What is the significance of this year’s DSA convention, what do you expect?
Soleil S: I think there’s a lot of key ways that this convention is going to be likely one of the most exciting and important we’ve had in a while. For one, this convention will mark our first convening since we saw an influx of thousands of members during the heat of both the uprising and the general election! We’ll be meeting chapters larger than they’ve ever been along with comrades from places we’ve had yet to meet. The variety of perspectives, radicalizing experiences, and visions put forward is unlike any other point in our organization’s history, and I feel electrified just thinking about who all we will get a chance to meet.
Beyond that excitement of thousands of comrades together, it’s what these many thousands will decide for our organization that makes the 2021 convention so important. So much that the delegates will be voting on will be instrumental to making, breaking, or shifting our viable paths to socialism. Because of our major growth in actual organizing capacity, the possibilities have grown exponentially. We now have the opportunity to seriously consider resolutions like the development of a mass worker party, a change in our international solidarity strategy, and our orientation towards new growth points. Which, just on the face of it, is an exciting place to be––and I definitely want to take a moment to just appreciate all the comrades who have got us to that point. Knowing the thoughtful and difficult work it has taken to get us to where we are, comrades have an equally difficult and thoughtful task ahead of picking the right delegates to carry out this task. Whatever we choose is guaranteed to change DSA.
There is a lot of experience between the members of your slate. What do you think are the most important organizing projects in Chicago that have shaped your outlook?
Jasson P: I wouldn’t say it’s one thing but a collection of different moments, so the aldermanic races, especially Jeanette Taylor’s, Rossana Rodriguez’s and Byron Sigcho-Lopez’s, being ran in a manner that was community and member driven, but also ran in a way where Black and Latinx folks could really see themselves in the work. Then the Sanders campaign combined with the Defund Uprisings and the Defund organizing campaigns that grew out of it. Especially for the Defund work it brought in a lot of Black, Indigenous and People of Color into DSA and AfroSOC. I think it also moved DSA in terms of the politics of abolition, having a more explicit anti police and prison stance and taking direct action and protests more seriously as a needed tactic in campaigns when it comes to changing the political terrain, but also when it comes to budget and legislative fights.
Mal B: Chicago Community Jail Support remains one of the most special projects I have ever seen in my lifetime. They are a champion of horizontal organization, mutual aid, platforming abolition, and engaging with formerly incarcerated folks. They have been going every single day and sustaining their project and I feel very lucky to witness their impact.
How did the uprisings of last summer shape the thinking of the members of your slate? What lessons for DSA, if any, have you drawn from that experience?
Jasson P: The uprisings showed that any serious DSA grand strategy has to incorporate a program of mass protest, direct action and disobedience. It also put to rest the idea within DSA that if protests are insurrectionary people will stop supporting them. A police station burned down and most folks supported it. The Columbus statue action got the statue taken down, something that has been languishing as a bill in City Hall. It also showed Black folks are organized and willing to fight around a radical and at times insurrectionary politics and tactics if it builds around our radical political traditions. I think CDSA, especially the leadership, did respond well to the moment by making a Defund Committee and also making sure we worked with Black and Latinx organizers and organizations who have been doing this work for a while. I think this helped more BIPOC joining DSA. What we need to work on is having a willingness to call our own protests in those moments and making sure we are doing all we can in terms of resources and coordination to support South and West side organizing projects. Also, I think it would be a mistake just to view the moment solely as ‘spontaneous’ and ‘self organized’. We should be trying to connect the dots between spontaneous uprisings and mass organization.
Mal B: The uprisings of last summer were a massive resurgence for the movement. What it proved to me, and I think to most of my slate comrades, is that the abolition movement is rapidly growing, and it’s making people hungry to organize. I watched as dozens of mutual aid groups and organic community outreach conversations began happening just in my neighborhood alone, and as the people around me began looking for a political home. For many, that home was DSA. It is imperative that if we want to continue making DSA the largest socialist organization and using our membership body’s power to its fullest extent, we must fully and readily embrace abolition as an integral ideology and practice that we build towards in our broader socialist movement.
One of the emphases of your platform is building a multiracial organization, can you say more about your thoughts and approach to this?
Soleil S: An orientation towards a genuinely multiracial organization is the lifeblood of our work as socialists. If our aim is to be a reflection of our communities, it’s entirely unsound for an organization in a city of primarily Black and brown folks to be predominantly white. And if our goal is to especially empower our siblings who face the brunt of racist capitalism and imperialism, it is especially unsound for our chapter to be predominantly white led and white dominated. And I think generally all my comrades, Sprout Slate or no, agree with this truth. But agreement is only a quarter of the battle. There needs to be understanding and engagement around what it truly means to build community with our siblings across the city, what it means to grow and empower BIPOC leaders, and what it means to have an antiracist, anti-colonial vision and mission in all work that we do. I think all my comrades on this slate understand well what this means, and that’s part of why we’re aiming for a spot in the Chicago DSA delegation.
