Working Mass has collected short pieces from Massachusetts DSA chapter leaders and core members reflecting briefly on their chapters’ wins and weaknesses in 2021 and then detailing some of the big projects, important struggles, and political conditions they expect this year.
The purpose of this is to encourage strategic thought and discussion within and across chapters, to increase chapters’ awareness of each other’s organizing (and existence), and to create a record of the state of DSA in Massachusetts at this moment. The writing below is not meant to represent the official view of the authors’ chapters but rather their perspective as active organizers in DSA.
River Valley DSA
Connell H, chapter co-chair; Michaela B, chapter co-chair; Ruth J, labor standing committee co-chair
In River Valley DSA, we have unusually high union density. According to a poll in fall 2020, around one-third of our members are in a union, and many of our chapter’s best organizers are strong rank-and-file, elected, and staff unionists, especially in education. Strengthening our chapters’ local labor network continued unabated in 2021, after a boom during the 2020 pandemic as we came out (safely) in droves for frontline workers documented and undocumented, K-20 educators demanding safe schools, and strikers across industries.
Examples of our labor work are too many to list in one go. But here’s one instance of concrete labor support that has reaped numerous benefits, and can be replicated anywhere. Developing socialist, rank-and-file labor leaders is elemental to winning socialism, and every DSA chapter should be doing it at every opportunity.
At the end of 2020, our Executive Committee passed a proposal to fund member tuition to the local Labor Notes’ Troublemakers School, co-hosted by the Western Massachusetts Area Labor Federation (WMALF) in February of 2021. The executive committee arranged it so that Labor Notes could directly invoice us. We had lots of interest, and around a quarter of attendees were our members. Not only did it put socialist unionists in touch with local labor, but with one another during a difficult period. Members who helped put on TMS were able to identify our chapter’s unionists, and onboard them into more labor work. It also raised RVDSA’s profile among labor militants in the Valley, and strengthened our bond with the WMALF. We are doing something similar with an upcoming Stewards’ Training for Building Union Power in a few weeks, which will be a collaboration between the WMALF and the UMass Amherst Labor Center. DSA members have been deeply involved in building and recruiting for this five-week course.
In addition to our chapter’s labor work, we had successful political education events, collected voter pledges for the Fair Share Amendment, and canvassed for Take Back the Grid’s utility debt relief bill. While we’re proud of what we accomplished, 2021 came with the COVID difficulties felt by many chapters. We had drops in meeting attendance, as well as membership in general. We struggled to know what was the right time or way to try a hybrid meeting, or if we should canvass in places with high and rising case counts.
Beyond the exhaustion of pandemic life lowering participation, one of the biggest challenges was building relationships within the chapter. With Zoom there are no conversations with a mix of people on your way in or out of a meeting. With that gone we knew we had to be intentional about helping new members find their way in the chapter. We started up a mentorship program based on the Chicago DSA Rose Buddy program. One of our goals this year is to continue and expand this work to help new and less active members get connected to chapter campaigns.
Chapter activity and participation has been increasing over the past couple of months, which is very exciting. Our work on the Fair Share Amendment will continue, along with other important ballot question fights in the state this November. We look forward to spending this year building working class power with DSA members in our chapter and across the state.
Cory B, chapter treasurer
In 2021, we saw two prolonged struggles that both ended in success.
The first was the revival of Worcester DSA after its spring 2020 collapse. Recognizing DSA as the most promising vehicle for socialism, Central Mass members began connecting and working on restarting the chapter in January 2021. We met in person at the St. Vincent nurses’ informational pickets, got more organized to support them as they walked out in March, held our first General Meeting in months in April, and elected a new Steering Committee in May.
St. Vincent solidarity was our second struggle and intimately tied to the chapter’s revival as outlined above. Together with Boston DSA’s Labor Working Group and later River Valley DSA and National DSA’s Democratic Socialist Labor Commission, we held weekly planning meetings, mobilized to and hosted events on the picket line, raised over $13,000 for the strike fund, and worked with DSA North Texas and Orange County DSA too.
We gained a hands-on education in class struggle in our local conditions, learned more about strike support in the process, and developed new leaders, including our current secretary and new co-chair. We also expanded relations with neighboring chapters and forged strong ties with the Massachusetts Nurses Association, culminating with the nurses’ victory and the surprise honor of being invited to speak at their ratification announcement.
