You can’t hold your breath until you die. The mechanics that make you up as an organism will black you out and make you gasp for air, whatever your conscious plan is. In the same way, compassionate capitalists, professional class liberals, foundation-funded non-profits, and “the middle class” cannot end exploitation and oppression. It’s not that they don’t “really” want to—maybe some do—but they can’t, even if they did want to. They aren’t placed right in the order of things. The social relations that make those groups up would need to be destroyed before we got to liberation. They would have to voluntarily step into class oblivion—something impossible, because it would require dissolving the social relations that define them as a class at the same time they’re expected to move into oblivion. Before these groups could destroy themselves, the very mechanics that define their ability to act would react and act to save them.
There is nothing in the world, no group, no force, no set of ideas, that can end capitalist exploitation and racist oppression, other than the working class. Only the working class is in the right place: able to keep the reproduction of life and society going without exploitation and oppression, without also evaporating as a class.
That can’t happen until the working class sees itself as its own sort of “organism” with interests specific to itself, and becomes capable of acting as a class, for its collective interest. Marx referred to this as a “class in itself” acting “for itself.” Who can determine what the interests of the class are? Obviously, only the people in that class. How can they determine those interests, and move one another to achieve those interests? Through organization.
It makes sense then that if the composition of the working class is multiracial, the class’s interests will reflect that, and that any organization “of” the working class will be multiracial, too.
The Democratic Socialists of America is a socialist organization, with the ultimate goal of moving the working class (not merely “working class people” as individuals) towards acting as a “class in itself, acting for itself.” So long as the working class is multiracial (a plain fact) a socialist organization that is not built out of the multiracial working class cannot effectively move the working class as a class into struggle. So there has to be conscious strategy for building a multiracial, working class organization.
This requires strategic discussion and debate rooted in Marxist principles. We should avoid the bourgeois and liberal “value” about the “ benefits of diversity”—take a moment to count out loud the number of “diverse” liberal or activist organizations that not only do little to reorder power in society, but often have a hand in stopping radicals from doing so. We do not want tokenism, we want solidarity that binds struggles together. We want a multiracial working class organization because only such an organization can have the organic connection to the wider class to be able to move it into struggle at scale.
What do we mean by an “organic connection” to communities of color? By this we mean that at the sites of radical struggle, a DSA chapter is a presence that workers, organizers, and radicals recognize as a vehicle for their own liberation as workers, and in which they can meaningfully participate with low barriers to entry and participation.
The Why of the Problem.
Currently DSA nationally and Chicago DSA as a chapter do not have enough organic connection to working class communities of color, and as a result the organization is not yet reflective of the working class. Given the multiracial character of the working class, no socialist organization that lacks deep organic connections to that working class can reasonably be expected to move sufficient numbers of people into a class struggle that creates a working class for itself. This isn’t the same thing as “lacking diversity,” and how we talk about what the problem actually is is important. Diversity is an abstract goal that looks at the individual membership numbers and considers people of color interchangeable with one another. It is basically an abstract problem: there is no concrete way to determine a sufficient level of diversity, or where that diversity should be situated (in leadership? Total membership?) The real problem is about DSA’s current lack of the type of connections that make it easy and desirable for, especially, radicals of color to move into DSA as members and meaningfully participate in the operation and leadership of their local chapters.
This is an organizational problem of how to link struggles so that working class people across racial and ethnic lines begin to move together into struggles. How else can the working class even come into being? How else can the working class identify what its specific interests and demands are, if people in that class are not struggling together side by side, on equal terms? Binding their fates together and so building solidarity is the only way to identify the parameters of “working class interests,” and workable ways for a multiracial working class to act together.
It’s a very pointed problem, for a very particular reason: the interests of a multiracial working class have to include the unique impacts of white supremacy and racism on huge portions of the working class, and unless working class organizations can identify and address those unique impacts, we will not be creating a working class “in itself and for itself”—too much of the working class would be left behind, and a fragmented class is not one “in itself.” An organization that cannot adequately and with specificity articulate and address the problems faced by a significant portion of the working class will be ineffective in congealing and moving the working class “for itself.”
