The ones to decide what happens next
December 22, 2017 9:39 AM   Subscribe

 
Americans have long had a stigma against anything "socialist" but when it's reached a point where everyone to the left of Chris Christie is labelled a socialist by a talking head on Fox News why not actually lean into it?
posted by thecjm at 9:49 AM on December 22, 2017 [10 favorites]


Because their life experience has led them to the conclusion that capitalism sucks and it's time to try something else!
posted by vibrotronica at 9:59 AM on December 22, 2017 [12 favorites]


My biggest concern with DSA (as a dues-paying member) is that it currently seems on track to follow Jacobin down the "identity politics is a distraction" path.

The natural base of the left in the US, crudely speaking, is WOC. I worry that DSA is going to end up missing that fact.
posted by PMdixon at 10:05 AM on December 22, 2017 [48 favorites]


My daydream fantasy is that the Republican party finishes breaking and shatters under the weight of its own venomous spite. The Democratic party, already being in actuality a center-right coalition, takes the Republican's place, and the Democratic Socialists become the new left.

It'll never happen, but a boy can daydream.
posted by los pantalones del muerte at 10:14 AM on December 22, 2017 [19 favorites]


The Fetonte stuff in this article is really slanted.

Earlier in the year, CLEAT had opposed an early version of the anti-racial-profiling Sandra Bland Act; the union has a “Blue Lives Matter”–ish reputation, mostly due to accusations that it has helped to protect brutal cops.

[content warning] No, it is not due to some kind of vague "accusations" but due to CLEAT's concrete actions. It's a matter of record that CLEAT not only protected San Antonio police officer Jackie Neal when he raped a handcuffed woman in the back of his patrol car (after numerous prior accusations of sexually assaulting women in custody) but spent over a million dollars campaigning against contract changes that would have allowed cops like this to be removed. (CLEAT was not "helping" anyone; it ran this campaign itself.) All of this happened while Fetonte was a CLEAT employee. To this day Fetonte stands by his work with CLEAT and refuses to disavow it.

During my months observing the organization, I spoke with many members who had previously worked for entities that could be considered at odds with DSA’s values: the US military, the white-shoe law firm Jones Day (which has mounted several conservative legal challenges to the Affordable Care Act), and the Democratic Party itself. Indeed, I spoke with one other person who had previously held a position similar to Fetonte’s—as a union organizer for correction officers—and who remains a DSA member to this day.

None of those people were elected to the National Political Committee. No one was ever calling for Fetonte to lose his membership, only that he not be allowed to hold a leadership position. The employment history of rank-and-file DSA members is thus irrelevant.

There is also no mention of the infamous Austin DSA meeting where Fetonte chaired the discussion of whether the branch should support him, declared a resolution to that effect with no vote, refused to allow any of his opponents to speak, etc.

I love the new ubiquity of DSA folks (I was at a labor action last night where the turnout would have been far lower without the DSA's support) but this article seriously soft-pedals the Fetonte issue. A more accurate rendition of what happened: How the DSA Screwed Up with Danny Fetonte. Neither the DSA nor the left is served by this kind of spin.
posted by enn at 10:18 AM on December 22, 2017 [19 favorites]


I'd describe myself as "DSA-curious" and I wouldn't known about them at all if it wasn't for Twitter. I guess I'm cautious about aligning myself with anything - I've seen firsthand how queer activist organizations can fracture among "radical" vs. "not radical enough" and I'm just too old for lots of 20-something drama. OTOH something needs to be done and I can't sit on the sidelines and watch.

Part of my hesitation is that my city, Milwaukee, is completely unable to get a critical mass of activists despite having a huge base with little to lose and everything to gain. Jeff Sessions was here on Monday and there were maybe 30-40 protestors. There was so much energy right after the election and it's waned so much. I don't mean to disparage local leaders, some of who I know personally (IWW and SURJ), especially while I'm sitting at home, but I'm reluctant to throw a bunch of energy into a population that is so complacent.

