Ongoing Labor Struggles: Staying the Course Until Victory

June 1st, 2016  / Author: woodlanham

 The Washington Socialist <> June 2016

 By Kurt Stand

After 44 days on strike, union members at Verizon won a major victory.  Representatives of the Communications Workers of America (CWA) and the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers (IBEW) announced on May 27 that they reached a tentative agreement with management.  The walkout by nearly 40,000 workers, one of the largest to take place in many years, was fought over the issue of the company’s attempt to outsource jobs as well as reduce employee benefits.

Workers struck knowing the risks they were facing – management took away their health benefits and placed advertisements for scabs and were clearly preparing for a long battle.  In this instance, however, Verizon workers’ skills proved hard to replace, and the strike cost the company more money and potentially market share than it was prepared to lose.

All this a clear indication that the weapon of withholding labor can still be effectively wielded by working people.  What made the difference in this battle from other strikes in which workers were defeated in the recent past, however, was the level of organization and preparation by the unions involved, as well as the extent of public backing.   Worker unity, the broad support strikers received from the community and coalition partners mattered.  Many walked the picket line with CWA and IBEW, including members of Metro DC DSA.  The union’s ability to break free from the isolation other strikers have faced was also demonstrated by political support.  Secretary of Labor Thomas Perez, acting with the authority of the White House, stepped in and helped negotiate the settlement – an example too of how elections matter.

This is a victory that should give hope to other on-going labor battles in our area.  The Restaurant Opportunity Center (ROC), DC Jobs with Justice, and other social justice organizations took the victory in the minimum wage fight three years ago as the first, not last, step in the campaign for a living wage.  Since then the focus has been the Fight for 15 – for all workers including tipped employees (whose hourly minimum remains a disgraceful $2.77 an hour).  Because of the lobbying strength of the hospitality industry in Washington, it became clear that it would be impossible to win that increase through the City Council, so instead worker advocates sought a referendum.

A DC Chamber of Commerce-inspired action knocked the measure off the ballot on a technicality; however, a quick response brought put it back on the ballot, and low-wage worker advocates have been busy since collecting signatures in support of the measure.  Mayor Muriel Bowser has, in response, proposed her own measure for the $15 increase for some workers, half that amount for tipped employees.  Recognizing that another half step forward is better than nothing, local labor is supporting the measure, but at the same time continue to move forward with the referendum.

In January, Safeway workers’ actions, along with community support, prevented the shutdown of warehouses which would have led to the loss of over 1,000 union jobs in Maryland.  Now a new threat is looming for workers at Giant, as six Metro-area stores may be sold (read: may be closed) because of a corporate merger between Dutch-based Ahold, which owns Giant, and Delhaize, the Belgian-based company that owns Food Lion.  The United Food and Commercial Workers (UFCW) and the Teamsters, along with church, immigrant, community groups and local elected officials, are organizing to make sure that this corporate marriage doesn’t take place at the expense of the people whose work at the stores has created the wealth now used to replace them.

Both the minimum wage hike initiative and the Giant workers’ fight for jobs deserve our support. All three of the struggles noted above are examples of the unending business attempts to drive down the cost of labor.  What is encouraging, however, is that all are also instances of workers’ refusal to be intimidated; that anger and commitment is replacing the fear that had been too strong for too many years.  Anger and commitment that reflect the belief that resistance is not futile, that victories can be won as long as working people and their unions stay united, and remain engaged.

And stay the course.  Union Time, a documentary about UFCW’s 15-year campaign to organize 5,000 workers at a Smithfield pork processing plant in North Carolina, was shown as part of Metro DC Labor Fest.  Narrated by Danny Glover, the film tells the story through the voices of workers at the plant. Although defeated in a representation vote in 1993 and 1997, though facing company violence (the plant had its own police force and “jail”), immigration raids and constant attempts to play off black against white, and to set black employees and Latino immigrants against each other, the workers persevered, the UFCW remained committed to their perseverance and ultimately they were triumphant.  They won because workers at the plant, because UFCW, never stoppped building and organizing even after painful setbacks.  And they won because of their outreach, which brought support from church, civil rights, immigrant, student and other organizations that broadened the scope of their campaign and defeated management’s attempt to keep the workforce not only divided but also isolated.   After such a long and rocky road, the union prevailed in an election in 2008 and UFCW Local 1208 remains vibrant through today.

Director Matthew Barr, in a discussion after the screening, discussed the connection between that organizing and the Moral Monday movement, which has been battling North Carolina’s racist laws restricting voting rights and the state’s laws discriminating against transgendered persons.  These struggles may seem difficult or even impossible of victory until they are won.  Unity, anger and determination is what enabled Verizon workers to prevail and maintain their dignity and rights against a global corporation determined to steal both – and is the reason low-wage workers and unionized Giant workers in our region can also prevail.

Prevail because of one other quality found in organizing – a quality expressed in the film by Smithfield worker Wanda Blue, who simply stated: “I just had to get the fear out. Once I got the fear out of me, I was good to go.”



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    Learning What Socialism Is – And Isn’t

    June 1st, 2016  / Author: woodlanham

    The Washington Socialist <> June 2016

    By Jessie Mannisto

    Thanks in part to the candidacy of a proud self-proclaimed democratic socialist, several people each week add their names to Metro DC DSA’s Meetup roster.  But it can be a daunting task to step into a group of knowledgeable activists, and we can’t leave it up to general public discourse in the US to make it clear just what “socialism” is.  So how can we encourage the curious strangers tentatively adding their names to our virtual membership rolls to become savvy and active democratic socialists?

    It was with this challenge in mind that Metro DC DSA gathered on May 24 in the backyard of the DC’s Lamont Collective for a teach-in entitled Socialism 101: An Introduction to DSA.  At least two of the twelve or so attendees had never come to a DSA meeting before; several others had attended just a few events.  A contingent of DSA members was also on hand to answer participants’ questions and join the conversation.

    The presentation was designed with an absolute beginner in mind, avoiding jargon that may be hard to follow for those who haven’t studied the topic in depth and focusing on programs with which new members might like to launch their new roles as socialist activists, like DSA’s upcoming national anti-racism campaign—but we also noted that anyone who’s interested in digging into political theory and the history of the Left will find kindred spirits if they keep showing up for DSA meetings.  Google slides guided the discussion, but the format was more conversation than lecture.  We started by discussing just what we mean by “socialism,” then went on to dissect some Internet memes that get it wrong—like one that has been making the rounds on Facebook that claims a democratic socialist is “still a capitalist.”  We talked about the links between economic justice and anti-racism, feminism, LGBT rights, and the movements for peace and environmental justice—leading one participant to ask just what we meant when we talked about “non-reformist reforms,” which several DSA members explained with enthusiasm.  After emphatically denouncing authoritarianism and gulags, we also dove into the vibrant history of socialism in the United States—a legacy that few today have a chance to hear until a socialist shares it with them.

    After the discussion, both of the two first-time attendees expressing their intent to come to more DSA meetings.  We hope to build on this good start by offering more Intro to DSA teach-ins in other locations in the coming weeks, including in Northern Virginia and Maryland, where hundreds of Bernie Sanders campaign volunteers are no doubt looking for ways to advance the movement following the primary.  If you’re interested in joining a teach-in, contact Jessie Mannisto at




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      DC Politics Roundup: Primary Election, Statehood Struggle Compete for Headlines

      June 1st, 2016  / Author: woodlanham

      The Washington Socialist <> June 2016

      By Bill Mosley

      As local DSA members work to help carry Bernie Sanders to a strong finish in the June 14 DC primary, many District voters are only gradually waking up to the fact that a number of local races will be on the ballot as well.  There is no high-profile contest to compete with the noisy presidential race – Mayor Muriel Bowser is not up for re-election until 2018 – but DSA members feeling the Bern on primary day should take note of the down-ballot races, if only for civic duty.

      Metro-DC DSA took a look at the DC local races and decided to make no endorsements.  An enduring feature of this one-party city is that candidates and officeholders all tend to brand themselves as progressives – but one needs to look behind the rhetoric to determine whether it is backed by conviction.  In this race, DSA determined that rhetoric trumped any genuine progressive ideals, at least in the Council races.

      Democratic primary races on the ballot this year are an at-large Council seat; Council seats in Wards 2,4,7 and 8; delegate to the House of Representatives; and U.S. (shadow) representative to the House.

      Many voters (even in DC) aren’t clear on who the delegate to the House and the “shadow” representative are and why we need to elect two people to the House when we don’t even have a vote there.  A short history:  The office of nonvoting delegate — currently held by Eleanor Holmes Norton — was created in 1971 as part of a series of measures giving the District partial home rule, providing DC with a full-time representative who could serve and vote in committees, and speak but not vote on the House floor.  After the DC statehood movement gained steam, in 1990 DC also created the positions of two “shadow” senators and one representative to serve as lobbyists for statehood; these individuals have no special standing in Congress and are not paid.   The current representative is Franklin Garcia who, like Norton, is running unopposed in the primary.

      But the more interesting races, at least relatively speaking, are for the Council seats.  For this election is shaping up as a referendum on Bowser’s handling of the mayor’s office, and all of the races feature a Bowser ally against a candidate who is either a Bowser critic or at least promises to offer an independent voice against Bowser’s effort to make her “Green Machine” a modern reincarnation of New York’s old Tammany Hall ruling clique.  She made clear her intentions of controlling DC politics last year when she established “FreshPac,” a slush fund to raise money for her political allies which she was forced to shut down in the face of widespread criticism, especially from councilmembers who feared the money would be used to fund their opponents.  Even if Bowser brought genuine progressive bone fides to her power grab – which she does not – her effort to transform the Council into her personal rubber stamp should be troubling for anyone.

      Bowser can already enjoy victory in Ward 2, where Jack Evans, the Council’s longest-serving member, counts himself as her ally and is running unopposed.  In Ward 4, Bowser’s own protégé Brandon Todd, who won a landslide in the special election last year to fill Bowser’s old seat, is heavily favored to repeat against divided opposition.

