Why Is DSA So White? Is It Bernie Sanders’ Fault?

By José G. Pérez.

My friend and comrade, the chair of our Atlanta DSA chapter, just caused a shitstorm on twitter with by saying that the DSA focusing on the Bernie campaign is not good for a lot of chapters, especially in the South, where it gets in the way of important work we needed to be doing to change the group’s composition.

I’m not sure I agree with saying that it is getting in the way but I absolutely agree that it does not get us one flea-hop closer to changing the DSA’s composition.

And a big part of the reason I don’t think it gets in the way is that I don’t think the Bernie work is making us look like a Bernie organization. It is a confirmation that we are in fact a Bernie organization. Our saving grace is that we are not just a Bernie organization.

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The reality is that the DSA’s composition is disproportionately white, male, millennial and college-educated. Therefore, both comrades and critics say, we must be doing something grievously wrong and must extirpate the toxic white supremacist and patriarchal atmosphere that has led to this result.

But the DSA’s spectacular growth over the past three years should give us new insight. We say we “recruited” tens of thousands of people, but that’s not true. They joined, and they joined through no fault or merit of our own.

Their joining had nothing to do with the tenor and culture of the DSA Local in their area. And they are precisely disproportionately college educated white male millennials. That is the composition that social processes much broader than our own internal culture imposed on us.

You might say that makes perfect sense. Bernie is white, male, conforms to gender norms and so we get Bernie [bros]. But last June, a young Puerto Rican woman, a member of the DSA, pulled the biggest political upset in many a season. A thousand people joined the DSA the next day. Another 9,000 in the month after her victory. Was it a flood from the Latinx community? Not in Atlanta.

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Since then the face of democratic socialism has also been the one that graced the cover of Time magazine a few weeks ago. She has higher name recognition than most of the Democratic presidential candidates. I don’t believe that in recent decades, there has been a political figure from our Latino community that is as well known and popular as she is among us.

Has that made a difference in the composition of those joining? I think if it were so, we would have certainly heard.

The starting point of our discussion has to be the fact that the composition of the DSA is about American society, not just the DSA.

You might go “Pfew, that’s a relief!” But you shouldn’t.

The problem is exactly the same as if it were completely about the DSA. Only now we know two things.

Thing one: It is mostly not our “fault” because of what we do or don’t do. It is much worse than that. We are much more a reflection of our white supremacist, patriarchal, and class-exploitative society than we think. Our current composition has been imposed on us from the outside by powerful social forces over which we have no control.

Thing two: we have to overcome this just the same. Otherwise there is no point to the DSA. And I believe it will be much harder and more painful than we think.

José G. Pérez @JG_Perez is a long-time activist in the Latinx immigrant rights and socialist movements. His primary focus has been journalism. He is currently producer and co-host of a daily two-hour news, analysis and call-in show on the progressive Atlanta-based, Spanish-language Internet broadcaster RadioInformación, and a member of the Atlanta DSA.

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Groupthink is a contradiction in terms.

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