Written by East Bay DSA members Liz Fox and Ahmed Kanna
We are in favor of the Bay to Brakelights Endorsement proposal, because the program will strengthen our single-payer campaign and our chapter more broadly in three major ways.
First: Bay to Brakelights clinics could be used to build capacity for neighborhood single-payer canvasses. The first Brakelight clinic in Oakland was held in a neighborhood where our chapter doesn’t yet have a strong canvassing program, and organizers canvassed the neighborhood to drive turnout and share police safety resources with residents. We could easily add a single-payer component to our materials, but we could also set up a table to talk to people about single-payer while they wait their turn. These conversations could test our canvassing rap in communities new to us, and help us develop a rap for situations where a canvasser will be able to go door-to-door (large apartment complexes, for example). In addition, Brakelight clinics attract a different segment of EBDSA’s membership than single-payer canvassing does. We can use Brakelights clinics to train a different member base in the same core organizing conversations and skills that single-payer canvassing builds.
Second: Brakelights clinics offer a low-stakes opportunity to test coalition building. The Bay to Brakelights coalition includes other local DSA chapters and organizations with which our Local Council and single-payer campaign do not yet have a relationship. Just getting to know other organizers and material conditions in other areas of the Bay offers a wealth of opportunities. EBDSA leadership and members could attend Brakelights clinics to meet with other chapters’ leaders and members and test how well we organize together. Assuming we build positive relationships, we can leverage them to coordinate statewide emergency actions. These could include bus trips to Sacramento in support of single-payer, or organizing in support of Jovanka Beckles and Gayle McLaughlin. We might even consider campaign-agnostic resource sharing, like pooling money or offering mediators when third party mediation is necessary. If Brakelights remains attractive to local non-DSA leftist groups, we could also use the clinics to feel out external partnerships.
As an aside, we could and probably will build these things with our existing SB562 campaign or with the proposed Medicare For All campaign. But by its nature, building a neighborhood canvassing program is slow and steady work. The Brakelights clinics are one-off events that rotate through the Bay. They give many chapters and many political tendencies a chance to work together on something concrete, but without tying us to a long-term relationship if we’re not ready to commit. There’s no reason EBDSA shouldn’t take advantage of a ready-made, quick to deploy, and low-cost vehicle to achieve these things faster.
Third: Bay to Brakelights is one of the first large member-driven proposals our chapter has had a chance to vote on. This is a positive step forward that we should recognize and encourage! While we would prefer for our chapter to focus narrowly on several key campaigns instead of trying to be everything to everyone, we would like to see us lend our collective strength to at least two more campaigns. We would love if those campaigns came from our members, rather than solely from leadership or members closely associated with leadership. We want this not only because it sounds nice and makes everyone feel warm and fuzzy, but because it would be a strategic gain for our chapter to develop more leaders with more areas of expertise and more points of view. That will only happen if members have the ability to build and lead projects they care about, which emerge from their own experiences of class struggle.
Ultimately, neither fixing every brakelight in the Bay Area nor winning single-payer for California are in themselves socialist victories. Our challenge is to figure out how to put these programs (and more member-driven programs!) together to build a road to socialism. The greatest socialist victory we can win right now is to figure out how to make our big tent a strategic asset. To us, this is what responsible stewardship of a multi-tendency organization looks like. We are not politically aligned with the Bay to Brakelights project, or with the East Bay DSA caucuses that have done most of the work of organizing EBDSA’s contributions to it so far. But we do care deeply about our organization, we trust and respect our membership, and we know not to avoid collaboration with other tendencies when we share goals. This is a great opportunity for EBDSA to make real changes in the lives of people in the Bay Area, and to build a political program on a community foundation.
Liz Fox, Internal Organizer
Ahmed Kanna, Internal Organizer, Local Council