Our Program for DSA

Socialist Majority - Final Web - White-01


In the last eight years, we have seen a resurgence of energy and organizing on the left. From Occupy Wall Street, Black Lives Matter, and struggles against deportation, to Standing Rock, #MeToo, and the ongoing wave of teachers’ strikes, working class and oppressed people are imagining a new world and bringing it into being.

Our movements are interwoven throughout many struggles: between the capitalist and working class, against patriarchy and white supremacy, and for climate justice, in the kind of coalitions that are critical to building a socialist majority. It can be tempting to try to separate out class struggles from those we might wage on the basis of identity but this would be a mistake. We know that race and gender demands are not just central to the fight for a democratic socialist future, they are the demands of the working class in this moment and the fights around which workers and communities are already organizing.

In 2011, the Occupy Wall Street movement crystallized widespread frustration with economic inequality in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis and returned the language of class to American politics, representing the shared interests of “the 99%” against the wealthiest 1% of the population. In 2012, the Chicago Teachers Union (CTU) strike championed public education as a public good and put the racial disparities of the Chicago school system front and center, providing the template for the wave of teacher strikes that started in 2018. From the launch of the #Not1More campaign in April 2013 through the popularization of demands to “Abolish ICE” and the mass “Families Belong Together” demonstrations in 2018, the struggle against criminalization and deportation of immigrants has become one of the central political issues of our time.

Black Lives Matter, created by three Black women organizers after the acquittal of Trayvon Martin’s murderer in 2013, has spread throughout the country in response to the ongoing state-sanctioned murder of Black people. The 2016-17 protests led by members of the Standing Rock Sioux Tribe against the Dakota Access Pipeline brought together demands for global climate justice, local environmental justice and decolonization. In 2017, the Women’s Marches demonstrated mass popular support for abortion rights, immigration reform, and an end to discrimination against women and people of color and #MeToo movement reignited a national conversation about sexism and men sexually harassing women, trans and non-binary people.

These movements and many others have cross-pollinated, inspired and strengthened each other, and contributed to the unprecedented electoral success of diverse political candidates, many of them women of color, some them unapologetically socialist. Working-class and oppressed people are fighting the class struggle everywhere: in the streets, on picket lines that connect workers to community members, and at the doors to contest elections and win on issues. From struggles against the many injustices we suffer from in our particular lives, we are weaving a vision for the just economic and political system that we all deserve.

The Growth of DSA
DSA is only a small part of this exciting upsurge of left energy we’ve seen in the last eight years. Yet, we know DSA has the potential to play an important role in the broader left and society at large in the years to come. If we are to live up to this potential we must position ourselves accordingly–we have to create the conditions internally in the organization and externally through our organizing to become a mass, multiracial working-class organization. The recent growth of DSA has not resulted from intentionally organizing workers and the oppressed into win-or-lose fights. DSA has mostly grown through online sign-ups during moments of national electoral activity (notably the campaigns of Bernie Sanders, Donald Trump and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) and expansion into the social circles of current DSA members. This type of growth has left DSA disproportionately comprised of white people and men, and overwhelmingly made up of people who have at least some college education, and thus not fully representative of the U.S. working class. Becoming more representative of the entire U.S. working class in all its diversity will require a conscious strategy and is one part of becoming a mass socialist organization.

We also know that membership growth alone is not power. We need a strategy for not just growing DSA, but for moving millions of people beyond our own membership to take power in the state, our society and our economy.

Who We Are

Socialist Majority is a caucus united by the conviction that DSA’s most urgent task is to amass the social forces necessary to win a socialist majority. We have formed a caucus because we share a vision for the direction and work of the organization: a vision that puts the transformation of DSA into a mass, multiracial working-class organization at the center. We believe DSA should be a national organization governed democratically and openly from the bottom up. We seek to create a DSA where everyone who wants to build working-class power belongs.

We are socialist feminists with diverse, interconnected influences including the Marxist, Gramscian, Third-world and radical Black feminist, and religious socialist traditions. From these traditions, we draw valuable insights about how to cohere a working-class movement that can unite us across race and gender and cultivate a social force powerful enough to win concrete material gains in the short term and overthrow capitalism, white supremacy and patriarchy in the long term. From Marxism, we draw our non-sectarian and internationalist orientation. We also draw our belief that an organized working class, acting in its own interests based on the material conditions of the moment, is necessary to take on capital and abolish class domination. From Gramsci, we draw our belief that culture matters and that winning socialism will require a shift in the collective consciousness of the working class. From Third-world and radical Black feminism, we draw our belief that anti-racism, anti-imperialism and anti-sexism are central to the fight for our collective liberation. From religious socialism and the American civil rights tradition, we draw a spiritual and moral basis for socialism, recognizing that to transform our society and economy, we must transform ourselves and our communities as well.

Our caucus bylaws and code of conduct are part of how we model the democratic culture we want for DSA. In order to enact our vision for DSA, we intend to run candidates for the National Political Committee and submit constitutional amendments and resolutions that reflect the institutional changes outlined in this document. We welcome any DSA members who agree with our shared principles, will abide by our code of conduct, wish to participate in the caucus in good faith, and are ready to organize for the 2019 convention.

Developing Our Political Program

In generating this political program and our vision for the organization, we analyzed the political terrain and the strength and character of our organization and the broader left to respond and organize within it. Certainly, much of the terrain looks bleak. Since the 1980s, the capitalist class and their political allies have consolidated the forces of social conservatism and neoliberalism against us, waging an all-out assault on the gains won by workers in the 20th century. As a result, material conditions are worsening for the working class, oppressed people face increasing discrimination and violence, and we stand at the precipice of global climate catastrophe. As this political order has lost some legitimacy in the aftermath of the 2008 financial crisis, the parties of the center right and center left have lost ground around the world to growing right-wing populist, nationalist, and in some cases fascist far-right movements and parties. And yet, in this new political moment, in the United States, the lines are more clearly drawn than they have been since the 1970s. The “downward mobility” of young people has caused millions of them to reject capitalism in favor of socialism. Working-class people know that they deserve more, and millions have joined protests in the streets calling to change the fundamental political and economic systems. For the first time in decades, more people identify as working or lower class than middle class. A majority of people support Medicare for All, the teacher’s strike wave is continuing, and political messaging that addresses both race and class resonates better than class messaging alone, no matter where in the United States you live. The working class is ready for unapologetically socialist, anti-racist, feminist politics, not because DSA has the power to wrest it out of people, but because it’s already there. Of course, class consciousness has always been uneven and contested, which is why we see win-or-lose campaigns against the capitalists as essential for developing class consciousness within the working class and social movements. In order to transform DSA into a mass organization, representative of this newly conscious working class and capable of constructing a socialist majority, we propose:

  • Developing the national, regional, and local infrastructure necessary to transform DSA into a democratic mass organization;
  • Waging strategic local campaigns around immediate demands like affordable housing, paid family leave, the fight for $15, and the abolition of cash bail, and developing the capacity of DSA chapters and members to assess how their organizing does (or does not) 1) build the movement and the capacity of our organization, 2) shift power from the capitalist class to the working class and win material gains, and 3) solidify our relationships with meaningful allies;
  • Organizing to win national campaigns with federal demands, like the Green New Deal, full legal status for undocumented immigrants and the abolition of ICE, College for All, repeal of the Hyde Amendment, and Medicare for All through coalition work with other working-class and progressive organizations;
  • Helping to grow a militant and democratic labor movement oriented towards rank-and-file power; and
  • Electing democratic socialist candidates to office and continuing building our independent electoral infrastructure per the National Electoral Strategy and the Bernie 2020 proposal.

Developing the Infrastructure to Transform DSA into a Mass Organization

Over the last two years our local chapters and our national organization have been transformed by the explosion of new members. Our national staff organize continuous regional conferences and a convention every two years on a budget smaller than most local or state-level non-profits. The staff have done heroic organizing to accommodate our growth, but continuing to operate with such a small staff will not allow us to build the infrastructure we need to integrate all levels of the organization and create structures for additional deliberation and democratic decision-making. What DSA does now, organizationally, should be geared to putting in place the institutions, culture, and capacities that we would need to be a genuine mass organization with hundreds of thousands of members — capable of democratically developing and initiating political action across the country with the level of discipline necessary to take on a capitalist class with trillions of dollars at their disposal.

It is no secret that members across the country feel the national organization lacks the infrastructure to support their local organizing and fails to represent their interests and ideas at the national level. As DSA grows, this problem will likely only become more acute unless we reform our existing institutions and create new ones capable of expanding our organizing capacity and democratic decision-making.

Bring Regional Representation to National Leadership

As it stands, the 16-person NPC is much too small to be a reliable representative body in which all members feel their views are reflected and in which all members are able to contact a specific representative. At the same time, this body is, if anything, too large to be an efficient executive body that allows DSA to make quick and effective decisions.

We intend to propose amendments at the 2019 convention to reorganize DSA’s national leadership to be more representative and democratic. DSA should expand the national leadership through a layer of recallable regional representatives, while preserving a smaller executive body. This expanded leadership structure should be phased in after the 2019 convention.

Reform the National Working Group Structure

The national working groups, commissions and priorities committees, which are crucial to carrying out the national-level organizing work of DSA, are largely informal bodies that are not universally connected to local chapters, the national elected leadership or the national staff.

The NPC can make changes that will ensure effective and democratic national working groups and committees. By establishing universal, flexible bylaws requirements, there can be a clear understanding of the election rules, leadership roles, scope, and decision-making structure of each national working group. Working groups and committees should be supported by dedicating a clear list of national resources such as funding, social media support, and leadership trainings. Formal channels should be established between the national working groups/committees and the NPC, staff, chapter leaders, general membership, and between the national working groups/committees themselves. Working groups/committees should select their own official liaisons to be assigned to the NPC, and not vice versa. With clearly identifiable bylaws, liaisons, resources and channels of communication, nationally coordinated campaigns can flourish under the national working group structure.

Formalize Organizing Regions & Yearly Conferences

DSA should formalize the organizing regions already implemented by the national staff and adopted by the YDSA convention last summer. Eventually, elections for the NPC should reflect these regions. In order to train and develop chapter leaders and regional representatives and allow space for regional organizing planning, we should formalize the practice of yearly regional conferences/meetups.

Each region should have a dedicated staff organizer, regular Zoom calls of chapter leaders and a formal method for communication between chapter leaders. The national office should also provide organizing and data management tools like airtable, zoom, and mass texting to each region per the 2019 Data and Tech Recommendation passed by the current NPC.

We should continue running the trainings on political organization and strategic campaign organizing (labor, electoral and issue) developed by national organizing staff and chapter leaders that have become a popular resource among members. These trainings should be run on a recurring basis for new chapter leaders at the yearly regional conferences. We should also continue the practice of putting resources towards national trainings specifically for people of color and women in coordination with the Afro-socialist and Socialists of Color Caucus and the Socialist Feminist Working Group. In the Local Campaigns and Chapter Capacity section we detail the specific kinds of training and resources necessary for chapters to develop their members as organizers.

Run a Yearly Dues Drive & Member Mobilization Campaign

DSA runs on a shoestring budget for an organization of its size. With 55,000 members, we had an income of about $2.6 million in 2018; dues accounted for $1.6 million of that (roughly 60%). Of our dues money, 20% is monthly sustainers ($300,000). About $1 million is spent on staff wages & benefits (40% of our income). If we are to expand the staff to cover all of the organizing regions and expand our nationally coordinated work, we have to have a strategy for increasing the size of our budget. We see this strategy as having three key goals: 1) expand our finances to support more staff and projects that we desperately need; 2) make sure that members remain the primary source of funds for DSA as a democratic organization; 3) develop with a plan that doesn’t prevent new people from joining while also increasing contributions from leaders and members.

We propose a yearly dues drive. The drive would utilize the existing dues drive materials and member mobilization trainings that organizing staff and the NPC committee developed for chapters. Chapter leaders would mobilize their inactive members with the intention of moving a certain percentage to monthly dues within a certain time frame, increasing the monthly dues amounts of other chapter leaders and active members and re-engaging inactive members in the work of the chapter. We should continue the existing dues-sharing system established by the 2017 convention, which encourages chapters to sign up monthly members. The drive would also include a “DSA Dues Drive” portion of the website, with all the resources for running the drive, a clear and easy description of where DSA dues go, a pie chart representing our budget and a way to track our progression toward the overall national dues drive goal. In order to make the drive effective, we should also modernize our dues collection system, including creating an easy way for members to increase their monthly dues and to collect bank draft dues. We should also continue to develop the swag store and integrate its operation with the national design committee to expand its offerings and with the dues drive committee to coordinate the selling of swag as part of the drive.