There are quite a few ways we have demonstrated the power and necessity of this work. In all our organizing spaces in the chapter, we consistently prioritize building coalition and collaboration with comrades of color who are steeped in the work of community empowerment and growth. We show up and we show out for our BIPOC siblings across the city, be it in solidarity through mobilization, mutual aid, or a beautiful combination of the two. We pull people into our work in CDSA with intention, making comrades of color feel welcome, valued, and vital to creating a better world and allowing them to take power where possible in all of our organizing tasks. Showing up for each other, especially those at the frontlines of capitalism’s violence, is not only a socialist tradition but an organizing necessity.
Diego M: Taking into account that we are in the heart of capitalist empire with so many of our peoples colonized and either stolen or pushed onto this land through imperialism, high among capitalism’s strengths is to pit our class against ourselves between our various shared histories. Conversely, one of if not the most important task at hand for us is to build true multiracial solidarity in real terms and not just in word or aspiration.
There are many people taking the approach that essentially boils down to glossing over the differences that exist across racial and ethnic lines and repeating the mantra of building multiracial unity while continuing as is with no meaningful changes in our work, our structure, or our politics that address this. This has the implication and effect of a “class-first” politics sitting on one side of the cliché “race vs class” question that manifests in the demographics of our org, another misguided “either/or” approach to what needs to be a “both/and” solidarity politics.
A place I draw inspiration from is in the plurinational movement in my family’s home country of Bolivia. The Movimiento Al Socialismo (MAS) party that has sustained the country in a socialist trajectory acts as a coalition in which labor unions, community groups, Indigenous nations, activist groups with emphasis on social movements like feminism and more all share leadership. They articulate and build their particular politics with a shared project towards socialism. Their strength is their commitment to pluralism. Differences are embraced, not ignored. They identify as Bolivian second to their relation as empowered proletarians, if they identify with the colonial nation-state at all. Here in the heart of the beast we must similarly embrace and work towards liberation that is anti-colonial and speaks to all the particular oppressions of the working class. Otherwise, we will be complicit in the colonial “integration” that capitalist imperialism strives for. Abolitionism is key to this fight in the USA, as it empowers our many comrades particularly oppressed by carceralism via the police, prisons, and the immigration apparatus. DSA must center these politics.
Can you talk about the significance of mutual aid work in Chicago, how you conceive of that and its relationship to building the socialist movement?
Vicko A: Mutual aid and general survival programs must be a part of our socialist organizing especially with poor communities. There is a dehumanizing question that has arisen in our movement circles which is “do we politicize the poor or do we feed the poor?” If we are truly trying to build a mass organization we will have the capacity, the resources to do both. When we talk about meeting people where they are at we must mean that with respect to every facet of where they are at, physically and mentally. Members of our movement will always enter through different means and we must keep every door open. Some will enter through leftist study, others will enter with an invite to their first protest, others will be welcomed at a food distribution. We will grow by opening as many doors as we possibly can.
Diego M: As socialists, we must pay close attention to the conditions that we are operating in and organize accordingly. We are living in a decaying empire that continues to exploit and abandon the working class in this time of continual, cascading crises, of which many more are to come. One of the unique and beautiful things about DSA compared to other socialist organizations that brought me to the organization is that we will meaningfully go meet the working class where they are. More and more, we are finding them in long lines in front of food pantries, on waiting lists for unemployment benefits, outside of homeless shelters, or with their petitions collecting dust amongst case files of overworked and underfunded social services. If we are to stay true to our mission of building a mass socialist movement, we must meet the working class there in these increasingly desperate situations. Tired, hungry, impoverished, disenfranchised: these are exactly the conditions we aim to erase and we must be able to address them directly with those most affected. That’s a very basic organizing principle.
Detractors make points that are well taken, that we must be cognizant in building working-class organizational power–political power–so that in doing such service we are meaningfully challenging capitalism rather than becoming its custodians as the non-profit industrial complex is designed to do. Engaging in this work as a socialist organization, talking about the issues in the way we do, bringing in the oppressed to continue this work shoulder-to-shoulder because they are not clients they are us, using service to support orgs like the Chicago Union of the Homeless, Chicago Teachers Union, etc., turns service into a political act. The context of engaging as CDSA, sustained by members not grants, which has so many avenues for political education and power-building campaigns once people come in, inherently politicizes our work.