Anyway. I was going to go to the last DSA meeting and I couldn't for Reasons, but I probably will check out the next one, if they don't kick me out for being an old. :)
posted by AFABulous at 10:37 AM on December 22, 2017 [12 favorites]


Because the two mainstream parties represent rich people who are fascists and rich people who want to compromise with fascists respectively.
posted by Artw at 10:39 AM on December 22, 2017 [11 favorites]


This is beyond or tangential to the scope of the article, but I was kind of curious if young people are joining the DSA (and the alt-right) partly because of the reduced presence of civic and/or religious organizations in American life. I remember when Crossfit groups came up on the Blue, it was suggested that one of gaps it filled was a lack of religious community. And similarly, is the rise of such organizations a reaction to their parents' generation, which saw the most decline in those organizations?

Not trying to diminish the DSA by comparing it to Crossfit, just wondering if there's greater trends at work here that are spilling over into politics.
posted by FJT at 11:00 AM on December 22, 2017 [4 favorites]


I'd guess young people are joining the DSA because of reduced everything.
posted by Artw at 11:04 AM on December 22, 2017 [6 favorites]


As the meme says, “my retirement plan is a Communist revolution”.
posted by acb at 11:12 AM on December 22, 2017 [5 favorites]


Someone slipped acid in my eggnog at the office christmas party and I had a peek through a wormhole that showed a timeline where, although the US two-party system still reigns, the two parties are the Dems and the DSA, with the GOP relegated to "embarrassing historical footnote" status.
posted by mrjohnmuller at 11:13 AM on December 22, 2017 [5 favorites]


That would seem like the best possible outcome. All the alleged moderate Republucans not not fully dedicated to white supremacy could probably find a cosy home in that kind of Demiocratic party too.
posted by Artw at 11:30 AM on December 22, 2017 [4 favorites]


with the GOP relegated to "embarrassing historical footnote" status.
Considering His Trumpness' record with business failures (he couldn't make money owning CASINOS for goodness' sake), he's as likely to destroy the Republican Party as to achieve King and Dictator status.
posted by oneswellfoop at 11:42 AM on December 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


My organizing experience seems to indicate that the author pretty much nails the reason kids are joining the DSA: Sanders followed by Trump led to a lot of political awakenings (and re-awakenings) and the DSA had enough name recognition that people naturally gravitated to the semi-known in approaching something as 'scary' as activism

I say this as an anti-racist organizer who was surprised to find 30 people coming to the first SURJ potluck we held to seeing depleting turnout up until the Presidential and then standing in front of an auditorium of 300+ people the week after HuffPo released a highly seen article about 'here's what to do if you want the fight Trump' in early December 2016 with finding your SURJ chapter being one of the end results

Which is also to say: there were and are better organizations out there run by people more engaged with local politics. our chapter at that time was inexperienced and not even fully politically conscious in a lot of ways. but like with anything else, people aren't there to find the best fit - they just kind of stumble into the most accessible or familiar thing, concrete political ethos or well-defined critical pedagogy be damned
posted by runt at 11:43 AM on December 22, 2017 [6 favorites]


The GOP represents the very wealthy, so they'll be around for a while. They've done a good job of taking all the wealth and blocking access to housing, health care and education. The Democrats seem a bit dazed. I see the Right with its fake news propagation and hate machinery as effective. The Dems are all Hey, look, we're correct, and they're thieving jerkholes, why aren't you voting for us? and it's not working. When I talk to young people about politics, they don't see the Democratic Party as being much use to them. Social Democrat, Democratic Socialist? Either way, I'm on board. An army of young Democratic Socialists would be my favorite Solstice gift.
posted by theora55 at 11:56 AM on December 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


There is also a long institutional history in DSA- my old chapter in Ithaca NY has reportedly tripled in size this year, and the long-time members- people who have been in the chapter for 30 years- have a lot of experience in activism as well as practical political know-how. And we were taught by the previous generation of Ithaca activists- participants of the 1969 Cornell protests. I'm sure there are a number of cities where the DSA chapters go back generations.
posted by acrasis at 11:58 AM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


My biggest concern with DSA (as a dues-paying member) is that it currently seems on track to follow Jacobin down the "identity politics is a distraction" path.

I am not a joiner by nature, but I've followed and threw a little money at the DSA for the last 10 years or so, and recommended them to people, even on this site.

Running up to last years election I started following politics on Twitter. The last years experience has dulled my enthusiasm a bit and made me much more dedicated to the Democrats than I ever had been before.