DSA as a Reliable and Effective Coalition Partner

An expanded leadership of DSA as delineated above creates more opportunities for DSA at the national level to be an effective and reliable coalition partner with working-class and progressive groups in the US, and with socialist parties and organizations abroad.

DSA is the largest group on the socialist left, but we are just one part of a broader ecosystem of working-class and progressive national organizations. We fight alongside the mobilization of a new women’s movement in opposition to Donald Trump, the Movement for Black Lives, an increasingly popular and militant movement on behalf of the rights of immigrants, and existing institutional organizations from the labor movement to Our Revolution. Having left the Socialist International, it is more important than ever that DSA take a proactive role in cultivating relationships with international socialist parties and organizations. We can do a far better job of communicating with these organizations and partnering with them where it fits into our goals of advancing the interests of the working class, the socialist movement, and our organization.

As national leadership, the the NPC and national working groups/committees should take an affirmative role in representing the organization as liaisons to social movements, organizations and parties around the world. Individual members of the NPC and working groups of course cannot set policy for the organization on their own, but they should develop the crucial relationships that will allow DSA to act in an informed, effective manner with coalition partners that represent millions of working people and progressive activists across the U.S. and around the world. These liaison positions should be public and transparent, both to DSA members and to organizers and leaders in the movements and organizations we hope to cultivate partnerships with.

Develop a Nationwide Recruitment Strategy

DSA has grown and retained members through what we call the “DSA model for mass politics”: a low barrier to entry and the space for new socialists to develop their politics through struggle, political education and the practice of formal democracy. Democracy, of course, isn’t simply a means to develop our members, but the ability to practice it is essential to our growth. Our ability as members to collectively run our own chapters and the national organization is what distinguishes DSA from top-down, progressive NGOs like Our Revolution and MoveOn.org (along with our socialist politics, of course). Among socialist organizations, our model is distinctive because we are non-sectarian and open to people with developing politics, which made us uniquely able to capture the 2016 Bernie zeitgeist. Keeping our internal structure open, inviting and democratic is a passive strategy that likely won’t lead to a dramatic shift in the demographic profile of members joining DSA, but it remains an important part of our success to date. We believe that in order to continue growing DSA, we should retain and strengthen this model of mass politics.

Where DSA chapters have been able to intentionally grow and diversify their membership among the broader working class, it has typically been through engaging in strategic campaigns against bosses, landlords and other major capitalist-class actors, or in local electoral campaigns. From these struggles, DSA has recruited new members on the basis of their own self-interest and out of work in coalition with other progressive groups and union locals — for example, Austin DSA’s Paid Sick Leave campaign and Providence DSA’s #NationalizeGrid campaign. These struggles can be key to diversifying our organization. Toward this end, DSA should develop a recruiting and organizing curriculum which emphasizes activists telling their personal stories of how and why they became socialists; systematic outreach and recruitment through phone calls and one-on-one conversations; and role playing. Eventually, these efforts should be compiled and refined into a national recruitment strategy with clearly defined resources committed, goals for recruitment, and assessments of success. Passive organizational changes will not dramatically diversify DSA — we need a proactive recruitment strategy to do that.

Implement a National Communications Strategy

DSA should offer media trainings so that every local has at least one member (and ideally many more) trained in communications best practices, as well as form a national communications committee for social media and press overseen by the NPC. We should also train and utilize NPC members as public spokespeople and aim to have a detailed list of trained members’ schedules so that we can quickly respond to press requests. As a volunteer organization, it can be challenging both to respond to time-sensitive media inquiries promptly and to develop the relationships with reporters necessary to proactively pitch narratives that highlight our democratic socialist values in the media. Hiring a full-time communications staffer, who could also assist with training locals in how to run their own media work, could help fill this gap.

Spanish Language Communications

The Democratic Socialists of America face many challenges to develop a more rounded organization. One of these it to develop an approach to the Latinx community that takes into account, among other issues, that about a third of the 60 million Latinx people in the U.S., roughly 20 million people, are not proficient in English.

We should start by establishing a website in Spanish, not just to give people access to the organization but but to make a political statement to members of the community and working people as a whole. Although translations will be a part of it, the web site should be designed with content developed to specifically address this community, and should not be limited to translations.

This website should be part of a broader effort led by a Latinx commission to be established by the NPC with the participation of one or more NPC members as well as other DSA members, both Latinx and others.

Pass Caucus Rules

Political caucuses will likely remain a feature of democratic elections within DSA. This can be a healthy part of democracy in the organization, but also creates the possibility of pitfalls that require proactive attention. The NPC should promulgate bylaws, modeled after those in the labor movement, to ensure that official resources, official communications, or staff time are not ever used to advantage one political caucus over another.

Initiative, Referendum, and Recall

We need national leadership rooted in, and accountable to, our local work. Adding regional representatives to our national leadership should help communication both ways. Those representatives should be recallable by the members they represent, if local members petition and vote to do so. We should also create nationwide mechanisms for direct democracy through an initiative process. Thresholds for petitioning for recall and referenda should strike a balance between ensuring that members are able to have their voices heard in situations where the national leadership is out of step with membership and ensuring that the national organization isn’t paralyzed by frequent national votes.

Waging Local Campaigns and Developing Chapter Capacity

We win material change through campaigns: focused attacks employing diverse tactics to win specific concessions from particular power centers. Campaigns can target a landlord, employer, corporation, industry, city agency, university administration, state legislature, or national politician, and tactics could include labor and tenant organizing, protest mobilization, electoral challenges, and direct action. We distinguish the campaign from other forms of political activity through its discipline and specificity. A campaign demands a particular concession from a target and is grounded in a realistic power analysis that offers a path to winning.

