Democratic Socialists of America - Long Beach

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Democratic Socialists of America - Long Beach was founded in late 2016, as the local affiliate of Democratic Socialists of America.

Contacts

Democratic Socialists of America - Long Beach contacts in July 2017 were Andrew Guy & James Suazo.[1]

New chapter

Co-organizers Andrew Guy and Ashley Thomas lead a Democratic Socialists of America - Long Beach chapter meeting where they discuss their action strategy.

James Suazo, is one of the DSA-Long Beach organizers.

Suazo has spent the past few years organizing and advocating for environmental justice issues mostly on the city’s West Side, where arguably capitalism has failed an entire section half of the city. He noted that as the group does more and more outreach, more and more people realize their needs align with the DSA’s desire to reform.

DSA organizer Ashley Thomas explained that not everyone knows that they’re a socialist, and that everyone goes through their own self-discovery phase. That’s one of the goals of the group, to cut through the disinformation and conflation with long-held “red scare” ideas about communism that tainted Sanders’ bid for the White House, to maybe signal to people that DSA is for them. The other is to organize and act.

“The United States does not educate people about socialism, and so we’re all still learning and we hope to sort of spread the word,” Thomas said. “The other thing is to get shit done. We actually want to get some wins in the community and do things that are really going to help people in a concrete way.”

The chapter’s leadership is careful not to oversimplify when describing the basic tenets of socialism.

Steven Hutchinson, a member of the Los Angeles chapter, agrees with that notion. He cited a Harvard University study put out in April 2016 revealing that 51 percent of those aged 18-29 years rejected capitalism. They were joined by every subgroup polled not over the age of 50 that showed a majority of respondents question free market principles.

Hutchinson said he was first turned on to socialism in the first few years of the Obama administration, during the Occupy movement, but Trump’s election got him to show up “IRL” (in real life). He added that the next four years need to focus on changing the language surrounding socialism and harnessing the populist wave that fueled Sanders’ campaign and ultimately elected Trump.

“It’s going to be generational,” Hutchinson said. “This is the first generation that feels collectively that this system of economics just doesn’t work for them. Never let a crisis go to waste.”

The issues that the Long Beach chapter will pursue—the focus of this particular meeting—will focus on items unique to Long Beach and the local levers that need nudging to put new policies into action. They don’t require an allegiance to the writings of Marx or Trotsky, just a desire to make things better for everyday people.

Jake Moskowitz, a co-organizer of the Long Beach chapter said that the group provides a place for both the radical far-left socialists that truly want to seize the means of production, and for more mainstream liberals searching for another option.

He noted that Sanders’ policies were more along the lines of FDR, and despite some of the more radical ideas shared by some of its members, the core values the group holds are aimed at improving the social safety for everyone.

Moskowitz did throw in a spoiler alert: the group has its eyes set on the 2018 midterm elections, a year in which five council seats and the mayorship will be up for grabs in Long Beach.

“If Bernie Sanders were running for president in the 60s he would’ve been considered a Centrist Democrat,” Moskowitz said. “One thing we have to admit is the Democratic Party has steadily inched to the right over the course of 60 or 70 years, a process that has been slow, but because it has been slow nobody has called them out on it. For me, the DSA is a way of calling them out and yanking them back to the left, if it’s possible.”

In Long Beach that will include a push for universal pre-K education and sanctuary city status, something organizers supported when the Long Beach City Council recently voted to support a duo of state bills that could cast California as a “Sanctuary State”.

Other options that were floated around, and will be explored in depth as the group develops sub-committees, include citizen oversight of the Long Beach Police Department, rent control initiatives and an effort to ban fracking in Long Beach and break the city’s dependence on the petroleum industry.

Still in its infant stages, this DSA chapter is feeling out its plan for action. Staying true to the ideals of socialism, the people helped to outline concerns they’d like to see addressed and brainstormed solutions as they rotated around the room two giant sheets of paper dedicated to broad subjects like feminism, the environment, racism, health care and labor needs.

If any city would be open to the rhetoric of socialism it could be Long Beach. Stefan Borst Censullo, a former city employee, current marijuana lawyer, lobbyist and co-organizer of the Long Beach chapter, explains that with the concentration of so many cultures, especially those from Central America and Southeast Asia who may not hold the same reservations regarding socialism as their neighbors that were born here, this city is primed for these ideals.

