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Priorities

Adopted May 2019

For Socialism

Democratic socialists believe it is impossible to have democracy or social justice under capitalism. This is a system that lets Wall Street, insurance companies, the fossil fuel industry, and the military-industrial complex reap record profits, while millions of working people survive on poverty wages and the planet hurtles toward ecological collapse.

We know that a better world is possible: socialism. We fight for a future without exploitation or oppression, where ordinary people own and control the economic institutions that affect our daily lives, and where everyone regardless of race, gender, sexuality, or ability is guaranteed a life of dignity, security, and human flourishing.

Centrality of Class Struggle

Capitalism is a system built on exploitation, one in which people are divided into classes that determine what they get and what they have to do to survive. The vast majority of people must sell their labor in order to meet their basic needs. The relationship between worker and boss is one-sided. The owners of capital hold the authority to dictate the worth of a worker’s time and labor. Bosses also enforce the degrading notion that a workers’ contribution to the productivity and profit of the company is more valuable than any other aspect of their lives.

But in this exploitative relationship, those on top also depend on the labor of working people. There can be no productivity, profits, or privately owned islands without us. As a result, capitalism endows us with enormous potential power. When we organize to withhold our labor, we wrest power away from the capitalist class and reassert our autonomy and agency over the conditions of our public and private lives. Socialists see a united, multiracial working-class movement as the only force that can break the power of the capitalists and transform society.

Through all of our activities, Denver DSA's strategic orientation shall be grounded in class struggle and mass action. This means focusing on strategic mass organizing tactics like canvassing, mass mobilizations (e.g., demonstrations, protests, direct action), militant labor organizing, and insurgent electoral campaigns. These tactics are designed to bring as many people as possible into the struggle against landlords, bosses, predatory industries, and repressive state institutions.

Democratic Road To Socialism

Socialist organizing should be oriented toward the working-class majority who are not yet politically active or open to socialist politics. As we are unlikely to see an immediate end to capitalism tomorrow, DSA fights for structural reforms today that will weaken the power of corporations, increase the power of working people, and convince a majority of the need for democratic socialism. To do this, we need to work openly in movement struggles and electoral politics by building toward a mass party with a socialist program.

Our perspective differs from alternative socialist strategies. We reject an opportunist approach of gradually winning reforms that never seeks to break with the capitalist system. On the other hand, we also reject an ultra-left approach of insurrectionism.

Against Oppression

Capitalism stokes racial resentment, nationalist xenophobia, and gender oppression to keep working people divided. By creating competition for jobs, housing, and well-resourced and funded schools, the capitalist system pits workers against each other and makes prejudiced ideas seem plausible.

Our approach to combating oppression and building unity has two main components. First, we fight for transformative, classwide demands that both benefit all working people and galvanize the largest number to fight in their own self-interest. Second, we must tackle specific forms of domination head-on, inside our organization, inside ourselves, and in the broader world. Today in the United States key battles against oppression include, but by no means are limited to, the fight against mass incarceration and police brutality; campaigns to defend and expand reproductive rights; fights to eliminate gender violence; the struggle by queer people, disabled people, women, and people of color to stop job and housing discrimination; and the movement to end deportations of undocumented immigrants. Socialists should work in solidarity with others to contest for mass power in the public arena, as well as liberation from oppression and flourishing of humanity for all people.

Therefore, Denver DSA will prioritize campaigns for universal social programs and also against the particular oppression of marginalized groups, to include:

Medicare For All

Health outcomes in the United States are abysmal. We have the highest maternal mortality rates, infant mortality rates, rates of chronic and preventable disease, and heart disease rates of any rich country in the world. Each of these health crises stems from the brutal and deteriorating social conditions of life for American workers. Our health is a social issue. It is linked to our jobs, our environment, our access to basic social needs and ultimately to the politics that shape our daily lives.

The healthcare system in America — a profit-driven, limited-coverage, patchwork, employer-based, multi-payer model — is a nightmare for working people. The problem is straightforward: it is not profitable to insure sick people. The profit motive in healthcare creates a vicious cycle of poorer health outcomes for the sick and greater costs overall. Everyone is affected by this inhumane system, but the burden falls disproportionately on historically marginalized groups within the working class.

