Solidarity Over Insularity

  • Statement about: Jovanka Beckles and Gayle McLaughlin
  • For these candidates: I support a strong endorsement with a commitment to "boots on the ground" support from DSA.
  • Summary: DSA chapters need to embrace connections with groups like the Richmond Progressive Alliance, not fear them.

Written by East Bay DSA member Nate Nicholson

A mass socialist movement will need to bring together an array of existing networks forged in grassroots struggle against the everyday brutality of capitalism. Engaging with the Richmond Progressive Alliance is an opportunity for East Bay DSA to start learning what it takes to build those connections.

The RPA’s decision to approach us shows a desire to grow their impressive localized victories against Chevron and property owners into a far-reaching program with a systemic critique. And their base is a fair foreshadowing of the broad working-class coalition that we know will be needed to push for and defend material gains against capital. Our organizations have a lot to learn from each other.

We should take advantage of this opportunity and endorse Beckles and McLaughlin. If a "strong" endorsement means taking on activities like incorporating candidate literature into our canvasses, co-hosting and cross-promoting our events, and being in regular contact with the candidates and their campaign staff, then we should offer a strong endorsement.

To be clear: Candidate campaigns won’t, and shouldn’t, take over our work. There are a host of reasons why electing progressive candidates shouldn’t be a major focus of EBDSA. First and most simply, we don’t add value to the saturated advocacy space, which is full of groups already doing that work. Second, the rote interactions that campaign volunteers are asked to have with voters are not fruitful sites for the deeper relational organizing that we should be practicing as socialists. Third, backing losing candidates, as we’re likely to be doing in this case, is demoralizing and a poor entry point for our many new members excited to plug into a movement. And finally, even successfully electing isolated progressive gadflies (whether inside or outside the Democratic Party) hasn’t historically amounted to meaningful power for the U.S. left.

But we don’t need to assign outsized stakes to this decision. Offering these endorsements won’t lash us to a permanent strategy of mindless electoralism. We should view these endorsements as low-risk gestures that mainly serve to grow our relationships with local progressive leaders and their grassroots base.

And with that in mind, there’s no good reason to withhold our endorsement. To do so would be a pointless rebuff to the RPA and would paint us as insular and self-marginalizing—more interested in turning inward to our own still-loosely-specified pursuits than engaging with the really existing terrain of political struggle in the East Bay.

Some members have raised concerns that these endorsements would divert resources from our Medicare For All campaign, new member recruitment, or other projects. But we shouldn’t think of our capacity as a fixed quantity: it can grow through our organizing work, not just be depleted by it. To make that happen, we need to extend our reach to groups that aren’t yet fully committed to a transformative socialist vision. We should be eager to develop relationships that put us in contact with a politically energized working-class base like that of the RPA.

In doing so, we should have confidence in our organizing and not fear that our work will be swallowed up by timid left-liberalism, incrementalism, or electoralism. Existing, locally embedded institutions shouldn’t be feared as a contaminant to our politics; they should be viewed as a petri dish for growing our politics outward.

Deepening our relationship with the RPA is exactly the kind of work we, and DSA chapters nationwide, will need to do as we seek to expand our reach into the mainstream left-of-center. Let's take this opportunity to start seeing what that work looks like.

The statement above is the opinion of its author and does not necessarily represent the opinions of East Bay DSA, its local council, or its members.