists worked side-by-side with leaders and activists in black and brown organizations, women’s organizations, and labor unions like UNITE-HERE and SEIU.” Local DSA members did this work despite the refusal of our National Political Committee to encourage swing state members to participate in the broad anti-Trump mobilization. When Bernie lost the nomination and urged his supporters to support Biden to defeat Trump, DSA leadership refused.
Thanks to the rest of the Left spearheading the grassroots drive that pushed Biden over the top, DSA dodged the bullet of being blamed for a catastrophic defeat. But it was a much nearer thing than most of us realized.
Willingness to work to defeat Trump did not mean that grassroots DSA members ignored Biden’s shortcomings. Olney and Wilson agree that “few if any of the comrades we campaigned with had illusions about the reality of who Biden actually is or what he represents.” Denunciations of Bill and Hillary Clinton’s roles in collaborating with the right on many issues including criminal injustice, trade deals that handicap labor and regulatory rights, welfare “reform,” and the financial powers’ raids on the economy are chapter and verse among progressives organizing in the Democratic Party. So are criticisms of Barack Obama’s refusal to hold the financial class to account, his administration’s role in massive deportations, and his inability to end the pointless wars in Iraq and Afghanistan. Centrist apologists minimize these betrayals, but honest progressives take them into account and agree that the Democratic Party has a great deal to answer for concerning these issues.
What the broad range of progressive activists that mobilized to defeat Trump do not accept is that these failings rule out working inside the Democratic Party. Bernie was far more successful contending for the Democratic Party nomination that he ever could have been running as an independent, and scores of progressive candidates are running and winning on the Democratic ballot line without sacrificing their principles. The presence of winning progressive candidates at all levels is catalyzing class struggle within the Democratic Party.
With the inauguration of Joe Biden and Kamala Harris, we are entering a new era of political struggle. Predictably, allies brought together to oppose Trump will regroup and even oppose each other under the new administration. Many progressives who mobilized support to defeat Trump are old hands at advocacy and will not be surprised to find the Biden-Harris administration resistant to demands that they fulfill the 2020 Democratic Party platform. Newer and less wary activists may be disappointed by the administration’s anticipated reluctance to implement even portions of the platform that they could make good on. In both cases, socialists in general, and DSA in particular, must accept that electoral organizing always entails exacting accountability. It is our job to point out gaps between campaign promises and implementation without snarkily claiming “we told you so, this is what you get when you trust a Democrat.”
The Sanders campaigns of 2016 and 2020, the election of significant numbers of leftists to congressional, state and local offices in both 2018 and 2020, and even Elizabeth Warren’s 2020 campaign have moved the goal posts of the “possible” to the left. Medicare for All, the Green New Deal, and the Fight for $15 are being accepted more and more as common sense demands rather than radical socialist fantasies.
The Congressional Progressive Caucus is stronger than ever, and has issued “The People’s Agenda: A Progressive Roadmap for Congress in 2021.” In the face of media attempts to blame socialists for down-ballot Democratic defeats, Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez has countered, arguing that progressive candidates were able to win by advocating the progressive agenda even in “swing” districts. AOC emphasizes that Democrats can prevail when they go to the grassroots and campaign on an activist, working people’s platform. AOC’s example of pressing Nancy Pelosi to demand support for younger, more progressive leadership while offering support for the Speaker’s reelection should be instructive to us. In real life, we must combine confrontation with collaboration.
What were the sources of DSA’s refusal to join in the broad coalition working to defeat Trump? Olney and Wilson suggest that “DSA’s experience in the 2020 election can be a teachable moment.” I agree. However to use this opportunity to its best advantage, we have to examine a number of hard truths about the organization.
There are a number of deep-seated sources of harmful ideas in DSA. As a veteran of socialist organizing, I recognize many of these wrong-headed tendencies because I have had to admit them in my own work. It is important for us not to repeat the history of socialist organizations around the world in which disagreements lead to divisions. A classic joke about how misguided criticism can become is that when the Left needs a firing squad, we draw up in a circle. As a “big tent” organization, DSA must not try to enforce ideological purity. We are not bound by the Leninist policy that all members must commit to carrying out the line once it is decided by the members or their leaders. This openness allows us to point out when a position adopted by some of us has failed, without calling for their expulsion.
I am calling on members of all our opinions and caucuses to examine the following ideas. If they are helpful, they may contribute to growing our organization and making it more welcoming. There may be others I have not identified. As an organization that has experienced an extraordinary surge in membership, we owe it to each other to increase positive dialogue and learn from each other. Finger pointing, trolling, and subterranean maneuvers to gain organizational influence are toxic and must be identified when they occur.
