Member Statements on PCR4: Select Electoral as a Priority Campaign for 2024

Statements from chapter members in favor and against PCR4: Select Electoral as a Priority Campaign for 2024 will be posted in this thread.

IN FAVOR by Aparna R.

I’m writing to encourage you to vote in FAVOR of electoral as a priority resolution. Next year, we are likely to have at least one endorsed campaign, and possibly multiple across multiple jurisdictions. In the past we’ve had great electoral successes by being able to pay and fund independent campaigns where possible/ compliant, like with Initiative 82 in DC and the MD Solidarity PAC that helped print lit and send mailers in MoCo last year. It will be important for us to be able to maintain and grow that ability to run independent campaigns.

DSA-endorsed electeds have made meaningful changes to the lives of people in the DMV area– limiting rent hikes, starting a wealth tax that increases the pay of childcare workers, passed police accountability measures, and introduced environmental justice legislation. In DC specifically, Janeese Lewis George’s proposed Green New Deal for Social Housing has given us an exciting direction for our tenant organizing at Marbury Plaza to continue in the midst of uncertainty about ownership at the building.

Additionally, a big focus of the electoral resolution is not just about campaigns, but about governing. Our electoral program is at a point where in addition to electing candidates, we should focus on working proactively to drive legislation we want to see, rather than just mobilizing in reaction to legislation that’s on the table. We’ve seen really great examples of that with rent stabilization in Montgomery County and WePower’s work in coalition to introduce environmental justice legislation, and we should take advantage of those lessons to continue to develop a strong legislative advocacy program, with aspirations to grow towards a socialists-in-office program. Please vote YES!

IN FAVOR by Claire M.

The electoral organizing of our chapter is directly tied to our ability to run successful issue based campaigns. We Power DC has proven this can be done well with Zack Parker’s office and the Environmental Justice Amendment Act this year, and we need to continue this kind of work across our entire chapter through a formalized Socialists in Office if we want to ensure bigger wins. Electoral organizing is also a great way to develop new leaders, and I’m living proof that it works to recruit new chapter members. This chapter should continue our run of successful electoral campaigns and prioritize electoral this year.

IN FAVOR by Carl R.

As the outgoing Political Engagement Committee Chair, I believe 2024 will be a vital year for metro dc DSA’s electoral work. With multiple races up for consideration that would be very important for all parts of the chapter, as well as the desire to greatly increase our legislative advocacy and set up a Socialists In Office committee, giving our electoral work priority status will be a great help in developing the chapter further and fighting the capitalist class in the DMV. I strongly urge everyone vote IN FAVOR of priority status for one of our historically most successful parts of our chapter.

IN FAVOR by Ben D.

I assume most of the specifics of our electoral program in the near-term strategy will be covered by other statements. I would like to briefly explain the long-term strategy for why we, as socialists, participate in elections. Participating in elections has been a part and parcel of the strategy for nearly every mass socialist organization within a bourgeois democracy historically, for a number of reasons. Beyond that, as DSA, we have a specific analysis of the state as a terrain of struggle and of the American working class and the balance of class forces that inform why we do electoral work.

DSA has had to answer the question of building socialism - which is more specifically the question of “what should socialists do?” While socialists love to speak of “praxis” and “doing the work” and “organizing,” we first must ask ourselves how we will actually achieve socialism and what tasks we can take on that will make that a reality. The organizing we do has to have a goal of some sort. When we talk about the campaigns we engage in, they must at some level, advance the cause of socialism. To get there, we have to analyze capitalism, the present level of organization of the working class, and the balance of power between labor and capital. All of the actual practice and day-to-day activity of DSA has to be rooted in a form of theory as to how socialism will actually come about.

The first task here is to evaluate the actual institutions of capitalism and how a group of people can interact with them in a way that moves us toward socialism. This covers many things, including firms that generate capital itself, which can be affected through things like labor organizing, but most importantly for contemporary socialists is our view of the biggest institution of all: the state.

Much of DSA’s day-to-day activity is centered on basebuilding: where members organize small-scale democratic institutions and galvanize working class self-activity. This includes organizing tenants, providing needed resources in communities, and building some local democratic institutions. Through the everyday struggle of doing this work, we have seen the actual organic demands of the working class are often interventions by the state that would materially improve their lives. Interventions that can only be accomplished by electing people to office.

