Should TCDSA Endorse Ilhan Omar + other endorsement thoughts
Dear Members of Twin Cities DSA,
It’s happening again. Over 100 people joined Twin Cities DSA in the course of two weeks in the end of June, between massive anti-ICE mobilization, a local Single Payer Strategy conference, and the victory of Alexandria Ocasio Cortez in New York. We count over 700 members in the metro (probably 800 at the time of this writing, to be honest). Our last general meeting had over 180 attendees. With the growth in membership and energy has come an interest from politicians and officials seeking our endorsement and getting involved. As a co-chair of the chapter, I am torn between my belief that leaders should keep politicking to a minimum but also a feeling that I have an important analysis of where our chapter is, where it can go, and what it needs to do. To that end, here are some personal arguments I have regarding endorsements.
Twin Cities DSA Should Not Endorse Ilhan Omar
I really like Ilhan Omar. I will absolutely be voting for her at the ballot box. I will probably even knock some doors and make some phone calls for her campaign. I do not think Twin Cities DSA should endorse her.
Members of Twin Cities DSA and the Omar campaign reached out to me shortly after Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s (AOC) victory in New York seeking a DSA endorsement. I informed them of our process, that it would have to be a majority vote by general meeting. We had a discussion about what a meaningful endorsement would be like; some suggestions were getting socialists onto her policy team, collaborating around Medicare for All, and others. Her campaign assured me that they were interested in an honest, two-way relationship.
I have great respect for the organizers at Omar’s campaign and have no doubt of their dedication to economic and racial justice, but a ‘two-way’ relationship with the Omar campaign is increasingly hard to picture. Omar has the support of not only left-wing-of-DFL organizations with far more power and money than DSA (TakeAction, OutFront, MoveOn, Center for Popular Democracy) but also endorsement from the more establishment figures of the party (Mark Dayton, Jacob Frey, the official DFL endorsement). What AOC did in New York with the help of DSA is truly remarkable, and it makes sense that candidates want to replicate it. But consider the differences between AOC and Omar in their campaigns:
- Cortez was challenging a 14-year incumbent known as part of the national Democratic establishment. Omar is running for an open seat vacated by one of the most visible Progressive Caucus leaders and a champion for Medicare for All and a $15 minimum wage.
- Alexandria Cortez was a member of NYC DSA and active in their chapter. While I’ve been told Omar considers herself a democratic socialist, I’ve been unable to find any public mention of this.
- Cortez was a long shot. Omar is, by my judgment, far and away the front runner in the CD5 race.
- NYC DSA is a massive organization that collaborated closely with Justice Democrats and Brand New Congress to build an effective GOTV machine and mobilize mass volunteers. Twin Cities DSA, while still the best DSA chapter on the planet (unbiased opinion), has only gotten its electoral muscles working after the conclusion of the Ginger Jentzen campaign and is not yet in a position to provide meaningful, crucial support.
The Omar campaign and I were honest with each other that in no way was DSA providing the crucial number of votes that the campaign needed to get over the top. That means, then, that an Omar endorsement would be mostly about image, messaging, and narrative. These kinds of paper endorsements feel at odds with what kind of organization I want DSA to be. An honest relationship with a candidate is not just me being skeptical of politicians- it’s also that I want to be respectful and genuine. If TCDSA endorsed Omar, and Omar won a seat in congress, I would feel absolutely gross if some leftist rag wrote an article like “Democratic Socialists Of America Just Elected A Somali Refugee To Congress. Checkmate, Pelosi.”
DSA cannot have the same electoral approach as an Our Revolution or a MoveOn. Our goal is not to get the leftmost-possible candidates elected; it’s to build an independent, self-run institution that is democratically accountable with an end goal of building socialism. To this end, we must be strategic and measured in how we engage in electoral politics.
Being Strategic And Measured About How We Engage In Electoral Politics
There are a ton of candidates seeking our endorsement. Only a handful of them are members of DSA. These candidates should be the ones you think most honestly about voting to endorse. Ask them about how they’ll build the organization, how they’ll be accountable to us, what they’ll do for building people power.
There are a couple of candidates with existing campaigns who have just recently asked for our endorsement who are not members. We should ask these people: Are you a socialist? Will you openly run as a socialist? What will you do to build democratic socialism if elected?
There are a handful of candidates who are not members and who, frankly, appear to have only a Facebook page as their campaign apparatus. We should ask these candidates: Why are you running? Why do you want our endorsement? Do you have a chance of winning?
What is happening in DSA right now is truly powerful and is starting to look like a credible threat to the capitalist consensus. It’s too precious and too beautiful right now for us to fall into the trap of being flattered that everyone suddenly wants to be our best friend.