Consensus for Whom?

By Brit B

The status quo of New York City elections is not good. Off-year elections, separate and staggered State and City primaries, and a first-past-the-post voting system have historically served to make New York City elections small-turnout affairs separated from mass politics, where the establishment can wield especially strong influence. Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) would prevent some of the lowest turnout elections and ensure majority support in every primary, but there are reasons to question how much this will actually benefit leftist candidacies, at least in the short term.

One of RCV’s selling points is that it reduces strategic voting: when a voter no longer has to worry they may “waste” their vote or spoil an election, they can vote closer to their actual preference, and in doing so potentially help break the hegemony of a two-party system. This argument is at its strongest in the context of general elections, where a larger electorate is participating, and splitting votes poses a more severe threat with members of a different party in a position to benefit. 

Unfortunately, Ballot Question #1 would only change primary and special elections, and it is less clear how this dynamic will work when only in that context. By design, NYC Democratic primaries skew towards high-participation voters, often with organizational or local ties to candidates such as unions, churches, or Democratic Clubs. Primary results often reflect candidates’ success in brokering turnout from these groups rather than an ideological snapshot of the electorate. Simply adding RCV into the mix won't change this, but rather, would allow a stronger consensus to form out of this same smaller electorate. 

NYC-DSA-endorsed candidates have largely sought to upend this primary dynamic by increasing turnout and foregrounding popular demands over backdoor political brokerage. This would remain the focus under RCV, with the potential added hurdle that establishment candidates may be able to consolidate votes among themselves while more radical candidates who are less likely to "play nice" remain more isolated. Indeed, reducing nastiness and negative campaigning is one of the celebrated features of RCV in progressive and good governance circles. When you're fighting opponents aligned with things like real estate interests or mass incarceration, incentivizing polite campaigning can seem beside the point, and could even have a chilling effect on radical language and demands.

This brings the larger question of where exactly consensus is being sought and why. Ballot Question #1 won’t open up general elections to wider contestation -- securing the Democratic nomination will still be the key to victory. What does consensus amount to when only applied in primaries, where most of the candidates are rooted in the establishment and radical candidates are more often the exception? As a leftist voter, how many other candidates might you want to rank after your first choice at all? How might this compare to a more liberal or centrist voter?

Working Groups


The Ecosocialist Working Group’s Public Power campaign became a citywide priority in September, with momentum continuing to build. On October 10, they hosted a town hall at Brooklyn College to speak about the campaign and the preemptive shutoffs that left more than 33,000 homes without power in low-income communities of color. On October 19, the working group held a kick-off for the newly formed coalition, Movement for a Green New Deal, alongside New York Communities for Change, Sunrise, and Food & Water Action. The kick-off was a huge success, with about 180 in attendance, and more than 20 people were trained to lobby their state electeds for the public power campaign and a Green New Deal for New York. 

Additionally, this month the working group helped the Electoral Working Group get more than 450 signatures during the Bernie + AOC rally. They also helped get nearly 300 sign-ups during the youth-lead climate strikes. 

The next Public Power Town Hall will be in the Bronx in early December, with an invited special guest! Stay tuned for more information, and contact to learn about future canvas opportunities

Immigrant Justice Working Group 

The NYC DSA Immigrant Justice Working Group invites DSA members and the general public to a day school on migration and immigration issues to be held on November 17, 2019 from 9:30 p.m. to 4:00 p.m at the United Auto Workers (UAW) Local 2110 offices at 256 W 38th St #704, New York, NY 10018. There will be morning and afternoon sessions and a lunch break from 12:00 noon to 1:30 p.m. (Recommended donation for lunch is $5.)

Possible sessions may include workshops on imperialism and internationalism, climate change and migration, and U.S immigration policies and their effect on immigrants and the society as a whole. Further information on the day school schedule will be available soon. 

The working group will hold its monthly meeting on Monday, November 11, at the Verso Books offices at 20 Jay St, Brooklyn, NY 11201. They will be discussing their on-going campaigns to close the camps and pass immigrant legislation at the state level, among other items. Additionally, there will also be a discussion on non-violent direct action and its role in the movement.


Central Brooklyn

The Central Brooklyn branch voted at the end of September to endorse Jabari Brisport and Phara Souffrant in their campaigns for the State Senate and Assembly, respectively. Soon the branch will be hitting the ground and help get them elected!

The branch is continuing to work on the Call Me Comrade campaign, an outreach project in which every member of the branch is called in order to learn more about individual members and how the branch can improve. 

On October 13th, the branch screened ‘They Live’ with the South Brooklyn branch, and on October 26th held a Halloween party, the proceeds going to help run the Central Brooklyn branch and benefit the Healthcare Working Group. 

South Brooklyn

The South Brooklyn Branch recently voted to recommend for endorsement Marcela Mitaynes for the 51st Assembly District and Jabari Brisport for the 25th Senate district. These are both strong movement candidates who will advocate for socialist policies that empower the working class and fight back against corporations and the super-rich!

SBK is currently engaged in a campaign in partnership with the Protect Sunset Park coalition to oppose the Industry City-led rezoning of the South Brooklyn waterfront. 

SBK is beginning an Intro to Socialist Feminism reading group in collaboration with the Socialist Feminist Working Group. Sign up here:


This month the Labor Branch hosted the third installment of Labor Note's Secrets of a Successful Organizer. It was a constructive event, with members of a number of unionized and non-unionized workers thinking together about how to build shop floor power. In December, they will start the trainings again from the beginning. 

The branch is planning to find ways in the coming months to support the ongoing contract fights in TWU local 100 (MTA) and in NYSNA public sector (Health & Hospitals nurses).

On Wednesday, October 30th, they supported the TWU local 100 contract rally. 

There are a number of job opportunities upcoming in key union sectors. As always, reach out to if you are interested in joining the labor movement as a rank and file member.

Towards a Prisonless Society: NYC-DSA Abolition Action

By Emmy H

Abolition Action is a new group within NYC-DSA committed to organizing around prison abolition, both inside and outside of our chapter. We emerged out of a series of reading groups organized by the Socialist Feminist working group last winter on the topic of prison abolition in which participants explored what abolition meant and how it related to anti-capitalism, feminism, anti-imperialism, and many other issues. 

Abolition remains something that many comrades struggle to wrap their head around. They find it difficult to understand what abolitionist praxis looks like on the daily level – and that’s understandable, given how deeply ingrained the prison-industrial complex, policing and prisons are in our contemporary culture and politics, not only but especially in the United States. Like racism or sexism, the hold that prisons and policing have on our culture and our minds is something we have to actively unlearn; and like socialism itself, abolition is something we have to creatively and boldly imagine. 

The work of prison abolition is the work of building a world in which we make prisons and police obsolete. As Fred Moten and Stefano Harney put it, the goal is “Not so much the abolition of prisons but the abolition of a society that could have prisons, that could have slavery, that could have the wage, and therefore not abolition as the elimination of anything but abolition as the founding of a new society.” In that way I would claim that almost all of the work that our organization in all its chaotic glory is doing, from universal healthcare to open borders, is indirectly the work of prison abolition. We are already doing the work to address the root causes and harms that society has turned away from and that the state has contained and perpetuated through the prisons and police. 

But what about the work of abolition most directly? In its first few months, the Abolition Action group is already doing a number of things:

  • Launching a brand new monthly newsletter, Jailbreak! This newsletter will include abolitionist actions, meetings, and events happening around the city; news, commentary and art related to abolition; and updates and ways to plug into the work of the group itself. Sections include “Abolitionist Spotlight” highlighting someone whose work we can learn from (like abolitionist icon Mariame Kaba!) and “Soundbites for Skeptics” featuring quotes from your comrades responding to predictable questions like “What do we do with all the murderers and rapists?” The first issue of Jailbreak! is included here, and you can look for future issues to be linked in Red Letter or join the mailing list directly here. If you are interested in submitting an event or piece you can do so using this form, and if you want to get involved with the newsletter, please e-mail us

  • Mobilizing DSA members to actions with extant abolitionist groups such as No New Jails, Decrim, Survived and Punished, Black and Pink, Incarcerated Workers Organizing Committee, etc.

  • Developing a Prison Abolition 101 interactive workshop, in multiple versions, to facilitate in different spaces: DSA, other leftist groups, public spaces, and eventually even for kids! 

