Miami Democratic Socialists of America

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Miami Democratic Socialists of America formed in July 2017, as a branch of South Florida Democratic Socialists of America.

2022 Leadership

2021 convention delegates

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Miami Democratic Socialists of America 2021 convention delegates were:

2021 Leadership

Steering Committee

2019 steering committee.

Miami DSA August 2018.

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Please give a warm welcome to the incoming Miami Democratic Socialists of America Steering Committee. We’re excited to see where the next year will take us. 🌹 — with Karina Buhler, Matias Buchhalter, Tomas Kennedy, Sean Sigh, Lily Ostrer, Christian Ortiz Matallana and Laura Estefania Munoz Quinones.

Miami DSA Comrades

Tomas Kennedy, June 10 2018:

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With David Dominguez, Laura Leigh Rampey, Sam Turow, Ron Cox, Dawn Grayson, Gerry V. Dabs, Laura Estefania Munoz Quinones and Matias Buchhalter at Marlins Park.

‘I feel unsafe here’

Though she intends to vote for Joe Biden in the presidential election, Natasha Esteves has recently joined various Miami-area, pro-Trump Facebook groups. Since June, she has also been receiving text and email updates from the Trump reelection campaign, to the tune of more than 10 messages per day.

There’s a reason behind Esteves’ immersion in right-leaning digital spaces: She wants to stay up-to-date on the “anti-leftist, anti-socialist rhetoric” proliferating online.

“I live in Hialeah and I obviously see a lot of Trump flags [...] but right now a lot of the conversation spaces happen to be online,” Esteves said. “And in my participation in these conversations and in my monitoring of what’s being said online, I have realized how potentially violence-inciting some of the rhetoric against leftists has gotten.”

For Esteves, anti-socialism attacks are personal. Moved by the ongoing economic crisis and the “summer of racial unrest,” the 32-year-old recently became one of nearly 200 dues-paying members of the Miami Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), the largest socialist organization in the United States. She now worries her politics have put a clear target on her back.

“I feel unsafe here,” she said. “It feels unsafe for me to be vocal about my views.”

Although it’s a term that means many things to many people, “democratic socialism” in the U.S. is generally understood to be a call for European-style social democracy. The goal, in other words, is a generous welfare state, and not a government-controlled economy (two concepts that are often conflated by critics).

In the months leading up to Nov. 3, the Trump campaign has doubled down on anti-socialism messaging to woo Latino voters in Miami-Dade and close the margins in the state’s most populous county. Earlier this month, the president’s team even launched a statewide “Fighters Against Socialism” bus tour, which concluded with a Marco Rubio event in Miami. Around that same time, tens of thousands of cars jammed into West Flagler Street for an event billed as an “anti-socialist” caravan.

The tenor of the criticism can be alienating, Esteves explained, because of the recurring notion that socialists are by definition anti-American.

After the Republican National Convention in August — where speaker after speaker, including Florida’s lieutenant governor, took turns blasting socialism — Esteves received an email from the Trump campaign linking to a post-RNC survey. One of the questions asked “What do you identify as? American or socialist?”

Also piling up in Esteves’ inbox are Trump fundraising emails with subject lines like “Socialist Nightmare vs American Dream” or “Patriots vs. Socialists.” Trump himself trotted out that rhetoric in an Oct. 20 ‘Fox & Friends’ appearance, when he likened his race against Biden to a choice between the “American dream” or a “socialist hellhole.”

“I feel like there’s no dissent here. That’s the sensation I have,” said Esteves. “If you are left of center all of a sudden you are not deserving to be an American. You are dismissed as an America-hater, and that is extremely marginalizing and scary.”

Albert Rodriguez, like Esteves, is also active in the local chapter of DSA.

As a Cuban-American born and raised in South Florida, Rodriguez says he’s come across anti-socialism rhetoric his “entire life growing up in Miami.” The difference in 2020, he explained, is that the volume of that rhetoric has been turned up, and not just in Miami but around the country.

“What I’ve noticed in this election is seeing it go nationwide,” he said. “It really feels like the national Republican party is pulling a lot from the Miami Republican red-baiting playbook, and it’s really disheartening to see.”

Miami DSA members worry that the stigmatization of socialists and leftists could lead to physical attacks, given Trump’s track record of inciting violence. In conversations with the Herald, many brought up the killings in Kenosha, Wisconsin, over the summer. Kyle Rittenhouse, a law enforcement enthusiast and a Trump supporter, was charged with shooting and killing two people at a protest — actions the president then seemed to justify.

“We can’t ignore the possibility that there are people out there who feel emboldened by the kind of violent rhetoric that Trump spews, and who are willing to take action on that,” Jose Alexander Dominguez, a Miami DSA member based in Brownsville, said. “It’s something that I’m extremely worried about.”

