It is possible that there is no more crucial issue for the American left to seriously reckon with in our current moment than the difficulty of multi-racial organizing, and in particular, building a movement that is empowering and responsive to the needs of the Black working class. This is not a new challenge for DSA, but it is one we cannot afford to ignore, nor do we intend to.
America has never made reparations for slavery, and the fruit continues to be borne all around us to this day. Los Angeles’ own history of anti-Black racism has led to some of the worst inequalities in the country via redlining, the LAPD, homeowners associations, urban development, and more.
Faced with this juggernaut of oppression that is inextricable from racial capitalism, we must search seriously and soberly for a way forward. We must be honest and frank about the challenges and shortcomings of current and past attempts to organize the working class while respecting the right to self-determination. Radicalism of the 60’s and 70’s saw experiments of separated, anticapitalist, identity-based organizations that produced promising results in some contexts. However, these organizations were often turned against each other, sometimes through a sense of competition, and sometimes through explicit police infiltration and blackmail. Another modern challenge is posed by the subversive nature of capitalism. The concept of identity politics was formulated (and still bears enormous value) as a frame through which to consider the intersection of personal and political issues, especially those faced by black women, but neoliberal culture has co-opted the original, intended meaning in order to promote corporatism and obscure class realities. To date, there is not yet any US organization that has succeeded in building a multi-racial movement able to overthrow the oppression of the ruling class. We must meet this challenge, or else we are doomed to fail.
Now, DSA is already a multi-racial organization. There are trusted and valued members who are Black; who, with great grace and patience, navigate the many DSA spaces that are still disproportionately white. When these comrades of ours speak up about ways in which they have been hurt, let down, or taken for granted, we need to listen.
This statement is written by the 2021 Steering Committee of DSA-LA. We are a majority non-male, majority POC body, but we do not claim to be able to speak for the intricacies of the different experiences of all of our Black members, nor do we claim to speak on behalf of those who organize within the AFROSOC caucus. Still, we believe it is important for non-Black socialists to speak up for Black Liberation.
Here are four statements that we hope will be seriously considered by all members, both inside and outside of our chapter.
#1 – There is no place for anti-Blackness in DSA
Despite all our best intentions and despite an eternal assumption of good faith, all of us are still capable of violating our own professed values. As the leaders of DSA-LA, we refuse to put our head in the sand or to deny the claims of Black members about the Anti-Blackness they have observed, in our chapter, or in others. Most recently, we are alarmed by allegations that have emerged from North Texas DSA.
We will not call for specific outcomes while a national grievance investigation is taking place, but we and our members are deeply concerned by the situation, and we call upon DSA National to make the findings of the investigation public in a clear statement along with the outcome of the decision and what actions were taken to resolve the conflict. We ask that this be done in a timely and transparent manner.
We do not cite North Texas in order to draw attention away from our own chapter; pretending we’re fine simply because things appear worse elsewhere. We are aware of the fact that our chapter grievance process is backlogged, leading some members to feel that the harmful incidents they’ve suffered are not being taken seriously.
Members of Steering have begun to actively work with our Conflict Resolution Team to develop a framework of mediation centered around restorative justice and an action plan to get them more volunteers, more training, and more administrative support. Any member that feels compelled to file a grievance for instances related to racist behavior or any other reason should know that their concerns will be taken up quickly and given the attention they deserve without their grievance being subject to interference by chapter leaders.
#2 – There can be no Black Liberation without Black Leadership
DSA will be unable to hold credibility in Black communities until we have more prominent Black leaders. We will be unable to change this paradigm if we do not make it a priority to invite Black workers to be stakeholders in our work, not just allies or advisors.
There are a number of factors here that demand our attention. We should continue to have conversations and trainings about recognizing and combating anti-Blackness in internal culture, but we also cannot neglect basic organizing principles. Getting involved with DSA can be confusing and overwhelming for any new member. When there are obstacles to involvement for any member, the difficulty will always be compounded for members from underrepresented communities.
Most of our base has historically been self-selecting and white. If we want to change this, we must change our recruitment strategy.
In order to make leadership in this organization more accessible to Black organizers, we must begin actively uniting with the Black working class by showing up and meeting them where they are; doing targeted recruitment in densely Black communities, and allowing such workers to be agents of their own liberation by collectively developing campaigns based on the principle of responsive universalism.
