D.S.A. Marxists Neck Deep in “Occupy” Movement
By Trevor Loudon
From baking brownies to providing legal, medical and organizational support, the US’ largest Marxist group Democratic Socialists of America, and its youth wing Young Democratic Socialists, is heavily involved in “Occupation” actions across the country.
The Occupy Wall Street protests have invigorated the American Left in a way not seen in decades, and DSA has long emphasized the important role social movements play in improving the quality of life of ordinary people. So we have urged our members to take an active, supportive role in their local occupations, something many DSAers had already begun doing as individuals, because they believe that everyday people, the 99%, shouldn’t be made to pay for a crisis set off by an out-of-control financial sector and the ethically compromised politicians who have failed to rein it in.In Atlanta Georgia, several DSAers have been active in Occupy protests, while comrade Elizabeth Henry serves on the occupation’s medical committee. DSA aligned Georgia State Senator Nan Orrock has been very vocal in support of the local protestors (which include her son), while another DSA connected State Senator, Vincent Fort, was arrested during an Occupy protest on October 25.
This page contains examples of DSA members and members of our youth section, Young Democratic Socialists, participating in the Occupy Wall Street protests, including news articles, videos, and pictures featuring DSAers and DSA honorary chairs taking part in the protests, and personal accounts and analyses from DSAers themselves.
In Colorado, Boulder DSA comrade Dave Anderson is involved in the movement, while Denver DSAer, Charles Nadler, is using his position in the once Communist Party led National Lawyers Guild, to provide legal support for the protesters.
On September 28th, just before getting into my car to drive to Boulder, Colorado, from my home in Denver, for the monthly DSA Colorado meeting, I received a telephone call from the newly formed Occupy Denver, asking for legal help. As President of the National Lawyers Guild of Colorado, I learned that Occupy Denver was concerned about the police reaction to their demonstrating. I put out a call for Legal Observers, and was able to rally some to go to the scene at Lincoln/Veteran’s Park in the heart of the Colorado-Denver governmental complex…At its monthly meeting in September, the Fort Collins, Colorado, DSA branch did the initial organizing for Occupy Fort Collins. It then turned over all decision making to the general assembly.
Law enforcement began to take apart Occupy Denver’s tent city at 3:15 a.m., on Friday the 14th. Arrests for camping began after 5 a.m., when the park would normally be open. On waking, I ramped up efforts to sign up attorneys to represent the 24 or 25 arrestees. At this point the Colorado Criminal Defense Bar, of which I am also a member, joined the effort to sign up attorneys. By the 1:30 p.m. initial appearances (Advisements in Colorado), we had enough attorneys on hand to make sure no one went without representation. During this period we hooked up with Denver Anarchist Black Cross, who had set up a legal hotline to collect names of arrestees and to raise bail for the arrestees. They made sure that no one fell through the cracks…
We eventually had 45 attorneys signed up to take cases, an investigator and an appellate attorney. Later on Saturday, another 24 or so demonstrators were arrested and needed attorneys for their initial appearances at 8am on Sunday. I went to the court and was joined by two other attorneys to provide representation. On October 19th, NLG trained another 10 or 15 Legal Observers.
More arrests took place on Sunday October 23rd, including the severe beating by the police of one demonstrator, who earlier in the year was arrested for demonstrating against police violence, and whose charges had been dismissed. They all were supplied with attorneys. Two attorney strategy meetings have been held with more to come. While I acted as President of NLG Colorado, I was doing something that fits my commitment to the goals and spirit of DSA.
Comrade Dan Michniewicz managed the Occupy Fort Collins Facebook page and Twitter feed before leaving for New York to take part in the protests there.
Out in Hawaii, DSAer Ben Wilson is helping to organize Occupy Maui. He serves on the Media/Information working group and is “reaching out to the local papers and labor unions.”
In Fairbanks Alaska, a group of University students are camped out in a downtown park even though it is minus five degrees. Fairbanks DSA members have provided food and other items needed by those occupying the park.
In Minnesota, several comrades from the local Twin Cities Democratic Socialists of America took part in a recent Occupy Minnesota event.
DSA and YDS have been active in Occupy Philadelphia (mostly through our Temple undergraduates and grad students, which now include YDS co-chair Sean Monahan). We’ve had good contingents, with banners and leaflets, at the original morning of occupation of City Hall plaza and a march of about 1,000 from City Hall to the Liberty Bell yesterday.Out in California, Paul Burke, outreach chair of Sacramento DSA, was among those arrested, during a confrontation with police at OccOccupy Sacramento.
DSA and YDS groups should loyally participate in the Occupy protests and reach out to healthy elements who seem interested in us, by talking to them, giving them leaflets, inviting them to our events. This is a climate in which we can strengthen the socialist movement, but we have to be visibly active to do so.
We passed out lots of copies of the DSA Fact Sheet on the federal budget. A couple of DSAers, Pam Barratt and Virginia Franco spent this first night ‘al fresco’, with no tent.In the “belly of the beast,” New York, Young Democratic Socialists such as Nicolle Schippen, Andrew Porter, Chris Maisano, Amber Frost and Ryan Briles have played significant roles in organizing the sometimes chaotic protests – reaching out, in the process to allies in Socialist Party USA and the Working Families Party.