      The other races are more interesting.  If there is a candidate in this year’s election who would gladly lead an anti-Bowser faction on the council, it is Vince Gray, the mayor whom Bowser defeated in 2014.  Gray, seeking a political comeback by running for his old Ward 7 seat, seems as much motivated by revenge against Bowser – and setting himself up for a possible rematch in the 2018 mayoral race – as by any desire to serve the residents of his heavily African American, mostly low-income ward.  Gray’s mayoralty was tainted by the illegal “shadow campaign” that pumped undisclosed money, mostly from wheeler-dealer businessman Jeffrey Thompson, into his successful 2010 election, leading to criminal convictions of a number of Gray’s aides.  It taxes the imagination to believe that Gray could have been unware of the illegal contributions,  the only explanations for his not being indicted being that (1) he was truly asleep at the switch, something hard to reconcile with a politician as canny as Gray; (2) he covered his tracks well with the help of stooges willing to take the fall for him; or (3) former U.S. Attorney Ron Machen botched the case through his incompetence.  Or a combination thereof.  At any rate, Gray is well-poised to return to elected office by defeating the incumbent, former Gray protégé and current Bowser ally Yvette Alexander.  Gray has released polls showing him well ahead, while Alexander refuses to release her polls, which should tell you something.

      Ward 8 also shapes up as a Bowser/anti-Bowser proxy fight, with LaRuby May, an ally of the mayor, in a tight rematch against Trayon White, whom May defeated by a hair in last year’s special to replace the late Marion Barry.  The race could be seen as a test of Bowser’s clout, as well as a referendum on how lower-income African Americans, who comprise the majority of the ward’s residents, judge the mayor’s performance so far.

      The at-large Democratic race features incumbent Vincent Orange, who has attached his star to Bowser’s, against two young hopefuls, Robert White and David Garber.  Orange likes to present himself as a progressive, but exerts much of his energy in self-promotion and doing political favors for his major contributors.  Orange was the only candidate in any local race to secure the coveted endorsement of the Metro Washington Council AFL-CIO, which cited his “unwavering commitment to workers” and his support for “unprecedented legislative initiatives in the District that will improve the lives of all residents,” without further specifics.  White, meanwhile, is being backed by businessman and former mayoral candidate Andy Shallal, who has emerged as a leader of DC’s left community.

      A State Constitution, Even Without Statehood

      Bowser’s determination to be large and in charge extends to the long-sought goal of statehood for the District.  Every so often an elected official will concoct a new scheme that he is just certain will move the struggle forward when so many other plans have failed.  Orange thought he had just the ticket last fall. Piggybacking on the “Justice or Else” theme, adopted by the 20th anniversary commemoration of the Million Man March, he launched the “Statehood or Else” campaign to collect a million signatures supporting statehood and deliver them to this year’s Democratic and Republican national conventions.  That plan went nowhere, partly because no one could agree on what the “or else” was.

      Bowser decided that what was lacking was an up-to-date, voter-endorsed constitution for the new state to send to Congress along with a petition for statehood.  A bit of history:  After DC voters supported statehood in a 1980 referendum, activists spent two years debating and drafting a state constitution that was approved in another referendum in 1982.  However, the new constitution had many detractors; some thought the 25-member size of the proposed legislature, perhaps suitable for a larger state, was too much for a small jurisdiction such as DC.  But drawing the most fire was a provision in the constitution’s Bill of Rights guaranteeing employment for all DC residents.  This raised the fear that the jobless would pour in from all quarters of the country and bankrupt the coffers of the new state.

      In response, in 1987 the DC Council adopted a second constitution, keeping the same governmental structure but replacing the original Bill of Rights with the first 10 amendments to the US Constitution.  This was the DC constitution that was placed before Congress as it considered, and then voted down, a DC statehood proposal in 1993.

      Bowser seems to place great emphasis on the lack of a voter-approved constitution as a barrier to statehood.  She also foresees a possibility that, with the Republicans nominating such a toxic candidate as Donald Trump, the Democrats could win big this November, capturing the White House and large majorities in Congress that should be sympathetic to statehood.  And so, on her own initiative, with minimal input from the DC statehood activist community, in April she announced a six-week timetable for drafting a new constitution by mid-June that could be approved by voters in November. There would be no need for a lengthy process of activists arguing over its provisions, for she had already written it.  The new draft constitution essentially enshrines the current DC government – with the mayor becoming governor and the 13-member Council becoming a House of Delegates of the same size – plus a bill of rights identical to that of the US Constitution (the Second Amendment not excepted).

      There would be community meetings and a two-day — that’s right, two-day — constitutional convention in June, at which the mayor undoubtedly expects her constitution will be adopted with little debate or amendment.  The document emerging from the constitution would not necessarily be the one submitted to voters; the mayor and council could still make changes.

      Some statehood activists applauded the mayor’s initiative, hoping it would inject energy and focus into the statehood struggle.  Others, however, questioned the lack of voter-approved constitution as an obstacle to statehood, given that this has seldom been even brought up in all the years Congress has considered (and then rejected) a bill for statehood.  Much more urgent, these activists believe, is expanded outreach and education about the need for statehood within and without DC.  For even a new constitution wouldn’t overcome Republican opposition for statehood for a jurisdiction that is, in the words of the late Sen. Edward Kennedy, “too liberal, too urban, too black and too Democratic.”  Another concern was whether activists in an election year would be pulled in so many directions that they would be able to give little attention to a fast-track constitutional process.

      Yet another concern is that the constitution that emerged out of the convention might not gain the liking of DC voters — especially those wedded to the more radical provisions of the 1982 document – and that it could be defeated at the polls.  Even though approval of statehood and the constitution would be separate questions on the ballot, a “no” vote on the constitution could be interpreted around the country as a rejection of statehood itself.

      Nevertheless, damn the torpedoes, the constitutional process is barreling ahead full speed.  It remains to be seen whether it gooses the statehood movement, sets it back, or winds up wasting everyone’s time.

      Congressional Attacks on DC Continue

      Yet whatever the merits of writing a new constitution, continued congressional attacks on DC’s local rule illustrate why the District will always lack full citizenship without statehood.  The most recent was the vote by a House committee last month to repeal the District’s 2013 voter referendum declaring that it would henceforth adopt local budgets without the approval of Congress.  This brash move by the normally cautious DC government dared Congress to object, and the committee vote was the start of that pushback.  DC officials have been quick to point out the hypocrisy of Republicans’ rhetorical love of federal minimalism and local autonomy while insisting that they control tax dollars paid to the DC government by DC taxpayers.  In truth, Congress has little interest in or competence over DC budgeting matters, but many members – mostly Republicans – want to retain their oversight role for the purpose of attaching ideologically driven riders imposing conservative measures on the liberal-to-progressive District.  To list all of the riders in the 42 years of home rule would take up too much space, but Delegate Norton has identified 17 budget riders that have been introduced this year alone, including repealing all DC gun laws, banning the District from funding abortions for poor women, and requiring the District to pay for private school vouchers with its own local funds.

      The move to overturn DC budget autonomy has a long way to go:  The full House is likely to approve, but action by the Senate is uncertain and it would seem likely veto bait for President Obama.

      Hillary Comes Out for Statehood – Finally

      In the March Washington Socialist, I noted that Hillary Clinton had made no public comment on her views on DC statehood, although she had supposedly expressed her support privately to Delegate Norton.  But last month she finally announced her support, asserting that she would be a “vocal champion” for statehood.   Bernie Sanders, meanwhile, has a record of supporting statehood that extends at least as far back as his vocal support, as a member of the House, of DC statehood during the 1993 vote in Congress.  Donald Trump is against it.

      Fight for $15 Moves Forward

      A campaign to raise DC’s local minimum wage to $15 is busily gathering signatures to put the measure on the November general election ballot.  The campaign was delayed by when the DC Chamber of Commerce raised procedural objections, but advocates won a court case that allowed the initiative to proceed, although opponents are pursuing an appeal.  The campaign must collect 25,000 signatures by early July.

      So if you are a DC voter, go to the polls on June 14 and vote for Bernie (if you haven’t already) along with your choice of local candidates, keep abreast of developments on the new statehood constitution, and buckle your political seatbelts – there’s another election coming in five months.



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        June 1st, 2016  / Author: woodlanham

        The Washington Socialist <> June 2016

        By Woody Woodruff

        The aftermath of the 2016 legislative session brought some reshuffling of the policy deck in Maryland as well as evidence that Larry Hogan’s relentless drumbeat of “make Maryland business-friendly” at the expense of working families has echoes in even progressive venues like the Washington suburbs. The session ended in April but only wound down to a denouement at the veto deadline at the end of May.

        Hogan on May 27 (in a Friday afternoon news-dump) vetoed important bills that pretty much ensured that the 2017 General Assembly would first turn to veto overrides next January before moving on to new business. Among the six in-your-face vetoes Hogan threw at the legislators was the Clean Energy Jobs Act, the first step Maryland has taken toward a “just transition” from fossil fuels to renewables. It put money behind creating clean-energy jobs and training for them, as well as raising the state’s goal/future requirement for renewable energy to incentivize the transition. It passed with a veto-proof majority in both Maryland chambers and should be among the first vetoes to be overridden next spring. But it’s another delay of progress against climate change. Ridiculously, Hogan called the probable $2-$3 monthly increase in future household power bills a “tax,” invoking the maxi-buzzword of the Republican Right and bewailing the purported effect on business.

        What did become law:  Hogan signed into law hard-won measures on police accountability and the reform of criminal justice at his last, May 19, bill signing, setting a path to official action to include the public in evaluation of police misconduct and reduce incarceration costs to impacted communities.

        Advocates under the umbrella of the Maryland Coalition for Justice and Police Accountability, keyed by Progressive Maryland,  worked particularly hard on the police accountability measure, which adds civilian oversight and improved officer training to what had in most instances been a system where police misconduct, including killings of civilians like Baltimore’s Freddie Gray, was mainly judged within the department by other officers, and frequently resulted in no action for egregious, even lethal behavior.

        Progressive Maryland’s Larry Stafford credited “activists and organizers in Baltimore City who stood up after what happened with Freddie Gray and pushed for changes. … That made this very possible.” Maryland DSA members are active in Progressive Maryland, which focuses on workers’ and families’ interests and is historically underpinned by labor support.

