April 2017Strategy

Issue-based working groups could have negative effect

Socialists know there is no gender or racial justice without economic justice, and vice versa. Although any decent socialist fights hard against non-economic forms of oppression, we also recognize that economic issues are at the core of the injustice facing women and people of color. Our concern for economic justice shouldn't lead us to ignore race and gender; on the contrary, it should deepen our understanding of, and commitment to, those issues. Just as we should not think of class as an exclusively white, male issue, we should not ghettoize race and gender organizationally and operationally by segregating them from economic justice in our working groups. Self-serving ruling class liberals have long sought (and largely achieved) the complete de-classing of identity-based struggles. Restructuring our working groups to be functional instead of issue/identity based would encourage an intersectional culture in our chapter and help integrate our membership -- all while increasing our efficiency and effectiveness.

Our appreciation of the inseparable relationship between economic and identity-based justice differentiates us from the likes of "lean in" feminists, who obsess over glass ceilings while ignoring the floor falling out under the female working class. Yet despite varied efforts to promote intersectionality, Metro DC DSA's issue-based working group structure is inadvertently mirroring elite liberals -- non-intersectional politics, with potentially negative results, including the reproduction of identity-based segregation in our own organization. The most obvious effect of this phenomenon is that the economic justice working group is almost entirely white men, while the socialist feminist group and racial justice group have proportionately more women and people of color, respectively.

New members to our chapter learn at their first meeting that everything happens in the working groups. Most of us are strapped for time and thus cannot participate in multiple groups. Time-strapped women joining the organization are effectively forced to choose between economic justice and socialist feminism. (That the socialist feminist working group is itself concerned with a class-based feminism only raises the same question of why it is separated from the economic justice group). Same goes for people of color, who find themselves choosing between economic justice and racial justice. This is a false choice.

When we struggle for abortion rights, we're struggling for women to control their own bodies but also, critically, their own economic futures. Black and brown women tend to suffer disproportionately from anti-abortion legislation. In other words, the right to choose is not simply a gender, race, or economic issue -- it is all of them simultaneously. Our fight for a higher minimum wage, universal healthcare, or free tuition is inseparable from our struggle to end the oppression of black and Latino Americans, who are disproportionately deprived of the opportunity to achieve material well-being in the world's richest country. There will be no environmental justice unless we can tame capitalism. And so on.

Functional groups could hypothetically include "mobilization and rapid response," "outreach and long term organizing," "political campaigns," and "internal education," alongside currently existing groups like "communications," "logistics," and "steering." Each of these groups can develop tactical expertise that can be used across all political issues. They would eliminate the need for redundant subcommittees, streamline our efforts, and maximize our impact.

The "mobilizations and rapid response" group, for instance, could develop reusable tools for quickly organizing powerful responses to wide-ranging issues, from anti-trans legislation to an incident of police brutality. The "outreach and long term organizing" committee could build expertise with labor organizing, integrate the working class into our membership (and leadership), develop and support local environmental initiatives, etc. A "political campaigns" committee could support efforts to rebuild the Democratic Party as a progressive force, and/or fight for a new, more socialist party. An "internal education" committee could coordinate reading groups and ensure that we're all up-to-date on the latest issues and debates.

Along with the restructuring, Metro DC DSA could support the creation of internal caucuses for the working class, women, POC, LGBTQ, disabled, etc. These caucuses would be spaces to build community and empowerment within what is currently a very white, male, middle class organization. They could help ensure that nobody dominates discussions and decision-making, and they could advocate for internal changes, like childcare at meetings, that could help diversify our membership.

Restructuring on functional lines alongside the creation of internal caucuses offers a variety of benefits. Everyone in the DSA should be part of the struggles for economic, racial, gender, and environmental justice. With this new internal structure, people won't need to choose, and those from oppressed identities will be better able to leverage the strength of the entire organization. Our group's expansion creates amazing opportunities for our struggle. Let's structure ourselves in the strongest possible way to take that struggle forward. 

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