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Choose Solidarity! — Your National Political Committee newsletter

Enjoy your March National Political Committee (NPC) newsletter! Our NPC is an elected 18-person body (including two YDSA members who share a vote) which functions as the board of directors of DSA. This month, join our Choose Solidarity Campaign Kickoff, check out our election Discussion Circles, learn about our labor organizing, and more!

And to make sure you get our newsletters in your inbox, sign up here! Each one features action alerts, upcoming events, political education, and more.

Choose Solidarity! Illustration of three arms holding a rose together.

From the National Political Committee — Choose Solidarity! Choose 1% for 99%

The establishment tells us that we have to choose. Between immigration or safety. A strong economy or a green transition. Standing against genocide in Palestine or protecting trans lives. Between two candidates, once every four years.

But as socialists, we know those are all false choices. That in the fight for our future, there’s only one real choice. To Choose Solidarity, and build the independent power it takes to make our own choices.

Our solidarity won Seattle workers the highest minimum wage in the country, over 110,000 uncommitted votes in the Michigan presidential primary, protected and expanded the right to abortion care for millions in Ohio, and elected over 200 socialists to office.

Our solidarity forces bosses, mayors, and even governors to bend to our will.

But the political moment demands that we set our aims even higher. As AIPAC opens its war chest, we need a class war chest to match. That’s why so many comrades have signed up to pay solidarity dues — and you can sign up to give your 1% for the 99%, too.

Join us this Sunday 3/24 for the Choose Solidarity campaign kickoff! Hear updates on our political campaigns, and learn how you can step up to make sure DSA can be a member-funded mass organization with the collective resources to win socialism. 

Right after the call, we’ll be joining the National Labor Commission to host a Solidarity Income Based Dues phonebank, and pushing turnout to other fundraising events throughout the week, so bring a comrade or two to hit the phones with!

DSA is fighting for a ceasefire in Gaza and organizing Democratic primary voters to Vote Uncommitted, helping organize to rebuild the labor movement, fighting for Trans Rights and Bodily Autonomy, and asserting that Workers Deserve More in our 2024 Election Platform.

If we’re going to live in a world where a free Palestine, trans liberation, a Green New Deal, and a socialist labor movement are not just slogans, but reality, we’re going to need the tools, personnel, and infrastructure to match our vision. If we want to show the working class that there’s another choice besides Democrats or Republicans, we need a DSA powered by member dues. 

With your solidarity dues, together we can win the power we need to build the just world we deserve. So this election year, #ChooseSolidarity. Choose solidarity dues. Choose DSA.

Let’s keep organizing!

Ashik Siddique and Megan Romer
DSA National Co-Chairs

DSA 2024 Election Discussion Circles — RSVP Today!

What position do you think DSA should take on the 2024 presidential election?

Now is your chance to weigh in on that question before the National Political Committee (NPC) makes a decision in April. Members around the country are debating the presidential race in Discussion Circles: small group conversations hosted by individual NPC members, capped at 30 participants each.

⭐ Sign up now for a Discussion Circle with an NPC member! ⭐

Solidarity Dues Phonebank and Mass Call Sunday 3/24 — Plus Trainings Starting Sunday 4/7

Solidarity and monthly dues are critical for DSA’s power — 86% of all our money is member dues. We now have 2,109 members who have switched to Solidarity Income-Based Dues. Will you join us? Make the switch today!

It takes all of us to build a powerful, democratic org! Last week’s Solidarity Dues phonebanks had a record-breaking 59 callers on each night, and we called thousands of DSA members. Will you help us go even higher? Sign up now for one of our upcoming phonebanks!

We need all hands and chapters on deck! Want to help your chapter do a Solidarity Dues Drive locally? Sign up for one of our upcoming trainings and find more resources here.

Sunday 3/31 — Join DSA’s Trans Day of Action!

Trans rights and bodily autonomy are the front lines of the fight against the far right and for working class liberation. On Sunday 3/31, nationally recognized as Trans Day of Visibility, DSA is staging a mass Trans Day of Action. Chapters across the country are staging rallies, organizing clothing drives, introducing trans sanctuary legislation, passing pro-trans resolutions in our unions, hosting panel discussions, and more. Even a group chapter photo with DSA and trans flag merch counts! Big or small, any act of solidarity helps make DSA the largest network for trans liberation in America. To help your chapter join in, see DSA Trans Rights and Bodily Autonomy’s Trans Day of Action toolkit.

RSVP for National Labor Commission Discussion Wednesday 4/10

Join us during the first hour of our National Labor Commission Quarterly Membership Meeting, where we will be holding a discussion on how socialists in the labor movement should approach the 2024 election. The call will be on Wednesday 4/10 at 9pm ET/8pm CT/7pm MT/6pm PT. You can RSVP here.

National Political Education Committee Educators Conference Sunday 3/24

At our first conference of the year, the National Political Education Committee will bring together political educators from around the country to share and learn from comrades about local and national organizing efforts. Join us Sunday 3/24 at 1pm ET/12pm CT/11am MT/10am PT! We will examine political education’s role in building working class power and how to further develop our local and national programming. We’ll also share resources and connect with other political educators. Every chapter and national working group is invited to send up to two representatives. Anyone else is welcome to attend as a viewer.