There is no point hemming and hawing about this problem or treating DSA’s lack of sufficient rooting in working class communities of color as some sort of collective moral failing. Twenty-first century U.S. socialists are trying to build something new; an expectation that this organization should, from basically a new birth in 2016, be pristinely composed from its inception is not only unrealistic but profoundly ignorant of the historical and social conditions that perpetuate segregation and atomize organizers and activists.
Nevertheless, it is an urgent problem and one that socialists should fearlessly and without embarrassment move to address methodically. To get there, it may be useful to understand the cause of this disconnect.
The How of the Problem.
DSA is in essence a three- or four-year-old organization. In the period of immense growth between 2016 and 2019, people tended to join in one of a few ways: (1) word-of-mouth and self-selection (people heard about the organization, felt radicalized enough to choose to join); (2) people were directly recruited by someone they knew, worked with, or came into contact with in an organizing setting; and (3) through a generalized recruitment that happened through organizational affiliation (for example, DSA members showing up on a picket line and union members joining as a result of that contact). By far the bulk of the growth happened through (1) and somewhat less so through (2).
When membership grows through self-selection and person-to-person recruitment, it will happen through self-selected social networks. Especially in a city like Chicago, but in much of the United States, social networks are highly segregated by race and socioeconomic status. As a result, the word-of-mouth and direct recruitment through personal relationships will, by and large, reflect the segregation of the city as a whole.
More importantly, on the whole radicals of color in Chicago are in essence generations ahead of their white counterparts in terms of radical work. For one thing, the need for radical struggle has been more pressing and more intense for longer: as we hear often these days, what the election of Trump brought into mainstream awareness was already being felt by communities of color. Chicago has a century-old tradition of radical organizations of and led by people of color, particularly in the Black community. The radicalizing events of 2016–2018 were of the type experienced daily by people of color in Chicago since its founding. The violence of the racist and capitalist system in Chicago was not something that could be avoided for much of Chicago’s working class.
As a result many Black and brown radicals, especially in big city contexts, already had and have a political “home.” These can be community groups, organizing networks, NGOs, unions, religious groups, etc. Even where radicals of color may be attracted to the idea of joining a large-scale socialist organization, having political homes that are addressing issues of immediate import limits the time and energy available to commit to a new organization—especially when that organization is very white, and in recent history at least, absent from those fights.
There is a very simple way to test this theory against the reality of not only Chicago DSA but DSA chapters everywhere: for how many members, particularly highly active members, is DSA the first political organization they joined as members and became active in? How many of the members of big city chapters are relatively recent transplants? It makes sense there would be a high proportion of “newly” radicalized transplants in DSA, because for those people who have deep social and political roots in a given place, the likelihood that they are giving their volunteer time to another organization is commensurately higher. In the twenty-first century United States, where the white working class has left cities in significant numbers but significant numbers of working class people of color have remained and uniquely felt the viciousness of white supremacist capitalism for decades, the above is going to be particularly true.
If DSA doesn’t have a conscious strategy to address this problem, there will be a feedback loop and the problem will make itself worse. So long as active participation (e.g., taking on a leadership role or committing to an organizing role) in Chicago DSA or other DSA chapters requires people to “step out” of their political home or “step around” the mentors and radical leaders in their neighborhoods, the organic connection between the organization and local communities won’t grow at the necessary scale.
Because—and this is important to remember—growth at scale is the necessary measure for an organization aimed at building a mass working class movement. The typical liberal professional class style solutions to “lack of diversity” are not sufficient or appropriate to addressing the Marxist problem of how to have a mass, multiracial working class organization. This is why thinking in terms of “lack of diversity” is incomplete. Selective recruitment, one-on-one meetings, working on or making statements on particular issues, and cultural adjustments are important tools to leadership development, but they do not create strong, organic connections that can scale class-wide. Therefore, they are not sufficient tools for building the multiracial working class organization necessary to move the class to act for itself. If those tools aren’t sufficient, we have to look deeper.