Entering Year 3 of COVID-19, capitalists’ endless perpetuation of the pandemic has unquestionably challenged our organizing as we prioritize members’ lives and safety. Nevertheless, member organizing and engagement is still Worcester DSA’s internal priority, and we are constantly thinking about how to help members interact off Zoom and find a home in our chapter. We’re also selecting a new strategic campaign for our external priority, aiming for something that unites us in building working class power while growing the membership, their organizing skills, and our capacity.
The ruling class had already imposed a bipartisan suffer-and-die-for-our-profits plan well before the pandemic. COVID simply further exposed this reality, disrupting far more people’s lives and adding 1 million U.S. deaths to capitalism’s body count. The George Floyd protests, Great Resignation, and even “Squid Game” show that many in this country broadly understand the system is fucked up, see liberalism increasingly discredited by an unwillingness and inability to address its crises, and are fed up with capitalism’s success in ruthlessly advancing capitalists’ interests at our expense. At the same time, they also show us most people see no way out, and we know that if we don’t live up to this moment, opportunists will present fascism as the only alternative and outlet for those disillusioned with the status quo. It’s our task as socialists and DSA members then to not just offer this analysis or our critique of these conditions, but to agitate, educate, and organize the working class to collectively wield their newfound leverage to win change, and not merely line up early to vote for federal (or state) Democratic trifectas.
This year, Worcester DSA should continue building a democratic organization where every member is an organizer. We should keep showing up in our communities for working people, paying no mind to others’ online in-fighting without stakes. And we should deepen ties between Massachusetts chapters. We’re all organizing in the same state, and our success is greater when other chapters succeed. Whether a reading group, ballot question, or publication like this, there is plenty of potential for statewide collaboration and projects democratically governed by and open to members from all our chapters, and we should all give more thought to that.
It’s 2022. The challenges are great; the opportunities limitless.
Benjamin Gammage, membership committee and communications committee member and editor of the chapter’s quarterly newsletter
The beginning of the pandemic and end of the Sanders campaign in 2020 quickly disrupted our expectations and hopes. 2021 was to be a test: a year into the pandemic, could we adapt and thrive in the new organizing climate of Joe Biden’s America? By all measures, we passed — after a year of building electoral capacity, training new organizers, deepening our connections with the labor movement, and building internal cohesion, Boston DSA is stronger than ever.
The year began with selecting chapter priorities, with members voting for tenant organizing and municipal elections. Our Housing Working Group, which was already organizing against 10 landlords through the Greater Boston Tenants Union, acted on the first priority by running tenant organizer trainings. Not only did the Housing WG build its own capacity, but its training series was so popular that it’s serving as a model for future chapter trainings as we broaden our base of active organizers.
The second priority was more resource-intensive. Although we had done electoral work before, with mixed results, this was our first attempt at adopting the successful NYC-DSA model, in which an endorsement entailed running an aggressive ground game. The focus of these efforts was contesting five new city council seats in Somerville and also our first two seats in Boston.
Endorsing so many candidates meant rapidly building an astonishing door-knocking apparatus, which members threw themselves into with zeal, tirelessly canvassing and phone-banking week after week throughout the summer and fall. We knew that running in so many races — in addition to defending five incumbents — was ambitious, and indeed, we didn’t win all of our races: we lost one incumbent in Cambridge, and won only two new seats in Somerville and one in Boston. Nevertheless, this represents a doubling of our power on the Somerville City Council, and our first foothold on Boston’s. Our challenge in the coming year is to use these seats to build our movement. And in future years, we will need to figure out how to expand our base of canvassers beyond a small cadre of the super engaged, so that more of Boston DSA’s thousands of members find roles for themselves in campaigns.
Meanwhile, our Labor Working Group worked hard to ensure we were present to support workers’ struggles throughout the area. When the St. Vincent nurses began a strike that would last over 300 days, members drove out to Worcester to join them on the picket line and raised donations for their strike fund. The Labor Working Group also participated in National DSA’s PRO Act campaign, as did the Ecosocialism Working Group, alongside its own efforts to pass a statewide utility relief bill.
All of the above have been real signs of our strength — but perhaps our greatest achievement this year has been developing internal structure. One weakness in the past has been our fragmentation, with working groups siloed off and many members feeling disconnected from the chapter’s activity. With our 2021 internal priority of membership engagement and inclusion, Boston DSA members reworked our New Member Orientations, developed a Rose Buddies program for mentoring new members, and trained Working Group leads on organizing events and email lists with Action Network. Our largest working groups elected organizing committees to handle their growing activity and built structures, like Working Mass, to help bring us together and share our struggles. As we enter the new year, we are feeling more than ever not just like individuals but like comrades unified in a single, effective, and growing organization and united in the fight to build a better and freer world. Onward to 2022!