  • Undertaking an intensive study of the Creative Interventions Toolkit, which provides readings and tools for non-carceral community interventions to address interpersonal harm without involving the state. We plan to continue building and sharing education and skills by replicating the study with other groups, participating in the upcoming Socialist Feminist Working Group 8-week transformative justice reading group, taking part in events with the Transformative Justice Hub, and strengthening our relationships around transformative justice within and outside of our organizing communities. 

  • Soon to come, monthly or bimonthly potlucks to include discussion about transformative justice tools as well as good food and general comradeship! We will work to make these as accessible as possible and rotate locations. 

It is imperative that we understand abolition, and the transformative justice it requires, as not only a horizon we organize towards, but also a principle and practice to inform our daily organizing together. Our group hopes to help ground NYC-DSA members in an understanding of what abolitionist praxis can look and feel like, and help bring transformative justice into our own organizing spaces. 

We are also, of course, looking resolutely outward. Just last week, the City Council voted to approve the mayor’s jail expansion plan, which ostensibly closes Rikers Island after years of organizing and pressure to do so (ostensibly because, in fact, the plan contains no legal commitment to close the jail at all, and only proposes a laughable ten-year plan to do so). Yet, the plan would earmark billions of public dollars to build and expand jails in every borough except Staten Island. It is a critical moment here in New York City to organize for and through abolition, and we will be fighting alongside comrades of all stripes to make that a reality. 

Solidarity with Immigrants; Actions Against Big Tech

By Nazmus S

The Suffering of Immigrants and the Role of Political Institutions and Big Tech

A democratic majority in congress has not done anything to lift the “Muslim Ban” that is still in effect because the partisan Supreme Court decided to agree with a policy tweak to include North Korea by the executive branch. 

Centrist Democrats joined Republicans to fund the expansion of “detention camps” at the border and beyond. As a result, U.S. Border Patrol (CBP) can detain more asylum-seekers who are fleeing violence, poverty, and climate change. They traumatize immigrant children by separating them from families and causing death via inhumane conditions. Allies of immigrants in congress are outnumbered and ignored by political establishments.

The same congress did nothing knowing that documented immigrant families (green card holders and others) are dropping out of food, housing, and healthcare benefits in fear that further executive and judicial maneuvers in public charge will affect their chance of becoming naturalized citizens. 

The current administration is terrorizing undocumented immigrants and families with publicized ICE raids in homes, schools, and workplaces. While the executive branch uses brute political force against immigrants to rally up its base for the 2020 presidential election, tech companies like Amazon, Salesforce, and Microsoft are helping ICE and CBP with cloud infrastructure and data analysis tools. 

Marching and Disrupting in Solidarity with Immigrants

“When immigrant families are under attack, what do we do? 

Stand up, fight back!”

On October 11th, a coalition of immigrants-rights activists marched in New York City and around the country as part of a mobilization effort to close the immigration detention camps and demand asylum for all. NYC Democratic Socialist of America (NYC-DSA), Jackson Heights Immigrant Solidarity Network, Desis Rising Up and Moving (DRUM), Close the Camps NYC, CODE Pink, and Construction and General Building Laborers’ Local 79 participated in a solidarity action to highlight the corporate complicity and profiteering from the inhumane immigration system. Protesters marched and held up a banner in front of Salesforce tower that read “Salesforce cut your contracts with Border Patrol (CBP), #notechforICE.” Salesforce sells custom-made software directly to CBP for hiring purposes.

Human rights groups, tech workers, and immigration-justice activists are also calling to end the use of Big Data, artificial intelligence, and cloud infrastructure to surveil people.  Activists traveled from New York to the Amazon Web Services’ (AWS) final summit in Toronto, disrupting a keynote speech and demanding that the tech giant cancel the contract with Palantir, a Big Data company that runs its software on Amazon’s cloud and supports ICE with software and apps to help the department conduct raids. 

Later, in a press conference at the Toronto City Hall, activists argued that “Technology itself is not neutral. It can be used to reinforce power structures, curb civil liberties like freedom of expression, and damage social and political movements. Furthermore, facial recognition technology powered by artificial intelligence can be used to scan driver's licenses that put undocumented immigrants of some states in immediate danger now they can get driver’s licenses. The use of such technology by ICE will diminish hard-fought victories for immigrant rights in the US.”

Immigration Justice

The experience of immigrants is a prime example of how some humans treat others as inferior. Anti-immigrant forces see the life, liberty, and the pursuit of happiness of the people of color as mattering less than their own. In addition, the capitalist social, political, and economic structure of life makes it “okay” to seek employment and make a profit from the suffering to immigrants without accountability.

Tech companies use a lack of regulations in terms of the ownership and usage of data and to ignore structural acts of violence committed by the government agencies that pay them billions for their software and services. The profit motive of capitalist business goes hand-in-hand with their indifference to the malicious use of their technology. Additionally, people (undocumented folks) who are affected by structural violence are silenced and not represented by the political establishments.

“In the face of corporate and police surveillance across borders we must build a national and global movement of solidarity to fight back capitalism and incarceration of immigrants and others for a truly just world for all.” said Luis Espinosa, member of the NYC-DSA’s Immigrant Justice Working Group.

Why We Wrote the Gender Dynamics Survey

By Jen J, Alice B, Natalie A, Stephanie M, and Alexandra W

Our movement is built on us. To love and protect each other is to love and protect our movement. Our time, our skills build and sustain not only DSA, but a larger movement, a more amorphous hope that a better world is possible and only the working class can win it. 

Please take a moment to fill in the Gender Dynamics Survey here.

It is hard to live under capitalism. It is harder to organize under capitalism. It’s hard to pay our rent, our debt. Capitalism gives us health issues and insurance that’s impossible to navigate. We are tired. We are stressed. To build the multi-racial, multi-generational, feminist, non-hetronormative, LGBQTIA+, socialist future that we desire we must understand how capitalism creates barriers to organizing and how to move people past their barriers.  We must also understand how the trauma of capitalism teaches us to perpetuate further harm unto others. We are all capable of harming others. As Adrienne Maree Brown says in the essay What is/isn’t Transformative Justice:

 “If the only thing I can learn from a situation is that some humans do bad things, it’s a waste of my precious time — I already know that. What I want to know is, what can this teach me/us about how to improve our humanity?”

We wrote this survey largely because our organizing pushed us to question our own attitudes and behavior. Organizing helped us do better. It has transformed us.  Good organizing transforms us. 

We can’t take it for granted that people already know what solidarity looks like. - Jane McAleve

From the death penalty to cancel culture, transformative justice shows us fear of punitive measures does little to protect survivors or keep harm from happening. Fear of punishment actively keeps us from honestly addressing harm within DSA. Elected leadership is afraid of making the organization look bad. Individual organizers are afraid of having to step back from campaigns that are important to them, they are afraid of being shunned from their communities. This fear is understandable, our society doesn’t teach us healthy accountability practices, but fear does nothing to address transgressions and protect against future harm. 

TJ teaches us that no one is born bad.  Violence occurs because societal forces of precarity and trauma create and perpetrate violence. Similarly, no one is born with innate racism or sexism. These dynamics are instilled in us by decades of navigating systems that are sexist and racist. Capitalism doesn’t teach us how to stand in solidarity with each other. It doesn’t incentivize us to understand how our various privileges affect how we relate to others. We are not taught to say “I messed up. I’m sorry. Here is how I am going to change.”

Harm isn’t always a crisis. Harm can be big — rape, assault, stalking, and harassment. But it also can be small, everyday interactions that build on each other. It can be men repeatedly speaking over women in meetings or the assumption that a person of color isn’t familiar with socialist theory. It can be who is made to feel welcome, who is prioritized for leadership development, whose ideas are listened to and respected. We are doing the Gender Dynamics Survey to gain a better understanding of the patterns of harm, big and small, within our organization. 

Undoing and growing beyond harm is our collective responsibility.  It is not about individual bad actors; it’s about how the community responds when transgressions occur.  Building community accountability in DSA requires that we understand and unlearn the oppressive dynamics that have shaped — and harmed — our organizing culture. This is not separate or outside of campaign work.  How we treat each other and navigate disagreements directly influences our effectiveness as a movement. 

