Is This What Solidarity Looks Like?

On July 25th, 2016 I joined the Democratic Socialists of America with the intention of starting a chapter back home in Albany, NY. I believed that DSA was the best vehicle to unite the left, provide an overarching theory and direction for disparate single issue campaigns, and empower poor and working people to name our oppressors, build our own power and create meaningful change in our communities.

The ‘big tent’ and ‘internal democracy’ of DSA drew me to the organization, but as time has gone on I have learned that while many individual DSAers and DSA chapters do truly aspire to unity in diversity and transparent and inclusive processes, to many — particularly at the national level — those ideals are no more than words.

Below is the text of an email I sent to my chapter’s membership today in which I resign my membership from the organization that I and so many others believed in. Sadly, when we have tried to help DSA live up to its promises we were pushed out or targeted on unrelated personal, cultural and ideological grounds. Ironically, many of those doing the pushing come from places of social, economic and structural/organizational power and wield that power to silence and discredit comrades who are part of the oppressed communities which DSA claims to be allies to.

Out of respect, this email does not identify comrades other than myself and my partner by name. I do not wish to contribute to social media witch hunts and call-out culture. My intention is only to explain why I am leaving the organization and to wish my comrades the best. I hope some who read this will see the problem and do better.

…. …. …. ….

Comrades,

I’m writing you this email to let you know that after giving over a year of my life and my blood, sweat and tears to founding Albany DSA, building local left power and advancing the national organization, I am stepping down as chapter chair and handing in my membership card.

I am being accused by the National organization and members of my own Executive Committee of being trans-exclusionary and this is being used as a way to smear me and purge me from the organization. If anyone wants to talk to me one-on-one about my analysis of gender they are more than welcome to. For now, here are the facts:

  • I have experienced gender and sex dysphoria for most of my life. I previously identified as trans, was part of the trans community online and in real life and socially transitioned.
  • I dated a transwoman on and off for over a year and am friendly with a number of trans people as well as detransitioners.
  • Moreover, when our chapter established it’s women’s branch, Caitlin, the founding branch chair, and I discussed how best to make sure trans members were included. At my suggestion we decided on “women and women-aligned people” so that all self-identified women as well as non-binary people who largely share women’s political position would know they were welcome to be a part of the branch.

This action is being taken against me by comparatively privileged members at a time when I have clearly stated to our executive committee and delegation that I am overtaxed, physically ill and experiencing difficulty as a result of being disabled. For anyone who does not know I am poor, autistic and also deal with a number of related chronic physical conditions.

In addition to delaying finishing my associate’s degree and regularly devoting full time hours to DSA work, I also spent the last week at our National Convention doing my best to represent our chapter while also fighting to participate. If you haven’t followed the events online, I can summarize that disability accommodations were largely absent and the disability caucus devoted ourselves primarily to addressing these shortcomings and ensuring all of us could do the job we came to do: attend, speak and vote on behalf of our chapters who elected us as delegates.

It is my belief that the fact that I have views on some aspects of feminism that stray from what is currently fashionable is being used as a way to railroad out a person seen as a threat to the status quo. I have openly challenged undemocratic processes, advocated for our organization to move away from it’s 501c4 Non-profit status and toward functioning as an accountable political entity, and fought for the true inclusion of disabled people as well as other marginalized groups beyond tokenism. Â I have advocated for institutional transparency around finances and structure as well as failed to fall in line with the culture of the twittersphere and self-proclaimed “dirtbag left.”

I believe a left that does not center and amplify the most marginalized including the poor and those with less social capital, is not a left worth participating in. For some reason, my good faith in our work, and effort to make it more effective, threatens powerful parties so much that I must be purged along with the others who have recently come under fire in this fashion.

I am a target because I ask too many questions, make my own decisions and associate with the wrong people. In this case one of those people is my partner, Jonathan Phipps, an organizer who built a truly diverse Baltimore DSA chapter from the ground up, partnered with organizations based in communities of color, spearheaded local and national electoral work and built solidarity with labor, feminists and multiple political parties.

Because he refuses to be tone-policed or to submit to institutional power-grabs and because he, like I, question organizational affiliations and practices that we see as counter to socialist principles, Jonathan has been a target for a long time. So far, he has resisted attempts to silence him. Now organizational leadership, with the help of local members, have decided to go after me as well. I cannot ethically participate in an organization that operates at this level of hypocrisy. Jonathan, a DSA member since 2013, has also decided to leave in disgust.

Jonathan and I both care about our comrades and even moreso the communities we serve and have served. Neither of us have many resources to spare or comes from a place of particular privilege, yet we use what we do have to empower others and improve material conditions for working people. I believed, when I joined DSA from a tent during the DNC protests in Philadelphia, that DSA was the best vehicle to do that.

Unfortunately, over the past few months, and especially over the past week in Chicago, I have seen truly reprehensible behavior in person and online from my fellow socialists. It appears that democracy is optional, communication unnecessary and accessibility an afterthought. We are not the only members being subjected to a witch hunt. Multiple important convention resolutions were buried without the knowledge of their writers and when pushed, leadership made back room offers to undemocratically push through defanged versions. If delegates did not accept this, attempts were made to silence them through the heavy hand of the parliamentarian.

Additionally, NPC candidates known to have popular support but not national approval were subject to online accusations that suddenly came to light less than an hour before voting opened. In the wake of one candidate’s election, public information about his employment was circulated, petitions launched, and the internet deemed him unsuitable for leadership without any communication with the individual himself. This comrade was not part of a slate, is no friend of the DSA power-brokers, and is arguably one of the best organizers in DSA.

It is sad to be the subject of this sort of behavior and calls to mind the words of Jo Freeman (whose “Tyranny of Structurelessness” DSAers so love to invoke) in her piece “Trashing: The Dark Side of Sisterhood.” I am more sad, however, that this is part of a wider pattern. DSA can do better. The left MUST do better. It is our job to learn from history and work together rather than self-cannibalize the moment differences of approach, theory or opinion emerge.

Thank you for being my comrades and thank you for giving this thing a shot with me. I could not have launched and built Albany DSA without you. Every meeting, march and picket line have been an honor, from the first “Coffee with Comrades” through our most recent general meeting.

There are nearly 150 of you in our chapter and over 25,000 nationwide. I challenge you to listen to each other, make space for real dialogue and center the voices and work of those who need socialism most. We are fighting for something important, let’s not waste all our energy fighting each other.

It’s been a good year. I will miss you all. Be good to each other.

In solidarity,

CJ