Join Our Housing Justice Commission Meeting Sunday 3/24

Sick of landlords holding your housing hostage? Ready to organize your neighbors to change the balance of power and win dignified living conditions? Come to the Housing Justice Commission (HJC) general meeting Sunday 3/24 at 8pm ET/7pm CT/6pm MT/5pm PT! You’ll hear from tenant unions about their experience going through the Emergency Tenant Organizing Committee, plus learn about a project from the HJC to train new tenant union organizers, and how you can get involved. You can also get updates about what we’re up to and what we’re planning for the coming year. See you there!

RSVP for Palestine Strategy 101 Tuesday 3/26: Palestine Legal

On Tuesday 3/26 at 8pm ET/7pm CT/6pm MT/5pm PT, join the National Political Education Committee and Dylan Saba, Staff Attorney at Palestine Legal, for a training on strategy toward a free Palestine! We’ll focus on the U.S. legal context around pro-Palestine action and legal defense of advocates.

We will discuss both big-picture strategy issues and nitty-gritty best practices. There will be time for Q&A with Dylan, so come with questions!

Apply for the National Political Education Committee! Deadline Tuesday 4/2

The National Political Committee is looking for nominees to serve on the National Political Education Committee (NPEC) from May 2024 through April 2025! As the DSA committee charged with providing a socialist political education to its members and the public, NPEC welcomes members with substantial roots in diverse areas of DSA. All DSA members interested in joining NPEC must apply via the form linked on our website by Tuesday 4/2.

New DSA Merch Out Now — Hats, Baby Onesies, and More!

Check out the latest union-made items in the DSA store! From Red Diaper Baby onesies, to YDSA hats, to our new limited-edition personalized membership cards, you’ll find plenty of items to show your socialist pride and start organizing conversations with your family, friends, neighbors, and co-workers.

Check Out New Pieces on Democratic Left!

The Democratic Left is back with a full week of online content featuring a student worker union, Stop Cop City, a journey to chapter-hood, and so much more. Click here to read on our site and send pitches to [email protected]. We’re excited to be publishing again and can’t wait to see everyone’s submissions.

Welcome New Chapters and Organizing Committees

A warm welcome to our latest Organizing Committees (OCs) and chapter!

New OCs:

  • East Central Illinois
  • O’ahu, Hawaii

New Chapter

  • Palouse, Washington/Idaho

The post Choose Solidarity! — Your National Political Committee newsletter appeared first on Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

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A Journey to Chapterhood in Lancaster, Pa.

Since December 2023, Brett Chalupa has been documenting the process of restarting a chapter in the Lancaster, Pa., region on the National Discussion Forums. The following is an excerpt adapted from his posts.

There was a DSA chapter in Lancaster before I moved here. It’s tough to tell why it went defunct. It appears to have lost momentum around 2020 or maybe a little earlier. Lancaster is a rural-ish county in south-central Pennsylvania situated between Harrisburg and Philadelphia. The county has about 500,000 people, with a city at the heart of it also named Lancaster, with a population of nearly 60,000.  Lancaster is mostly rolling hills, with a large farming community due to its favorable growing season compared to the rest of the state. There’s a  “plain sect” (Amish, Mennonite, etc.) population of over 33,000 people, which may be what the area is most known for.

Having a chapter in Lancaster would be a great counterbalance to the conservatism in the county. I think we could be really successful building an organization with clear, progressive, accessible, socialist values that’s regularly making efforts to improve the lives of the working class. There’s opportunity to strengthen the labor movement here, with some of the largest employers not having unionized workforces. There are challenges the community faces, like unusually poor air quality for the area, that we can work to improve. If even 0.1% of the registered Dems in the county were interested, that’d be 100 potential members. I have to imagine that’s in the realm of possibility.

So, at the end of 2023, I attended the DSA chapter interest call with Dana (the Chapter Pipeline Coordinator) and Hayley (a field organizer for the western states). After fantasizing about what forming a chapter could be like for a couple months, it was great to be on a video call with other comrades looking to form chapters in their areas (Honolulu, Hawaii and Sarasota, Fla.), as well as get to ask questions about the process. To see chapters in the process of forming at various states and sizes was really motivating. I want to sit in more rooms with other socialists!

After taking a week to rest up as 2023 came to an end, I jumped right back into organizing the Lancaster chapter. I got some of the key next steps done such as registering some online accounts, creating an Action Network, and filling out the chapter’s zip code jurisdiction list so that at-large members in that area can be notified of the new chapter forming. I really hoped that last item would fan the flames so we could start having meetings and organizing. 

We got some contacts through the Action Network interest form within a few days of launching it. Then when Dana from National sent out an email to at-large members in the proposed jurisdiction, we got a bunch more responses. Between those tools and Instagram, I was now in contact with about 20 people, half of which are dues-paying DSAers, within a few weeks of initiating the process. Since we had more than enough people to apply to become an Organizing Committee, I submitted that application in mid-January. 

We started to do some outward-facing organizing. A group of us showed up at public comments for a new prison being built in our county, and I read a statement demanding fewer beds, carceral reform, and an advisory committee more representative of the people incarcerated. It was the spiciest comment there, but there was lots of support from the audience and the general sentiment was along the same lines. This action helped get the number of beds decreased in the new jail!

We also began organizing regular actions for Palestine. Some of us joined the January 13 March on Washington for Palestine, where we met up with DSA members from many different chapters. Then, on January 20, we organized our first local rally calling for a ceasefire with some other partner organizations. It went well, with over 55 people showing up despite temperatures in the teens. Since then, we’ve been holding rallies basically weekly.