        The governor also signed a massive revamp of the state’s criminal justice system intended to reduce incarceration by trimming or eliminating mandatory minimum sentences for nonviolent crimes and substituting treatment for incarceration for drug use. It was attractive to conservatives as well because of anticipated savings of almost $80 million.

        Local effort for Fight for Fifteen – Progressive Maryland (above) also kicked off a “Fight for Fifteen” campaign in Montgomery and Prince George’s. The campaign will involve work with other progressive organizations like Maryland Working Families and the Baltimore-centered Job Opportunities Task Force. Much of the effort, building on local measures that have already lifted wages above the federal minimum, will be to include tipped workers among those benefiting. A hearing for such a bill is set for late June before the Montgomery County Council. A similar campaign is gaining steam in D.C. (see DC politics roundup, this issue)

        Pushback against Hogan’s rejection of refugees — During the session, 76 of the legislators signed a letter to Hogan pushing back on his knee-jerk GOP reaction rejecting the settlement in Maryland of refugees from the Syrian conflict, a catastrophe that stems from US imperialist military policy in Iraq and throughout the Middle East.

         The letter, drafted by state Sen. Jamie Raskin, states, “Our nation and our state were founded to give people fleeing persecution a safe haven. Welcoming Syrian refugees according to the law, and not scapegoating them according to fear, speaks to our best traditions and hopes for the future.”

        Formal letters or resolutions in support of the settlement of refugees in Maryland were passed by many local governments and the effort was spurred by Maryland Welcomes Refugees, which included several DSA members in Maryland who circulated the letter in legislative offices in Annapolis and elsewhere.

        “Maryland Welcomes Refugees,” a grassroots organization formed to counter the hateful rhetoric about refugees and to support any refugees who are settled in Maryland, hailed the publication of the letter.

        Maryland Welcomes Refugees stated that “the organization will continue to advocate for and support settlement in the U.S. of Syrians and Iraqis fleeing war and oppression.  The Syrian refugee crisis is the largest displacement of people since World War II, and is a direct outcome of U.S. actions in the region….The U.S. invasion of Iraq caused much of the destabilization of the Middle East and with it the carnage that is currently ongoing. We have a moral responsibility to the people of Syria.”

        Residents In Prince George’s battle power plant siting — One local government’s mania for business and economic development at nearly any cost is endangering the health of an underrepresented minority community in Prince George’s County.

        Residents of Brandywine, in south Prince George’s, are fighting a natural gas-fired power plant that they say would unfairly impact their largely African-American community with pollution and the other drawbacks of a big industrial plant in an inadequate neighborhood road grid – while benefiting those who don’t live in their community, including company CEOs.

        All the elements of environmental racism are in place in this project – a vulnerable and under-represented community of color as ground zero for siting of industrial projects that are significant health hazards. That it’s happening in a relatively wealthy majority black county is an ironic aspect.

        The permit, the lawsuit backed by the environmental organization Earthjustice argues, is a violation of state agencies’ responsibilities under federal civil rights law and “smacks of distributional patterns of environmental racism and socio-economic injustice.”

        The suit by Earthjustice argues: “The state’s Public Service Commission[,]  Department of the Environment, and Department of Natural Resources, which together approved the plant, failed to assess whether the project would cause disparate impact and whether there are ways to avoid such impacts.”

        Academic studies are confirming that rampant asthma among communities of color – especially children – is being amplified by the effects of climate change, including fossil fuel power plant pollution.

        “We deserve a healthy quality of life, and we don’t deserve to be disproportionately and adversely impacted in our daily lives as it pertains to air quality, traffic and noise,” Kamita Gray, president of Brandywine BTB, told the  Washington Post. Brandywine, an unincorporated part of southern Prince George’s, has no mayor or local city council to take on community issues like the power plant. The plant would be the fifth fossil-fueled plant within a 13-mile radius of the community.

        The county’s officials, including County Executive Rushern Baker, have welcomed the plant as a producer of tax revenue for the cash-strapped county. Panel members at an April 30 conference on environmental justice in Prince George’s had scoffed at county officials’ acceptance of “rapacious development” to increase tax revenue, as Vernice Miller-Travis put it. The veteran environmental activist dismissed those officials, in a county whose political culture is dominated by African Americans, as “…people with no vision” suffering from an “inferiority complex” compared to wealthier surrounding counties.

        Patuxent Riverkeeper Fred Tutman, whose organization joined in the suit with Earthjustice, said “National experience teaches us that projects like high-polluting power plants typically go to areas with the least political power and the most people of color—and also in neighborhoods where the clean air, water and open space are most at risk.”


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          The Odd Couple: Oprah and Discovery Communications

          June 1st, 2016  / Author: woodlanham

          The Washington Socialist <> June 2016

          By Carolyn M. Byerly

          If nothing else, media corporations have been consistent in keeping women and minorities at the margins in their governance structures.  This is something that I have been tracking for more than a decade, so it was no surprise to see the Washington Post report that Discovery Communications still has an all-white male board of directors.

          Discovery is a good example of a 21st century global media company.  Founded in 1985 in Bethesda, Discovery still maintains local corporate headquarters and studios in Silver Spring.  The Discovery building signaled the coming of a Silver Spring skyline about 15 years ago with its big corporate name and logo towering above everything around it.  Discovery began as a cable network but quickly grew into a global media conglomerate with more than 50 network “brands,” including Discovery Channel, TLC, Animal Planet, Science Channel, Velocity Eurosports, its web network, Discovery Digital Networks and. . . OWN-Oprah Winfrey Network.  More on that in a minute.

          Except for OWN, the programming on these channels and websites – which have global reach – is heavily oriented toward male consumers.  The Discovery Channel, for example, airs action programs typically set in the outdoors, including Shark Week, Alaskan Bush People, Alaska: The Last Frontier, and the Deadliest Catch.  These are mostly “guy shows” that emphasize virility and man over nature.  Most Discovery programs have cutesy titles like Wearable Computer Teaches Dogs New Tricks and Stonehenge: Easier Done Than Said.

          But the real mystery is why Oprah Winfrey, a strongly woman-identified African American woman who (in spite of her obvious capitalist acumen) has made a place for women-oriented content on television for several decades, would want to be part of a conglomerate that has no one who looks like her or seems to promote women’s lives and status.

          Let us consider the gender and race politics of structural relations.

          From its beginning in 2011, OWN network was a hodgepodge of self-help and gossip-type (excuse me, talk show) programs – the kind of thing that Oprah made her mark with in daytime TV.  But OWN’s ratings tanked and Oprah searched for ways to enliven the content.  She (and her content-generating company HARPO Productions) brought Hollywood producer Tyler Perry on as a production partner in 2012, a good move.  Perry has a mixed history of producing schlock (thinking now of his “Madea” films) as well as more thoughtful content, but when he brought his dramatic soap opera The Haves and the Have Nots to OWN, the program raised the network’s ratings and remains its most popular program today.

          Oprah’s ability to see mistakes and correct them (and to get very rich doing it) has underpinned her success over the years.

          It bears mentioning that Oprah considers OWN’s relationship to Discovery as being “a joint venture,” rather than a “property” of a conglomerate.  Her claim has veracity if we examine her considerable autonomy within the Discovery conglomerate structure.  She has always been decidedly in charge of the network, serving as Chairwoman, Chief Executive Officer and Chief Creative Officer.  In that last role, earlier this year, she announced a radical overhaul of OWN’s programming direction.

          Signaling things to come, Oprah has joined forces with Selma director Ava DuVernay to produce Natalie Baszile’s novel Queen Sugar, a story about a mother and daughter who leave Los Angeles to run a Louisiana sugar-cane farm, for a mini-series (to be aired later this year).  This portends to be the kind of quality programming that Oprah undertook back in the late 1980, when she first moved toward creating TV content by dramatizing Gloria Naylor’s award-winning book The Women of Brewster Place.

          Whether or not those on the left – especially white intellectuals (women or men) or men in general – are drawn to OWN’s new programming, no one can deny that Oprah has managed to do what other women in the TV industry have not.  Even Cathy Hughes, the African American woman who founded Radio One in the late 1970s, the largest black-owned media conglomerate in the US, handed over the management to her son Alfred Liggins a few years back.  Neither was she known for taking a strong hand in determining the content of either her radio stations, or TV-One.

          Oprah has established a viable cable channel, one focused mainly on stories about African American women and families – a demographic that matters in a TV landscape that either ignores serious black experience or stereotypes it, according to the most recent Bunche Center Report on diversity in TV and film.  She has also maintained almost exclusive control of that channel’s management and creative activities.  As a result, she has succeeded in increasing her average prime-time audience (now more than half a million people) while her peer networks have slipped.

          In 2015, according to the Wall Street Journal, OWN’s prime-time audience surged by 11.6%, while its competitors Lifetime, BET, TLC and Oxygen dropped that much or more.  Only the Hallmark channel managed to inch forward in that same year, with an additional 7.1%.  Though Hallmark started with a larger audience and now has something around a million viewers during prime-time, OWN has shown its ability to generate a buzz that the Journal refers to as “the Oprah Effect.”

          Oprah is never likely to be a darling of the Left (which requires a critique of capitalism, something that has served her very well), but she has evinced a certain combination of courage, toughness, dominance and grace that appeals to women across racial and generational lines who know that women have been marginalized in an industry that dominates storytelling in the world today.  Those of us (including this author) who value her foray into the almost completely white-male-dominated media landscape see progress and hope that she will, at some point, be able to produce programs that challenge the public imagination and generate some of the difficult conversations on race, gender, violence and other topics, from a black perspective.  She has done this before, as when she became the first national TV program to go into the rioting areas of Los Angeles and talk to residents about what the acquittal of the policemen who had beaten Rodney King within an inch of his life meant to them.

          Still, we end where we began by remarking on why Oprah Winfrey would join forces with a media conglomerate which (except for OWN) otherwise demonstrates no interest in or commitment to women or minorities, when companies like Disney and Time Warner have made some small steps on both fronts in both boardroom composition and programming.  This issue of “why Discovery?” will be pursued in a future article, as will the federal communications policy that allows media companies like Discovery Communications to operate without regard to race and gender inclusion in their ownership and management.

