“Where do correct ideas come from? Do they drop from the skies? No. Are they innate in the mind? No. They come from social practice, and from it alone…”
Over the four day weekend biennial National DSA convention, as the largest US-based socialist organization in over half a century sketched out bold plans for how to strengthen and radicalize the labor movement, passionately debated over the structure of our organization, and made lifetime connections with comrades from all over, there was only one thing that most of the media could focus on…a minor alteration on how to applaud.
With some notable exceptions, most of the centrist and all of the right-wing media (and sadly even a few malcontent “Leftists” on Twitter) cannot even mention DSA anymore without diverting all attention to a handful of specific requests made by organization leaders and event volunteers. These requests largely boiled down to:
- Be kind & respectful to comrades who might have different needs than yourself
- Be kind & respectful to comrades who have a preference on how they are addressed
Over the course of four days, with around 30 hours devoted to business, guest speakers, and breakout educationals, around 5-10 minutes near the beginning and a couple brief moments of reminders were devoted to asking comrades to use ASL sign for applause, opt for stairs or escalators if they did not need the elevators, and finally use “comrade” if they weren’t 100% certain of someone’s pronouns.
I was happy that these asks were quickly adopted by most delegates right away (1000+ people will always have a slight learning curve), and I was extremely pleased that our chapter’s delegates fully accommodated these requests..
A few respectful habits do not quantify our chapter or an organization having achieved some pride-worthy level of inclusivity towards comrades with different sensory concerns, comrades with mobility needs, or comrades outside the patriarchal definitions of gender…far from it! There is so much work to do at all levels to make our organization more inclusive while we fight to make all of society more inclusive. That said, it is important for us to examine why even these seemingly minor efforts represent small yet crucial cornerstones to that larger struggle.
All questions of disability are working class fights.
When a child is born with a chronic disability and the family cannot pay the medical bills, is that not a working class fight? When an injury on or off the job limits or ends a person’s ability to get a steady paycheck, is that not a working class fight? When the unseen ailments that prevent a person from maintaining focus or clear thinking are constantly activated by the physical settings we must attend, is that not a working class fight? When years of stress and repetitive action leave a person with carpal tunnel, bad back, or simply no time to take care of themselves in the ways they wish they could, is that not a working class fight?
All questions of gender and sexual identity are working class fights.
When someone is harassed and mocked at work simply because they don’t like a single pronoun attached to them, is that not a working class fight? When a landlord declines to rent to someone simply because they no longer identify themselves as everyone else did when they were a child, is that not a working class fight? When child custody, hospital visitation, or immigration status are all challenged simply because a person or a partnership does not match a politicians view of “correct,” is that not a working class fight?
Some might question “Yes I agree we should fight for equal rights and material gains, but do these little things at our meetings really matter in those fights?”
I feel very strongly that they do matter, even if they only represent a small early step. As socialists, as materialists, we must recognize that it is in our actions that we change the world and ourselves. By incorporating these types of habits into our interactions we are openly stating our promise for future solidarity. When confronting even the minor ways in which life under capitalism is structured to immisserate some among us, it helps to change our understanding towards seeing the bigger ways some are harmed. In the end, solidarity must be transformed into a verb.
Having solidarity in the mind only can be easily compromised away. Having solidarity in action and habit, not simply as individuals, but in our communities and collective spaces commits us to keep exploring how all of our struggles are linked.
So I hope that in our chapter and others, we will continue to explore new and different ways to make our spaces accessible to the entire working class. Most of our attempts will certainly fall short in some manner. However, much like each of our comrades, Solidarity is a value that is very forgiving to anyone who engages with a willingness to learn from shortcomings and the dedication to try again.
– Anders B.