Why Chicago DSA Should Endorse Amara Enyia

Dr. Amara Enyia is seeking the Chicago Democratic Socialists of America’s endorsement for mayor. So far she has advanced through each stage of endorsement consideration and Chicago DSA members should most definitely vote to endorse her as a Mayor who will institutionalize the advance of democratic socialism.

1) Amara Enyia holds every position that the Chicago DSA EWG wants a candidate to have, based upon the priorities assembled from all working groups. No other candidate running is even interested in our platform or endorsement.

2) Her platform includes even more progressive policies than we requested that will advance the democratic socialist cause, which cannot be said of any other mayoral candidate.

3) Her endorsement ask is well within our capacity to deliver, and has the bonus of fostering sympathetic in-roads within the exact communities where our chapter is absent.

I.  ALL THAT WE ASKED FOR

Enyia has affirmed that she would engage with our chapter’s endorsed candidates to act as a Socialist slate:

  • Be opposed to the innate exploitation of capitalism
  • Be identified and function as part of a Socialist slate
  • Foster co-governance
  • Be opposed to the privatization of public resources
  • Will use her office to protect workers who seize control of their workplaces

For a previous Midwest Socialist anti-endorsement article to claim that she is “anti-socialist” is plainly false, as is that article’s categorization of another candidate, Jeanette Taylor, who was described as “socialist but not a DSA member.” Taylor is not a socialist, stated as much in her interview with the Chicago DSA Electoral Working Group, and said that she wasn’t about adopting labels in order to earn approval. She wanted to be recognized for her platform and activism history, which the anti-endorsement author was apparently satisfied by. Would the author now revoke his approval of Taylor despite her works and platform being unchanged? Would DSA advise that we judge these black, activist women not on the content of their character but instead on whether their culture’s naming convention meets an external norm imposed by a majority white organization?

Should all of the leftists, communalists, post-capitalists, libertarian socialists, anarchists, and others who haven’t had the time, privilege, or access to study Marx and label accordingly be denied shelter under DSA’s big tent? Maybe the anti-endorsement author was unaware that Communalism enjoys a prominent legacy as a historic predecessor to Libertarian Socialism, Democratic Socialism, and multiple varieties of African Socialism. To correct this, he could familiarize himself with the works of Janet Biehl, Murray Bookchin, the indigenous tradition of Zapatismo, Black Jacobonites (whom a slew of DSA members happily publish under a platform named for), and many communities across the globe practicing egalitarian, intersectional decision-making that Marx himself recognized for its democratic ownership of economic means. Yet today we should all agree that requiring practitioners of transgenerational Communalism refer to their position by Marxist terms such as “Primitive Communism” is an unnecessarily colonialist and racist aspersion with no place in the 21st century. Chicago DSA need not repeat the mistake. Certainly, DSA National anticipated that some may be prone to this unnecessary and self-defeating divisiveness so they provided a list of reasons meant to encourage local chapters’ into more warmly welcoming and endorsing on-point candidates who may not primarily self-identify as “socialist,” concluding:

DSA chapters may also choose to support progressive, anti-corporate candidates who do not openly identify themselves as socialists”

Additionally, Chicago DSA’s Electoral Working Group defined the following priorities as intermediary steps that they wanted Enyia to sign on to as their vision for transitioning Chicago into democratic socialism, and she confirmed she would support the following requests in our questionnaire:

  • An elected Civilian Police Accountability Council (CPAC)
  • The immediate end of deportations
  • Amnesty for all undocumented immigrants
  • BDS movement and divestment from fossil fuel companies
  • 100% clean energy for the City of Chicago 2030
  • Universal housing, clean water, and health care as a human right
  • Decriminalizing sex work
  • Releasing prisoners currently incarcerated for sex work and drug offenses
  • Full protection against gender and identity discrimination
  • A shorter work week without reduction of pay
  • An end to cash bail
  • A $15 minimum wage
  • Creating a public bank
  • Free public broadband
  • Election Day as a public holiday
  • Reparations
  • Black Lives Matter
  • Electoral reform such as ranked choice voting and proportional representation at all levels of government
  • Paid leave and job protection for pregnant and new parents
  • Cracking down on Uber and other exploitative “independent contractor” employers
  • Free tuition at public colleges and universities including trade schools, technical, and vocational post-secondary education
  • Mandatory patient-to-staff ratios for nurses in Cook County hospitals
  • Ceasing the practice of abusing TIF funds

The anti-endorsement article seems to suggest that on top of Amara’s self-identification with a differently named radical leftist tradition, her donated time and labor aiding worker cooperatives and solidarity economics through workshops and skillshares at the Institute for Cooperative Economics and Economic Innovation, which she founded, does not qualify as community organizing or activism. The anti-endorsement author seems to believe that only how she earned monetary livelihood within a capitalist system defines her suitability for endorsement. As many of us know, our day job or paid gigs do not necessarily define our vision of how to build power. This arbitrary criteria could have prevented the DSA’s most prominent office holder, Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, from ever receiving DSA endorsement when her campaign followed her job as a bartender. Enyia similarly has the lived experience of the working class and not as a high-powered corporate consultant as insinuated. In addition to being inconsistent, reasoning that one’s paid work completely defines their character is not our organization’s message, and should not define who is eligible to join us in the work of advancing democratic socialism.