Brian Mejia, treasurer of the Miami DSA, agrees.

“An entire way of thinking is being eliminated from what’s allowable discussion,” he said. “I would consider that anti-democratic and frankly anti-American … It’s a chill on debate.”

It’s a busy time for Miami DSA members. In addition to coordinating a recruitment drive, the group has recently been planning actions to shore up the United States Postal Service and discussing tactics to launch a Green New Deal campaign locally. Last month, DSA members also mobilized to make their voices heard in Miami-Dade budget hearings, where they called for shifting police dollars to social services. In collaboration with other progressive groups, they helped build a website that breaks down and analyzes the county’s nearly 1,000-page budget plan for 2021.

But Miami DSA members know they also have to set time aside — perhaps more so than other local DSA chapters — to engage community members in conversations about what their brand of socialism is, given the widespread ambivalence around the term that exists in many of South Florida’s Latin American diasporas.

“A lot of times we can’t even get into what work we do because we have to explain what we are even about,” Rodriguez said. “Many people when they hear that we are a socialist organization functioning in Miami, they take that as us automatically denying what happened in their countries. But we don’t. We denounce authoritarianism just as much as anyone else.”

Democratic socialists in the mold of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders say their belief in a more expansive social-welfare state and stringent regulation of the economy actually preserves individual freedom, instead of subverting it.

“We are the democratic socialists. Our whole idea is we want a more democratic society,” said Esteves. “It’s just that for us, economic justice is part of a democracy.”

Many members pull from the extensive experience they have talking about socialism with their own immigrant families.

“It’s extremely difficult to navigate. It’s a sensitive issue,” said Dominguez, a second-generation Nicaraguan immigrant who grew up in Little Havana. When talking about politics to family members like his father, who voted for Trump in 2016, Dominguez avoids wide-ranging ideological debates, and hones in instead on individual kitchen table issues.

“I mean, I don’t have healthcare. My siblings don’t have healthcare. Most of my friends don’t have healthcare. And my dad himself travels to Nicaragua to get medical procedures done there because it’s so expensive here,” said Dominguez, who noted that more Americans than not support a Medicare-for-all plan. “These are things he understands, it’s not about being a socialist or not. So that’s the way I like to go about it. Talking about issues and solutions to those issues.”

To help people understand the values and conceptual framework behind Miami DSA’s work, the group held a three-part “Foundations of Socialism” orientation course on Zoom during September and October.

Class topics ranged from “Class Centrality and Class Struggle” to “The Role of the State in a Capitalist Society” and “Socialism vs. Progressivism.”

“The point is to really have us all speak the same language,” said Mejia. “We’re trying to get a more theory-based understanding of what [socialism] means so that we can have a better way to articulate our arguments.”

The group has their work cut out for them. According to Mejia, the Miami DSA has in the past gotten their offers to work with local progressive coalitions rebuffed, because of the word “socialist” in the group’s name. Locally, democratic socialists have to frequently counter the notion that socialism is inexorably linked to dictatorial regimes, given many immigrant communities’ first-hand experiences and trauma in their home countries.

“We have that baggage [in Miami],” said Mejia, whose family is Colombian. “And it makes things a little more difficult but it’s all the more worthwhile. It will take time, it will take more political education and so we are going to keep hosting forums like these and foundations of socialism courses.”

Greater Miami — where 30 resident billionaires live alongside widespread poverty and a shrinking middle class — is the second-most unequal metro in the country, trailing only New York. By a standard measure of economic inequality, the Gini coefficient, the gap between the haves and have-nots in Miami-Dade appears to be on par with that of countries like Colombia and Panama.

At fault is the region’s outsized dependence on poorly paid service jobs. Almost half of the county’s workers labor in tourism, retail and food service, earning an average of $26,532 per year. The median annual wage for a worker in Miami-Dade is $31,702 — the third lowest in the country, according to a recent FIU report.

“There is great potential here [because] we see what extreme wealth inequality looks like,” said Michele Alonso, a DSA member based in Miami Beach. “We see multimillion-dollar condos, we see Lamborghinis and Bentleys riding around. At the same time, I’m on this little island where many people are servers and bartenders, and they’re struggling to get by. So having that contrast so visible I think creates an opportunity to explain how the capitalist system contributes to that.”

The aim of environmental justice policies loudly championed by democratic socialists, including the Green New Deal, should also feel particularly relevant to Miamians, DSA members say.

Still, membership at the Miami chapter of DSA lags behind that of other chapters in large metro areas — for comparison, the New York City chapter has around 7,000 members, making it more than 30 times bigger than Miami’s.