There are many people of color active in DSA chapters and DSA leadership. Even if these numbers grew as a result of individual choices to join, the problem above would not be solved: there would not be the type of organic connection to communities of color necessary for DSA to become a truly multiracial working class movement. DSA simply has not been present in the social milieus where radicals are made for long enough.
Radicals are made, they are not born. People come to radical politics down many different paths, but what is common is conflict and struggle alongside others with common interests and goals. In the United States, the viciousness of capitalism and white supremacy has been visited on people of color uniquely and without respite for generations. That fact has created social and political spaces in which radicals of color have developed their politics and built connections to organizations. DSA has not existed long enough as a large-scale organization to become a continued, reliable presence in those places sufficient that people of color could be expected to join in significant numbers.
As we dive into an exploration of how to address this problem, it can be useful to say again the nature of the problem: a lack of an organic connection that encourages the layer of radical activists in communities of color to join DSA in significant numbers. The problem is not an abstract “lack of diversity” that achieving some magic number can cure, but the absence of that strong organic connection.
A Strategic Approach to Building a Mass, Multiracial Working Class Organization
We are not trying here to lay out a comprehensive, one-size-fits-all strategy to developing the necessary connections to build a mass, multiracial working class organization, either in Chicago or elsewhere. Local contexts in particular are variable. It is rather intended to lay out a potential set of principles and practical approaches to forging deep, organic connections between the multiracial Chicago working class and its largest socialist organization, as a point of departure and debate.
The first principle we are proposing is that of generalized cooperation rather than merely leader-to-leader connections. DSA is a different type of organization. We are democratic and member-run, we make decisions through political debate, we have a low barrier to membership and aim to “make more socialists” by moving the membership into struggle rather than through acceptance of dogma. We believe we move membership most effectively by engaging one another in decision-making and getting buy-in on strategic decisions and around campaigns that speak to members’ self interests as working class people. Given these characteristics, we cannot in turn expect to generate organic connections through personal connections among the leadership of different organizations. Rather, we want to connect the mass of our activist membership with the activist constituencies of other organizations and communities, so that there is a genuine connections based on organizing, socializing, and struggling together.
(1) Become an organizational presence.
If radicals are formed in social milieus where people are moved to organize and advocate on their own behalf on issues of importance, then it stands to reason that DSA should be present in those places in some form. Given it’s early doors for DSA as an organization, this will mean identifying those issues and participating in coalition or partnership with existing groups. Show up, provide material support, meet your obligations, and defer to experienced leadership on issues, campaigns and projects being led by radical working class organizations rooted in communities of color. Examples of this from Chicago include the campaign to win rent control, class-struggle election campaigns, the police accountability campaign, and the Obama Library community benefits agreement initiative.
We should avoid building relationships with organizations solely as individuals, on a leader-to-leader basis. Trying to grow connections through one-on-one individual relationships essentially stakes the organic connections we are trying to build on interpersonal skills and the hope that individual relationships don’t break down for any number of interpersonal reasons. That is dangerous, lends itself to personal power bases, and does not put the health of the organization first. Beyond the principle, there is the practicality: in an all-volunteer organization, leadership is a heavy task and people rotate in and out of high-level leadership frequently to avoid burnout. In Chicago, we have fairly stringent term limits, in part to preserve the leadership pipeline and in part to encourage people to take breaks and avoid burnout. With that velocity of leadership change, staking interorganizational connections on one-on-one or small group leadership meetings is malpractice.
Instead, DSA chapters should seek opportunities to bring the mass of membership together in meaningful ways: decision-making and strategy-setting meetings, organizing events, political education and social events where constituencies are present and tasked with communicating with each other with actual stakes.
This does not mean ignoring the importance of interpersonal relationships. Chapter leadership needs to take the lead in making sure new members get interpersonal contact with long-time members, and nurturing one-on-one relationships is an important tactic. This tactic should be a follow-up to the initial step of fostering organizational relationships. In a democratic organization where leadership will change over regularly every few years at the most, we need to make sure that Chicago DSA relates to other groups as an organization, meaning through formal channels where one member can stand in for another.
(2) Engage in large-scale campaigns together.