When developing campaigns and our other political work we should ask ourselves:

  • Does this campaign have a clear target?
  • Does it improve the material conditions of the working class?
  • Does it shift power away from the capitalist class and towards the working class
  • Does it help us organize new people into DSA?
  • Does it develop and train our leaders?
  • Does it draw out the contradictions in capitalism (us vs. bosses, landlords, etc.)
  • Does it give us the chance to directly confront the capitalist class through collective action, showing our people their own power, and shifting their consciousness?

Issue-based campaigns centered on working class victories, including those we wage as part of our broader labor and electoral organizing, are a key part of our long-term path to power. In 2016, after a collective drafting process, DSA published “Resistance Rising: Socialist Strategy in the Age of Political Revolution.” In it, DSA members outlined a vision and strategy for democratic socialism which we believe still holds true:

[O]ur strategy…consists of fighting on a number of interconnected fronts in the short-term, leveraging gains made in these struggles into more structural, offensively-oriented changes in the medium-term and ultimately employing the strength of a mass socialist party or coalition of leftist and progressive parties to win political power and begin the process of socialist transformation.

While this strategy requires political work at the national level to grow the kind of mass organization necessary to generate widespread support for socialism, we must implement it simultaneously at the local level. By organizing locally, chapters develop the ability to analyze the political terrain in their area and create demands in the short to long term that build working-class power. We view this as a more effective alternative to one-size-fits-all national campaigns rooted in power analyses not applicable to all chapters. Offense-oriented local campaigns, like passing local rent control legislation, can organize new people into DSA and win immediate material change for the working class. In the medium term, such campaigns help us develop leaders—both internal and external—able to organize successive campaigns and win electoral contests. Eventually, through campaigns and local issue organizing, quantitative gains can transform into qualitative shifts in the balance of power away from the state or the capitalist class.

A Culture of Organizing for DSA

When members join DSA, they receive a card that says “socialist organizer.” Our task to train members to be socialist organizers is great: we need to build the capacity of working-class people to take collective action based on mutual self-interest and shared values. This is the foundation for solidaristic social movements that break down the individualism of neoliberalism and isolation of capitalism. We can accomplish this through a national training program that supports chapters in developing and sharing the skills necessary to engage in issue campaigns, electoral and labor organizing.

We test the strength of our organization when we set concrete goals (e.g. turnout to events, number of door knocked, new members recruited) and engage our members one on one to reach that goal. With this organizing model, everything we do becomes an opportunity to build and test our strength — it also fosters deeper connections between members through face-to-face conversation. Every single thing we do is an opportunity to train someone, recruit new people, test our structure and hold each other accountable.

Our staff have already developed trainings to help chapters build their organizing skills and infrastructure and their political capacities (e.g., how to structure debate, formally elect leadership, and make decisions democratically). We should widely and consistently implement these two sets of trainings: the basic organizing and chapter development training and the intermediate training for chapter leaders. We should also support national projects like this year’s regional leadership trainings for chapter leaders and last year’s AfroSocialist and People of Color Caucus training.

In addition to these trainings, we should provide a variety of standard resources to chapters:

  • A local labor committee and Labor 101 kit
  • A local electoral organizing kit
  • A “How to ID a local Issue and Develop a Strategic Campaign” kit (including resources for deep canvassing with a community survey)
  • A racial justice and socialist feminism curriculum and training
  • A childcare and Socialist Sprouts curriculum
  • A socialist summer school curriculum for high school and middle school aged young people
  • Campaign kits for a variety of local issue campaigns that chapters have already won or developed: such as affordable housing, paid family leave, the fight for $15, and the abolition of cash bail
  • An updated and maintained national design library to provide attractive, consistent signage for chapters in any issue campaign
  • A new member orientation kit
  • A political education library, maintained on the DSA website and by the Political Education Committee, with compiled socialist night school and political education curricula from chapters around the country

We should also provide support through trainings, nationally coordinated calls, and the aforementioned campaign kits for chapters to run local campaigns on issues that DSA is uniquely positioned to take up and members are already working on, such as affordable housing, paid family leave, the fight for $15, and the abolition of cash bail.

Affordable Housing

Housing affordability is already a crisis in many major cities in the US, and is increasingly becoming a salient issue in small cities and towns across the country. Many of our own members have real stakes in the struggle for affordable housing, and recognize that those concerns tie them to a much broader segment of the working class, including communities of color.

DSA members are forming tenant unions and housing committees to do direct outreach to neighbors — connecting over shared concerns and joining local fights against individual landlords. As our housing work grows, we can take the fight from individual landlords and developers to the whole landlord class by expanding legal rights for tenants and passing rent control. Ultimately, establishing a human right to housing will require developing the political power to tax wealthy landowners to pay for establishing social housing models like cooperatives and public housing on a massive scale.

Paid Family Leave

The U.S. is one of the few industrialized countries in the world to not have paid family leave. As a consequence, the U.S. workplace is structured such that a worker’s compensation, working conditions, job security, and employment prospects are usually directly related to their health and marital statuses, as well as to what form their family takes (if their family composition is even recognized by the legal authority of the state). Paid family leave is not an issue that impacts all workers in the same way. Rather, the issue demonstrates how capitalism, heteronormativity, white supremacy, and other systems compound inequalities and disadvantages between and amongst different workers.

The current federal labor law, FMLA, gives employers the power to dictate the terms and conditions of family and medical leave. Paid family leave for all would give workers more agency in determining whether and how they work. Having universal paid family leave in this country could also mean that, instead of fighting with reluctant or hostile employers, workers could make grander, firmer demands about their relationship to their labor, the process of production their labor is situated in, their fellow workers, and themselves.

Paid family leave is an example of a targeted, local campaign that directly connects to the long-term, radical demand of a public and universal healthcare system. It offers opportunities to build broad and diverse coalitions around a working-class issue and shared interest, to make public the contradictions of capitalism, and to invite working people into the promise of a society structured to value human lives and dignity over the creation of profit. Austin DSA’s campaign shows the power of organizing locally to win material changes for everyday people, the promise of coalitions in building power, and the importance of failing forward, as when elected officials overturn a democratically won ballot initiative. The more big swings we take as an organization, the more likely we are to hit a socialist homer.

Ending Cash Bail

Cash bail is the practice of requiring payments of money as a condition of release from jail prior to the trial of the person accused of the crime. It is often justified as securing appearances for court — however, in practice it serves primarily to reinforce a two-tiered criminal justice system where poor people can languish for years in inhumane jails awaiting trials for crimes they have not been convicted of, whereas the wealthy can secure speedy release and prepare for their trial without impediment. In short, it is class warfare.