Brett Chalupa stands in front of a group of people holding a red banner read "Democratic Socialists of America."
Chalupa in front of Greater Baltimore DSA’s banner at the Jan 13, 2024 March for Gaza in Washington, DC | Photo Courtesy Brett Chalupa.
A crowd of a few dozens stand in a square holding signs, some of which say "free Palestine". In the foreground, a protester waves a large Palestinian flag.
Lancaster rally for a ceasefire in Gaza on Jan 20, 2024 | Photo courtesy Brett Chalupa

Towards the end of January, we tabled at a local punk festival called Toilet Fest with the band Apes of the State. It was great to be out in the community and talk to people. Folks were stoked DSA was returning to Lancaster. We talked to over 30 people and got 17 sign ups of interest. People loved the buttons in particular. I tabled with Comrade Ayesha M., a member of Central Jersey DSA who had moved to our area recently and started helping us reform the chapter.

Two people sit behind a table covered in DSA merchandise and hand-outs.
Lancaster Organizing Committee members Brett Chalupa and Ayesha M. tabling at Toilet Fest | Photo courtesy Brett Chalupa

Around this time, we also started getting more people actively helping to build the chapter, and we started to formalize our roles while we worked towards chapterhood. At the guidance of our field organizer Kaitlin, we formed an interim steering committee. People self-nominated, and, so far, I think it’s been really helpful to have these roles in place. It’s a nice way for people to test their interest in serving in these positions and gives some more clarity to ways people can be involved in these early days. 

I’ve been thinking of the interim steering committee as being primarily responsible for keeping us running smoothly and getting us to chapterhood with bylaws and then an official steering committee election. It’s been so awesome seeing other people get involved, and I’m very happy to be sharing or handing over responsibilities to others so that this is now less “my thing” and more “our thing.”

On February 2, DSA National officially recognized Lancaster DSA as an Organizing Committee! We started a weekly working session at a local coffee shop every Sunday so we can hang out and collaborate on campaigns. We also had our first Socialist Social, and let’s just say the commies took home the trivia trophy and a $25 gift card. People really enjoyed getting to meet one another in person and hang out! 

Then, on March 10, we held our first general meeting. 14 people were there in person and 10 more joined us online. We didn’t have any resolutions or that sort of stuff, but I think we’ll prepare to get into that habit at our next general meeting. 

We’ve begun organizing a larger scale campaign for trans rights and bodily autonomy, with a rally planned for March 30 for Trans Day of Visibility. We’re already seeing a lot of interest and support, and to be making an impact on multiple campaign fronts shows how much impact a small, newly forming chapter can have.

Something cool that’s been happening is that other people are taking the lead on various campaigns and working groups! I asked people directly and they’ve been running with it and doing amazing stuff. A member drafted a Trans Sanctuary City Resolution, two others are preparing a Trans Teach-In event, and a bunch of people are starting up a Political Education Working Group. It’s really happening! Love to see it.

At the beginning of February, I counted 22 dues-paying members with another dozen or so interested or supporters. About 8 to 10 of those people were engaging daily, or close to it, with chapter efforts. But now that we’re an OC, we get membership reports, and I was shocked to see that our official numbers report that we have 68 members in good standing and 94 constitutional members already. It’s comforting to know there are DSA members around who I haven’t met yet. The most engaged members are those who are new to the organization and excited. By the end of February we had about 20 people regularly showing up, engaging, collaborating, etc. Our next goals: draft bylaws, agree on them, and apply for chapterhood. 

If there’s one takeaway I have so far from helping start a chapter, it’s this: don’t wait to start taking action, just do it! There are socialists near you who want to get involved, and you don’t have to have everything figured out to start making an impact.

Check out Brett’s full account on the National Discussion Forums. Sign up for the Discussion Forums if you don’t have an account yet.

The post A Journey to Chapterhood in Lancaster, Pa. appeared first on Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

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Campaign Q&A: Louisville DSA’s Foundation of Solidarity with ATU

Louisville DSA is Building for Power through its public transit campaign, Get On The Bus. Campaign leaders Michael B. and Allison L. share how the push to fund TARC buses started on a strong relationship with the local Amalgamated Transit Union (ATU).

Why did you decide to work on public transit?

Allison L: Louisville’s public transit system, Transit Authority of River City (TARC), is chronically underfunded. Its funding model is archaic and hasn’t kept up with several factors that have increased the want and need for public transit. Public transit advocacy fits well into the broader DSA agenda of supporting working people and addressing climate change. Personally, I lived without a car in Chicago for 15 years, taking mostly public transit, and I’ve always found it odd and disappointing how difficult it is to use TARC.

Michael B: Our campaign is working to address the funding structure of TARC, specifically around two issues. One, most funding sources are marked for capital expenses, not the expense dollars needed to pay drivers overtime, keep buses on the road, etc. And two, Louisville Metro government doesn’t contribute directly to TARC’s funding. 

Tell us about your relationship with the ATU local.

MB: We were actually in a unique position where our local ATU reached out to LDSA wanting to work together on a campaign to address TARC’s funding. LDSA came out in support during ATU’s last contract fight. ATU is in this position where rider’s want buses to run, driver’s show up wanting to drive, and TARC turns then away because TARC can’t or won’t provide overtime. The timing of Louisville’s budget process leads directly into ATU’s next contract negotiation, and increasing public perception and involvement around TARC and ATU should give them additional leverage. 