           Carolyn M. Byerly is a member of the Metro-DC  DSA, as well as a faculty member at Howard University, where she chairs the Department of Communication, Culture and Media Studies.  Her research focuses on the political economy of media industries, communications policy, and gender and race in communications.

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            Trump in Context

            June 1st, 2016  / Author: woodlanham

            The Washington Socialist <> June 2016

            By Kurt Stand


            “I suppose

            Old Man Trump knows

            Just how much

            Racial Hate

            He stirred up

            In the bloodpot of human hearts

            When he drawed

            That color line

            Here at his

            Eighteen hundred family project …” (Woody Guthrie)


            Reflecting its origins as a hub of commerce, immigration and culture, New York City in the 1970s was as it had been for a century — a center of light industry and transportation, a center of union strength and engaged community movements.  An array of radical and left-wing organization, though disunited and marginal electorally, helped sustain alternative politics by maintaining an underlying culture of resistance.  Not strong enough to challenge the dominant direction of capitalist society or give political relevance to socialist strivings, the various strands of activism built up over decades were nonetheless able to help gain and maintain significant industrial and civil rights, allowing for a measure of economic and social justice despite relentless attacks by business interests and conservative forces.

            Sooner or later, however, the inability of a movement to advance leads to defeat.  By the end of the 1970s New York was at its nadir; corporate disinvestment and cuts in federal and state spending was linked to rampant poverty, violent crime, political and police corruption.  Moreover, a malaise had set in, reflecting the stasis of trying to hold onto benefits, programs, and a culture inadequate to those that needed them most.  So the complex of structures built up slowly over time began to quickly give way.  Financial institutions, tourism, service industry and real estate interests came to dominate the local economy destroying the industrial base of organized labor and eroding the integrity of neighborhoods.  The consequence: a frayed social contract.  Thus insecurity became a way of life for most working people, as did the return of conspicuous consumption by the very rich, and a social Darwinian repression of the poor, rationalized by a never-vanquished racism, spreading its tentacles ever deeper within those in its grip.

            The city went bankrupt, was put under management by banks, union strength (and union belief in its strength) undercut, black and Latino community organizations isolated, repressed or coopted, and the left (the organized left and the community of which it was a part) unmoored and demoralized.  Given slightly different starting and ending times, the same picture could be given of other urban areas, other industrial centers, other university towns – and the country as a whole personified in the image of Ronald Reagan.  It is a set of developments that has everything to do with the rise of Donald Trump whose success to date – whatever the outcome of his current presidential run – will pose a continued threat to formal democratic governance in the years ahead.

            Which brings us to the song lyrics quoted above.  Guthrie wrote them in 1950 when he discovered that the New York City housing project where he was then living was all-white by order of its owner — Trump.  Not Donald, but his father, Fred.  He was a real estate magnate who grew rich in the 1950s by using political contacts to buy property cheap as housing for working-class families able to pay higher rents in the boom post-World War II years than had been possible during the Depression.  But the benefits of that boom were unequally divided.  Public policy and the real estate industry were united in their determination to enforce and maintain patterns of segregated housing.

            The neo-liberal changeover in the nature of New York’s local economy in the 1980s meant that greater profits could be made from the real estate boom in hotels, casinos and other commercial venues.  And that was where Donald Trump invested the fortune he inherited from his father.  Along with the money he inherited his political connections (a Republican with longstanding ties to Joe McCarthy’s advisor Roy Cohn, yet also in bed with Democratic politicians in money-making deals) and his racism.  Rooted in US culture and institutional structures, racism has been a useful tool for political demagoguery even in the liberal New York City.  Moreover it was and is a money-making proposition.  Redlining — the bank-practice of excluding blacks from neighborhoods as a means to raise property value – contributed to Fred Trump’s wealth while undercutting worker solidarity.  And it was a forerunner of gentrification – artificially inflating property values by pushing out industry as well as low and middle-income housing in favor of luxury office space and housing for the well-to-do – which is the source of Donald Trump’s wealth and political strength.

            Gentrification’s destruction of stable neighborhoods and stable jobs has contributed to atomization and a sense of the world spinning out of control.  A consequence of a world so different from one that working people thought they were being promised is desperation stemming from the sense that there is no way forward, no path to “success” – whether defined as owning a home, secure retirement, children in professional careers or any other such measure.  As the possibility of a decent life for those “playing by the rules” in our capitalist economy dwindles, ever-larger numbers of people find themselves in want, in debt or simply worried.  Working too long for too little, working two or three jobs where one once sufficed, suffering bouts of unemployment lasting longer than in the past, juggling to pay constantly rising education, health and housing costs, all make the search for answers more insistent.

            Upon this terrain, a more virulent racism and xenophobia has grown.  And absent viable alternatives, some look for an answer in a leader who appears strong enough to create order out of chaos.  It is a desire that Trump has been quick to exploit.  All the more so as in best-selling books and on “reality” TV shows he has presented himself as a man of action, not words, as a person always able to turn the tables on setbacks, somebody successful, rich and therefore independent – as a “winner.”

            In all this lies the not inconsiderable support for Donald Trump amongst large numbers of working people.   White workers to be sure, for Trump’s appeal to racism is also an appeal to people afraid that they or their children might fall into the ranks of the excluded.  The hate and invective directed toward Mexican immigrants, toward Muslims, toward women (or, to be more precise, economically and sexually independent women) provides a target for an anger which otherwise doesn’t have a place to go.  That, in turn, is why Trump’s inconsistencies and lack of policy perspectives matter so little.  The combination of lack of clarity in message and clear clarity of tone mirrors the fear and anxiety people have but are unable to articulate.  All of this are reasons to fear Trump, because he has all the earmarks of an authoritarian leader, an authoritarian leader who knows enough to borrow from Mussolini and to appeal to pre-existing neo-fascist “white power” networks.

            And there is reason to fear even if his campaign flames out, for someone else may well step in the fill the void – if not in this presidential election than the next.  Trump’s ability to rise so far has much to do with the Republican Party having undermined its own structural integrity and mass appeal – a lack which neither voter suppression nor unlimited corporate election campaign spending can completely solve (though both are well in evidence).  So the search for suppression of civil liberties in the name of freedom takes other forms as well.  Witness the network of wealthy businessmen pulled together by the Koch Brothers.  Largely behind the Tea Party, behind anti-labor reaction as a state level, they may pose a more serious threat than Trump because of their level of organization.  The differences between Cruz and Trump and Kasich and Bush, et. al. are real; but no less real is a similar desire to impose order in a stagnating economy and fractured society by restricting civil liberties, restricting social rights.

            Corporate supported assaults on democratic gains has always been a factor in US politics; but the threat has grown greater as the structural weaknesses of US capitalism (reflected in aforementioned changes from the ‘70s to the ‘80s) has become deeper.  That weakness (and attendant militarism) is one reason why reaction is so much stronger in the US today than in most other wealthy nations, quite contrary to the 1930s.  Because the Right has been unable to unite around one candidate it likely will not prevail in this year’s general election — though there is no guarantee that it won’t.  More critically, it is certainly no guarantee that such forces won’t come together in the near future.

            Countervailing forces do exist – direct corporate engagement in political action would otherwise be unnecessary.  And strong as Trump’s support is in some working-class circles, he is forcefully rejected in others.  Popular progressive sentiments do exist, labor still mobilizes, and multi-racial organizing continually confronts hatred.  Proof lies in examples from Obama’s election to the broad appeal of Occupy Wall Street, from the persistence of Black Lives Matter to the resonance of Sanders’s campaign.  Nonetheless, to prevent Trump – or someone like him – becoming ascendant in the future, requires stronger organization, more defined program and broader vision.

            In John Steinbeck’s The Grapes of Wrath, an Oklahoma sharecropper despairs because he doesn’t know at whom to aim his shotgun in order to keep the banks from taking his land.  Over the course of the novel, the target takes shape as a vision of what could/should be is developed – a vision expressive of the social movements of the era.  These are captured in the lyrics of another Guthrie song, written for the film version of the novel.   His Ballad of Tom Joad spoke to the values of the radical labor movement then – and continues to speak to the values of an alternative, genuine democracy today:

            “Ever’body might be just one big soul,
            Well it looks that a-way to me.
            Everywhere that you look, in the day or night,
            That’s where I’m a-gonna be, Ma,
            That’s where I’m a-gonna be.

            Wherever little children are hungry and cry,
            Wherever people ain’t free.
            Wherever men are fightin’ for their rights,
            That’s where I’m a-gonna be, Ma.
            That’s where I’m a-gonna be.”

            A version of this article first appeared earlier this year in the German twice-monthly political magazine Ossietzky.


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              The (Admittedly Incomplete) Radical Visitors’ Guide to Washington, DC

              June 1st, 2016  / Author: woodlanham

              The Washington Socialist <> June 2016

              By Bill Mosley

              Summer is upon us, and that means the tourist hordes are descending upon our fair city.  Many of our readers might be hosting friends or family who want to be shown the “sights.”  To many visitors this means the top tourist attractions:  the Capitol, the Washington Monument, the Air and Space Museum, the first ladies’ dresses at the Museum of American History.

              But true Lefties will want to take their visitors off the beaten path, away from the crowds to those hidden gems that tell a different story than that of the unbroken march of American democracy and capitalism.  For there are many Washington sights away from the National Mall that, taken together, tell the tale of Americans who went against the grain, who rebelled against the established order of big money, patriarchy, Jim Crow and the military establishment.

              Of course, many A-list sights are relevant to the Left.  The Lincoln Memorial is hallowed not only as a tribute to the Great Emancipator, but also as the site of numerous rallies and other events that drew strength from the memorial’s spirit.  The most famous of these, of course, was the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom, but also worthy of remembrance is Marian Anderson’s 1939 segregation-era concert at the memorial after the Daughters of the American Revolution refused to allow the famed African American contralto to perform before an integrated audience at Constitution Hall.

