The Late 1990s: Declining Activism (1996 - 2000)

history of metro dc dsa


Beginning in January, DSA became a member of a loose coalition to fight the takeover of DC’s finances by the federally appointed Control Board.  The group held planning meetings in January and early February, building up to a February 20 “Stop the Control Board in its Tracks Rally” outside the Board’s offices on Thomas Circle.

By the end of February, the local’s cable TV project effectively ended when it decided not to renew its membership in DCTV.  Lack of funds for the project and disagreement over its direction ended it before it aired a program. The Socialist-Feminist Brunch (renamed from Women’s Brunch), on the other hand, continued its regular events.  Its February 25 meeting featured a discussion on “Making Changes in Your Life” and featured a farewell to longtime local activist Anne McCormick, about to move to New Mexico.  The March 31 brunch included a discussion on the Beijing Women’s Conference.

In early 1996 the NPC decided to open a political action office in DC headed by Chris Riddiough.  The local’s support for the office began with a March 3 party to raise funds to support the new office.  About 20 people attended the event, where a $25 per-person donation was suggested.

On March 16, local DSA member Bill Mosley spoke at a forum, sponsored by the International Socialist Organization and held at UDC, on fighting back against the Control Board takeover of the District.

On March 26 the local executive board adopted an action plan for the near term.  The plan included creating a local Internet page, making election endorsements in June or shortly thereafter and performing legwork for local candidates, completing the pamphlet on economic insecurity, working with DC New Democracy’s “Living Wage” initiative, and holding a forum plus producing a literature piece tied to the elections stressing economic insecurity and corporate domination of politics.  The local did complete the economic insecurity pamphlet and make election endorsements but there is no record of meaningful work on the living wage initiative, and plans for the Internet page did not advance.

DSA held its first general membership meeting of the year on April 11.  The local discussed plans for a May 1 forum on DSA’s national and local plans, intended to activate inactive members and recruit new ones.  To build the meeting (and the local generally) the members scheduled a recruitment mailing to attendees of the “Breaking Bread” outreach event at the National Convention.

The ad-hoc “save the city” coalition backed by DSA, now calling itself “Fight for the Life of the City” (FFLOC), held an April 23 rally at Freedom Plaza to defend rent control in DC.

On May 1, the local held a May Day event at the Mott House to pitch membership and involvement in DSA.  About 20 people attended, half of them non-members drawn by the Breaking Bread mailing, to hear remarks by moderator Howard Croft, new National Political Director Chris Riddiough and local chair Pleasant Mann.

The local held a second house party/fundraiser for the DSA Washington office on May 19.  The office opened in July at the International Union of Electrical Workers (IUE) building at 16th and L Sts. NW.

The local endorsed the June 1 Stand for Children rally on the mall, an event organized by the Children’s Defense Fund in support of better policies and programs for children.  DSA had a presence, including members of the NPC which was meeting in DC.

The local’s committee on electoral politics met on June 11 and decided to organize a forum for DC Council candidates, to be held in August.

On June 12, six months’ work came to fruition as the finally complete pamphlet on economic security went to the printer.

A candidate forum, sponsored by the “Forward DC” coalition initiated by DSA, drew 11 council candidates and 50 other participants.  Candidates were questioned by a panel consisting of DSA Political Director Chris Riddiough, DSA activist Howard Croft, and AFGE National Vice-President (and DSA member) David Schlein.  The forum was covered by WAMU Radio.

At its August 8 membership meeting, the local endorsed three candidates for DC Council:  Sam Jordan, at-large candidate in the Statehood Party primary; John Capozzi, at-large candidate in the Democratic primary; and Paul Simms, Ward 8 candidate running in the Democratic primary.  In the September 10 primary elections in DC, Jordan won his race but Capozzi and Simms lost their contests.  To boost Jordan, DSA held a house party for him on September 22.  (In the general election, Jordan lost to Republican Carol Schwartz).

The local held its local membership meeting on October 7 at Luna Books.  Four members attended.  The meeting featured a discussion of ongoing projects:  the Washington DSA office, the Sam Jordan campaign and funding to edit the tape of the “Breaking Bread” forum at the 1995 DSA National Convention.

Another fundraiser for the DSA Washington office was held October 13 at the home of member Horst Brand in Bethesda.

On November 22 the local held a discussion and fundraiser commemorating the “Breaking Bread” event held one year before.  The forum, entitled “Buildiing Alliances for Economic and Social Justice:  Where Do We Go From Here?” was led by Howard Croft and held at Luna Books and drew about 20 participants.

