January 2021Spectacle

Best Reads from 2020

Here are some of the best reads we pulled out from 2020’s GOOD READS -- a roundup that appears both in the monthly Washington Socialist and in each weekly update. Hardly exhaustive, but just some of the articles that caught our eye. It’s the nature of discourse to look more or less prescient as history rolls on, of course — which of these held up best is your judgment.

As we note here and below, members and all our readers are always welcome to pass along great finds in online media — both the MSM, the left media or, well, anywhere. Nominate reads you think some might miss by sending a link to thesocialist@mdcdsa.org.

From Around DC

April — “Primary Preview: Trying to Unseat the Second Most Powerful Democrat in the House” from Maryland Matters
Coverage of MDC DSA-endorsed candidate Mckayla Wilkes’ challenge to Rep. Steny Hoyer. The article provides a great bio on Mckayla and explores the conditions that have inspired her to action.

May — “Shifting Gears” on Points | Data & Society blog
A great review of how Uber seized control of DC’s regulatory framework regarding ride-share businesses. The effects of this silent takeover are immediately compounded now, where unemployment claims now result in reduced collections for unemployment compensation. Co-authored by Professor Katie Wells, who provided an excellent night-school event with DSA covering Uber and Lyft’s aggressive takeover of local government here in DC.

May — “How the Restaurant Industry Viciously Exploits Its Workers, From Wage Theft to Sexual Abuse” in the Daily Beast
A review of the documentary Waging Change — about the exploitation of tipped employees, with special attention to DC — in the Daily Beast.

June — “White people need to be listening to black activists, not talking over them” in The Diamondback
A white UMCP student writes in the Diamondback student newspaper on street-level learning about privilege and allyship and how, among other things, to keep one’s mouth shut and listen.

July — “Police Terrorize Black Lives Matter Plaza” in Deadspin
Local journalist Chuck Modi has provided consistent coverage of the DC-area BLM protests. His article in Deadspin catalogs some of the recent activities that occurred downtown over the summer.

August — “Pepco’s Cozy Relationship with the DC Police Foundation” from Eyes on the Ties
Kaela Bamberger of We Power DC looks at how the District's investor-owned utility uses charitable donations to cultivate political influence.

September — “The Trouble with Sleeping” from Black House News
A retrospective of what’s been happening on the ground in DC, provided by an upstart outlet that has provided consistent coverage of the ongoing protests and uprisings in downtown DC. 

October — “Different Experiences with the Data” in The Drift
Mayor Bowser’s clown-car approach to reporting COVID details, which has caused confusion and distrust with the local government’s ability to control COVID.

November — “A Melancholy Ode to D.C. Nightlife’s Forgotten Working Class” on 730DC’s Blog
An essay from a DMV bouncer on the forgotten nightlife industry workers in DC — on ways to support DC’s forgotten working class and where local legislation is helping to intervene on behalf of workers.

December — “Proud Boys are a National Political Violence Gang” on Medium
A local response to last weekend’s far-right invasion of DC, an examination of what informs the ideology of the Proud Boys — with good insight into what motivates them, how they are able to recruit non-white allies and why we should rightly be calling them a gang.

December — “Pepco Wants to Raise Rates. There’s a Cheaper, Greener Alternative” on 730DC’s Blog
We Power DC gives the lowdown on one of the newest plots from Pepco. As Washingtonians struggle with skyrocketing COVID-19 cases, a historic economic recession and a worsening climate crisis, Pepco wants to raise electricity prices by almost $136 million over three years. Pepco’s heartless proposal reveals the danger of corporate control over our energy system — revealing the need for a community-run utility distribution system that prioritizes the public good instead of corporate profits. 

Cabinet Watch

April — “Bernie Offered Us the Future. Why Did He Fail — and What Did We Forfeit?” in Newsweek
In the throes of coronavirus, Moshik Temkin pinpoints what options future voters lost when Sanders ended his campaign: “not just his supporters in the United States, who were hoping for a president who would finally get serious about the real problems facing the American people, but countless people around the world — marginalized, vulnerable, imprisoned, under occupation — who dared to hold out hope for a different America, one that would have a positive impact on their lives.”

