DSA in the News

compiled by Bob Roman

  • Bhaskar Sunkara mentioned DSA in his description of the People’s Summit at In These Times, as did Ed Felien at Southside Pride.
  • DSA organizer Rachel Ochs was among those interviewed by Nicki Gorny in a story about “millennials” and politics (including DSA) in the Ocala Star-Banner.
  • Maurice Isserman examines the role of the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (a DSA predecessor) in opposing Jimmy Carter at In These Times.
  • Gabe Carroll includes DSA in a discussion of Socialist Party candidate Mimi Soltysik at The Hindu’s “The Thread.”

The Crime & Tragedy of Honduras

Episode 65 of Talkin’ Socialism, recorded June 16, 2016. On June 28, 2009, the Honduran military exiled the democratically elected President of Honduras, Manuel Zelaya. On March 2, 2016, Berta Cáceres, a leader in the National Council of Popular and Indigenous Organizations of Honduras, was assassinated. The proximate cause was her leadership in the campaign to prevent the damming of the Gualcarque River, but Gualcarque dam was but a part of nationwide corporate resource extraction project that has earmarked almost 30% of the country’s land for mining concessions and the construction of hundreds of dams to power them.

In this episode of Talkin’ Socialism, Chicago DSA’s Tom Broderick is in conversation with Victoria Cervantes and Celeste Larkin about these developments in Honduras and the solidarity campaigns for human rights in Honduras and for justice for Berta Cáceres.

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My Impressions of the People’s Summit

by Hilda Schlatter

I consider my self to be an introvert, so I do not look forward to attending conferences. Unless the conference covers something I am passionate about, I just want to blend into the woodwork. However I was passionate about Bernie’s message. I looked forward to attending the People’s summit.

I was inspired and educated by speakers like Frances Fox Piven, Naomi Klein, Jim Hightower and others. But I feel the smart and committed people who attended will be responsible for doing the work. Some of the people I met:

• Two young men, one 21 and the other 17 came from CA. They are members of DSA and tabled for Bernie. The 17 year old won’t be able to vote. He studied the issues, and decided he wanted to spread Bernie’s message. The 21 year old will go to UCLA next year. He hopes to become a lawyer and has interest in becoming a public interest lawyer. He has a warehouse job. He talks to co-workers who are paid low wages and are trying to raise a family. He supports a living wage.

• A young woman from NYC is passionate about affordable housing. She lives in an area that is becoming “upscale”. She is working with a community group that supports affordable housing. She is interested in running for office at some point. Everyone in our break out group felt her passion and saw her holding office when she got old enough.

• I was impressed by the senior citizen from Oklahoma who worked for Bernie. She drove from Tulsa by herself and mentioned how she liked being at a conference with like minded people. She is doing what she can to educate the people in her area about a progressive agenda.

The last day Illinois attendees met as a group. After an introduction, the Illinois attendees broke into small groups. The facilitator in my group focused on getting people to run for office. I do not know if anyone in the group will run for office, but I know everyone will work to work on issues like TTP, better health care, etc.

In summary, the conference speakers and break out sessions were inspirational and educational. The People’s Summit will be a success if those who attend join groups like DSA, form coalitions, and work on progressive issues.

The Free State of Jones: A Review

by Alec Hudson

When it comes to Hollywood and the Civil War, sentimentality and white saviour mentality are pervasive. Whether it is the 1989 film “Glory” or the melodramatic “Gods and Generals,” there’s always the classic trope of great men in history who dictate its conditions. “The Free State of Jones” is no exception, depicting the anti-Confederate insurgency in Jones County, Mississippi led by a poor white Confederate deserter Newton Knight, played by Matthew McConaughey.

The film attempts to show racial and economic solidarity between poor whites and runaway slaves attempting to usurp the power of the slave-owning aristocracy. The insurgency begins with Knight protecting neighbors against Confederate Home Guard soldiers who attempt to take a large portion of their crops, an act that leads to him living with runaway slaves in the swamps of Jones County where Confederate troops have a harder time catching them. As more whites desert the Confederate Army in Jones County the band of runaways and deserters grows large enough to carry out full-scale guerrilla raids against Confederate troops, eventually leading to the insurgency’s control of most of Jones County and neighboring counties with limited aid from the Union Army.

