Can We Make America A Democracy?
May 23, 2019 9:11 AM   Subscribe

"Even the most basic liberal democratic right—the right to vote, about which there is no end to sanctimony in this country—has never been equitably put into practice. Gaze upon our system’s vaunted political blessings from the perspective of, say, someone in Puerto Rico, and they look even more mixed than they do from the mainland, where the Constitution places more weight on rural votes and less-populated regions by design." Reclaiming the Future: On the growing appeal of socialism in an age of inequality "The top 0.1 percent of Americans held 20 percent of the nation’s wealth in 2016 (up from 7 percent in 1979) and owned as much wealth as the bottom 90 percent. Evidence suggests that the threat that the wealthy pose to what Rawls termed the “fair value of political liberty” has become extraordinary." Socialism and the Democracy Deficit "In reality, though, the resurgence of socialism in our time is a tale of dogged organizing against formidable odds of attaining simple cultural and intellectual visibility, let alone electoral success. " The Socialist Network (The New Republic) "But here, the local DSA has exactly the sort of qualities that have long been hard to find in left groups: practicality, organization, and friendliness. What has impressed me most is that they fundamentally care about actually getting things done, and not just engaging in symbolic politics." Why I Love The DSA (Current Affairs)
posted by The Whelk (20 comments total) 48 users marked this as a favorite
The fact that DSA chapter members regular show up to do strike support for unions, even at small and low-profile strikes, says a lot, and prompted me to become a member.

It bears repeating that they're basically doing a lot of the work that the pre-1970s Democratic party did, before it allied itself primarily with affluent professionals, turned its back on organized labor, and began its steady march to the center right. In true American style, the "radical, far left" of the New York Times' and Washington Post's imagining would be a center-left party in pretty much any European country.
posted by ryanshepard at 9:31 AM on May 23, 2019 [21 favorites]

All good reads, thanks.

There is also the question of internationalism: Ultimately, the DSA needs to be part of a DSW, the Democratic Socialists of the World. It’s impossible to fight issues like climate change and global labor exploitation within the borders of one country, and expanding beyond U.S. politics is going to be critical. But as I say, we are in the early stages.

It's interesting to me the that the left wing of young Labor here are split between wanting to model themselves on the DSA and on Momentum in the UK, but they've taken to wearing the red rose a lot more often. Regardless, a lot of people take inspiration from and note of overseas success.
posted by AnhydrousLove at 9:48 AM on May 23, 2019

While there is of course a big overlap between politics and economics, one can support universal voting rights and be a staunch capitalist at the same time. Bhaskar Sunkara's book The Socialist Manifesto has been getting mixed reviews.
posted by PhineasGage at 9:52 AM on May 23, 2019

The people at the DSA in my area call everyone "comrade" and put together knitting circles. They are the least effective at organization I have ever seen.
posted by Manic Pixie Hollow at 10:54 AM on May 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

The people at the DSA in my area call everyone "comrade" and put together knitting circles. They are the least effective at organization I have ever seen.

In DC they've helped canvass for and otherwise support two excellent left candidates for our state board of education who both got elected, successfully gotten multiple candidates onto our Advisory Neighborhood Commissions, and have done a lot of work supporting local rent strikes (and anti-slumlord organizing), etc. Despite the usual amount of infighting you'd expect among leftists (a liability of actually having strong values, never an issue on the right) they're doing a lot of the kind of tedious groundwork-building that has to happen for municipal power.
posted by ryanshepard at 11:24 AM on May 23, 2019 [13 favorites]

hi i’m here to defend knitting circles and calling your comrades comrades

cause knitting is great and i tend to trust people who knit more than people who don’t. organizing a knitting circle is way better than organizing nothing.

and look you gotta admit it to yourself it is so so satisfying to be in an environment where you can just go ahead and call a comrade a comrade.
posted by Reclusive Novelist Thomas Pynchon at 11:57 AM on May 23, 2019 [19 favorites]

If I were in DSA, I’d nominate Whelk to run its zine and/or imprint.

Also not sure over here if Mdm. Defarge is the right organizing model for 2019.
posted by snuffleupagus at 12:55 PM on May 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

(Ithere is BUILD our basebuilding and strategy oriented zine : case studies of projects AND recipes and knitting patterns - a few knit roses jazz up a literature and sign up table . it also does internal surveys
posted by The Whelk at 1:31 PM on May 23, 2019 [2 favorites]

I couldn’t go to last night’s DSA happy hour in DC, but one of these days I should try. I got kind of a negative impression of the DSA when I was in the Bay Area, in the East Bay, but eventually I met some more people and they turned out to be nicer than the others. I’ve just had so many negative experiences with leftier-than-thou people that my default position is to feel alienated from the start.
posted by shapes that haunt the dusk at 1:49 PM on May 23, 2019 [4 favorites]

The people at the DSA in my area call everyone "comrade" and put together knitting circles. They are the least effective at organization I have ever seen.