We have a real partnership with ATU on this effort, which I think separates us from other organizations. As an example, I want to touch specifically on the letters being signed by ATU members. We worked with ATU leadership to build short quick-hit letters to tell the TARC Board to demand Mayor Greenberg add TARC as a line item to his budget proposal. We identified 4 key issues ATU workers wanted new funding to support: Pay & Benefits, Safety, Accessibility, and the Mechanic Apprenticeship Program. The first three issues are fairly typical, but the Apprenticeship Program is something unique to TARC that most of the public wouldn’t otherwise be aware of, and only a subset of ATU members would be directly involved with. It’s by working directly with ATU that we not only hear about these specific issues and needs, but that we can work with them to help raise their own voices on the issue. 

What steps are you taking to build solidarity between operators, riders, and other groups?

AL: We have developed a letter writing campaign for ATU members to express why increased funding matters to them. We are sending these letters to the TARC board in hopes it will encourage them to advocate more for ATU members. We’ve also developed a rider survey and “tired of being ghosted by the bus?” sticker campaign to build rider solidarity through a heightened awareness of TARC’s citywide issues, and to gather data of rider experience to use later. We’ve written a longer demand letter for other groups (unions, environmental groups, public transit groups, etc.) to send to the mayor. And for the general public, we have a petition to the mayor and are hoping to implement a postcard campaign to send to metro council members.

What local political conditions are you having to overcome?

AL: The funding model for TARC currently does not guarantee that it is included in the city budget every year, which is the only way to ensure consistent funding. Also, though the Mayor has promised to make Louisville green, it doesn’t seem to extend to TARC. 

MB: TARC is funded through a trust fund system established in the 70s, which simply hasn’t kept pace with the needs of the city. Not only did the Mayor campaign on green issues, including TARC, but Metro Council has voted on long-term plans that stress the importance of a frequent, reliable, expanded public transit system. Neither Mayor Greenberg or Metro Council have actually acted on either of their plans. 

What challenges and opportunities does organizing in the south bring?

AL: The challenge of organizing for public transit in the south is that there is not a deeply embedded tradition and public understanding and respect for public transit, unlike northern cities like New York City. We are largely an unwalkable, car-based society, with ample parking lots and ever-widening highways, and when public transit is unreliable or difficult to use, our natural reaction is to disregard it until it disappears, instead of recognizing the amount of funding it will require. There is no vision for a future that includes public transit as a primary mode of transportation.

MB: Louisville, like many southern cities, continues to suburbanize. Only a select few areas are walkable. Our homes, jobs, grocery stores, and third places grow further and further apart, and we are doing literally nothing to address the issue.

How can people in Louisville get involved?

Sign our petition and tell Mayor Greenberg and Louisville Metro Council to Get on the Bus and Fund TARC!  https://actionnetwork.org/petitions/tell-mayor-greenberg-to-get-on-the-bus-and-fund-tarc/ 

The post Campaign Q&A: Louisville DSA’s Foundation of Solidarity with ATU appeared first on Building for Power.
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Atlanta DSA works to “Stop Cop City”

Since 2021, working people in Atlanta have been fighting against the mayor’s plans to build Cop City, a $90 million militarized police training center. Atlanta city government aims to demolish large parts of the South River Forest, land from which the Muscogee Creek people were forcibly displaced, and build the new cop fortress on the ruins of the Old Atlanta Prison Farm, a former forced-labor camp and slave plantation home to countless atrocities. In the past year, the movement to “Stop Cop City” has grown exponentially through a novel referendum strategy rooted in nonviolent, mass working-class politics — a strategy in part developed and executed by Atlanta DSA.

Over 1,000 Atlanta residents gave 17 hours of public comment opposing the plans when the project was first voted on at a September 2021 City Council meeting. The corporate-sponsored council members approved them anyway. For the next year and a half, environmental activists occupied the forest and held sporadic protests. In January 2023, Georgia State Patrol officers murdered one of these Forest Defenders, Tortuguita, leading to an explosion of public outrage against the project. Then, on June 5, 2023, thousands of protestors again convened at Atlanta City Hall to testify against allocating $67 million for Cop City’s construction. Atlanta DSA members were among the over 200 people who spoke. After 15 hours of public comment urging the City Council to vote “no”, the council again chose to advance the project. 

That City Council meeting was not an end for the movement, but rather a crucial turning point. A few months earlier, Atlanta DSA electoral organizers had begun drafting plans for a referendum campaign against Cop City and reaching out to allied organizations and City Council members about the idea. A formal referendum coalition came together during the spring campaign against Cop City funding, so once the funding was approved, the “Vote to Stop Cop City” campaign was ready to spring into action with a petition drive. Forming a coalition with local, statewide, and regional organizations — including the Working Families Party, Southerners for New Ground, New Disabled South Rising, Black Male Initiative, Georgia Latino Alliance for Human Rights, and American Friends Service Committee — strengthened the impact of the campaign through increased capacity, reach, and resources. 

The Stop Cop City campaign emphasizes that the resources used to build the $90 million training center could be repurposed to meet the pressing needs of working people.

Atlanta’s City Charter requires the collection of about 60,000 signatures within a 60-day period to put an issue on the ballot. Atlanta DSA played a unique role in reaching that threshold with our active member base and extensive canvassing experience. Thanks to support from DSA’s Green New Deal Campaign and National Electoral Committee, we held phone banks with DSA members from across the country who made roughly 20,000 phone calls to Atlanta voters. We also saw support from DSA congress members, with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez promoting phone banks to her campaign volunteers and Rashida Tlaib and Cori Bush authoring an op-ed in The Nation in support of the #StopCopCity movement. On September 11, 2023, the coalition submitted over 110,000 petition signatures from Atlanta residents. Atlanta DSA members collected 2,606 of those signatures, more than any other volunteer organization in the city.

