By Miriam Bensman
Text of the proposed resolution is here.
Apart from in a handful of municipalities and states, the US has a first-past-the-post electoral system that privileges the two major parties. New York is not one of the exceptions. And DSA members who worked on Jabari Brisport’s campaign for city council last year learned how hard it is to gain votes on a socialist or green party line. In a working class, largely African American and immigrant district, many or most voters remained loyal to the Democrats.
We must acknowledge our current reality as we fight for a truly democratic society. The Democratic and Republican parties dominate electoral politics. The vast majority of working class people, our target electoral target, engage in politics within this reality.
If DSA had banned endorsing candidates who run as Democrats three years ago, few of the 28,000 or so people who joined our organization in the last two years would be members today. DSA surged in membership because Bernie Sanders campaigned for the Democratic Party nomination for president, calling himself a democratic socialist, and we supported him nationally. After Trump’s election, people looking for democratic socialists like Bernie found us.
Running on the Democratic line gave visibility to Bernie’s proposals for Medicare for All, tuition-free public universities, a $15 minimum wage, and rebuilding America’s infrastructure, while taxing corporations and the 1% to pay for vital programs. Bernie received millions of votes—far more than he or anyone else expected—because he gave hope to the millions of people left behind as the 1% gained an ever-greater share of wealth and income. While it helped that the word “socialism” was no longer toxic to most Americans, Bernie would have gotten nowhere running as an independent or on a socialist or Green Party line.
Yes, Democratic Presidents have launched imperialist wars, and many Democrats in Congress have supported them. Franklin Roosevelt left Jim Crow intact to get Dixiecrats to help pass New Deal legislation that largely excluded African Americans. Jimmy Carter started the deregulation nonsense. Clinton pushed for and signed a vile welfare “reform” act and a crime control law that ramped up mass incarceration. Obama deported more undocumented immigrants than any president before him.
But Democrats have also been champions of peace and human rights, racial justice, women’s and gay liberation, labor rights, affordable housing, and the environment. The Democratic Party isn’t like the disciplined, ideological parties in Europe, which contend within parliamentary systems. It’s an arena of conflict; a big mush that includes enemies and friends of the working class.
In our current political system, selectively supporting Democrats will most often be the best way to elect socialists, to gain a wide audience for socialist ideas, and to change the terms of political debate.
That’s why DSA supported Bernie Sanders (a socialist but not a member) in the Democratic presidential primary in 2016. It’s why New York City DSA has supported many DSA members who have run as Democrats over the years—and some progressives who didn’t call themselves socialists, such as Assembly member Dick Gottfried. Gottfried first proposed a single-payer healthcare bill in 1992; for the last three years, he’s been the prime sponsor of the New York Health Act. Would you call Gottfried an enemy of the working class? How about Eric Schneiderman, New York Attorney General, whose lawsuits helped block Trump’s Muslim ban and amnesty for labor law violators?. Is Schneiderman an enemy of the working class?
This year, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, a Bernie delegate from the Bronx and new DSA member, is running for Congress against incumbent Joseph Crowley, head of the corrupt Queens Democratic machine. Ocasio is challenging him in the Democratic primary because that’s the place to beat him in a Queens/Bronx district that went 78% for the Democrat in the 2016 presidential election. Similarly, DSA menbers Ross Barkan and Julia Salazar are seeking the Democratic line for State Senate seats in Brooklyn.
A vote to keep NYC DSA from endorsing anyone who runs for office as a Democrat says, Who cares about real-life consequences for the working class? The stakes are high. We need to elect candidates who will vote to block the Trump agenda and put our policy priorities on the table in Washington, Albany and City Hall.
Last summer, DSA’s National Convention voted down a similar proposal. Delegates to the New York City DSA Convention should vote no, too.