              A walk around the Tidal Basin will immerse the visitor in some significant Left history, starting at the memorial to Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., who was not only the most visible leader of the civil rights movement but also identified himself as a democratic socialist in a number of conversations and speeches (as Left academic Peter Dreier recounted in an article for the Huffington Post).  Walking counterclockwise around the basin one comes to the sprawling memorial to Franklin Delano Roosevelt, the architect of modern liberalism and the author of the Four Freedoms, perhaps the most radical declaration ever made by a sitting US president.  Continuing on, one reaches the famed neoclassical temple that houses the Jefferson Memorial.  It is difficult to forget or forgive the hypocrisy of the slaveholder who declared that “all men are created equal” (or that he never wrote that “all people are created equal”), but one cannot help being stirred by the enduring radicalism of his words from the Declaration of Independence that are embossed on the monument’s inside wall, especially where he declares that “whenever any form of government becomes destructive . . .it is the right of the people to alter or abolish it.”

              And many Washingtonians and their visitors have made the pilgrimage to Anacostia to tour Cedar Hill, the home of the famed abolitionist, orator and writer Frederick Douglass.

              But everyone knows these places.  Here are a few destinations that Leftists can show their visitors – or visit themselves if they have not already – for an alternative tour of our nation’s capital:

              Albert Einstein Memorial, National Academy of Sciences, 2101 Constitution Ave. NW – Everyone knows that Einstein, author of the theory of relativity, was perhaps the most important scientist of the 20th century.  Fewer know that he was a committed, lifelong socialist.  His works include the pamphlet Why Socialism?, in which he wrote:  “The economic anarchy of capitalist society as it exists today is, in my opinion, the real source of evil. . . I am convinced there is only one way to eliminate these grave evils, namely through the establishment of a socialist economy . . .”  The giant bronze by sculptor Robert Berks depicts a seated, contemplative Einstein, and resides in a quiet courtyard where the visitor can reflect upon Einstein’s life and thought, although the friendly figure also tends to attract children who love to climb into his lap.

              einstein memorial

              Sewall-Belmont House and Museum, 144 Constitution Ave. NE – This historic, two-century-old house, a close neighbor of the Capitol and the Supreme Court, has since 1929 been the headquarters of the National Women’s Party.  The party, founded in 1917 by Alice Paul, has served as a major force for women’s rights, starting with the fight for suffrage and then the campaign for full gender equality.  Visitors can sign up for guided tours of the house’s collection of books, artworks, textiles and other artifacts and exhibits that bring life to the struggle for women’s rights.  Earlier this year, the house was designated by a presidential proclamation as the Belmont-Paul Women’s Equality National Monument.

              sewell belmont house

              National Portrait Gallery, 8th and F Sts. NW – Tucked among paintings and sculptures depicting presidents, authors, industrialists and other prominent Americans are more than a few figures of interest to the Left.  The most significant is located on the third floor, in the “20th Century Americans” galleries just off the ornate Great Hall:  a marble bust of Eugene V. Debs, America’s first great socialist leader, created by Moses Wainer Dykaar in 1922.  A plaque on the base of the bust contains the famous quote he uttered upon being imprisoned for criticizing US involvement in World War I:  “While there is a lower class, I am in it; while there is a criminal element, I am of it; and where there is a soul in prison, I am not free.”  Just to the left of Debs is another marble bust by the same artist depicting Samuel Gompers, founder of the American Federal of Labor.  The juxtaposition invites one to reflect on the divergent paths taken by the two men:  Debs, himself a product of the labor movement, saw political action as a necessary corollary of worker organizing; while Gompers eschewed political involvement and focused narrowly on workplace issues.  Seen together, the two works are a study in vision and anti-vision.

              debs and gompers at nat port gal Debs (foreground) and Gompers

              Other portraits in the 20th Century Americans gallery, in painting or sculpture, of interest to the Left include Albert Einstein, civil rights leader Mary McLeod Bethune, radical lawyer Clarence Darrow, and Vice-President and progressive third-party presidential candidate Henry Wallace.

              While at the Portrait Gallery, Lefties should make sure not to miss the permanent “Struggle for Justice” exhibit on the second floor, with portraits of Martin Luther King Jr., Malcolm X, Cesar Chavez, Rosa Parks and other stalwarts in the fight for equal rights.  An interactive video monitor gives capsule histories of the fight for justice in a variety of arenas:  civil rights, of course, but also labor, women’s, Native American, disabled and LGBT rights.

              Samuel Gompers Memorial, corner of Massachusetts Ave., 10th St. and L St. NW – And speaking of Gompers, this leader of the conservative wing of the early US labor movement is honored by a monumental beaux arts sculpture by Robert Aitken that is sometimes glimpsed by quizzical drivers motoring down busy Massachusetts Ave.  The memorial, donated by the American Federation of Labor, depicts a seated Gompers surrounded by allegorical figures which are intended to represent education, justice, cooperation and unity.  Even though he represented the right wing of the union movement, such a prominent monument in the nation’s capital to a labor leader is noteworthy in itself.  He is perhaps the only major US labor leader that the conservative Cato Institute, located directly across the street, could love.


              A. Philip Randolph Statue, Union Station – In the rear concourse of Union Station, near the boarding gates, coffee shops and newsstands, stands a bronze half-statue of A. Philip Randolph. This tribute to an icon of the labor, civil rights and socialist movements was created in 1990 by prominent African American sculptor Ed Dwight.  The plaque on the base recognizes Randolph as “America’s foremost black labor and civil rights leader, the founder of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters” who “conceived and initiated the 1963 March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom.” The plaque also contains a Randolph quote that typifies his life and work: “At the banquet table of nature there are no reserved seats.  You get what you can take, and you keep what you can hold. . .And you can’t take anything without organization.”  Randolph also was a lifelong socialist and a founder of the Socialist Party magazine The Messenger.  A visit to the sculpture is a must for DSA members and their guests, even if they’re not on the way to catch a train.  (Sculptor Ed Dwight’s work can be seen at other DC venues, including his statue of Frederick Douglass at Cedar Hill and the Black Revolutionary War Patriots Memorial at Constitution Gardens).

              ap randolph

              Letelier-Moffitt Monument, Sheridan Circle NW (Massachusetts Ave. at 23rd St.) – This monument stands near the spot where on September 21, 1976 a car bomb killed Orlando Letelier, a former Chilean ambassador to the United States, and Ronni Moffitt, who worked at the Institute for Policy Studies (IPS), a progressive DC think tank.  Letelier had served in a number of posts under Chile’s socialist president Salvador Allende, and after a US-backed coup toppled Allende and installed dictator Augusto Pinochet in power he was imprisoned for over a year before being allowed to move to the United States.  As a fellow at IPS, his writing and advocacy made him one of the most prominent figures in the resistance to Pinochet and a target of the Chilean government.  Several people were eventually convicted of plotting and carrying out the bombing, including Michael Townley, a US expatriate living in Chile.  According to John Dinges, author of The Condor Years, “the CIA had inside intelligence about the assassination alliance at least two months before Letelier was killed, but failed to act to stop the plans.”  The memorial was created by local sculptor Ned Echeverria and installed in 1981.  In1978, IPS established the annual “Letelier-Moffitt Human Rights Awards” in honor of the slain activists.  The monument, a small bronze plaque mounted on a stone pedestal, bears the likenesses of Letelier and Moffitt and the words “Justice-Peace-Dignity.”  It stands to the east of the circle, along the curb next to the Irish Embassy.

              letelier moffitt

              Mary McLeod Bethune Memorial, Lincoln Park, East Capitol St. between 11th St. and 13th St. – This green oasis at the eastern end of Capitol Hill features a pair of monumental sculptures.  At the western end of the park stands the “Emancipation” monument, featuring the park’s eponymous president summoning a kneeling slave to his feet.  Facing Lincoln across the lawn stands a monument of at least equal interest, depicting the early civil rights champion Mary McLeod Bethune.  An educator and an advisor to several presidents on issues of importance to African Americans and women, notably Franklin Roosevelt – serving as a member of his “Black Cabinet” – Bethune founded the National Council of Negro Women (NCNW), which today occupies the historic, twin-turreted building prominently located at the corner of 7th St. and Pennsylvania Ave. NW.  The dynamic, rough-hewn bronze memorial created in 1974 by Robert Berks, who also created the statue of Albert Einstein at the National Academy of Sciences (above) and the bust of John F. Kennedy at the Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts, shows Bethune holding a cane given her by Roosevelt and handing a scroll to a pair of black children, symbolic of her advocacy of education for African Americans.  For those who want to explore Bethune’s life and work further, her house at 1318 Vermont Ave. NW – which also formerly served at NCNW’s headquarters – is a national historic site and open to the public.


              1300 Block of Connecticut Ave. NW – The significance of this block might be lost on most people, but it was a hub of DC’s Left community in the 1980s and early 1990s.  The local chapter of Democratic Socialists of America occupied an office in the now-redeveloped building at 1350 Connecticut, above the Metro station on the south end of Dupont Circle.  Just to the south, the stately white office building at 1300 Connecticut (at the corner of N) was once the headquarters of the International Association of Machinists (since decamped to Upper Marlboro, MD), where DSA held many of its meetings and public events.  Among the notable speakers who held forth to DSA audiences and their guests in the Machinists auditorium were DSA founding chair Michael Harrington, Salvadoran opposition leader Ruben Zamora, maverick journalist Christopher Hitchens and longtime radical icon and DSA member Dorothy Healey.  Across the street, the space now occupied by the restaurant/bar The Big Hunt at 1345 Connecticut simultaneously housed two beloved institutions:  Common Concerns, DC’s flagship Left bookstore; and the Dupont Villa, where DSA members gathered for food and drink before and after meetings and events.

              pa ave Connecticut Avenue hangouts — All photos by Bill Mosley

              The Washington Socialist plans to periodically highlight other local sights of interest to “radical tourists.”  If you know of such places of interest, please send them to


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                Elite Theory and Its Unsettling Implications in Representative “Democracy”

                June 1st, 2016  / Author: woodlanham

                The Washington Socialist <> June 2016

                By Lauren Claiborne

                I recently ended a brief congressional internship on Capitol Hill working as a legislative aide.  I’ve been observing the inside of the policy process for five months, and ultimately I’ve determined that policymaking is a largely elitist practice. To many this conclusion may be unremarkable or painfully obvious; you don’t need to be a seasoned activist or a politician to know that influence over the political process is largely bought or otherwise forced. Nevertheless, it is troubling. The effectiveness of checks and balances against elected officials is limited by institutional constraints, and there are no protections in place that prevent the voices of individual constituents from being blotted out by an elite class  made up of corporate, nonprofit, and military interests that seek to influence policy. The interests of these elites and of individual officials are tightly interwoven, and considerable efforts are made by both parties to influence the other so that their respective needs can be satisfied. Simply put, power begets power, and a select few privileged actors control the policy planning process and its outcomes. Despite this, the end product is sold as democracy, largely to appeal to constituents whose voices are being consistently and routinely ignored.