The first two acts, concerning the rise of the insurgency, showcase film’s the weakness and clichéd nature. While the film does have wonderful performances by black actors, particularly the performances of Mahershala Ali and Gugu Mbatha-Raw, the focus on Knight and his relationships combined with clichéd morals of tolerance makes the film little different in its white savior mentality. McConaughey, though a talented actor, gives a by-the-book performance that makes Knight a romanticized hero rather than a complex man from rural Mississippi whose attitude on race evolved. Added to this is the oddly framed story shift with Knight’s biracial son on trial in the 1950s for marrying a white woman in Mississippi, a background story that does not serve much of a purpose to the overall story’s narrative.

However, the film truly does shine in its third act depiction of Reconstruction. Very few films have depicted the essential re-enslavement of black Americans following the war, as well as the attempts at political and educational empowerment through defending voting rights, establishing free schools, and organizing Union Leagues to promote political empowerment and self-determination. The greatest depictions were in particular showing the attempts at registering former slaves to vote, the rigged nature of local elections, and the new “apprenticeship” system of sharecropping where free black free black people essential became property once again for plantation owners. Underlying the conditions depicted in the film is also the broken promise of economic compensation for former slaves, embodied in General Sherman’s Special Field Orders Number 15 which gave rise to the notion of freed slaves receiving forty acres and a mule. The lack of economic aid and the permission of plantation owners by the Federal government to reclaim property seized by Union forces do vividly show a microcosm of how the pre-war slave-owning aristocracy was allowed to maintain both its economic and political control on the South as well as politically and economically disenfranchise black people.

The Free State of Jones” is a part of the Hollywood canon of romanticized American Civil War films focusing on the feats of male, white heroes against the evils of slavery. At the same time it contains one of the greatest depictions of the Reconstruction Era ever put to screen and does leave one hopeful for more films that use such brutal honesty to portray that era. With the reality of police violence against communities of color, we need more popular culture that analyzes the causes of Jim Crow and segregation. This film is, as Eileen Jones of Jacobin Magazine puts it “continuing the vital work of getting the history of the Civil War and Reconstruction right.”

How Robin Hood Helped Save New York

by Bob Roman

“Ford to City: Drop Dead,” the New York Daily News headline famously proclaimed when President Gerald Ford, in October of 1975, promised to veto any legislation intended to prevent New York City’s impending bankruptcy. The New York City fiscal crisis lit the bonfire of the middle class in America and its consequences lead directly to atrocities like the poisoning of the Flint, Michigan, water supply. It was an experiment, now a fashionable practice, in putting local government under the control of an appointed board that preempts the authority of elected officials.

There are differences from then and now. For one thing, neither the organization of the Municipal Assistance Corporation to manage municipal debt nor the Emergency Financial Control Board that intervened more directly in management and policy assumed New York City’s problem was entirely the result of local incompetence. (One is tempted to ponder racism at this point, but let us continue.) New revenue was part of the solution then, unlike today when it is popular to assert that deficits can be resolved by eliminating waste and fraud. And maybe cutting taxes as well.

It’s here that Robin Hood makes his appearance. New York State has something resembling a Robin Hood Tax on the books, the Stock Transfer Tax, and it’s been on the books since 1905. There are differences in this law from contemporary Robin Hood Tax proposals. The NY stock transfer stampNew York tax is a stamp tax (think of the revenue stamp on a cigarette pack as an example) and the rate is tiered by price. There is a ceiling on the number of shares in a trade that it applies to and it is limited in applicability by the location of the trade. The legislation was written for the time when nearly everything went through brokers. The tax was phased out by 1981; it is now rebated immediately to the tax payer. According to New Yorkers for Fiscal Fairness, the state currently rebates something like $12 billion dollars in annual revenue from the tax.

In 1975, the Stock Transfer Tax was very much a going revenue stream, and it was one of the taxes New York State diverted to pay New York City’s bondholders. In 1976, New York collected $287.6 million in revenue from the tax, roughly $1.2 billion in 2015 money. This amount was no where near a majority of the monies required by the Municipal Assistance Corporation that year, maybe 10 to 15 percent, the rest being conventional sales taxes generated within New York City and portions of state per capita aid.

