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.

Against Dissolving the Chicago DSA Electoral Working Group

One of the current co-chairs of the Chicago DSA Electoral Working Group has recently proposed dissolving that same working group into five or more subcommittees each tasked with managing a different facet of the chapter’s engagement with electoral politics. The primary rationale for the proposal is that the creation of these additional subcommittees will somehow reduce the workload and the incidence of burnout among those members who engage with electoral politics under the auspices of the chapter.

This proposal is ill-conceived. It is much more likely that such a reform would result in dramatically more work for everyone concerned, at the same time as it would gravely jeopardize the electoral work of the chapter. Disbanding the EWG and creating a new pluricentric endorsement process in time for the next round of elections in early 2020 would be a logistical nightmare that would risk crippling Chicago DSA’s capacity to act decisively during a crucial election cycle. At the precise moment when another Bernie wave could be washing over the DSA, we would be mired in indecision and procedural gridlock and unable to effectively mobilize new members in support of a cohesive slate of candidates.

The proposal to dissolve the EWG has two primary justifications. First, we are to believe that this is the only way to forestall burnout among EWG co-chairs. Second, it is argued that the current structure of the endorsement process gives too much power to members on the north side, and that a decentralized model is necessary to secure the interests of south side members.

These arguments do not hold up to scrutiny. The structure of the chapter does not currently allow for the EWG’s responsibilities to be reasonably taken up by the branches, and there are a number of much less drastic solutions that would reduce the workload of the EWG co-chair(s) that do not require dissolution of the working group with all the logistical chaos that would entail.

The 2019 endorsement process was a success

Before moving on to the problems with the dissolution proposal, we would do well to recognize that Chicago DSA’s endorsement process for the 2019 municipal races has been on the whole a remarkable success. There were minor hiccups here and there and occasional bouts of acrimony, but it would be unreasonable to expect a process to have performed flawlessly the first time it was used. The EWG successfully vetted well over a dozen candidates, allowed ample opportunity for membership engagement at well-attended candidate forums, and recommended a strong set of candidates to the general membership for endorsement. Four of the initial five candidates recommended by the EWG went on to win the chapter’s endorsement, and all four have subsequently received the endorsement of the national DSA. Three candidates are still awaiting a vote of the membership, but it seems quite likely that at least one of them will win her chapter endorsement as well. That is a good track record, and is not the sort of outcome that usually signals the need for a massive organizational overhaul. Now is the time for us to identify and fix those specific flaws that exist in the process as currently constituted, not to jettison wholesale a system that is on the main well-functioning and democratic.

Workload: an organizing problem

The EWG’s most significant problem over the course of the last year has been the concentration of the lion’s share of the workload on one of the two elected co-chairs. This is, contrary to the arguments put forward in the dissolution proposal, a relatively simple problem to resolve. The current imbalance in workload within the EWG is the natural result of the EWG’s current organizational structure, which provides for a variety of defined leadership roles and areas of responsibility with vastly divergent workloads, as well as for a representational quota for the co-chair role that has resulted in one of the co-chairs being pressured into taking up a role they may have had little interest in. Because the roles of the various officers of the working group are overdefined, the reality is that any task that does not seem to explicitly fit into one of their domains falls by default onto the shoulders of the co-chairs. Since it is impossible to predict in advance all of the various tasks that the leadership of the EWG will have to perform, this results in a massively disproportionate accrual of responsibility to the co-chairs.

This is not a problem unique to the Chicago DSA EWG, and there is no need to reinvent the wheel in order to fix it. The most straightforward way of resolving this issue is to elect a steering committee with collective responsibility for the operation of the working group, and perhaps secondarily to eliminate quotas. The steering committee should have the flexibility to divide responsibilities among its members as circumstances change, as well as to add to its number during seasons of peak activity. This is, more or less, the approach adopted by Chicago DSA’s own north side branch when confronted with widespread burnout and unequal workload distribution. The solution to a dysfunctional organizational structure that results in work bottlenecks is to break up the actually existing bottlenecks, not to create many more bottlenecks spread all over the chapter.

Splitting the north side: a good idea, but not on a rushed timeline

Splitting the north side branch into multiple smaller branches is something that I and many others in the branch and the EWG have advocated for a long time. It is very much up in the air, however, whether this will occur at our next convention in June. At the last north side branch elections, the membership of the branch saw fit to elect several steering committee members explicitly opposed to splitting the branch. As such a split is a necessary precondition for this dissolution proposal to function, it cannot be sensibly evaluated at least until then and should be shelved.

Even if the north side were to be split into multiple branches at the convention, the process of organizing those branches effectively would take many months, during which it is highly unlikely they would be able to take on and faithfully execute the duties of the EWG. It is foolish to gamble on a massive chapter restructuring happening smoothly enough that everything will be working like clockwork by the end of this year or by early 2020. The appropriate time to consider this proposal and others like it would be during the lull after the 2020 primaries. At present, we should stick to making sensible adjustments to our endorsement process in order to better prepare for 2020, rather than tilting at windmills.

