It has been 791 days since October 14th, 2018, the last time the Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America held a local convention. The conditions we find ourselves organizing in today have changed dramatically since then. We are currently organizing in the middle of a global pandemic, fighting the remaining days of Trump’s presidency, preparing for the shortcomings of a Biden administration, while we do everything that we can to improve the lives of the working class in the Metro DC region.
This report should serve as a “State of the Chapter” on what we have collectively achieved since our last convening. Before taking on this task, we wish to honor those chapter members current and former that have passed away since the last convention, including Dr. Howard Croft. His comrades remember him as a stalwart champion in the fight against health disparities east of the river and lived for the philosophy of “bringing people together for social change.” For those that are new to the left, we share a common tradition with those across the world in the fight for socialism; we mark the passing of comrades with the simple statement: Presente! So, to Howard, Presente!
This 12th Steering Committee, since thechapter’s reconstitution, is proud to serve the members of Metro DC DemocraticSocialists of America. The chapter we have today is far better positioned toachieve that mission than the chapter of over two years ago. We have growntremendously in size and have more active campaigns than ever before. We arewell positioned for the future, if we continue to develop members intoorganizers and promote chapter collaboration. We hope to provide a sample ofsome of the work that our chapter has undertaken. Since the last localconvention our chapter has:
- Sponsored countless rallies on our own and in conjunction with coalition partners, including: our rally demanding that the DC Council “Fund Care, Not Cops”; our contingent at the DefundMPD Juneteenth march; our work with Shutdown DC for climate action; support for the Venezuelan Embassy occupation; and our support of post-2020 election protect-the-vote rallies.
- Our Montgomery County branch made 20,000 phone calls for “Vote No on Question B,” fighting back against austerity ballot measures. They also previously fought against absurd tax breaks for country clubs in their county. They helped organize a rally to defund the MCPD. They have also raised over $9,000 for CASA members facing utility shutoffs from PEPCO.
- Our Northern Virginia branch has taken on tenant organizing campaigns in their region. The NoVA branch, in conjunction with the chapter’s Labor Working Group, raised over $4,000 for striking tenants at Southern Towers in Alexandria. They also helped organize a car rally for the tenants there. They also organized a car rally for the migrants detained at the ICA Farmville facility this summer. They also raised approximately $10,000 for our comrades with La ColectiVA.
- The Rent Control Working Group has been an active member of the DC-wide Reclaim Rent Control Coalition, which has fought to expand and strengthen existing rent control laws in DC.
- Our Labor Working Group mobilized for strike support for striking bus operators, mechanics and utility workers in Northern Virginia as part of the Cinder Bed Road Strike. Their work provided food to those on the picket line and distributed thousands of pamphlets to commuters across the region. They also organized a panel that included Sara Nelson, the president of the Association of Flight Attendants. The Labor Working Group also worked in partnership with a coalition to repeal Virginia’s Right to Work law, including canvassing to support repeal of the law.
- Our tenant organizers, primarily through the Stomp Out Slumlords Working Group, have been incredibly active. They have organized countless buildings across DC into associations and even helped lead to the launch of a district-wide tenants union. SOS didn’t stop there and has continued to organize tenants into rent strikes. SOS has also led rallies and marches, including a march on the mayor’s house and a massive rally to demand rent cancellation.
- Our chapter undertook one of the largest DSA for Bernie campaigns in the country, knocking on more than 30,000 doors. DSA for Bernie knocked on doors in DC, Maryland and Virginia and helped this chapter mobilize voters and our members to get more involved in the chapter. We even sent a contingent of chapter members to knock on doors in South Carolina, with over 60 volunteers for a full weekend. Few chapter campaigns have ever had as large of an impact on bringing new members into the chapter in such a short period of time.
- Our Migrant Justice Working Group conducted protests at the homes of deportation profiteers to ensure that they didn’t get to sleep peacefully while families were broken apart.
- Our chapter fought the prospect of a new Amazon headquarters coming to our region. When Amazon finally announced that its HQ2 was coming to Northern Virginia, branch members continued to fight against absurd tax breaks and giveaways.