DSA can fight to end cash bail across our locals because it is a simple demand that is applicable municipal or state criminal prosecution policies and practices. It is also a way for electoral candidates to show their commitment to ending mass incarceration in clear ways that center how our criminal injustice system targets the working class as well as people of color, transgender people, people with mental illnesses, and other criminalized groups. Lastly it helps bring people to a deeper questioning of the racist mass incarceration system in the U.S.

Fight For $15

Since fast food workers began to demand a $15 per hour wage in November of 2012, the demand has caught fire as a straightforward policy for working-class people and has been implemented at city and state levels across the country. However, it is worth noting who has been largely left behind: states like Alabama, Georgia, Idaho, and Indiana are all at the federal minimum wage of $7.25.

Fight for $15 is a worker demand that DSA can advocate for at any and every level of government, and “universalizes” the demand for a living wage everywhere. It provides an opportunity for coalition-building with labor unions as well as unorganized workers.

Coordinating National Campaign Work

As a national organization with chapters in nearly every state, DSA is uniquely positioned to execute nationally-coordinated campaign work. When national priorities are oriented toward immediate, tangible demands it creates an opportunity to build capacity at the chapter level and solidify the organizational power of DSA nationally. It’s critical that DSA have a voice on the national stage, not only to provide an alternative analysis to neoliberal status quo, but more importantly, to win for the working class. Nationally coordinated campaign work can only be effective when the autonomy of local chapters and regional organizers are respected and prioritized. By leveraging the skills and knowledge of local grassroots organizers, we increase the likelihood that our work will positively engage with local community coalitions, navigate city and state politics, and ultimately seize power.

While there’s no clear science to a national campaign, there are a few litmus tests we can apply:

  • Is there an existing nationwide/federal level demand?
  • Are there strong coalition partners we can stand in solidarity with?
  • Is there conceivable legislation that can be introduced and passed?
  • Is there a target such as a (multi)national corporation that can change a policy or practice to have national impact?
  • Will the campaign provide opportunities for context-specific local organizing?

In the short term, highly visible national priority campaigns can establish a left pole in the mainstream debate with a mobilized base behind it. In the long term, DSA’s mass work that unifies the demands of the working-class majority can build sufficient power to overthrow white supremacy, patriarchy and capitalism. We have identified five campaigns that we believe should be coordinated nationally: the Green New Deal, Abolish ICE, College for All, Medicare for All and repealing the Hyde Amendment.

The Green New Deal

From now through the foreseeable future, all politics are climate politics. Every aspect of how we organize our economy and society has climate implications, and climate chaos is a product of centuries of capitalist production. The Green New Deal paradigm recognizes that climate change and inequality are deeply intertwined, and proposes a public policy vision to address both at once. However, as socialists, our demands go beyond what is currently envisioned as the GND.

Socialist Majority has endorsed the DSA’s Ecosocialist Working Group’s “Guiding Principles” for an Ecosocialist Green New Deal. In sum, the principles are:

  1. Decarbonize the economy fully by 2030
  2. Democratize control over major energy systems and resources
  3. Center the working class in a just transition
  4. Decommodify survival
  5. Reinvent our communities to serve people and planet, not profit
  6. Demilitarize, decolonize, and strive for a future of international solidarity and cooperation
  7. Redistribute resources from the worst polluters.

Making these principles a political reality implies concrete, ecosocialist campaigns at the local level. One type of campaign that several DSA chapters around the country are already engaged in is energy and utilities justice work, such as Providence DSA’s #NationalizeGrid or Boston DSA’s #TakeBackTheGrid. This work aims to democratize, decommodify, and decarbonize energy grids, which are in most cases controlled by either private shareholder-owned utilities or public utilities that are not responsive to their ratepayers and are often under the sway of the fossil fuel lobby. These campaigns combine shorter-term goals such as an end to the fuel poverty and utility shut-offs experienced by many poor and working-class Americans to longer-term goals to establish publicly-owned utilities that are managed by the people they serve and that are positioned to lead a just transition to a renewable energy system. Given the pervasive practice of siting toxic LNG plants and oil and gas pipelines in communities of color and indigenous lands, energy justice work is racial and indigenous justice work as well.

Abolish ICE

In the wake of the Trump administration’s policy of family separation as a failed deterrent to the Central American refugee crisis, #AbolishICE became the clarion call of the Left. In response to the crisis, DSA held a week of action targeting ICE officials, private and public detention centers, and government officials including a viral shaming of DHS Secretary Kirstjen Nielsen. The result was a widespread public disapproval of the Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) agency itself. While ICE was not the sole agency responsible for carrying out family separation (DHS overall & HHS was), it exposed an overlooked hypocrisy accepted under the Bush and Obama administrations. With the xenophobic demonization of immigrants still in full effect through bans, walls, and continued family separation, we can no longer be on the defensive. It’s time for DSA to escalate the Abolish ICE movement.

When leading figures within the Democratic Party have flirted with abolition they usually mean transferring the responsibilities of deportation and detention to other federal agencies. Our primary responsibility is to counter this revisionism with a political education campaign explaining that anything short of the full abolition of deportation and detention itself is a reform destined to fail. True ICE abolition would eliminate the inhumane carceral state that has abused and murdered undocumented detainees. ICE abolition is not mere disentanglement from federal immigration authorities, but rather the full stop to the policing of communities based on immigration status. DSA should change the narrative by issuing a national series of town halls, distribution of educational materials, and developing pervasive agit-prop. Our analysis must extend beyond domestic crimes of ICE and speak to the role deportation has played in further escalating conflict in Central America.

With the exception of a small minority of Congressional Progressive Caucus (CPC) members, there are few U.S. Senators or Representatives who have called for the abolition of ICE. This means that virtually every DSA chapter has at least one representative who can be pressured to Abolish ICE. In tandem with political education, there must be a nationally coordinated campaign to pressure federal representatives to support the full abolition of ICE. In close coordination with immigrant-led organizations, chapters in districts represented by members of the CPC should be prioritized for waging a series of direct actions. By prioritizing actions against representatives who claim to be champions of working-class immigrant communities, it will challenge them to either associate with Trump’s proto-fascist immigration agenda or take a stand and abolish ICE.