Mariame Kaba, a key organizer of transformative justice movement, likes to say that “Hope is a discipline.” Socialists are all optimists — disciplined optimists. We know the world can change because we know that people can change. Change may be difficult, but if we have the courage to face down the bosses in our workplaces, we have the courage to honestly confront the ways in which we contribute to harm in our communities too. This is spadework: hard labor, but necessary if we’re going to start growing in a new direction. We need to dig up the deeply-rooted, harmful patterns of behavior we all participate in so we can plant the seeds of a genuinely liberatory future.

You can take the Gender Dynamics Survey here. The survey will close Sunday, November 4th at midnight. This article was endorsed by the Socialist Feminist Working Group Organizing Committee.

You Should, Indeed, Be a Socialist


Why You Should Be a Socialist

By Nathan J Robinson

All Points Books, St. Martin's Publishing Group, 2019


By Jack C

The question I returned to constantly throughout my reading of Nathan J. Robinson’s excellent new book (spoiler alert), Why You Should Be a Socialist was: “Can I give this book to my mom?” My mom is a good person, but despite working with poor people for most of her counseling career, she voted (votes?) Republican and is deeply skeptical when I bring up things like universal housing and childcare, Medicare for All, and worker control of businesses. Could Robinson succeed where I, her perfect boy, has thus-far failed?

The answer is...maybe?

The book is divided into three main sections: why capitalism is bad, an intro to the different flavors of socialism and a rundown of the ways in which a socialist future could (and will!) be better than what we have now, and it ends with “the other political ideologies and why they are bad.”

First off, capitalism: Capitalism, am I right folks? Robinson and his contributors at Current Affairs have spilled tons of ink (print and digital) explaining the myriad ways in which capitalism exploits and devalues us all, as well as the ways in which it destroys communities and the earth and, in its latest and most all-consuming form, keeps us all in a constant state of fear and precarity for the benefit of the wealthiest and most powerful. This all may not come as a shock to you, dear reader, but the book’s target demographic likely has not seen the entire capitalist world around them so neatly disassembled and systematically explained in simple language that connects immense, inscrutable, centuries-old systems of exploitation and oppression to people’s daily lives and material conditions (no mean feat).

And it works! Robinson takes his time making his case, even stopping periodically to apologize for how unremittingly grim this whole part of the book is. Some of these asides, presupposing that the reader may be stammering objections, don’t quite land and could even be a bit counterproductive. However, it’s clear he appreciates that the reader might not be fully on board with the argument, and genuinely tries to reach the skeptic. In a world where the extremely online among us constantly hear about the right’s ability to “destroy” the “left” with “facts” and “logic,” it’s heartening to see a skilled writer and thinker serve up a greatest hits of capitalism’s innumerable crimes.

On to the fun stuff, part two: “socialism as a collection of principles.” If Robinson has a master stroke in this book, it comes in employing an idea he’s used in prior works, framing “democratic socialism” as a collection of principles or ideas, rather than claiming that socialism is ONE THING or that there’s only one way to “do socialism.” One can see where this perspective could work with readers who are skeptical of overarching power systems or who think that socialism means “whenever the government does anything” (and of course, the more the government does, the more socialist it is, etc.). It’s a clever tactic, basically explaining that, far from wanting to press every member of society into a mold that none can deviate from, democratic socialism seeks to give each person a baseline level of what they need (food, clothing, shelter, resources, etc.) to live a decent life, the time they want to develop themselves as people, and, vitally, a voice in how their world is disposed.

The final section breaks down competing political ideologies in a way that’s easy to understand and is sorely needed in the modern online world of competing political alignments. It includes some words about conservatism — which has more or less been soundly drubbed by this point in the book — as well as the inadequacy of liberalism and the utter rebuke of Clintonism/Third Wayism that was the 2016 election. There’s also a handy section dealing with common criticisms of socialism, like: a socialist society will be boring, and the ever-popular “...but Venezuela!” 

While Why You Should Be a Socialist may be a bit spicy for your hard-right uncle (or aunt, or whomever), it may be just perfect for that liberal friend of yours who’s been liking your Bernie posts. Your mileage will vary, but it’s definitely an awesome book to read on public transit and then make eye contact with people when you know they’ve seen the cover. And yes, I’ll be lending a copy to my mom. Fingers crossed!

First Ranked: The Democratic Benefits of RCV

By Grace M

Democracy in New York is...not great. But this election cycle, New Yorkers have the opportunity to improve it a bit. 

Ballot Question 1 (of the the five ballot proposals that will change New York City’s Charter) is about instituting Ranked Choice Voting (RCV) in our local primary and special elections. Using RCV, also known as Instant Runoff Voting, voters can rank up to five candidates in the order of their choice, instead of choosing only one. If no candidate receives a majority after counting every ballot’s first choice, the last place candidate is eliminated, and all their votes are reallocated to the second ranked candidate on those ballots. This process repeats until only two candidates remain, at which point the candidate with the most votes wins. In this manner, RCV performs an “instant runoff” of all the candidates, without requiring a new election to be held. You can read more about how RCV works by reading The Thorn’s In-Depth on the topic or by watching this video.

RCV is an important opportunity for us to better democracy in New York City, and you should vote in favor of Ballot Question 1. While no election system can ever be perfect, RCV is a significant improvement on our current, first-past-the-post system. Ultimately, we should not evaluate an election system based on whether the candidates we like will be more likely to win, but whether that system creates a more functional and representative democracy. RCV will make New York City elections faster and fairer in myriad ways.

Avoiding Runoff Elections

As the term “instant runoff voting” suggests, RCV allows for votes to be redistributed instantly, rather than requiring a secondary election. Under the current system, primary races for Mayor, Public Advocate, and Comptroller require a runoff election if no candidate receives more than 40% of the vote. Not only do these runoffs cost the city money, they result in candidates chosen by a more privileged demographic. In a theoretical state that gives everyone every election day off, and does everything in its power to get voters to the polls, this setup may be okay. However, in real-life New York, where voter turnout is among the worst in the country, a secondary runoff election makes matters worse. Compared to primary elections, fewer people vote in runoff elections, and those voters are older, whiter, and wealthier. So, eliminating runoffs helps ensure that candidates are not chosen by a less representative electorate.

Stronger Democratic Mandate

RCV will also produce candidates with stronger democratic mandates. Currently, in New York City, primaries for citywide positions require only 40% of votes to win. In other primary races, like City Council Member positions, and in special elections for all City positions, any plurality, regardless of how low it may be, results in a win. This system was on display during the 2019 Public Advocate special election in February. Jumaane Williams won the election with just over 30% of the vote - hardly an inspiring mandate. While the Public Advocate does not have significant policy-making power, similar dynamics could play out in a theoretical special election for Mayor (say, if people actually liked Bill de Blasio, and he became president). 

Replacing the current system with RCV will ameliorate this issue. In an RCV election, votes are redistributed according to voters’ preferences until one candidate has majority support. Primary and special elections in New York City presently result in candidates elected by a small minority of voters. While primaries do not directly elect a candidate like special elections, given the dominance of Democrats in the City, Democratic primaries are often determinative (this is not ideal, but it is true). Even if leftist groups can use the current system to elect good policymakers, systems designed to elect politicians to power with small pluralities of the electorate do not uphold a democratic mandate for our policymakers. 

Better Reflect Voter Preferences

Another frequently cited benefit of RCV is that it will allow people to vote their true preferences and eliminate the “spoiler effect.” We're all familiar with voters who talk endlessly about “electability;” the people who will vote for the candidate with the highest chance of winning, even if they don’t like them (e.g., your lib parents). RCV allows these fretful voters voters to select  their true preference first and rank the “electable” candidate second. If their first choice candidate is eliminated, they can rest easy knowing their vote will go to the “electable” candidate in the next round.

Not only is this better for individual voters, but, hopefully, it will empower voters to buck the machine’s “electability” line, and choose more radical candidates. This may not happen right away, but could be an opportunity for the left to reach more of the electorate. 