On November 24 there was another fundraiser for the DSA Washington office held at the home of DSA member Stocky Everts.

In December, the local joined an amicus brief to be filed by Rev. Graylan Ellis-Hagler of Plymouth Congregational Church to challenge the legality of the DC control board.  DSA’s signing on to the brief was mentioned in an article in Washington City Paper.


On January 8, several DSA members had dinner with Barbara Ehrenreich at Skewers Restaurant for an informal discussion of local and national DSA issues and her talk the following day at a House Progressive Caucus forum.

Several local members participated in a national DSA mission and strategy conference in DC held January 25-26.

Several DSA members attended a January 30 meeting of DC New Democracy to encourage the group to endorse Howard Croft in the Ward 6 DC Council race.  In the end Croft received the endorsement by an overwhelming vote.  However, Croft did not formally announce his candidacy until February 1 at an event at the Capitol Hill home of Frederick Douglass attended by about 200 people, including several members of the local and reporters from Channel 7 and Washington City Paper.  DSA members Pleasant Mann and Bill Mosley participated in a February 25 meeting to help develop issues for the campaign.

The local lost one of its most committed activists on February 11 when Dave Wildberger died of a heart attack at the age of 45.  Wildberger, a DC resident, had been active in many of the local’s projects and had served as a writer and editor for the Washington Socialist as well as a delegate to several DSA national conventions.  His obituary in the Socialist said Wildberger “will live on in our memories as a friend who not only professed socialist ideals, but lived them as well.”

On February, the local executive board formally endorsed Howard Croft in his DC Council race.  They held a fundraiser for his campaign April 9 at the home of David Richardson.

Due to renovation at IUE headquarters, the DSA DC office was forced to relocate and on March 4 settled into a building in the DC neighborhood of Takoma.

On March 14, several local DSA members had dinner with Edgar Göll, an SPD activist visiting from Berlin seeking to learn more about the US socialist movement.

Bill Mosley spoke at an April 20 meeting of the Monthly Review discussion group in Silver Spring regarding DC’s fiscal and political crisis.  Then on April 30, he appeared on Dorothy Healey’s WAMU-FM radio program, along with David Schwartzman of CCDS and activist Pete Fariña, for a discussion of various DC issues including the upcoming election, assaults on home rule and progressive responses to the DC fiscal crisis.

In the April 29 special election for the Ward 6 Council seat, Howard Croft finished third behind winner Sharon Ambrose and George Stallings.

The local held its annual meeting May 3 at Luna Books.  The May Socialist, in an article by Bill Mosley, billed the meeting as a discussion on the future of the local in the face of “a decline in participation in DSA’s local activities and leadership over the past few years. . .Can we devise a realistic strategy for revitalizing the activity of and participation in the local?  Or must we acknowledge that activism will continue to decline and adjust our sights accordingly?  Does the local have a long-term future?” At the meeting, attended by about 15 members, there was a discussion of the need to participate in both political and educational work but little focus on priorities or resources.  The meeting also featured a discussion of the upcoming election and members agreed to explore sponsoring or co-sponsoring a conference on defending DC home rule now that the conference initially planned by FFLOC, which had largely ceased functioning as an organization, was no longer moving forward.

On May 19 Bill Mosley represented DSA at the initial meeting of the Independent Progressive Coalition, a group intending to recruit a progressive candidate in the upcoming race for DC Council At-Large now that Linda Cropp was vacating the seat to become council chair, replacing the late Dave Clarke.  The group met periodically through the summer and fall but failed to settle on a candidate.

On June 21, the local held a yard sale fundraiser in Mount Pleasant, raising a modest amount of funds.

With the late-July congressional passage of the so-called Revitalization Act, which stripped the DC government of most of its remaining authority and transferred it to the Control Board, the local joined the Stand Up! For Democracy in DC Coalition, formed to challenge Congress’ control of the District, restore home rule and advocate for statehood.  Several DSA members participated in a September 3 rally at the Capitol to demand democracy for DC.

On September 17 the local held a membership meeting at First Congregational Church, with National Director Alan Charney in attendance.  Charney’s remarks at the meeting included his proposal for a new organization called “Progressive America” that would be formed from the merger of DSA, the New Party, Americans for Democratic Action, Neighbor to Neighbor and Citizen Action.  Subsequent discussion of the proposal generated little enthusiasm, especially as the other organizations did not identify themselves as socialist.  The local also elected its delegates to the November 7-9 National Convention in Columbus, Ohio; Loretta Schuman, Pleasant Mann, Bob Franklin, Bill Mosley, Joe Uehlein, Lisa Foley and Suzanne Crowell, with Woody Woodruff, Cindy Deitch, Dave Richardson and Keith Willis elected as alternates.

