By Maria Svart, DSA National Director
Socialists care about power. We want to win it, and we want to wield it.
We want power because that is the only way to get free.
But what is power? How do we build it?
We know what it’s not. It’s not wasting energy on being outraged by every new announcement from the nation’s capital and going numb as the reality sinks in of what is happening to us and our communities. It’s not getting so frustrated and hopeless about stopping these horrors that we retreat inward or turn on each other.
We must find the strength to push through this exhaustion and survival mode and reclaim our power.
This is how we fight back.
If you’ve been to one of our trainings, at the August convention or at a regional training, you know that we talk about power as having enough organized people or organized money to get what we want. We certainly don’t have the organized money that the Koch brothers or the U.S. Chamber of Commerce do, but we have enough from our 35,000 members’ dues to pay for national organizing infrastructure and several staff who support your work in communities across the country. And our staff, chapter leaders, and leaders on the National Political Committee and in national working groups are building the power that comes from organized people.
Your elected delegates at the August convention voted on three priority projects, each of which reinforces the other. Each offers a counter-narrative to the myth of capitalism as freedom. But more important, each gives us the opportunity to organize more people around the conditions of their everyday lives and thus build our power. These priorities are Medicare for All, electoral work, and building union strength. Not coincidentally, Democratic Left devotes this Spring issue to Medicare for All and will highlight electoral and labor work in the next two issues.
Recently, the Democratic Socialist Labor Commission held elections and has begun to develop national projects to move DSA members into solidarity with unions in our communities and support members working to strengthen our own unions. This activity matters not only because when we have unions we workers keep more of the fruits of our labor but because, as one DSA T-shirt proclaims, “profit is theft.” As socialists, we know that the capitalists depend on our labor to make that profit, and our ability to organize as working people has a direct relationship to our ability to disrupt the functioning of the economic system as it is now, demand concessions, and ultimately transform it.
After some amazing victories in November, the National Electoral Committee is ramping up for 2018 elections and has released a strategy document outlining our plan to build independent political power rooted in our chapters, starting with primaries (electoral.dsausa.org/). Our work will be based on a power analysis of each separate context rather than a cookie-cutter approach. We understand that capital controls the government, but if we strategically elect politicians accountable to us, we can mitigate or even reverse some of the worst policies that are destroying our communities right now. We can enact transformative reforms, policies that actually shift the balance of power from the ruling class to the working class.
This February, we won our first local healthcare victory. No, we didn’t get Medicare for All. But Austin DSA, working in partnership with Austin unions—in particular the construction trades— helped pass the first paid sick leave law in the entire South, which is home to 70% of the nation’s poor. The legislation was introduced by Greg Casar, a DSA member on the city council, and passed because DSA members canvassed tirelessly. They carried a message about the immediate benefit and held out a vision of health care for everyone. I teared up when I saw the video that Austin DSA posted of the late-night city council vote. A red rose sat on the desk in front of Casar in recognition of our movement and the DSA members who began singing Solidarity Forever. We know, of course, that the fight doesn’t end in a city council. Republican-controlled state legislatures have repealed living-wage victories and will undoubtedly go after this victory. We must elect allies in state legislatures and at the national level. (The National Electoral Committee is hosting a series of webinars to explain the nuts and bolts of electoral organizing. Check them out at dsausa.org.)
As this Austin example demonstrates, Medicare for All is a demand that can tie together our work and speaks to a deeply felt human need. This issue of Democratic Left is devoted to our fight for single payer, which is ultimately a fight over power.
Benjamin Fong’s piece looks at Medicare for All as a tactic for talking to thousands of people about the problems of capitalism and bringing them into DSA, where they can become part of a collective struggle for democratic socialism. Natalie Shure points out that because the systems of capitalism and patriarchy rely on women’s unpaid care work, socialized healthcare would relieve us of that burden and thus expand our freedom and power vis-à-vis the patriarchy. Marian Jones provides a picture of the intersection of race and class in health outcomes and discusses the anti-black sentiment that the capitalist class uses to undermine universal programs such as Medicare for All.
Mark Dudzic explains how healthcare has become a key problem for union members fighting to improve their conditions through their collective bargaining agreement: first, because employers force them to choose between decent wages and paid healthcare (as was the case with the strike by West Virginia teachers) and second, because the capitalist class then sows division between union and non-union workers. Mark Alper states in the starkest terms why Medicare for All is a life or death matter for people with disabilities, but that it alone won’t be enough to guarantee liberation. Finally, Travis Donoho explains the danger of Medicaid work requirements and Republican rejection of Medicaid expansion funds to rural communities and why these fights can be the practical hook to engage people around a much broader vision of Medicare for All.
Around these priorities, and other work, DSAers are on the move. Last month our campus wing, the Young Democratic Socialists of America, gathered some 350 strong in Washington, DC, to talk socialism and learn organizing.
DSA chapters in 25 states are building the Poor People’s Campaign: A National Call for Moral Revival with the help of our Religion and Socialism Working Group (learn more about the original campaign of 50 years ago in Maurice Isserman’s piece), and national leadership recently endorsed the Operation PUSH prison strike and the International Women’s Strike.
As members of a national organization, our chapters provide the solid foundation that enables us to fight the capitalists on the scale we need to win. It is a truism that we cannot have socialism in one country. Neither can we have it in one city or state. We must never lose sight of the fact that we are in a global struggle and we must build the power to fight back.