A DSA With Latinx Workers

Bernie’s victory in Nevada demonstrates a massive opening for socialists among Latinx workers. DSA National Political Committee member Blanca Estevez outlines concrete steps this NPC can take to learn from Sanders’ example.

Bernie Sanders’ commanding blowout in the Nevada Democratic Caucus on Saturday securely established him as the Democratic frontrunner in the race for the presidency. It was his outreach to Latinx communities in Nevada that clenched it for him. 

This outreach effort began very early on. In December the campaign held an all-Spanish speaking event in Nevada headlined by Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Carmen Yulín Cruz, mayor of San Juan, Puerto Rico and a co-chair of the campaign. Such events stood in stark contrast to the performative Spanish sound bites of a Beto or Mayor Pete, and it paid dividends for Sanders. 

The Nevada result was no fluke. In Iowa Bernie swept the board winning all four spanish language caucus sites, and won 40% of Latinx votes in New Hampshire.

While Bernie’s platform highlights a number of pivotal issues for Latinx workers such as healthcare, the campaign’s outreach wasn’t simply programmatic. The campaign organized a number of community events including soccer matches and house parties under the banner “Tamales for Tío Bernie.”

Meanwhile Bernie brought in organizations such as Mijente and Make The Road Action to help shape the campaign. Combining multifaceted outreach and coalition-building with a political message that resonates with workers of all backgrounds, Bernie was able to capture an undeniable lead in the primary race that now has ruling class media in full meltdown.

Bernie’s commanding victory is proof of concept. Latinx workers are ready to embrace a democratic socialist message, and there is a clear path for winning these workers to a broad working-class movement. This path entails more than issuing well-meaning statements on world events. It means building real connections with Latinx communities, and it means giving Latinx workers themselves a real stake in our work.

The 2019 DSA National Convention understood this. In the consent poll held among delegates before the convention, three of the top five most supported proposals regarded Latinx workers or immigration. This included Resolution #6 (R6), “Orienting to Latinx Communities”, which was the highest vote-getter with 88% approval in that poll. R6 was subsequently adopted by the Convention through the consent agenda.

This proposal addressed a vital need in DSA. Today one in five millenials is classified as “Hispanic/Latinx.” In total, Latinx people comprise 18% of the country’s population, making the Latinx community the largest ethnic minority in the nation. The U.S. is surpassed only by Mexico in containing the largest number of Spanish speaking people in the world. Remarkably, the number of native Spanish speakers in the U.S. is comparable in size to Spain.

Yet despite the obvious need for Spanish language materials, and tremendous opportunities to build the democratic socialist movement among Latinx workers, I have been frustrated that this work has not been considered a high priority by some of my fellow National Political Committee members. More often than not, efforts to make progress on this issue have been ignored. This kind of culture is not conducive to the development of future DSA leaders.

The directives of R6 are modest but would still be a significant step forward. The resolution calls for four main actions: 1) to establish a Spanish-language website for DSA, 2) the formation of an editorial board for this website that includes (but isn’t limited to) Latinx comrades, especially those fluent in Spanish, 3) that this editorial board works in consultation with the NPC to develop our work with Latinx communities, developing relationships with other organizations, and promoting the the exchange of information between chapters in this field, and 4) that these efforts be transitional steps toward the formation of a permanent body focused on Latinx workers and their issues.

Such a national body would be well in line with the history of the socialist movement in the United States. In the formative days of the Communist Party a sizable portion of their membership and social base were not native born, and many did not speak English as a first language, if at all. The CP adapted to this in a number of ways including by publishing in many different languages. Throughout much of the Party’s history–most notably during their heyday in the 1920s and 30s–the Communist Party published newspapers and magazines in twenty-six languages. 

I strongly believe DSA must act with urgency and fulfill the directives of R6. The momentum of the Sanders campaign among Latinx workers, bolstered by the meteoric rise of Latinx democratic socialists such as Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, shows the tremendous opportunities in front of us to build our organization among this vital community. But the opportunity could easily be lost if we fail to act with decisiveness at this critical juncture for our movement. 

For chapters like mine, these issues are front-and-center in our organizing. Tyson Foods is one of the largest employers in Northwest Arkansas. A Tyson processing plant employs large numbers of predominantly Latinx workers in our area: they are the working classin Northwest Arkansas. It’s unrealistic to expect smaller chapters in rural and Southern areas like mine to develop our own publishing house just to make official DSA communications intelligible to our base. We need the support of a strong, reliable national organization to carry out this vital work. 

At the upcoming NPC meeting in April I intend to bring forward a resolution to form a Latinx & Spanish-Language Commission tasked with carrying out the directives of R6. Along with an International Committee focused on building relationships in Latin America, and a coherent recruitment strategy under development by the new Growth and Development Committee, setting up this commission will be a critical step forward if we’re serious about building a multiethnic, working-class socialist organization in the United States.

The commission will fulfill the role of the editorial board proposed in R6 but in a more permanent capacity. Commission members can also lead the way in integrating the model being pioneered by the Sanders campaign to build DSA among Latinx workers. The Convention understood the strategic centrality of building a base among Latinx workers. Our overwhelmingly affirmative vote on R6 is a testament to that, in fact no other proposal was as broadly supported. The creation of a national body of this kind is long overdue. The time is now for the NPC to take this work seriously.

The need goes beyond the practical. The current president has shown he has nothing but contempt for Latinx immigrants. His administration constitutes a looming threat for millions of families across this country. Electing Bernie is vital to reversing this damage and moving us toward a more egalitarian future. But DSA is unique in the role that it can play in uniting working-class people from all backgrounds to mobilize, organize, and fight for democratic socialism, while struggling against U.S. imperialism from within the belly of the beast. Whatever happens in this election, the question of whether or not DSA will become an organization with a racially and ethnically diverse mass membership, will play a direct role in what is possible over the next four years.

Blanca Estevez is a member of DSA’s National Political Committee and member of Northwest Arkansas DSA.