2024 is going to be another pivotal election year. During a federal presidential election, the discourse on electoralism at all levels will be in full swing across the wider left and across our own organization. With this discourse we must ask ourselves, what does it mean for Twin Cities DSA to take electoral power? Is taking electoral power even the goal of Twin Cities DSA? These are wide open questions still not set in stone in our organization. Our organizational goals are living questions influencing our daily organizing decisions just as much as our organizing decisions influence our goals in return.
To bring about a Socialist Twin Cities and an eventual Socialist Minnesota we must fundamentally step out of the role of being simple activist influencers. We must transition our movement toward an organizing structure ready to take hold of the levers of power themselves. By this I mean the stance of not just influencing the levers of power, both electorally and non-electorally, but wielding and directing them. Doing so will take time and is a conversation we cannot afford to start after the next local election cycle. A failure to orient to a stance of power wielding and away from simple power influencing will be the deciding factor between a lukewarm “kinder capitalism” Twin Cities and a thriving multiracial, working class, Socialist Twin Cities over the coming decade.
Toward a Socialist Twin Cities?
When I say a Socialist Twin Cities, I think it’s important to take a moment to paint a picture of that multifaceted future. What that goal means is a fundamental change in the flow of daily life in our cities. Medium density, architecturally beautiful, spacious public housing would line our city streets overtop worker owned and operated enterprises in mixed use settings. Much of our city streets would be turned into walkable and bikeable boulevards with light rails and bus routes interspersed in between. Reduction in vehicular traffic, expansive renewable energy, elimination of plastic waste, and ample green space would both beautify our living space and would reap large benefits to both mental and physical health. No longer would city hall be a small collection of representatives and Chamber of Commerce lobbyists, but would be bustling with routine council meetings of neighborhood and community representatives deciding upon civil affairs, while labor representatives from local worker councils, unions, and co-ops would meet to discuss and decide upon local economic policies and affairs.
What undergirds that vision? It is democratically decided and enacted policy. The ability to take community input, generate policy, formally introduce that policy, and finally execute it is what it means to wield the power of our supposedly democratic state and local governments. It’s an ability that our chapter lacks and what relegates us to mere lobbyists in most capacities. What our chapter does is take community input and lobby electors and power wielders to hopefully support a course of action. Rarely do we get what we want in full, but rather, we at best receive compromised reforms from sympathetic electors. We fundamentally rely on other groups, either loosely collaborating with us or at times even operating against us, to either help generate policy itself, speak for sections of the community, and to execute policy in the halls of power. While this can be admirable and can lead to some improvements to daily life in small ways, this will not carry us to a socialist victory in any meaningful sense.
Where We Are and Where We Can Go?
What Twin Cities DSA currently has is a wide organizing foundation, with experienced radical organizers in just about every field in service to the community. We have comrades with connections and experience in the realm of housing, in the realm of labor, in the realm of environmental wellbeing, in the realm of healthcare, in the realm of government itself, and more. Demographically we have a thriving and diverse queer community amongst us and a growing number of POC and blue collar comrades entering as well. This increasingly puts us in several key nerve centers of local participatory, democratic, and people powered policy. From this starting position, we have a fruitful road open to us toward Twin Cities DSA governance.
Our various organizing units need to shift footing away from just applying pressure to those currently wielding power and toward identifying policy solutions in their respective realm, democratically generating buy-in around them, and having these then passed to our electeds so that they can be formally introduced to the City Council. Imagine the shift in attitude that this would bring when talking with both current and potential members. Imagine knowing that when you organize as a DSA member, you not only have the opportunity to organize in the realm of your preferred issue, but that you have a direct process and route for having legislation introduced on our organizations behalf. Think of how this would transform our relation to other local activist organizations. It would move us from another mere influencer in the community to a leader and governing power in waiting.
The best part? Policies do not even have to be drafted entirely from scratch. Across the nation, many policies that may be of interest to us have either been introduced at other local or state levels already or have been proposed and drafted by progressive think tanks and advocacy groups ready to be adjusted to meet our local conditions. We simply need to identify key opportunities in each realm of our organizing, discuss these and ratify them through a mix of community and internal working group sessions, and pass them off to our electeds to introduce into the council. From there we would be left in the very advantageous position of getting in front of the community to take credit for and ensure the passing of such policies.
No other group in the Twin Cities is close to that level of power. We would be equalizing the scale of power between our mass people powered Socialist movement and the local establishment with their lobbyists and deep pocketed benefactors. It is the next step toward eventual direct control of the City Council by independent Twin Cities DSA electeds with deep roots in the community to fundamentally govern and transform our cities.
How Do We Shift Toward A Governance Oriented Organizing Stance?
The exact form such a strategy would take in our organization will only come through robust discussions in our organizing units themselves and through chapter wide conversation. That being said I will try here to detail some potential avenues that could be pursued. Firstly, we need to break down the organizing silos between our electoral organizing sphere and our other various committees. We do this by expanding internal mechanisms of communication. The Electoral Committee must also strengthen its internal communication and coordination lines with our endorsed electeds. Secondly we would need to construct seats of representation and democratic decision making in each of our working groups for both the community and membership to interface with toward policy decision ends. It is these internal councils which would allow us to better communicate the interests of the community as well as serve as micro-legislative points where policy may be formulated internally by those most interested and affected by such policy and which may be stamped with authentic democratic mandate. From these internal working group councils, drafted or identified model legislation may then be moved to our electeds to be formally introduced to and hopefully passed in the local city council.
Our Labor Branch has a lot of potential for such a strategy. As members from various local unions join our organization in growing numbers, our Labor Branch could move to organize these various socialist union representatives into our own housed “workers council” or “workers assembly” that can act as our organizations arm speaking on labor issues as well as serving as the point where local economic and workplace focussed policy itself may be drafted or identified with our aligned union constituents input directly. Allowing any allied union members to sit on this assembly but only those also jointly holding DSA membership to have voting power would provide a powerful incentive for these union members to join our organization knowing that their voice will be carried directly to our electeds with an authority unmatched by outside organizations.
Finally, on the electoral side of our organization it is essential for our electeds to more directly act as an extension of our organization and be under a more formal organizational discipline. In exchange for reliably carrying out organization generated policy, our electeds would receive direct lines of communication with their voter base via our organization and our assemblies housed within our organization. These constituencies would be able to be effectively mustered in election time as a powerful bloc able to ensure the re-election of our candidates and carry weight in the larger community.
Our Bright Future
Our organization has a bright future ahead of us. We have had important victories this past election cycle, our notoriety in the local unions has grown tremendously, and we are making strong headways in other organizing realms such as housing rights and environmental justice. I am confident we will be able to take the next step beyond simple activism and lobbying and will soon be able to work the levers of power ourselves, but only if we make the strategic organizing changes necessary to do so.
By Shane M.