Campaigns Engage More Voters 

Because voters can rank multiple candidates, RCV incentivizes campaigns to reach beyond their typical support base. For leftist campaigns, this presents an incentive to spread socialist messages and policy to a wider group, expanding support in the city and making it easier for future leftists to win. Additionally, RCV-advocates have argued that the voting system will encourage candidates to reach out to oft-overlooked parts of the electorate. While research on the topic is nascent, a study in San Francisco found that the poorest and most racially diverse neighborhoods in the city had the highest increase in voter participation when comparing an RCV to a runoff election.

. . . . . . . . . . . . .

RCV in primary and special elections will not totally fix New York City’s democratic system, but by eliminating unrepresentative runoff elections, strengthening politicians’ democratic mandates, empowering voters to express their true preferences, and incentivizing campaigns to reach out to larger swaths of the electorate, it's an improvement. 

It would certainly be better if RCV was being implemented in general elections (or if we all had election day off, or nonpartisan elections were implemented, or if the revolution comes and we can rebuild the system from the ground up). But, despite its reputation as a progressive city, New York is reluctant to make significant changes, and is very cautious in the policy realm. This helps explain why we still have Borough Presidents (or boroughs). Implementing RCV in primaries and special elections is an important step for the City, and lays the groundwork for even more significant democratic reforms in the future. The history of the City’s public campaign financing program demonstrates that this is possible. When the City initiated its matching program in 1988, it was not the first to create such a program, and it offered only a 1:1 match. Today, the program offers a 1:6 match and is widely considered the most innovative and effective system in the country. RCV, if implemented now in primaries and specials, could similarly grow over time to become a more substantial improvement on our democracy. 

RCV will ultimately help leftists because it empowers voters. It complements our work to enfranchise more people and increase turnout, and it paves the way to more holistic democratic reforms in the future. Still, RCV will result in some elections that do not go our way. This doesn't  mean it's a bad system. We should not evaluate democratic systems based on if the candidate we think is best will win - the same line of thinking justifies gerrymandering. Rather, we must evaluate a voting system based on whether the electorate is being best represented. RCV will better represents voters. And if we lose an election or two, well, that just means we have more work to do.

Introducing the Boricua Socialist Caucus

by Eva S

The Boricua Socialist caucus started out as many things do nowadays, on Twitter. A comrade alerted me to a new group DM that was forming for Puerto Rican DSA members and fellow travelers to connect. Not being a fan of DSA group messages, I hesitantly joined, and found myself in a community of people that kept me grounded through many microaggressions and many, many thoughts of quitting DSA. (Not to turn this into an opinion complaint piece, because I do want to focus on organizing, but it’s frustrating being a DSA member in a mostly white organization and one that often sees issues such as imperialism and colonialism as second-tier concerns while those are the issues that drive many of our organizing because they’re literally life or death for our families and friends.) 

Members of BoriSoc come from all over, showing just how far the diaspora reaches. We have members in Australia, in Portland, Oregon, in Maine, and members organizing in the South. Some of us were born and raised on the island, some of us don’t speak a lick of Spanish. What unites us is a shared commitment to Puerto Rico: advocating for independence and decolonization, advocating for the auditing and cancelling of the illegal debt, and planning political education events to bring awareness to what’s happening in our island. 

Since we’re a caucus that, much like the diaspora, is spread out all over the country, the DSA National Convention was our first chance to interact and connect in person. It was one of the highlights of the convention weekend for me; it just felt like home. During our meetup we formalized communication and decided on a couple of things moving forward which include connecting to other diaspora organizations and working in coalition with them, connecting with organizations on the island and providing support however possible, and formalizing political education materials we can bring to our respective chapters. The latter was one of the most important, I was raised on the island and Puerto Rico’s school system teaches a very colonial narrative of our history -- one in which the United States is our “savior” and many nationalist and independence struggles are glossed over as “terrorist” acts, if they’re even taught at all. Educating ourselves and others and the collective process of unlearning and relearning is key to understanding where we go and act from here. 

Political education goes alongside a resolution passed at convention, Resolution 50: Decolonization, Self-Determination and Anti-Imperialism, authored by some of our caucus members. The resolution states that “DSA will commit to the full decolonization of all the occupied lands of the so-called USA: self determination and full sovereignty for Hawaiʻi; Puerto Rico; Amerika Sāmoa; Guåhån; Northern Mariana Islands; Virgin Islands; and to all Indigenous nations whose ancestral lands are within the USA’s current borders; and independence to all other overseas territories and dependencies controlled, occupied, or otherwise exploited by the USA.”

The Boricua Socialist caucus is looking forward to working with the National Decolonization Working Group, with the Palestine and BDS Working Group, and with Cuba and other Latin American solidarity. It’s important for us to remember that all of our struggles are shared, and that none of us are free until all of us are free. 

If you’re interested in our work you can join our mailing list and follow us on Twitter. We’ll be having our first call soon to discuss projects formally and would love for you to join us. 

¡Pa’lante, siempre pa’lante!

Not One More! An Action to Defend Abortion

On Saturday, October 5th at 8:15am, pro-choice activists will demonstrate outside of the Basilica of St. Patrick's Old Cathedral in SoHo, where congregants meet on the first Saturday of every month before marching to the Planned Parenthood clinic on Bleecker Street to harass and intimidate patients as they enter the clinic. Each month the church hosts a “pro-life mass” that concludes with a protest outside the Bleecker Street Planned Parenthood. The event draws over one hundred participants who attempt to shame and intimidate patients trying to get through the clinic’s doors. 

The church is affiliated with other anti-choice groups including Bikers for Life and fake “sidewalk counselors” who attempt to intercept patients and convince them not to enter the clinic. During 40 Days for Life, a biannual religious anti-abortion campaign that runs this fall from September 25 to November 3, crowds of abortion opponents gather outside of clinics around the world to “pray to end abortion” and attempt to prevent patients from accessing reproductive healthcare.

The timing, falling right in the middle of 40 Days for Life, makes this particular counteraction an especially important one to rally large numbers to demonstrate our support for reproductive freedom. 

More details about the event are here:

New York City for Abortion Rights (NYCFAR), a grassroots organization dedicated to direct action to defend access to abortion, will be joined by activists with National Women’s Liberation, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), Abortion Access Front, Rise and Resist, and Reclaim Pride to demonstrate in front of the church and delay the abortion opponents in their march to Planned Parenthood. Abortion rights activists will honor the memory of the many women who have lost their lives or been incarerated because of laws regulating women’s bodily autonomy. Each year, between 4.7% and 13.2% of maternal deaths worldwide can be attributed to unsafe abortion. 

Here are just a few of the women in the United States who lost their lives or faced legal consequences as a result of anti-abortion laws:

  • Rosie Jimenez died at age 27 in 1977 from an illegal abortion in McAllen, Texas and is the first woman known to have died in the United States due to an illegal abortion after the Hyde Amendment was passed.

  • Marshae Jones, a 27-year-old woman from Birmingham, was taken into police custody in June 2019 after being indicted in Alabama on a manslaughter charge after being shot in the stomach and having a miscarriage.

  • Purvi Patel, the first US woman to be sent to prison for inducing her own abortion, was arrested in Indiana in July 2013 on two felony counts of child neglect and feticide and originally sentenced to 20 years in prison.

Reproductive justice activists will fight for bodily autonomy for all people and for equal access to reproductive healthcare. We will stand up to anti-abortion extremists wherever they appear, especially in this alarming moment when public support for abortion is at the highest level in decades but increasingly conservative state legislators are passing more restrictions on abortion access than at any point since abortion was legalized in 1973.

We need you to stand with us Saturday, October 5th against those who would deny us reproductive freedom, and for those who cannot stand for themselves. 


Lower Manhattan

It’s been a busy month for the LoMan Branch. Their Housing Working Group launched an all-hands-on-deck campaign to collect signatures to stop the Two Bridges luxury towers. Last weekend was their first day of action and they collected over 150 signatures. Neighbors are really plugged in to what’s going on, and LoMan encourages anyone interested in getting more involved with this important campaign. 

The LoMan Electoral Working Group has been busy laying some foundations for considering endorsements in the upcoming election cycle. Putting together research and reading through candidate surveys has taken up some time—but not detracted—from the branch’s robust Bernie canvasses. Seeing a lot of new and old members engage and re-engage with Bernie has been really encouraging. The branch will be hosting a new/old member picnic to re-connect with everyone after the summer, and get to know the new OC better.