However, using such a critique to write off, de-prioritize, or de-legitimize this necessary work rather than strengthening it comes off not only as a callous about-face on our values, but particularly un-strategic and ahistorical considering the litany of communist, socialist, and revolutionary outfits who successfully engaged in this work. Some who raise this critique engage in the persistent “either/or” form of assessment, which we feel is misguided. Our slate firmly believes a “both/and” approach is more suitable towards a mass socialist organization.
One of your planks focuses on direct action inside and outside the workplace, can you say more about that relationship and rank-and-file organizing?
Jasson P: This is something that ails most left and radical organizations, which is that we lack a practice, training, experience and program around mass direct action, disobedience and protests. For DSA, some have taken an approach that it’s not practical, or not the source of ‘real organizing.’ instead they look to electoral or labor as the way to ‘real power.’ On the other side you have folks who romanticize spontaneous uprisings, narrate all of social change from that point of view, and don’t see the moments of history where we had plenty of trained and planned moments of uprisings. These folks then usually do marginal or small clandestine types of direct action that take a lot of in-group knowledge to pull off. But we don’t have to fall for either of these approaches, we want to do protests, direct action and disobedience in the same way we do strikes, for strikes we want the whole workplace or industry to do it, for the social arena we want relative majorities to do it. That’s the story of the Black Freedom Movement. We want strike-ready unions, so for us at DSA we want direct action ready movement organizations. That takes practice and consistency and operationalizing it in our organization. Just as we have an electoral working group and ish like that we need to do the same for direct action to build out those skills and capacity.
Carlos E: I agree that too often there is a framing in which the only legitimate activity for socialists is through class struggle elections and through labor organizing at the point of production. I don’t disagree that those are essential strategies for socialists to build working-class power and to be organizing along with the masses. However, to truly meet the masses—especially if we are to explicitly and intentionally strive towards building a diverse multiracial organization—it requires putting the work of building organic and impactful relations with communities on the South and West sides as well as relating to mass actions on the street and movement work in the same importance as the electoral strategies and as our labor organizing.
There also needs to be a goal to continue to relate to the sections of traditionally un-unionized workplaces such as service industry and care work, to name a couple. One of my fears is that when we discuss our strategy around the labor movement we leave out some of these crucial terrains of struggle. We also want our rank and file strategy to be dedicated to building tenant unions in every building and forming a movement for housing justice that can go toe to toe with the real estate developers and landlords that continue to displace working class BIPOC communities. The pandemic has demonstrated to millions of people just how unequal our society is and that organizing is the only way to win. We need to be organizing shoulder to shoulder with folks in all of these struggles.
What sets Sprout apart from some of the other slates? In other words, why Sprout?
Vicko A: Our members very literally represent different geographies of Chicago, different organizing experiences, and different tendencies. We have spoken frankly about our differences in opinion but remain united in our resolve to build a big, bad, socialist movement in Chicago that will threaten the ruling class on every front.
Mal B: We are the only slate that centers multi-tendency, accessibility, and transparency as organizational priorities. That came from a place of connecting with and listening to our comrades who saw a lack of those qualities as a barrier to doing the work in DSA. By understanding that, and centering these principles, we can engage with those members and rebuild the trust with others who may have taken a step back. A comrade likes to describe us as “The slate the uprisings produced” and I take that as a reflection of our dedication to antiracism, abolition, and community outreach that hasn’t really been prioritized at the forefront of our chapter in the past.
Any closing thoughts?
Carlos E: We have come together as a slate and are framing our points of unity along these planks of putting our abolitionist work on the forefront, of truly prioritizing building a multiracial organization, of organizing along a principle of solidarity and mutuality, and developing a transparent and accessible culture within DSA. In the process, it’s become clear to me at least that no matter what happens on the lead up to convention or even during convention itself, we are building the type of relations needed to make CDSA a place that can be the political home for the masses in this city, a city that understand that capitalism has failed them and that only by fighting for a better world can we address the problems that this system has created for all of the exploited and oppressed populations in our society.
If you want more information on the comrades in this slate or want to read about what other key issues we are uplifting, go to bit.ly/SproutSlate and connect with us.
Sprout Slate is:Tamer Abouzeid (he/they), Vicko Alvarez (she/her), Mal Burns (they/them), Andrew Carr (he/him), Carlos Enriquez (he/him), Alex Finch (he/him), Barry Fontenot (he/him), Emily Hall (she/they), Bettina J. (she/they), Diego Morales (he/him), Jasson Perez (he/him), Soleil Smith (she/her), and Kathryn Zamarron (she/her).