Steve D, chapter secretary/treasurer
As a card-carrying member of the DSA, I believe in our mission and also that there needs to be a DSA chapter in the Berkshires. But I never went to a physical meeting pre-pandemic, and I’ve only attended one local Zoom meeting.
I and a number of other people volunteered for leadership roles in the Berkshires DSA so that it could continue to be a presence in Berkshire County. The Zoom meeting in which I was elected Secretary/Treasurer was billed as a meeting that could have easily resulted in the dissolution of our local chapter. The previous leadership seemed exhausted and frustrated. I didn’t want that, and neither did my current colleagues on the Executive Committee.
We stared into the abyss here in the Berkshires and decided to keep our chapter active. That’s our big win for 2021.
As far as plans for the future, I believe we need to make ourselves attractive as an organization that gets good things done. Whether that’s a brake light clinic, a targeted mutual aid effort, or a voter info packet ahead of local elections, it needs to be something in 2022. My vision for the Berkshires DSA is that no one can get elected to a local office without the Berkshires DSA’s endorsement.
Southeastern Mass DSA
Evan Kirkwood, organizing committee co-chair (acting)
In 2021, Southeastern Massachusetts DSA officially split off from Providence DSA to create its own organizing committee. The year started off strong with consistent engagement during meetings as we were able to hold our first elections for an interim steering committee as we attempted to formalize into a chapter. We had some labor successes as members went on strike with teachers and steelworkers in New Bedford, and USW Local 1357 went on to win a favorable contract. We took part in textbanks with other Massachusetts DSA members for Mass-Care and helped draft a letter to U.S. Representative Jake Auchincloss to win support for Medicare for All. SEMA DSA was able to get our full list of members approved after splitting off from Providence, and we got all our social media up and running, including our Zoom account and regular email updates.
We also wrote and voted on our draft chapter bylaws as we hoped to achieve chapter status by the close of the year. Unfortunately, as the year wore on, we started to see dwindling attendance at our meetings. To combat this, our interim steering committee held an end-of-summer potluck at Buttonwood Park in New Bedford after holding a textbank to try and get dues-paying members to start taking part but only a handful of people showed up. By the end of the year, we had run out of steam to become a chapter and for now remain an organizing committee.
For 2022, the steering committee of SEMA hopes to build back up the support and engagement we saw early in 2021 to build a mass working-class movement in our region. We will continue to support labor strikes on the Southcoast and work on member outreach in our attempts to achieve the goal of chapter status, and we hope to engage in more collaborative projects with other Massachusetts DSA chapters like we were able to through the first half of 2021.
Cape Cod DSA
Alan W. Holt, labor working group co-chair
Cape Cod DSA continues to grow and evolve as we tackle both Cape-specific challenges and the broader Massachusetts and U.S. struggle for socialism.
Housing and labor are major issues here on Cape Cod and they are both areas of organizing CCDSA has thrown itself into. Our housing working group has supported the HOMES Act, which would seal eviction records to keep tenants free from future discrimination. Meanwhile, Barnstable County was awarded $41.3 million through ARPA, and members of the housing group have been pushing for much of this funding to go to creating new affordable housing.
In June of 2021, we formed a labor working group to coordinate our solidarity actions with workers in our region. We participated in National’s campaign to Pass the PRO Act, throwing a successful Zoom event and phone banking. We coordinated with the nurses of both Falmouth Hospital and Cape Cod Hospital in Hyannis to attend and speak at their rallies in support of better working conditions. We also further developed our relationships with other local unions represented here on the Cape.
Additionally, CCDSA has begun to work on labor issues outside its immediate vicinity. We have joined forces with other Massachusetts chapters to contribute ideas, articles, and editing expertise to Working Mass, a DSA publication originally started in the Boston chapter. As it seeks to represent all of Massachusetts, we feel that our participation is one of the more promising avenues we have to advocate for our communities. South Massachusetts, strangely, suffers from a lack of local media, especially media focused on the working class. We are excited to continue to work with them in 2022.
Challenges remain. We are at this moment a small chapter which has not always been successful in its community outreach or savvy in its media communication. One of our primary goals is to craft a big-picture, long-term strategy to confront the worsening conditions for working people on the Cape. While we have been successful in building a dynamic chapter full of dedicated people, we have suffered from burnout, as well as the inevitable losses that come with people moving away. Building the strongest organization possible is an ongoing process. We hope that 2022 continues our upward trend.
Graphic Credit: Cory B