The Labor Branch spent the month focused on the Labor for Bernie campaign. The Labor monthly meeting was spent discussing strategy to move unions and their members toward the Bernie camp. Members also canvassed union members to support Bernie including at the Labor Day Parade. Along with Labor For Bernie work, the branch spent some time working out a strategy to fight to amend the Taylor Law to give New York State public sector workers the right to strike. The branch is still working out the details of what this campaign could look like. Finally, they took a field trip to Pennsylvania to support UAW members striking GM. More strike solidarity activities are in the works. 

DSA teacher's at the DOE, members of the United Federation of Teachers, helped in efforts led by the union's MORE caucus to circulate a petition opposing opening school on December 23rd. This bizarre scheduling decision by the DOE would have dramatically shortened winter break for students and teachers. After getting 20,000 signatures, the DOE backed down and canceled that day. MORE is an opposition caucus that fights for more militant and democratic unions.

North Brooklyn

Senator Julia Salazar hosted a Democratic presidential debate watch party with a debrief on the recent legislative session at the Well. At the same time as the debate watch party, the BK Electoral Working Group hosted a forum in Brooklyn Heights, the third such forum for candidates in the 2020 State Assembly and Senate races seeking NYC-DSA’s endorsement. Decisions, decisions!

NBK’s Rose Buds, the branch’s new member outreach and engagement committee, hosted a New Member Orientation at Mayday Space Wednesday the 18th. The branch also kicked off its second year of Night School at Mayday with “What is Democratic Socialism?” Night School meets every other Monday.

Starting October 14, on the Mondays when the branch doesn’t have Night School at Mayday, the Socialist Feminist Working Group is hosting a four-session Intro to Socialist Feminism Reading Group. 

South Brooklyn

It has been an active late Summer/early Fall for South Brooklyn DSA. In August, South Brooklyn DSA voted to get involved with the campaign to stop the rezoning of Industry City and protect Sunset Park against gentrification. The branch is also currently considering the role it could play in two local State Assembly and Senate races, which were voted on at the branch meeting on Tuesday, September 24. Additionally, the branch regularly campaigns for Bernie in Sunset Park.

Staten Island

The SI branch is excited to announce that it has a (mostly) new Organizing Committee! To help support this new energy, two of the OC members participated in their first Mobilizer Training offered by comrades at North NJ DSA. They learned a lot and appreciated the opportunity to meet in a regional capacity. The branch is hoping to do more of that! SI is currently working on a few things: member outreach, social media, graphic design, political education, and ecosocialism. To get to know members a little better, the branch created a survey that it will be sending out soon.

2019 Albany Legislative Wrap-Up: Progressive Wins

By Jack C

Legislation alone can never fully provide poor and working people with the protections they need or guarantee them lives with dignity. However, as we organize and agitate for a more socialist future, legislative wins in the short term can act as harm reduction and pave the way for more significant changes down the line. This article summarizes a handful of wins in the 2019 New York State legislative session, some the result of DSA/progressive organizing, some just good to know, encompassing licenses for undocumented people, statewide rent protections, and more.

Licenses for Undocumented People

The New York Immigration Coalition, a collection of about 200 different immigrant rights groups, alongside the Green Light Coalition, made the passage of “Green Light NY” a major focus for 2019. Starting in October, undocumented people in the state of New York will be able to acquire drivers licenses, thanks to an immense effort that combined pressure on elected officials and the mobilization of thousands of supporters. For many New Yorkers, in and out of the City, driving is a part of daily life, and for many undocumented people, getting pulled over could mean deportation. Every trip to work, the grocery store, their children’s school, or the doctor’s office is a risk. The bill was seen as a way to improve the quality of life and guarantee an essential right for undocumented people in New York.

Undocumented New Yorkers were actually able to get licenses before 9/11. Former Governor Elliot Spitzer attempted to reinstate the policy, but was met by a resistance movement led by then-County Clerk, now-Lt. Governor, Kathy Hochul. Green Light NY was resurrected recently and organizers saw the Democrat-controlled legislative session as an ideal opportunity for passage. They identified a handful of key state senators who needed to be swayed in order to pass the bill. The “Long Island 6,” six Democratic holdouts on Long Island (plus one upstate senator), were seen as a fundamental obstacle to the bill’s success.

What ensued was a full-court press wherein organizers brought huge volumes of mobilized supporters to bear, occupying and surrounding politicians’ offices and encircling the state legislature, in addition to the standard sit-down meetings that are de rigueur in the legislative process. A tipping point was reached when Gov. Cuomo announced that he would sign the bill into law if it were passed. State senator and NYC-DSA member Julia Salazar’s efforts in Albany also deserve special mention for her unceasing work on behalf of this bill. She showed up at numerous events, spoke about the bill in committees and with other electeds, and helped make connections for the Coalition.

Green Light NY would not have passed without the concerted effort of organizers (including DSAers from branches outside of NYC) and mobilized supporters.

Reproductive Rights

Reproductive rights have been under constant attack in America since long before Roe vs. Wade, but with increasing intensity during the Trump administration. This past year saw the passage of a trio of bills that seek to provide more freedom and security in this realm: the Reproductive Health Act, the Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act, and the “Boss Bill,” which prevent employers from discriminating against employees based on personal information about them (such as their reproductive health choices).

The Reproductive Health Act is designed to ensure access to safe, legal abortions and takes abortion out of the realm of Penal Law to the heading of Public Health Law. The latter categorical change aims to protect the state law from future federal meddling. In addition to these new protections for abortion-seekers, it also extends the window for abortions past the prior limit of 23 weeks if the fetus is nonviable or if there is a risk to the mother’s health or life. New York now has one of the most progressive abortion laws in the country.

The Comprehensive Contraception Coverage Act requires that all health insurance companies provide cost-free contraceptives for anyone they cover, including emergency contraception. Additionally, companies are also required to pay for voluntary sterilization services for both men and women. Education, counseling, and follow-up services are also covered. While fights for abortion rights are vital, expanding the availabilty of other reproductive healthcare goes hand in hand with these efforts.

Congestion Pricing

Londoners have dealt with paying a fee to enter the downtown core of their city for years, and starting in 2021, New Yorkers who wish to drive south of 60th Street in Manhattan will have to do so as well. Dubbed the “Central Business District Tolling Program,” the details of the program are yet to be determined, and will be handled by the Triborough Bridge and Tunnel Authority.

Some elements are known, though: as tolling in NY State continues to switch over to electronic means, congestion tolls will be assessed via E-Z Pass or toll-by-mail based on images of the driver’s plates. Drivers who live within the zone and make less than 60,000 per year will be granted a tax credit (neoliberalism’s answer to everything). Speaking of neoliberalism: Uber and other ride-hail services are already being hit with congestion fees (as are yellow cabs). Shared cars (your Uber Pools and Vias) are charged a smaller fee. The upside to all this is that about 80% of the revenue from this program will go towards city transit work (subway track work, new subway cars, new busses, etc.). While the congestion fee will undoubtedly adversely affect poorer drivers entering Midtown and below (and do little to stem the tide of rich people doing whatever they want), at least the new income stream may do some good in bolstering the cash-strapped MTA.

Rent Protections 

by Cea W

Our current system of rent control is the product of centuries of struggle between organized tenants and landlords. New York has had some version of rent control since the 1920s, when postwar housing shortages caused widespread price gouging in rental apartments. But the most current iteration of this perennial struggle can most easily be traced to 1997, when the then Republican statehouse, fueled by ALEC and real estate money, poked fatal loopholes in our rent stabilization system—essentially ensuring its own self destruction.

In 2017, in advance of the June 15, 2019 sunset of rent stabilization, tenants and homeless New Yorkers from across the State of New York came together to begin to prepare for the fight. The group met at a church in Albany, to lay out a vision for a New York State that is free from unconscionable rent hikes and evictions. NYC-DSA, along with Nassau County DSA and Mid-Hudson Valley DSA, are members of the Upstate Downstate Housing Alliance. The Alliance, which leads the Housing Justice for All campaign, is a coalition of over 70 groups that represent tenants and homeless New Yorkers from across the entire State of New York, from Brooklyn to Buffalo. The housing movement is typically siloed into local neighborhood struggles or into issue-specific fights: for public housing, to end homelessness, regulated or unregulated renters, etc. But the Alliance and other groups knew that the 2019 rent law fight was a fight for New York’s soul, and that standing united behind a bold vision for universal rent control was the only way to win.