The current endorsement process has not disenfranchised the south side branch

The dissolution proposal claims repeatedly that the current endorsement process is in some way unfair to the south side branch because Chicago DSA’s general membership, which has a north side supermajority that is generally reproduced on the EWG, votes on whether or not to endorse all candidates. The arguments mustered in support of this claim, however, have no merit.

The meeting at which the EWG voted unanimously to endorse Jeanette Taylor, a south side candidate, that the proposal cites as evidence for the lack of south side representation at EWG meetings was exceptional: there had been no EWG meetings for several months prior and it was right before the holidays, so turnout was low (on the order of 12–14 people, compared to in excess of 30 for the previous meeting). At the other major endorsement vote members from the south side were well represented and the EWG voted unanimously to recommend Byron, another south side candidate, for an endorsement; the chapter later voted overwhelmingly (in the neighborhood of 90 percent) to endorse Byron over the objections of the handful of north side members who made capacity arguments against him. The supposed problem of the chapter membership operating as a north side bloc and giving short shrift to south side candidates simply does not appear to exist in practice.

The appropriate way to ensure that the branches are properly represented is to amend the endorsement process to give them a larger role. One solution that could achieve the best of both worlds would be to allow for the individual branches to overrule the EWG, as the chapter executive committee currently can, and place candidates that they have endorsed before the membership for a vote. This would allow for the EWG to vet candidates as normal, but for the branches to step in in cases where they feel the EWG hasn’t properly done its job, or where a candidate already has a clear enough base of support within the branch that EWG vetting is felt to be superfluous. Going forward, candidate interviews could also be held at meetings of the relevant branches rather than under the auspices of the EWG—this is another easy fix that does not depend on a wholesale reorganization of the chapter to be workable.

The proposed solution of devolving the power of endorsement entirely to the branches, even to hypothetical sensibly delineated branches that do not currently exist, is a cure far worse than the disease. Branches can already issue branch endorsements. It is profoundly undemocratic for branches to also issue chapter-wide endorsements without the support of the actual membership of the chapter. Our current endorsement process enshrines the right of the membership to have the final say in the vast majority of cases, and this is an objective we all agreed was paramount throughout the process. Removing this right from the chapter membership and allowing smaller bodies to speak in the name of the entire chapter is a step back, not a step forward. And if the dissolution proposal does not actually envision removing the general membership’s dispositive right to vote to endorse or not endorse candidates, then the entire argument that the present structure is unfair to the south side branch collapses.

The chapter needs to retain an open electoral working group or committee

In attempting to divide the current EWG into five or more separate closed subcommittees, the dissolution proposal neglects to account for the advantages inherent in an open and centralized structure. These are numerous, but the most salient follow:

  1. Communication between members involved in electoral work will be hindered in the absence of a single working group or committee to unite the chapter’s various electoral efforts. The EWG was able to draft an extremely effective endorsement procedure, including a comprehensive candidate questionnaire that has gone on to serve as a model for other chapters, precisely because it was a central body that drew together individuals with different skill sets from across the organization united by a shared passion for electoral work. This is the entire point of a working group, and the working group system has served Chicago DSA well on a variety of fronts, not just in terms of electoral politics.
  2. The electoral work of the chapter is open-ended and endorsing candidates is not the only role that a healthy electoral working group should perform. We have naturally been focusing the lion’s share of our efforts on candidate endorsements for the past several months because it’s election season, but there have been numerous proposals circulating for other projects for the EWG to adopt during the lulls between elections. Electoral reform is one, canvasser trainings are another, among many more. The reality is that election cycles occur for approximately four to six months every three out of four years. Most of the time there will not be an ongoing election. If the EWG does not exist, people with an interest in electoral politics will have nowhere to invest their efforts during these lulls, which means they’ll be less likely to still be active Chicago DSA members when election season does roll around and we have need of their expertise.
  3. A decentralized endorsement process where the branches have the final say is incapable of dealing with the simple question of deciding which branches have jurisdiction over which races, and how to divide authority between the branches in cases where races are “shared.” Wards and districts will not always adhere to Chicago DSA’s internal branch boundaries. In cases where a race spans multiple branches, how will those branches coordinate their endorsements? Such a branch-based endorsement system would result in duplicative efforts and turf wars that are currently avoided by having these discussions take place on neutral ground in the EWG.