College for All & Student Debt Relief

The right to quality, affordable higher education should be extended to all not simply for the economic necessities, but because the opportunity allows for fully-equipped and enlightened participants in democracy. Austerity waged on public colleges and universities has driven tuition to rise uncontrollably, burdening an entire generation with student debt. The consequences of forgoing a higher education and its associated debt is the anxiety of downward mobility. With predatory loans taking advantage of non-traditional students (older adults with dependents), and disproportionately Black and Latinx borrowers, student debt is now a $1.5 trillion runaway crisis that is growing at an exponential rate. We must demand the liberation of workers from debt and guarantee free college tuition for all.

YDSA’s passage of the College for All campaign resolution at their summer convention represents an exciting opportunity for collaboration between DSA and YDSA chapters. It is also an opportunity to align our electoral and labor work (especially in chapters where we have union members who are graduate workers, university staff and faculty members) with campus organizing efforts. However, without a dedicated national staff person, YDSA will not be able to coordinate this work nationally or connect it with the Bernie campaign. We believe YDSA should have at least one staffer whose full-time work is dedicated to YDSA.

Medicare for All

It’s long overdue, but Medicare for All (M4A) has become an overwhelmingly popular solution to fixing America’s broken health care system. Although 70 percent of Americans support Medicare for All, the monied opposition (insurance companies, hospital lobby, big pharma, etc.) have yet to “come out of the woodwork”. Once they launch their full-scale assault of scare tactics, we can expect our sizeable majority to diminish unless we engage in deeper local organizing towards a militant working-class constituency for Medicare for All.

We believe the infrastructure created by M4A thus far has helped develop the organization. However, chapters have had the most success with the campaign when tying their Medicare for All work to local and state campaigns with other progressive and working-class organizations. Chapters working on M4A without clear targets or demands have put resources into canvassing with no objective other than developing their members. We also believe that M4A, like all of our campaigns, should have strategy to win and a plan for countering racist and sexist attacks from the right (for example, keeping the Hyde repeal in the final M4A legislation).

Going forward, DSA’s organizing strategy has to thoroughly inoculate current supporters from the scare tactics of the capitalist class. This means that we need to find highly “adoptable” tactics that can help identify organic leaders and that a large number of chapters can use, regardless of the political context of the viability of a single-payer bill in their state’s legislature. By organizing national constituencies directly impacted by the rising costs of drugs (insulin, PrEP) we can counter the influence of insurance and pharmaceutical companies. Recipients of Medicare, Medicaid, and beneficiaries of the Affordable Care Act (aka Obamacare) should be mobilized to not merely protect existing programs, but to help make the case for the expansion of coverage to all.

Organizing tactics for Medicare for All should not simply rely on a “blue state” power analysis, but directly organize with communities most vulnerable in the healthcare system. Coalition building is essential; no one should be left behind in the fight for Medicare for All. Our M4A campaign must be in full coordination with sexual and reproductive health rights advocates, immigration rights advocates, LGBTQ rights advocates and disability rights advocates whose communities are criminally underserved by the private health insurance system.

Repealing the Hyde Amendment

Coalition building means more than just recruiting other communities and groups to advocate for Medicare For All. It means demonstrating to those groups our genuine commitment to healthcare justice and showing up to any opportunity to fight against the restriction of access to healthcare based on bigotry and profits. It is not enough, for example, to incorporate a repeal of the Hyde Amendment into Medicare For All: that campaign is also a battleground, a chance to spar with many of the same enemies we will face from greedy insurance companies to hardline reactionaries. Mobilizing to end the Hyde Amendment, and any other radical expansion of healthcare to the working class, paves the way for the passage of Medicare For All.

Growing a Militant and Democratic Labor Movement

Socialist Majority believes that socialists should participate in the labor movement because taking on the boss through collective action in the workplace highlights class contradictions, makes plain the importance of building working-class unity across differences of race, gender, and nationality, and builds working-class capacity for struggle.

DSA, therefore, should be an organization that recognizes the centrality of and engages fully in constructing a mass, militant workers’ movement. Socialist Majority works for a socialist labor movement that is: 1) a mass, working class movement, 2) a movement against white supremacy and patriarchy—both within and outside of our unions—because “we do not lead single-issue lives” and because our liberation depends upon it, and 3) a democratic movement led by workers, because only a movement led by a militant and organized rank and file can produce the kind of labor movement capable of going toe-to-toe with capital and transforming the world.

A Labor Movement That Is a Mass, Working Class Movement
Unions are most effective, both in changing society and making concrete gains for their own members, when they are organized on a class basis. Class-struggle unions understand that the interests of both their members and the working class more broadly are fundamentally opposed to the interests of the employers. They seek to organize all members of the working class, put forward demands that benefit the working class as a whole, and are not afraid to use workers’ most valuable tool — the power to withhold their own labor. Class-struggle unions also understand solidarity with other unions, including unions in other sectors, states and countries, not as charity or transactional investments in building power, but as fundamental to trade unionism.

The recent wave of teachers’ strikes provides the most recent example of this type of trade unionism, but we can also look to the growth of the Congress of Industrial Organizations in the 1930s and 40s and the role of socialist and progressive labor movements in winning both social-democratic reforms and national liberation in other countries.

A Labor Movement Against White Supremacy and Patriarchy
Race and gender demands are not just central to the fight for a democratic socialist future, they are the demands, alongside class demands, around which workers are already organizing in our workplaces. For example, as reform caucus leader turned UTLA President Alex Caputo-Pearl said in an interview with Jacobin late last year, the UTLA strike demands included things like an end to racially discriminatory “random” searches of their students alongside demands to stop school privatization. Members of other teachers union reform caucuses like CORE have also been organizing their coworkers, parents and students through projects like the #blacklivesmatterinschools week of action. We can also see this in the political education efforts of progressive unions like CWA’s Runaway Inequality and in projects like the Washington State AFL-CIO’s Race and Labor curriculum developed by April Simms and Bill Fletcher. The Saint Paul Teachers’ TIGER Team (Teaching and Inquiring about Greed, Equity, and Racism) is yet another example, weaving together class analysis and analysis about patriarchy and white supremacy to organize and activate teachers, parents and community members.