When we talk about campaigns, we are talking about organizing projects that directly challenge the power of the ruling class, whether through direct action, elections, public information campaigns or all of these. That is struggle. Campaign settings are irreplaceable as opportunities for radical development. We want to demonstrate DSA’s value as a partner in struggle, not as merely a friendly place—nor as simply a “good” type of predominantly white organization that works on relevant issues. It’s only when people organize together in solidarity they have to rely on one another, trust one another, problem solve together, make mistakes together, fail together and win together. The bonds formed in these ways are steel.
In his short book The Seven Components of Transformative Organizing Theory, Eric Mann talks about how transformative organizing becomes truly transformative in the course of battle and transformative organizing transforms the organizers. These are useful principles to keep in mind.
Mann lays it out clearly: “The true assessment of the effectiveness of an organization and its organizers can only be measured in practice—in the actual struggle for power…transformative organizers and organizations build their reputation in high visibility campaigns that fight for and often win important structural changes and improvements in the lives of real people.” Put another way, struggling (and winning) is the best argument. We can make the case for the value of DSA until we are blue in the face, but the proof of the pudding is always in the tasting: DSA’s gravity for working class activists of all types, but particularly among activists already working within other organizations, will only grow through demonstrations of our ability to act and willingness to fight. Campaigns are not important for some abstract reason: they are critical because they are the only true way to test out the connections we are forging and show “real people” the value to themselves of meaningful participation.
Not only does “battle” demonstrate the utility of the organization, it also transforms the organizers: it radicalizes people. Anybody who has organized a union in their workplace and marched on the boss only to see that boss sputter and retaliate can confirm this. Mann describes it this way: “Organizers… are themselves transformed by the people and events they help bring into motion… Organizers are transformed by the many special people they get to know through the work. When organizers listen to 1,000 peoples’ stories, it’s like reading 1,000 novels or seeing 1,000 films… they confront the challenge of bringing people together… the new organizer dreams of an idyllic organization only to find that the ‘contradictions among the people’ have to be addressed. There are political, racial, gender, cultural, and personal tensions that must be discussed, sometimes tolerated, sometimes resolved, in the need for the greater good.” For socialist organizers seeking to build a sturdy and durable organization made up of (rather than “working for”) the multiracial working class, the only meaningful stress test is the stress of struggle.
Showing up for meetings and social events is good and necessary, and demonstrating Chicago DSA’s commitment to issues relevant to communities of color through statements and choice of campaigns are important, but we believe organic links between organizations and communities can only truly be forged in the process of relying on each other in the midst of radical work done together. We want to forge comradeship. Without shared projects, connections will remain superficial and interpersonal.
(3) Always Think on the LARGE Scale…
Chicago DSA’s power is our citywide scale. For many if not most members, DSA represents the opportunity to work on a big vision in an organization with a big ambition. In many U.S. cities, intense segregation allows the ruling class to concentrate the worst excesses of capitalism on people of color. By segregating people, we segregate pain. In this context organizations become segregated by community and issue. Do not let the ruling class segregate pain and do not fall into the same trap of generations past, of becoming just a coalition of neighborhood and single-issue groups. Especially in cities like Chicago, DSA chapters are uniquely positioned to connect struggles across segregated neighborhoods and ward boundaries, to connect individual issues to the common struggles of the multiracial working class on an explicitly socialist basis. In a segregated city, if we are not scaling fights up to the citywide level we are letting the ruling class segregate the pain they can inflict. A school closure in the 15th Ward in Englewood should be felt by politicians, technocrats, and voters in the 43rd Ward in Lincoln Park, at a minimum in the demand for an elected school board. Political boundaries are artificial and change regularly. They should only be of concern to us when we have an instrumental use for them. Otherwise, the very fact that Chicago DSA has more than 2,000 members spread across the city (albeit with concentrations in several neighborhoods) means that we can fight against the power of the ruling class to segregate pain.