And while much of DSA’s electoral and other reform-oriented work (as well as the history of the socialist movement across the globe) does not presage a state-led transition towards socialism, many of the reforms that we implement galvanize the type of working-class self-activity and organization that is the crux of Marxist strategy. It’s clear that people DSA elects could never be galvanized into action and held accountable without a militant mass working class base. And it is equally clear that this type of working class base can not be organized without action from the state, implemented by DSA elected officials. To accomplish any of this, DSA had to work as a unified organization that participates in both of these realms. Through our myriad work, DSA has arrived upon a broadly shared orientation towards “structural reforms.

Though this orientation has been laid out before by theorists of the late 20th century, such as Andre Gorz (as “non-reformist reforms”), Nicos Poulantzas, Ralph Miliband (“revolutionary reforms”), and others, and was put forward by a number of popular thinkers within DSA in the pages of Jacobin and elsewhere, it has cohered as a clear underpinning of DSA’s work through the chaotic practice of DSA itself.

This theory is based on the idea that the state itself is a contested terrain - the manifestation of the balance of class forces. While the state grew out of capitalism and can’t itself be fully captured and used to eliminate capitalism, it also can’t be “smashed’’ in a rupture (especially in a bourgeois liberal democracy), nor can it be gradually replaced by the creation of alternative institutions. Instead, the state must be used to enact reforms that are designed to enable working class organization, spur working class militancy, and foment conflict between workers and capital. In order to do this, DSA must elect officials who are accountable to DSA (hence the need to be structured as a mass party) and actively attempting to implement reforms of this nature. DSA must also be proactively engaged in this basebuilding type of work to spur working class organization.

At the local level, this orientation is typified by a number of interlocking struggles. In D.C. in we can see this strategy as an organization begins with the working class organizing projects like Stomp Out Slumlords campaign, which builds a mass working class base by organizing tenants into tenants unions and facilitates direct class struggle through actions like rent strikes. This organized base of tenants then places demands on the state. The second leg is actually electing candidates on behalf of DSA as a working class organization. In office, candidates we elect through strength in the field are then accountable, with diligent organizing work and strategic planning, to DSA as an organization and to this organized working class base and can work to implement reforms that make it easier for tenants to organize, thus growing the base and furthering this organized class struggle. A well-organized chapter can, over time, win a left government at the local level and use this government to dramatically expand the level of organized tenants and workers, bringing them into conflict with the capitalist class.

The specific strategy that was practiced in a number of big chapters and forms the basis for DSA’s broader electoral strategy as it has cohered is centered on the idea of a DSA structured as a mass party and of the strategic outlook of “structural reformism,” and makes three key assumptions: the Democratic Party itself cannot be realigned into a left party internally, an electoral third party cannot possibly be successful in the current American context, and that the Democratic Party is not structured like a traditional mass party and is separate from its state-run ballot line. This strategy was first explicated by Seth Ackerman in Jacobin and provided the theoretical basis for some of DSA’s first forays into electoral politics.

The Sanders campaign made it clear that there was a large constituency primed for democratic socialist electoral politics and that electoral work could mobilize a mass working class base around socialism. Understanding that engaging in electoral work can build DSA as a party, spread socialist ideas, and implement these structural reforms, it’s clear that this work has to be a key part of DSA’s strategy. The first strategic decision socialists need to make is our understanding of and orientation towards the Democratic Party. Through analysis and over the course of their electoral work, we can see that the Democratic Party is a fairly unique party globally.

The Democratic Party is a specific realm of electoral struggle that is not directly comparable to internal party elections in social democratic parties in other countries, nor directly comparable to elections that take place entirely outside of a party structure. The Democratic Party is far from a “party” as traditionally understood in other countries. It does not have a membership base, a program, real mechanisms for internal democracy, or strong formal party organizations. In this sense, the party is essentially impossible to “take over” at either the local or national levels, but this structure also creates opportunities because the party has little direct control over who participates in and wins its nominating contests…

Acknowledging the differences between the Democratic Party and a real membership-based political party, the Democratic Party can then be seen as an overarching structure: a specific form of cartel-party. The party, rather than a formal structure, exists as a constellation of consulting firms and nongovernmental organizations that answer to capital and are isolated from the democratic structures of a traditional political party. The institutions of the party are able to exercise soft power over voters as well as more coercive and direct power over candidates and other political actors who must rely on them.
(the author, in the Organizer)

Due to the nature of elections in the U.S., which entirely foreclose a major third party, as well as the success of socialist engagement with the Democratic ballot line since the Sanders campaign, it has become clear that the best path was to continue to wage war on the capitalist Democratic Party establishment through building a party-surrogate, entirely separate from the institutions of the Democratic Party, utilizing Democratic primaries to cleave the bourgeois/managerial elite of the Democratic Party from its working class base. Understanding that the Democratic ballot line lies on the contested terrain of the state, rather than internal to the party itself, was the key to this strategy. The crucial difference from previous “realignment” based orientations is the absolute focus on building up this party surrogate, separate from and hostile to the Democratic Party itself. This means building an entirely separate electoral infrastructure - data, communications, field, etc. - financed by this membership organization. It also means, unless strategic in a local context, not engaging in the formal structures of the Democratic Party, such as trying to reform local parties, the DCCC, the DNC, and so on.

