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