Voices from Lower Hudson Valley DSA on Rep. Jamaal Bowman, Palestinian Solidarity, and Electoral Strategy
Two members of Lower Hudson Valley DSA offer their views on recent debates.
It’s no secret that DSA members had significant disagreements on whether Rep. Jamaal Bowman, a DSA member and congressperson from New York’s 16th congressional district, should have been disciplined for his vote to fund Israel’s Iron Dome missile system or his participation in a J Street-sponsored delegation to Israel and the occupied Palestinian territories. Here, Socialist Forum provides space for two members of Lower Hudson Valley DSA, the DSA chapter that covers most of the territory in Rep. Bowman’s district, to articulate two different views on the question and related matters.
DSA Should Embrace Rep. Jamaal Bowman, Not Push Him Away
By Dan Lutz
Rep. Jamaal Bowman is an outstanding spokesperson for democratic socialist ideas, and he has put those ideas into practice in Congress.
The debate in DSA over Rep. Bowman’s vote for military aid to Israel raises a big and important question about how we work with people who share most – but not all – of our program. Is it more important to have complete unanimity, or can we allow a range of opinions?
The supporters of greater unanimity point to the long history of betrayal by socialist politicians. We certainly must work to build relationships of trust and accountability with socialist lawmakers – and criticize them when they vote in ways against our principles.
But Bowman’s opponents in DSA have flattened the complexity and fluidity of Rep. Bowman’s position. Their “red line” would separate DSA from a Congress member who is far better on Palestine than almost every other member of Congress, and who shows signs of moving closer to our perspective. DSA’s big tent is a strength, not a weakness. The alternative is to become a sect and isolate ourselves from US politics. We should embrace Rep. Jamaal Bowman, not push him away.
Background from Rep. Bowman’s District
My chapter, Lower Hudson Valley NY DSA, has been debating how to relate to Jamaal Bowman since 2019, when he entered the race for Congress against former Rep. Eliot Engel. The contested district, NY-16, covers part of the Bronx and southern Westchester county, including Yonkers, Mount Vernon, and New Rochelle.
Engel joined Congress in 1989 and rose to the Chair of the Foreign Relations Committee. He supported the Iraq War and opposed the Iran nuclear deal. The district includes a large and politically active Jewish community, and Engel always stressed his support for Israel. In 2018, he bragged, “I sit down with AIPAC on every piece of legislation that comes out. I think it’s very, very important. In the past 30 years I have attended 31 consecutive AIPAC conferences in March, I haven’t missed one.”
Rep. Bowman came to politics through his work as an educator and activist. In 2009, he joined a group of community and racial justice advocates in the Bronx to found the Cornerstone Academy for Social Action middle school, where he served as principal until his run for Congress. At a time when charter schools were popping up like mushrooms in New York, Rep. Bowman pointedly started CASA as a public school. Bowman also became active in the movement of parents, teachers, and students to “opt-out” of New York’s punitive standardized testing requirements. Through his work, he became a well-known community leader in the Bronx and Yonkers.
Before he announced his campaign, Rep. Bowman and Justice Democrats reached out to our DSA chapter to discuss endorsement. Rep. Bowman actively courted DSA support. He declared himself a democratic socialist in an interview in Jacobin, he started coming to chapter meetings and protests, and he publicly joined our group.
However, Rep. Bowman was not the only democratic socialist who decided to challenge Engel. The day before Jamaal filed to run for office, Andom Ghebreghiorgis, a special education teacher, started his own campaign. Ghebreghiorgis was a strong, charismatic candidate. He brought to the campaign his experience growing up in a household of activists in the Eritrean liberation movement.
Rep. Bowman and Ghebreghiorgis ran two different kinds of democratic socialist campaigns. Rep. Bowman focused on economic and racial justice issues, while also criticizing Engel on foreign policy. Ghebreghiorgis made his critique of Engel’s foreign policy record the centerpiece of his campaign, forcefully speaking out on the US-backed invasion of Yemen and embracing the Palestinian liberation struggle and BDS.
In a preview of the current debate in DSA, our chapter sharply debated the two candidates, and BDS became the central issue. Bowman strongly criticized the Israeli occupation and promised to fight to reduce US military aid to Israel, but he declined to endorse BDS.
Almost everyone agreed that Rep. Bowman had a better chance of beating Engel. Bowman supporters, like myself, argued that he did not need to agree on every point of our platform in order to get our endorsement and support. It made a huge difference to us that even though he did not back BDS, he did show vocal support for Palestinian rights in a district long represented by an AIPAC-backed hawk.