Here is my list of what some Marxists call “deviations,” tendencies I believe are distorting our political positions:
Ultra-leftism: DSA members tend to come to socialism from middle-class backgrounds and have college educations. That’s me too. As soon as I rejected my class background, I affiliated with a movement for “third-world” revolution and spent years ignoring the evidence that “the people” were not winnable to the revolution we imagined. I believe my ultra-left fervor reflected fear that I could be sucked back into my white middle-class privilege if I didn’t become sufficiently radical.
DSA seems to have many converts to socialism who think that the farthest left positions are the most righteous. It’s not okay to chant “Eat the rich!” or “Defund the police!” if doing so alienates people we could attract. If we only support avowedly socialist candidates, it can isolate us from community movements that have local working class support. Calling for the founding of a labor party in today’s political landscape marks DSA members as wildly unrealistic. We also must beware of not listening to smaller DSA chapters and chapters in conservative areas. Those of us in “blue” enclaves need to support what works for our members in other places and environments. These chapters and members can help the organization relate to a broader, more working class constituency than we currently attract.
DSA’s refusal to campaign for Biden against Trump in swing states proclaimed that we valued our ideological purity above taking part in the dynamic mobilization organized to defeat Trump. It also showed that DSA did not take seriously the huge damage to environmental, racial justice, and labor protections done by Trump’s administration and supporters. Our purity was more important than fighting neo-fascism. We did not take a stand against his animation of the worst right-wing resurgence since the civil rights movement.
Unconscious white privilege: The Left has a problem accepting that our views are shaped by white supremacy. We overtly reject racism and are committed to equality. But that is not enough. I reacted to the assault on Congress with optimism: it was showing how violent Trump’s supporters can be, it discredited them. An interracial friend told me it frightened her: troupes of racist thugs perpetrating violence are terrifying. I apologized to her for minimizing the danger she feels. Unconscious bias is impossible to overcome completely, it has taken me years of work to even be aware that I am subject to it.
DSA is not exclusively white, but we have acknowledged for years that we do not have strong enough participation by people of color or a credible presence in racial justice movements. I believe this is why the organization did not stand in solidarity with the strong anti-Trump movement among organizations representing people of color. Bernie Sanders’ positions on racial justice fell short of what many of us hoped for and are widely believed to have cost him support among constituencies of color, particularly older Black voters. I believe that DSA’s racial makeup, coupled with our socialist ideology–seeing the capitalist economic base of society as the fundamental cause of inequality and oppression–have blinded us to the role that racism is playing in the growth and virulence of the Right.
In mid-2020, I contacted labor activist and DSA member Bill Fletcher Jr. and asked “I wonder if you share my concern over the strong tendency in DSA to minimize the danger of the mobilized Right? I think part of DSA’s problem is an intellectual position minimizing the role of white supremacy in U.S. politics. It is popular in DSA to oppose ‘identity politics’ under the rubric of advocating working class leadership. I think this is a reflection of intellectual arrogance and a form of ultra-leftism. It is not exclusively white members who maintain this position.” Fletcher responded: “I think that you are absolutely correct. Too many DSAers fail to grasp the essence of right-wing populism. DSA has never has a solid grasp of racism and national oppression.”
Ian Haney López’s recent book Merge Left: Fusing Race and Class, Winning Elections, and Saving America, presents hard data on how progressives can best argue against right-wing “dog whistles” that animate racial anxiety in undecided constituencies. The Race/Class project, in collaboration with the progressive think tank Dēmos, helped me understand why Sanders’ message fell flat with important segments of the African American electorate. Sanders claimed that fighting economic inequality would lift African Americans’ lives and solve their oppression. His references to having marched for civil rights were weak and outdated for audiences asking how he would address white terrorism, police violence and other current forms of Black oppression
López points out that Sanders’ message relied heavily on economic measures to “lift all boats.” But economic uplift does little to interrupt systemic white supremacy. DSA’s approach to racial injustice is hampered by members’ unwillingness to admit that all of us are affected by the prevailing caste system. We have work to do. Joining Black Lives Matter demonstrations does little to counteract the anti-identitarian positions frequently voiced in DSA.
Patriarchal attitudes: Socialist feminism does not consist solely in supporting gender and reproductive rights, advocating for equal pay, or electing more women to office. Radical feminism provides a lens to critique the competitive, hierarchical social norms enshrined in our domestic, economic, and civic interactions. As a lesbian feminist, I find DSA rife with organizational dynamics and attitudes that reflect the dominance hierarchy prevalent in traditional gender relationships. Too often, DSA members approach organizing as if it were a competition with other groups and philosophies rather than a collaboration to build “the beloved community.” Attitudes toward liberals in DSA are particularly bitter. Seeing other groups as enemies rather than potential allies alienates potential recruits and can lead to hostile interactions.
