DSA Chapters Go for Victories

Democratic Left asked chapters to tell us what they’re working on in the electoral arena. This list isn’t complete, but it’s a window into the inspiring hard work that DSA chapters are doing around the country to shift the political terrain.

The National Electoral Committee is assisting chapters in building the capacity to run their own campaign operations, independent of any particular candidate. Since the beginning of the year, the NEC has been conducting chapter outreach, researching candidates for endorsement, hosting trainings, and educating chapters about campaign finance law issues.

Philly DSA canvassed for Elizabeth Fiedler and Kristin Seale in their winning primary races for the Pennsylvania State House. Using DSA’s independent canvassing operation that interfaced with Fiedler’s and Seale’s campaigns, DSAers talked to voters about issues important to the working class in advance of the May 15 Pennsylvania Democratic primary elections. As with Medicare for All canvassing efforts, members stressed the importance of decommodifying healthcare. Unlike with general M4A canvassing, they were able to argue that electing two fierce, left-wing women would go a long way toward enacting better healthcare policies. Fiedler won her race by a dozen points, with unusually high turnout at the polls. She ran on a platform of universal free healthcare and education, criminal justice and environmental reform, and democracy both in the workplace and in the political process.

Pittsburgh DSA went all out for Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato, both members of DSA, who won primaries for House Districts 34 and 21, respectively. Lee and Innamorato beat two cousins, Paul and Dom Costa, who are members of an established Democratic Party political family in Pittsburgh. Both women ran on platforms of economic equality, criminal justice reform, Medicare for All, tuition-free public education, and other popular DSA positions. Headlines around the country proclaimed victory for democratic socialists, such as, “A Democratic Socialist Landslide in Pennsylvania” and “Socialist-Backed Candidates Sweep Pennsylvania State House Primaries.” Neither woman has a Republican opponent in the November election.

Sacramento DSA held an eight-hour Candidate Forum in April and endorsed four candidates: Gayle McLaughlin for lieutenant governor; Tristan Brown for Sacramento City Council District 7; Rachelanne Vander Werf for American River Flood Control District; and Phillip Kim for State Senate District 4. Brown, Vander Werf, and Kim are Sacramento DSA members, and chapter members are excited to move on their campaigns.

Brown’s campaign offers a very compelling opportunity for the chapter. Sacramento is an early adopter of the Voters’ Choice Act, which gives every voter a ballot a month before the election, extends the time when polling places are open to 11 days, and more. The chapter will identify low-propensity registered voters and canvass their homes with the intention of boosting turnout in what are often low-participation midterms. Voter turnout in Brown’s district could be from 6,000 to 8,000 voters, and if the race is close, a few hundred votes could determine it. Canvassing could make the difference.

Jovanka Beckles, East Bay DSA member and candidate for state assembly, at the UC workers’ strike in May, showing off her DSA Medicare for All swag.

East Bay DSA is working on three electoral campaigns this season: National DSA endorsee Gayle McLaughlin, running as an independent for lieutenant governor; Jovanka Beckles, an East Bay DSA member running for state assembly; and a ballot initiative to repeal state-imposed limits on local rent control. The three campaigns fit together nicely: When McLaughlin and Beckles served together on the Richmond City Council, they helped pass the state’s first new rent control measure in 30 years, inspiring housing activists in other cities around the state to follow suit. More info at https://ebdsapac.org/.

New York City DSA has endorsed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in her campaign to be the Democratic candidate to the U.S. House of Representatives in New York’s 14th congressional district. Ocasio-Cortez is a working-class, Latina democratic socialist running on a platform of Medicare for All, a universal jobs guarantee, tuition-free public college, and abolishing the Immigration and Customs Enforcement agency. Her opponent in the Democratic primary, the incumbent, Joe Crowley, takes Wall Street and real estate money and uses his position as chair of the Queens Democratic Party to suppress candidates who challenge the vaunted Queens political machine. Queens branch members are very excited about the campaign and drew 34 canvassers to the kickoff event on April 28. With citywide endorsement, other DSAers should join the campaign.