Ghebreghiorgis’s supporters argued that we had to draw a line on BDS – even if it meant spoiling the race for Bowman. Shortly before the start of the pandemic, our chapter voted on the endorsement.Ghebreghiorgis received 35% of the vote, while Bowman came one vote short of our 60% endorsement threshold.
With DSA’s decision delayed and then stalled, Bowman started to build a more traditional progressive coalition, racking up endorsements from groups like the Working Families Party, the New York Progressive Action Network, community organizations and progressive unions. The Sunrise Movement provided a ground army of canvassers and phone bankers.
Rep. Bowman proved to be a strong candidate with a strong sense of direction. He spoke to the pressing needs of working people in his district. Rep. Bowman’s district was the epicenter of the first major COVID wave, and he used his campaign to fight for personal protective equipment for nurses and provide meals for people in his district. After the police murder of George Floyd in Minneapolis, Rep. Bowman joined Black Lives Matter demonstrations and released his Reconstruction Agenda. Surely one of the most radical platforms of anyone in Congress, Rep. Bowman’s Reconstruction Agenda draws the connection between the fight for racial justice and universal economic reforms, and calls for a refounding of democracy in America in order to carry out those reforms.
As they say, chance favors the prepared. Eliot Engel did not visit his district once during the entire pandemic. When he finally returned, a hot mic recorded him saying “If I didn’t have a primary, I wouldn’t care.” Overnight, Bowman went from determined underdog to front-runner. With only a few weeks to go in the race, the Democratic Majority for Israel flooded the district with hundreds of thousands of dollars worth of ads attacking Bowman.
With a Bowman victory in sight, Ghebreghiorgis agreed to suspend his campaign and endorse Bowman. Lower Hudson DSA quickly held an emergency endorsement vote, and our chapter, then national DSA, endorsed Bowman. DSA members turned out for phone banks and canvasses, but our endorsement came too late to make any difference in the campaign or to build a meaningful relationship with Rep. Bowman.
Assessing Rep. Bowman as a Legislator
Even as a small minority, democratic socialists can play two very important roles in Congress: to use their position to promote democratic socialist ideas and popular struggles, and to use their vote to fight for reform legislation and block bad legislation. On both counts we should draw a positive balance sheet of Rep. Bowman’s first year in Congress.
Rep. Bowman has used his position in Congress to argue for the core democratic socialist demands embodied in the Bernie Sanders program: Medicare for All, College for All, a universal jobs guarantee, and the Green New Deal.
Most significantly, Bowman wrote the Green New Deal for Public Schools legislation, linking together the fight for universal public education, good union jobs, and a Green New Deal. Building on the theme of his Reconstruction Agenda platform, Rep. Bowman has sought to build a working-class coalition by combining calls for racial justice and environmental action with universal economic demands. Bowman deliberately partnered with DSA’s Ecosocialist working group to launch the public campaign for the Green New Deal for Public Schools.
Since the rise of the Tea Party right, we’ve watched the hardcore wing of the Republican Party’s Congressional delegation break with party leaders to push their legislative agenda. This summer, finally, we saw left lawmakers try the same tactic by tying their vote for President Biden’s popular bipartisan infrastructure bill with a vote for the Build Back Better Act, which includes billions to pay for universal pre-K and climate action. Besides Obamacare’s Medicaid expansion, Build Back Better, if passed, would be the first major social security legislation since the Johnson administration of the 1960s.
Until this maneuver, the Build Back Better Act was basically dead on arrival. While its fate is still uncertain, left lawmakers showed that a small and determined group in Congress can use their legislative authority to push strong reform legislation.
During this entire battle, Rep. Bowman used his legislative platform to talk about the difference Build Back Better would make for working class people in his district – and to contrast how hard it is to pass reforms to help working people as opposed to aid to the military. When Congress wanted to give the Pentagon $24 billion more than even asked for in their annual spending request, Rep. Bowman used the moment to show how deficit hawks didn’t ask for a CBO score or talk about inflation. Sixty-nine other lawmakers joined Rep. Bowman in voting against the appropriation bill – an unthinkable act even a few years ago.
Bowman has also used his position in Congress to draw a contract with the Wall Street wing of the Democratic Party. During the months of negotiations with Manchin and Sinema over Build Back Better, Bowman warned again and again that the legislation was being watered down to assuage the rich. And when Manchin announced his intended “no” vote on the bill, Bowman called Mancin out for siding with millionaires against working-class West Virginians and people of color.
