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Year One in Worcester, MA

Worcester DSA is a small chapter based in the city of Worcester, Massachusetts, but with members spread throughout Worcester County. Like many DSA chapters, Worcester DSA was founded by people with minimal organizing experience in early 2017 following the election of Donald Trump. In the below interview conducted in October 2018, Patrick, a newer member of the chapter, spoke with Nick, one of the founders of Worcester DSA and its primary organizer until Summer 2018.

Patrick is a college student in Worcester studying economics and mathematics. He joined DSA in the Summer of 2018 after hearing that students at his school founded a YDSA chapter. Since then, he has organized locally with Worcester DSA, as well as nationally with the Tech Committee and the Ecosocialist Working Group.

Introductions

P: So I suppose we should begin with your name and profession?
N: Sure. My name is Nick. I’m a college professor and academic researcher. I suppose you could call me a geographer?

P: And you’ve been around since the founding of Worcester DSA?
N: Yes, so I’ve been with it for about two years.

P: Has this been your first time organizing?
N: Oh, absolutely. There was a lot of learning by doing in the first few months, so the first few months were more like taking a crash course than what might be considered ‘organizing.’

P: What kind of stuff were you learning in those first few months?
N: How to run a meeting, how to talk to people about politics, planning and implementing actions. A lot of the basic logistics and communications that are really necessary for a chapter to thrive.

P: And how was that? Was the learning process tough?
N: Sure. It certainly took a lot of practice for the nuts and bolts stuff. But on the whole, it also took a definitive choice to carve out a chunk of time to devote to organizing, which was a bit of a leap. I had always had a political identity, but it does take effort to back the sentiment up with action.

History

P: How about we dive into what was happening before and during the foundation of Worcester DSA?
N: I was first involved with an already existing DSA chapter in Rhode Island right after the 2016 presidential election. I had heard about it a few weeks before the election, but it wasn’t a place where I saw myself getting involved. That certainly changed. But since I live in Worcester, it was a pain to travel to Providence to attend meetings.

A few months later, Paul, an organizer from Boston DSA, reached out to me to organize an action at city hall in conjunction with the airport protests around the Muslim ban. He then put me in contact with John, who had previously tried to start a Worcester chapter. After chatting for a bit we just decided that we would meet at a cafe in Worcester and make it a public event. It was very much on a whim. We only posted about it the night before, so we weren’t expecting much.

But that said, about ten people showed up. It was very casual. A lot of airing of grievances, especially in the wake of the election and all that had happened up until that point. At the end of the meeting, we decided we’d begin to meet monthly. By the next meeting, we had an organizing committee. Unfortunately, that sort of rapid growth didn’t continue for a combination of reasons.

P: What were some of those reasons for relatively stagnant membership do you think?
N: I think it could be, to some extent, because there wasn’t any real attempt to motivate people to come to meetings or actions past the mass emails. Since we began doing that, there’s been a good turnout for meetings and actions.

Organizing and Mutual Aid

P: What would you say our major activities as a chapter are?
N: Since we don’t necessarily have the numbers to run a large amount of our own programming, we do a lot of work in tandem with other organizations like the Worcester Anti-Foreclosure Team and local unions. We’re also beginning to collaborate with City Life/Vida Urbana on tenant organizing in Worcester.

P: Do you think a focus on this sort of collaboration with other organizations could be a good model for small chapters?
N: Certainly. Collaboration is always worth looking at since it’s very often the case that other people can just do something better. It’s really not worth reinventing the wheel and I’m more inclined to trust the expertise of these older organizations. It makes sense to get involved where we can and provide assistance where there’s already a movement, with eyes toward doing our own programming once we have the capacity.

P: Has the chapter begun any independent mutual aid projects?
N: We recently began doing brake light clinics, which has gotten great reactions from those passing by or coming in to get one fixed.

P: What have you found especially challenging about organizing these clinics?
N: Finding a location was certainly difficult. Everyone I approached approved of the idea in theory, but since we’re asking for free use of their property, the conversation was usually pretty one-sided. The other challenging piece was really just putting ourselves out there. It’s pretty challenging to host an event for the first time, running the risk that no one will come. But since then, it’s been smooth sailing.

