Why We Should Support a Mass Movement for Survival

Eric R., Benny Z., Casey B., Nick L., Jeremy Y., Kevin S., Zach B.

In support of Priorities Resolution Proposal #6, to Center Mass Movements, and Priorities Resolution Proposal #8, Green New Deal, at East Bay DSA’s 2020 convention

As awful as the last few months have been, they might be the most temperate and least dangerous summer months that any of us will experience for the rest of our lives. Record-breaking heat waves, wildfires, hurricanes, pandemics, and other such natural (or unnatural) disasters are just foreshadowing of what happens when we hit 2 or 3 degrees of planetary warming. And under capitalism, a system wherein extraction of surplus value is the global economy’s fundamental law of motion, with less than 8 years remaining to avert irreversible, runaway climate chaos, warming is still accelerating

For a brief period in early 2020, a Bernie Sanders presidency appeared to be our best hope to correct course. Sanders’ platform called for $17 trillion in federal spending for a Green New Deal program: a rapid infrastructure retrofit, jobs program, political project to build a popular working class base, and what Naomi Klein calls “care and repair” work to heal damage already done. It was always going to be an uphill climb, but at least we had a path. Where is that path now?

Political Climate Reality

Six months after Sanders’ exit, during pandemic, mass unemployment, and looming eviction crisis, we’re faced with the grim decision to vote for a presidential candidate whose platform would barely make a dent in the ecological crisis or an incumbent who presides over a death cult, openly courting civil war. No matter who “wins” this year, a contested election and months of ensuing unrest are likely.

The federal GND resolution introduced by Reps. Ocasio-Cortez and Markey — really just a sketch of guiding principles — stalled in March, 2019. A similar bill for California co-authored by Oakland’s Rob Bonta is, as of June, dead.  

While the promise of high paying clean union jobs is good base-building politics, labor activism is also unlikely to bring emissions reductions any time soon. Union membership in the United States is at an all-time low of 10.3%. Despite inspiring actions by the ILWU in support of Black Lives and against port privatization, an upsurge in the militancy of teachers unions across the country, and the spectacle of the NBA players’ strike, unions have been mired in a largely losing battle to maintain basic protections for their own members. A labor movement that engages in broader militant class struggle is our aspiration, not our reality. The number of union activists dedicated to climate politics is growing, but still a small fraction (of a fraction) of the working class. 

None of this should deter socialists from trying to push unions to adopt universal struggle, from organizing unions where none exist, or from strategically using the bully pulpit of electoral campaigns to agitate against our enemies. But it should prompt us to ask ourselves: Are there other formations we can use to fight for our collective interest, that build class solidarity, that allow us to transcend the capitalist realism that tells us “there is no alternative,” that can rapidly change the political terrain?

Mass Movements Can Win

In the months of June and July, the mass movement for Black Lives won numerous concessions that were previously thought impossible. Minneapolis City Council unanimously voted to replace the police department with a community-led public safety system after a sustained push from Black Visions Project and mass direct action that culminated in the burning down of a Minneapolis Police precinct with majority public support. Here in the East Bay, Oakland Schools police department was completely dismantled, after years of work by Black Organizing Project and their open embrace of/by the mass movement this summer. We all recognize the need to go further. The point is that these victories were unimaginable mere weeks before uprisings began.

It serves as a model for the climate movement, but the climate movement isn’t starting from scratch. 

In September 2019, 40,000 Bay Area youth joined millions globally to Strike for Climate. Young people from organizations like Sunrise Bay Area and Youth vs. Apocalypse have re-framed the movement as a struggle for our own survival, openly naming capitalism and colonialism as enemies. DSA and YDSA participated, but lacked direct action capacity and community relationships necessary to articulate our politics, to effectively combat neoliberal and ecofascist ideology, and to nurture formations organizing around collective class demands. Next time, we should be more prepared. We should have direct action teams ready to coordinate DSA members in nonviolent resistance, strong relationships with organizations and organic leaders in our community, and a well articulated political message that builds solidarity in struggle against systems that oppress us and destroy our planet.

Just as we cannot call for a general strike, we cannot simply demand that the climate strikes take on the mass, militant character necessary to win. Recently, climate politics have been more about lobbyists “greening” Joe Biden than about mass participation. But we could not have predicted that one Swedish girl sitting out of school in 2018 would lead to millions marching in 2019, and we could not have predicted that the murder of George Floyd would be the catalyst for months of sustained uprisings this summer. We should continue to build DSA’s capacity and relationships as described in proposal #6 so that we are ready to support these movements’ most radical working class demands at each stage of the process. 

I urge you all to support Priorities Resolution Proposal #6, to Center Mass Movements, and Priorities Resolution Proposal #8, Green New Deal at East Bay DSA’s 2020 convention.