Three Criteria for Electoral Engagement, Three Reasons To Organize with RPA

  • 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: Electoral work should base-build, push a socialist agenda, & train us for state power. Fighting to win for Jovanka does all three.

Written by East Bay DSA member Keith Brower Brown

Socialists organize to build working class power across all of society. We should oppose a total fixation on electoral politics, but there are key moments when it serves that power. I came up with three criteria to test a potential electoral strategy; I decided that organizing with RPA to elect Jovanka Beckles is a rare opportunity to build new power for EBDSA and the East Bay working class.

My opinion is informed by experience as one of our chapter's appointed Internal Organizers, as one of our three head mobilizers, and as someone who's been organizing and canvassing in Oakland politics for six years (including as a precinct captain for Dan Siegel's 2014 left-wing mayoral campaign).

I'm heartened to see so many comrades across this debate share the goal of building working-class power. I think DSA has begun to do that nationally by: a) big-tent working-class mass organizing; b) fighting for non-reformist reforms that grow our leverage for future struggles; c) adapting a flexible electoral strategy, adapted to win under local constraints.

To advance working class power, all our organizing should heighten support for universal programs and ideals, rather than specific bills and candidates. We want a state run by the working class for the good of all, not a state constrained on the currently rigged terms.

Given those principles, I think electoral organizing will be strategic only if it meets the following criteria:

1. Does it Train Us to Win & Wield State Power?

Where is EBDSA at today? In less than a year, we've exploded in size and political capacity--that's why we have RPA knocking our door for support. But we shouldn't fool ourselves we're ready to run our own candidates and win. East Bay politics is insanely competitive, crowded with landlords, corporations, and center-left NGO industrial powers. EBDSA is filled with new-ish organizers, and all of us have a ton to learn about electoral organizing and using state power to maximum effect.

RPA has built a unique grassroots electoral machine that's the best model in the country for DSA electoral and state work. We will only learn RPA's most important tools and have a close relationship with them in office, if we now bring our organizers into close teamwork with RPA organizers and canvass across multiple stages of Jovanka's campaign.

2. Does it Broaden our Base?

For a huge number of the working class people whose doors I've knocked on, "politics" means elections and government affairs. As socialists, we absolutely need to expand that definition, but it's crazy to jump right away to talking dictatorship of the proletariat. For many, electoral organizing offers a needed first step, a gateway hug (not sorry). When we ask people to get involved out of their self-interest, they need to believe their effort will have a real chance of success, on terms they recognize. RPA's victories show that their electoral organizing has offered just such a credible first step for many new Richmonders to get involved in politics.

So electoral credibility matters to base-building. Jovanka has a real shot at winning, and it depends especially on us organizing in working class parts of Berkeley and north Oakland where we don't yet have as much reach. Gayle has a much more limited shot at victory, in a crowded statewide field. I think we should endorse Gayle because she's a movement-building socialist, but our organizing work will do the most base-broadening if we focus on Jovanka's campaign, because she has a more credible shot and we have a bigger influence on the outcome.

3. Does it Advance our Agenda?

Socialists work to raise class consciousness: that means a working class in strong solidarity against the wealthy capitalists who profit off our misery. In electoral work, we need to support candidates who frame politics as class struggle, who organize for working class solidarity, and who fight for universal programs and non-reformist reforms. When candidates fight on those terms, they lay the groundwork for a stronger

Jovanka and Gayle are both open socialists, but more importantly, they've built an electoral machine on principles of class struggle. RPA fought Chevron and won a supermajority. Their campaigns explicitly exist to fight corporate & landlord power. No other serious candidates coming out of Bay Area politics, in my time, have ever pushed class consciousness like this.

We've got a world to win. If we fight hard for Jovanka, we learn how to win whole new kinds of power.

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.