We need a healthcare system that prioritizes the health of working-class Americans over the profits of insurance companies and their billionaire executives. We need Medicare for All: a single, universal system with comprehensive coverage that is free at the point of service. Winning Medicare for All legislation would not give us complete health justice. Ultimately, we are for a completely socialized system akin to the United Kingdom’s National Health Service. However, Medicare for All would radically transform the U.S. insurance system by uncompromisingly providing:

  1. A single program (administered by the federal government with equal access to all medical services and treatments).
  2. Comprehensive services (including dental, vision, mental health, and pharmaceuticals).
  3. Free at the point of service care (no copays, no fees, no deductibles).
  4. Universal coverage (all U.S. residents, including non-citizens).
  5. A jobs program (just transition for affected healthcare workers).

Winning Medicare for All will mean establishing a piece of real democratic socialism and building a broader working-class movement to take on the elite and the billionaire class. Healthcare justice and the fight for Medicare for All requires a mass movement based on political pressure, mutual aid, and a collective shift of resources. In order to achieve such legislation, we commit to actions such as:

  • Organizing canvasses for national Medicare for All as well as statewide legislation which will advance a single-payer system.
  • Building coalitions with healthcare organizations and workers.
  • Attacking the private healthcare industry.
  • Pressuring legislators to support the bill.
  • Educating the community on Medicare for All.
  • Providing mutual aid to those suffering from a lack of healthcare.

Homes For All

Shelter is a fundamental need for human beings, comparable to the need for food, water, and sleep. Capitalism constructs homes and places them on a market not to fulfill this need, but to take advantage of it. On this market, homes are either bought or rented, but either way, they operate as investments vehicles for wealthy individuals and finance companies, collectively known as landlords.

In many parts of our country — and certainly, in the city of Denver — the days where a working class person could afford to buy a home are long gone; even then, we know those opportunities were overwhelmingly given only to white families, exacerbating the racial wealth disparity in our country. Instead, renting is the way that most people find shelter. By its nature, renting is precarious; if the price of rent is not paid every month the tenant is evicted. This means that the lowest wage earners and people on fixed incomes will always be on the brink of homelessness. Additionally, we understand that the negative aspects of the housing market disproportionately affect people on the basis of race, gender, sexual orientation, and ability.

Furthermore, maintaining rental properties is an extra cost that some landlords, often known as slumlords, ignore because their tenants have virtually no other options. This neglect includes ignoring pest infestations, ignoring unreliable basic utilities like water and heat, and keeping toxic materials in the home such as lead-based paint.

As socialists, we understand that so long as housing is a commodity to be bought and sold for profit, the oppressed people of this nation will suffer for it. Therefore, we assert that housing is a human right and not a privilege. Moving housing from the status of a commodity to a universal public good will be met by extreme resistance from the powers that be. This will be a long battle and what we do now is only the beginning. In order to start to take control of housing from the landlords and place it under the control of the people, we advance these four programs:

  • Launch a ballot initiative for a Tenants’ Bill of Rights. In collaboration with coalition partners, we will write and campaign on a Tenant’s Bill of Rights that will include the right to cure, a mandatory legal counsel in eviction proceedings, longer periods where landlords must accept rent payment, and strong habitability standards.
  • Form independent tenants unions. As part of our Stomp Out Slumlords campaign, we will organize renters to take collective action while dealing with landlords. Tenants unions can create working-class power and solidarity.
  • Legalize and establish rent control. Market forces alone should not determine the price of rent. We will support efforts to end the state ban on rent control at the state level and bring price stability to rental housing in Denver.
  • Strengthen mutual aid. We will redouble our efforts to assist the homeless population in acquiring access to safe and clean shelter.

Sanctuary For All

Capitalists routinely exploit and dehumanize immigrants in general, but undocumented immigrants are particularly demonized. As socialists, we realize the importance of building a relationship with and supporting our immigrant neighbors who cannot wield electoral power themselves. By recognizing immigrants as comrades rather than competitors or human capital, we can counter toxic, reactionary, and xenophobic narratives while also building the foundation of a strong internationalist movement.

