A three-year-old video from the 2019 Democratic Socialists of America national conference has been making the rounds on social media. In the video conference organizer Samuel Allison-Natale asks the crowd of “radicals” to refrain from making any sort of loud noise, while demonstrating goofy hand gestures to be used in place of clapping. At another point in the conference, other attendees chastise the crowd of radical socialists for whispering and not using the correct pronouns.
Allison-Natale seems to be the kind of earnest young professional we are all familiar with: an East coast educated lawyer who toils for do-gooder nonprofit law firms like The Bronx Defenders, and is extremely concerned about everyone’s feelings.
In other words, he would fit extremely well in the liberal wing of today’s Democratic Party. But Allison-Natale considers himself a proud socialist, therefore—and I am basing this on the treatment Sen. Bernie Sanders has received—he is not really welcome in today’s Democratic Party.
The videos seem to be making the rounds again because of the new unionization efforts at Starbucks and Amazon. The original poster tweeted: “If you are interested in organizing a union at your workplace, the best thing you can do is stay as far away from the DSA as possible.”
In other words, these kind of cringy, woke gestures will turn off the working class. I’m fairly certain if there were any working class folks in the conference room (which is doubtful), they would have shaken their heads, hopped to their feet, and decamped en masse after Allison-Natale took the podium.
Most DSA members and fellow travelers on social media responded by defending Allison-Natale, referencing the people they know who are on the autism spectrum, and praising the DSA for looking out for them.
This is all well and good, but if the ultimate goal of the DSA is to improve the lives and working conditions of the working class it is hard to see how this sort of cringy wokeness will help. In fact, it will only serve to drive the working class farther into the arms of the GOP.
Try to imagine DSA organizers arriving at an Amazon warehouse in an effort to organize workers, and rather than discussing a living wage and working conditions, they spend hours talking about trans-bathrooms, safe spaces, the need to whisper, and fussing over everyone’s pronouns.
There seems to be an attitude among DSA members that while they are on a mission to improve the lives of the working class, they don’t really need the working class. Based on these videos and the response to it, it seems likely that DSA leadership has never even met a working class person. Sure, they like working class people in theory, but in reality they are a bit too rough-edged, a bit too racist. They certainly don’t need them as members of the DSA, and especially not in leadership. Just as white liberals used to believe blacks needed white saviors, many in the DSA still believe the masses need woke saviors.
What’s more, improving the lives of the working class doesn’t seem to be a top priority for the DSA. Of the ten points on their 2020 platform, only a few points (a powerful labor movement, economic justice, housing for all, and health justice) seem even tangentially related to working class issues. The first item on the platform is about abolishing the U.S. Senate, the filibuster and the Electoral College. Other items call for defunding the police (which is anathema to the working class), gender justice, a Green New Deal, and abolition of white supremacy, all of which seem like important, if standard liberal issues, but have little to do with the class war.
The working class just isn’t all that interested in abolishing the U.S. Senate and it certainly doesn’t want to defund the police. It is interested in bringing jobs home, in strengthening workers rights and job safety, and in earning a living wage.
The 1970 Hard Hat Riot, when hundreds of construction workers attacked college students protesting the Vietnam War and Kent State Massacre, should have convinced democratic socialists and union organizers that the concerns of the working class and the concerns of the educated professionals are often diametrically opposed, but a half century later they still haven’t learned the lesson.
As with any organization, there needs to be a space for a conversation about topics like accommodating autistic members, trans-restrooms, etc., but it needs to be done in a non-cringy way that will not turn off longshoremen and truck drivers—unless you really don’t care about longshoremen and truck drivers.
This is why DSA will never be a true working class party, and will remain an elite club for ultra-sensitive college graduates who are more interested in reading What’s Your Pronouns? than Das Kapital.
America needs a real labor party, one with the interests of the working class at heart, and the DSA in its present form is far from that.