On May 23, 2018 the Left inside/Outside Project hosted a call that brought together representatives of the Communist Party USA, Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism, Democratic Socialists of America, Freedom Road Socialist Organization, and LeftRoots. The call focused on approaches to electoral politics of these organizations. It also provided an opportunity to explore potential for political alignment among the part of the left that broadly agrees with the strategy of building power inside and outside of electoral politics, and inside and outside of the Democratic Party.
Although there are significant differences among (and within) these organizations, generally they see electoral politics as a crucial one for the left to engage in. While engaging in electoral politics has its limitations, it presents huge opportunities, which the experiences of these organizations demonstrate, including a path to governing. In the U.S. today, where the fight against the far right must utilize all possible methods, it is also a necessity.
The call was moderated by Rishi Awatramani from LeftRoots. Speakers included Sendolo Diaminah from Freedom Road Socialist Organization, Rossana Cambron from the Communist Party USA, Christian Bowe from DSA, Maria from LeftRoots and Janet Tucker from the Committees of Correspondence for Democracy and Socialism.
Critical points made by the speakers focused on the importance of strategic thinking and planning in terms of electoral politics and its place as part of a broader movement strategy. As Diaminah noted, political control is important not only for the victory of socialism, but even before we reach that point. Cambron added that elections are part of the building progress. Thus elections are not a question of voting for the lesser of two evils, but rather are a response to the question of which candidate will create the best environment to move things forward.
Maria from Leftroots stated that their members are involved in building independent political organizations led by communities of color. They came to value electoral work through experiencing the limitations of winning campaigns that were transformative, visionary campaigns but which didn’t translate into long-term governing power.
Christian Bowe described DSA’s electoral work. He noted that DSA is working to build capacity to support and field our own candidates, and use elections to build DSA. DSA views elections as just one area, but critical area, of struggle. DSA wants to use data generated from work in elections to use in other kinds of campaigns like union drives, Medicare for All, and housing work. He added that it's ultimately not the name of the party that determines what an elected person does once in office, but rather the interests and power of the constituencies they represent.
After the initial presentations breakout sessions were held to allow participants to discuss their organization’s work and that of other groups. Janet Tucker (CCDS) gave a brief presentation on her small group discussion. The discussion was lively and wide-ranging, covering questions of how folks in different organizations but in the same geographic region might collaborate, digging into the nitty gritty of data sharing among organizations and campaigns, how we sum-up candidate experiences and build a deeper bench of candidates, and moving into questions of governance after election day.
The notes also shows a lot of local and historical experience that should be mined for lessons. These include stories like that of one participant who wrote, “we have the tasks of enfranchising working class people, nominating socialist and/or progressive anti-corporate candidates where they are viable, training people to become such candidates, developing the campaign capacity to elect them, but in the near term defeating right-wing incumbents with whomever is nominated. In most cases this will involve diverse coalitions of the 99% whom the 1% systematically seeks to split using wedge issues, especially racism and patriarchy. The Poor People's Campaign can become an important vehicle for enfranchising and mobilizing the poor during elections as well as in between.” Another participant stated “This is a 'CIO moment.’” - comparing today to the 1930s when the CPUSA threw its resources into creating a center-left alliance/ organization to build a new labor movement.
Rishi Awatramani (LR) closed with a mention of shared questions and themes from the small groups:
The Inside/Outside project anticipates scheduling another left unity call that will go into more depth in some of the questions raised during this session.
Written by Chris Riddiough based on a report by Calvin Cheung-Miaw. Riddiough is a longtime MDC DSA and a member of DSA’s National Political Committee.