#3 – DSA campaigns must be race-sensitive and embrace “responsive universalism”
While it is imperative to promote anti-racist behaviors in our own spaces, we recognize the extremely limited influence that DSA currently holds in society at large. Although we work to promote safety and accessibility internally, we know that we cannot change society without tackling the material inequalities that exist at a social, systemic level.
Material campaigns that address the bread and butter needs of the working class are essential to building a base and empowering the oppressed, and universal programs are far, far, superior to liberal means-testing. However, we reject the idea that we will be able to meaningfully engage disenfranchised Black communities without explicitly and vocally incorporating their unique needs into our campaigns.
Instead, we advocate for a weighted universalism, or, as described by Enzo Rossi and Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò, a “responsive universalism.”
“…We argue that the left should focus on universal policies—the Green New Deal, or Medicare For All, say—but those policies should not be colorblind. Rather, they should be weighed and designed to address social identity-based disadvantages with specificity…
“For example, imagine a program like the Green New Deal—clearly meant for universal benefit—but with a measure of race-sensitivity in its resource allocation mechanisms (e.g. tendering procedures, geographical priorities, and so on). In this way, we can embed antiracist policy within a universalist materialist politics. We should view antiracism as constitutive of universalism, not as an add-on. At the same time, because of this constitutive relation, we should abandon the politics of mere representation in favor of a form of joined-up materialist universalist antiracism, which we call responsive universalism…
“Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor gives the example of the large disparity rate in maternal mortality between Black mothers and white mothers. The accumulated history of disparate and discriminatory treatment and policy means that not all of the relevant social problems that would have to be overcome to genuinely universalize access to health care are themselves “common” problems or faced by the entirety of a population… So, to name just another flagship universal policy, Medicare For All, we must envisage ways to embed our understanding of racialized health issues within a program of universal healthcare provision. That wouldn’t make it less universal, but more so. The political message the left should communicate in putting forward such policies is that their impact will be equitable in its universality.”
As DSA organizers plot out the campaigns meant to spark class consciousness in the Biden era, we must ensure that these provisions do not only exist at a policy level, but that all organizers are able to articulate the ways in which our demands are informed by the needs of the Black working class.
#4 – Socialists must explicitly commit to the struggle of Black liberation
DSA is home to a wide variety of political perspectives. There are so many things that our members disagree about and regularly debate. But this is not one of them. At our Fall 2020 convention, DSA-LA members voted with near-unanimity in favor of a resolution co-authored by Black Members entitled “A Socialist Commitment To Black Liberation.”
More than a statement of intent, a DSA-LA Priority Resolution is a large-scale commitment of resources that is intended to be a major focus for all members through the following year. What follows is an incomplete list of ways that our chapter has been allocating resources to support Black Liberation.
- AORTA Anti-Oppression trainings will be undertaken by both leadership and membership over the next few months.
- The South Central / Inglewood branch has been built in order to create a home base for community members to organize with Black neighbors and coworkers in the area.
- The local chapter of our AfroSocialist caucus is organizing safe spaces for Black socialists and workers to connect with each other. DSA-LA is committed to providing support by boosting events through comms channels and through providing access to tools like Zoom.
- Several other goals are described in the resolution, and it’s implementation is being organized by the Black Liberation Task Force. Any member interested in contributing may learn how to do so by attending their meetings on the first Sunday of every month.
Despite all this, we can’t simply pat ourselves on the back and pretend we’ve solved the problem. One feature of the resolution that we are proud of is the opportunity for check-ins and reports. We understand that as one of the largest DSA chapters in the country, we have the resources to experiment with and pioneer new organizing projects, allowing other chapters to learn from our results. In 2019, our chapter passed a resolution with similar anti-oppressive goals, and while it did lead to some positive developments in the chapter, the resulting report concluded that there were some shortcomings in the resolution and its implementation which hindered its effectiveness in other ways. As we continue to work to implement the goals of “A Socialist Commitment to Black Liberation,” we commit to be honest and transparent about the outcomes. We will claim no easy victories.
This is difficult and uncomfortable work but it is incumbent upon us to engage in it if we are to build a better world. We encourage our members to attend the Black Liberation Task Force meetings and reach out to the leaders already committed to carrying out the resolution to learn how to get involved.
The DSA-LA Steering Committee
“In struggle one not only fights against something–injustice, oppression–but one must struggle for something equally real but positive. That’s the other part of the equation.” – Kwame Ture