So much of the desperation that predicates the dangerous journey into this country stems from imperial foreign policies that have, throughout our history, resulted in destabilization, violence, displacement, and ecological destruction. As socialists, we have an obligation to fight against imperialism in all forms, and that includes standing with and lifting up the immigrant community here in Denver. In order to foster a deeper relationship with the immigrant community, we commit to actions such as:

  • Listening to the needs of and following the lead of those already doing work within the immigrants' rights community.
  • Building trust with coalition partners.
  • Organizing support around endeavors such as sanctuary aid, detention visits, and community education programs.
  • Using our endorsed candidates and canvassing capacity to work on behalf of legislation which protects and empowers the immigrant community.

Climate and Environmental Justice

Socialists understand that the drive for maximum profit defines the current ecological and climate crises. So long as environmental policies protect and prioritize the profit of corporations in general and those of the fossil fuel industry in particular, we will never be able to halt the emission of greenhouse gases nor mitigate the resulting destructive effects of a rapidly changing global climate. We must abandon policies favored by corporations and multinational banks in order to end our dependence on fossil fuels and decarbonize the economy fully by 2030. We must seek to democratize control of the energy sector- promoting decentralized, locally owned and controlled renewable energy production and transmission where possible and nationalizing the fossil fuel industry for rapid decommission if necessary. While demanding a rapid transformation of the economy we shall seek to do so by mobilizing the working class and front-line communities to demand a just transition to a green economy for all workers, centered on our survival and well-being. This will necessarily include persuading those in the disrupted energy sector and building trades to fight for a better future shared by all. By centering the working class and front-line communities we hope to reorient environmentalism- forging new values and social priorities, decommodifying survival, redistributing resources from the worst polluters and rejecting green imperialism and ecofascism.

At the national level, we believe that a universal social and economic program such as the "Green New Deal" is a good model for pursuing these ideals, but only if it continues to advance the interests of the working class and front-line communities. Crafting and popularizing the argument for a national climate and environmental justice program based on socialist principles will popularize ecosocialism in the nation as well as in Denver, pressuring local, state and national officials to act for the benefit of the most vulnerable to environmental degradation and climate change. On a local level, we commit to actions such as:

  • Seeking input and buy-in from labor and community groups to further craft the narrative of a national climate and environment program prioritizing economic, social and racial justice.
  • Initiating a canvassing campaign for public education and grassroots support of an ecosocialist climate and environmental justice program.
  • Leading a rapid shift away from a monopolistic, extractive, fossil energy system and taking back the grid to provide clean, local, distributed and publicly owned electricity.
  • Supporting aligned movements in the Denver area to learn from others and to participate in the local environmentalist community while representing explicitly socialist theories of transformative action.
  • Pursuing local and decentralized action to immediately improve quality of life and environmental health, in order to make clear the positive demonstration of climate and environmental justice.
  • Supporting the activities of the chapter with work hours and insight from an ecosocialist perspective and seeking out opportunities for self-funding and self-sustaining committee action.

Rank-and-File Strategy For Labor

There can be no socialist movement without a strong labor movement that fights for the liberation of all working people in every dimension of their lives. Within the capitalist system, the workplace is the site of struggle where we wield the greatest power. When workers stand up and strike, they grind their bosses’ profits to a halt and can extract major concessions. Trade unions are also traditionally the primary funders of socialist and labor parties. Worker struggles have a radical potential to transform social institutions beyond the workplace like the healthcare system.

Unfortunately, U.S. labor’s position is weak and insecure after decades of unrelenting attack by the ownership class. Over the past four decades, they have used the electoral and judicial systems to hamper unions as a working-class organization. This successful organizing by the corporate right has had devastating material and political effects for working people, their families, and their communities.

