Gary Zottoli is a DSA member and editor with the Publication's Working Group
The grassroots activism and organizing that has been powering the Sanders campaign is succeeding. Elite business and political interests are sweating at the inability of Democratic “moderates” to coordinate a message that resonates with the diverse interests that the Party has claimed to historically represent. We are bearing witness to the Peaceful Revolution so many have always pined for: that prophesied young, multi-ethnic, citizen-driven coalition that will change government for the better. Politicos who cosplay as Seers have begun to realize that their sense of political reality is deeply disconnected with the people they claim to represent. The coalition built around the Sanders Campaign is preparing to seize the Democrat’s artillery and lead a charge against Trumps’s Chaos Dynasty.
This campaign is hardly finished. But as the short-term objective - seizing and socializing the political capital held by the Democratic Party - nears, we must consider the next steps. There are no more masters - it will be up to us to battle the forces of capital and fascism as they entrench to stop this movement. This requires us to think seriously about strategy. Democratic Socialists have historically had the luxury of being critics on the sidelines; we could take comfort in memes and left-wing discourse that built camaraderie but was never truly tested under the full gaze of the public. To ensure the success of this movement, we will need to think critically about questions of policy, organizational structure, and coordination that builds confidence with not only each other, but with those skeptical of our resolve and seriousness. Proposed are considerations of what it means to build and define an empathetic, serious movement:
DEFINE "the establishment" clearly
Critique of the Democratic Party must be focused. It is not card-carrying Democrats, employees of the Party, or even Democratic lawmakers in general who are the problem. It is a financial elite that manipulates and mediates the conversation between voters, the public, and lawmakers for their own ends and interests. When criticizing the establishment, we must be clear about who we are battling. Vaguely referencing "the establishment" gives space for adversaries or ne’er-do-wells to misrepresent our critiques of historical power to subvert or diverge our movement.
CHANNEL anger and frustration towards productive ends
It is fair to be angry at resistance to the winds of change; but our movement does not grow or sustain itself by wallowing in anger. Undirected hatred transforms into apathy toward action - or ill-plotted actions that diminish or damage the movement as a whole. Enemies will mischaracterize our indignation, and exploit legitimate anger to goad the movement into unnecessary conflict. We must be sure to respond to threats and taunts with resolve. This will require us to build a movement culture that finds ways to tactically channel anger or apathy into productive, ally-supporting activity.
VERIFY that the language of solidarity is being used appropriately and in good faith
We must define what it means to be an "ally" of Democratic Socialism. The vaguer we are, the more susceptible the movement is to co-option or manipulation for the ends of capital, political elites, or grifters who want to dominate, destroy, or capitalize on our socialized movement. There are histories of con artists who use the language of solidarity to enrich or weaponize the language and resolve of the movement to realize private benefit. Remember that this is not a brand - it is a movement held together by organized individuals who work in concert with and empathy for one another. Organize and provide support to organizations and institutions that are transparent, clear, and accountable.
BUILD coalitions, not discord
We do not win by dissolving or destroying the Democratic Party - we win by incorporating and converting its capital into shared resources to be used by the Sanders campaign, the movement, and allies of Democratic Socialism. We must be willing to meet not only with allies, but adversaries to build constructive dialogue. Twitter and other social media platforms allow for our message to spread like never before. However, digital platforms have never, and likely never will be, an optimal means for building or strengthening the movement. Consider harassment realized by rival campaigns; regardless of its source, this behavior does little to build alliance and solidarity. At worst, it provides an opening for hostile actors (such as Republican operatives or foreign bot armies) to mischaracterize who we are and what we want in order to destabilize our potential.
INSPIRE others to have faith in our ideals
Many skeptics of the Sanders campaign and Democratic Socialism in general -- many of whom are natural allies to socialist principles - are skeptical of Democratic Socialism and the Sanders campaign altogether. Don't meet this skepticism with hostility - meet it with inquiry and empathy. Negative perceptions of socialism have long been baked into the American imagination, regardless of how unfounded those thoughts may be. We don't persuade skeptics through anger or derision; we persuade them by showing that we are empathetic to their fears. And indeed, allowing an open environment for open sharing of ideas and concerns may reveal flaws in thinking or blind spots in the movement that need to be addressed. Of course, some will always engage in bad faith, and those actors should be met with resistance. But many have been made numb by decades of capitalist abuse and political corruption. This has engendered a sense of apprehension and disbelief that things could even change for the better. Many are fearful for the livelihoods of themselves, their families, and communities. Show them that this isn’t a movement founded by a cabal of insiders or zealots; we are real people with honest faith that things can improve only where we organize together.
Never before has a left-wing movement shown so much potential and power. The stakes are high – the Trump Administration threatens so many of us. But never before has the window for change been so agape. We must begin to incorporate the decades of activism and strategic thought that have led to and have been preparing for this pivotal moment.
And remember, always, to take care of yourself, your friends, and your family. We all need each other to realize the potential of this movement. We cannot afford to burn out – we need to look out for each other and ourselves. It is not up to you to defend the name of Democratic Socialism. It is not up to you to ensure victory of the Sanders campaign. It is not up to you to win every struggle against capitalism. It is up to all of us!