New Orleans DSA is currently the largest socialist organization in the State of Louisiana. It’s also probably fair to say that, in terms of dues-paying members, we comprise the largest socialist organization that has emerged in the state in several decades. Our members have put in countless hours to get the chapter up and running, implement programs and campaigns, and create an organizational culture of openness, democracy, and camaraderie. We approaching 200 dues-paying members in the metro New Orleans area, and are working to support DSA organizing in Baton Rouge, Lafayette, and other places in the Gulf South. We should pause to appreciate these accomplishments, especially considering we are an all volunteer organization and the vast majority of us are working class people who also have to earn a wage, fight our bosses, and care for ourselves and our loved ones in a system that seems determined to divide and break us.
But the struggle for socialism and democracy in New Orleans and beyond is a long-term project and we need to think clearly about where we find ourselves at present. The political currents in our society have created fertile ground for socialist ideas. There is a glaring light shining on the wickedness of global capitalism, fascism, and imperialism. Despite our work over the last year, it shouldn’t be hard for us to admit that these wider processes help explain much of our growth. In other words, we cannot become complacent. We can’t let our growth let us lose sight of why we have come together to begin with. We are working with each other to build the power and the self-determination of the working class. We are here to take power from those who would use it to dominate us and instead use that power to uplift our neighbors. In my view, we are also here to demonstrate what solidarity, mutual aid, and love look like in action — to learn to be soulful and caring in a world that brutalizes us and sets us against each other.
So what does this mean for our chapter’s programs, campaigns, and internal culture? First let me say something about how I see the role of the co-chair. One of the advantages of having two co-chairs is that both of them don’t have to have the same skills, or even exactly the same political vision. There are also times when it makes sense for the co-chair to step into a political leadership role, and other times, in a contentious meeting for example, when it’s important that the co-chair focus on facilitating discussion and upholding democratic processes. We should all feel comfortable disagreeing with each other at times. There is a framework in place, which the co-chair upholds, for us to gain clarity about these different views and their implications for the organizing we pursue. These processes themselves are a political project that stands in contrast to most political organizations in our society. I am comfortable in this facilitation role, and I hope that I’ve demonstrated my capabilities in this regard over the last year. Much of the work takes place behind the scenes, co-chairs don’t simply preside over meetings and tally votes, they are responsible for making sure the meeting itself is possible, being sure agendas are developed and printed, making sure someone has agreed to cook, and doing their best to reach out to new faces and connect members with similar interests. I believe that this kind of baseline organizing work is vital, especially in a young organization, and this is where I’ve put a lot of my energy as co-chair.
I also believe that co-chairs have to continue to focus on our existing activities and improve them. I commend the Direct Service Committee for deciding to hold more regular brake light clinics and implement more training for participants. The clinics still have a lot of unlocked potential. Talking to our neighbors about Medicare-for-all is also a great way for us to gain experience, build our membership, and give working people the confidence to make transformative political demands. The Political Education committee is now holding organizing trainings for members every other month, and our new Membership Chair has been helping us onboard new members and keep existing members engaged. These activities are all critical to the life and growth of the chapter and we have to remain committed to sustaining and improving them.
That being said, as a figure in the organization with democratic credibility and high visibility, the co-chair also has a role to play in se[ng the political direction of the chapter — to articulate accessible ideas and empower working people to act collectively towards an organizing goal. I believe our organizing should begin at the neighborhood scale. While I don’t think its wise to completely rule it out, I don’t believe our chapter should become formally involved in electoral politics at the moment. Of course, we should make our views known and apply pressure to those in power, but this is different than acAvely running or endorsing candidates.
To me, the political opportunities and meaningful struggles lay closer to the immediate concerns of working class people. For instance, the displacement of the working class from New Orleans’ historic neighborhoods is not just a threat; it is a process that is already fully in motion and gathering steam. We should work with our neighbors to resist this process and gain greater control over our homes and neighborhoods. There are a variety of ideas about how to approach this, organizing tenants unions, municipal ordinances banning short-term rentals, or direct actions against developers and landlords. I believe housing justice could be a very impactful focus for our chapter, potentially as part of a municipal politics committee where we could invest in building our understanding of the political forces at play in New Orleans, learning where we have leverage, and where we must build it. To be effective in a housing centered campaign, or any of our campaigns really, we need to attract more working class and Black and brown people to our movement. But we need to have something to offer people first — not simply a group of friends, but a pathway to greater self-determination and political power. If our organizing is not grounded in the concerns and experiences of ordinary working people, it instead becomes a politics club, and a shameful farce. We wouldn’t be the first leftist group to go down that path, and we need to stay vigilant to avoid that outcome.
Workplace organizing, whether within existing unionized shops, or among the hundreds of thousands of unorganized workers in our city, should be a major focus for our chapter. Our Labor committee has provided a platform for workers to discuss workplace issues and support each other in their efforts. I would like to see this taken a step further, where DSA provides concrete support to an organizing drive, or develops programs to guide unionized workers towards greater political development.
No one member, even a co-chair, can bring any of these campaigns into being without the membership’s support, skills, and labor. I’ve tried over the last year as co-chair to provide consistency in our meetings and transparency in our decision-making processes. We’ve built an entirely new organization. In the coming year we need to test what we’ve created, take a few risks, and engage wholeheartedly in the fight for a better world.