We have chosen to create two new at-large positions on the Local Council because as a chapter we understand that we are at a critical point of development both in our chapter and as a socialist movement nationally and internationally. Support for the political left has exploded as the deep fault lines that the neoliberal status quo has created in our society have begun to break apart, exposing the weakness of our institutions and failing to protect the vulnerable from suffering and violence. This won’t stop anytime soon and we need our movement to be as strong as possible to make sure that this energy is directed towards rebuilding our society and its institutions in a way that benefits everyone, not just those who have the money to ride out the upheaval.
I joined New Orleans DSA in March of 2017, and signed the charter to start the chapter. I’ve served on the Local Council, and I have done a lot of work that has helped to bring in and activate new members. I helped start the brake light clinics, along with several other dedicated, hard working comrades, which played a very important role in in the early stages of our chapter’s formation by increasing our visibility, bringing in new members, and activating people in meaningful roles. Many people who are now in leadership roles in the chapter were first exposed to our work through volunteering in the brake light clinics, and developed skills by helping to run them. I’m one of them. I had no experience with organizing or leadership of any kind before that project. I wasn’t born a leader. I came to DSA as a comedian who had been desperately trying to make an impact on local politics totally alone. The support of my comrades in making this vision of the clinics into a reality showed me how much more capacity we have as individuals if we are working together. It showed me that together we can do anything.
It’s important to remember that our entire society is set up to tell you the opposite. That you can really only count on yourself, that your accomplishments and failures are yours alone. That the only way to change politics is to call your senator and vote, vote, always vote! You can even vote with your dollars by shopping in the right places or donating to a cause. Maybe sometimes you could go to a march. There’s a lot of comfort in believing that the only way you can really affect what’s going on around you is in these distant, virtually powerless ways. None of it is very time consuming, you very rarely have to talk to strangers, the analysis and debate are left up to the experts and your high school classmates on Facebook, and when you lose, it’s not really your fault because everyone knows ultimately you were powerless to begin with. People come to DSA because they know there has to be more, but they usually have little framework for imagining what is possible and where they could fit in. Right now, we run the risk of having a lot of unengaged members who send money and hope that whatever it is we do turns out to be the revolution at some point, because this is the relationship people are used to having with political groups. We cannot rest on the idea that most people will overcome this hurdle of the imagination on their own. We have to give people the opportunity to push themselves past that hurdle. Our job as organizers is to show people that so much is possible, we have the power, we need them and that they are exactly as capable as they need to be to contribute to the work.
There are many ways we can do this. We can develop a clearer political program for our chapter, and make it easier for members to start and participate in projects that are inspired by that program. We can better understand our capacity and needs, so that we are finding the best ways to engage people in work that exists and needs to be done. We can get better at showing the political value of even the smallest tasks and helping people understand the importance of their work. Our political education can and should inspire people by showing us that we are a part of a long history of people who have struggled to make a better world, and that despite where we are today, that history includes a lot of victories. We should support each other interpersonally, to increase our capacity by easing the burdens that are placed on us by the capitalist class in part to prevent us from building working class power. We should push ourselves beyond the known and the comfortable, support each other in our successes and failures, remind ourselves that this is a project that will take time, and push each other to stay in the fight for the long haul.
Our chapter is an exceptional DSA chapter. We aren’t perfect, but we are still in the beginning stages of a much bigger project, and among our national organization, we stand out. We have done work that’s been replicated throughout the country, and we have successfully navigated conflicts that have severely damaged other chapters. We are building something we should be proud of. I’ve spent a lot of time asking myself why our chapter seems to be so much more functional than a lot of others. A great deal of it is luck, but not all of it. I believe what sets us apart from many other chapters is that we are led by people who know that socialism can win, and who take on every decision from that point of view. This has set a tone for the culture of our chapter that makes it possible to do everything I listed before. I know we can and will do that work, and I plan to help. But an exceptional chapter’s power is limited if we are lost in a sea of struggling, isolated chapters who didn’t get quite as lucky as us, and who are having trouble seeing the victory we take for granted as possible.
A major strength of DSA is that it’s a widespread rapidly-growing national organization. A major weakness is that chapters are given very little support. If we are going to win, we are going to need the chapters around us to be strong, which we cannot leave to chance. Any worker power we build in New Orleans is strengthened by any worker power built elsewhere, and weakened in the same way. We are much stronger if we can fight at the municipal level, the state level, the regional level, and the national level. In the Gulf South, this is particularly urgent, as I believe the greatest threat to a sustained socialist movement is climate change, and we live in a place where the struggle for justice within that crisis, which for many other people in this country is simply theoretical, has already begun. We need to be as strong as possible to fight the opportunistic forces that will use the upheaval of climate change to further disempower workers and make the wealthy richer. We really don’t have a choice.
As an at-large member, I want to work on building regional capacity. The small chapters that surround us here in Louisiana, in Mississippi and Alabama, they face unique challenges of geography, ideology, and capacity. Our experience has been quite different, but what makes New Orleans DSA well positioned to help these chapters grow is our vision. We know that the south is diverse, and there are people in urban, suburban, and rural areas who are willing to fight for a better world. This can be hard to remember that we can win when you are working in what feels like a suffocatingly conservative political atmosphere. I want to work to strengthen our ties with these chapters and organizers. I want our chapter to help develop organizing efforts beyond urban areas and start understanding how to organize in rural areas. A medium-term goal of mine is for us to build a socialist movement in the Gulf South that is so strong and so powerful that it’s confusing to the rest of the country. They won’t see it coming, but we already do. I believe that we can help other chapters overcome challenges that we don’t even necessarily have blueprints for by supporting them, offering guidance when we can, and reminding them and ourselves always, always, always, always, always: we can win.