II. MORE THAN WE DREAMED

Enyia’s authentic vision and push to bolster democratic socialism is further revealed in her self-generated platform, which goes beyond what DSA’s Electoral Working Group has requested of any candidate. She created her own additional platform planks that will advance our cause:

  • Making Chicago the #1 city for the establishment of cooperative economic models
  • People’s Budgets (participatory budgeting)
  • Institutionalizing People’s Assemblies into co-governing bodies.
  • Re-municipalization of previously privatized resources
  • An elected rather than appointed school board
  • Creating an Office of Equity within CPS
  • Community Benefits Agreements
  • Ban the Boot
  • Restorative justice restitution for the sex workers and drug offenders who have been incarcerated
  • Clean energy jobs bill
  • Ending food deserts
  • Abating public health hazards like lead and manganese exposure
  • Restoring mental health and behavioral health services and institutions
  • Increasing support and power of LSCs (local school councils)
  • Ending corporate tax loopholes and strengthening clawback provisions
  • Strengthening the Inspector General’s office with expanded oversight power
  • Increasing the practice of live streaming cabinet meetings as well as public meetings for the sake of transparency
  • Bolstering land trusts
  • Creating an Office of Public Advocate

These policies advanced by Enyia further defy the neoliberal caricature of the anti-endorsement author’s imagination, shining light on a vision for municipal co-governance rarely seen in Chicago politics. Her years of activist work in the city further showcases her exceptional commitment to our communities, whether it has been helping children who face violence, co-authoring foundational pieces such as Chicago Is Not Broke, or removing barriers of access to cooperative economics.

And at present, this platform would enrich our city so much more than our chapter had even thought to hope for in a candidate, and it must see the light of day. Moreover, proliferating these ideas and policy planks across DSA chapters through the exposure an endorsement provides will ensure our organization does indeed gain a substantial amount from an endorsement in a high-profile race. Dr. Enyia’s work is nationally recognized in the cooperative economy movement; merging efforts to subvert capitalism in favor of worker ownership and self-determination is a strong gain for DSA to grow our membership and reach across communities with tangible models of local control that can be picked up by other chapters.

III. BECAUSE WE CAN

DSA National outlined 3 tiers of endorsement in their consideration to offer local candidates. Despite preference for Tier 1, utilizing the other two tiers and DSA National’s encouragement that locals adapt to the situation on the ground enables us to solve our chapter’s unique quandary of Chicago’s vast geography where we do not have a linked membership.

Rather than requiring locals to conform to a predetermined top-down set of mandates, the national electoral strategy should be to let one hundred flowers bloom.

The National Electoral Committee of the NPC will propose endorsements to the NPC in the 2018 elections. These endorsements will be tiered as follows:

  • Tier 1 – we would provide the extensive support that the candidate requests.
  • Tier 2 – we would provide more limited support such as social media promotion.
  • Tier 3 – candidates could use the DSA name on their literature and website but
    no other support would be made available.”


Enyia’s endorsement request does not require the extensive support of Tier 1 that the anti-endorsement article solely focuses upon, claiming that we don’t have capacity for. The social media blasts of Tier 2 or the simple public affirmation of Tier 3 are well within our capacity to deliver and, again, nothing more has been requested of us. In exchange, Enyia’s pre-existing base of campaign volunteers could be spreading awareness of the DSA in all 50 wards and talking to folks on the ground in support of these issues.

Finally, the longer we insist on already having DSA members in a neighborhood before accepting invitation to causes therein, the longer we sequester ourselves in just the neighborhoods where we already exist. We do not find this to be a thoughtful, inclusive plan to expand and diversify our membership, and feel we will run the risk of burning out our already active organizing members without an influx of helping hands who can help spread the word about our existing issue campaigns. Amara’s knock-on-every-door strategy has mobilized historically disenfranchised communities and precisely the people we would want to champion our issues. Offering Tier 2 or Tier 3 support to Amara’s campaign will build sympathetic in-roads to communities we are woefully absent from.

CONCLUSION: VOTE YES TO CDSA ENDORSEMENT OF AMARA ENYIA FOR MAYOR

Picking a purity fight with an African leftist’s labeling convention or the working class’s available livelihood options does not represent the intersectional space DSA is committed to providing as we build a mass socialist movement for racial equity, class unity, and social justice for all.

The reasons for Chicago DSA to vote in support of Enyia are overwhelming. She has been actively organizing alongside us in the community and has been on the right side of every issue since before most of us were DSA members. Her staunch advocacy both includes and exceeds the aims we determined as optimal for a candidate to accomplish democratic socialist goals in this election. We as a chapter can fulfill her request, and doing so will begin to build the city-wide bridges our chapter has long desired with sympathetic, passionate enthusiasts of our full platform and more.

Procedural note for members outside of the CDSA Electoral Working Group: The EWG utilizes the endorsement process voted in by membership when reviewing candidates. Per that process, the EWG held an exhaustive discussion of merit and questions about this candidate, the EWG voted on whether to recommend the candidate to the Executive Committee, and the EWG aggregated two position papers representing the best arguments for and against endorsement. The EC then voted to advance the candidate’s endorsement to the final stage, a chapter-wide vote.

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.