Prince George’s County has a rich history of activism — against police brutality, for equal justice, for environmental protection and against US militarism. County residents have also joined with activists across the state to end Maryland’s death penalty, legalize same-sex marriage, prevent fracking, defend immigrant rights and oppose anti-Muslim sentiments.
During the 1960s and 1970s, as the ugliness of racism tried to block the tide of the Civil Rights and Black Freedom movements, many joined forces to oppose it and to democratize political life in the county. Through the years, many have worked hard to improve public education for all children, create affordable housing, protect homeowners from predatory banking practices, improve access to quality health care, end the numerous food deserts, find a pathway to transit-oriented development and stop political corruption. Since DSA’s founding in 1982, activists have played an important role as part of these many movements and initiatives, joining with other activists engaged in a rich array of organizing campaigns. There was an active DSA branch in the county during the 1980s. But in recent decades we have acted as individuals and without the critical mass needed to re-establish a branch of our own.
At least, that is, until last December when we officially became a branch of Metro DC DSA. It was the culmination of a multi-year effort that launched in 2020 as a larger-than-ever group of individuals from across Prince George’s County made the commitment to build the branch. We have begun work on preventing evictions, demanding police accountability, and supporting political candidates like Ben Jealous in his race for governor and Mckayla Wilkes in her primary challenge to Rep. Steny Hoyer. The branch has established task forces to organize around Medicare for All, housing, criminal justice reform and ecosocialism. We also are establishing a political education task force and looking toward building a labor task force, while always being open to work in other arenas.
The issues that have brought most of us to DSA are racial justice, workers’ rights, gender equality, peace, climate change and defense of democracy. The desire, however, to address those concerns in our own backyard is why we saw the need to follow the examples of Montgomery County and Northern Virginia and create a branch of our own. Doing so will enable us to effectively engage in local campaigns, while also supporting progressive organizing in DC and throughout the metropolitan area — and at the same time help enable us to work with others organizing for social justice and political change in Maryland.
Prince George’s County has long been a welter of contradiction, defined by a distinctiveness from one community to another — a reality that contributes to vibrancy but has also made cohesiveness harder to achieve. The county has a proud tradition as home to African American aspirations and a long history of open racism and police brutality that have contributed to too many distressed neighborhoods being kept behind. The county is filled with beautiful, protected parks and public recreational centers, yet is marked, too, with development that has failed to produced sufficient jobs at a living wage and sustain growth. Today, Prince George’s has an ever-larger number of immigrants — from Central America, East Asia, Eastern and Western Africa and beyond — contributing to the life of the whole but all too often facing discrimination, lack of political representation and lack of adequate services.
This is the terrain upon which we enter, hopeful that, while joining together with social justice organizations already engaged, we can also find the means to make our own distinctive contribution. The years of Trump’s presidency, and the neo-fascist coup attempt in Washington, provide a reminder that for democracy to thrive in society, it begins in the here and now, where we live and work.
Jonathan Hutto, Jr. of Prince George’s People’s Coalition, addressed our first official branch meeting on January 27, astutely noting that what makes DSA distinctive is that we are a socialist organization infused with an electoral orientation. He then noted that all those working for social justice in our County, in our society, have to break out of our silos, band together and “unite our different tribes,” to organize for power by building organization.
Good beginning words to keep in mind. We welcome all who seek to join and work with us. Find us on the chapter Slack at #prince-georges-branch or email firstname.lastname@example.org to get involved.