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Putting Socialists in Office, with David Duhalde


The Democratic Socialists of America had a good night on election night, electing two endorsed candidates and 15 of its members to offices in cities and states across the U.S. From Peekskill, NY to Knoxville, TN, Billings, MT to Pleasant Hill, IA, socialists will be taking office. What does that mean for the political trajectory of the country and for next year’s Congressional races? I spoke with David Duhalde, deputy director of DSA, about the organization’s electoral strategy and where it fits in the overall spectrum of left groups winning elections in 2017.

we really wanted people to show us that they had a pathway to victory. We didn’t need somebody to say, “I am 100% a shoo-in to win” but we wanted people to really show us they have been thinking about what were the steps to win their races. We wanted people who really were going to be out there hitting the pavement and talking to voters. From this, we were able to select six candidates. Then, really built a national infrastructure to support them through our base. Social media is a huge asset, especially for local races trying to draw national and potentially international attention and donations. But also, using our network of hundreds of volunteers and thousands of members to do phone banking and to do door knocking. For example, in Seattle, Jon Grant who ran as a great housing advocate who unfortunately ran against a very good liberal Democrat, so it made it a hard race. The DSA knocked on 22,000 doors and we made sure to send out emails for them to reach other members in the State of Washington they might not have reached.
The same thing with Carter. We worked hard to talk to the media and raise awareness, especially in the D.C. Beltway about his race which helped generate attention he might not have gotten. So, strategically, we shifted and we are trying to look to 2018 about how we are going to expand this program, because 2017 was kind of the test run. We will see what happens, but we definitely want to be more sophisticated, we want to increase the standards to get endorsed, and also, look at now we helped people win, so we want to make sure we hold them accountable. We don’t want people coming to us to get volunteers and leaving. There are a lot of questions that are going to come up that the national political committee, which is DSA’s leadership, the national electoral committee are working on to really make sure we are still a very relevant and democratic organization that is electing Socialists who will be held accountable by their constituents.

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Living socialism in Houston, with Amy Zachmeyer

The Democratic Socialists of America are one of the political organizations on the ground doing disaster relief in Houston after Harvey, and to co-chair Amy Zachmeyer that work is an expression of working-class solidarity, “really living socialism.” She talks to me about the work DSA has done, where the austerity state has failed, and the environmental issues that make climate change tangible in Texas.

AZ: For large portions of Houston, things are going back to normal. The highways are reopening, people are going back to work, and their lives look relatively the same. But, for other portions of Houston, things are not going to be okay for a very long time. A lot of those divides are economic divides. It has also really highlighted the racial segregation in our city, because you go to some neighborhoods and they look fine. Everyone still has their home and their manicured lawn and their car sitting out front. Then, you go into some of the other neighborhoods that were affected and you see where people’s entire lives have been removed from their home, including the drywall. Everything inside a home that made that home a home has been pulled out and thrown in a large heap on the side of the road. It is a very visual representation of which neighborhoods are affected and which neighborhoods are just business as usual. SJ: We see the inequality really clearly in times of disaster. AZ: In a lot of the neighborhoods that we have gone to, we have actually had people tell us, “Nobody else has come to check on me.” Maybe their pastor has come to check on them, but no other organizations have been out there besides the Democratic Socialists in their red shirts. There is something really heartbreaking about that to me.

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A People’s Congress of Resistance, with Jodi Dean and Brian Becker


In September, frontline activists are coming together for a “people’s Congress” in Washington, D.C., organized around an openly radical platform that aims to put a left political horizon in front of the resistance movements that have grown against Trump. Jodi Dean and Brian Becker are part of the group convening the Congress and they spoke with me about why it’s important to build an independent political movement that doesn’t revolve solely around Trump or focus on electoral outcomes for Democrats.