- Our chapter’s electoral working groups won several elections, including: Emily Gasoi for the Ward 1 seat on the DC State Board of Education; Vaughn Stewart and Gabriel Acevero for the Maryland House of Delegates, and Marc Elrich for Montgomery County executive in November 2018; Janeese Lewis George for the Ward 4 seat on the DC Council in June 2020; and No on Question B in Montgomery County in November 2020. We came up short but ran large grassroots campaigns for Irma Corado and Yasmine Taeb in 2019, along with Mckayla Wilkes, Ed Lazere, and Mysiki Valentine in 2020.
- Our ecosocialists have been actively fighting to bring Pepco under public control, in addition to working with the National Green New Deal campaign. They also supported the No Pepco Pledge campaign, which saw over 12 candidates sign pledges that they wouldn’t accept any contributions from fossil fuel companies.
- Our chapter sent over 41 delegates and alternates to the 2019 National DSA Convention in Atlanta, Georgia, where we helped shape a vision for the national organization. Our chapter raised thousands of dollars to help make the trip possible for all delegates. We also worked with National DSA to host a regional convention with representatives from all across the Mid-Atlantic (Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Maryland and Virginia).
- Our Socialist Night School series held webinars and events on the following topics: school privatization in DC; police abolition; the Brazil Landless Workers Movement; DC’s budget; reconstruction in the South; and Uber and the Gig Economy, among others. The Socialist Night School program in our chapter has become one of the premier political education programs run by any chapter in DSA.
- As for internal work, we experimented with different chapter meeting types including informational meetings and campaign fairs. We piloted a participatory budget program that led to recommendations being made for this convention. We increased our capacity for Spanish-language translations of chapter materials. We revamped the websites for our chapter and the Washington Socialist. We undertook our first ever recruitment campaign as part of DSA 100k.
Simply put, this organization is a serious political force within our region and has the capacity to change the conditions we find ourselves in through running strategic campaigns. But we do not wish to paint an overly rosy picture. Amílcar Cabral famously said, “Tell no lies. … Claim no easy victories.” We do not wish to suggest that any time our chapter gets behind a campaign we are just a few short months away from another win. With each successful rally or campaign, there are several chapter campaigns that failed to get off the ground or failed to achieve their goals. This Steering Committee believes that it is important to reckon with these failures just as much as the chapter’s successes. And while we won’t read them off in a list, we do wish to highlight a select few as a moment for political understanding.
- Several of our endorsed candidates have come up short. Most recently, these two candidates were Ed Lazere and Mysiki Valentine in the 2020 DC general election. While our chapter made tremendous contributions (35,000 phone calls) to these campaigns, we still were unable to overcome the power of the Washington Post and Democratic Party establishment. Our volunteer base was probably more active than the rest of the other DC Council At-Large candidates combined, but even this contribution was unable to make up the difference for victory. We hope that members take away the lesson that sometimes forces beyond our control change the terrain in ways that we cannot affect (yet). This does not mean that the effort was all for nothing — not at all. Instead, we must recognize that sometimes no amount of doors canvassed or phones called will change the circumstances we find ourselves in. These moments require us to think carefully about how we should engage with future campaigns.
- This Steering Committee has also struggled tremendously with our ability to judge what members view as a priority when faced with finite resources. This difficulty in judging chapter priorities has resulted in operational bottlenecks for chapter campaigns. For instance, the Steering Committee frequently receives more requests for all-chapter emails than we can reasonably send in a short period of time, whether due to technical constraints or an understanding that too many emails will result in a communications overload for recipients. This problem isn’t just limited to chapter emails but includes text messages, GBM time, mobilization and finances as well. This has required the Steering Committee to more or less guess as to what members would view as the priority. Some of the proposals before you today would hopefully resolve this problem and state with one voice what the chapter has chosen to prioritize.
On a closing note, we hope to address what should be clear to all by now. The main political terrain that we have been fighting on for the last few years has shifted. The DSA era of the “Bernie Bump” and “Trump Bump” are largely over. We have spent the last few years fighting tooth and nail against a Trump administration that made cruelty the point of almost every policy. We had the hope of the first and second Bernie Sanders presidential campaigns to give coherence to a mass movement of millions. Soon, barring anything drastic, a Biden administration will be getting settled into our very jurisdiction. The terrain has changed. Old allies that worked with us to rail against the evils of Trump may occasionally say we need to “give Biden a chance.” We must never forget that our mission is democratic socialism. We thank the delegates assembled today for their time and judgment. Very few organizations exist today with the same level of member control and power as DSA. We wish you all the best as you set the path forward for our organization.
Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America