Borst-Censullo and Thomas represent a faction of the left that subscribed to the Sanders message, those college educated twenty-to-thirty-somethings that were affected by the financial collapse in the mid 2000s. That was how capitalism first failed them, but it took a Trump presidency to spring them into organizing.

Despite Sanders’ loss in the primary season, and Trump’s ascension to the White House, many progressives pointed to small victories in local races as candidates with more populist messages took school board seats and city council positions. To some, that has already happened in Long Beach.

Borst-Censullo counted the election of Jeannine Pearce last year as one of those victories, as she was able to overcome funding gaps and her outsider, pro-labor activists roots to take a seat behind the dais with her more establishment Democrat colleagues.

“She’s been somebody whose policies reflect that of something that socialists would be very accustomed to,” Borst-Censullo said of Pearce. “And that’s because she was out there megaphoning for housekeepers, instrumental in Measure N which was one of the first economic rights campaigns via the ballot. The fact that she showed that you can do that [win] in this city, because we have a lot of people who don’t vote, that was inspiring.”

While large ticket items like universal healthcare will have to be settled at the national level, DSA chapters are seeking out change where they can levy it, possibly through endorsing or running their own local candidates, or through work with people who they see as sympathetic to their goals.

If the progressive movement continues, Pearce could be part of the first wave of what could become a steady stream of electeds who are more willing to take up the causes of community groups that have long felt like some of their more pressing needs have been deflected or not addressed deeply enough by the city council.

Pearce, who admits she has not been a lifelong Democrat, said political parties have always frustrated her and that what she really seeks is a government that works smartly and provides a feeling to residents that they can count on it. She did not shy away from the idea that a group of socialists viewed her as someone they could work with.

“To have people who identify as being socialists look to me as an ally, I’m proud of that,” Pearce said. “ I’m proud to have people look to me as an ally, as somebody who can get their message out and help make sure that Long Beach is really a city that is lifting all boats.”

She declined to speculate on what a larger surge of progressive demands could mean for the future of Long Beach politics, especially if the DSA grows to a point where it’s moving election night margins, but said that everyone deserves to have their voice heard and that the political climate of the country will most definitely include those increased demands from constituents to fight for policy changes.

“I believe everyone deserves a seat at the table but how do we make sure that people are talking to each other,” Pearce said. “ When you’ve been an organizer and you’ve sat in people’s living rooms and you’ve heard those stories and you’ve looked into their eyes, you can’t just go to council and ignore that experience.”

Steve Askin has been part of socialism groups for the better part of four decades, and his impassioned plea for action now drew the largest applause of the night. He said what distinguishes DSA from other sectarian groups on the left is that it’s embedded in the lived reality of working class people.

Askin, a researcher and financial analyst who was part of the contingent of community groups that successfully lobbied the council for a minimum wage increase, said that the group’s common sense policy changes can radically impact working people’s lives. And in a town full of working class individuals and an administration that’s actively pursuing policies that will erode away their chances of advancing out of that class, he believes the time to act is now.

“We have a disastrous moment in this country,” Askin said. “We have a government in power that is putting corporate chieftains into the critical pieces of the American economy. We’re in a moment where the lives of working people and middle class people, our economic future, is at threat… this is the moment where people have to organize.”[2]

DSA-Long Beach April General Meeting

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DSA-Long Beach April General Meeting Hosted by Democratic Socialists of America - Long Beach

Wednesday, April 19 at 7 PM - 9 PM PDT

905 Atlantic Ave, Long Beach, CA 90813-4514, United States.

  • Join us at our next general meeting to meet fellow socialists, hear updates from our workgroups (Anti-Racism, Environment, Feminism, Healthcare, and Labor), and learn about the upcoming actions and stories behind May Day and the People's Climate March.

  • After the meeting, socialize with other socialists at the Broadway Bar! Address is 1100 E Broadway Long Beach 90802 with a parking lot located in the back of the bar.
  • In solidarity, DSA-LB Organizing Committee (Andrew, Ashley, Jake, James, Kevin, and Stefan)

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Democratic Socialists of America - Long Beach Facebook group, as of January 26, 2017.

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