Blanca Estevez and Lexi Rayne Acello argue that to build our movement in the South, DSA needs to do more listening to the organizers and communities on the ground.
It is easy to think that our jobs as DSA leaders in our communities might be a little easier with more financial resources in our chapters. We could host events with more amenities. Pay for printing and posters and pins. Upgrade the snack stock for the quarterly meetings. In some areas, these luxuries might help strengthen the chapters. In my region, however, money is not what we need to expand our roots and grow our movement.
Regional organizing is crucial in mobilizing and rescuing the South and the Midwestern United States. When I think of successful grassroots organizing in the South, I think of SNCC—the Student Nonviolent Coordinating Committee of the 1960s. I think of the miles they walked in the Alabama heat, building the largest staff of civil rights leaders in the South. They organized labor unions and agricultural cooperatives. They energized the movement for women’s liberation. They organized direct action against segregated workplaces and facilities. They reached out their hands and brought people into the fold. They established themselves as a movement people could trust. Their resources were minimal, but their effect and power were great because a strong central organizing committee stood behind them and encouraged their efforts.
DSA is just getting started in the South, but the roots of the movement are strong. What the Southern DSA movement needs to succeed is not larger bank account balances or longer conference calls. This movement needs solidarity. It needs support from other DSA chapters in the form of advice, shared materials, and encouragement. It needs to know that the hours spent in the Southern heat talking to folx about the rural economy, healthcare, and livable wages are supported by an organization that believes in the work it is doing.
Jason Aldean calls states like Arkansas “fly-over” states. Solidly red, no chance of breaking the conservative block, not worth visiting for too long. As long as any part of DSA leadership thinks that is the case, the Southern DSA movement is stifled. There are millions of people in my region who are willing—some even yearning—to be welcomed into the great “unlearning.” They are sold lies about what keeps them poor and sick and barely surviving and they are exhausted. Many of them still hold on to the capitalist narrative, but their grasps will loosen if they are shown patience and empathy and are welcomed into a movement they can trust. DSA can be that movement.
Don’t give us money. Give us time. Give us solidarity and listen when we explain the issues that are unique to our region. Give us your optimism and mean it.
We have work to do and it’s all hands on deck.