                Such is the nature of Western representative governments – rather than acting as a laboratory for sound policymaking, the federal government acts as a collective vanguard for the status quo, which is upheld by politicians, corporations, and by default bureaucracy, which makes radical or effective change difficult. Private citizens and constituents already face innumerable barriers to entering the policy process merely from the standpoint of today’s policy development – they face yet another one in getting their voices heard above the din of elites and special interests.

                These observations fall under what is known as the Elite Theory of policy: that is, the idea that a powerful minority holds the majority of power and influence over the policy process. Socialism – socialist analysis –technically falls within the scope of elite theory since it examines the way in which an exclusive, ruling class controls policy through the extraction of surplus value from workers and the accumulation of capital. Classical elite theory tends to defend the elite’s role in the policy process by presenting it as a superior actor in the body politic, in direct contrast with the role of an apathetic and uneducated public. However, more modern adaptations of Elite Theory are critical of the power held by privileged actors in policymaking.

                In his 1977 book Politics and Markets, Charles Lindblom introduced the concept of “circularity”, or “controlled volitions”, in which elites manipulate the views of the public in order to gain favors and support. According to Lindblom, specialized elites compete with each other to control policy outcomes. Subsequently, they perpetuate a cyclical process through which so-called options are presented to consumers. In exchange for ongoing support, powerful actors continually extend more “options”, ostensibly to present individuals with the illusion of choice.

                Lindblom’s idea isn’t so far-fetched. Suppose you live in a small town where your only option for shopping is the local Wal-Mart. Maybe you’re in the market for a bed. Well, this Wal-Mart is huge and it has tons of beds to choose from. There are so many choices in stock, and it appears that you are spoiled for options. In reality, your options are limited only to what Wal-Mart decides to give you. Suddenly, the circumstances don’t seem so bright – after all, the choice between 9 or 10 low quality beds and mattresses is not much of a choice at all.

                The False Choice of the Two-Party System

                The same applies in the American political system. You need only to look at the way the two-party system functions. Complex and multifaceted issues are boiled down into a highly simplistic, limited, and non-descriptive binary. It’s a classic us vs. them story. The idea, of course, is that one party will be able to adequately represent your needs in government or in political discourse. Unfortunately, both the Democratic and Republican parties are overwhelmingly elitist and they both end up serving the interests of privileged actors.

                Similarly, the way in which corporate-owned mass media engage in political discourse is often just as presumptuous. It does not matter that you are given the illusion of freedom to choose whatever news source suits you – the fact is, your ability to choose is circumscribed by elitist concerns. According to a recent Business Insider piece, six corporations own 90% of the mass media in America as of 2016. This has been consolidated from 50 corporations as recently as 1983.

                Simply put, the monopolization of choice by elites in the form of a ruling capitalist class means that the ability for constituents to exert power over policy or otherwise engage in viable alternatives is limited. Thus, as Lindblom writes, “masses are persuaded to ask from elites only what elites wish to give them”. Implicitly making his point, Lindblom’s ideas were so contentious that the then CEO of the Mobil Corporation took out a full-page ad in the New York Times attempting to discredit his observations.

                We’re regularly extended an illusion of choice in the political process. The fact is that individual voices, especially individual working class voices, are routinely silenced in favor of privileged interests. In my day-to-day work as an intern, I noticed that senators and representatives favored meeting with interest groups throughout the course of the week. On a typical day, legislative aides meet with anywhere from two to five lobbying groups. Congressional offices ensure that their interactions with constituents favor organizations that can provide support for the members’ agendas, and they connect and exchange input with these stakeholders regularly.  The federal government is an upscale customer service center, and they cater to only the most exclusive and well-to-do interests.

                This “customer service” mentality has a tendency to lead to unwise policy outcomes like Citizens United. The now infamous 2010 Supreme Court decision held that barring independent political spending amounts to suppressing free speech, and set a disastrous precedent in an already sorry and decayed democratic process. In December 2011, Montana Supreme Court Judge James C. Nelson wrote an appeal against the Supreme Court’s ruling, stating:  “Citizens United has turned the First Amendment’s ‘open marketplace’ of ideas into an auction house for . . . corporatists. Freedom of speech is now synonymous with freedom to spend. Speech equals money; money equals democracy.”

                Without significant money, power, and influence, it is impossible for constituents to penetrate the issue networks that ultimately decide on relevant policies. The Citizens United decision is just one example of the way in which policymaking is absolutely a classist practice, especially owing to the way in which money and power shapes the very way in which policy functions at an institutional level. Subsequently, outcomes are dependent upon input from powerful actors; to paraphrase Thomas Dye, it is elites – not the masses – that create policy.

                Elite theory certainly has its critics. Traditional liberal and pluralist theory in particular holds that powerful actors are often in contention, and that their conflicting interests mean that a concerted effort on the part of elites to suppress constituents is simply not feasible. This is generally presented as a rebuttal to the materialist/Marxist view that elites in unison tend to undermine popular interests and efforts.

                Suffice it to say, the liberal view of politics doesn’t actually pan out. The way in which interest groups, politicians, and bureaucracy tend to form a closed issue network undermines the liberal assertion that the legislative process is democratic and regularly engages individual constituents, or even the pluralist claim that numerous groups make demands on government but do not dominate decision-making.

                Elitism in Democracy

                The modern “democratic” policy process largely relies on the input of elites in order to function, and elected officials turn to these actors regularly for input and support. The system has been constructed in such a way that without elites, policy planning cannot function. In the realm of policy, this is known as “the iron triangle”. This concept was developed to explain the way in which interests groups, congress, and bureaucracy operate in a closed, mutually beneficial issue network. According to the tenets of the iron triangle framework, actors form a closed circuit of policy that allows them to exert control over outcomes while exchanging goods and favors with other elites.  In this system, actors engage each other in an interconnected and impenetrable policy net that ensures a limited number of participants with little outside interference. Contrary to the pluralist model, elites become aware of common interests among themselves, and that’s the source of the closed network phenomenon.

                My observations have led me to be actively critical – as others have –  of the role of elites and the limitations of representative government, both in representative democracy and representation per se. There is very little transparency and no means through which powerful actors are definitively held accountable for their actions. For example, the recent Flint water crisis has been examined as one of the most catastrophic failures of regulatory and administrative policy within the past decade, notably because residents complained about the poor quality of their water for two years before receiving any sort of definitive aid. Not since the failure of FEMA under the Bush administration has the inaction of government been so under fire – extensive passivity in both local and state government resulted in 102,000 people being systematically and severely poisoned by dangerous levels of lead in the city’s water supply. At least 9,000 of these confirmed cases are children, and twelve of them have died from complications resulting from presence of Legionella bacteria.

                Organizations such as the NIH and CDC are still on the ground distributing bottled water and filters to residents. These response efforts have largely been ineffective, if not outright shameful. Bottled water supplies are insufficient and dwindle rapidly, and government-issued filters fail to keep lead levels below toxic rates (despite the desperate claims and hand-wringing of Michigan Gov. Rick Snyder and his administration). The long-term lack of accountability from government, combined with the lack of concrete protection mechanisms for Flint’s constituents, has led to the devastation of an entire community. Flint residents are trapped in their homes without potable water, and plummeting property values means they are unable to leave their community without facing complete financial ruin.

                Liberals and conservatives alike will concede that failures like Flint are possible, and perhaps even inevitable owing to the structure of representative government. However, they will assert that the oversight process acts as a natural check against institutional corruption.

                That ever-vigilant establishment vanguard would perhaps be disheartened to learn that congressional oversight and reform hearings are equally elitist and rarely effective. During my time as an intern I sat through no less than 10 oversight hearings, on topics ranging from Medicare expansion to the threat of the opioid and heroin epidemic.  Generally, these hearings will present testimony from an average of 4 to 5 witnesses. Overwhelmingly, the witnesses that were called to testify before either Senate or House committees were representatives of interest groups, corporations, and government organizations.

                There were, in my notes, two instances of private citizens testifying before Congress. In both instances, the witnesses in question were called to give testimony on public emergencies. This move was more in the interest of PR rather than policy – people want to believe their choices matter, so they are given limited input to instill the illusion that their suffering is both relevant and important. One witness testified before the House Oversight Committee on the failure of local and federal government to respond effectively to the crisis in Flint – her home was in fact considered “ground zero” for the lead epidemic. Another was called to testify on the detrimental and even fatal effects of opioid addiction. With these two exceptions, no individuals were called before Congress who did not represent either a corporation, non-profit, or government agency.

                The Consequences of Elites’ Self-interested Inaction

                To my point, a recent February hearing on Flint in the House Oversight and Government Reform Committee illustrated the extent to which government has failed to keep the actions of elites in check. I sat with hundreds of Flint residents and watched the hearing on a large television in one of the two overflow rooms used to contain spectators. Some bowed their heads and wept. Others silently fixed their gazes at the large flatscreens. Without exception, every single one of them was angry. They had spent money that they did not have in order to see to it that justice was done.

