I’m Alli DeJong, a founding member of New Orleans DSA and the current co-chair. Over the past year I have led the bylaws drafting and revision process, represented us at the national convention, developed our incorporation paperwork, and assisted other organizers with our campaigns and actions. I’m running for re-election because I am proud of what we’ve accomplished together and I know we can accomplish even more in the next year: building our base through committee-led campaigns, growing our internal capacity, and becoming more involved in local struggles where a socialist perspective can shift public policy. I am a socialist with a MBA who can handle the regulatory, legal, and financial considerations, freeing our chapter’s organizer-members to accomplish extraordinary things. I will keep us connected to DSA National and other chapters, so that we can be a leading voice for socialist organizing in the Gulf South. I will do everything I can to make DSA New Orleans a powerful voice and force for socialism.
I first came here in the summer of 2006 to live and work (volunteer labor) at Common Ground Collective in the Ninth Ward. Common Ground, at that time, was a collective of volunteers working to bring residents back home post-Katrina by gutting homes, remediating mold, offering legal services and health care, giving away food and cleaning supplies, and more. It was a complicated endeavor that managed to accomplish good things every day in chaotic conditions. It was also my first brush with leftist organizing, and I learned many valuable lessons. The foremost lesson is that internal structure is critical for long-term success. Structure – policies, procedures, governance, record-keeping, and more – protects organizations and the people who work in them. DSA’s track record and institutional memory make it quite different from a collective response to a disaster, and also underline the importance of internal organizing. Houston DSA’s Harvey response built on what Common Ground accomplished, but did it without the chaos that accompanied the post-Katrina compound. My goal has been to develop our chapter into an organization that can survive disruptions and disasters and support the excellent organizing that our members do every day. We have begun this process, but there is much more to do and more project management skills are needed to do the day-to-day administrative work of keeping an organization going.
My political consciousness was formed through those months at Common Ground, but also just living through the Katrina recovery and the Bush administration. I grew steadily more disillusioned with Democratic party politics during the Obama administration as we saw a complete erosion of the left and the party’s seats all over the country. Clinton’s nomination over the resurgent Sanders campaign was the culmination of a process that had abandoned the left long ago. After the election, I listened to an interview with Adam Curtis about his documentary “Hypernormalisation,” where he described our country as a place where everyone knows that things are wrong, and that our leaders know that things are wrong, and that our leaders know that we know that things are wrong, and yet nothing changes. He tied this in to the financialization of the economy and of the commons, the history of cyberspace as a utopian vision absent of power, the failure of the Occupy movement, and the need for a compelling vision of the future. This compelling narrative cemented, for me, the need to construct a compelling socialist future and organize alternative institutions of power outside of party politics. I joined DSA shortly thereafter to reengage with the socialist movement and to build power with the working class.
In the coming year, I want our chapter to be the hub for worker and socialist organizing in New Orleans and our surrounding region. This year we deliberately revised our bylaws to take power out of the hands of the local council and place it in our member-led committees. I firmly believe that this structure is the right one, and that our chapter’s members should be developing political programs and campaigns, presenting them before the general membership in the form of political resolutions, and debating them in full view of our chapter. Building this culture takes time and energy; one of the main tasks for the coming year will be for the local council to foment and model this culture among our committees.
I am encouraged by how judicious our chapter has been in initiating campaigns and partnerships – supporting where we can without overextending our resources or diluting our message. This has been appropriate for our growing chapter as we determine our political direction. However, I also believe in making the road by walking it; we are going to have to do the work and adjust our approaches as we learn. In the coming year, I want to grow our canvassing capacity and see us extend our reach into city government, where we can monitor the policies that affect working people, and also gain the expertise to develop effective strategies for municipal advocacy campaigns around wages, housing, workers’ rights, police abolition, or whatever else members prioritize. Our comrades across the country are developing strategies that fit within their local systems, like Stomp Out Slumlords in DC, Paid Sick Time in Texas, and Right to Counsel in San Francisco. We can do the same, but we need to cultivate among our members both the socialist political education as well as the experience and knowledge of New Orleans municipal systems to determine where we can be effective.
Finally, our chapter needs to be a place where women, LGBTQ, disabled, and comrades of color feel not just welcome, but that their voices are at the forefront of our organizing. It concerns me that many women have come to a few meetings and then left, drifting away from our chapter. I will increase the accessibility of our chapter’s meetings, intentionally build the Socialist Feminist caucus, and support the Socialists of Color caucus as we build power together.