Preface: I intended to post this on November 8th, but ended up being hospitalized with appendicitis that day. I’m finally home from the hospital and am able to post this piece, along with one important update: over a dozen DSA members won seats across the country in the November 2017 elections in a thrilling testimony to the real-life potential of DSA and the leftist struggle overall.
Today marks one year since the election of Donald Trump, the event that precipitated the enormous surge in membership of the Democratic Socialists of America. Having been debased by the American electoral system for the last time, thousands of people (myself included) flocked to DSA looking for an alternative political formation.
Today also marks the day that many of those new memberships will come up for renewal. Some may now be asking themselves if DSA is right for them, or if their time in the organization has been worthwhile enough to renew. My answer is: renew your dues.
What I’ve learned over the past year in DSA is that it’s impossible for the organization to match your expectations, but only because the organization doesn’t have a predetermined, static operation. It’s a work-in-progress and is constantly changing based on the will of the membership and the political realities at hand. This is actually the most amazing thing about DSA. Members have the ability to directly influence DSA to reflect their own values and virtues. This cannot be taken for granted as our opportunities for self-determination under a capitalist authoritarian regime become increasingly narrow.
Undeniably, DSA has accomplished a lot over the past year. The membership has swelled to ~30,000 people. We held a national convention where 700 delegates from across the country democratically determined the political goals of the organization. Following the directives of the convention results, DSA is now on the brink of several nationally-coordinated campaigns, the largest being the Medicare-For-All campaign. Considering the enormous success of grassroots mobilizing in the Bernie Sanders campaign, it would seem that DSA is poised for political victories if our members continue to organize.
It’s true that things in DSA aren’t always easy. You’re constantly exposed to challenging ideas and concepts. You’re expected to argue for and defend your political positions. You may feel intellectually outpaced by more experienced peers. Or you may feel like no one is familiar with your school of thought. Be assured that every member has a voice in DSA and while our debates, arguments, and discussions can be tense and impassioned, we come out of the exercise with more conviction and clarity of purpose than ever before.
Although we demand more from our peers in a radical organization, toxic oppressive habits may sneak their way into our meeting spaces and you may have to wage political battles within your own chapter in response. But if your chapter is worth anything, there will be transparent, democratic mechanisms for these political battles to unfold, for people to tell their stories, and for every member to have a sense of ownership in their chapter.
I encourage everyone to renew their membership to DSA because collective participation is what makes this organization good. DSA needs your ideas, creativity, and passion to achieve any of our goals. Just like how unions function, we pay dues as a way to pool our resources and turn the tables on wealthy elites who otherwise dominate American politics at every level. I understand that there are people out there who have done the work, who have engaged in the debates, and who have attempted to wage internal political battles, and they still feel like DSA isn’t right for them. I agree that for some, the best way to engage with politics is by means beyond DSA. But for others, please let on-the-ground participation be your first step. Go to meetings, get involved, exchange ideas, and meet other leftists. At a time when we have to wake up daily and face the crushing terror and injustice of a capitalist imperial power structure, there’s power and potential in DSA to have some kind of impact of our own, and I think it’s a rare opportunity worth investing in.