From the article;
Harrington aimed to put aside the left’s infighting: DSA would be an independent coalition working inside and outside the Democratic Party—in other words, a kind of friendly socialist lobby.

The organization has always been largely white and male: It’s roughly 90 percent white and 75 percent male, a makeup that is impossible not to notice at meetings and gatherings.

The article confirms that the organization seems to have changed focus and/or tactics with the swelling of the ranks, and it's not just my imagination. The older strategy was what attracted me in the first place. We'll see what happens, but there are lots of little things that make me uneasy and skeptical at this point.

It's impossible to tell how many people on Twitter are attention seekers, awful people, or paid trolls, but a lot of them are being attracted to the Rose. I do believe that there are people online who are not sincere and trying to discredit the movement from within, paid or not, and quite a few attention seekers working their way towards a flip. One of my problems is that I never see a denouncement, no matter how terrible the behavior.
posted by bongo_x at 12:46 PM on December 22, 2017 [4 favorites]


The rise of the DSA is to my eyes like an encapsulation of everything confusing and distorting about 2017. Pre-2016 me would have done fist pumps in seeing the DSA ranks swell and thought that maybe the new generation would lead us to a glorious socialist future. But now, after last year, I can't help but look at it with skepticism. Is this movement being exaggerated to sow division amongst the left? Will everyone not affiliated with the DSA be labeled a neocon now? I am fearful that the Democratic coalition is being torn apart, with wonky, socialist-minded white males being pulled away to a political corner that allows them to ignore the racism and sexism right under their noses.
The past two years have made me all the more committed to being a Plain-Old Democrat. I hope that those who find a home with the DSA can see that the Democratic party, and members such as myself, are allies.
posted by slickvaguely at 1:07 PM on December 22, 2017 [13 favorites]


I hope that those who find a home with the DSA can see that the Democratic party, and members such as myself, are allies.

Until and unless we can get money out of politics, the Democratic establishment will marginalize any candidate to the left of Joe Lieberman. Until then it's going to be more candidates that are Republicans in sheep's clothing. Maybe the average Democratic voter is an ally, but the DNC is not.
posted by ambulocetus at 1:33 PM on December 22, 2017 [6 favorites]


My biggest concern with DSA (as a dues-paying member) is that it currently seems on track to follow Jacobin down the "identity politics is a distraction" path.

I share this concern but I see some heartening conversations going on. The Dig is an organ of Jacobin and their latest episode’s got a good dicussion about the origins of the idea of identity politics and the semantic creep that has recently changed how people talk about it. The guest is the author of a new book that sounds awesome and I’m stoked to read and talk about it with people in my chapter.

One of my problems is that I never see a denouncement, no matter how terrible the behavior.

I agree that anyone with a rose emoji being a dick on Twitter sucks and deserves denouncing, but are you saying that some part of the actual DSA should take that on? I’m not sure I can get on board with that. I joined this year and I come to DSA to get offline for once and do some meaningful work, or engage meaningfully, in the world. It seems like a bad look, and not the best use of time, for the org to take responsibility for stopping Twitter shitfights beyond the extent to which they actually impact a chapter’s work. (Which, I won’t deny, they can!) Twitter should be better at stopping people from being dicks, and DSA members should encourage each other not to be dicks — which may well happen without you seeing it.
posted by clavicle at 1:45 PM on December 22, 2017 [2 favorites]


Not trying to diminish the DSA by comparing it to Crossfit, just wondering if there's greater trends at work here that are spilling over into politics.

I think there definitely are, but those trends were already political. The decline in civic organizations is political because, fundamentally, capitalism wants us working all the time, not organized, not civically engaged. So something like DSA kind of offers a better way forward on multiple levels—short term and long term, small scale and large.
posted by clavicle at 1:56 PM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


are you saying that some part of the actual DSA should take that on?

God no, I'm not talking about officials getting involved in Twitter fights with everyone with a rose in their name. But I rarely see any criticism, in any way. It's not that hard to make general statements that distance yourself from positions that you don't support, and clarify what you do.

And there are some awful people speaking for the organization.