Renter protections are regularly pitted against workers by stoking fears of destroying construction and the housing market. It was critical that we stick together and present a united front. When landlords claimed that universal rent control would destroy jobs, the Alliance countered with a public letter, signed by unions representing 2.5 million New York workers, in support of its demands. Near the end of session in Albany, there was immense pressure on the group to weaken rent protection demands and to acknowledge that universal rent control would be too hard to win. This was a tough strategic decision—either go to the table and negotiate on rent protection bills, or to continue to hold out for more and more. The fact that the coalition held together in this moment—when the stakes were higher than and there was perhaps no right answer—is one of the defining moments of this fight. Ultimately, the coalition held out, continued to demand the impossible, and won. Next year, organizers say, they’re going back for more.

Thanks to this hard work, tenant protections in New York State are stronger than they have been in a generation. Prior to June 15, rent regulations were only legal in the 5 boroughs of New York City and the surrounding 3 counties. Today they are legal across the entire State. It’s harder than ever before for a landlord to successfully win an eviction case against a renter, and vacancy decontrol has been eliminating. Rent regulations are permanent. However, there’s still much to do before every New Yorker lives free from the fear of eviction. Notably, renter protections still only cover buildings with 6 or more apartments. 92,000 people are homeless, and the public housing is in disrepair. There is plenty more for the housing justice movement to fight for, and reasons to be hopeful. 

Working Groups


On Wednesday, September 4th, House Democratic Caucus chairman Rep. Hakeem Jeffries (NY-8) announced his support for Medicare for All. Not only does this historic announcement bring the total number of co-sponsors in the House of Representatives up to 119 (including the majority of the Democratic caucus), but as one of the highest-ranking Democratic lawmakers in Congress, Rep. Jeffries's support will give this legislation an especially large boost. Since Jeffries is a member of the Democratic Party leadership, the early success of this local pressure campaign speaks to the growing power of DSA's field organizing in the region and to the particular approach the Healthcare Working Group is taking.

Rep. Jeffries first met with NYC-DSA members in February 2019, where he expressed unwillingness to take a clear position on Medicare for All. In the months that followed, NYC-DSA members collected hundreds of constituent signatures on a petition seeking his support, made thousands of phone calls to his legislative office, raised the issue with him at town halls, co-hosted a people's assembly in his district attended by nearly 200 community members, and with a growing group of coalition partners organized their neighbors and coworkers into a powerful constituency demanding healthcare justice.

Throughout this campaign, NYC-DSA has taken a two-pronged approach. First, we held regular canvasses to drive calls to Rep. Jeffries’ office and collected petition signatures calling on Jeffries to support the bill. Second, we developed new community partners in this campaign, from church leaders to small patient advocacy groups like Sickle Cell Thalassemia Patients Network (SCTPN).

Rep. Jeffries’ public endorsement of this legislation is the result of these efforts and of this growing national movement. And yet, while his co-sponsorship of the bill is a major victory, it is not unequivocal. Rep. Jeffries also chose to cosponsor a public option bill, Medicare X, which would preserve a role for private insurance corporations alongside a very limited public insurance program. Given the connections the Healthcare Working Group is making and the power we are building in his district, NYC-DSA and our coalition partners plan to keep the pressure on in the coming months, and to make the most of this important endorsement toward the full realization of Medicare for All.

Immigration Justice Working Group

NYC-DSA's Immigration Justice Working Group is preparing an action on October 11 as part of a nationwide mobilization to Close the Concentration Camps. At the action, they will be demanding an end to corporate profiteering from immigration detention, the closure of the immigrant detention camps, and asylum for all. The Administration has declared war on immigrant communities, and companies like Amazon and Salesforce are facilitating it. Using their software, agencies like Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE) and Customs and Border Patrol (CBP) have been surveilling and threatening communities, jailing children and adults in detention centers under inhumane conditions, preventing refugees and asylum seekers from entering the country, and much more. Amazon and Salesforce profit, directly and indirectly, off the detention and deportation of immigrants through multi-million dollar contracts with ICE and CBP. It's up to us to hold them accountable for these human rights violations and demand that they stop. 

Join the Immigrant Justice Working group at 4pm on October 11th outside the New York Public Library on E. 41st St. and 5th Ave, to call for an end to the detention and deportation of immigrants and the profiteering that drives these policies. 

Queens Electoral

The Queens Electoral Working Group recently concluded their first ever competitive OC elections and have elected a new 7-person committee. Congratulations to Aaron Taube, Kathryn Dale, Zohran Kwame Mamdani, Sonya Elango, Kathy Lu, Matthew Thomas, Gary He.

The working group has been leading Bernie canvasses across Queens, where they both register voters as well as persuade already enrolled Democrats to vote for Bernie. There are a number of canvasses every week. 

The Queens Electoral Working Group has also partnered with the Ecosocialist Working Group to talk to voters in the Rockaways about Public Power and the Green New Deal.

Finally, the working group is in the midst of planning three candidate forums - two in October and one in November. Details are to come, but make sure you watch out for the chance to see 10+ candidates give their pitches on why we should endorse them and then answer questions from membership. 


The Media Working Group held a general meeting on September 17 and invited comrades from communist collective Red Bloom to facilitate a Worker Inquiry specific to workers in the arts fields: a useful way to reflect on the “work” side of working in the arts and to connect and build solidarity with fellow toilers in the culture and content mines. The next general meeting’s topic is still TBD.

Media would like to promote the following links to connect with and engage the services of our members and volunteers for all your NYC-DSA media needs:

Rank and File: Expanding the reach of WGAE with Annie Z

What is your occupation? (You don’t need to specify the company if you prefer not to.)

I am an animator/designer at a large media company. I work in the digital video department, primarily creating graphics assets for videos as well as full-screen animated content.

What union are you a member of? 

I am technically not a member yet, but I helped organize my unit of animators/designers/illustrators at the company to join Writers Guild of America East. 

What was your organizing experience like?

I actually took my current position partly because I wanted to join a union; the manager who hired me had told me I would become part of the post-production unit, which had recently organized with MPEG (Motion Picture Editors Guild). However, the manager turned out to be wrong. My title was not included in the post-production union, and MPEG explicitly told me they do not accept animators and designers. I then spoke to representatives from both WGAE and USA (United Scenic Artists), then ultimately decided to go with WGAE because they were already representing editorial and video production workers at my company. 

From what I understand, animators/designers/illustrators were simply not included in the initial organizing push with WGAE. I don’t have hard answers as to why this was, but my best guess is because our positions are somewhat misunderstood and scattered in the company. A couple of illustrators/animators who had been there during the first WGAE push told me they spoke to a rep, but felt too separated from others in the unit to join in organizing. 

Indeed, it was a pretty confusing process -- I had joined the company very recently, and workers in the relevant titles were quite siloed. A lot of the organizing was just latching on to any lead I got about a person who might work in one of these positions, then bugging them again and again to speak to me for a few minutes in some hallway. Funnily, at the beginning of this process I actually managed to get a fellow DSA member hired at the company (through the Creative Comrades FB group!) and they helped me IMMENSELY with these efforts.

It has been a little over a year since I began this process, and I am pleased to say the company has recently agreed to a path to recognition for our unit.

What do you feel are the major issues your union is focused on right now?

Digital media workers have seen a lot of turmoil over the past few years. Our industry was built on job security and tethered to the whims of platforms. I think the union has been focused on building collective power and eventually translating that into greater leverage over how this industry is run.

I believe WGAE is also trying to build solidarity with freelancers and independent contractors (who are prohibited from joining unions under the National Labor Relations Act), as that is a huge group of workers with few protections, and often scarce opportunities to connect with one another.

What is/has been the attitude of your employer toward the union?

Although my employer is not necessarily embracing the union with open arms, from what I understand, its presence is pretty accepted. The union has pizza parties in our lobby, for example. But again, I haven’t yet been at the bargaining table so I haven’t experienced that part first-hand. 

Discuss the ways your union has advocated for the interests of its members. 