Since the first march and rally, DSA SD has participated with food donations two more times to the occupiers at Civic Center. Last night, we contributed 144 brownies at about 10:00 PM and displayed a sign.
We arrived on [Sept. 17] around 4 o’clock. We had been reticent to even attend because from the beginning it had been announced as an intentionally leaderless movement with no specific demands, but we went anyway, just in case they had something up their sleeve. Firstly, the entire event was organized in a public facebook group, so very predictably, the cops had already blocked off Wall St. by the time we had arrived. Protesters gathered in a nearby park. They had no one directing people to this park. A very helpful cop actually told us where they were. We arrived at the park to a disorganized, confused looking bunch of kids arguing about assemblies and theory.
This being the absolute worst use of resources, we formed coalitions with some friends with WFP (particularly my co-worker Dave Handy) and Kristen Lee from SPUSA and we started marching just around the park (at this point the Penn State Chapter of YDS and some Jersey kids were also with us). After a few passes around the park, we started to pick up some people and momentum, despite the fact that one of the organizers of the demonstration tried to pull us all aside to have a dialogue-based assembly, much to the distaste of all the marchers. So we decided to march to Wall St. anyway.
The majority of the people in the park ended up following. We got loud, we got big, the cops started to mobilize very quickly—lots of them. Dave, Kristin, Ryan, and I tried to keep to communication going from the front of the march to the back, but there were just too many people.
The Tea Party movement was a spark plug for the political right, leading to an election victory for the Republicans in 2010. Clearly, Occupy Wall Street and its far-flung branches will be a shot in the arm across the left of center. I’ve observed the Los Angeles encampment directly and followed national developments closely. Based on this, I’ve argued that the major achievement of OWS will be its rejuvenation of an army of dejected and impotent progressive political and activist groups gasping for air…Democratic Socialists of America is only one of several Marxist organizations involved in the OWS movement. Though begun largely by anarchist elements, DSA, Communist Party USA, Party for Liberation and Socialism, Workers World Party and others have all climbed aboard.
I believe the remarkable OWS uprisings will serve primarily as the ignition rather than the motor of societal change. And already it’s possible to offer detailed documentation of the igniting effect of OWS on a sample organization on the left.
My test case is Democratic Socialists of America, DSA, which has a national convention coming up in November. As a participant in planning for the convention, I’ve seen up-close how rapidly the budding OWS phenomenon has influenced DSA’s forward agenda. The convention has set an early full delegate plenary on the theme, “Occupy Wall Street and the Struggle for a Democratic Society.” It starts with an update on the occupation movement and then small group discussions for all on how DSA can tie into the new political environment.
The leaders will push for members to get into the streets by supporting OWS protests, demonstrating at elected officials’ offices against budget cuts, and joining coalitions revitalized by the occupation experience. There will be a press for members to get fired up by OWS to do things that have been stewing on a low flame. The renewed activism includes contributing to OWS’ momentum.
A forum on the convention’s first night, borrowing language from OWS, highlights the topic, “Equality and Jobs for the 99%.” The featured speaker, Congressman John Conyers, will discuss his sweeping Full Employment and Training Act. Conyers’ bill is well beyond the Washington Consensus, creating a total jobs environment for all who want to work. Passage of the bill would elate the angry throng of unemployed graduates protesting at the occupations. It would be financed entirely through a transaction tax on the Wall Street companies the protesters revile that are engaged in high-risk trading. Delegates will be asked to campaign forcefully for this measure and support Conyers’ upcoming dicey re-election through a nationwide series of fundraising house parties.
DSA is beginning to take a more aggressive approach to countering the extremist conservative ideological stranglehold on the American mind, which the occupations are challenging. This involves giving the public a socially responsible alternative to the corporation-worshiping free enterprise worldview…
On the local level, DSA members across the country have been involved heavily in the encampments. They’ve taken part in the General Assemblies, joined local demands committees, supplied food, and conducted workshops on topics like Neo-liberal Causes of the Economic Crisis, and Democratizing the Economy. DSA Honorary Vice-Chair Cornel West was a prominent spirit at occupation sites in both New York and Washington D.C. He was arrested in both places.
Scholar-activist Frances Fox Piven, who is also an Honorary Vice-Chair of DSA, thinks we are “on the cusp, at the beginning of another period of social protest,” similar to the civil rights era. Piven tells us to prepare for mounting political conflict. She is right.
The country will in all likelihood face a bumpy road of popular struggle with advances and reversals ahead. If DSA is any kind of harbinger, a host of left-leaning organizations–unions, activist political bodies, advocacy groups–stirred by OWS, are fastening their seat belts to join the ride in their own ways. Whether OWS itself flourishes or founders, the protests have begun to unleash the sleeping dogs of progressive activism.
DSA is the largest of those involved and enjoys a wide geographic base. It also has very deep ties to the Democratic Party, particularly through the more than 80 strong Congressional Progressive Caucus.
DSA will attempt to discipline the OWS and steer its activities in directions helpful to their long time ally Barack Obama and the Democrats.
Will DSA succeed in herding the anarchists and their undisciplined hangers on in the desired direction?
Time will tell.