Should I Join the Democratic Socialists of America?
November 16, 2017 10:40 AM   Subscribe

For the last month, I've been looking at the DSA as a political organization. I was impressed by their multi-tendency nature and their willingness to work within other parties (mostly the Democratic Party) in order to achieve goals. After their sudden surge in the Nov 7 election, I decided to check them out in person. I just went to a small local meeting in my area (about ten people) and saw what at least the locals are about. Now, I want to know, should I start paying dues and join them?

  • I am a military vet and currently work for the US government? In certain circles, my participation might not be welcomed. In addition, could this hurt me in my employment? How is the DSA seen by the military/government?
  • I had a flirtation with the Green Party around 2010, but nothing came of it. I was unimpressed by their lack of practicality and the amount of kooks in the party. In addition, it seems they were more willing to attack Dems/liberals than conservatives. I'm interested in being effective first and foremost.
  • I don't have a defined political outlook, but I'm leaning democratic socialism, though having a social democracy wouldn't be the worst thing (and I believe one can be a pit stop for the other). I'm certainly not doctrinaire type of person.
  • I don't read Jacobin.

    So, what have the experiences been here? What do you know? Who has been a member? Do they actually get things done? Do I belong there?
  • posted by Lord Chancellor to Law & Government (11 answers total) 6 users marked this as a favorite
    I “joined” the DSA as in became a dues paying member because they have a lot of energy and are mobilizing a lot of people toward specific, achievable, progressive goals. I don’t think their demographics or agenda exactly mirror my own, but they are getting stuff done in a specific way no one else is right now. It’s a thing I could do, so I did it. All it cost me was a few bucks.

    I have been meaning to “join” in the sense of attending my local meetings and working on their specific local campaigns, but have not had time yet. Your Ask just made me put their next few meetings and new member orientation back in my calendar.

    At this point, if you think you mostly resonate, why not just go for it? You can always back off later.
    posted by latkes at 10:55 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

    I think that the only way you can be "safe" in any job from scrutiny over your political stance is to take and profess none (though no action is an action).

    I've been in County and State government for 10 years now, and while political affiliations come up in casual conversations, but not in any way that would come back to bite anyone. But note that I lived in California for 5 of those years, and the most recent 5 in New Mexico, both in liberal areas with generally liberal co-workers.

    More broadly speaking: Can you be fired for your political beliefs? Maybe. (HuffPo, updated Feb. 4, 2017) -- The article digs into some potential ways politics could impact discussions at work, and the worker's options.
    posted by filthy light thief at 11:00 AM on November 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

    DSA national has a veterans working group you could join, here's their twitter.

    I'm pretty new and I like my local chapter. Draw your own conclusions about whether yours gets things done; mine has things going on all the time that range from big electoral strategizing to very local mutual aid and housing stuff. There's also something to be said for just knowing a critical mass of people who have values like mine.

    I work in state government and it's fine, but I'm not very vulnerable for various reasons. If you are, filthy light thief's link will probably help you more than my anecdata.
    posted by clavicle at 11:12 AM on November 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

    Here's the DSA's Privacy Policy.
    You can reach their Membership folks by emailing "" in case you have questions that might be addressed privately.
    posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 11:15 AM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

    I joined my local chapter recently, although I have only gone to two events - a new member orientation, and a two-day educational event (Socialist Day School!). Because these are the only events I have attended, I don't have an in-depth understanding of their achievements, culture, goals, etc., but my impressions were as follows:

    - Practicality/effectiveness: seemed high. There was a lot of emphasis by the panelists at the last event on how the most important thing is to pick something and work towards it. There seemed to be a lot of energy, enthusiasm, and support for these "somethings" - I didn't hear people criticizing others' efforts as ignoring ___, the "Real Issue".

    - Doctrinaire orthodoxy: seemed low. There was also a lot of emphasis on how, in achieving goals, it's important to listen to people's concerns rather than telling them what they should be feeling or doing or thinking. Take them as they are, and show them how progressive/socialist policies can meet those needs/desires. This approach appeals to me and I think it's also more effective.

    My impressions are really just that, impressions, and ones not formed from particularly deep engagement - I didn't know anyone in DSA before I joined so the two times I went to events, I was on my own, and all my social skills promptly fled my body on both occasions, so I didn't do a tremendous job of meeting new people.

    I will say, when I walked into the new member orientation (slightly late) my heart sank because every other person there was a dude, and I was like "oh no.... " but the other event had a much more even gender balance.
    posted by Aubergine at 11:28 AM on November 16, 2017 [4 favorites]

    Well I'm biased as I can literally getting ready for a monthly meetings but...

    Working in the NYC DSA has been extremity grounding for me over this year - from actually DOING things like community garden stewardship and volunteer work to just being surrounded by like minded people who've also been screwed over by capitalism. As a big tent, multi-tendency organization you'll meet everyone from social democrats to anarchists and at least the chapters I've been involved with have responded very well and very quickly to internal criticism.
    posted by The Whelk at 12:41 PM on November 16, 2017 [6 favorites]

    Okay, so I put my money where my mouth was and joined. Tampa Bay DSA, here I come!
    posted by Major Matt Mason Dixon at 1:37 PM on November 16, 2017 [3 favorites]

    I'm going to a DSA Socialist Feminism meetup tonight! I don't read Jacobin and my political beliefs are unsettled, but I'm super happy I'm getting involved. "Big tent" is taken seriously and I enjoy that. My local chapters have the same amount of internecine disasters as you'd expect out of any moderately large left org, but they also have varied projects, varied praxis, and a lot of energy. It doesn't feel kooky or all-theory--it feels like people focused on building working class power. And occasionally misreading economic studies and getting furious about them, but who doesn't do that, really
    posted by peppercorn at 3:44 PM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

    I am very very much not a socialist, but I have engaged in something viewed about the same way by the US military and have maintained a top secret clearance while doing so. The key is whether you are part of an organization that is either seeking the violent overthrow of the US (not most modern socialists and probably not even kind of the DSA) or whether the organization is encouraging acts of disobedience or sabotage within the US Army. If the DSA has no positions on AWOL or sabotage, you’re pretty much golden.
    posted by corb at 4:44 PM on November 16, 2017 [1 favorite]

    I recently became a member. Although I don't have the time or energy to be very active in my chapter, I'm pretty impressed with their focus on effective practical action. If you think you might belong there, you probably do.
    posted by haltingproblemsolved at 6:28 PM on November 16, 2017 [2 favorites]

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