Fighting for more than just the next step

Augustus Binu/ Commons

In a dark and perilous time, a politically diverse resistance has arisen to fight the Republicans who control all three branches of the federal government as well as 25 state governments. The GOP is determined to roll back decades of social progress. They have to be defeated in 2018, but we can’t just play defense. We need to build the social movements for economic, racial and gender justice.

Since we are dealing with growing income inequality and the galloping menace of climate change, we need radical, visionary and transformative change. That means challenging the pro-corporate Democrats as well.

In this fight, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) has surprised many with its rapid growth.

Just recently, DSA became the country’s largest socialist organization since the 1940s. In May 2016, DSA had 6,500 dues-paying members. It now has 25,000 members. Currently it has 177 local groups in 49 states and Washington D.C. and at least 17 local elected officials. This summer, students on more than 200 college campuses signed up to start Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) chapters.

On August 3-6, DSA held its biannual national convention at the Chicago campus of the University of Illinois. About 1,000 delegates, observers and journalists from around the world attended. Most of the delegates were young, white and male. However, according to DSA statistics, 40 percent were women, and 20 percent were people of color. I was one of the old fart delegates, and I was struck by the boisterous enthusiasm and optimism of the new people. Most of them had come out of the Bernie Sanders campaign or joined in reaction to the horrifying election of Donald Trump.

DSA’s 2016 “Resistance Rising” strategy document identifies its ultimate goal as the “radical democratization of all areas of life, not least of which is the economy.” Politically, this would involve reforms like national referenda and recall mechanisms to hold elected officials accountable, proportional representation for Congress, and the abolition of the Senate.

Resistance Rising describes how capitalism would be dismantled and a democratic socialist society created. All businesses would be democratically managed by the workers who comprise them and the communities where they operate. Big crucial sectors of the economy — such as housing, utilities and heavy industry — would be subject to democratic planning outside the market, while firms producing consumer goods would be subject to market forces but would be worker-owned and operated.

This is the longer term vision. In the here and now, DSA local chapters focus on a few important activist projects in coalition with organizations, that represent working-class people. The group emphasizes pushing “non-reformist” or “transformational” reforms that inhibit corporate power such as “Medicare for All” and free public higher education.

DSA isn’t a political party. In electoral politics, we are pragmatic and will support progressive candidates who can win whether they are Democrats, independents or third-party members. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, a 28-year-old DSAer who was recently elected to the Chicago City Council, supports working within the Democratic Party.

He argues, “The Democratic Party is not a monolith. It’s a label. It’s not a membership organization like the DSA. It is a label that under state and local law has been given preference in getting access to ballot lines. It is also the preferred ballot line of a vast majority of people that prefer things like single-payer and a $15 minimum wage.”

It seemed like the new younger delegates had much higher expectations for DSA than the older delegates. In her report on DSA’s budget, treasurer Theresa Alt expressed caution: “There was an earlier period of horror at what was going on in Washington combined with euphoria about the power and promise of DSA. In the early 1980s under Reagan, people flocked to join DSA, but mostly they didn’t last. By the mid-1990s, DSA was declining in both resources and membership.”

A DSA founder, Michael Harrington, had some words of wisdom in his memoir Fragments of the Century:

“The vocation of a radical is to walk a perilous tightrope. We must be true to the socialist vision of a new society and constantly develop and extend its content; and we must bring that vision into contact with the actual movements fighting not to transform the system, but to gain some little increment of dignity or even just a piece of bread.

“If the radical becomes totally obsessed with their vision, they will fall off that tightrope into a righteous irrelevance; if they adapt too well to the movement we hope to inspire, they will fall into a pragmatic irrelevance. Our task is to balance vision and practicality, to fight not simply for the next step, but for the next step in a voyage of ten thousand miles.”

There are DSA chapters in Boulder, Denver and Colorado Springs. Here’s Boulder DSA’s Facebook page:

This opinion column does not necessarily reflect the views of Boulder Weekly.