JD: If we think about a society for the many in the United States, what does that have to look like? It has to look like the society that people would want to produce. And if we’re going to produce one that is desirable, a good place to live, then we have to confront directly and honestly the dual legacy of the US founding, which was in slavery and genocide. The most direct ways that we have of confronting head-on the fact that the country was anchored in slavery and genocide is by taking up the two answers that have been put forward as just the starting point of confronting it, namely Native American sovereignty and reparations. That’s the way that you can even start the conversation of how do we build a society for the many. Confront the basic crimes that have been at the basis of the entire country.
BB: The people who say that reparations for black America, for instance, will alienate people, they’re not talking about black people. They’re talking about a certain segment of society. It demonstrates who we’re aiming for. In other words, to build a really powerful viable social movement, yes we want people from all classes and all sectors to be it, but the things that really make history change are when the masses of people, meaning the poorest, the most oppressed, those sectors of society come onto the political stage. That’s why the sort of semi-revolution, the civil rights revolution happened, when Rosa Parks refused to give that seat up to a white man, the next nine years the masses of people came into politics. And so the Congress of the United States, which was compositionally the same as it was when Rosa Parks refused to give up her seat in 1955, nine years later voted for the Civil Rights Act and the Voting Rights Act, the two most progressive pieces of social legislation, it was because the poor, the masses, the working classes, the black community in particular came into political life. That’s what makes change possible, and that’s who we’re orienting toward with the People’s Congress.

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Thinking in systems, with Maria Poblet


Maria Poblet has spent eighteen years organizing in the Bay Area with community group Causa Justa Just Cause, and the political moment we’re in now, she says, is different than anything she’s ever seen. The threats are bigger, but the opportunities for talking about deep change, systemic change, are greater than they have ever been. The question, she notes, is what do we do with this moment? We talk about building organizations that express the whole of one’s political commitment, and much more.

I think there is a danger when you have been in community organizing in grassroots communities that have been marginalized for a long time to say to everybody else, “Well, where have you been all this time?” That is a completely understandable emotional response, but politically…politically, it is a huge opportunity to say, “These are problems that you never even knew were problems. We have been fighting to resolve these problems for twenty years, thirty years, forty years. Come along. Let’s tell you what we have learned so far. You tell us what you have to contribute.” It is a different posture of leadership which our movements need to take on at this point. It is a time of polarization. Neither of the established parties are really going to offer anything to everyday people. It is a time for social movements to lead.
A lot of people and organizations who sort of believe that things were generally working turned around in this moment and said, “Wait a minute. It doesn’t seem like things are working and you guys have been saying this this whole time. So, what should I do?” It is a very interesting moment. Part of what we did in response was to, with a lot of other organizations, help start Bay Resistance which is—I think now we are fifty organizations building a network of individuals who aren’t part of our base. They aren’t service workers in SEIU. They aren’t Black and Latino families fighting displacement at Causa Justa. They aren’t Asians fighting pollution in Richmond that are in the Asian Pacific Environmental Network. They are people that haven’t joined organizations before and they want to take action now.

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Running the movement for office, with khalid kamau


In the wake of the massive political shake-up that was the 2016 election, khalid kamau, a Bernie Sanders supporter and local movement activist, makes the argument that change has to come from below, not from the election of one leader to the top office. Accordingly, he’s running for local office, in the newly-incorporated city of South Fulton, Georgia, part of the greater Atlanta metropolitan area. A member of Democratic Socialists of America, a union activist, and an early part of BlackLivesMatter Atlanta, kamau argues for bringing the message of democratic socialism to a Southern, majority-African-American city.

I think the thing that is most powerful about this race, or even my campaign, is that I love Bernie, but I think where his campaign failed – I don’t think this is a personal failure of Bernie, but perhaps of the people that were around him and advising that campaign – is that there wasn’t enough attention paid to people of color. I am not sure that people of color who were in that campaign were listened to the way they should have been. Bernie didn’t make—he made a very excellent class argument. I think it is implied that people of color are more disproportionately affected by class disparities than whites. I think there was an assumption that people of color would understand that and would understand that the arguments that he was making about class and equality were implicitly also arguments about racial inequality.

I think that, frankly, because Bernie was an old white man, black folks, people of color, did not implicitly get that he was speaking to them. I did think he was speaking to them, but I am not sure everyone else did. One of the things that the progressive movement is going to have to do is find leaders of color and candidates of color to carry this message. When I speak about it, rightly or wrongly, when I am talking about income equality and when I am talking about working class families, the black and brown audiences that I speak to do implicitly get that I am speaking to them and that I am speaking for them and that I am speaking about them. I don’t necessarily go around making a lot of racial arguments. I think that my bona fides of BlackLivesMatter speak volumes about my own racial politics and that I can make these arguments of class and people of color get, because this city is 89% African-American and because I am African-American, people know that I am talking about them.

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Interviews for Resistance is a syndicated series of interviews with organizers, agitators and troublemakers, available twice weekly as text and podcast. You can now subscribe on iTunes! Previous interviews here.