New York City has also endorsed DSA member Julia Salazar in her bid for the New York State Senate. She is running in Brooklyn’s 18th district, which includes Bushwick, Williamsburg, and other neighborhoods in North Brooklyn, against a developer-backed incumbent. “We don’t operate with a vision of scarcity,” said Salazar in a speech asking for the endorsement of NYC-DSA. “We operate with a vision of abundance.” NYC-DSA delegates voted overwhelmingly in favor of her campaign, and the chapter held a kickoff event on May 19.

Chicago DSA has avoided running or supporting candidates in larger races in favor of ballot measures that correspond to its wider campaigns, while supporting candidates in hyper-local races for administrative offices. In the March election the ballot referendum in support of lifting the ban on rent control received wide support, and the chapter’s effort secured it a voice on the steering committee of the coalition organizing for rent control in Chicago. Other big electoral wins came in April in the races for local school councils, where eleven DSA members ran and ten secured seats. Some ran unopposed, but in five of the six contested races, DSA members won, in some cases receiving nearly twice as many votes as the opposition.

Orlando DSA is supporting Chardo Richardson for U.S. Congress in Florida’s 7th district and Robin Harris for Orange County Commissioner.

Richardson is an Air Force veteran and lawyer who has served as president of the Central Florida ACLU while working for a local teachers’ union. Richardson supports single-payer healthcare, free public college, a $15 minimum wage, an end to U.S. involvement in regime-change wars, and a complete restructuring of the criminal justice system leading to the end of the War on Drugs. Richardson is challenging incumbent congressional representative Stephanie Murphy in a Democratic primary. Murphy, a “blue dog” conservative Democrat, voted for Kate’s Law, which punishes undocumented immigrants for returning to the United States after deportation, and for the recent bank deregulation bill. She has also consistently refused to support single-payer healthcare.
Harris is a local activist who has worked on a wide array of issues and has stood up for workers, LGBT folks, and communities of color. The district she aims to represent includes economically oppressed and historically neglected communities of color in West Orlando. She is challenging the incumbent county commissioner, who has supported zoning changes that have paved the way for harmful gentrification in the area. The race is nonpartisan, but Harris has been active in the local Green Party.

Metro DC DSA has endorsed six candidates for county- and state-level offices in Montgomery County, Maryland. All candidates are running in the Democratic primary, which takes place on June 26. Chapter members have knocked on thousands of doors and helped build a strong regional coalition to support the candidates. For more information about these candidates (or about Metro DC DSA’s electoral work in general), you can visit the Metro DC DSA Solidarity PAC website at http://dsasolidaritypac.org.

DSA San Francisco is hard at work on two critical local ballot measure campaigns: Yes on F and No on H. Proposition F, which has been spearheaded by DSA and a host of tenants’ rights organizations, would guarantee a right to counsel for any San Francisco resident who has been served with an eviction notice. In 90% of eviction cases that go to court, landlords have a lawyer and tenants don’t. As a result, the vast majority of cases are decided in favor of the landlords simply because tenants do not have the resources to defend themselves. Prop F would help to protect vulnerable tenants from eviction and displacement, prevent homelessness, and win vital power for the working class in San Francisco in the fight against the capitalist-manufactured housing crisis.

Proposition H is a measure written by the San Francisco Police Officers Association that would allow the POA to create its own use-of-force policy involving tasers, which would bypass the oversight of the Police Commission and dispense with the (already watered-down) de-escalation training they’re supposed to be implementing. DSA SF opposed the use of tasers from the beginning. Prop H would allow police officers to use tasers on anyone, including people wh o pose absolutely no threat.

DSA-LA is gearing up for a campaign in partnership with a coalition of grassroots organizations in support of a statewide ballot measure to repeal Costa-Hawkins, a 1995 law that puts severe limits on local rent control measures. If this ballot measure is successful, the chapter will pressure the City of Los Angeles and nearby municipalities to expand rent control and tenant protections to every tenant in the city.

In the June 5 primaries, DSA-LA is also supporting Gayle McLaughlin for lieutenant governor and Steve Dunwoody for State Assembly. Dunwoody is a DSA member and 2016 Bernie delegate running against the local political machine on LA’s west side.

DSA-LA is also a part of the Public Bank LA coalition to pressure city lawmakers to create a public bank, which would save millions in fees and pave the way for more democratic control of local finance. And along with comrades across the state and country, the chapter is canvassing regularly for Medicare for All in the form of the California SB-562. ϖ