Yet labor leaders are themselves partly to blame for the weakness of the movement. A majority take a top-down, bureaucratic approach to organizing, often called business unionism. Instead of workers developing demands and taking action to confront employers, staff is paid to do it on their behalf. Some unions obscure and repress conflict between workers and bosses through partnership structures where labor collaborates with management. Others overemphasize electoralism. They rely on benevolent elites rather than deep organizing to secure workers’ gains. There are also militant, powerful unions in the United States that nevertheless lack a fundamental class analysis. Their leadership fights only for the narrowly-defined, short-term, sectoral interests of their current members, often pitting them against environmentalists, the underemployed, or workers in developing countries.

Socialists need to revive a militant, democratic, solidaristic labor movement capable of taking on capitalism. We therefore commit to a rank-and-file strategy, to include:

  • Organizing as rank-and-file workers. By agitating our coworkers and rooting ourselves in strategic industries, we can identify and expand the layer of workplace-based leaders who build up workers’ sense of their collective capacity as a class. DSA’s Workplace Organizing Collective will provide training, education, and collaborative space to organize the unorganized and revitalize existing unions. Also, we must always stand with the militant minority of workers already pushing for class-struggle unionism in movements like the United Caucuses of Rank and File Educators (UCORE), Teamsters for a Democratic Union (TDU), and Labor Notes. Our support for strikes and other worker actions will be oriented toward deepening our relationships with the rank and file.
  • United front with class-struggle leadership. We will ally with union leaders when and where they share our democratic socialist vision. This may include coalitions like Labor for Bernie and the Labor Campaign for Single Payer, as well as local initiatives. However, we will maintain our independence, never sacrifice genuine rank-and-file movements for political expediency, and avoid sinking free labor into campaigns without meaningful reciprocity or worker participation.

Inside and Outside the Democratic Party

For many people just now open to radical ideas, their first political experiences came through electoral politics. The campaigns of Bernie Sanders, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, and other democratic socialists have engaged millions of working people in a discussion of socialist demands and have played an important role in DSA’s growth. Electoral work is a powerful tool for elevating issues, winning concessions, and mobilizing a left base.

Ultimately, we want a mass working-class party that contests and wins elections. However, such a party must be born out of a level of struggle and unity far greater than exists today. Until such a time arrives, we see DSA as a pre-party organization, one of many groups working to develop the forces necessary to create such a party. At the same time, we know that socialism will not come through the ballot box alone. Campaigning for public office complements our work of building social power but is not a substitute for it.

Calls to exit the Democratic Party right now and launch a new socialist party ignore the unique nature of the U.S. electoral system. As we have seen time and again, third parties are structurally stymied by a combination of single-round, first-past-the-post voting for legislative offices; a strong presidential system; and draconian laws that disenfranchise voters and protect the two main parties from meaningful competition. Simply “leaving the party” without an alternative infrastructure and willing coalition in place would produce little more than quickly forgotten insurgent campaigns.

Therefore, Denver DSA commits to an inside-outside electoral strategy, to include:

  • Developing our capacity to run open democratic socialist candidates. Though our candidates must be socialists, we should not be afraid to take advantage of the Democratic ballot line when it is the best option for our candidates to win, as is usually the case in the contemporary political landscape in Denver.
  • Organizing within the Democratic Party at the local and state levels. The voter base of the party and indeed much of its grassroots infrastructure are far to the left of its elected officials. We must agitate and unite these progressive forces and build a mandate for a democratic socialist program. Such campaigns can polarize and split the coalition between corporate Democrats and the left.
  • Avoiding the trap of electoralism. Candidates running as socialists should serve the movement, never the other way around. Socialist politicians should act as organizers and popularizers of our ideas first and as legislators second.
  • Supporting measures to transform the U.S. electoral system. For a third party to be viable in the United States, the current electoral system must be radically transformed. Reactions to the 2016 election showed there is popular support for electoral reform. Winnable, transformational reforms include rank-choice voting on a local level.

Philosophy of Socialist Organizing

The Left has suffered many crushing defeats over the past fifty years. The state stripped unions of nearly all of their power, undermined hard-fought reforms, rendered our political organizations obsolete, and destroyed our communities. However, the actions of the capitalist class are not completely responsible for the left’s failures. The examples in history where one group’s interests or survival were pitted against another group’s to perpetuate the existing social structure are many. In our current historical moment, the people who make up the working class in this country are predominantly female and are not white. Any attempt to build a working class movement for socialism must center this fact in the work.