The other key to DSA’s electoral work and building DSA as a party surrogate is candidate accountability. There are a number of ways to do this, but they all stem from DSA’s level of organization and how much power it can bring to bear. To build this power, DSA must engage in electoral work strategically, choosing where and when to run or support a campaign based on the objective conditions of the area. This means that DSA should also not engage in “paper endorsements,” wherein DSA endorses a candidate without providing serious material support for that campaign. Additionally, DSA is harmed when it endorses candidates without a real chance of winning. The key to using electoral work to build DSA as a mass organization is, simply put, winning.

As DSA wins electoral campaigns, it grows as an organization, and most importantly, it demonstrates power. DSA winning allows it to move electoral candidates left because our endorsement is more valuable. Since 2017, powerful DSA electoral programs have been able to make things like being publicly socialist, supporting BDS, and other positions that were outside of the mainstream prerequisites to winning in some areas. Demonstrating power also makes candidates more and more accountable to DSA overall. As DSA wins, it can elevate candidates internally and run campaigns more and more centered on DSA as an organization and socialism as a political identity.

Hopefully this overview is able to provide some clarity on the theory behind our electoral work as an organization and why we should continue to engage in this work and build DSA as a partylike organization in 2024 and beyond. Our commitment to electoral work is necessary to build a mass socialist organization capable of winning power from the capitalist class and mobilizing the numbers of workers necessary to transition to socialism. I strongly urge Metro DC DSA members to vote yes on electoral as a priority.

IN FAVOR by Dieter L.M.

My name is Dieter Lehmann Morales (he/him) and I am in favor of approving Electoral as one of our chapter’s priority campaigns for the coming year. As a former member of the Political Engagement Committee and one of the lead organizers on the Zachary Parker campaign in the 2022 DC primaries, I have witnessed first hand the benefits that a strong electoral program can have for our chapter. It is a strong on-ramp for new members and paper members alike, giving them exposure to chapter leaders and hands-on experience with socialist organizing that will carry them through into other functions of our chapter. Additionally, a strong electoral program ensures that we are able to hold those elected officials that we support accountable during their time in office, which improves the organizing conditions for our other work in the region.

IN FAVOR by Chris R.

I am writing to support the electoral program of Metro DC DSA. I think it’s been very successful so far and I’m not sure I’ve got the name of it right but I do hope that it gets forwarded. Thanks.

IN FAVOR by Stu K.

I’m urging fellow members of Metro DC DSA to vote YES on making electoral organizing a chapter priority campaign for 2024. My rational for recommending a YES on electoral organizing is two-fold: first, the candidates that we endorse through electoral organizing have a track record of passing legislation that delivers material benefits for our class; and second, electoral organizing in the Metro DC DSA chapter has resulted in the recruitment and activation of hundreds of new and/or less-involved DSA members. As a member of our DSA chapter for nearly seven years—and a veteran of nine different DSA-side campaign cycles—I’ve seen first-hand how endorsing and supporting DSA electoral candidates has been critical to helping those candidates win and then pass legislation. Since 2017, Metro DC DSA members have given up our own time to contact almost 260,000 voters in support of chapter-endorsed candidates. After and after the elections for those Metro DC DSA candidates have ended, they have continued engaging with our chapter to pass legislation that has delivered clear, material benefits to the working class—such as taxing DC’s wealthiest residents to give grants to childcare workers, banning the use of jails as immigration detention centers, and increasing transparency for police disciplinary records. Without standing up and engaging in elections, these wins may never have happened. In addition to passing legislation, electoral work in Metro DC DSA over the past seven years—and the sustained chapter-wide action that comes with a Metro DC DSA endorsement—has resulted in the recruitment and mobilization of hundreds of DSA members in DC, Maryland, and Virginia. Many newer or inactive Metro DC DSA members often choose to become involved in chapter-endorsed electoral campaigns as their first DSA activities, just because elections are a familiar way of engaging with politics. After learning more about democratic socialist organizing through a Metro DC DSA-endorsed electoral campaign, countless chapter members have gone on to lead electoral campaigns themselves, along with becoming active in other initiatives across the DC region. Several Metro DC DSA members who began their time in our DSA chapter as electoral organizers have also gone on to serve in elected chapter leadership. Again, I urge fellow chapter members to vote YES on making electoral organizing a priority campaign for 2024. With electoral organizing as a priority campaign, Metro DC DSA can continue to support our endorsed candidates, help in passing legislation that’s beneficial to our class, and recruit and organize more members to our DSA chapter.