The “Bernie Bro” meme was true enough that when the Working Families Party endorsed Elizabeth Warren’s candidacy, I could not tell whether the vicious reactions were coming from comrades or had been planted by malicious bots. Various groupings in DSA voice open hostility toward the positions of other tendencies. I have had a harder time writing this article than I expected because I am aware that I may receive personal attacks as a result of my opinions.
Ageism and negative attitudes toward DSA’s history: DSA’s rapid growth and organizing successes following the 2016 presidential election have led many new members to disregard the experience of DSA’s elder statesmen and women. Ageism is a thing, it leaves many older members feeling unseen, disrespected and patronized. It is the flip side of the capitalist marketing of youth and beauty. Remember: if some of us had not worked hard to keep DSA alive for years, there would have been no gathering place for the thousands of people radicalized by Bernie’s campaigns and Trump’s election.
We face a generation gap between graying DSA culture-bearers and the huge number of newer members. Political positions do not align neatly with this division, but many older, longstanding members profess more moderate socialist positions, and many younger members and members joining from other socialist tendencies advocate a 180 degree change away from our grounding in democratic socialist principles. Adding to this dichotomy, older members are often less skilled at using social media tools, and may have less energy for organizational struggles and contention. It is right for young, enthusiastic socialists to question what has gone before them, to challenge received wisdom. It is also healthy for DSA to conserve our roots and sustain an ongoing dialogue between revolutionary and evolutionary socialists. Making this a productive, comradely enterprise is everyone’s responsibility.
What is to Be Done?
There is a strong tendency in DSA to “go it alone,” to believe that because we have become the predominant socialist organization in the US we should catalyze the progressive agenda and drive it toward revolutionary change. Proud of our growth and the militancy of our membership, important sectors of DSA run the risk of isolating us from the very forces that should be our best allies and comrades in struggle. This stance harms DSA’s reputation and credibility, but more importantly, it shirks the leadership role that we should be playing on the left.
I am arguing the DSA should reach out and build relationships with honest individuals and groups from the broadest progressive sources. DSA, organized labor, and a wide swath of advocacy groups have been doing this. Witness the new acceptability of concepts such as the $15 minimum wage, free higher education, and the Green New Deal. If socialists see ourselves as competing with other progressive organizations, we are failing to meet our political potential. Denouncing other progressive groups and positions rather than cooperating, collaborating, and coordinating marks us as sectarian. A primary task of the Left today is building greater solidarity among ourselves as we take action to implement our vision for society.
The anti-Trump social justice forces defeated the head of the Republican Party in 2020, but to win as leftists, we have to continue and strengthen this mighty mobilization across our ideological differences. To actually win demands, we have to carry the collaboration into community work, particularly important in the crises generated by COVID-19, massive unemployment, and climate chaos.
Building this kind of Left unity will also allow us to withstand the inevitable realignment that will be necessary to carry our demands into an administration governed by Democrats. If we unite rather than “punching horizontally,” we build support for our policy demands and demonstrate the strength of our agenda to centrists and to the institutional elite of the Democratic Party. If we are not unified, the Left will be more easily dismissed as “fringe elements” without the organizational power to demand accountability. By refusing to pull each other down, we wage class struggle inside as well as outside, and we can pull the Democratic Party further to the left.
In the current political landscape numerous organizations such as the Poor People’s Campaign, Swing Left, the Movement 4 Black Lives, Dēmos, MoveOn, Indivisible, the Women’s March, and the Working Families Party are our allies, not our opponents and certainly not our enemies. My understanding of history says that Hitler’s success was facilitated by mutual attacks between the communists and social democrats, failing to see the extreme danger posed to both by fascism. It is hard to believe that anyone can doubt the harm that has been done by the ultra-right acting through Trump’s first term. This constituency is not going away! No one is asking DSA or any other group to stop explaining how capitalism has brought us to this pass – but this is not the moment to be excoriating progressives who do not call themselves socialists.
Within DSA, like-minded folks must continue to coalesce. I am a member of the North Star Caucus. I hope that North Star and other groupings will be able to present a unified and unifying coalition at the national convention. Internal organizing is an urgent task. DSA’s 235 chapters and organizing committees deserve to be encouraged to connect and forge the kind of unity that will sustain us as DSA grows into its potential.
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About Susan Chacin
Susan Chacin is a veteran socialist and labor movement activist. She is a former member of the New American Movement of the 1970s, and served two terms on DSA’s National Political Committee (NPC) in the late 1990s and early 2000s. She is a member of East Bay DSA.
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