Five years after the first Bernie campaign, American politics is fundamentally different than before. We now have a small, determined, and very effective democratic socialist caucus in Congress, and major social spending legislation is back on the table for the first time since the Johnson administration. Our job now is to build up that core of socialist legislators, and try to overturn the legacy of neoliberalism.
Assessing Rep. Bowman on Palestine
Rep. Bowman’s record on Palestine is far more fluid and positive than his opponents claim.
During his so-called so-called “propaganda trip” to Israel sponsored by J Street, Rep. Bowman went out of his way to meet with Palestinians, and attempted to meet with Rashida Tlaib’s grandmother. When he returned and reported back to J Street – at the meeting which led to the BDS Working Group’s formal call for expulsion – Rep. Bowman said that when he asked school kids in Hebron what they wanted, they replied “end the occupation.”
Rep. Bowman left his trip to Israel with a critical perspective on Israeli policy regarding the Palestinians. He left his meeting with Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennett convinced that the Israeli government seemed uninterested in a two-state solution and totally indifferent to the suffering of Palestinians. In his meetings with J Street and with Jewish constituents, Rep. Bowman referred repeatedly to the Nakba as something that ardent Israel supporters need to acknowledge and take seriously (Jewish Currents reporter Alex Kane reports on the meeting with J Street here).
Rep. Bowman has supported the Palestinian struggle legislatively by signing on to Rep. Betty McCollum’s bill to stop US military funding that supports the detention of Palestinian children and the bulldozing of Palestinian homes.
I strongly agree that Rep. Bowman should not have voted twice for US military funding to Israel. But we should bear in mind the tremendous pressure put on Rep. Bowman (and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez) regarding the Iron Dome funding vote. In the run up to the vote, Rep. Bowman was specifically targeted – Bret Stephens called him out in a New York Times op-ed, the pro-Israel constituency in Bowman’s district mobilized, and his office reports that they received many more calls in support Iron Dome than against it. The lopsided final vote of 420-9 shows just how much work we have to do on this question.
In our chapter, even Rep. Bowman’s opponents admit that he is better than 95% of members of Congress on Palestine. Admittedly, that’s a low bar. His opponents counter that even though he usually says the right things, his actions are more important.
I disagree. One of the most important jobs of a socialist legislator is to help spread socialist ideas. Rep. Bowman talks about the legacy of the Nakba and the horrors of occupation, and about the bankruptcy of the Israeli leadership, in a district with one of the most pro-Israel constituencies in the country. He’s joining a new generation of Jewish leaders in the district who are also challenging the occupation. That’s an important step forward that we should not diminish.
DSA’s Alliance with the Squad
Can we work in alliance with a legislator with whom we have a significant and long-standing disagreement over a key issue?
I think the answer is yes. We are likely to have disagreements with any socialist lawmaker. In each case, we need to make an assessment of how close the candidate is to our position, and also if their position is likely to change. Rep. Bowman’s support for Palestinian liberation is much closer to DSA’s convention resolutions and statements on the Israel-Palestine conflict than his opponents will admit. He has staked out a position that is far from the norm in his district, and he has shown great patience and willingness to learn from Palestinians and their struggle.
Maintaining a relationship and alliance with Rep. Bowman allows us to continue to work with him and hopefully move him further. We can maintain that alliance and not give up the right to criticize particular votes. Those criticisms will mean far more coming from within the organization than if we push Rep. Bowman away.
Pushing him away from DSA would also certainly push away the rest of the Squad – who, along with Bernie Sanders, are the most well-known spokespeople for democratic socialist ideas in this country. The two Squad members who do support BDS – Reps. Rashida Tlaib and Ilhan Omar – have not criticized Rep. Bowman for his votes or his trip to Israel. Jeopardizing our alliance with the Squad is not a decision to be taken lightly – and I think it would gravely harm our socialist project.
We also need to maintain a materialist outlook. Strongly pro-Israel voices are well organized in Rep. Bowman’s district. He won because he ran a great campaign, with a great message at the right time. He hit hard at the powerful and spoke up for working-class people in the darkest moments of the pandemic. But there is currently no permanent, organized constituency for democratic socialist ideas in his district. We have to build it.
Building that constituency requires a few different approaches:
- Organizing working-class voters in the district to fight for housing, Medicare for All, a universal jobs guarantee, and a Green New Deal.
- Working with Palestinian-led orgnizations in the district to support BDS outreach and education in the district.
