Build a Bench for a 2022 DSA-LA Slate

Authors: E. OR.; J. SL.; K.G.; N.M.; T.L.

Historically, DSA-LA has taken a reactive approach to electoral politics, evaluating and endorsing candidates when they approach us. Looking ahead to 2022, DSA-LA should take a proactive approach to developing and recruiting DSA-LA members to run as candidates for local office. In short, we want candidates who have a history of organizing with DSA-LA: candidates committed to class struggle, anti-racism, and ending systemic oppression of BIPOC, the LGBTQ+ community, immigrants, women, and the unhoused. By developing the chapter’s electoral skills, we can build power through endorsing and developing winning candidates, and by developing member campaign skills to likewise grow capable organizers able to staff a socialist candidate’s office, to truly bring socialist policy to the halls of power. We propose a chapter-wide resolution to develop candidates and campaign infrastructure for the purpose of developing a DSA-LA slate for the 2022 primary and general election.

Barring extreme and unpredictable changes, the 2022 elections in Los Angeles will be historically meaningful, regardless of the results of the 2020 federal elections. It’ll be a key opportunity for the Left to strengthen its presence in elected office across the country. In Los Angeles, it’ll be the first time in decades that eight City Council seats, along with the Mayorship, will be up for election in the same year as midterms. The corresponding scramble, combined with the clear shift to the left among Los Angeles’ constituents as represented by Bernie Sanders’ comprehensive victory in the 2020 Presidential Primary, means that this cycle will offer a historic opportunity to elect socialist candidates – if we prepare accordingly.

We want to win City Council seats and beyond with a long-term structural strategy of winning State Assembly, State Senate, and Municipal Elections, getting DSA-LA members on the staff of those offices and by association, begin building DSA strength in California government offices and create paths through institutional structures towards federal offices.

Though DSA’s highest profile wins have been congressional wins, from AOC to Rashida Tlaib, congressional races are extremely difficult to win, especially for candidates who have not held lower office first. Rashida Tlaib was a six-year Michigan State Assembly member before she was a congresswoman, and Ilhan Omar held state office for two years before being elected to Congress. Currently, 42 DSA members hold municipal office in cities across the country, 19 DSA members hold state office across the US and one comrade (in Maryland) holds a county position. We seek to replicate the framework for these successes by identifying and developing a new generation of socialist leaders to steadily build a deep bench of socialists candidates and office holders across LA County, with the long term goal of these leaders winning higher offices. In short, this resolution seeks to 1) map, analyze, and prioritize electoral offices across the county, 2) prioritize developing the chapter’s electoral capabilities as well as DSA-LA member candidates 3) run a slate of DSA-LA members in the 2022 election cycle. 

Unfortunately, winning elections in California is much harder than it is in most other states, due to both chamber size and primary laws. Recent primary-winning DSA candidate for Minnesota State Senate, Omar Fateh, won just over 10,000 votes in order to represent a district with a population of approximately 42,000. AOC’s huge primary victory in 2018, though representing 700,000 people, required just under 16,000 votes (57%), due to New York’s primary systems. By contrast, DSA-LA endorsed candidate Fatima Iqbal-Zubair won over 18,000 votes in her primary election, but only 32% of total votes, and the district in question holds over 230,000 registered voters – and that district is below average for a California State Assembly seat.

None of this means that winning elections is out of reach for DSA-LA. But it does mean that winning these elections requires careful strategization and concentrated effort. DSA-LA’s electoral efforts should be clearly tied to and supporting our non-electoral organizing, and the chapter should be planning to maximize our influence on these elections well before the cycle starts. 

Many know that Rashida Tlaib got elected to the federal House of Representatives in 2018, but don’t know that ten years earlier she got elected to the Michigan House Assembly in 2008. In that decade, she won three re-elections and stayed representative even through redistricting. Ilhan Omar ran for and won a state representative seat in 2016 before advancing to Congress in 2018. Winning one office opens the potential to run for a more powerful one. This dynamic is true in Los Angeles as well: the California Democratic Party’s power is deeply entrenched in the lives of Angelenos and residents across the state. In order to meet this opposition, we need to win government seats at all levels. City Councillors and Congressional representatives nearly always have a significant amount of experience in elected office or as staff for elected officials before they win their seats. Ignoring the institutional pathways to these offices keeps the flow of establishment candidates and staffers uninterrupted and unchallenged. We must proactively develop candidates for lower office if we are to win power at higher levels.

We will identify and support candidates who:

  • See mobilizing and fighting alongside working people as one of their primary responsibilities, both through their election campaigns and once they’re in office. 
  • Explicitly oppose systemic racial, gender, sexual, ethnic, and religious oppression and vow to fight with actively anti-oppressive tactics instead of passively condemning systemic oppression.
  • Name and shame the billionaires hoarding the wealth; candidates who will motion anti-racist policy that redistributes wealth and ends systemic discrimination
  • Commit to using their campaigns and elected offices to build power and unite communities, unions, teachers, neighbors across LA County. 
  • Refuse the notion that we must rely on markets and profit to determine how society’s resources are distributed

We will prioritize identifying and developing candidates within our own membership. As part of this strategy we will also work with unions, community groups, allies, and other coalition partners to identify organizers outside of DSA-LA who we can recruit into our chapter and run as candidates. The end goal of these actions is to collaborate with other Los Angeles coalition partners to run a slate of DSA-LA developed candidates to seize local offices on a large scale and begin controlling the pathway to larger regional and national offices.

Be It Resolved, that the chapter ratify this candidate development plan for 2021, leading into the 2022 election cycle.

DSA-LA will implement a two-year electoral plan to research and identify races where they can make meaningful impacts on the electoral structure of Los Angeles County, and to identify and develop organizers to become electoral candidates in 2022 and beyond.

Resolved, the Electoral Committee will conduct research and circulate reports in the first quarter of 2021 focused on assessing the 2022 races in Los Angeles County to identify opportunities, state, municipal governments within the local’s boundaries and will report on the Neighborhood Councils, Business Industrial Districts, Judicial Councils and Commissions that play into the various governments within Los Angeles County.

Resolved, DSA-LA will construct a comprehensive “Democratic Socialist Program for Los Angeles”, outlining key campaign and policy demands for non-federal elected bodies.

Resolved, the DSA-LA program will be tied to ongoing non-electoral DSA-LA organizing and demands, and will be further popularized as a standard against which the chapter and its members should measure candidates for office in the 2022 elections.

Resolved, DSA-LA will host initiatives, meetings, and forums to ensure that all DSA-LA members are aware and educated about the powers of their local elected officials and how they measure up against the chapter’s program.

Resolved, the Electoral Committee will target 2021 Neighborhood Council races in order to provide motivated electoral organizers in the chapter with the opportunity to participate in these neighborhood-level races and develop experience running socialist electoral campaigns as well as test the soft power potential of building coalitions across the Neighborhood Council system.

Resolved, DSA-LA will democratically decide which races to organize around for the 2022 election with recommendations from the Electoral Committee as to which races offer the most strategic potential for engagement.

Resolved, the Electoral Committee will engage members across the chapter in a collective effort to deeply understand the power structures within Los Angeles politics. It will do this by creating an internal database that clearly outlines the Los Angeles political landscape, and by facilitating trainings on leadership development and meaningful civic engagement 

Resolved, DSA-LA shall launch a 2022 candidate slate that focuses member energy on DSA developed and backed electoral candidates running on demands of the working people of Los Angeles that seek to build socialist power and policies.