Counterpoint to Weekly Update’s Ukraine Statement

This member statement is a response to a statement published in Metro DC DSA's February 25th Weekly Update. The weekly update is prepared each week by a team of volunteer members.

I feel that the DSA statement [in the Friday, February 25 Weekly Update] on the Russian invasion of Ukraine was deeply disappointing. Frankly, I found it self-centered and in poor taste. We can do better than this.

I don't disagree that this senseless mess is a result of the usual military-industrial capitalist nationalist power wrangling. However, I can't believe I'm writing this, but it is beyond wrong. In fact, it is outright abusive to imply that we must give violent actors, whether individuals or states, what they want so they won't do something worse. Furthermore, treating an actual active invasion like an opportunity for an "I told you so" is repulsive. People are fleeing their homes and getting killed. At this point, what may have been a predictable outcome doesn't matter that much. We can talk about that failure later. The war is happening today. We must engage with today.

I don't understand how we square the kind of sentiment on display in the statement with DSA positions on BDS, defunding the police, self-determination for all peoples, or even our anti-war values. The most charitable thing I can read into it — and yes, I am genuinely trying — is either a pretty shallow "the enemy of my enemy is my friend" philosophy, or some charred stump of sentimentality for the hopes of the 1917 Revolution. Seeing as the statement also refers to present-day Russia as an "autarchy," that makes the former naive and the latter absurd.

Look: from a totally cutthroat optics perspective, what are we bringing to the world with this statement? How do we think a Ukrainian under bombardment would feel reading this? Do we think they would feel supported? As if we cared more about saving their lives and homes, or as if we cared more about scoring political points? When I read this, the railing against NATO comes through loud and clear, with only a lukewarm side of "this is where we go from here." I don't think "Did you know there are street protests?" is anywhere near good enough. We didn't even muster an explicit call to join the protests, we just pointed out that they were happening.

As a counterexample, I also got an e-mail from an Amnesty International mailing list today. Here is a portion of what they wrote:

What is unfolding right now is terrifying. And as millions are forced to leave their homes, mass displacement will cause a refugee crisis on top of the disaster we are currently witnessing. Amnesty is mobilizing all of our resources to protect human rights and lives in Ukraine, and hold leaders accountable. Right now, our plan of action includes:

  • Preparing crisis investigators to be on the ground to document human rights abuses that are committed, and mobilizing our Crisis Evidence Lab to collect video and photographic evidence of attacks;
  • Lobbying the Biden administration, State Department, and Congress to allocate funding to support targeted activists in affected areas; identify individuals who may face retaliation for human rights activism and provide for their safe exit out of Ukraine; and dedicate additional support for members of minority groups who are most at risk;
  • Raising funds for our Global Relief Fund to provide relocation services to groups who are most at risk, including human rights defenders and journalists;
  • Working alongside a coalition of international groups to strengthen our collective global power to center human rights in the discourse over this conflict.

This is a rapidly evolving crisis, and we want to make sure that you’re in the loop every step of the way.

They centered Ukrainians and their welfare. We did not. Sure, our missions are not identical, and we are not remotely set up to do anything like their first bullet, but the rest? We can do those things. And right now, that's triage. Letting someone bleed to death from a stab wound because you're "too busy" administering their chemotherapy is not actually kind or helpful.

I think our priorities, in alignment with what I understand our shared values to be, would be something like:

  • Call for an immediate cease-fire brokered by whoever can get the job done. I would include anti-war street protests as a method under this item. We should be organizationally and individually asking the public and pushing our electeds to support a suitable nation/entity that can actually do it, whether they're usually "friendly" or not.
  • Assist efforts to secure funding and emergency resources for refugees and for countries/communities taking in refugees, and push the US to pull its weight.
  • Call for diplomatic resolution to the conflict over war at every turn, including restitution for Ukrainians; so again, organizationally and individually asking the public and pressing our electeds to commit to a supportive and creative attitude of problem-solving (anti-war street protests also are appropriate here).
  • Afterward, as needed: assist with efforts to ensure the people of Russia don't starve or anything like that. Have you seen the ruble today? Wild.

And we will continue to address things like military expansionism *anyway.* Without making it all about us in this moment. To me, today's statement feels about a half-step away from some of those brands on Twitter that used the invasion as a segue into an ad for their products.

I mean, if we're not here to help people, what the hell are we here for?

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