Frankly it reminds me a little too much (in a much milder way) of how the Republicans wouldn't denounce the crazy for years because it was bringing them support. And now they're Nazis. Insincere attention seekers will always take over and warp your organization if you don't stop them.
posted by bongo_x at 2:07 PM on December 22, 2017 [6 favorites]


Since the last DSA thread there was a good exchange published about the DSA's founder in the Weekly Worker (UK). [Original article; DSA guy response; original author responds to response]

One of my problems is that I never see a denouncement, no matter how terrible the behavior.

I don't know what standard you're saying the DSA should reach for (in my view, a political organization should have more important priorities than policing social media), but in fact occasionally there has been, if not a denouncement, an addressing of certain high-profile incidents.

And similarly, is the rise of such organizations a reaction to their parents' generation, which saw the most decline in those organizations?

Some of the DSA events I have attended do remind me of a Protestant youth group: everyone is polite, friendly, outgoing, and in a (suspiciously?) good mood. I think a lot of more civic-minded people are finding a community there, of the kind that churches may have served for many in times past, and there's nothing wrong with that.

(Actually, there is a strain of thought within some sectors of the DSA that subsuming as much social/cultural activity under the auspices of the political organization would be a good thing, in part because that was a feature of the left in the era/locations in which social-democratic organizations had much more power.)
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 2:19 PM on December 22, 2017 [4 favorites]


As a non-member but someone who is broadly sympathetic with at least the stated goals of the DSA, I’ve avoided joining for the same reason I’ve avoided any sort of organized leftism in my adulthood: based on what I’ve seen on Twitter at least the DSA seems startlingly prone to full-blown tankie obnoxiousness, which I have literally zero patience for. Is this just another classic case of “the loudest most terrible people are the Extremely Online ones and if you show up in person it’s actually chill”, or...?
posted by Itaxpica at 2:41 PM on December 22, 2017 [5 favorites]


the Democratic establishment will marginalize any candidate to the left of Joe Lieberman.

Yes, just like they did... Basically every sitting elected Dem at the federal level besides maybe Manchin and Heitkamp and I'm not even sure about them? As well as Obama and Clinton? Are you serious?

I'm perfectly happy to criticize the Democratic party at many different levels for many different reasons all the livelong day. There's a difference between that and just making shit up.
posted by PMdixon at 2:47 PM on December 22, 2017 [16 favorites]


I am sort of DSA-adjacent, but have not joined yet, and still not sure if I will for several reasons. But right now, I have a lot of respect for what many chapters are doing, and I *really* like most of the people in the DSA chapter in my town, many of whom seem newly radicalized and/or new to the city.

It seems to me that because so many new joiners of DSA are disillusioned with electoral politics, many DSA groups are putting a lot of muscle into improving living conditions and winnable victories within local contexts. I love seeing the stories of DSA chapters offering free brake light clinics in various cities. I live in Cincinnati, and our local DSA chapter was a massive player in winning a very fresh victory (still ongoing, to a certain degree) to get the Public Library to back away from selling off half of its downtown building footprint to private developers who have caused significant gentrification nearby. I never saw any local mainstream liberal organizations express concern about this matter. In fact I'd come home from meetings that the DSA organized - often with less than 24 hours notice and somehow managing to get several dozen people turned out - and find all my center-left friends posting yet another Indivisible meme or talking about what they saw on Rachel Maddow that night or melting down about Mueller.

So hell yeah - speaking solely and only for my local context, the DSA is out doing some meaningful on the ground LOCAL organizing work that other people SHOULD be doing but aren't. The folks in my chapter are also just a fun group to hang out, and I think that does meet a need for fellowship that a lot of younger folks lack.

There aren't many victories leftists are seeing these days. But when you feel like you can organize with folks and you start seeing victories - however small, and even if they never make national news - it does a hell of a lot more for your sense of realizing change than descending into panic scrolling on social media.
posted by mostly vowels at 3:21 PM on December 22, 2017 [14 favorites]


Milwaukee, is completely unable to get a critical mass of activists despite having a huge base with little to lose and everything to gain

The lead pipes bringing in the water helps bring people down.

That and students/faculty can lose access to college if they are arrested during a protest. 6 months/1 year as I remember. Seems WAY unconstitutional and can't find where it has been used but it was on the books last I knew.
posted by rough ashlar at 3:24 PM on December 22, 2017 [1 favorite]


The organization has always been largely white and male: It’s roughly 90 percent white and 75 percent male, a makeup that is impossible not to notice at meetings and gatherings.