The key advantage of the EWG is its openness: any member who is knowledgeable and passionate about electoral work can show up at an EWG meeting and have their say. The danger of this openness is that EWG meetings may be unrepresentative of the views of the chapter, which is why it is important to have checks on the EWG from democratic bodies such as the executive committee, branch steering committees, or branch meetings. But the necessity of these checks should not obscure the essential role that an open and centralized electoral working group or similar-structured committee plays in ensuring proper democratic deliberation of candidate endorsements. This is a task that cannot be devolved entirely to small subcommittees, elected or otherwise. The membership needs to have confidence that the candidates they are voting on have made it through a robust process that unfolded out in the open in full view of everyone who felt like showing up, rather than behind closed doors or at a bunch of meetings scattered all over the city. Our current process provides them that assurance. The process outlined in the dissolution proposal does not, and should be rejected.

Video: Cooperatives for a Better World at the Coop Economy Summit

Midwest Socialist went to the 2018 Chicago Cooperative Economy Summit and caught up with some of the people and organizations making co-ops happen.

Meredith Lemmon speaks about Cooperatives for a Better World, which spreads awareness about the cooperative business model, offering marketing, training resources, and education about co-ops.

Chicago DSA Fights for Rent Control on the November Ballot

The Lift the Ban Coalition knocked thousands of doors this year in its mission to end Illinois’ ban on rent control. As a member of this coalition, Chicago DSA is taking up the fight to pass referenda in favor of rent control in the 35th, 46th, and 49th wards this election day, November 6th.

In the 49th Ward, DSA volunteers collected 400 signatures from citizens who believe Rogers Park should remain an affordable, diverse community.

DSA organizer Mauricio Maluff Masi recalls a conversation with a woman selling tamales outside St. Jerome Church who was harmed by landlord greed.

“She’s been living in Rogers Park for many years,” says Maluff Masi. “Every year, her landlord raised the rent by $100. Recently, she had to tell him she couldn’t do it, and he said ‘Well, it’s either that or you can move somewhere else.’ She actually had to find a new place.”

Landlords and property managers are seldom friendly to progressive organizing. The infamous “double buzzer” apartment style has kept out countless would-be canvassers. But Lift the Ban in particular has encountered resistance from landlords because it challenges their power over tenants.

Isabella Janusz, a DSA volunteer, relays how some tenants seemed hesitant to say anything that might get them in trouble.

“There was a sense of fear,” says Janusz of an apartment building canvassed by DSA. “But then one of the tenants invited us into her unit and, after listening to what we had to say about the Lift the Ban campaign, she really opened up and told us of the repairs in her unit that weren’t being addressed, the landlord evicting tenants, and a living situation that did not feel safe to her.”

Some landlords began canvassing themselves to spread misinformation about rent control, claiming it will not benefit renters in the long-term. But DSA volunteer Bumper Carroll met one Rogers Park citizen who knew firsthand how beneficial even meager rent control policies are.

“She expressed dismay at the gentrification that had driven prices up in Southern California and was grateful that she had enjoyed some protection in Los Angeles,” says Carroll. “She was surprised to learn about the ban in Illinois, her new home, and enthusiastically supported our efforts.”

Megan Hyska, a DSA organizer new to Rogers Park, was amazed by how many of her neighbors are in desperate need of affordable housing.

“We know folks are busy and talking to canvassers can seem like a pain,” says Hyska. “So I think it’s telling how many people wanted to talk to us about rent control. A couple older homeowners who have lived in Rogers Park 50 years invited me into their living room to tell me they worried the neighborhood would become too expensive for their neighbors to stay.”

DSA organizer Brian Bennett believes true socialism is necessary to secure housing for all. He supports Lift the Ban not because it will fix the housing crisis but because of the good it can do for people right now.

“We spoke to a man who had recently gotten off the streets and into an apartment,” says Bennett. “His landlord was raising the rent on him, putting his ability to stay there in danger. It struck me what an incredible feat it is for anyone to escape homelessness in our society, and how the land owning class could possibly destroy this feat for profit. He asked simply, ‘Rent control…Is that ‘less’?’  For some, ‘less’ means they can worry less about their budget; for others ‘less’ means survival.”

The Next Step For Police Accountability in Chicago: Civilian Oversight

In the wake of Jason Van Dyke’s conviction of second-degree murder for the killing of Laquan McDonald, many Chicagoans are wondering what comes next in the fight for police accountability. While the verdict was certainly a victory, it doesn’t bring back Laquan or the many, many others who have been and are systematically murdered by the Chicago Police Department. Van Dyke is, after all, just one cop in the $4 million-a-day pigsty that is the CPD.

It was only a few days after the trial’s conclusion that Attorney General Jeff Sessions announced that the Department of Justice would fight the proposed consent decree recently put forward by Illinois Attorney General Lisa Madigan. The consent decree aims to reform and improve the CPD, but it too lacks the larger structural change that would radically alter the balance of power between civilians and police in the city.