In an industry notorious for mass layoffs and underpaid workers, WGAE has been critical in building protections like severance pay and salary minimums. They have also been one of the biggest players in dealing with harassment claims and getting problematic managers out the door. I witnessed this personally when one of my coworkers was laid off under very sketchy circumstances. After I connected her to our union reps, they managed to get her a large severance payout and push our boss out the door.

Are there issues you feel your union should organize around that are not currently being addressed?

I can’t really think of any, but I say that with the BIG disclaimer that I am not actually a member of the union yet. I mostly worked only with my direct union organizer (who is also a DSA member), and more recently our contract enforcer. 

Please elaborate on any points not covered by this questionnaire that you would like to address:

Like I mentioned, I accepted my current job partly because I wanted to be in a union, and it seemed like a rare opportunity in my field of work. Before joining my company, I had never worked a union job in the animation industry.

In a generally unorganized industry, labor abuses are par for the course. Most animation studios are quite small, without an HR department, and rely on seasonal contracted employees who have little time or opportunity to build trust among themselves. When I witnessed or personally faced harassment by managers, it felt like something I had to quietly brush off, especially when these managers were semi-famous in my field. This type of culture is also part of the history (and, I’m sure, present-day reality) of my current company, but I have now seen actual accountability and worker power in a unionized workforce.

Given all of this, I would love to see and help support any organizing efforts in the NYC animation field, and in visual arts generally. So please reach out if you have any questions!

Building Momentum with Direct Action

By Daniel B

Direct action necessarily means coming into conflict with entrenched power structures, usually personified by the police or other guardians of private property. Not all of us who organize will put our bodies on the line in this way, risking injury or arrest for the sake of an action, but for those who have the ability to do so, it can be a powerful way to forward our efforts in this shared struggle. In this piece, one comrade offers his experiences being arrested in connection with the West Side Highway shutdown/Close the Camps effort. Here are Daniel’s own words about his experience and resulting arrest:

August 10th was my first time being arrested, and I didn't really know what to expect. The organizers did everything they could to prepare us — and I knew that because of my identity, I would have it a lot easier than most people who deal with the NYPD — but I was still nervous to step out onto the West Side Highway and block traffic. When the time came and I was face to face with a line of honking cars, I got stage fright and could barely chant or sing. I've always had this kind of anxiety at protests, but I'm stubborn and I knew I could keep standing there, holding hands, even if I couldn't say a word. What kept me committed was knowing I was not alone, and that there would be people waiting for me to get out with caring words and snacks. 

After being arrested, I spent about 8 hours in a jail cell with 40 comrades (everyone the NYPD considered male was put in a cell together). Talking about politics and our lives helped the time pass quickly and kept my spirits up.

Before that Saturday, I wasn't sure I knew why I was participating in the action. I have been involved in the Immigrant Justice Working Group for about two years, but I still wondered: what could blocking traffic for a little while really do to help the ongoing, worsening immigration crisis? If this action wouldn't have any immediate impact, what made it different from a march, attending a meeting, or even sitting at home feeling angry? Not everyone who was arrested with me called themselves a socialist like I do. If we didn’t agree on a political vision, what could we accomplish?

But looking back, I can see it clearly: together, we were flexing a social muscle, exercising a collective right. The more people who sit down in the middle of highways, who chain themselves to ICE office doors and generally act up, the more people will join in. Refusing to move along demonstrates that as inevitable as horrible things can feel, society relies on all of us obeying. Withdrawing our consent shows our power. Most of us had never been arrested before this action; now we can share what we've learned and next time, the action will be bigger.

Our action brought attention from the public, and builds momentum against the deportation machine. We overcame our reluctance, the voices in our heads saying to follow the rules, and the movement is a little stronger for it. This time we stopped traffic for an hour, and next time we'll stop more. Until one day, when we'll stop it all.

A Critical Examination of Caucus Organizing within the DSA

By Jen L and Sam W

Caucuses - organized factions that contest for power - are playing an increasingly prominent role in framing and setting the terms of political debate in DSA. Entering the main hall at the National Convention meant weaving through an obstacle course of caucus members handing out pamphlets. Most resolutions and amendments had identifiable caucus backing, and caucuses ran their own slates of candidates (and held their own meetings and parties). Outside of convention, caucuses have their own social media accounts, webpages, and digital and print newsletters. It seems that caucuses are here to stay in DSA.

We are not categorically opposed to caucus formations or organizing and do not want to use this space to argue against caucuses per se. We certainly do not advocate for the dissolution of caucuses in DSA: any actual prohibition of caucuses would be an ominous sign of political repression and something we would fight against. 

Advocates and adherents of caucuses have made strong arguments that caucuses can play a positive role in shaping and sharpening debate, developing members’ politics, and providing social homes for members. We acknowledge a degree of truth in all of these claims. Nonetheless, we urge vigilance regarding some of the potential ways in which caucus organizing could prove counterproductive to some of the DSA’s shared goals, and even the stated goals of caucuses themselves. We raise the following concerns, many of which are based on concrete observations, to strengthen—not undermine—caucuses’ ability to be an overall positive force in DSA at this current juncture

Do caucuses define difference, or create and exaggerate it?

One of the most common (and valid!) claims made in favor of caucuses is that they help cohere and articulate the various political tendencies and possibilities that exist within the organization. But we should interrogate the potential downsides of this approach.

Every institution we create tends to act in a way that perpetuates its own survival—caucuses are no exception. In our experience, this can create some problematic incentives:

Caucuses may encourage the counterposition of ideas that needn’t be counterposed. When the raison d’etre of a group is its difference from others, there is a tendency to overstate those differences. When these groups (caucuses) competitively vie for power, there is a tendency to counterpose those differences. 

For instance, if one caucus centers in their platform rank-and-file labor organizing and another caucus centers working within social justice movements or organizing around identity-based issues, this could needlessly and harmfully counterpose strategies that should be thought of as mutually beneficial, not mutually exclusive. 

At this point in the organization, most people probably also agree with each other more than they disagree with each other, and the political differences that do genuinely exist are probably more inchoate and less immediately relevant than caucuses make them seem. In fact, the most relevant and important questions to explore right now might not even map onto the terms of debate that caucuses have laid out and may even be obscured by caucuses.

Do caucuses promote praxis, or build castles in the sky?

We have observed a tendency for caucuses to render disagreements as abstract. Political disagreements, which are productive and healthy, should be grounded in real and shared work. Any particular organizing project or political campaign, and our organization as a whole, would be stronger and more nuanced if people of multiple (and even dynamic!) political tendencies worked together on such projects. As caucuses become more dominant, the existence of big-tent vehicles for organizing, like working groups, is threatened, insofar as they come under threat of factionalism. But such vehicles are vital because political questions should not be posed in the abstract, extricated from their historical context or material conditions. They should not be prematurely foregrounded in our organization but should be confronted as they organically and dialectically arise through work we do together

We also do not win people over to our positions with abstract political statements but through shared struggle. Political development, and even effective and shrewd political strategy, comes from both theory and practice. Having the "correct" abstract principles means little if you can’t apply them to concrete situations. Conversely, concrete situations are impossible to navigate without some kind of political compass and principled grounding. 

Finally, just as socialists should not silo themselves off from the rest of society, DSA members of a particular political tendency should not silo themselves off from the organization at large. 

Do caucuses clarify debate or do they obscure it?

In some cases, caucuses may make principled debate more difficult, or less likely.  For instance, if there is a chapter-wide debate about X strategy, a caucus member’s analysis and position on X will probably be affected by how other members of their caucus and how members of other caucuses relate to X. If a particular campaign is seen as the project of a particular caucus, other caucuses might oppose that campaign on factional grounds rather than the merits of the campaign itself. Both knee-jerk adherence to abstract political lines that are difficult to trace in the sand materially before us and reflexive opposition to other caucuses dull and muddle debates.

Ideas and people not represented in caucuses might over time become marginalized, insofar as caucuses become the primary vehicle for internal communication, political education, and internal organizing. If a member chooses not to join a caucus (currently this is true for the overwhelming majority of members), it will over time become more difficult for them to win elected leadership positions because of slate voting. If an idea is not represented in and advanced by a particular caucus, it, too, will risk atrophying in the interstices between caucuses.