IN FAVOR by Bakari W.

Our movement needs to span from the streets to the halls of power, so electoral organizing will be vitally important for the chapter in the upcoming year. In 2024 we have important opportunities for the chapter to elect candidates who’ll further our politics in office and support our efforts to build working-class power. This resolution also includes our legislative campaigns to defeat the bills being pushed by capital and support bills that will, again, build working-class power. I encourage you to vote yes on this priority resolution.

IN FAVOR by Tim S.

Electoral can’t be the only thing we do to try to tilt material conditions in favor of the working class, but none of our electoral leaders think that it should be: I suspect everyone supporting this resolution will also be enthusiastically voting for SOS and Labor, which work directly towards building independent working class institutions. Electoral makes it easier to do that, though: with structural reforms like social housing, wealth taxes, a PRO act for DC, all of which are winnable in the medium term, the working class is not only better off, but better able to project power on its own, outside of bourgeois elections. The way SOS’ engagement ladder is structured perfectly encapsulates this: they’re able to see who’s facing eviction and go canvass them, and often win disputes, because the Council passed good, if incomplete, legislation that protects tenants, and empowers tenants to protect themselves. We need to keep doing this work because when it’s done well, it strengthens our power across all the terrains we struggle on. It’s also a proven way to engage people and create leaders: most unorganized working class people, even among those who nominally identify as socialists, see politics primarily in terms of elections, so creating an accessible ladder of engagement through electoral canvassing is an entry into socialist politics that many are more likely to take, compared to the pivotal, but much more difficult, work of organizing buildings and workplaces. There’s a lot of great substance in this resolution, and I hope you read about the exciting work ahead of us to build legislative and SIO capabilities for our chapter, but this is huge for creating openings for our other campaigns and for building member capacity, so please join me in voting for this, even if you’re kind of ambivalent about how far elections can take us.

IN FAVOR by Nicole Z.

I urge all members who anticipate voting in support of endorsing a ballot initiative or campaign to vote for the electoral priority campaign proposal. By making electoral a priority, we ensure that our chapter balances the needs of our electoral work with other priority campaigns. Furthermore, I’m excited that this priority campaign will work to coordinate legislative work across the chapter and I’m particularly excited to work to ensure that rent stabilization is strongly implemented in Montgomery County and to win rent stabilization in PG county, Rockville and Gaithersburg.

IN FAVOR by Eduarda S.

Electoral should be one of our priority campaigns in 2024 because this formation has demonstrated consistent organizing power and has a good track record of victories. Electoral is a great gateway into the chapter for the greater DMV community, and we should dedicate priority status to the efforts of the electoral formation.

IN FAVOR by Ralph C.

I write today encouraging all members vote for the Electoral Resolution to be a priority campaign. They will be heavily active in local campaigns throughout the area. In PG, we can use the support of the PEC to build on successful municipal campaigns and council advocacy on rent stabilization. And there are opportunities at the congressional and school board level to get socialist candidates into positions of power. With the resources dedicated we can rack up great wins, while many groups in our area will be focused on the presidential election.

IN FAVOR by Irene K.

I encourage members of our chapter to vote in favor of making electoral organizing a priority campaign in 2024. Metro DC DSA’s electoral program has proven to be one of our most consistently successful areas of organizing in the chapter and is one of the strongest in the country. We have not only pushed candidates to victory at the local and state level but also won ballot initiatives and collaborated with electeds on legislation. As a long-time electoral organizer in DSA, I can attest that we have honed our electoral strategy and approach year after year and have matured into an organization focused on more than just election cycles but building mass power and translating victories at the ballot box into material wins for the working class. 2024 is poised to be a major election year in our region. Previously endorsed candidate Janeese Lewis George, the incumbent DC councilmember in Ward 4 and a strong partner of our chapter, is up for reelection and already facing coordinated attacks from dark money-funded and reactionary interest groups in DC. Our electoral organizing has been most successful when we have buy-in from the full chapter, with coordination happening across our other working groups and campaigns. I urge members to support electoral as a priority campaign this year so we can fully support our endorsed candidate(s), defend our wins, and continue building our chapter and movement.