I came to the MDC DSA Annual Convention last month because the years I spent active in the democratic socialist movement in Washington in the late 70s and early 80’s were formative of my lifelong devotion to social, racial and economic justice. And while I have participated in numerous struggles since then against racial, patriarchal injustice and environmental degradation, these have all been informed by my early years in the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) and related efforts both within and outside of the local Democratic Party.
Attending the DSA Local Convention as a new (returned) DSA member brought back a flood of memories. And yet as I entered the Friends Meeting House that Sunday afternoon just a few weeks back, as much seemed familiar as unfamiliar. Regrettably, due to a prior commitment to attend a fundraiser in McLean for a Cuban youth organization, I had to leave after a bit less than two hours, so my observations are necessarily limited in scope. But I was there long enough to experience a sense of the new DSA.
The first thing that struck me when I entered the room was how old I felt. (I was pleased to see a number of comrades from back then – Bill Mosley, Woody Woodruff, Lucy Duff, Dan Adkins, Christine Riddiough.) While the DSOC of my youth had a strong presence of 20 to 30-year olds, there was also a noticeable contingent of members in their 40s and 50s. Many were connected to the labor movement, where they worked in international unions, as labor lawyers or as shop stewards.
The second feeling I had was how male the meeting was. I looked at the agenda, and all five sessions were scheduled to be led by men. And as the meeting started and progressed, I realized that most of the authors of motions, who intervened often during the various resolutions/motions, were also men. It felt uncomfortable for someone who remembered that while our local was smaller back then, there was more participation by women, both as motion sponsors and participants. I did not understand this at all. It surprised and even angered me. Especially with the dramatic upsurge in activism due to the Sanders campaign in 2015 and 2016, and the more recent activity tied to the #MeToo movement and the dramatic increase in electoral candidacies at the grass roots level, I had to wonder: What was going on?
The third feeling that I had not anticipated was the how monocultural the meeting was. Sure, back in my youth the demographics were somewhat different. Washington was overwhelmingly black, and DSOC was predominantly white. And while there was a nascent Hispanic community, its numbers were still very small. Yet our activities with local unions drew us tightly into the predominantly African American leadership in labor locals and their struggles, so that we felt a kinship in common struggles. The Sunday meeting was more diverse ethnically, representing the dramatic increase in Washington’s diversity, yet culturally it seemed . . . stiff and cold. Where was the warmth, the conviviality of your partners in struggle, the relaxed, informal atmosphere, the occasional joking around that loosens everyone’s spirits?
Let me digress for a moment here to talk about tone and atmosphere. The meeting, which started late for a reason that was not well explained, seemed both overly formal/formulaic and at the same time informal to a fault. The agenda listed a Welcome at the beginning, but it never happened. I had expected someone to open the meeting with ebullience or at least some enthusiasm. To speak for a few moments about how we are all here together with a common vision of building a democratic socialist movement that will break down tired economic and social structures that perpetuate the rule of the powerful over all and replace it with politics that provides for all based on need, that celebrates diversity and inclusion, and environmental sustainability. Yet there was no brief opening to get us all happy to be engaged in this long-term struggle for dramatic change and real disruption to the way things are done now. And there was no opening song (“Solidarity Forever,” “Union Maid,” or other songs of struggle) to have us all join our voices together in unison. Even just a hearty welcome to all for taking time out of their Sundays to spend with their comrades/colleagues to debate policy and strategic points would have been good.
Back to the meeting itself. It seemed consumed with the various resolutions and amendments being presented one after another. With an annual convention, where you have a larger and more representative group of members than at regular meetings, I felt this could have been an opportunity to have both some vision presented for the coming year, with a small list of priorities to focus the local’s efforts, and to spend part of the time actually getting to know each other, to recruit members for particular causes or efforts, to promote old or new projects, to make use of all the members present to engage actively with them instead of spending so much time focused on a laundry list of motions in which only a small minority of members were actively engaged.
But I left early. I trust the meeting ended well. That the dinner break did provide a chance for new members to get activated and for committees or working groups to recruit new members.
I do hope to find some way of becoming active in the local. And will watch for new projects or struggles that I can engage with.
¡Adelante! Forward in the struggle. Always,