Atlanta residents have never before exercised this element of their charter. As of this writing, the Atlanta City Council is continuing to work to delay or disqualify the referendum. In January, councilmember Liliana Bakhtiari put forth a coalition-endorsed bill that would formalize a clear, transparent, and fair referendum process in Atlanta, but on February 5, the City Council sided with voter suppression by passing a stripped-down version of the bill that includes signature matching — a controversial process of discarding signatures that a reviewer decides do not match the signature on the signer’s voter registration. So, once again, the movement is pivoting. 

Huge turnout at City Council meetings, like this one in June, put pressure on Cop City backers in the Atlanta establishment.

Atlanta DSA is now focused on our nationally endorsed campaign to elect Gabriel Sanchez to the Georgia state legislature. Sanchez is a chapter leader who also served as an organizer in the Cop City Vote coalition, so we’re leveraging that alignment in the campaign. In addition to Sanchez’s campaign, we’re looking forward to future City Council elections. In these races, we plan to work with others in Atlanta’s newly ascendant Left to wrestle power back from the city’s ruling class.

The Stop Cop City movement has never been just about one training center: it’s about creating an Atlanta for working-class people instead of corporate elites. This campaign has been pushed forward by a mass movement of ordinary working people fighting to radically democratize our city’s society and economy. Throughout the campaign, our main messaging has focused on how we could collectively use that $67 million in public funds for Cop City to instead fund housing, healthcare, education, and public transit for all. The people of Atlanta want a real voice in how our tax money is spent and a city government that puts our communities first before the interests of corporations, politicians, and the police. The fight over this public forest land is just one part of the larger class struggle over control of wealth and political power. The Stop Cop City referendum drive is a real class-struggle campaign that has drawn in tens of thousands of working people to identify with an independent political project aimed at challenging the corporate city establishment, spreading class consciousness, and uniting a new Left in Atlanta. 

Those involved in the Stop Cop City movement since its start in 2021 have been propelled by the knowledge that the militarized police training facility, funded by corporate donations and the City of Atlanta, and constructed on a site of both extreme environmental and historical significance is a reactionary attempt to repress dissent following the 2020 uprisings against police violence ignited by the murders of George Floyd, Rayshard Brooks, and countless others. The recent RICO charges brought against Forest Defenders, community organizers, and innocent bystanders reaffirm as much by citing the day of George Floyd’s murder as the beginning of the so-called conspiracy. This year’s referendum campaign has equipped the movement with an accessible central structure and a unifying political goal, transforming the disparate Atlanta Left into a credible threat to city elites. 

 

The Democratic Left welcomes pitches about chapter campaigns across the country at [email protected].

The post Atlanta DSA works to “Stop Cop City” appeared first on Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

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Maria Svart built DSA

In the mid-aughts, as New York City DSA struggled to rebuild as a chapter, the late Michael Hirsch, then a national DSA leader, remarked in a planning discussion that “the only presentable person we have is Maria.” That Maria, of course, was Maria Svart.

At the time, Maria was the co-chair of Young Democratic Socialists (now Young Democratic Socialists of America, or YDSA) and I was its National Youth Organizer. Like hundreds if not thousands of socialists activists, I would not have been as active in DSA without her organizing chops, leadership, and mentorship.

On January 14, Maria Svart resigned as the Democratic Socialists of America’s National Director after a dozen years of service. She was DSA’s longest-serving top staffer, and her tenure coincides with the unprecedented growth of both DSA and the US socialist movement. She played a significant role in the dynamism that led to each.

My first contact with Maria came as a 20-year-old YDSA chapter activist in 2004 when she emailed me to encourage me to come to the annual YDSA summer conference. I did, and soon found myself its International Secretary, more due to the lack of interest in the post among the other two or three dozen attendees than my own skill.

Maria, originally from Oregon, grew up in a union family with a Mexican-American mom and white father. She attended the University of Chicago, more famous for its exportation of neoliberalism abroad than left-wing activism. Young Maria first participated in feminist clubs on campus, a foreshadowing of one of her first national initiatives in DSA — an annual national project to centrally organize DSA chapters to field Abortion Bowl-A-Thon teams. She said chapters needed a unifying yet simple project: a way to build chapter capacity and community while showing material solidarity with local abortion funds. Since then, DSA has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for reproductive freedom and justice. In her senior year, she was recruited by future Jacobin editor Peter Frase to join the Young Democratic Socialists chapter that was busy kicking Taco Bell off campus for its lack of support for the rights of their subcontracted immigrant tomato pickers. YDSA would continue participating in this campaign with the Coalition of Immokalee Workers for several years with different corporate targets.

While a chapter activist for less than a year, Maria was an indispensable part of YDSA leadership for nearly half a decade, first as the now defunct role of Feminist Issues Coordinator and then as national YDSA co-chair for about five years. In this period, she also worked movement jobs, including as an organizer for the SEIU Committee of Interns and Residents. 

In the early 2000s, DSA and YDSA were practically autonomous organizations, with nearly no YDSA members joining or starting a DSA chapter upon graduating from college. Their leadership might as well have been in two separate groups. Maria played a critical role bridging the divide and moving graduating YDSA cadre into DSA chapters. This was a result of several strategic initiatives she guided with a handful of others, including an initial effort to recruit student activists to attend the DSA convention in 2007. While only a dozen came, this still accounted for nearly one-sixth of the whole convention attendance (another attendee: newly elected US Senator Bernie Sanders). Maria spearheaded organizing trainings at the convention focused on skills like chapter-based fundraising and campaign planning.