The local was shocked when in early October DSA members Kurt Stand and Terry Squillacote, a married couple, were arrested by the FBI on espionage charges.  A meeting of Kurt’s friends, many of them DSA members, was held on October 5 to try and make sense of the situation.

In preparation for the DSA National Convention, the local prepared a booklet entitled “Breaking Bread Revisited,” a reflection on the 1995 DSA convention outreach event with Cornel West and Barbara Ehrenreich along with an article on fighting racism by Sacramento DSA activist and Anti-Racism Committee Chair Duane Campbell.  The booklet was to be included with videotapes of the event that the local would sell to convention delegates as well as other DSA members.

The actual DSA delegation at the Columbus convention turned out to be Pleasant Mann, Loretta Schuman, Bill Mosley and, added at the last minute, Anne Paxton.  At the convention the DC/MD/NOVA delegates held a small meeting for delegates to discuss the Stand/Squillacote arrests and the local support effort.  Concerns that some delegates might argue for a statement distancing DSA from them were not realized.  In other convention actions relevant to the local, the convention approved a resolution supporting DC home rule, and the DC/MD/NOVA delegates distributed a lobbying package which delegates could use to contact their members of Congress.  Loretta Schuman was the only local member to run for NPC but she was not elected.

The year ended with the passing of another valued DSA comrade – William Winpisinger, former president of the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers, who died of cancer on December 11 at the age of 73.  Winpisinger had served as an honorary chair of DSA and had been its preeminent leader in the labor movement.  Not the least of his value to DSA was hosting DC/MD/NOVA meetings and forums at the Machinist headquarters at Dupont Circle.


The local held its first membership meeting of the year on January 25 with a plan to focus on educational events in the near term.  It chose a forum on the global economy, to be led by Dave Richardson, as the first event.

In early March, locals in Chicago and Nassau County, NY informed the local of their actions to support DC home rule, following the DC/MD/NOVA presentation and resolution at the convention.  Chicago’s newsletter included an article on the DC crisis, and Nassau reported that they were contacting their congressional delegation and asking them to restore home rule.

About 15 people attended “Global Economy Basics” on March 6, a discussion led by Dave Richardson on the international capitalist economy and held at the DSA office in Takoma.

Several DSA members helped organize an April 8 forum at the Mott House, “Secrecy, Security and the Federal Snoops; The Foreign Intelligence Surveillance Act” with the DC chapter of the National Lawyers Guild the principal sponsor. In the wake of the Stand/Squillacote arrests, speakers – Kurt Stand’s lawyer Dick Sauber, Kit Gage of the National Committee Against Repressive Legislation and Terry Allen of Covert Action Quarterly – discussed the FISA, its secret court and the government’s attack on privacy and the Bill of Rights.  About 70 people attended.

A second installment of “Global Economy Basics,” a discussion led by Chris Riddiough on the proposed Multilateral Agreement on Investment (MAI), was held on April 17, with four members in attendance.

About 15 people attended an April 22 open house at the DSA Washington office.

DSA members tabled and participated in an April 24-26 conference, “Democracy and the Right to Organize:  A National Labor Teach-in” at Lisner Auditorium sponsored by Scholars, Artists and Writers for Social Justice.

The DSA Washington Office held a reception on June 23 for labor activist and musician Joe Uehlein at the Mott House.

At an August 20 meeting the local made endorsements for the September 15 DC primaries.  Endorsed were: for mayor, Kevin Chavous (Democratic Primary) and John Gloster (Statehood); for council chair, Joseph Romanow (Statehood); for council at-large, Hilda Mason (Statehood); for Ward One Councilmember, Todd Mosley (Democratic); for delegate to Congress, David Schwartzman (Statehood); for shadow representative, Eduardo Burkhart (Democratic).

Three of the endorsed candidates were still standing after the primaries, and at its October 14 membership meeting the local reaffirmed its support for them:  Hilda Mason, John Gloster and Joseph Romanow.  It added endorsements for Scott McLarty (Green Party) for Ward One; Mike Livingston (Green) for Shadow Representative, and Gail Dixon in the non-partisan race for at-large member of the Board of Education.  The local also endorsed the initiative to legalize marijuana for medical purposes. In the November 3 general election the only endorsee to win was Dixon.  Mason, a DSA national vice-chair and a member of the Council for over 20 years, lost to Republican David Catania. The medical marijuana initiative also was approved.