We know that to deepen the socialist, anti-racist, and feminist orientation of unions, we must move strategically. We do not have the capacity to organize in every sector, nor should we. Just as we chose community campaign issues on the basis of their winability and their relevance to the working class, so too should we choose how we prioritize our work in unions. As Lois Weiner identified, the teacher’s strike movement is a women’s movement and one where socialists can continue to sharpen the movement’s demands. Identifying low pay for teachers as an explicitly feminist demand is one example; drawing attention the impact of class size and teacher-to-student ratios on the perpetuation of the school-to-prison pipeline is another.

A Labor Movement Led by Workers
Only a militant and organized rank and file can produce the kind of labor movement that can go toe-to-toe with capital and transform the world. We recognize that even the most progressive union leadership can prioritize short-term benefits to their members over solidarity with the rest of the class or advancing working-class politics a whole. And in some cases, union leadership will collaborate with capital to advance these short-term and narrow interests. Therefore, we fight for rank-and-file trade unionism, where unions are democratically controlled by their members, members are provided with practical and political education, and leaders at all levels embrace a culture of accountability.

DSA members, and DSA as an organization, can and should engage with the struggle for rank-and-file trade unionism at every level. This includes:

  • Supporting rank-and-file workers who are engaged in strikes, organizing campaigns, and other struggles against their bosses;
  • Supporting rank-and-file movements like Caucus of Rank-and-File Educators (CORE) or Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU) who are fighting to democratize their unions;
  • Supporting socialist and progressive unionists who hold or are running for office in their unions in order to move their unions in a more progressive, democratic direction and advance class struggle; and
  • Entering into coalitions with progressive, democratic unions in shared fights for social and economic justice, recognizing that we can and should retain our political independence from even the most progressive unions.

To build the kind of labor movement we envision, we should:

  1. Bring the DSLC under a reformed national working group structure, hire staff to support it, and support the continuation of their existing work;
  2. Develop a program for supporting DSA members to get rank-and-file jobs in strategic sectors (including training and national coordination);
  3. Develop a strategy for mapping and implementing new organizing campaigns and supporting chapter labor committees to do the same; and
  4. Fund the development of national training and resources around common good bargaining and organizing.
Local Organizing and the DSLC

The labor movement is a strategic area of work for socialists. It is also is full of experienced organizers, many of them leftists or socialists, from whom DSA members can learn about organizing, taking collective action against the boss, and developing and running campaigns that win concrete benefits for the working class. DSA’s current membership is primarily drawn from sectors of the working class which are, for the most part, organized neither formally through unions nor informally through “alt-labor” organizations such as workers’ centers. We are also spread out across the country, where union strength and union density vary widely by geography and sector. To most effectively build a mass, militant workers’ movement, DSA members will need to be able to analyze local conditions and make assessments about what strategies make the most sense in their situation.

Socialist Majority supports the development of labor committees or branches in as many chapters as possible. These chapters should be grounded in the campaigns and demands of rank-and-file workers who are already organizing in the area, which may also include workers fighting to form new unions at their jobs. DSA should facilitate political education about the labor movement, and various socialist approaches to doing labor movement work, for the broader DSA membership. National and local bodies should create places for discussion, debate, and analysis of the local labor movement.

In keeping with Socialist Majority’s emphasis that national coordination should be informed by strong local campaigns, we believe that a broad and diverse set of labor committees and projects, operating in different contexts around the country, should guide the work of the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission. We believe that to accomplish a nationally-coordinated vision for labor, we must invest in the further growth and capacity of our DSLC, so they can maximize representation of different chapters’ labor activists, map out the labor context across different regions of America, and provide robust training, resources, and support for chapters and members engaged in both local and national labor struggles. We should hire staff to support the DLSC and help them continue their training and education work, like the already developed Labor 101 training for chapter leaders. We should incorporate the DSLC into the reformed national working group structure and develop clear channels for communication between all local labor committees and the DLSC.

Rank-and-File Power

DSA locals should work together with the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission to recruit and encourage socialists to get rank-and-file union jobs, and develop the infrastructure and support networks to ensure that these workers are effective in building rank-and-file power within their unions. While we fight tirelessly for the dignity and power of all workers, we believe we should particularly encourage members to get jobs especially in the three strategic sectors identified by the Democratic Socialist Labor Committee: 1) public education, 2) logistics, and 3) healthcare. The DSLC will work with local labor committees to help these workers develop a strategy for class struggle organizing inside their unions.

Organizing the Unorganized

Organizing the unorganized is a crucial task of socialists. Only 10 percent of the U.S. workforce belongs to unions, and a quarter of the U.S. workforce has no legal right to collectively bargain. Despite these formidable obstacles, the recent wave of public worker militancy, especially in the South, has proven that organized workers can still win mighty victories in states hobbled by “right-to-work” restrictions, outright prohibition of collective bargaining, and lack of payroll deduction for organizational dues. Unfortunately, the average national union in the U.S. spends a miniscule fraction of its annual budget on organizing, as if organizing the unorganized in their industries is a matter of cost-benefit analysis rather than worker solidarity. As a matter of union survival, DSA members should initiate and support efforts in their unions to vastly increase unions’ organizing budgets.

Our local labor working groups and branches should be coordinating with regional bodies and the DSLC to strategize and support one another in undertaking new organizing projects. To these ends, we should continue and expand the mapping process that the DSLC has already undertaken. Thus far they have only focused on existing labor committees and organizing within DSA chapters, but we should expand this to also map the terrain outside DSA. We should focus this energy specifically on Southern, Midwestern and Southwestern areas where our chapters can provide crucial numbers in new organizing campaigns. We should pilot or support labor committees doing new organizing campaigns in regions that have:

  • Strong DSA chapters with democratic decision-making infrastructure and a labor committee or potential to build a labor committee and a key number of DSA members ready to salt;
  • Already-mobilized workers and/or an existing union campaign; and
  • Ability to shape campaigns around “common good” or socialist demands.

