Resurgent Democratic Socialists chapter tests the waters of Minneapolis politics

BY TWIN CITIES DSA MEMBERS KIM JONES, JON MARTINSON AND BRAD MCGARR

There has been a Twin Cities Local of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) for as long as there has been a DSA, about 34 years in fact. (Although as of this year, we are going to be known as the Twin Cities chapter, rather than local.) The activity level, membership level and name recognition of DSA in the Twin Cities has waxed and waned over that period. In the 1980s, the group was very involved primarily in the peace movement and opposing the covert wars in Central America, aligned with religious socialism, the sanctuary church movement, and to some extent, local unions and leftist academics. Then there was a time when our closest alliances were with Native American activists, as we joined in to the counter-protests defending Ojibwe spearfishing and had Rev. Steve Charleston, a Native American clergyman, as a chair and mentor. The mid 1990s saw the DSA local get involved with the New Party (which morphed into Progressive MN before fading away after the death of Sen. Wellstone), Teamsters for a Democratic Union, and a group trying to start an independent labor party. When OWS came to the Twin Cities, DSA members joined in there too. There were short periods of inactivity, but never enough to allow the chapter to fall away.
The Bernie Sanders run for the Democratic nomination changed all that. Sanders used the term “democratic socialist” to describe his place on the left-right spectrum, although he has never been a member. Suddenly, across the U.S., DSA membership and interest in the group escalated. Since early 2016, the membership rolls for the state of Minnesota have increased about fourfold. The chapter decided to do something it had never done before—hold a convention, adopt a constitution and by-laws, and elect officers. There is so much interest in the state that a separate chapter has formed in the Twin Ports/Duluth area, leaving the Twin Cities chapter to concentrate on the actual Twin Cities, while staying in touch with other outstate members. That was Twin Cities DSA 2.0. Now, with the election of Trump and yet another membership surge, it’s time for Twin Cities DSA 3.0.
Having a rational and democratic structure has given us the groundwork to analyze and respond to our present situation. Our members are eager to do something meaningful to resist Trumpism’s many ills, from xenophobia, racism and misogyny to corruption, privatization, brutal union-busting, partisan dirty tricks and deliberately increasing the toxic wealth inequality that is destroying our country. We have to focus, as do all the resistance groups. But we are a socialist advocacy group, neither single-issue, nor a political party. We have decided, in this first year under Trump, that one of our priorities is going to be local politics. Although if subgroups within the local in other geographic areas arise with the resources to concentrate on other cities, for 2017 we are getting involved in politics in Minneapolis, because the issues that Minneapolis will be grappling with in the electoral season happen to align with the issues our members here are most interested in, and which coincidentally are also issues the national DSA is interested in. These include such issues as sanctuary cities and protecting the human rights of immigrants, opposing big banks and predatory capitalism, improving wages and working conditions, and protecting and expanding ballot access. DSA is a nonpartisan nonprofit education and advocacy organization. As such, with some legal maneuvering we can endorse candidates, and we can do unlimited lobbying and advocacy, unlike charitable nonprofits. But we cannot have ties to any particular party. Nevertheless, in Minneapolis, one cannot affect policy without engaging with the DFL.
So to kick off Twin Cities DSA 3.0, we will be introducing, through our Minneapolis resident members, three resolutions in the DFL precinct caucuses to be held in Minneapolis on April 4, 2017. One resolution will ask the DFL to support the Minneapolis City Council in exploring the option of creating a municipal bank, as a profound way to break its relationship with Wells Fargo, an institution that conflicts with its values on many levels. Another resolution will be directed toward asking the city to consider an expanded definition of its “sanctuary city” status. This is something a number of other progressive cities have recently been moved to do, due to the increasing severity of immigration laws and their enforcement to be expected from the new administration. Still another resolution will ask the DFL to direct the city to put opposing the pre-emption legislation currently in the Minnesota Legislature very high on its legislative lobbying agenda. Pre-emption is a catch-all term for state efforts to prevent cities from passing their own wage, hour and working condition laws that are more labor-friendly than those of the state. Republicans and neoliberal Democrats alike are using this tool to clamp down on the more liberal city administrations and try to stem the tide toward higher minimum-wage laws, fairer scheduling laws, and rights to sick and safe time, all of which are “on the table” in Minneapolis.
This is not all the Twin Cities chapter is doing. From revamping our communications strategies to endorsing and attending the Jan. 20 Women’s March in Saint Paul to standing up for immigrants at the massive rally on Jan. 31 to organizing a brand-new Young Democratic Socialists (YDS) chapter at the University of Minnesota, the 200+ Twin Cities area members, both new and old, have been and will continue to be very busy. If you would like to see more of us, please go first to our Facebook page, www.facebook.com/twincitiesdsa and if you would like to receive our periodic email newsletter, click on the Sign Up button there. To get in touch with the YDS chapter, email ydsumn@gmail.com.

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