Okay I'm not young so who cares about my opinion anyway, but I am not getting anywhere near this organization, you can bet your ass. These numbers are bullshit and I can't take any more bullshit in my life.

Watch for the sexual predator stories coming out of this group.
posted by Squeak Attack at 4:52 PM on December 22, 2017 [4 favorites]


I follow the local DSA group on Facebook, but after facing so much anti-semitism from my fellow leftist activists this year, I can't bring myself to join/give money to an organization that refers to Israel as historic Palestine, as DSA does in their statements. Having such a hardline stance just makes the likelihood of running into casual anti-semitism more likely and I'm all set with putting myself into that situation. It's just been too much this year.
posted by Ruki at 6:55 PM on December 22, 2017 [6 favorites]


The last new members meeting I went to had multiple retirees and majority women among the new folks, so hopefully they stick around. They asked people to give their pronouns when introducing themselves and were very clear about their intention to respect the voices of the more marginalized folks in the room. It definitely didn't feel like the brocialist bro-down I was worried it might be.
posted by Space Coyote at 8:51 PM on December 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


I wish the DSA well, and my impressions of them are good, perhaps because I mostly see what The Whelk passes on, and I'm impressed that they're doing stuff all the time. The brake light thing, for instance, is brilliant. But they're also supporting unions, running for office, knocking on doors. The religious right learned years ago that politics is not a spectator sport, and we're finally catching up.

But I really dislike intra-left fighting. The upside of the polarization of the last 30 years is that Democrats have never been as left-wing as they are now. The right may be ridiculous, but it's also in power and they're the bad guys.

Plus, if you're thinking of "Democrats", I hope you're thinking of a group that's 40% non-white and 54% women. And listening to those groups' messages.
posted by zompist at 9:55 PM on December 22, 2017 [3 favorites]


It's important in these conversations to distinguish the Democratic Party's base and the ruling powers within the national committee which has been out of touch and bad at their job for a while now. It's a bit like when a union gets very bureaucratic and cozy with management and loses sight of it' members' needs and voices, I'd love a revolution in the DNC by the rank-and-file.

Before, the question was: is the DSA for building Socialism or for influencing the Democratic party? And my thought has always been Why Not Both? The various progressive wings of Dem organizations have been happy to work with us, and I'd much rather a world where I'm arguing with Progressive/Soc Dem Democrats and not just an oligarch of another color.

But the focus on Doing Things is what keeps me going - just last week the Bronx/Uptown Manhattan chapter had a meeting with the head of public hospital's nurse union and talked about setting up free clinic days for communities as well as organizing tenant unions for buildings and sending out a how-to guide.

Like the article says, as it stands the organization is only about a year old in terms of national prominence, but it feels like it's done a lot. I'll share a quick story. I was hanging rose garlands in the back room of a Chinese restaurant as party decoration for our holiday All-City fundraiser and a little old lady came up to me and asked

"Oh are you having a party?"

"Political fundraiser!"

"Oh what party?"

*me nervous* "Oh the uh , democratic socialists."

She went a beat " My father was in the IWW! We need a revolution in this country! When is the party?"

I told and she showed up! and sold some copies of her book about a wall street guy who gave all his money to communists in the 1910s.

There's a lot of leftists out in the cold, it's time to bring them home.

(also I only ever hear tankie bullshit in IRL events from people complaining about tankie bullshit online? I assume the bullshit people never show up to do the work)
posted by The Whelk at 10:44 PM on December 22, 2017 [16 favorites]


That and students/faculty can lose access to college if they are arrested during a protest. 6 months/1 year as I remember. Seems WAY unconstitutional and can't find where it has been used but it was on the books last I knew.

Huh. I asked around and none of my university friends have heard of this. Are you thinking of this? That shouldn't affect attendance at off-campus protests (most marches etc in Milwaukee are downtown). If the university says that only arrests at protests lead to suspension, and not arrests for e.g. shoplifting, that's horrifying. But I'm 100% sure I would have heard about that.
posted by AFABulous at 10:46 PM on December 22, 2017


Time for the annual link to Wendell Berry’s “In Distrust Of Movements.”