If they can manage to put together a knitting circle then they are miles ahead of most of the organizing efforts on the left.
posted by Tell Me No Lies at 2:27 PM on May 23, 2019 [11 favorites]

one can support universal voting rights and be a staunch capitalist at the same time.

Friendly reminder that unless you actually own some real capital, you’re not a “capitalist”
posted by nikodym at 2:56 PM on May 23, 2019 [12 favorites]

Hmm, I think it's interesting that Robinson specifically writes "for a long time it was very hard to find left organizations that felt 'serious'" (emphasis mine). At risk of sounding more critical of DSA than I actually am, it feels like part of the reason the org is so popular with white, educated millennials (which I am as well) is because some of its tendencies seem to have successfully synthesized the trappings of bourgeois 501c3 culture-- for example, a certain fetishism of graphic design and brand identity. In this sense, it very literally "feels serious."

I generally appreciate Nathan Robinson's writing but I also felt that this short piece was kind of dismissive of left movements led by people of color, and fails to consider why a predominantly white organization might encounter greater ease in being perceived to "feel serious." I guess what I'm saying is it's weird for a leftist writer to directly invoke respectability politics without interrogating that at all.
posted by dusty potato at 4:13 PM on May 23, 2019 [14 favorites]

A good article detailing (among other things) the difficulty that DSA has in influencing the agenda of the candidates it supports after their successful elections: The Democratic Socialists of America Helped Elect Them. Now What?
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 9:54 AM on May 24, 2019

Also, in an unexpected development, the cable network most likely to have DSA members on air recently is... Fox Business Network
posted by Noisy Pink Bubbles at 10:01 AM on May 24, 2019

Interesting articles! I admire the DSA for actually doing stuff— running candidates, doing labor organizing, fixing brake lights, etc. That's how US politics works, a lesson the right applied years ago. And I love AOC— not least because a lot of what she says is just liberalism, without any neo- in it. (A 70% marginal tax rate for the rich isn't even socialism... it's what we had under Nixon.)

I'd just say, expect this to be a long fight. The right was taking over school boards in the 1970s, and it took 25 years for them to be running all of government. Don't expect to be establishing workers' soviets in 2021. There's an awful lot of reactionaries out there, and they're already fighting dirty.
posted by zompist at 9:34 AM on May 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

Socialism polls well in US

As for “hey these calls and policies are mostly just 70s left-liberalism”, I think it’s kid of an academic point. 70s Left-Liberalism was trying to deal with the crisis of Capitalism and globalization and oil shocks while other opposite number was trying to deal with the failures of the soviet model, such as the Eurocommunist movement and municpalism/automous regions. They synthesized into this large field we might call Democratic Socialism with a diverse set of positions but generally agreeing on mixed economic models, worker ownership, decomoddifcation, liberal freedoms, local control, etc* 70s style left-liberalism never really got a chance to be tested and neoliberalism to straight up revanche movements took over. This lasted for so long now self-indentifed liberals struggle to make liberal arguments for Good Things (It’s cheaper in the long run is a basic Liberal argument for Medicare For All). What I want is to make the ideas of 70s style left-liberalism the default norm and a platform to build on.

like with social democratic policy, we share the same goals in the medium term , hell some of it is stuff we used to have! The country has moved so far to the right, gotten so drunk on market mentality, had its political imagination so stunted, that even getting back a more robust liberalism without the neo would be a literal life saving accomplishment.Plus, we have the advantage now of seeing how social democratic states got snipped and eaten away, we don’t have to make the same mistakes.

But you know, don’t go into a negotiation pre-compromised. Demand the world!

*I like to explain it as expanding democracy to the workplace, where we spend the bulk of our lives. We expanded democracy in the political realm, it’s time to do it everywhere. Since I’m an American I frame it in terms of personal freedom, are you free if you’re forced to work?
posted by The Whelk at 3:44 PM on May 25, 2019 [1 favorite]

The Working People Podcast has a new series ORGANIZE, talking to DSA members about work, labor and ...organizing.

Part 1: we talk to Jen from the DSA-Eugene chapter in Oregon. We talk about growing up poor and the life-saving power of communal solidarity. We also talk about what brought Jen to DSA and about the organizing work that she and the other members of DSA-Eugene are doing.

Part 2 we talk to Michael, a restaurant worker and co-chair of the DSA New Orleans chapter. We talk about how working in restaurants has made her a better organizer, and we talk about the path that led her to New Orleans. We also talk about the important work New Orleans DSA has been doing and about how places like New Orleans after Hurricane Katrina are a window onto the future that disaster capitalism has in store for all of us.
posted by The Whelk at 10:45 AM on June 1, 2019

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