“This city absolutely should be” more receptive to DSA’s message, Rodriguez said. “And as to why it’s not, well, propaganda is a hell of a drug.”

There are other factors at play.

“Miami does provide an interesting landscape for class-based organizing, but life is intersectional,” Esteves said. “We have language barriers, or ethnic and national identities that sometimes speak louder. But the possibility is there.”[3]

Medicare for All National Day of Action

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Miami Democratic Socialists of America April 22, 2018.

Members of The New Florida Majority, United We Dream, National Nurses United, & YDSA FIU participated in today’s Democratic Socialists of America Townhall at Second Baptist Church in Richmond Hights as part of the Democratic Socialists for Medicare for All National Day of Action. Shout out to Annette Taddeo and Michael Hepburn for coming through to support #MedicareForAll. 🌹#DSAm4a — with Dwight Bullard, Religious Socialism and FLIC Votes.

Shifting South Florida politics

Tomas Kennedy is a 26-year-old, who serves as the deputy political director of the immigrant rights group Florida Immigrant Coalition.

Kennedy has developed a reputation as one of the leading voices of South Florida’s burgeoning new Left. It’s a burst of progressivism that even Kennedy finds surprising in a region famously associated with Cuban-immigrant-led Republicanism.

In addition, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) is growing in South Florida, with 100 members in Miami and another 100 in Broward and Palm Beach counties. Kennedy is a Democratic Socialists of America member.

Perhaps most significant is the advent of the Miami-Dade Democratic Party Progressive Caucus, formed by former Bernie Sanders supporters who sensed an opening after the 2016 election. Kennedy was one of the main organizers for Sanders in South Florida; his evident leadership and his activism made him the easy choice to chair the new caucus. It now has 80 members.

“There needed to be a surge of fresh energy [in the county Democratic Party],” Kennedy says. “I’m not a strong partisan person, but it was like, ‘Okay, this side is clearly the best vehicle for change that we’ve got.’ ”

Kennedy’s personal background is closer to the more heterodox half of the current wave of South Florida immigrants—in other words, the ones more liberal than the largely conservative Venezuelan tidal wave that is also arriving in the Magic City.

He came to the United States with his parents from Argentina at the age of 10, fleeing that country’s 1998-2002 economic crisis. With his precarious immigration status and his parents’ interest in politics, Kennedy grew up attuned to political discourse, and became part of the Dream Act movement (and gained his citizenship last year). But he was launched into activism in earnest in 2015, after his father developed crippling arthritis in his legs. Lacking insurance, an operation was performed only thanks to a Kickstarter campaign and a kind doctor.

The experience was searing enough that Kennedy says he decided to devote himself to improving the lives of the marginalized in South Florida. He started in an official capacity at FLIC earlier this year after spending several years as an organizer with SEIU and working for progressive democratic state senator Josee Javier Rodriiguez.

Kennedy balances his duties at FLIC with running the Miami-Dade Democratic Party Progressive Caucus. After Miami-Dade State Attorney Katherine Fernandez Rundle decided not to bring charges against corrections officers in the death of Darren Rainey, a developmentally challenged inmate who was burned alive in a shower, the caucus demanded the party censure her. After waiting months to get a quorum to vote, they easily won it.

“We literally made their lives miserable every time they had a meeting—we showed up with signs like, ‘No, you’re not going to get away with it, if you’re going to pull these shenanigans you have to clean it up afterward.’ ”

The caucus was also instrumental in Democrat Annette Taddeo’s victory in a special election to fill a state House seat vacated by a three-term Republican.

“We felt that Annette was very open minded, willing to listen to the grassroots, and very receptive to our concerns,” he says.

The caucus also worked with the party to draft a resolution supporting the extension of the government’s Temporary Protected Status (TPS) program for qualified immigrants and creating a permanent legislative solution for TPS recipients.

The TPS resolution is emblematic of the effort South Florida progressives are making to focus on long-term goals, such as restoring voting rights to felons, rather than on the next election cycle.

“We have had this six-month mentality of, ‘Which election do we have ahead?’ ” Kennedy says.

Knowing South Florida’s political history, Kennedy understands that the Left’s progress won’t reach a critical mass in the short term, but he has no doubt which way the city will ultimately swing. “A total shift in Miami politics is going to manifest itself in the next 10 to 15 years.” [4]

Leadership

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Miami DSA Amendment 4 Celebration

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Miami DSA Amendment 4 Celebration Public · Hosted by Miami DSA.

Sunday, December 2, 2018 at 12 PM – 4 PM

North Shore Open Space Park

8101 Collins Ave., Miami Beach, Florida 33141[5]

Invited on Facebook

Interested

Attending

References

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