People of Color History of DSA
Two comrades in Sacramento have written a four part history of people of color work in DSA. We congratulate them on their work and recommend it.
by Duane Campbell
At the same time, we must insist that the story of people of color in DSA is not only the story of African American participation. While mentioned in part two of the series, after that the work of the Anti Racism Commission and the Latino Commissions in DSA disappear. There needs to be a part five and six at least. Below is a supplement to the four part series people of color history. The current history of DSA as presented by the Sacramento writers David Roddy and Alyssa De La Rosa misses this important work.
Let us begin near the beginning.
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. He was a prolific scholar and continued his career at Columbia University. 1
(Marable, Encyclopedia of the American Left. Verso, 2022. )
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. The Anti Racism Commission also supported the election effort of Ron Daniels for President in 1992 as an independent.
Many socialists and activists in the 70’s, including this writer, were engaged as organizers with the United Farmworkers of America. Doing this work taught us the fundamental value of unions to working people in a period when middle class student activists have not learned the important role of labor unions in building a better future. Working along side great organizers we learned organizing skills and discipline. Dolores Huerta was a founding Vice President of the United Farmworkers. Later Eliseo Medina was a Vice President. Eliseo went on to become a Vice President of SEIU. Both were later Honorary Chairs of DSA until these positions were eliminated in 2017. They had been important emissaries to work in the Latino community, particularly in California.
Dolores Delgado Campbell became a chair of the Latino Commission at the founding of the Latino Commission at Fisk. (1983) She contributed to the 1983 publication Women of Color, by the DSA Feminist Commission. Over the years there were several co chairs of the Latino Commission including José La Luz . I,( the writer) Duane Campbell became co chair of DSA’s Anti Racism Commission and secretary to the Latino Commission at this 1983 meeting.
The Latino Commission worked for a number of years on immigrants’ rights efforts beginning in 1985, including the effort to defeat the Reagan “Amnesty” plan or IRCA of 1986, During the 1990’s, we were again intensely involved in trying to defeat the anti Immigration California Proposition 187. California Proposition 187 was a pivotal feature in redirecting the political trajectory of Latino politics in California, and the South West.
(Bert Corona, Encyclopedia of the American Left. Verso. 2022. )
(2. Meyerson, )
These efforts taught us the stark realities of globalism producing migration as well as the importance of internationalism. Immigrant rights works taught us to see capitalism from its harsh periphery.
The prior four part essay has a limited recognition of the Central American struggles, NAFTA ( 1994) , and the changes in the AFL-CIO. The Latino Commission had worked for over a decade on Central American solidarity efforts for both El Salvador and Nicaragua. The Latino Commission took leadership in bringing these struggles to DSA through campaigns, speakers, and representation by leaders from Central America. Participation in these movements taught us to look beyond the narrow perspectives of the U.S. media to recognize the deadly and imperialist nature of U.S. power. Along the way we learned that our government was willing to kill at least 30,000 Salvadorans and Nicaraguans to impose U.S. domination.
During the 80s, the organized left in the U.S. was small. Most organizations ranged from 50- 200 activists. DSA was the largest with some 10,000 members. Many activists in these small organizations decided to concentrate on building the structures of their own left organizations. These organizations have since disappeared . The organized left was only of marginal assistance to building the Central American solidarity movements and was too weak to contribute significantly to the Anti War movement of 2003. .
By 1994, the Latino Commission of DSA was only operating effectively in California. Elected leaders to DSA’s NPC included Al Rojas and Eric Vega. Al was a former UFW organizer, and became the Chair of North Americans for Democracy in Mexico. Together played an active role in seeking to defeat NAFTA including bring Cuauhtemoc Cardenas, candidate for President of Mexico, for a California tour. Eric Vega as an NPC member played an active role in bringing DSA resources and organizing to the important California Proposition 209 campaign in an effort to defend Affirmative Action (1996). He was a lead organizer for this campaign in Sacramento. Each of these efforts were integrated with labor organizing efforts.
There were efforts during these years to create left organizations, D.S.A. (Democratic Socialists of America) C.C. for D.S. (Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism ) along with the remnants of earlier left parties of the socialists and communists. Since DSA played no part in the important electoral campaigns, the organization did not grow.