                Throughout the hearing, members issued several verbal lashings to the panel, consisting of EPA and local government officials. Chairman Jason Chaffetz issued subpoenas to Flint emergency managers Susan Hedman and Darnell Earley, who were invited to give testimony at the hearing and subsequently refused to show. Ranking Member Elijah E. Cummings emphasized the vulnerability of the Flint victims, particularly children who face severe ailments and developmental disorders as a result of their exposure to lead. In a move that was overtly maudlin rather than productive, Cummings quoted singer-songwriter Cat Stevens: “Oh, very young, what will you bring us this time? You’re only dancing on this Earth for a short time. Oh, very young, what will you leave us this time?” Perhaps under any other circumstances, these performances would be truly worthy of an Academy Award. As usual, no action was issued beyond these reprimands. As usual, elites are let off with a warning and a slap on the wrist. Gov. Snyder still cashes his paycheck while poison courses through the veins of Flint.

                Unfortunately, situations like the one in Flint are not new. The working class, especially poor minorities, are frequently silenced and thrown under the bus in the name of elite interests. They serve as forced martyrs and victims of a regime that regularly oppresses them for profit. The choice to switch Flint’s water source was made, by Snyder’s own admission, to save the Michigan State Government upwards of $10 million. The irony, of course, is that the damage to Flint will end up costing the state in excess of $1.5 billion.

                Tragedies like Flint are especially repugnant when one considers the extent to which individuals must rely on corporations, NGOs, and government agencies to represent their best interests, often without any real mechanisms to assure accountability. Ultimately, the lack of protections or liability brings up questions as to the effectiveness of representative democracy.

                Typically, both liberal and conservative proponents will make two arguments to the legitimacy of representative democracy. Firstly, they will argue that direct democracy is unwieldy and impossible, and despite its merits there is no system of government that can efficiently execute the individual demands of its citizens. In this regard, representation is seen as the best possible compromise – it allows for citizens to present their views to an intermediary, who (ideally) represents both their grievances and best interests. This is a very common argument from parties on the right and center of the political spectrum, but the claim is highly questionable. There are many examples of direct democracy that have held up over history. One prominent example is workers’ cooperatives. They rose to prominence during the Industrial Revolution and they’ve enjoyed considerable longevity. Today, hundreds of them are present around the globe. They continue to subsist in spite of union-busting and more recent examples of “market disruption” (e.g. the “sharing economy” and the giant corporations that dominate them, such as Uber, Lyft, and airbnb) Direct democracy is not a fairytale and it should not be treated as such.

                Another extremely common rebuttal contends that representative democracy is a superior system, owing to the inability of the general public to identify and address the issues that are affecting them. Aside from being incredibly presumptuous and grossly classist, this argument assumes at its own peril that the electorate is ill-informed, ambiguous, and uneducated. Both conservative and liberal pundits love to paint themselves as one of the “enlightened elites” amongst the unwashed and ignorant masses, most likely in an attempt to assure themselves of their intellectual and moral superiority. It is admittedly a very convenient tactic, but overall it is useless rhetoric and it is also inherently harmful. Despite this, it is everywhere. Liberal pundits in particular love to make this argument, especially in the 2016 election cycle. The success of presumptive Republican nominee Donald Trump has left establishment proponents of democracy reeling, and they more often than not cast the blame squarely on the electorate. In a May 6 episode of Bill Maher’s “Real Time”, Dan Savage smugly observed that “no one has gone broke underestimating the intelligence of the American people”.

                Savage would probably do well to remember that his own self-serving take on the policy process is highly questionable. It has been my experience, especially in the congressional offices, that individuals care deeply about the policies that affect them, and will do whatever they can in their power to preserve their interests and the interests of their friends, family, business, etc. It’s very easy to make the argument that constituents lack insight into the political situations that affect them. However, this is more attributable to institutional and educational barriers that prevent voters from direct participation in the political system. The marked divide between individuals and interest groups, especially as it occurs in the policy process, means that elites have more power, influence, and means to control policy and policy outcomes. There is no role or place for constituents to participate in the representative system, even when potential policies affect them greatly. The political machine is broken, and both conservatives and liberals alike have taken notice. The charade cannot continue, and no one wants to support an establishment that places a stranglehold on workers’ livelihoods while the machine slowly bleeds to death.

                Socialist Analysis and the Need to Fight Back

                The strength of Elite Theory, and the strength of socialism in particular, comes from the fact that it recognizes this and in turn deconstructs the way policy changes occur when elites define their own interests either against the will of the public or alongside it. Windows of access are open only to those groups and individuals that are capable of exerting the influence and financial power necessary to conscript the barriers of the policy process. Constituents are only given the illusion of choice so that they can be tamed and kept under control. The reality of the situation is an ugly one – representation is elitist by its very nature, and cannot possibly hope to result in policy outcomes that are effective.

                Establishment politicians and pundits like Maher and Savage will poke fun at mainstream politics for their own amusement. However, their observations will rarely cross over into a meaningful criticism of policymaking as either an elitist or capitalist practice.  They smugly defend establishment politics because it suits them to do so. The idea that they live and participate in an innately harmful system is dodged or suppressed, because it is much easier to conform to the system than it is to break it, even if it the system in question is already in disrepair. Likewise, capitalism, and the resulting system of representation that masquerades as democracy, is easy to defend because it is the status quo. Establishment politicians have no interest in throwing the baby out with the bathwater, and even if the U.S. were to elect a more “progressive” politician (think Bernie Sanders or even Green Party candidate Jill Stein), the nature of establishment politics will effectively cripple their ability to make definitive and lasting changes. Change in the policy process is incremental, and effective changes are often undermined over long periods of time by reactionary politics. This is typical liberalism at its best – as Fredrik DeBoer recently observed, “Liberalism, after all, is a compromise, neither the embrace of markets or the willingness to abandon them. It is an attempt to ameliorate the inequality and immiseration of capitalism, when inequality and immiseration are the very purpose of capitalism.”

                Needless to say, this is unacceptable. The working class cannot possibly hope to get its voice heard in the schoolyard politics of representative government, certainly not when a wall of elite interests – often, the same interests that oppress them – prevents their needs from being considered at all. Direct action is absolutely necessary and activists need to stick to the time-honored formula – agitate, educate, organize. Democracy Spring was a small step in the right direction, but as a mass movement it has (so far) been a failure because it was at best an inconvenience to elites. The strength of mass movements comes when elites cannot possibly ignore the discontent of the working classes without facing immediate consequences, either to their own careers in office or otherwise. Business as usual cannot continue, so we must make business as usual outright impossible.

                I must emphasize that elites are not ignorant about the suffering of the working classes – they know that the system is harmful. Recently, Cartier executive Johann Rupert admitted to the Financial Times that he is “kept awake at night” by the prospect of structural unemployment caused by the second machine age. “We cannot have 0.1 percent of 0.1 percent taking all the spoils,” he said, “It’s unfair and it is not sustainable…We are destroying the middle classes at this stage and it will affect us. It’s unfair. So that’s what keeps me awake at night.”

                It would be easy to give Rupert some measure of credit for his observation. I will do no such thing. He alongside countless other moguls continues to profit off of the systematic exploitation of workers. Nonetheless, they know that the current capitalist system cannot continue indefinitely. Change will not come without sacrifice, and elites will not consider the pleas of the working class unless we circumscribe their options in the same manner.  We cannot wait any longer for elites to become our protectors – we must agree to take our salvation into our own hands. If the interests of elites are so loud that they silence the needs of the people, then we in turn must make our voices so resounding and disruptive that we cannot possibly be ignored.

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                  GOOD READS FOR SOCIALISTS — JUNE 2016

                  June 1st, 2016  / Author: woodlanham


                  The Washington Socialist <> June 2016

                  Portside posts a New York Times article about close cooperation between SEIU and AFSCME on electoral work. Co-author Steve Greenhouse, always a labor-friendly though professional reporter for the NYT, took a buyout from the paper in 2014 but it looks like they can’t do without his institutional memory.

                  Old books? Old radical politics books? A whole shelf of them? A bookstore in Greenwich Village retains the mystique of pre-Borders, pre-Amazon culture, in this piece of charm passed on by Louis Cooper.

                  This NYT op-ed May 14 saw some traffic in the social media that DSAers frequent, and provides a cautionary tale about resentment of elites easily triggered by Trump and his fellow demagogues.

                  Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now describes (in a New York Daily News op-ed) the control board that Congress is setting up for Puerto Rico’s indebtedness, one that would erase large amounts of the democracy the island has enjoyed in order to satisfy greedy hedge fund managers unwilling to take the haircut they deserve.

                  Can’t resist this one – Politico’s account of how evilmeister Roy Cohn mentored the young Donald Trump. By way of Portside… .

                  A late entry, just before publication — Carl Goldman recommends this Rolling Stone interview with Sanders,

                  The DSA National Political Committee has some provisional talking points for electoral work from now through the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia July 25-28.

                  In Democratic Left, the national DSA periodical, other items you may have missed (if you want to get an actual print version, join DSA).

                  Local member and national vice chair Christine Riddiough reviews “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry,” a feminist film shown nationally – and shown in May at a DSA-sponsored screening locally.

                  The Bay Area activist Tommy Wells says a close look can tell us “how the Sanders Campaign has fundamentally changed class politics in the United States.”

                  After visiting several countries in Europe and South America that are nominally governed by socialists, DSA and Solidarity member Dan La Botz reports “[t]he Socialist Parties in these countries are no longer on the left in any meaningful sense. [But] in several instances activists are working to build new radical socialist parties out of upheavals such as the indignados and Nuit debout.

                  And here are some of the most recent articles, often from mainstream media, about Bernie and socialism: in the LA Times, “Some on the far left say sellout…”; from Bloomberg View via the Chicago Trib, Socialism’s dream deferred; from Alternet, a “convergence narrative” about how capitalism needs socialism to work.

                  Send nominations for Good Reads to They should be available online, free of paywalls, and accessible via the links you include.