Issues and fights may best be identified and engaged at the “micro-local” level, but over-identification or factionalization along neighborhood or issue lines will always benefit the ruling class that specializes in segregating pain and concentrating wealth, and at worst can set different neighborhoods and issue campaigns against each other in a competition for organizational attention and resources or create strategic conflict (for example legislatively). In a similar sense, splintering a citywide organization’s focus on narrow microlocal fights without connecting them to broader campaigns merely reinforces the artificial divisions of neighborhood and ward lines. Other socialists organizations have tried the strategy of creating front groups via issue campaigns that they think will resonate with people of color. This is the precise type of cynical and ineffectual strategy to be avoided.
This is an important point that bears emphasizing. As socialists in a new era of increasing class awareness of the contradictions of capitalism, we should always be thinking about how we can provide a different and unique dimension to the types of struggles that have been ongoing for years. We have a unique opportunity at this historical moment to bring a strong vision of the complete transformation of society, not just in abstract but by actually building campaigns that take on our class enemies at scale. We should take every opportunity we can to show how issue fights are part of a broader struggle against racial capitalism. DSA chapters are not merely a source of volunteer staff. We are something more: a member-run organization of the size and with the organizational independence to engage in radical struggle. Our democratic structure encourages and allows new members to have a meaningful say in and ownership over our work. As DSA works with organizers in Black and brown communities, chapters have the unique capacity to bring those organizers into our organizational structure—thus transforming our chapters. But if we are not connecting specific issue fights to broader work, there is little incentive for those organizers to increase their involvement levels; if DSA is merely an auxiliary, why join?
If we can’t broaden microlocal fights and connect them to bigger campaigns, relationships with communities and organizations will stay segregated, struggle will stay segregated, and the connection we have to build will stay narrow and contingent. In the end, Chicago DSA will be no different than any number of NGOs that came before us.
(4) ….But you STILL need to be embedded locally.
As we said above, an early step to becoming an “organizational presence” is to identify issues of immediate concern to communities of color. This will only truly be possible if socialists are present in their local neighborhoods and forging personal connections to their neighbors. We can’t hope to “scale up” the struggle if we are not starting at the most local level. Involvement in independent political organizations (IPOs), community groups, local school councils, even block clubs, as open socialists and members of DSA is a critical first step to forging the organic connection between a mass organization and the working class as a class. In a sense, it is the most important step. DSA chapters should map their membership and match them to avenues of participation, something Chicago DSA has already begun doing. They should develop tools that allow members to understand these “microlocal” milieus (in Chicago, the Electoral Working Group and the Red Star Bulletin can hopefully help members get oriented) and give tips for positive and productive participation that helps them be good neighbors, active listeners, and humble but active participants—as open socialists, yes, but not for the sole, cynical purpose of recruitment. Chicago DSA has also recently begun a program to more programmatically connect to city and community colleges—institutions composed predominantly of working class people of color with acute and identifiable issues that we know an unapologetic socialist organization can speak to. That is a meaningful effort to create an organic connection. Members should be directed to groups, events, and organizations in or near their neighborhoods, where they can make connections, learn what issues are facing the community, identify the local power structures, and bring local issues to the attention of the full chapter.
“Embedding locally” is key to connecting fights into a larger vision. If Chicago DSA and other big city chapters want to build big-vision campaigns, they will be best informed and designed if they develop alongside struggles taking place at the point of exploitation. For example, campaigns for housing justice rightfully focus on a big vision for transforming housing as a commodity. But the most acute struggle against housing injustice happens at the street level—at the point of exploitation: homelessness, displacement, and evictions are the point of the spear of housing injustice, and it falls disproportionately on people of color. So that is often where the organizing is happening. Experienced organizers know that site-by-site organizing, while necessary, is not the recipe for big structural change. But big structural change is unlikely to happen without involvement by and information from impacted constituencies. In this way, creating organic connections to communities of color also improves the robustness of the DSA strategy of scaling up and connecting issue fights with a broader vision of defeating our class enemies.
(5) Nurture low-stakes, low-intensity “on-ramps” that create a welcoming atmosphere.
None of the suggestions above should be taken to mean that it is not of critical importance that the culture of the organization change to ensure that chapters are more welcoming places for people of color to enter. Cultural adaptations are critical. Our sense is that these changes do not necessarily come through “trainings” or NGO-style “best practices,” but rather through careful and self-critical engagement with existing membership and in the process of organizing together—and organizing together means working class people of color joining the organization in a steady stream over time.