Maria Svart (second from right) and the author, David Duhalde (first from right) help close the 2007 DSA convention in this photo from the Democratic Left.

But she knew one event wasn’t enough. The same year, Maria and others, such as longtime DSA leader and first YDSA paid organizer Joe Schwartz, led an initiative to build bridges between the DSA and YDSA leaderships. This initiative began holding retreats between the two bodies before youth section summer conferences. These intimate gatherings created both intellectual and personal connections between generations of socialists. In 2009, Maria was elected to the National Political Committee (NPC), DSA’s elected leadership, as a full member (having previously served on the board as the YDSA Co-Chair with half-a-vote). Maria got things done and embodied the spirit of “each one, teach one,” training the people around her and organizing herself out of her role by recruiting and supporting new leaders. 

When Maria took over as DSA National Director in 2011 from Frank Llewellyn, (at that point, the longest-serving occupant of the position), she began a process of modernizing the organization to meet the times. This included overseeing the redesign of a website stuck in the late 1990s and other infrastructure changes. Maria led the transition away from a paper-heavy organization where chapter applications still came by mail. Digitization, among other changes, was critical to both allowing for a more remote workforce and the influx of chapter applications during DSA’s unprecedented growth period in the coming years.

As National Director, Svart was often the face of DSA in the media, as in this 2012 segment on the Daily Show with Jon Stewart.

Prior to the massive influx of members after Donald Trump’s electoral college win, Maria was the face of DSA in many ways. Before DSA became a household name — at least for the politically active —Maria could be found on the Daily Show and C-SPAN reaching the homes of many unfamiliar with our beliefs and practices. Maria was also happy to amplify other members spreading socialist ideas — a testament to her commitment to leadership development within the ranks.

None of us could have predicted how DSA would explode after the defeat of Hillary Clinton in 2016. But there was no guarantee DSA would be the recipient of much of the energy of Sanders supporters. DSA had been roughly the same size as two other pro-Bernie grassroots groups: Progressive Democrats of America and the socialist Committees of Correspondence.

DSA outgrew these allied- pro-Bernie formations with a bit of luck and plenty of pluck. Sanders called himself a democratic socialist, which made those interested in the term more likely to find DSA first. But the pluck (or spirited planning) reflected how Maria and others made sure organizing was a key part of DSA’s “We Need Bernie” campaign.

Svart helped execute an independent pro-Sanders DSA campaign in 2016 that positioned the organization to benefit from a new wave of interest in democratic socialism.

Maria understood people were moved by ideas and theory. But it was strategic and systematic organizing that would mobilize these inspired socialists into making change (and joining DSA). The NPC at the time proposed and developed the idea: instead of just telling people to volunteer for the Sanders campaign, DSA could launch its own project that explicitly tied democratic socialist values and agenda to those interested in putting Bernie in the White House. But Maria oversaw the independent expenditure, ensuring all the work complied with election law, a feat for a national but relatively decentralized organization undertaking such a massive project for the first time. This helped plug in DSA members and introduce potential members to the organization throughout the country.

Even before DSA grew dramatically, this kind of organizing was getting noticed. In 2016 National Nurses United asked DSA to co-organize the People’s Summit, which for two years brought together about a dozen pro-Bernie unions and activist organizations and several thousands of their members and unaffiliated Berniecrats. At the final gathering Maria was invited to speak to the entire conference, alongside a handful of other movement leaders. 

At that moment, you could feel that DSA had made it. Not only were we growing and people were noticing, but we – through Maria — were literally on stage with major players.

The years until Bernie’s second race were both amazing and difficult – for Maria and DSA. The organization’s growth brought historic gains such as the election of members such Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib to Congress in 2018, expanding Medicare for All and Green New Deal coalition efforts with a socialist voice, and winning victories on the local levels via laws and referenda on worker rights, housing, and more.

Growing by tens of thousands brought many new voices into the organization. DSA transformed from an essentially social-democratic left-wing formation. That iteration of DSA made the choices — like the full-throated affiliation with the Bernie Sanders campaign — that led to its rapid growth into a socialist coalition with more competing political formations. Maria, the face of the organization from the pre-2016 period, has often been the target of ire of those who disagreed with the organization’s direction. 

Meanwhile, DSA’s national elected leadership became a revolving door. Maria became a key pillar of institutional memory from just before DSA exploded, as each new leadership election brought a new cohort with different goals and few seasoned incumbents to learn from. When Maria started, the 16-member NPC could expect a retention rate of 70 to 80 percent after every two-year term. After 2017, the numbers reversed.  That said, her insights could be invisible at times as her duties became increasingly tied to administering a staff that had grown from three to thirty. DSA also became much more complicated. Not only did the number of chapters grow, but DSA national working groups each became de facto nonprofits in their scope and budget. (She also has served as the part-time Executive Director of the DSA Fund, a 501c3 sister nonprofit, which I chair now, as part of her duties.)

For all these challenges, DSA is stronger than we could have imagined when Maria and I were starting YDSA chapters in our early 20s. With Bernie 2020 in the rearview mirror, it is unclear what will be the next project to unite the organization in domestic politics. The solidarity with Palestine has been unifying in recent months, but many questions remain in this presidential election year. What is certain is Maria left DSA stronger than she found it. For that, we should be forever grateful. 

Maria Svart’s farewell message can be found online. The Democratic Left welcomes pitches about individuals making a special contribution to DSA at [email protected].

