In my conversations with East Bay DSA members about the Bernie 2020 Resolution currently being considered for debate, I’ve heard some concerns that we’re jumping the gun. Why not wait until Bernie Sanders announces that he plans to run for President before we throw our weight behind him? I want to make the argument here that getting started early is the best way to go about building a Bernie 2020 operation that is both maximally effective and maximally independent.
First let me state the obvious. When Bernie Sanders announces that he will run for President, national DSA will almost inevitably endorse him.
Bernie Sanders is a self-described democratic socialist whose platform mirrors the priorities of the organization: Medicare for All, free college tuition and student debt relief, universal childcare, a national $15 minimum wage, an ambitious jobs program, strong pro-union legislation, mandatory paid sick leave and vacation, ending corporate tax giveaways, breaking up the banks, expanding Social Security, gender pay equity laws, public works infrastructure projects, transitioning from fossil fuels to clean energy, strong environmental regulations, dismantling detention centers, reunifying immigrant families in the U.S., protecting undocumented workers from employer abuse, demilitarizing the police, ending mass incarceration, banning for-profit prisons, ending police quota systems, ending the War on Drugs, ending voter suppression, repairing and expanding public housing, banning predatory lending, and so on.
This platform is a concrete plan to empower the working class to both live better lives in the present and fight harder against the capitalist class in the future. In light of the symmetries between this platform and our politics as an organization, I can’t conceive of a likely scenario in which DSA would not endorse Bernie Sanders for President.
The question, then, is not whether DSA will endorse Bernie. It’s whether we’re prepared to make the most of the opportunities for mass political education and robust socialist recruitment and organization presented by his campaign.
Let’s game out two scenarios. In the first, Bernie Sanders announces his campaign for President in roughly March or April of 2019. At that time, the national organization initiates an endorsement process, and East Bay DSA begins having conversations about whether and how to best harness the explosive popular energy generated by the campaign and channel it toward working-class and socialist organizations, including our own.
The first thing we would do is consider a resolution much like this one, except striking the clause asking Bernie to run, since that would’ve already been sorted. We would vote on whether to create a committee tasked with developing a plan for our chapter, except instead of considering the committee’s recommendations in early 2019 we’d be proposing to consider them in mid-2019.
At that point, Bernie’s campaign would already be heating up in California — and so would his opponents’. One of these is likely to be Kamala Harris, who has a home court advantage as a California Senator. Bear in mind that California has moved up its primary to March of 2020. In the last Democratic primary, 16% of the ballots cast nationwide were cast in California. It’s a crucial battleground, the home turf of a likely top contender, and the deadline for making an impact has just been moved up. But because we opted to wait until after he announced to start the conversation, we would be considering a plan less than a year before the election.
Once we democratically decided on a plan, we’d be entering into a crowded field. Not only would we be racing against the clock, but we would have lost our opportunity to set the tone of the political fight, the way we did in the AD-15 race of 2018. By the time we’re prepared to implement the plan, many of the most enthusiastic Bernie supporters would have already gravitated to other official or grassroots efforts — none of which would have the socialist character that our group has, the impetus or ability to plug people into non-electoral class struggle campaigns, or the opportunities for socialist political education and organizing training that we provide.
The later we start, the less likely we are to emerge as a serious and independent socialist force in the electoral domain. The more we’ll play second fiddle to other organizations’ more robust canvassing and phone banking operations, which potential volunteers will prefer, because they will be significantly more established and legitimate than ours. We’ll spend all of our time scrambling to build an operation that can hold a candle to everyone else’s, trying to get a little piece of the action, instead of making innovative and game-changing interventions in the political conversation (kamalaharris.money, anyone?).
In a second scenario, we pass this resolution at the end of 2018. By the time Bernie announces and national DSA endorses, we’ve already developed a plan for how to build an independent socialist campaign that uses Bernie Sanders’ run as a springboard for educating people about socialist ideas and plugging them into socialist organizing. We hit the ground running.
We might then stand a chance at building the best grassroots unofficial Bernie campaign in California. Not only would we be making as big a difference as possible in whether we have a democratic socialist squaring off against Trump in 2020, but we would also be positioning our organization as a high-profile, flagship institution in the fight for a better world.
Bernie Sanders is the most popular politician in America. Hundreds of millions of people associate him with resistance to capitalist domination over their lives — their bosses, the bankers, the establishment politicians, the debt collectors, the insurance companies. DSA can be a beacon for these people at the high point of their rage and hope, or not.
Personally, I can’t wait to do for my neighbors in 2020 what DSA did for me in 2016: turning support for the eccentric old politician on TV who rails against “the millionaires and billionaires” into a lifelong commitment to building a socialist society.