- Working with organizations of pro-Palestine and pro-BDS Jewish residents who are challenging the hegemony of pro-Israeli government voices in the district’s Jewish community. A new generation of young (and not-so-young) Jewish leaders are ready to speak up for BDS and oppose the occupation.
With redistricting, Rep. Bowman’s district is likely to move north, which will mean less territory in the most working-class and racially-diverse sections of his current district, and more territory in whiter and less working-class areas of Westchester county. Rep. Bowman is already facing at least one challenger in his primary – and that opponent fully backs Israel against Palestinian self-determination as well as “market-based” solutions for universal healthcare.
Finally, the entire Bowman debate makes me worried about DSA’s internal functioning and organizational democracy. Bowman’s opponents argued that a member of DSA can and should be expelled for disagreeing with only one point of our platform – an idea that delegates at our 2021 convention explicitly voted down.
DSA sets up working groups in order to carry out the democratically-made decisions of our conventions and elected leadership. But during the Bowman debate, the BDS and Palestine Working Group issued public press statements in order to try to expel a member and change DSA policy. No one elected them. Even after our national elected leadership decided not to expel Bowman, this unelected – and apparently unaccountable – group issued a new statement calling for his expulsion. The working group issued this renewed call for expulsion the same day Rep. Bowman received dozens of racist messages – including threats of violence – for calling Sen. Joe Manchin of West Virginia a racist (these threats were reported in a fundraising email from Rep. Bowman’s campaign sent on December 22, 2021). It is completely unacceptable for a working group to try to set DSA policy, especially by issuing public statements that go against the decisions of our elected leaders.
Bernie Sanders, Jamaal Bowman, and the rest of the Squad have convinced millions of people that a better world is possible. We can either seek to join with them and organize those millions of people into a powerful force fighting for socialism, or become a sect. Let’s get to work.
Building DSA Power Means Taking Palestine Seriously
By Andrew Basta
In 2021, DSA adopted our first political platform at our national convention. In this platform, we commit to international solidarity. We recognize that we operate in the heart of the empire. We recognize the bloody legacy of the US empire across the world. We write, “As socialists living in the heart of the American empire, we must oppose imperialism and work to address, cease, and heal the harm caused by our ruling class.” But most importantly, in my opinion, we write, “Only by listening to and aligning with those directly targeted by these policies can we begin to work toward a unified global vision of socialism and international working class solidarity.” We know that capitalism is an international system. Our responsibility, as a socialist organization in the imperial core, is to listen and align with those across the world fighting the ruling class, and build an organization that stands in unwavering solidarity with the global working class and victims of US imperialism.
In 2005, more than 170 organizations of Palestinian Civil Society put out a call to action for people around the globe to boycott, divest from, and sanction (BDS) the state of Israel. The BDS Movement embraces a pro-human rights framework with the following three core demands:
- End the Illegal Occupation and Colonization of the West Bank, in accordance with 8 UN Security Council Resolutions and the Fourth Geneva Convention.
- Recognize the fundamental rights of its Palestinian citizens of Israel to full equality (there are currently more than 60 laws that discriminate against Palestinians in Israel).
- Respect, protect, and promote the Palestinian Right of Return, as stipulated by the United Nations General Assembly Resolution 194 (today, 6.5 million Palestinians live in exile, and 1.5 million live in refugee camps).
We know exactly what Palestinians ask of us to stand in solidarity with their struggle. They have the demands and the strategies laid out for what it means to support Palestine. With that in mind, we voted to support Palestinian civil society’s call for BDS in 2017, and established a working group dedicated to Palestine solidarity and BDS organizing in 2019. We support the BDS movement because we as socialists must always follow the will of those directly harmed by the US imperial machine. Disagreeing with BDS means disagreeing with over 80% of Palestinians and rejecting the premise that socialists in the imperial core must listen to those directly impacted by US imperialism.
Rep. Bowman’s Harms
In 2020, when Lower Hudson Valley DSA endorsed Jamaal Bowman, he was quite clear that he didn’t endorse the BDS movement. He however made the argument that he would support Palestinian human rights. He committed to not increasing funding to Israel. He also committed to protecting people’s First Amendment right to boycott Israel. Thus, we entered our relationship to an elected official on mixed grounds, acknowledging that Bowman didn’t agree with the boycott, divest and sanctions movement and, thus, he disagreed with the premise of building a socialist movement in the imperial core aligned with those across the world fighting the ruling class. This ideological disagreement, a disagreement over policies and principles in a socialist movement, transformed into a material conflict over the last few months when Rep. Bowman repeatedly made decisions to actively support the apartheid Israeli state and harm the movement for Palestinian liberation.
