Why Chicago DSA Should Not Endorse Amara Enyia for Mayor

Amara Enyia is seeking the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America’s endorsement for mayor. Chicago DSA members should vote against this endorsement.

Members should vote against endorsing Enyia for three reasons: Enyia’s track record is one of a professional-class consultant rather than a fighter for the working class, Enyia is not a socialist and in fact rejects socialism, and the chapter does not have the capacity to effectively participate in Enyia’s campaign (nor would the chapter get anything out of participating).

CONSULTING VS. FIGHTING FOR THE WORKING CLASS

Rather than dedicating her life to being an organizer for working-class causes, Enyia’s career has been principally one of a political and nonprofit consultant — work that is reflected in her largely technocratic rather than class-struggle approach to campaigning. The former is the purview of liberals; the latter should be the aim of socialists.

Enyia may have had some personal involvement in or rhetorical support of the city’s vibrant working-class movement — made up of unions like the Chicago Teachers Union, neighborhood groups like KOCO and Action Now, black youth groups like BYP100, and many more organizations, fighting back against attacks on public schools, police killings, gentrification, austerity, and much more — that has taken on Mayor Rahm Emanuel and Richard M. Daley before him.

But she hasn’t made that involvement central to her campaigning, nor does it appear to be central to her life.

Quite the contrary: she actually worked in Daley’s office as a policy analyst in 2009. Daley’s tenure was fundamentally characterized by his embrace of widespread privatization, attacks on public schools, and a broadly neoliberal, anti-working class agenda.

But Daley hasn’t been in office in nearly a decade. That’s more than enough time for someone who regrets their service for a neoliberal mayor to change course. Unfortunately, Enyia has not done this.

She has worked as a consultant for other organizations that do not advance a working-class agenda in the city like Kids First Chicago, an education advocacy group that education union organizer Martin Ritter has called “the public school closure and charter school expansion arm of the Commercial Club,” an organization of the city’s ultra-rich that pushes their agenda in the city. While she did not directly promote charter schools in Chicago, she worked for an organization that did.

While Enyia said on Twitter that her work was dedicated to shifting the organization away from its school privatization agenda, Ritter responded,

The commercial club are the 1%. They have actively manipulated the working class for over 100 years in our city. You are helping them rebrand. That’s not progressive. … when the 1% who manipulated CPS for decades to close our schools, privatize our jobs, and wreak havoc on our city came calling with a job offer to help them “change” you could have said “Nah, I’m good.”

When I asked Enyia about charters at the electoral working group endorsement meeting, she made it clear she was opposed to them. Many of her tweets and her Sun-Times questionnaire show this, too.

The problem is not that Enyia is pro-charters — she isn’t. The problem is that her consultant orientation towards social change led her to work with an education organization that is an arm of the ultra-wealthy.

Enyia also has worked as the head of the chamber of commerce in the Austin neighborhood. Heading a CoC in a poor neighborhood like Austin is very different from working for larger CoCs, who are responsible for some of the worst evildoing in the country and world today at the national level. Still, it’s work focused on business owners’ needs, not workers’.

The weakness of the American left over the last half century or more has helped produce a massive nonprofit industry that attracts many smart, talented people (as Enyia very obviously is — the Chicago magazine reporter who found Enyia’s boundless energy and wide variety of skills “really damn impressive” is correct). Those people may have decent progressive politics but see nowhere else besides nonprofits and consultancies to do meaningful work.

But this is not the socialist approach. We don’t focus on entering the halls of power because we think we can make change from the inside — the pressures those halls bring to bear on socialists are too strong for anyone to resist on their own.

Nor do we believe that nonprofit groups, noble as their work often is, are the solution. In fact, they’re often part of the problem.

The socialist approach to making change is through building a working-class movement against exploitation and oppression; when we support politicians, it should be because their campaigning and winning office helps us build such a movement.

Enyia’s approach to social change over the course of her career is not one socialists should back.

NOT A SOCIALIST

The second reason for not endorsing Enyia is that she is not a socialist. She made this clear in her endorsement questionnaire, where she wrote, in response to the question “Are you a socialist?” “No. I’m a communalist. ‘Socialism’ is a construct and label developed in the West. And subsequently exported elsewhere.”