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                    Metro DC DSA’s May 2016 Newsletter: Labor against war, footsore canvassing, expanding the window of the possible, racism and the NFL and other indices

                    May 2nd, 2016  / Author: woodlanham

                    Welcome to the May 2016 issue of the Washington Socialist, the free email newsletter of the Metro DC local of Democratic Socialists of America – the largest socialist organization in the United States, and getting larger.
                    The Maryland Democratic Primary is over.
                    Jamie Raskin looks like he’s in, the next Congressman from the 8th CD. Our other endorsees in Maryland were less lucky despite spirited campaigns. Donna Edwards’ opponent, Chris Van Hollen, got the WaPo endorsement and additionally benefited from very rough and unbalanced treatment of Edwards in the WaPo news columns.  So it goes with Amazon’s captive newspaper… (see more below from Carolyn Byerly about the masculinization of the delegation…).
                    The Sanders campaign in Maryland certainly had an uphill road; Hillary Clinton’s strong support among the state’s political class made a big difference. But Sanders won in Garrett, Allegany and Carroll counties, which is to say among low-income, working-class white people in areas of severe unemployment. He hit his statewide average of 33 percent in Prince George’s but climbed to roughly the high 40s in Montgomery County, where organizing for his campaign was early and intense among advocates well before the slightly anemic official state campaign got itself situated. And he did the same in Baltimore City, though there’s less evidence of early organization there. In Washington and Frederick counties – like Allegany and Garrett, Western Maryland counties with high white working-class numbers and unemployment numbers to match – Sanders scored well above his statewide average, and he showed significant appeal in Eastern Shore counties, the watery mirror-images demographically of the four Western counties. The Sanders campaign’s persistent inability to crack the consciousness of African Americans in this quite diverse state, as elsewhere, showed again, demonstrating as well the effects of longtime residential segregation, for good and ill, on the distribution of Maryland’s electoral power – and how it is controlled by the political class.

                    MAY dsa for bernie feeney mosley et al
                    DSAers Bill Mosley, Andy Feeney, Carl Goldman and David Duhalde ready to hit the streets for Bernie
                    IN THE NEWS:
                    THE STRIKE AGAINST VERIZON
                    : Updated information on supporting the Communication Workers of America strike against Verizon is here.
                    At The Washington Socialist’s press time the most recent update from Union City, the Metro Washington CLC newsletter, was April 29:
                    After Verizon threatens health benefits, CWA steps up for strikers: Saying that “It is unconscionable for a company that made more than $4 billion dollars in profits in the first quarter of 2016 alone to cut off health care benefits for the workers who created those profits,” CWA yesterday pledged that “no striking member or family member will go without medically necessary health care, no matter what Verizon chooses to do.” Each local has a relief fund coordinator and a community service committee that works with CWA union members to ensure that all workers get the care they need throughout the strike. “This heartless move by Verizon shows why the strike is so important,” said CWA District 2-13 Vice President Ed Mooney and CWA District One Vice President Dennis Trainor in a statement. “Workers are taking a stand against Verizon’s corporate greed and fighting to protect middle class jobs.” As the strike by nearly 40,000 CWA and IBEW members stretched into its third week, AFGE Local 12 voted to donate $1,500 to the CWA strike fund; Contributions can also be made through the Community Services Agency; click here to donate securely online.
                    And a Newsweek commentator asked “Does the Verizon Strike Signal a Resurgence Of Labor?”

                    DSA CALENDAR
                    Sunday, May 8 – Metro DC DSA general meeting – election of steering committee. Not all candidates are announced yet. The candidates will be posted on the Meetup page when the list is complete. Attendees at the meeting who wish to cast ballots for steering committee members must be paid-up, dues-paying members of the Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America local. Memberships and dues will be accepted at the meeting, or contact Bill Mosley, 2:30 p.m. at Watha T. Daniel Branch Library, Shaw, 1630 7th St. NW, across the street from the Shaw Metrorail station.

                    Monday, May 9 – Film “She’s Beautiful When She’s Angry”      Sponsored by Metro DC DSA: A documentary film about the birth of the women’s liberation movement of the 1960’sFilm Introduced and Multigenerational Discussion on Feminism Facilitated by Christine Riddiough, Vice Chair of Democratic Socialists of America
                    Invited guests appearing in the movie: Mary Jean Collins Director of Chicago NOW in the 1970s, VP of National NOW in the 80s, later was on staff of People for the American Way and Catholics for Free Choice <> Heather Booth A founder of the Chicago Women’s Liberation Union, and founder and director of the Midwest Academy
                    Monday, May 9, 7:00 p.m. 5410 Connecticut Avenue, NW, DC (The Garfield) Party Room
                    One block north of Military Road on Connecticut Avenue at Legation<> Friendship Heights Metro <> Buses up Connecticut Avenue from downtown <> Plenty of on-street parking available
                    Donations to Groups Working on Reproductive Justice Welcome!
                    Sponsored by Metro DC Democratic Socialists of America <> Questions?  Email

                    Thursday, May 19 – Metro DC DSA Socialist Salon. Democratic Socialism:  What Does it Mean —  Bernie Sanders may not be the Democratic nominee for president of the United States, but the movement to which he gave voice will not go away.  Join us for a round table discussion at our next Salon which fo an open discussion of our individual and shared  understanding of democratic socialism — as a movement, as a politics, and as a vision of the future. 6:30 at Hunan Dynasty, 215 Pennsylvania Ave. SE two blocks from Capitol South Metrorail station, Orange/Blue line.

                    Wednesday, May 25 — DSA Happy Hour at 6:30, Luna Grill, 1301 Connecticut Ave. NW. Details on Meetup.

                    Note: the Socialist Book Group meets June 19, details in the June issue or on Meetup. The book participants are reading is Anthony Atkinson, Inequality: What Can Be Done.”

                    Check our Meetup page for updates on all DSA events

                    DSA FUTURES CALENDAR
                    From our DC-based comrade DSA deputy director David Duhalde, via DSA-Activist:
                    We know many of you are very excited about the People’s Summit!
                    This is a gathering of great organizations that have endorsed Bernie Sanders, along with many nonpartisan groups whose membership largely supports the democratic socialist senator’s presidential campaign. It will take place in Chicago this June 17th to 19th. DSA was the only socialist group invited to be an original convener of the event (whose other conveners include the National Nurses Union, People for Bernie, and National People’s Action (NPA), the largest network of community organizations in the U.S.)
                    If you or someone in your local may want to attend, click here to RSVP for a Tuesday, May 3 9 p.m. Eastern conference call about DSA’s participation in the People’s Summit. Our goal is to have at least one member per local or organizing committee attend, with many more from locals in the Midwest within driving distance of Chicago. During the call, we will review logistics and our goals for the event. It is critical that you book your trips now before flights and other travel expenses go up!
                    We cannot stress enough that this is an excellent opportunity for us to network with groups representing millions of Sanders supporters who are newly open to socialism. If DSA could attract even a fraction of these activists, we would be a much stronger and more visible democratic socialist organization. In addition, the conference will likely break down into regional groups to discuss how to extend Bernie’s “political revolution” well beyond the campaign at the local level. DSA wants to play a role in building a stronger grassroots Left coalition that will continue to flourish in the future.
                    Registration for the People’s Summit is now open. DSA members can register here for the Summit. YDS members can register at the student rate here.

                    EVENTS OF NOTE
                    Tuesday May 3 –  DC Laborfest and Busboys and Poets present Harvest of Empire, a film based on the groundbreaking book by journalist Juan Gonzalez of Democracy Now.  This documentary astutely examines the role that the US military and corporate intervention in Latin America played in triggering waves of migrations from Mexico, the Caribbean and Central America.  The film also offers a glimpse into the enormous sacrifices and triumphs of Latino immigrants who are transforming our nation’s cultural, economic and political landscape.
                    This event is hosted by Maryland Delegate Jimmy Tarlau and Senator Victor Ramirez; co-sponsored by Hyattsville Mayor Candace Hollingsworth & Delegate Alonzo T. Washington.
                    Free and Open to the Public 6 – 8 p.m. at Busboys and Poets (Hyattsville) 5331 Baltimore Ave.
                    >>The DC LaborFest has just gotten under way (started April 29) with presentations, films and music. Check the month-long menu here.


                    >>Since the Vietnam War, small groups within the labor movement have worked to reduce the movement’s traditional pro-war stance and workers’ dependence on jobs linked to the military. Decades later, US Labor Against War has become a significant factor in how the labor movement sees US adventurism and the MIC. Read complete article

                    >>Washington’s NFL team flaunts a racist monicker – on of the last in sports or other public organizations, which have steadily been shedding stereotypical or offensive names. Bill Mosley reviews a book that revisits the team’s racist past and stubborn present and outlines both reasons the owner may relent and the activist organizations that have kept the pressure on. Read complete article

                    >>The defeat of Donna Edwards in the Maryland Democratic primary for US Senate turned the state’s Congressional delegation all-male, cutting off many hopes for increased diversity in race and gender. Carolyn Byerly laments the loss of a vibrant candidate in a close race. Read complete article

                    >>Walmart is as much a scourge of communities in Maryland as it has been in DC. Kurt Stand details the active community resistance to a proposed new Walmart in Duvall and proposed expansion of an inner-Beltway Walmart near Cheverly – both being dangled before officials in development-starved Prince George’s County. Read complete article

                    >>The issues brandished in the Sanders campaign have changed many voters’ attitudes toward socialist perspectives, as well as socialism by name. Jessie Mannisto argues that the window of the politically possible is expandable if progressives don’t shy away from the opportunity. Read complete article

                    >>The Sanders campaign has offered DSA members an unusual and unaccustomed portal to national, party-style political work, including the nuts and bolts work of canvassing. Andy Feeney has been doing this work a lot, and has a near-lyrical in-depth account of a day in the DSA canvasser’s life. Read complete article

                    >>The Maryland General Assembly legislative session, from January to April, brought some modest changes and some big disappointments to progressives in the state – as it always does. Business influence at the state level took its toll, Woody Woodruff reports. Read complete article

                    >>In our “Good Reads for Socialists,” lots of Bernie matters, environmental utopianism and practical proposals, and an historical analysis of neoliberalism. Read complete article

                    You can read these as well as past articles in the Washington Socialist on our website where they are archived,

                    Our readers are our best writers. Join that group and submit an article about activism you are doing or someone else is doing; reviews of important books you have read; think-pieces contributing to the left’s perennial search for a better way to explain our crisis to its victims. You are part of this conversation. Submit contributions to The Washington Socialist at a number of levels — send us nominee for “Good Reads” (they should be available online so send links); send news and notices of activism; submit articles. Send to

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