As the BDS and Palestine DSA BDS and Palestine Solidarity Working Group recall, this began in May, when “Bowman publicly slandered and opposed the BDS movement in an interview with the Jewish Community Relations Council of New York, saying that he does not align with BDS-supporting organizations, of which the DSA is one.” This actively harms the movement for Palestinian human rights and our ability to organize with comrades struggling across the world for Palestinian liberation. The effects of such a statement are material, actively supporting the already rampant villainization and repression of BDS organizers propagated by groups like Canary Mission and the Anti-Defamation League. These repressive organizations and enforcement of these laws especially target Palestinians and people of color.
The escalation of Rep. Bowman’s material harm to Palestinians accelerated in the Fall. On September 3rd, he voted on an appropriations bill to increase funding to Israel’s Iron Dome system by another $1 billion. More recently, at the beginning of November he participated in a J Street propaganda trip to Israel that met with the Foreign Minister Yair Lapid and had a photo-op with far-right war criminal Israeli prime minister Naftali Bennet. Some argue that, if these experiences lead to recognizing some of Israel’s atrocities, then the delegations are actually positive. This argument rejects our established role as socialists in the imperial core. As established, we should align ourselves directly with the BDS movement, the representation of Palestinian civil society, and the BDS National Committee characterized his participation in the delegation as “complicit in whitewashing Israel’s regime of military occupation, settler colonialism, and apartheid.” They use the metaphor of a picket line. Rep. Bowman crossed a picket line, to support an apartheid state commiting ethnic cleansing of the Palestinian people. Rep. Bowman’s educational experience does not take superiority over solidarity with Palestinians.
The clear question then emerges: what do we do when an endorsed candidate and a DSA member uses their office and status to commit real and material harm to our movement? When we recognize supporting BDS as our duty in the imperial core and the Palestinian people as the group we seek to align ourselves with in the fight against imperialism and global capitalism, what happens when a prominent member utilizes their office to support the imperial state and our ruling class.
In answering this question, we first must look more broadly at what it looks like for socialists to engage strategically in elections. The ballot box is one site of struggle, just as workplace organizing and tenant organizing are other sites of struggle. As socialists, we organize at these sites of struggle because they offer us the opportunity to radicalize our class in opposition to the capitalist class. But this process of radicalization and class consciousness isn’t something abstract that we can judge by things like polls. Rather, radicalization is only measured through our organization. As socialists, organized people are our only weapon in the fight against the ruling class. While the ruling class has capital, organization is our source of power and, thus, all engagement in the electoral world must directly build our organization.
We can only do this if candidates and elected officials are dedicated to both building and wielding our organizational power. We need elected officials who are not just listing us on a sheet of endorsements but will move with us every step of the way. In campaigns, this means DSA should maintain control of our efforts in support of a candidate. We want to be the body deciding on tactics we use like mass canvassing so we can bring people into our organization. We need to establish messaging that focuses on a broader mission of building working-class organization and class struggle. Once in office, this means voting as a bloc of socialists, using their office to organize constituents into DSA, and running legislative campaigns in lock-step with DSA. And of course, responding to constituent interests are necessary in office and there will be working class people who disagree with us, but, if our project is to establish a mass organization in the millions, then our duty in elected office is to shift the constituency towards our organization, not merely to cater to demands we disagree with.
DSA member and New York State Assemblymember Zohran Mamdani makes this point of the necessity of organization clear: “What separates us as electeds is not individual brilliance — it is membership to an organization that keeps us honest, true, and committed to the mission.” Organization is how we build power and in the electoral realm elected officials have a higher responsibility to our organization to use their campaigns and offices to build our organization. Then and only then can we move beyond frameworks of mere accountability towards building mass organization together.
Further, the stakes in our engagement and decisions in electoral politics are incredibly high. State power can allow us, as a socialist organization, to transform the lives of millions of workers and shift the ground under which we engage in class struggle. However, engaging with the state also means operating where capital is incredibly organized and every instance is being lobbied by capital. There are few places in which socialists will face heavier pressure to cave to capital than in elected office. Thus, we as an organization must clearly set our expectations to use elected office to build our organization with dedicated socialist members.
The Accountability Process
Rep. Bowman fundamentally doesn’t, and for the foreseeable future cannot, fit into this image of the DSA member-elected official. His network of support includes DSA at the margins with Justice Democrats, and the staff and money they bring, standing at the center. In a campaign it is impossible to imagine DSA control of campaign efforts because it’s impossible to imagine DSA running a campaign to win a congressional seat in the Lower Hudson Valley. DSA should run races in which we can win and build power for ourselves.
