Socialism in Perspective: DSA Co-Chairs Host a Fireside Chat

Socialism in Perspective: DSA Co-Chairs Host a Fireside Chat. Red border with fire in background; chat bubble says "A better world is possible!"

by Gregory Lebens-Higgins

The following commentary represents a summary of DSA’s February Co-Chairs Fireside Chat. It does not necessarily represent the views of the chapter. It is intended to highlight national-level discussions for rank and file membership, and seek strategic alignment.

On Wednesday, February 7, National Political Committee Co-Chairs Ashik Siddique and Megan Romer held an address to hundreds of DSA members tuning in from across the country. Broadcast over Zoom, the event was termed a ‘Fireside Chat’ in a 21st century ode to Roosevelt’s famous radio communications to the public. Like the tone of Roosevelt’s communications, the Co-Chairs demonstrated resolve, reassuring membership in a period of financial uncertainty and uneven transformation.

Following introductions, the Co-Chairs shared that they have been busy visiting chapters. Romer mentioned her visit to the Harriet Tubman House alongside members of the Rochester and Syracuse chapters this past October.

The pair is “getting into the rhythm of reaching out more.” It seems likely this will not be the only fireside-style chat. Members were told to expect more communication than they had become used to under the previous NPC.

The Co-Chairs discussed the need to develop a long-term plan for DSA. We cannot just “ride the coattails of Bernie Sanders into power.” But DSA is studying the lessons of its failures as much as its successes. We are finding our identity as a “broad-spectrum” socialist organization, and discovering how we can effectively engage in critical battles on multiple fronts.

Last Saturday, the DSA Trans Rights and Bodily Autonomy Mass Kickoff Call had more than 600 individual attendees, along with chapter watch parties. The Co-Chairs highlighted the prominence and contributions of queer activists within DSA, and the organization’s visibility in fighting for queer liberation in an era of repressive targeting.

With the censuring of Rashida Tlaib, DSA electeds are also under attack. The Co-Chairs expressed the need for the organization to support them against challengers from the right of the Democratic Party. Turning to the executive branch, the Co-Chairs described the upcoming Presidential election as depressing. They said the electoral focus should be on “building the bench” locally, and elevating socialists into positions of power.

The Co-Chairs described DSA as becoming “increasingly coherent.” The organization is now more explicitly socialist than it had been, and is becoming better at identifying the working class and moving toward a working class orientation. Although National Director Maria Svart recently resigned from her role, the Co-Chairs described the opportunity to understand her broad job duties and evaluate how they can best be accomplished by the organization. Once this is done, a new director can be selected and set up for success.

Romer asserted that her and Ashik have been working well together, despite coming from different political tendencies. More broadly, the need to rise to the occasion in opposing the genocide of Palestinians has encouraged members across the organization to unify across tendencies.

Finally, the Co-Chairs addressed the elephant in the room—DSA’s budget deficit. The Co-Chairs expressed confidence that this can be overcome. They have “crunched the numbers,” and believe that overall, we are in an okay spot. The deficit is an “organizing task” for DSA; one that can be resolved by membership rising to the occasion.

The Co-Chairs believe that focus on this task will help us grow in numbers and strength. DSA has been “punching below its weight,” and there is a lot more we can do to organize new dues-paying members. Lately, we have seen a bump in membership in relation to Palestine solidarity.

We must also retain current members by keeping in contact with them and encouraging lapsed members to renew. The Co-Chairs claimed that phonebanks to lapsed members have paid off exponentially, bringing a high rate of return to the organization for each hour spent making calls.

Significant emphasis was placed on Solidarity Dues, an initiative passed at the 2023 Convention. These are income-based dues billed monthly, and a portion is shared with the local chapter. Members are encouraged to contribute “1%” of their income “for the 99%.” This helps offset low-income dues, enabling people with less resources to become members. So far 1,850 members have switched to Solidarity Dues, at a rate that has increased in recent weeks.

The Co-Chairs believe in the future of DSA, and are confident it can accomplish major tasks and empower the cause of socialism. There is an obvious effort to grow the organization—Romer called for “one million members by 2030.” There is also an effort to engage existing members, and to provide support from the NPC.

I believe that if members continue to hear from the NPC and can see that dues are being responsibly managed, they will be willing to dedicate money and energy toward the organization’s further success. As DSA demonstrates its ability to hold mass protests, articulate popular demands, and achieve political victories, it will be taken increasingly seriously and attract the momentum needed to accomplish our goals.

It is worth quoting at length from an article by Ross Barkan published in The New York Times on February 7, the day of the Fireside Chat:

The largest volunteer-run, electoral organization committed to the anti-Zionist project is not, however, Jewish Voice for Peace Action but the Democratic Socialists of America. Not since the Sanders presidential campaigns has there been so much fresh interest in D.S.A. It is one of the few unapologetically pro-Palestinian and anti-Israel organizations to endorse candidates in Democratic primaries this year, even though some longstanding D.S.A. members have publicly recoiled at its condemnations of Israel. In the last decade, D.S.A. had made support for, or at least tolerance of, B.D.S. a litmus test for candidates. After losing volunteers for much of the Biden era, D.S.A. is now increasing its ranks. According to Chris Kutalik, a communications director for D.S.A., it has added at least 2,400 new dues-paying members since October for a total of about 78,000 members.

Each of DSA’s constituent chapters must play its part in holding the NPC to the standard it has set, improving upon the strategy by democratic means, and collectively contributing to its overall success.

1 comment on “Socialism in Perspective: DSA Co-Chairs Host a Fireside Chat”

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  • William Forrest
    February 15, 2024 10:36 am

    With the ongoing horrors of wars in Ukraine and in Palestine, it’s clear both the Tweedle-dee and Tweedle-dum parties in power here should declare bankruptcy and relinquish their power to those who have hearts and minds.