Correction: This article was corrected after publication to indicate that Maria Svart served as the part-time executive director of the DSA Fund. The original text of the article incorrectly described the position as unpaid. (March 20, 2024)

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Allison Duerk | A Conversation on the Life of Eugene V. Debs

In this special episode, we visit the Debs Museum in Terre Haute, IN to speak with museum director Allison Duerk about the life and vision of the pioneering socialist Eugene V. Debs. Visit the Debs Museum and follow them on social media for events and updates. https://debsfoundation.org https://www.facebook.com/EugeneVDebsFoundation https://www.instagram.com/debsmuseum
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Victory for Student Workers and YDSA at the University of Oregon

In October 2023, undergraduate student workers at the University of Oregon (UO) made history when they cast ballots to form a union, UO Student Workers (UOSW). The union comprises around 4,900 student workers in every workplace around campus: dining halls, student housing, the rec center, research and teaching assistants, and many others.

UOSW isn’t the first union formed by undergraduate student workers. It’s part of a growing movement to organize RAs and other student employees at colleges like Kenyon, Wesleyan, and Tufts. But UOSW was the first undergraduate union breakthrough at a big public-sector university anywhere in the country. (In February, a unit of 19,000 undergraduate student workers in the California State University system unionized with SEIU.)

UOSW was organized from the bottom-up by ordinary students and workers. The secret to UOSW’s success was the commitment and vision of our university’s YDSA chapter, UOYDSA. In fact, UOSW is the largest successful union drive to ever come out of a DSA-driven campaign.

UOSW shows that undergraduate student workers are ready to organize and fight, and we believe our strategy can be replicated by YDSA chapters all around the country. Campaigns to organize undergraduate workers can build YDSA chapters and train future leaders in both DSA and the labor movement.

So how did we do it, and what does it mean for DSA?

 

Opportunity, Commitment, Strategy

The UOSW campaign succeeded because of a combination of opportunity, commitment, and strategy.

First, UOSW organizers identified a favorable opportunity for a union campaign. The idea of organizing undergraduate student workers took shape in discussions among UOYDSA members in fall 2021.

Our chapter was rebuilding after a period of low activity during the pandemic. New UOYDSA members were inspired by the example of “Striketober,” which involved union struggles at John Deere, Nabisco, and Columbia and Harvard. We also read about examples of other undergrad students forming unions at Grinnell and Kenyon.

We were aware that unsafe working conditions, low pay, and understaffing were common in campus workplaces at UO, especially during the pandemic. A survey we circulated among student workers confirmed those grievances and identified others, like rampant sexual harassment and discrimination.

Besides the national context of Striketober and the presence of worker grievances, UOSW’s organizing committee benefited from favorable labor laws in Oregon. Public-sector workers in our state can form unions via majority card-check. That encouraged us to think big and try to organize across the entire student workforce, rather than just a subset of workers.

Second, the campaign wouldn’t have been possible without the ideological commitment of socialists in UOYDSA. Not every core UOSW organizer was a socialist or an active YDSA member, and we were careful to maintain an organizational separation between the union and YDSA. But it’s not an accident that the campaign was started and driven forward by YDSA members. 

We envisioned UOSW from the start as more than just a campaign for a union. It was, rather, a political campaign aimed at changing the balance of power at our university, by empowering working-class students against a neoliberal university administration. We saw forming the union as one battle in a long war to democratize our university and build working-class power in society.

Importantly, we recognized from the start that we could not succeed without an organic base in student workplaces. Some UOYDSA members already had campus jobs, while others “salted,” meaning they got hired into student jobs with the intention of organizing their coworkers. We were inspired by the idea of the rank-and-file strategy in DSA and thought we could apply it to our context.

That strategy is the third reason for UOSW’s success. UOYDSA salts in dining and student event services helped us map workplaces, recruit worker leaders, and gather union cards. We picked public fights with university bosses by agitating around withheld raises for RAs and staging a large demonstration after a dining hall organizer was fired for eating food that was going to be thrown away. 

By standing up to management over poor treatment, union workers gained confidence and won real concessions from the boss: a 65% increase in RA stipends and $2/hour raises for dining hall workers.

We also used tactics like workplace visits, street canvassing and rallies, social media, and phone banks to gather over 2,000 union authorization cards. Later, with uncertainty over whether we had actually gathered cards representing a majority of the proposed bargaining unit (there was a chance that we had fallen just short of 50%), we agreed with the university to hold an election. Over a thousand workers cast ballots in October, and a stunning 97% of them voted yes for their union.

 

Looking Forward

YDSA has played an important role in the student labor movement already, and not just at UO. YDSA chapters were also instrumental in the success of union drives among RAs and dining workers at Kenyon, Dartmouth, and Columbia, and more recently at UC Santa Barbara. 

Big unions are taking notice. With SEIU organizing in the CSU system, and UAW beginning to organize undergrad workers in the University of California and University of Washington systems, undergrad workers are quickly becoming an important part of the higher education labor movement. In March, UOSW members voted to affiliate with UAW, making ours the first UAW higher education local in Oregon.

Organizing undergrad workers can have important “spillover effects” that ramify beyond the campus. Unions of undergraduate workers can join fights to reform their universities. They can influence larger unions like SEIU and UAW by affiliation. Their example can show all students the power of a union. And they can put young organizers on a pipeline into the rank-and-file of the labor movement after they graduate.