The question then becomes: can we envision a future, in the coming months, in which Rep. Bowman moves towards our organization? There appeared a common understanding early in the process between the NPC and the BDS and Palestine Working Group that this would be ideal. We could maintain our relationship, no matter how small, with Bowman, and, through open criticism and education, convince him at the very least not to actively harm our movement in support of BDS and Palestinian liberation.
The NPC and the BDS and Palestine Solidarity Working Group engaged with representatives of Lower Hudson Valley and NYC-DSA to meet with Rep. Bowman, attempting to show the harm he has completed by increasing funding to the Iron Dome and participating in the J Street propaganda trip to Israel. This meeting included setting firm expectations such that Rep. Bowman could begin to rectify the harm he has committed.
One demand was to withdraw his participation from a J Street U town hall event.. Rep. Bowman refused to cancel this appearance. This showed that he would not be compelled to take any actions to build our socialist organization. The BDS and Palestine Working group noted in their statement this was “communicated as a hard line for our working group and our movement partners.” It became clear that open criticism and education would not result in movement by Bowman towards the BDS movement.
This realization further materialized when looking at what Rep. Bowman said on the call. He said the US needs to increase their role in mediating the conflict. He refused to use the language Palestinian’s call on us to use like ethnic cleansing and apartheid solely referring to Israel’s actions as “occupation.” At the end he praised J Street for offering the trip and education, saying they’re “on the right track” because those on both the right and the “far-left” disagree with them. Bowman praised a Zionist organization that refuses to support the Palestinian right of return.
In my view, this accountability process has clearly not yielded any significant movement towards BDS or our organization. The majority of the NPC believes otherwise, however it remains yet to be seen in any actions by Bowman improvement. And if we consider Bowman’s actions a severe threat to our strategy and principles, then rectifying action must be immediate. Thus, it is our responsibility to recognize Rep. Bowman’s harms in the harshest terms, and to formally discipline and distance ourselves from him.
This is by no means an ideal scenario. But not censuring Rep. Bowman actively harms our organization. We saw this in a recent interview on Democracy Now. Amy Goodman asked him to comment on his support for another $1 billion to Israel for their Iron Dome and the DSA outrage and Rep. Bowman responded that national and local DSA was “supportive.” Not disciplining him and, in effect, praising him as better than the alternative alienates our Palestinian members and organizations who we’ve been trying to work with on BDS. Grassroots partners, like Students for Justice in Palestine and the Palestinian Youth Movement, those at the center building anti-imperialism and solidarity in the US, have signed onto the BDS and Palestine Working Group’s demand for expulsion. Building a closer relationship with Rep. Bowman actively undermines the work we are doing to support the BDS movement and build Palestinian solidairty and membership inside of DSA.
For the last five years, DSA’s growth, as well as the broad liberal-left, has been defined by two major figures: Donald Trump and Bernie Sanders. Trump’s violent administration along with widespread political awakening and support for Bernie’s agenda created a common ground for the left to operate under. They allowed for DSA to continue to grow out of widespread dissatisfaction and a hell of a lot of people googling “What is democratic socialism?”
Future success will not come if we rely on growth from that same google search. Political landscapes shift and with it movements come and go. At the 2021 DSA national convention, we heard that membership growth had slowed to a trickle for the first time in five years. We’re at risk of quickly losing the membership we already have. Instead, we can strive towards organizational permanence. We can build a program and develop a strategy drawing on our interconnected struggles under capitalism towards winning a better world for all of us. But we can only do this if we center the existence of our organization. We must build structures for our members to democratically engage in decision making setting the direction of the organization. We must run campaigns that, whether in the workplace at the ballot box or at the apartments, center our organization and membership in our organization.
We are in a pivotal moment in which DSA must define ourself as an organization with the campaigns and membership of a socialist organization. Rep. Bowman’s support of Israeli apartheid and ethnic cleansing aren’t just out of political line with the organziation but active harm our work to build a socialist organization in the imperial core that stands for BDS and Palestinian liberation. The question that remains in whether to formally censure or expel or re-endorse him in 2022 is a question of whether we take building a coherent membership centered organization seriously and whether we can commit to BDS and internationalism. Both are absolutely necessary commitments to make for DSA to be an organization still growing in five years. To make those commitments, we must formally censure and distance ourselves from Rep. Bowman.