Local labor committees can also begin organizing and building unions directly from our own expertise as cooks and servers, tech workers, artists, on the shop floor and sales floor both, in the office or on campus. We can take inspiration from our comrades at Anchor Brewing Company in San Francisco, who, as brewery and tap house workers, organized themselves in coalition with DSA San Francisco and the ILWU (in the almost entirely union-free craft beer industry). Salts and professional organizers play essential roles we cannot do without — and indeed, we need more of both — but should remember that our greatest resource toward rebuilding the labor movement (and rebuilding it as we want to see it) lies among our own members. Many young workers in DSA are chomping at the bit to take the struggle to their own boss and in their own workplace. The DSLC should support the develop our own members’ abilities as workplace organizers through “train the trainer” workplace organizing workshops across the county and continuing to build curriculum local working groups can pick up and use themselves.

Organizing Around Common Good Demands

Labor making bargaining demands that go outside of the norm is how we achieve our vision of a militant rank and file that centers socialist feminism and anti-racist practices. In 2018, AFSCME 3299 ran a campaign around job security for its Black and Brown members. UTLA demanded that educators would no longer be required to do random searches on its students. By making these demands at the bargaining table we are engaging the community as a whole and strengthening the people’s will and expectations of the labor movement as well as one another regardless of union affiliation. We recognize the racist history of the labor movement and believe that only by broadening the scope of what’s possible can we begin to build trust with communities of color and see labor’s full potential met. We believe that DSA should support our members to organize their coworkers to bring these types of demands to the bargaining table and incorporate them into new organizing campaigns.

Electing Democratic Socialists

Our immediate task in the electoral arena is two-fold—we must defeat the far right as represented by the Republican Party and Trump administration, and we must put forward an independent, working-class political vision that will not accept a return to the neoliberal status quo of the Clinton or Obama years. Our ultimate goal is straightforward—a broad-based working class movement must both win hearts and minds of the majority of people in the U.S. and develop a level of organization capable of winning decisive majorities in representative bodies, enacting a democratic socialist program to substantially democratize our politics, economy and society, and defend that program against counter-attacks from the right.

DSA stands as one relatively small organization given the scale of U.S. politics, but our interventions since 2016 have been extremely promising. In 2018 alone, DSA locals endorsed 133 candidates and ballot initiatives. We now have two locally-endorsed members of DSA in the U.S. Congress, locally-endorsed state legislators in Maine, Pennsylvania, New Hampshire, Massachusetts, North Dakota, Virginia, Montana, Hawaii, Colorado and New York, and locally-endorsed judges in Pittsburgh and Houston. And in 2020, Bernie Sanders’ presidential campaign presents the extraordinary possibility to reach tens of millions more voters with a democratic socialist message.

We are not the only working-class or progressive organization taking advantage of this new political environment. National groups like Our Revolution, the Working Families Party, and Justice Democrats, and local formations like the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement in Jackson, Mississippi, New Haven Rising in Connecticut, and the Richmond Progressive Alliance in California, are all challenging the Democratic establishment, largely in primaries and nonpartisan races, and building independent working-class political organizations.

In the coming years, DSA should use the Bernie Sanders campaign to build our membership, our movement, and hopefully reshape American politics by electing a Democratic Socialist president. We should continue to partner with other working-class, independent, and progressive formations in order to help cohere and amplify the growing class consciousness that we’ve seen develop in the decade since the financial crisis. And we should also continue our successful efforts of supporting candidates for all levels of government office and building a democratic socialist movement to transform our society.

National Electoral Organizing

On the national level, our electoral work is carried out primarily by the National Electoral Committee (NEC). The NEC works to connect chapters doing electoral work to resources necessary for that work. Some of the primary work that the NEC has done over the past two years is to connect locals with one another, creating opportunities for cross-chapter collaboration and skills building. There is still a lot of room for this important and vital work to continue.

The NEC should provide more support to chapters in helping them to develop strategic plans tailored to their local circumstances and aims. Currently, the NEC gets involved in strategy only when a local applies for a national endorsement. That process—where the local articulates why they are endorsing this candidate, their strategic plan for the campaign, and how they see it building DSA locally and nationally, in tandem with experienced NEC members—should be one that all locals have the opportunity to go through prior to deciding to endorse a candidate or issue. This strategic plan development and rigorous endorsement process should include power mapping, to help inform which districts or localities are particularly conducive to a democratic socialist candidate or issue; recruiting, developing, and endorsing candidates; and writing a campaign plan, including most prominently a field plan, that articulates how a DSA candidate can win, or accomplish other goals articulated by that plan. To this end, the NEC should develop and offer a formal program to provide to locals with support and templates for each step of campaign planning and execution.

As this movement grows in size and organization, DSA national should facilitate communication between locals to lay the groundwork for statewide coordination and collaboration, as provided for in the DSA constitution. Ultimately, organizing at the state level will be crucial for developing a true national electoral strategy.

Local Electoral Organizing

The most successful part of DSA’s electoral strategy to date has been the emphasis on building the capacities of local chapters to conduct campaigns. DSA should double down on this strategy.

One strength of this approach is that locals must continue to develop contextual strategies based on local circumstances. Partisan politics, election rules, the strength or weakness of labor unions or social movement groups, the density of the population, and many more factors must be taken into account by DSA members as the evaluate their local opportunities. For the time being, continued experimentation at the local level is its own form of political education for thousands of our members

At the same time, we hope locals will broadly adhere to two key principles laid out in the National Electoral Strategy: running winnable campaigns and building an independent electoral organization.

We know every DSA candidate will not win, but one crucial part of our strategy has been supporting candidates who have a credible path to victory. Running candidates who can win, often on the Democratic party line, helps us avoid the pitfalls that have made the Green Party and other third-party organizations irrelevant to most voters. We must not allow elections to become a vanity project — our goal is to win power.

DSA chapters across the country have uncovered an important truth — electoral work is not as complex as paid consultants have a vested interested in making it appear. Every single chapter, no matter the size, can become capable of organizing door-knocking canvasses, training canvass leads, and developing an independent DSA apparatus through this work that can put candidates in office or take them out. This is the process by which we make sure that our electoral efforts will result in more power for an independent, working-class political movement, not just opportunistic politicians. While there are tensions in this strategy — we do not want to separate ourselves from working-class voters and organizations who are also supporting our candidates — for the time being it has been a powerful tool for building DSA’s structure, capacity and membership. In a world where there are too few spaces for sustained activism, local electoral work run on this model creates a path for lasting political engagement in the socialist movement.


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