It’s hard to know quite what to make of this. If the argument is that socialism is a fundamentally Western construct, that would probably come as news to the millions of non-Western people around the world who have fought for their liberation, whether from racism or colonialism or capitalism, under the banner of socialism. And if, by calling socialism “Western,” the implication is that socialism is “white,” this would be surprising to the four other candidates that CDSA has endorsed, each one of whom is black or Latino and each one of whom has proudly claimed the label “socialist.”

The idea that socialism is a fundamentally “Western” political philosophy has become more popular in recent years, advanced by socialism’s opponents — often reactionaries and representatives of the rich. Nivedita Majumdar recalls her own experience with this line of argument as a leftist student organizer in India:

Do I remember being charged with the idea that our fight for educational justice and workers’ rights was Western? That we were somehow duped by Western thought in following that line? Yes, I do remember. And that charge came from the Right. The cultural right was fine with capitalism, but socialism was Western.

Enyia’s statement also begs a very basic question: if Enyia rejects socialism because it is a fundamentally Western concept, why is she asking a group of socialists for their endorsement?

To be clear, policy-wise, Enyia is no reactionary. She leaves a lot to be desired on many issues (most of her proposals are technocratic in nature and don’t involve taking capital head-on; you don’t see the need to tax the rich as a central part of her campaign). But on others, she is quite progressive. When interviewed by the Chicago Reader’s Ben Joravsky about why she ran against Mayor Emanuel in 2014, Enyia highlighted Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s record of devastating austerity measures: “Closing the schools. Closing the mental health clinics. The cuts. The firings.” And some of her current policy proposals are quite good, like the Civilian Police Accountability Council. She has also come out strongly for a public bank, an excellent idea.

But as socialists, we shouldn’t endorse candidates who simply put forward some progressive policies while otherwise hewing to a business-as-usual approach to politics, nor candidates with a technocratic approach. Socialists’ job is to stake out a bold, clear alternative to tepidly liberal politics, rooted in the understanding that capitalism structures society in fundamentally unjust ways.

Thus the campaigns, policies, and candidates we fight for have to pose a direct challenge to capital’s power by naming class enemies, checking their power, building class consciousness, and organizing the kind of mass movement we need to overcome the status quo.

Even at their most progressive, Enyia’s rhetoric and platform does not do this. And, at the very least, our candidates should not be opposed to socialism, as Enyia seems to be.

LACK OF CAPACITY

The preceding two reasons are political arguments against endorsing Enyia. Such arguments should be central to Chicago DSA’s decision on what to do in this race. But there’s also a secondary but still key reason why we should not endorse Enyia: we don’t have the capacity to seriously take on a new campaign, and even if we did, it would not benefit Chicago DSA.

The chapter is already stretched thin with four city council races, and perhaps as many as six if members vote to endorse two additional candidates, Jeanette Taylor in the 20th ward and Pete DeMay in the 12th. According to organizers I have spoken to in the already endorsed races, the campaigns are already stretched thin with volunteers—a major problem since some early polling indicates several races might come down to razor-thin margins.

Then there is the question of what we as an organization would gain from such an endorsement.

The four endorsees and DeMay are members of Chicago DSA and have put their Chicago DSA membership front and center. Taylor is a socialist but not a member of DSA; most importantly, however, Taylor has a strong track record as a working-class militant in the city’s fight for education justice. (You can read here about her thirty-four-day hunger strike with eleven other parents and community members in Bronzeville to reopen Dyett High School in Bronzeville as a district-run, open-enrollment, green technology-focused school here.)

All the candidates are out-and-proud socialists and longtime working-class fighters. Enyia isn’t either.

Given this, if Chicago DSA endorsed Enyia, how would we benefit? It isn’t likely she would promote us on the campaign trail, since she’s not a member of Chicago DSA and doesn’t believe in socialism.

And since, as we’ve also established, her policy platform is not transformative in the way socialists prescribe, participating in her campaign would not open up new political possibilities nor put new working-class forces in motion.

It’s not clear what, if anything, Chicago DSA would have to gain from participating in her campaign.

AGAINST AN ENYIA ENDORSEMENT

The reasons for a Chicago DSA vote against Enyia are overwhelming. She comes from the professional consultancy world rather than the working-class movement that has transformed Chicago over the past decade; she isn’t a socialist and actually seems opposed to socialism; and we as a chapter lack the capacity to participate meaningfully in her campaign and would gain little even if we did.

I urge all Chicago DSA members to vote no on endorsing Amara Enyia.