Democratic Socialists in the DFL – The Story So Far

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A little over a year ago, I heard of an effort to launch a Democratic Socialists Caucus in the DFL. I have called myself a democratic socialist since about the mid-1980s. I made the transition from anarchist (because of Ursula K. LeGuin, Emma Goldman, and my small but intellectually broad social circle in Atlanta) through anarcho-syndicalism (because it sounds so cool, right?) to socialism itself. 

I didn’t actually join the Democratic Socialists of America until 1986, when I encountered Twin Cities DSA at a May Day festival. I have been a member at heart ever since, although I have let my dues lapse for long periods, especially when I lived abroad. But since 2011, when I returned here from England, I have been an extremely active member, and was a co-chair from 2016 to 2018. 

I have also been very active in the DFL. I have attended all my caucuses and several conventions as a delegate. I have been a volunteer and/or a precinct captain for a number of candidates. I have been a nominal member of the DFL Senior Caucus. 

So the idea of a Democratic Socialist Caucus, or let’s say DSC for short, seemed like a good idea. The people organizing it were a good mix of ages, genders, agendas, ideologies and backgrounds, and were statewide, though concentrated in the Twin Cities. Probably 50% or more were millennials. As far as I know, all of them are people with solid DFL organizing history, and none of them (the organizers of it, not the members they signed up) are active DSA members except me. 

To be clear, I was not one of the initial organizers. Due to my high visibility in DSA, I was not planning to have any role beyond rank-and-file member in the DSC, but there was a vacancy for treasurer, and I somewhat reluctantly volunteered. Membership was still pretty low at that first meeting, and it would have been hard to get a quorum on the Steering Committee with a permanent vacancy. By the time the organization was even legally entitled to spend money, I reasoned, I could pass it on to someone better. 

I am giving all this personal and trivial information for context, so you can understand what a shock and a blow it was, not just to me, but to all the DSC organizers who had followed all the rules and been thoughtful and sincere, when our chair and a few other DSC SC members attended a DFL State Executive Committee (SEC) meeting on December 8, 2021 at which they were, not to put too fine a point on it, attacked and slandered as sneaky DSA infiltrators out to destroy the party. 

In case you’re not familiar with how a DFL caucus is formed, after an initial meeting, the group elects interim officers and drafts bylaws, and then after a year or so of internal organizing, begins to petition the DFL for recognition as a caucus. The first step is to be voted recognition as a DFL-sanctioned “community outreach organization.” It’s not the SEC, but the much larger SCC (State Central Committee) that takes this vote. However, to be placed on the SCC’s agenda, the petitioning organization has to petition the SEC to put them on it, at the SEC meeting immediately preceding the SCC meeting by several days. 

The DSC SC met several times in preparation for that crucial December 8 meeting. People worked their own DFL networks, and sounded out SEC members they knew. A PowerPoint presentation was prepared with our arguments about why the DFL should have a Democratic Socialists caucus. It pointed out that since 2016 and Bernie Sanders’ presidential bid, democratic socialism has been a huge factor in a flood of new DFL activists and a few candidates, even a few winning candidates. 

The fact that many of those candidates were cross-endorsed by the DSA is possibly what has put the fear into the marrow of Ken Martin’s bones. He’s the chair of the DFL SEC and was the leader of the attack at the meeting. But I’m here to tell you that that fear is ironically and insanely misplaced.  

In the week or so before the SEC meeting, we had received very encouraging messages from other DFL committees, including the one critiquing our proposed bylaws and suggesting some changes, which we incorporated. So, going into the SEC meeting, we were fairly unprepared for outright hostility. But that’s what we got, not from every SEC member, but sadly from a very solid majority of them. Their fear of and hostility toward this nascent caucus is ironic on many levels. 

The basis of Ken Martin’s response to our petition was to state that this was an incursion from the DSA, an organization that, while not a party, he claims is operating as one. Both prongs of this statement are documentably false. As support for his accusations, Martin cited the fact that DSA members have verbally attacked the DFL and that the DSA intends to run candidates against DFL incumbents. 

But the irony comes from a massive misapprehension of DSA’s nature. It’s true there is a sizeable and outspoken minority of TCDSA that opposes the DFL. But this faction does not want to take over the DFL, rather, wanting nothing to do with them, and in any case, this faction is not in leadership and not driving electoral policy at all. 

On the other side of the coin, the DSC group is not only not a project of the DSA, it has little overlap in membership with the DSA. I am, as far as I know, the only person who is a perceived leader in both the TCDSA and the DSC, and I am not on the TCDSA Steering Committee. To further the irony, I doubt if Ken Martin even knows my name. If there were to be a DSA conspiracy to take over the DFL, I am possibly the only person in Minnesota positioned to make that happen, and I have always said that that should never happen (and would be a suicidal move for the TCDSA in my opinion.) 

All the people who this myopic faction of DFL leadership think are out to take them over are completely absent from the DSC. All the actual DFL activists who hold democratic socialist values and make up the core of the DSC have either rejected the DSA as not a good fit for them, or only joined it as an avenue to bring more socialists into the DFL, an avenue they would not need if they had a DFL-approved Democratic Socialist Caucus. 

In a further irony, the DSC experienced a surge in new member applications in the week following the SEC debacle, so that was nice. 

NOTE from author: This article was written for general publication, and is shared here for the purpose of those comrades who are interested in this arena of electoral politics. As always in chapter-member blog posts, any political opinions expressed here or statements regarding DSA are purely personal remarks and in no way reflect Twin Cities DSA official positions.

By Debs