I have had with my friend Wes Jackson a number of useful conversations about the necessity of getting out of movements – even movements that have seemed necessary and dear to us – when they have lapsed into self-righteousness and self-betrayal, as movements seem almost invariably to do. People in movements too readily learn to deny to others the rights and privileges they demand for themselves. They too easily become unable to mean their own language, as when a “peace movement” becomes violent. They often become too specialized, as if finally they cannot help taking refuge in the pinhole vision of the institutional intellectuals. They almost always fail to be radical enough, dealing finally in effects rather than causes. Or they deal with single issues or single solutions, as if to assure themselves that they will not be radical enough.
posted by eustacescrubb at 5:00 AM on December 23, 2017


I'm glad lefties are organizing, but the push by a lot of the DSA to essentially become their own party distinct from the Democrats (and hashtag notallDSAmembers, of course, because there are just as many who say "let's support the Democratic candidate whenever it makes sense to support them") worries me because - look, I live in Canada, where we actually have a left/socialist party (the NDP) distinct from the centre-left vaguely liberal party (the Liberals) and the result has been a gradual, slow rightward shift in the country's politics despite the fact that only forty percent of the country, at best, will ever vote Conservative, because the NDP and Liberals split the left vote in this country and the constant vicious infighting between the NDP and the Liberals pushes the Liberals more to the center because they're so pissed at the NDP and want to define themselves as distinct from them.

And, bear in mind, although Canada is a first-past-the-post system just like America is, we're a parliamentary system rather than a presidential one so we're actually a better environment for third parties than the USA is. And the end result still sucks.

I've tried to tell DSA members this and so many of them (not the Whelk, obviously, but so many others) just call me "neoliberal," which is hilarious when in most cases I've voted for more actual socialists than have, usually by a factor of five or more. But too many of them don't want to hear that organizing within the Democrats and pushing the party left is really the only good answer available to them because they're too busy equating Debbie Wasserman-Schultz with Reince Preibus and Steve Bannon.
posted by mightygodking at 8:49 AM on December 23, 2017 [14 favorites]


These numbers are bullshit

I mean: fair. They are bullshit. I want to say this though, I am a queer woman, I’m pushing 40, we are working on it, and I believe the work is worthwhile.
posted by clavicle at 9:30 AM on December 23, 2017 [2 favorites]


NDP and Liberals split the left vote

my thoughts exactly about the DSAs too. This is not some abstract musing, vote-splitting made MI close enough for the GOP machine to steal last year, and same thing for the entire 2000 election and the 500-odd vote shortfall in FL of course.

my retirement plan is to somehow next decade get my ass back to Japan [or preferably, Canada, Oz, Germany, or the nordic states], assuming 2018-2020 isn't a repeat of 2006-2008 beat-down of the GOP, which would induce me to stick it out here in the States.
posted by Heywood Mogroot III at 3:58 PM on December 23, 2017


It doesn't seem like the DSA are unaware that splitting the left vote is a real thing, though. I'm not sure hand-wringing about a basic strategy point is necessary when it looks like they got it.

This has been the nice thing about the DSA from afar - they seem uniquely able to focus on getting things done and finding ways to achieve their goals that can involve change and transformation and not just obliteration.
posted by Merus at 5:32 AM on December 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


What is the evidence that DSA is splitting any votes? All of the DSA electoral candidates are either running as Democrats or are running as non-Democrats in areas where the Republicans are a non-factor. It also would go against what I understand to be their theoretical orientation on elections. The last thing the DSA wants to do is be seen as being neo-Naderites.

There are plenty of things to legitimately criticize the DSA for, but I don't think this is one of them. The DSA's attitude towards the Democratic Party has traditionally been to function as a left-wing pressure group within it, and I don't see any prospect of that changing anytime soon.

(I, on the other hand, do think that the DSA should refuse to have anything to do with the Democratic Party, but I doubt they care what I think as a non-member.)
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 7:30 AM on December 24, 2017


Entryism is what works in a mature political system with established and entrenched parties, as the modern day GOP demonstrates. I don't see any evidence that DSA has missed that lesson.
posted by PMdixon at 7:41 AM on December 24, 2017 [1 favorite]


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