It is no secret that Denver DSA, as it currently exists, is largely comprised of individuals who are white, cisgendered men, and college educated. It is also no secret that a mass movement for Socialism cannot be a mass movement if the composition of our organization and the relationships we have with others in our work remains unchanged. Ours is a long road, but we recognize the necessity of examining the ways capitalism, white supremacy, patriarchy, heteronormativity, and other forms of oppression inform our moment in society, our organization, and ourselves as individual members. While our demographics may not change immediately, we commit to developing our current membership to better understand how hegemonic whiteness and masculinity affect our communities, our organization, and ourselves.

One of the first steps is naming, acknowledging, and addressing how forms of domination show up in our chapter. In this section, we outline themes we seek to address as we move forward as an organization. Many of these themes come from Regan Byrd, who facilitated an anti-oppression training for our chapter, as well as resources members found on how white supremacy culture manifests in organizations.

A point about organizing that is not emphasized enough is the idea that we’re building the plane as we fly it. No one person or group knows all the answers, and our analysis and understanding of struggle will continue to evolve. Our chapter has grown and developed, and we celebrate those successes! We are also committed to building the organization our society needs to actually help birth the necessary changes to society that humanity and our planet demand.

In order to overcome our current organizational challenges and more effectively work to make our world more democratic and socialist, we commit to practicing the following:

  • Understanding self-interest. As Socialist organizers, we know it is necessary for us to evaluate our individual social location and how that informs our experiences under capitalism as well as our interests in building a democratic socialist future. We believe that sustainable socialist organizing must be driven by our personal interests rather than a need to "save" or "help" those who may be viewed less fortunate. Our work is not based upon guilt driven charity, nor is our task to paternalistically “save” the less fortunate. We know that our mutual liberation is tied together; our struggle is not separate or solitary.
  • A multi-tendency structure. The DSA does not pledge loyalty to a specific socialist tradition. Rebuilding a leftist movement that can challenge capitalist domination will require socialists of different perspectives to work together. However, we do not believe in a naive leftist unity. There are many methods and tools to use as we fight to fundamentally change our society. We are not beholden to any one type of nonviolent approach, as long as members democratically determine what method DDSA should pursue in a given situation. We are not interested in endlessly relitigating the revolutions of the past or returning to a “pure” form of socialism. The input and analysis of different tendencies is heartily welcome so long as the democratic nature of our organization is respected. In accordance with national bylaws, DDSA reserves the right to expel members on the basis of being under the discipline of a democratic centralist organization if such organization is deemed to be hostile to our principles.
  • Developing a code of conduct for members of Denver DSA. We will develop and regularly update a code of conduct for the membership that explicitly names the importance of focusing on anti-oppression principles, identifying our perspectives and social locations when engaging with other members, and creating an organization based on mutual respect as ensured by our acknowledgement of the importance of process.
  • Welcoming healthy tension and conflict in the work. In order for all members to feel supported in their work and be able to strive towards a socialist society, acknowledging and discussing internal disagreements should be a vital part of the work we do as a community. We acknowledge that under the capitalist system we live in we are taught that there is either right or wrong, a winner or a loser, but we must strive as an organization to resolve conflicts through comradly debate as well as mediation. This will ensure that we are all working together towards a communal agenda and that all members know that their needs and concerns will be heard and acknowledged.
  • Quantity, but also quality. One crucial aspect of this within Denver DSA is the prioritization of quantity over quality, manifested when there is a conflict between the content (e.g. completing the agenda) and the process of a meeting - in order to strengthen the organization and dismantle the internalized white supremacy culture, process must be valued. This document is an example of the organization expressing how we want to do work as an activist organization and holding ourselves accountable for prioritizing the process, not only the outcomes of the work we do.
  • Coalition buidling. We recognize that to build a mass movement and win tangible improvements in people’s lives we cannot do this alone. Building coalitions with allied organizations strengthens our movement, builds trust a broader base of people, and brings important perspectives and resources that our organization alone does not have. We understand that to build a diverse movement we should prioritize building coalitions with organizations that are led by marginalized groups or communities directly impacted by the issues we work on.