May — “Dr.Jekyll, or Mr. Biden?” in The American Prospect
Analyzing the direction and sources of influence of the Biden Campaign, David Dayen makes the case that Biden is a Democrat who finds himself consistently in the “center” of the party. For leftists, this means finding ways to influence power dynamics within his staff and the Democratic Party at large.

September — “Uber and Lyft are Charging Through Washington’s Revolving Door” in The New Republic
No accident that the Obama gang never got around to installing card-check for union organizers — The New Republic reports how Uber and Lyft successfully pushed for regressive labor and transportation policies using cover from a legion of Obama alumni. Makes us worry what kind of touch they might have on Biden, eh?

Race and Inequality

June — “When Pain Is the Prerequisite for Progress” in Maryland Matters
Maryland Del. Gabe Acevero, one of twoDSA members in the General Assembly, writes about the path to endingpolice violence in Maryland, “one of the worst states in the country when itcomes to police transparency and accountability laws.”

July — “Race Is About More Than Discrimination” in Monthly Review
Local comrade Bill Fletcher Jr. deepens the discussion on labor, race and colonialism. “To quote the famous statement by Karl Marx: ‘Labour in a white skin can’t emancipate itself where it is branded in a black skin.’ The attempt by a segment of organized labor to ‘emancipate’ itself in the absence of unity with other segments of the working class would inevitably fail.”

September — “The Color of Contagion” in The Nation
Most of us are familiar with the external factors that make COVID-19infection and mortality rates so much higher for Black and Hispanic workers —including the coerced return to the job for “essential” workers. Patricia J. Williams explores the strikingly medieval practices and myths about racial “differences” that persist even within health care workers from the top down, including today’s medical students. The craft and acuity of one of this era’s premier essayists is right here.

November — “Counted Out: Trump’s Desperate Fight to Stop the Minority Vote” in The Guardian
Gary Younge ended his tour as a regular columnist for the Guardian a year ago, alas, but it’s great to see what still animates him. A rich, substantive and long read about how history’s hiccups are defining our time; “… viewed through the lens of this summer’s Black Lives Matter rebellions and the US’s changing demographics, this moment is better understood as the death throes of the first civil war than the birth of a second.”

Revolt

April — “FBI Opened Terrorism Investigations into Nonviolent Palestinian Solidarity Group” in The Intercept
Comrade Chip Gibbons breaks previous FBI's investigations on non-violent Palestinian solidarity groups: "these cases demonstrate the FBI’s unwillingness to distinguish non-violent civil disobedience protesting government policy from terrorism."

May — “What Looting Really Is” by Jack Crosbie
How to imagine "looting" by protesters? Fully conscious redistribution? Symbolically rejecting the material evidence of oppression? An interesting and informed attempt on Discourse Blog.

June — “What Police Spending Data Can (and Cannot) Explain amid Calls to Defund the Police” from Urban Institute
An explainer from the Urban Institute on how to decipher police budgets within overall local, state and federal accounts management. “… a key challenge in translating police spending data is merely our system of governance. In short, different governments deliver different services—and it varies by state.”

July — “Suspending Evictions Is About Saving Landlords from Themselves” in Notes on the Crises
Nathan Tankus provides a creative argument for an eviction freeze: as a way of saving landlords themselves from a quiet, COVID-sparked depression.

July — “What You Need To Know About The Battle of Portland” from Bellingcat
An informative and holistic roundup of what’s been happening in Portland from anti-extremist website Bellingcat.

September — “The Forgotten History of the Radical ‘Elders of the Tribe’” in The New York Times
An account of the fabled Gray Panthers’ leader Maggie Kuhn reminds us (ahem) that there is no age limit on radical activism. If we are to keep the socialist movement truly diverse — it will need to be capable of accommodating (and utilizing) the experience of older activists.