Also at the October 14 meeting, the local voted to join the Ward 8 Coalition in opposition to the prison proposed for that ward.  The local transmitted this decision in a letter to the Zoning Commission.

On November 22, a small group of local leaders met to brainstorm plans for reversing the decline in local activity. The sporadic nature of local meetings was identified as a problem and the group vowed to resume regular monthly meetings.  At the meeting Chris Riddiough, who had moved from serving as Political Director to the position of National Director, announced that she was leaving the DSA staff and that the Washington office would close.


The local held a small membership meeting on January 13 at Luna Books, at which it was decided to hold a tribute to Hilda Mason who recently left DC Council.  Planning for the event continued at the February 21 meeting.

On March 30, DSA National Vice-Chair (and former National Director) Chris Riddiough participated in a debate at SEIU headquarters on “Labor’s Political Future,” along with representatives of the Democratic National Committee, the Green Party, the Labor Party and the New Party.

The tribute to Hilda Mason was held April 27 at the Mott House.  The local presented her with the “William W. Winpisinger Award for Contributions to Labor and the Left.”  The DC Statehood Party and DC Labor Party signed on as co-sponsors.  About 50 people attended, most of them DSA members, and the event raised $1,200 which was earmarked for continuing publication of the Washington Socialist.  AFGE Vice President David Schlein was a guest speaker.

The local held a fundraiser yard sale May 1 in Shaw, netting a disappointing $70 after expenses.

The local, at its June 24 meeting, appropriated $50 to print a flyer to be handed out on the Mall on July 4 about DC’s disenfranchisement by activists with the Stand Up! for Democracy in DC Coalition.

The local met on September 23 at MLK Library and elected delegates to the November 11-14 national convention in San Diego.  Attending the convention as delegates for the local were Pleasant Mann, Dave Richardson, Bill Mosley and Amy Simpson.  Local member Andrew Hammer was elected to the NPC.  Among the resolutions adopted was a statement drafted by DC/MD/NOVA in support of full democratic rights for the District of Columbia.  Locals around the country were asked to call their members of Congress and publish letters and op-eds in local papers demanding that Congress get its hands out of DC’s local affairs.


National and local DSA members participated in the April 16-17 protest in Washington against the corporate global economy during a meeting of the IMF and World Bank.  Local member Dave Richardson represented DSA on the Organizing Collective planning the march.  DSA had a literature table at the April 16 march and sponsored a reception following the march at Fado’s Pub.

A small local meeting on May 2 focused on declining activism in DSA and how to reverse it.  The members attending decided to schedule a meeting on reviving the local, publicizing it with a mailing and phone calls to formerly or potentially active members.

On June 9 several local members had dinner at Uptown Cathay restaurant with Maurice Isserman, author of the Michael Harrington biography The Other American.  After the dinner Isserman gave a talk at nearby Politics & Prose bookstore, with a number of DSA members in attendance.

The local held its annual meeting on June 14 at the Mott House.  National Director Horace Small attended and discussed with the five members in attendance strategies for reviving the local.  Among ideas floated were a town meeting on globalization, hosting nationally known DSA members as speakers, and hosting a national DSA activist conference in the Washington area during the fall.

On August 24, the local sent one of its periodic letters to DSA locals around the country asking for help in stopping Congress from attaching right-wing riders to the District budget and to support full democracy for DC.

Only three people attended a membership meeting on October 18 at MLK Library.  Nevertheless the local made endorsements in DC’s upcoming general elections.  Endorsees were:  Delegate to the US House, Eleanor Holmes Norton; Council At-Large, Arturo Griffiths; Ward 2 Councilmember, Tom Briggs; Ward 4 Councilmember, Renee Bowser; Shadow Senator, Florence Pendleton; Shadow Representative, Martin Thomas; District 1 Board of Education, Thomas E. Smith; District 3 Board of Education, Gail Dixon; and District 4 Board of Education, William Lockridge.  Norton, Pendleton and Lockridge won their races while the other DSA endorsees were defeated.

The endorsements were announced in the November 2000 Washington Socialist.  This was the last issue of the newsletter to be printed.  The DSA activist conference, which the local hoped would help revive the local, was canceled just before the year’s end.