The Necessity Of Intersectional Socialist Organizing

Oppression is the use of power to marginalize, silence, and subordinate one social group in order to empower another. We acknowledge that democratizing the economy alone would not completely end oppression based on race, gender, sexuality, and ability; these systems of domination are connected. We acknowledge that as subjects under capitalism, we are part of these interlocking systems of oppression, and we must be intentional in unlearning that oppression every single day. We also know that in order to have a truly representative and sustainable mass movement, our organization must include voices and experiences from a range of backgrounds.

In order to make Denver DSA a more welcoming, inclusive space, we commit to embodying anti-oppressive values in all of our work, both internally and externally. To that end, we commit to actions such as:

  • Intersectional analysis of oppression and organizing. Capitalism is a hierarchical system; there are those above to be obeyed and those below to be commanded. The most direct form this takes is class domination, but it has many others that cannot be ignored. Individuals that are at the intersection of multiple vectors of oppression experience each of them simultaneously. These individuals also have greater insight into how these oppressions function. We must work with those facing multiple oppressions in order to understand and combat all forms of domination. The inverse is also true. Those living with the least intersections of oppression must work extra hard to uncover how they benefit from the capitalist system and how they are reluctant to let go of that privilege, which results in the perpetuation of hierarchical domination.
  • Developing anti-oppressive guiding principles. We will develop guiding principles at both the committee and chapter level so that we recognize and name specific actions we can take to begin to unlearn the oppressive behaviors that are unintentionally embedded in our organization’s work.
  • Holding regular anti-oppression training sessions. Holding one isolated anti-oppressive training does not absolve those of us within the dominant culture. Being explicitly anti-oppressive is a daily, intentional task, which is why we commit to regularly bringing in someone from outside our organization to hold these trainings.
  • Including anti-oppression training in our new member materials. We want new members to know up front that our organization commits to anti-oppressive actions.
  • Including intersectional, feminist, critical racial, and queer theories in our political education program. A socialist political education program is not simply reading Karl Marx or Eugene Debs. We must also include brilliant, radical thinkers who write and operate from a variety of perspectives in order to truly understand how these systems of domination are interconnected.
  • Ensuring that all events are held in accessible spaces and providing accommodations. Accessible spaces and providing accommodations such as childcare, food, microphones, visual aids, etc. allows the broadest swath of the working class to participate without impediment.

Develop and Expand Our Membership

Building a sustainable socialist movement requires the development of rank and file members within our chapter. We can all grow to better comrades by developing our organizing skills, unlearning capitalist ideologies, and educating ourselves to better understand and empathize with each other.

In order to continue growing and developing, we also must develop ourselves as leaders. In doing so, we empower members to take control of their own liberation and give them the tools to begin dismantling capitalist systems of domination. The working class’s understanding of itself and its historical role, as leaders in the fight to end capitalism, becomes more clear through shared struggle and thoughtful organizing. We, therefore, commit to actions such as:

  • Building coalitions with local organizations wherever our interests overlap. Specifically we aim to build coalitions with organizations led by and comprised of oppressed identities and groups.
  • Developing training programs to increase members’ organizing skills.
  • Create and develop a chapter stewards program that works to connect DDSA members at the local level, including in the surrounding suburbs and cities of the Denver metro area.
  • Using political education to root our work in theory and sharpen our analyses of the current moment.
  • Educate and develop the masculine rank and file on socialist feminism and collectively develop new masculinities that help fight patriarchy and other forms of male domination in the chapter.
  • Coordinate with DSA chapters and at-large members across the region to organize a cohesive socialist movement.
  • Holding post-action debriefs. We will debrief actions of committees, working groups, and the chapter as a whole in order to address issues that may have arisen during the action, highlight things that went well to keep in mind for future actions, and discuss ways the action could be improved in the future. By focusing on debriefing, we continue to improve and grow in our work as a chapter, foster our own development in the labor of organizing, and ensure that our focus is on quality rather than only quantity.