Power Plots

May — “Structure Tests” in The Nation
E. Tammy Kim reviews Jane McAlevey’s latest book on “whole worker organizing”: “The experience of a well-executed union campaign,” McAlevey writes, “helps workers understand, on their own, that their employer’s effect on their lives goes beyond assigning them to an overtime shift and preventing them from getting time with their family.” Whole worker organizing reveals “that their employer is part of a bigger system that is contributing to the failure of their kids’ schools, the rollback of anti-pollution and anti-gentrification laws, [and] the gross inequities of the tax system,” which is, in part, why the right has tried so hard to destroy unions.

June — “Inside Bernie 2020” in Status Coup
A strong, if testy exorcism of the Bernie 2020 campaign: looking at what went wrong, who was in charge, and what was happening behind the scenes. The reporting indicates that one of the largest issues in the campaign was its over-reliance on volunteer, rather than paid staff, organizing, which may have cost Sanders key states and lost delegate shares that would have better positioned Sanders to challenge Biden as the campaign went on.

June — “The Second Defeat of Bernie Sanders” in The New York Times
A different take on Bernie's loss, from a thoughtful conservative columnist (a few exist). “The Second Defeat of Bernie Sanders” takes every opportunity to trash a neoliberal establishment that never accepted Bernie’s ascent.

August — “The Two Paths of Democratic Socialism” in Jacobin
Where do socialists go from here? We'll likely be debating this for some time, and Jacobin helps orient thinking in the lead story of their “After Bernie” edition.

August — “A Message to the Left About Kamala Harris — And Us” in Common Dreams
An alternative post-Bernie take that outlines the tactical plan for activists looking to make the best of the next four years — influencing politics means electing politicians you’re “most able to cajole, persuade, and pressure.”

October — “Labor’s Electoral Strategy: It’s Not Enough to Reach Our Members” in The American Prospect
Our comrade Harold Meyerson shows his chops at great nuts-and-bolts writing about organizing — in this case, organized labor’s two-pronged effort for the election and beyond. Riding the happy up-trend in public approval for unions, the AFL-CIO is doing the equivalent of deep canvassing, even in COVID-times, in ways that are instructive for DSA’s effort to build out both support and membership.

November — “Post-Election Reckoning: New Hypotheses for the Road Ahead” in Organizing Upgrade
Left veterans Bill Fletcher Jr. and Carl Davidson take a seasoned look at the enduring illnesses betrayed anew by “this election [which] was about racism and revanchism.”

November — “Union Power After the Election” in Dissent
Rich Yeselson‘s piece offers an unsentimental assessment of the industrial, geographic and partisan traps that stand in the way of short-term economic and political power for today’s unions.

November — “How Do We Avoid Future Authoritarians? Winning Back the Working Class Is Key” in The Guardian
Good advice from Bernie himself. Our comrade emphasizes that the results of the 2020 election reveals that Democrats have failed to eat into the distressed communities Trump exploited to build out his base.

December — “How Socialists Can Govern” in Dissent
Local comrade Bill Fletcher Jr. explores a critical issue for now and for the future: how socialists engage with formal power? Exercising the power of the state, and as more socialists begin to win positions with real authority, they will need to understand how to grapple with it properly.

Mindrot

January — “Here are the QAnon supporters running for Congress in 2020” from Media Matters
Disturbing growth of acceptance of conspiracy in Republican circles, outlined by Media Matters. QAnon started as a fringe internet joke, but has evolved into a disturbing dog whistle for the far-and-fanatical-right.

April — “Who Goes Alt-Right in a Lockdown?” in New York Times
A piece from scholar-analyst Annie Kelly on how the alt-right radicalization pipeline operates, and how isolation and alienation brought on by the pandemic is likely to only increase those falling into those pits of rage.

June — “The dirty secret behind Ben Shapiro’s extraordinary success on Facebook” from Popular Information
How does the hate-filled online rag, The Daily Wire, perform so well? A strong investigation from popular.info has revealed “a network of large Facebook pages — each built by exploiting racial bias, religious bigotry, and violence — that systematically promote[s] content from The Daily Wire.” Worth a read for those trailing the right.

July — “Amid Backlash, U.S. Army Retreats From Twitch” in Kotaku
Amid backlash and targeted digital guerilla warfare, the US Army has finally pulled out … of Twitch. From Kotaku, coverage of the US Army’s strange invasion of Twitch and the (successful) blowback that pushed them out.