Do caucuses aid membership development, or do they impede it?

Most members—the authors included—probably joined or will join DSA with underdeveloped  and/or incoherent politics. One of the best things about DSA, as opposed to other leftist organizations, is the ability to directly and immediately get involved in work without having to take firm stances on abstract and frequently  arcane questions. 

When so many DSA members, and potential future members, have such little organizing experience and political education, is it premature to further divide ourselves along political lines?? Getting involved early on in a caucus and having that be the foundation for one’s political development, and one’s involvement in the organization, could paradoxically stymie one’s political development insofar as, for instance, caucuses encourage groupthink without interrogating in depth the questions at hand. Indeed, this type of “internal organizing” strategy adopted by caucuses can feel more like inculcating members into clubs rather than giving members the tools to develop their own politics and strategic skills which is vital to our internal democracy. We should be wary of the possibility of caucuses leading not just to the crystallization of one’s politics (arguably a good thing) but also the ossification of their politics (less of a good thing, as we want our politics to always be living, responsive to changing conditions).  

Do caucuses increase or decrease our capacity to work together on shared goals?

Each new organizational body takes dedicated work to sustain, and our capacity for this work is far from unlimited. We don’t want to counterpose internal and external work—leadership development, strengthening internal democracy, building capacity, and political education are all forms of internal organizing and are absolutely *crucial* for building DSA and building power—in fact, we don't do these things enough. But that is precisely why it can be frustrating to see energy put towards doing those activities for caucuses, which are by definition exclusionary, when our branches and working groups are starved for the same.

The right solution to what ails us?

Many of the arguments for caucuses do correctly identify and attempt to address organizational problems; the question is whether caucuses are the correct/best/most productive solution to these problems, or whether they might in fact entrench or worsen those problems, or create new ones. 

For example, in general, DSA has struggled to create opportunities for members to explore political questions and debate collaboratively. The formation of caucuses may in some sense be an attempt to create these spaces, which is easier among like-minded people. While this may solve the problem for those involved, it may have a negative effect on the whole. 

If the most motivated people do an increasing amount of their collaborative work in enclosed caucus spaces, and shared spaces then become battlefields on which caucuses wage war with each other, the shared spaces become less attractive places for anyone to engage, leading to a sort of hollowing out of the organization. 

Similarly, for many people, caucuses seem to serve an important social role, providing community, camaraderie, care, commiseration, and catharsis. Given the considerable strain that organizing can place on members, and the level of burnout among our most active and dedicated organizers, such social functions are far from trivial. But why must they be fulfilled by caucuses? This not only can create a culture of exclusion and alienation for new and “unaffiliated” members but can also further obscure political difference and debate. What’s more, the seeds of distrust and paranoia that caucuses tend to (unintentionally!) cultivate, as well as the tendency to cast comrades as organizing targets and political enemies, can significantly add to the emotional and interpersonal burden of organizing. We should instead strive to make our shared spaces socially rewarding, cooperative, compassionate, and accessible. 

Building the collective, or vying for control?

There is a tendency to view DSA as an instrument/vehicle for advancing one’s political project—if you can capture centralized organizational resources, whether in terms of staffers, political leadership bodies, or the volunteer labor of its members—you can better advance your political project. There is of course some truth to this, but we should be thinking about how to use these resources in order to not just advance one’s political project but to construct—together and from the bottom-up—a collective political project. 

Caucuses encourage the worst strain of this kind of magical (and top-down!) thinking: if you win a majority on this political leadership body, then you can accomplish your political project; if you win an argument, you can win socialism; etc. If only it were so easy! If only passing a resolution to prioritize some X (rank-and-file, mass strike, or tenant) organizing directly and effortlessly translated to more X organizing. But, no, the struggle is harder and deeper than that, and requires organizing members into your position. And this type of internal organizing can actually be made harder by the existence of caucuses, as members become more siloed, out of sync, and even distrustful and paranoid of each other.  


We would like to close with an observation from the national convention: The amount of time,  energy, creativity, donated labor, and even money that went into producing caucus materials and doing caucus organizing for/at the national convention was impressive but did make us wonder what our organization could look like if we instead used those resources on external projects, on creating shared strategy and collective resources. In fact, the most inspiring and generative experience we had at the convention was talking to comrades engaged in housing work across the country (and across tendencies). Going forward, we worry about such spaces becoming politicized in some of the aforementioned unhelpful ways, paradoxically hindering the depth and breadth of political work we can do together.  

Caucusing is Clarifying

By Eva S and Justin C

“What is a caucus?” It’s a question that has been asked a lot in the discourse recently, especially after the latest National Convention. A caucus, defined in the simplest terms, is a conference of members around a particular set of issues. Some caucuses are identity-based, such as the DSA Afrosocialist Caucus or the DSA Queer Caucus, and others, such as the Libertarian Socialist Caucus, are organized along ideological issues. We are members of Emerge, a caucus of comrades organized around our Points of Unity, with our goal of a “communist horizon.” 

Many comrades have expressed hesitancy at caucuses. They worry they promote factionalism, and may cause DSA to split. In my experience, getting involved with Emerge—after a long period of burnout and reevaluating my priorities within organizing—has helped me get more involved with my local chapter. I don’t plan on leaving DSA or “splitting off” anytime soon. 

NYC-DSA is the largest chapter of the largest socialist organization in the United States. With an estimated 55,000 thousand members and growing, DSA is often described as a “big tent” organization, meaning one where different ideologies and tactics can coexist. We see Emerge as one pole in our big tent. We don’t think the big tent is meaningful in any way without all of its different poles. There’s no tent without ideological struggle and the reconciling of those differences, which generally can’t be clarified without the organization that caucuses allow. 

We’re all in DSA because we want to win and achieve a socialist society, but there are so, so many ideas about what that actually means and which strategies and tactics move us in that direction. All of these ideas need to be clarified and articulated in order to win buy-in with the organization at-large. Caucuses provide the space for this clarification and articulation. Concrete examples could be winning elections, passing proposals through the CLC, or at the citywide level. 

At the 2019 citywide convention, Emerge caucus had two experiences of clarifying and articulating a vision and working to move people toward it. The first was the revival and reworking of a resolution which had not passed at the last convention: “Aim to Elect a Socialist City Council Slate in 2021.”  We saw alignment with our vision of electoral strategy as a means by which we advance class struggle and more deeply connect our movement work to our electoral work, and all of our work to working-class New Yorkers. The second was our work to pass the “Resolution to Support Open Borders,” which had narrowly missed the threshold to make the agenda. Because our caucus had a shared analysis of the enormous importance, particularly in this political moment, of fighting against national chauvinism, decriminalizing immigration, demilitarizing the border, and defending the right of working people to move or remain where they like, we saw it as vital that the largest chapter of our organization come out boldly in solidarity with immigrants and workers everywhere ahead of our national convention. So we organized to move to suspend the rules to get the resolution onto the agenda. We would not have been able to win that vote without the support of members from other caucuses who were amenable to our position. An adapted version of our resolution just passed on the consent agenda at the National Convention in Atlanta.

Aside from providing structure to coordinate political actions, another benefit of caucuses is the political development of members, who share general politics but maybe lack specifics on what exactly that affinity means in various contexts. We grow as political thinkers and actors, struggling with ideas, debating how we move from our here and now towards our chosen horizon. This is not generally seen as a primary purpose of caucuses, but it’s one that we care about deeply. The struggle of ideas comes through debates, generative conversations, and internal political education. 

Without experiencing the many political benefits of caucuses, some might believe that that they function as just social groupings. There are many people in Emerge I’d consider friends and comrades, but the social aspects of caucuses are unfairly disparaged. In a world where we’re constantly facing oppression, where the threat of ecological disaster looms over us daily, where fascists are in power, there’s something beautiful in building a community centered around collective care and looking out for one another. Caucuses aren’t just social groupings, we are in a political organization after all, but our comrades in Emerge help keep each grounded. 

Caucuses might not be for everybody. Maybe there isn’t a caucus that aligns with one's politics. Maybe someone is not interested in participating in internal politics, or organizing outside of formal DSA structures, and that’s fine! Caucuses are one way among many to engage in DSA, and while no one should feel pressure to join one, we encourage you to consider how a caucus might add to your political journey.