Spending almost two years stuck in committee, the ordinance for the establishment of a Civilian Police Accountability Council (or CPAC) in Chicago has been mostly ignored by Rahm Emanuel’s City Hall. CPAC, which was drafted by The Chicago Alliance Against Racist and Political Repression (CAARPR), aims to democratize policing in Chicago and abolish the bureaucracy that has long festered within the CPD allowing rampant abuse and corruption to go mostly unchecked for more than a century.

CPAC would establish an elected council with a representative from each of the city’s twenty-two police districts, including their own staff and salary on level with those of aldermen. The council would have the power to appoint (and fire) the Superintendent of Police; rewrite CPD policy, including use of force guidelines and standard operating procedures; investigate police misconduct and all police involved shootings that kill unarmed people; and act as final authority regarding discipline in the Chicago Police Department, including the ability to indict police officers.

CPAC is in many ways a “non-reformist reform” just as Medicare For All or Universal Rent Control are. Socialists aim towards the abolition of police and prisons just as with capitalism and private property, and as such we don’t see the end goal as simply reforming the CPD. Rather, socialists fight for the establishment of CPAC because it would result in a fundamental shift in power from the police to the communities they patrol.

But despite 50,000 residents writing their aldermen in support of the ordinance, as well as numerous community groups backing it (including Chicago DSA), CPAC was set to be left behind back in April as Public Safety Committee chairman, 30th Ward Ald. Ariel Reboyras, announced that he would start holding neighborhood meetings across the city on the three other competing police accountability proposals: a plan drafted by the Grassroots Alliance for Police Accountability (GAPA), and two others introduced by Reboyras himself.

That was until 35th Ward Alderman (and DSA member) Carlos Ramirez-Rosa, whose 2019 re-election campaign was recently endorsed by Chicago DSA, told the press that he would force a vote on CPAC under parliamentary rule 41 at the City Council’s next session. Reboyras first responded by moving to hold the vote at the Public Safety Committee meeting the day before the council’s meeting, but less than 24 hours prior to that meeting, Reboyras conceded to Rosa’s demands and agreed to move CPAC forward along with the other three plans for discussion.

CPAC has been editorialized in local reporting as being “radical” (Chicago Tonight, 4/05/18), a “long shot”(Chicago Tribune, 4/05/18), “extreme” and even “draconian” (Sun-Times 4/05/17, 4/13/18); quite a reach when describing an ordinance developed from the bottom up to curb state oppression. While Draco may have given out death sentences for the most minor of crimes back in ancient Athens, the CPD seems to have always been given the leaway to execute its citizens without any need for ‘due process’ whatsoever.

The more lenient plan put out by GAPA, which builds upon the existing Chicago Office of Police Accountability and does not grant such sweeping oversight, has received similar backlash to CPAC. Chicago Police Supt. Eddie Johnson dismissed the idea of increased oversight on the grounds that civilians “don’t have the professional acumen to develop policy and strategy” for the CPD, and that it would be akin to “telling a surgeon how to do his business.” Quite rightfully, it takes several years of education and experience to be certified to slice and dice as a surgeon. The requirements to butcher for the CPD are much less intensive.

Speaking to the Sun-Times, 41st ward Alderman Napolitano said that the GAPA plan would severely hurt cop morale. Napolitano says that GAPA would “put civilians on a board who most likely don’t like the police and are gonna look for everything they’re doing wrong.” Further, Napolitano adds, “we’ve already lost the pro-active police officer. [With civilian oversight], we are gonna completely lose them. It’ll be gone. Our crime rates are going to skyrocket. Nobody’s gonna take this job anymore. What reason do they have?”

Napolitano’s questioning of what reason someone would have to be a cop if they were going to be held accountable by an elected civilian council slyly reveals a belief that a large part of the allure of a career in law enforcement, and in Chicago this is quite certainly a given, is that being a cop will position you in a place above accountability and above the standard rule of law, along with other privileges and power CPD patronage grants. With civilian oversight in the picture, and such perks at least weakened, what reason would anyone have to serve with Chicago’s Finest? To serve and protect?

No more disturbingly was this belief illustrated than at one of the community hearings on the different reform plans this summer when an off-duty cop in attendance told the crowd that “if any civilian involvement legislation passed, we’ll stage an uprising.” A direct threat if there ever was one.

While The Fraternal Order of Police union would like to frame their opposition to any community oversight as being a labor issue, socialists recognize that police are not public workers to be stood with in solidarity against management. They are class traitors, a militarized syndicate paid and given total discretion by the bourgeoisie state to enforce order through unfettered violent oppression.

Video: Renee Hatcher at the Coop Economy Summit

Midwest Socialist went to the 2018 Chicago Cooperative Economy Summit and caught up with some of the people and organizations making coops happen.

Renee Hatcher is a law professor at John Marshall Law School. She is the director of the school’s Business Enterprise Law Clinic which offers free legal support to cooperatives.