For DSA these campaigns have another effect: they train future leaders of the socialist movement. YDSA members that participate in them win vital experience in building a persistent working-class organization (not just a one-off campaign) and leading workers in conflict with bosses, administrators, and the state.

Through the UOSW campaign, we in UOYDSA are proud to think we’ve broken new ground for student organizing in the United States. As DSA makes hard decisions about its priorities, UOSW and other YDSA-supported union campaigns should serve as reminders that investments in our youth section are investments in the future of socialism and the labor movement.

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DSA IC condemns Biden administration’s imperialist agenda in proposing Gaza port

The Biden administration’s plan to establish a port in Gaza in order to ostensibly deliver humanitarian relief is a farce, a feigned show of concern for the Palestinian people meant to disguise plans of further western imperial encroachment in the region. Throughout the Israeli and Zionist forces campaign of annihilation on the Palestinian people, the Biden administration has made clear that it sees adherence to international law as subordinate to ensuring that the occupation of Palestine continues by any means necessary. 

Under the current proposal put forth by the Biden administration, Gaza is to be ruled either directly by the Israeli occupation forces (IOF) or by the Palestinian Authority, a body that answers to Israel, suppresses Palestinian resistance on behalf of the Israeli security apparatus, and has long lost the trust of the Palestinian people. The construction of this port, reportedly being developed in cooperation with the occupation forces, is also a way to buttress the Biden administration’s efforts to legally and diplomatically protect the occupation on the international stage. Ignoring the overarching and ulterior motives of the United States government here is deeply naive at best and complicit in genocide at worst.

We recognize and name this fig leaf for what it is: a means to cover for the atrocities that are being carried out with the assistance of the Biden administration, designed to counter a rapidly growing sense of international and domestic outcry. The vast majority of our elected officials continue to ignore their constituents even as Americans have begun to register their opposition to the Biden administration’s genocidal foreign policy via the ballot box, phonebank campaigns, municipal ceasefire resolution efforts, protests and direct actions across the country. 

Each day of the past week has been marked by what once was referred to as the “Flour Massacre”, a now daily aggression in which the IOF has used Palestinians’ hunger— a direct result of Zionist crimes against humanity— against them in a gross display of the depth of this campaign to destroy Gaza. While these recent atrocities are posed as a reaction to the resistance of Palestinians, they are just the latest chapter in the long and bloody history of the occupation that stretches back to the roots of Zionist colonialism in Palestine at the end of the nineteenth century. The history of the Zionist entity is a continuous and unbroken chain of colonialism, ethnic cleansing and genocide of the Palestinian nation.

We condemn Biden’s proposed Gaza Port as a horrifying project of imperial expansion. We stand with the Palestinian people in demanding a permanent ceasefire: an end to the mass collective punishment and torture campaign conducted by the IOF. We demand a well-funded UNRWA that can provide humanitarian aid to the hundreds of thousands newly displaced by the ongoing, indiscriminate bombing campaign conducted by the IOF over the past five months. We demand an end to the weapons shipments, now counting over 100— approximately one every 36 hours— sent by the US government to support this genocide. 

In the face of continued complicity on the part of the Biden administration and the U.S. establishment as a whole, DSA’s International Committee remains committed to a free Palestine from the river to the sea. The Palestinian people will not forget nor will they forgive these horrific crimes carried out with the assistance of the United States, and neither will we. As socialists, we demand a ceasefire to end the current slaughter and an end to U.S. military, diplomatic and financial aid to the Zionist project. We commit once again to fight until the end of the occupation and colonization of Palestine.

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DSA Condemns Congress’s Online Censorship through a TikTok Ban

The Democratic Socialists of America condemn the House of Representatives’s recent vote to ban TikTok – a popular social media platform used by almost 170 million Americans – if it is not sold to a US company. 

The House passed this bill with support from 352 Representatives in Congress, both Democrats and Republicans, and only 65 against. This is a clear attempt to censor leftist voices and stifle a source of news and information. We commend DSA members Rep. Cori Bush and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez for upholding our democratic values by voting against this authoritarian legislation.

TikTok has become a platform where working-class people, particularly young people, regularly criticize the United States’s response to Israel’s ongoing genocide of Palestinians and other crimes of the ruling class. American imperialists recognize that the independent sharing of information and exchange of political ideas, like that found in many TikTok videos, is a threat to the capitalist hegemony and war machine. The Israel lobby knows they are losing the public relations war, recognizes the role of DSA and aligned organizations in puncturing their media bubbles, and sees the particular ways that young people on the left are exposing their tactics on these platforms.

But TikTok’s ability to spread ideas among young people is not the only reason it’s being targeted by Congress. This move is yet another part of the US government’s new Cold War with China. Congress is using Sinophobia and red-baiting to fear-monger about the Chinese government. While Congress harps on data privacy concerns in claiming it’s necessary to ban TikTok, they turn a blind eye to the shady data practices of US-based companies like Meta. It was recently announced that President Trump’s former Secretary of the Treasury Steven Mnuchin is putting together a group of investors to buy the app. The US corporate elite understand that a climate of anger and suspicion against China helps them pursue their financial interests.

To be clear, working people deserve better than social media apps from global megacorporations that thrive on our economic desperation and social alienation. And TikTok’s use of algorithms to suggest content to users, like many other content platforms, contributes to dangerous right-wing radicalization. We don’t need bills designed to transfer ownership of large tech platforms from one corporation to another, but rather public ownership and democratic control for the benefit of all people. 

We must defend our ability to use even privately-owned tools to act collectively in our own interests — until we win the power to reorganize the means of communications platforms for all.

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