None of the left efforts have achieved even a modest sized organization that could organize for issues, influence national, state, or local politics, or produce significant results. This decline of the organized left was directly proportional to the decline of organized labor as a political force.
Good people from several perspectives tried to build an ideological left, but they were unable to develop and sustain organizations which served as recruitment, training, preparation and conduits to effective political action. The nascent organizations, few of which last more than ten years, have been unable to create a multi racial left culture where activists could find meaning and importance in their lives by struggling to make a difference in our society.
DSA, as the largest of these organizations, did not overcome its isolation from the Latino community even though we had outstanding notables including Dolores Huerta and Eliseo Medina. Without capacity building organizations, the popular left activism continually recruited new people and burned out veterans rather than building a sustaining culture and organization. Notably, African American organizers created African American groups such as the Black Radical Congress, and Latino organizations created a series of Latino organizations both inside and outside of the Democratic Party,
Organizations usually exist to develop projects and carry out political work. DSA had locals and the commissions from 1983- 2004, in order to pursue political projects together. Activism organizes. Lack of activism leads to the decline of locals, the commissions and of the organization. ( for an alternative See Jose La Luz, An Organizing Model of Unionism, Labor Research Review. Midwest Center for Labor Research, 1992.
A result of the low level of political work and the meager level of organizational resources, participation by all groups , including Latinos , in DSA declined. At the same time Latino participation in labor unions and Latino organizations grew. In response to the declining state of affairs within DSA , the Latino commission decided in 2004 to operate as more as a network and less as a commission. With the development of electronic communications, there was no longer a significant need for a quarterly newsletter ( Our Struggle) Both the Latino Commission and the Anti Racism Commissions terminated their roles as commissions of DSA.
During its time of growth ( 1983-2000) the Latino Commission was able to recruit and organize several leading Chicanos from the Sacramento area into DSA leadership and YDS.
After a few years they each left. Interviews of the Latinos who left give reasons for leaving as follows.
1. Latinos were integrated into the organization, but Latino issues were not central.
2. DSA as an organization did little other than talk. These activists wanted to be part of an organization that advanced political work.
3. DSA did not have an action plan nor the ability to mobilize people, particularly people of color. Latino activists preferred to work effectively within the Latino community
Records and documents of the above are available from the author.
Details of much of this history can be found at www.antiracismdsa.blogspot.com. This was the forum of the Commissions. There is a link on the right of this page.
The Obama campaign
Like the 1984 Jackson campaign, DSA organizationally sat out the Obama campaign of 2008. The National Political Committee (NPC) speaking for DSA offered “critical support” for Obama campaign in late August. While some DSA members worked on the Obama campaign as individuals, DSA itself was at such a low level that there was no significant mobilization of DSA members nor resources for the election.
As a consequence, the size, strength, organizational abilities of DSA remained essentially what it was prior to the Obama campaign .
There was a notable lack of Latino participation in the Obama campaign in California of 2008. We brought this weakness up to the Obama campaign steering committee on three occasions.
There was no recognizable Latino outreach effort for the Obama campaign in Sacramento nor in California. This was surprising to us. A campaign viewpoint was that California was going to vote for Obama, so there was not a need for organizing outreach. Instead, there were efforts to get Sacramento volunteers to travel to Nevada for campaigning.
Latinos resoundingly rebuked this electoral abstention by voting for Obama by 66 % to 32,% a huge sixteen-point swing to the Democrats compared to 2004. Even a 58 percent majority of Cubans in Florida, traditionally solidly Republican, went for Obama.
Latinas led the way toward Obama, casting 68 percent of their votes for him and only 30 percent for McCain. Latino voters under 30 went for Obama by 76 to 24, indicating the direction of future Latino voting patterns.
Asians swung Democratic by fourteen points over 2004, voting for Obama 61 to 35. The political trajectory of Asian voters has been striking. In 1992, Bill Clinton received only 31 percent of the Asian vote. Since then Asians have steadily moved Democratic.
Obama’ success was both astonishing and history making. He won the southwestern states of Nevada, Colorado and New Mexico, and the former Confederate slave states of Virginia, North Carolina and Florida, as well as former slave states Maryland and Delaware. The Latino vote was decisive for Obama in Nevada, New Mexico, Florida and Colorado in 2008.
2, Meyerson The Blue-ing of California. 2020.
3. Corona, Encyclopedia of the American Left. Verso, 2022.
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