Okay. It wasn’t New York that Robin Hood helped save. It was the bondholders. It is interesting that the only time Robin is allowed on stage, even in a supporting role, is when it’s Capital’s ass in peril. But that’s capitalism. The rich get the gold. We get the pee.

Fight for 15 in Oak Park

by Bob Roman

The July 5th meeting of the Oak Park Village Board was faced with a delegation of several dozen Oak Park Fight for 15 workers and community supporters. The delegation came to demand that the Board pass an ordinance setting a minimum wage in Oak Park of $15 an hour. Like Chicago, Oak Park has this authority under the Home Rule provisions in Illinois law.

This was not the first visit to the Village Board by a Fight for 15 delegation. Oak Park prides itself on racial and ethnic integration and these occasions have made the Board nervous. Hiding behind the Village Attorney who opined that Oak Park really didn’t have the authority to set a minimum wage (and Chicago’s minimum wage is subject to legal challenge, therefore), the Board instead began moving toward adopting a Living Wage ordinance, much diluted from what had been advocated by the Greater Oak Park DSA branch.

(A Living Wage ordinance would apply to Village employees and, to one degree or another, to employees of entities doing business with the Village. A few workers benefit directly but it sets a community standard for what constitutes decent employment. A minimum wage applies to everyone.)

As GOPDSA member Ron Baiman told the Board that evening: Even the Living Wage ordinance proposed by DSA would be too little, too late. The world has moved on. If Oak Park values its progressive, integrated reputation, it’s now time to adopt a $15 an hour minimum wage.

Oak Park Village Board Meeting
Fight for 15 supporters gather at the Oak Park Village Board meeting of July 5, 2016.

The Need for a Democratic Transformation of the Criminal Justice and Police System

by the National Political Committee of DSA, June 12, 2016

Democratic Socialists of America condemns the recent police killings of Alton Sterling and Philando Castile. These are the latest in the endless taking of black lives by the excessive and precipitous use of deadly police force. Despite the increased attention to these arbitrary killings by the militant protest of #BlackLivesMatter, the deaths of Freddie Gray, Michael Brown, Sandra Bland, Eric Garner, Walter Scott and scores of others go unpunished.

This devaluing of the lives of African Americans derives from a racist criminal justice system that serves to repress and contain low-income communities rather than promote peace and well-being. The close working relationship between prosecutors and police precludes the impartial investigation and prosecution of police violence. Thus, in addition to greater community control of policing and the demilitarization of police, DSA calls for independent investigation of all uses of lethal police force.

As an organization committed to nonviolent political action to achieve social justice, DSA also condemns the murder of police in Dallas this past week. This senseless loss of life occurred during a peaceful protest against police brutality and in a city where a relatively integrated police force has taken some useful steps towards community and accountable policing.

The right wing, however, has used the tragic deaths in Dallas to attack #BlackLivesMatter, a movement committed to militant, but peaceful organizing. DSA is committed to working as allies of #BlackLivesMatter and others fighting for racial equality, in part because a divided working class is an already defeated working class. We believe that people of all racial and ethnic backgrounds must understand their role in a white supremacist, capitalist system and build solidarity across their differences, but that white progressives have a particular responsibility to combat nativist and racist political movements that justify current police practices as necessary to protect “blue lives.”

A truly democratically controlled criminal justice system should promote peace and justice, not arbitrary violence. Many matters now handled by police, such as drug use and community disputes, are best handled by mental health professionals and community-based mediation. When necessary to protect human life, police intervention must be as restrained as possible, with the use of firearms as an absolute last resort. In many societies that have more practical and effective gun policies than our own, most police do not carry firearms. Stronger gun control policies, as well as severe restrictions on police use of firearms, must be part of any restructuring of the role of police in our society.

The United States can only achieve democratic forms of peacekeeping and dispute resolution if we comprehend the historic role of the police in reinforcing forms of racial and class domination. Armed and professional police forces arose in the United States to capture fugitive slaves and to repress striking workers. Thus, the struggle for a democratic judicial and criminal justice system is integrally tied to the fight for racial, gender, and class equality. Mass incarceration and repressive policing cannot redress the absence of economic and educational opportunities that beset inner cities and increasingly inner suburbs and deindustrialized small towns. Nothing short of radical democratic change can alter a criminal justice system that works to perpetuate American apartheid.