Opening Remarks from our Chapter Convention

Last weekend, on February 24, 2024, Cleveland DSA held its second Chapter Convention. Below are the opening remarks from Chapter Secretary Damion A.

The Cleveland Democratic Socialists of America seeks to facilitate the transition to a truly democratic and socialist society, one in which the means and resources of production are democratically and socially controlled.

Our organization represents one of the only democratic and member-run and funded organizations anywhere. We’re building a multi-tendency political identity in Cleveland that is independent of the capitalist parties that dominate all levels of our present government. Our goal is the self emancipation of the organized working class through a democratic mass socialist movement, not pre-packaged liberation that was handed down from on high by party elites.

We want to make Cleveland DSA our members’ political home, through both our internal democracy and our principled external campaigns for the working class. We want to help our members grow into organizers who can help to shift the balance of power to the working class in their workplaces, unions, and communities.

We are here today to decide on our chapter’s priorities for the year and to make adjustments to our guiding document so that its easier for us to practice democracy. We don’t hold our bylaws document as sacred and untouchable. It’s a practical tool. More importantly, it’s an agreement we form with ourselves so that we can confidently work without worrying that we’re overstepping or taking over. Our exact bylaws probably wouldn’t work well for another chapter elsewhere. The details wouldn’t fit but the general spirit is to be found in each one. And in a few years, after we’ve grown in number and gained more victories, today’s bylaws will be a poor fit. If we haven’t changed them sufficiently along the way then we will have another convention. We welcome this inevitability. The bylaws are an artifact of our democracy and enable our democracy.

A guide to basic parliamentary procedures used to empower members at Convention and our chapter’s General Meetings

Democracy has always been the scarcest resource. We can imagine a capitalist owner sitting in his office and watching his balance sheets increase. He standardized his factory equipment and financial practices. Everything can be easily understood in a nicely formatted report. And then Jacob tells his boss he needs time off for a religious holiday. And Stacy keeps saying her manager calls her by a “dead name”. And Katie says that says the women are paid less than men for the same work. And women of color point out that they make even less than everyone. And another guy says the benefits plan excludes his husband. And that plan that he wants so badly doesn’t cover reproductive health and the copay is enormous. And everyone knows that what they do all day doesn’t really matter anyway. These fictitious people are placeholders for you and me. We’ve all been harmed by capitalism. We all fell into the same grinder when we were born.

In the old days, when the early capitalists wanted undifferentiated compliant drones, they’d send violent young men somewhere far away where it was easy to tell apart the bosses from the laborers using their respective physical differences. When the native workforce spoke up, it was easy to tell who to shoot. The situation for capitalists has gotten more complicated since then. They still send kids with guns to take people over, without a doubt. Where that won’t do, they need other ways to standardize their workforce. They bring the colonial attitude home and start splitting up the workforce by what they see as obvious differences.

So, while the capitalists in charge work on a way to make computers behave like docile emotionally inert humans, there are all these random workers with ancient prejudices that hate the very people who are keeping them from turning a bigger profit. If he looks the other way or wrings his hands in sympathy while they persecute his employees then they’ll be too sick and tired to fight me for a better working conditions. If living in fear for your life reduces the company’s HR overhead then the stockholders will be happy, the boss will be pacified, and the executives will get a bonus. Then they can put you in a job that shortens your life and turns your personal time into a recovery period for your next shift. They will use your health to push units and your emotions to improve productivity.

Once while canvassing for DSA I came across a stray dog. He was a big dog and we didn’t know each other but I gave him the benefit of the doubt. He was lost and alone. I used kind words to comfort him and held out my hand with a treat. These actions together, verbal and material, indicated that I was unlikely to harm him. He came over, I gave him a piece of bagel I had in my pocket from earlier, and returned him home. In our work as socialists we need to speak out and contradict repressive misinformation that comes from a variety of sources. We describe the world honestly and rationally amid the constant clatter of advertising, bias, and myth. But we also need to hold out our hand and offer material support. We do as much as we can in the world to make real improvements in the lives of actual working people.

Our chapter has accomplished a great deal, internally and externally, since a few comrades came together in the 2010s to reform a Cleveland local. Mere months ago we joined the successful fight to get abortion rights in the state constitution. In 2022-23 we fought in solidarity with Starbucks Workers to keep union stores going in the long fight for a contract. In 2021 we held our first chapter convention, drafting our chapter’s bylaws together from scratch. From the early days of COVID-19 until late 2022 we mobilized to support tenants facing eviction and spread the message of tenant power. In 2019 we ran Brake Light Clinics to help reduce Clevelanders interactions with the numerous police gangs of Cleveland, and finished a campaign as the key ground force of CLASH securing a city ordinance on lead paint.

At this convention, we’ll be fiddling with the knobs and levers of our chapter, replacing and cleaning the parts. It may not look exciting to an outside observer but for us it is exhilarating. Democracy doesn’t exist until it happens. It is an activity, not only a state of mind. And here we all are, so different, with so much in common, and we can all speak up and shape the policies that shape our work. And you don’t have to wear a nice suit, or the right clothes for your assigned gender, or wear your hair in a certain way, or speak perfect English. You weren’t appointed to a board by someone who owns a yacht. You didn’t have to muscle your way through a hierarchy for years to force your way into a seat at the table. You didn’t have to prove yourself or flash your credentials to justify being here. We want you here because you are you. We want to know you. The world is a better, more interesting place with you in it and we are lucky that you’ve chosen to spend your time with us. That kind of fellowship is a privilege offered by socialism. One way to consider democracy is that an entire group of people consult with each individual to say “you are important and we won’t go ahead until we hear what you think.” It is the essence of our project. Democracy isn’t about casting votes, specifically. It’s the belief that everyone should be included. Decisions about you should not be made without you. We matter because you matter.