July — “Disinformation campaigns — lessons from the pandemic” from The Conversation
Kate Starbird, longtime scholar on the way information marches through other formations in society, lays out the peculiar and seductive aspects of purposive disinformation.

July — “How I changed my mind on ‘Medicare for All’” from The Hill
A walk through the mind-changing process that brought a lifelong opponent around to Medicare for All. Perhaps a useful alternative to some of our Q.E.D. left-assertive argumentative strategies.

November — “Understanding and Overcoming the Urban-Rural Divide” from Stansbury Forum
A close observer from pretty close to us — southwestern Virginia — recounts why so many of his neighbors “vote against their own interests” and  how to begin doing something about it. 

Socialist Intrigue

April — “How Did DSA Build Out of Bernie?” in The Organizer
Local comrade John G explains how the DSA was able to build itself out from the Bernie campaign.

May — “The Sheepdog Caucus and So-Called ‘Democratic’ Socialists” in Black Agenda Report
A critical analysis of the democratic socialist movement. This essay posits what the addition of  the “democratic” modifier means when tacked onto the front of socialism. Specifically, the writer posits that the “bad,” non-democratic socialism is a quality of other, non-white countries that are not sufficiently “democratic” in outlook or practice.

June — “Spiraling anti-Marxism in the DSA” from Class Unity
Marxist scholar Adolph Reed and NYC DSA ran into a scuffle earlier last year. The event has ignited a debate across the DSA universe about intersectionalism, anti-Marxism, class reductionism and a whole host of deep-Marxist takes. One take from Class Unity, a faction of national DSA advocates, argues against a perceived anti-Marxism growing across DSA.

August — “Building a Socialist DC” in The Forge
Local members were interviewed for this feature in The Forge, where they were asked to recount their perspective on helping build out socialism in DC. Given our high-performing slate of candidates this cycle, a great read to see how socialists participate in electoral politics going forward.

October — “The Socialist Movement, and How to Extend It” in The American Prospect
The revival of socialism as a viable political and organizational idea has led DSA member Harold Meyerson to add his take on how to build out this ongoing political faction.

October — “How Designer, Activist + Historian David King Defined a Visual Style for the Left” from Eye on Design
For designers and artists — how activist and historian David King developed a unique visual style for the left. Maybe something we can help enable among propagandists in DC …

November — “What Democrats Should Learn From the Spate of Socialist Wins on Election Day” in In These Times
This election cycle wasn’t all bad! Mindy Isser’s “What Democrats Should Learn From the Spate of Socialist Wins on Election Day” rounds up how socialists can reinvigorate the Democrats electoral strategy and challenge Republicans for real.

December — “Interview with a DSA National Insider” in Partisan
For those interested in DSA internal politicking — an interview with Austin Gonzalez, a great comrade from Richmond DSA who is on the National Political Committee (DSA’s highest elected body). The piece provides a great layout of the developments of NPC (a DSA member faction) and some of the internal/political dynamics they are navigating within.

December — “Tom Morello: The Industrial Worker Interview” from Industrial Worker
Industrial Worker
magazine interviews lifelong labor activist and musician Tom Morello. Mr. Morello discusses how labor has been the theme of his life and how the various forms of activism he’s pursued have come full circle to inform even more activism.

December — “Leo Panitch and the Socialist Project” in Jacobin
The Canadian socialist intellectual and academic Leo Panitch died of Covid-19 on December 19 at age 75. This appreciation appeared in Jacobin, noting that “his writings have carried us through some of the most difficult periods in the history of the socialist left, as wave after wave of the neoliberal onslaught broke workers’ organizations … [throughout that struggle] he devoted himself to demonstrating the necessity of a democratic-socialist society that would neither fall prey to the shortcomings of social democracy nor those of Soviet-style Communism.”

 

As we note here again in parting, members and all readers are always welcome to pass along great finds in online media both the MSM, the left media or, well, anywhere. Nominate reads you think some might miss by sending a link to thesocialist@mdcdsa.org.

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