In Chicago, the AfroSOC Caucus (Afrosocialists and Socialists of Color) is one example of a type of “on-ramp” that can be a low-stakes, lower-intensity place for radicals of color to get to know people in the chapter, understand its work and its workings, and relate to one another outside of more formal campaign structures. Along with these kinds of internal formations, there needs to be sturdy new member orientation that lays out the structure and dynamics of the chapter that can make participation less daunting. As we mentioned above, these kinds of “on-ramps” should be paired with one-on-one follow ups, where new members have an opportunity to ask questions of a more experienced member, express concerns, and feel out where they can best fit in and participate. Political education events, like the Socialist Night School, are an opportunity for people to learn about the basic principles and politics of a socialist organization, while also allowing people to meet other members in a friendly place, with facilitated discussion. Here people can have conversations about meaningful issues, and increase the likelihood of seeing a friendly face the next time they attend an event.
Leadership should also look for opportunities to do “member exchanges,” directing DSA members to attend political education, fundraising, and social events of other organizations to learn how they do member development, so those lessons can be brought back to the chapter. At the same time, “identity caucuses” should not have the effect of siloing people and concerns. All of a chapter’s work should be informed by the analysis that comes from working class people of color with the relevant experience of exploitation.
Ultimately, DSA chapters need to recognize that it can be alienating for people of color to come into a predominantly white place. That shouldn’t be a surprise; whiteness is defined by its exclusion of others. There are cultural practices and behaviors that can be invisible to all but people of color in the room. Practices such as community guidelines (e.g., feminist process guidelines) for discussion can make strides in unravelling those behaviors, breaking down that exclusion and making the atmosphere more welcoming and comfortable. There is nothing that can take the place, however, of organizers working together to develop a healthy culture—to allow the process of struggle to change the organizer.
(6) Be Patient
Ask yourself, what exactly has DSA done, in these three or four years of existence, to earn a mass, rapid enrollment of radicals of color who have been in the trenches and on the street struggling against the worst of capitalism and white supremacy? DSA has endorsed prison abolition, boycott-divestment-sanctions of Israel, reparations, police accountability measures and more—but taking the correct position on these issues isn’t new or novel to DSA. It has not appreciably grown a multiracial working class socialist movement anywhere.
At best, it is a profound sense of entitlement that would expect such a new organization in the world of radical organizing to so immediately earn the trust of communities that have complex, variable and long-standing radical traditions, based merely on issued statements or endorsement of particular campaigns. The idea that merely adopting a position or series of positions is sufficient to draw mass numbers of people towards what is basically a brand new (and still very white) organization is in a sense quite patronizing.
Establishing operational connections, demonstrating a track record, and winning—these are processes that take time. The process will be slow, but it is important that it be undertaken with clear eyes, and a strategic understanding of the outcome we want: not a superficial diversity but an organic connection that will root our organizations deeply in the multiracial working class.
Case Study: Pilsen
Pilsen, on the near Southwest Side, has been an overwhelmingly working class Latinx neighborhood in the heart of Chicago. Over the last couple decades, it has been an epicenter of gentrification from which tens of thousands of Latinx people have been displaced and those who remain face increasing economic pressure as their cultural identity—how the neighborhood looks, sounds, smells, and feels—is persistently facing erasure.
In Pilsen the Latinx character of the neighborhood bands it together and helps it resist the point of the capitalist spear, which presents its face as white gentrification. But gentrification is of course not a purely racial phenomenon; the machinery of gentrification runs on capitalism and the property relation that makes housing such a lucrative commodity. Nevertheless, gentrification shows itself predominantly as white people moving into a community and longtime residents being displaced.
After all, it was a multiracial coalition of white renters, Latinx renters and homeowners, east Asian immigrants, and Black working class public housing residents that formed the base of the coalition that canvassed for, raised money for, and ultimately won the race for the open Aldermanic seat in the 25th Ward, in support of socialist candidate and Chicago DSA member Byron Sigcho Lopez. Lopez was until recently the executive director of (and before that an active organizer in) Pilsen Alliance, a powerful local grassroots community organization with a reputation for radical direct action and sharp political analysis of the sources and causes of gentrification and inequality in Pilsen and Chicago broadly. Lopez’s campaign was made stronger by the ultimately correct analysis that organizing against a class enemy builds more power among those with a common interest, and given the local issues the class enemies were obvious: developers and property speculators.
The lesson to be learned from this is not that race was unimportant, but to the contrary, that the white supremacy through which gentrification operates had to be identified and was best fought with a broad coalition rejecting it. White members of DSA by working in coalition had to learn and transform themselves as organizers—as organizers in a multiracial milieu learning the analysis of racialized capitalism, and acknowledging their place in that system. The goal, as one organizer put it to us, is not for a heavily white organization to better advocate for others, but to understand the reality of racialized capitalism and figure out how to organize side by side and in solidarity within the multiracial working class—and therefore that liberation of a multiracial working class can only happen when liberation struggle is tied together. In the words of Chicago DSA member Anthony Clark, to be an “ally in verb form”—another way of saying “solidarity.”
The coalition that took on this fight was formed thanks to the leadership of organizers in the ward who had the relevant experience not only as locals but as people of color experiencing exploitation in the unique way it impacts people of color—whether Latinx residents in Pilsen, Black residents in the Tri-Taylor area, and Chinese-American residents of Chinatown. They saw the need for a broad coalition and organizers in Chicago DSA were ready and able to show up and learn the specific contours of the local fight.
Chicago DSA’s connection to Pilsen Alliance and ultimately Lopez’s campaign goes back to almost two years earlier, when Chicago DSA members reached out to Pilsen Alliance to discuss getting involved with the Lift the Ban (on Rent Control) campaign, to learn about the policy issues and the strategy going forward. Over the course of the next year, Chicago DSA members worked closely with Pilsen Alliance to determine which precincts should be chosen and targeted for referendums, signature counts necessary, and coming up with an operational structure to share feedback and lists. This created a level of operational comfort and trust that made a coalition supporting Lopez not only easier, but natural.
The relationship developed in both directions. Members of Pilsen Alliance began joining DSA in not insignificant numbers. During and after the Lopez campaign, organizers from and in Pilsen became more heavily involved in Chicago DSA, up to and including running for and taking leadership positions in the organization at the working group, campaign, and executive level. Chicago DSA members also have become closely involved in the work of the 25th Ward IPO (Independent Political Organization), joint projects with Pilsen Alliance such as immigrant community defense brigades, and within Lopez’s office.
We can predict with some comfort that that relationship will make it easier for organizers and residents of Pilsen to come into contact with Chicago DSA, see it is as a part of their civic community, and move easily between local issues and broader ones. Chicago DSA itself will also necessarily change, as its membership and leadership pipeline develops and grows beyond its current neighborhoods and social networks into another community. It’s just a start, but it’s the type of start that can be replicated and nurtured elsewhere.
A mass, multiracial working class organization will not be built quickly. That expectation is itself a species of entitlement and historical ignorance. Particularly for radicals of color, the decision to commit time and energy to a new organization simply will not be made lightly. We need to give time for a process to work, for connections to grow organically through presence and contact over time, and to maintain an organizational structure that allows and encourages newly active members to engage in decision-making and assume leadership roles. We are not doing the organization or the movement any favors by simply lobbing critiques out of anxiety, guilt or panic—“Why aren’t we doing more!? What are we doing!?”—as though critique is the same as a plan. Self-criticism is important insofar as it can help a productive strategic discussion. We are not here to expiate our sins, self-flagellate, or atone for the wrongs of past activist organizations. We are here to forge a new type of mass working class socialist organization. We owe it to the future to think long-term and grapple with the existing situation.
We cannot cut corners on our way to an organizational connection to the multiracial working class. Connections are made over time and through struggle. We should welcome this: we become comrades in the streets, we make more socialists through confrontation with the ruling class, with an unapologetically socialist vision and through large-scale campaigns. Let’s do what we do best.