Lessons Learned and Areas for Improvement

P: Have there been any regrets you’ve had or areas of improvement that you’re focusing on?
N: Personally, I worry that I discouraged involvement from others when we first began since I was so willing to do everything. Since then, there’s been a lot more delegation. Especially asking particular people. I make sure to avoid sending out impersonal requests like “can anyone do this?” I think it’s important to ask people directly.

As for the chapter as a whole, I think the next few months will be mainly focused on setting up solid working groups to start to encourage member development within a particular area of interest so we can prevent people being stretched too thin.

P: And finally, with what you’ve learned, what would you tell the novice organizers out there?
N: Be ambitious. And be ambitious even in terms of just allowing yourself to delegate. Don’t sell yourself short. It takes some effort to carve out the time to devote to organizing, but it’s been a wonderful experience.

P: Thanks so much for taking the time to sit down with me.
N: Thank you, Patrick. It’s been fun!

Mid-Missouri DSA: Socialist Organizing in the Middle of the Middle

by Eric O. Scott

“Whether it was from management, a coworker, or a customer, when was the last time you faced sexual harassment at work?”

“I don’t know if this is rhetorical, but: a customer – today. Every day.”

This was the start of a conversation in a Facebook group dedicated to organizing restaurant workers in Columbia, Missouri, a college town of about 120,000 people. In this online space, restaurant and other service workers discuss different aspects of their working conditions (e.g., “When was the last time you worked sick?” “Does your employer make you cover the cost of a dine and dash?”), and compare notes on how workers are treated across the community. Workers also discuss ideas on how to improve conditions. An in-person meeting is planned for November, where these initial conversations will be a catalyst to organizing a class of workers that most unions would consider impossible to organize.

The restaurant workers campaign is the first project of Mid-Missouri DSA’s Labor Working Group, one of several DSA working groups pursuing community organizing goals in Columbia and nearby Jefferson City. The Electoral Working Group has focused on education regarding the slate of ballot propositions in Missouri’s November elections, while the Queer Socialists Working Group has researched recent state-level legislation impacting the lives of queer people in Missouri. Behind the scenes, a dedicated group of volunteers reserves venues, sends emails, and communicates with DSA National to get official organizing committee status.

Oh yes – Mid-Missouri DSA isn’t technically an official organizing committee yet, having only recently had the chance to initiate that process with DSA National. Regardless, the nascent chapter is moving full-steam ahead to build an organization that advocates socialist principles and policies in the middle of the Midwest.

Over the past twenty years, Missouri’s national image has steadily moved to the right, to the point that it is now regularly considered a “red state.” At first glance there is ample evidence to support this: the GOP currently has supermajority control of the state legislature and Trump won Missouri by 18 points. While it would be easy for the Left to write off Missouri as a lost cause outside of the urban strongholds of St. Louis and Kansas City, recent events show the state’s politics are more complicated than the pundits suggest.

The Republican supermajority, with aid from Eric Greitens, the since-deposed and disgraced governor, passed Right-to-Work (RTW) legislation immediately after coming into session in 2017. In response, using an obscure state law provision, organized labor blocked RTW by collecting over 300,000 signatures to send RTW to the ballot. Despite the GOP’s attempt to depress turnout by moving the RTW election from November to August, two-thirds of Missouri voters (a great many of whom otherwise voted in the Republican primary) voted to overturn RTW. In other words, the people of Missouri did not just reject RTW, they crushed it.

Looking forward, on the November ballot, there are propositions for wide-ranging ethics and gerrymandering reform, a minimum-wage increase, and the legalization of medical marijuana. All of these measures, which came from citizen organizing efforts outside the Democratic Party, stand a good chance of passing. Even with the GOP’s stranglehold on the legislature, there is clearly room for politics that put activism and organizing at the forefront to achieve leftist aims.

This is the environment into which Mid-Missouri DSA has entered. Our first meeting was scheduled for a room with a capacity of 20 people. By the time the meeting actually happened, we had changed venues twice, and more than 75 people attended. There is an undeniable demand for democratic socialist politics here, and especially for a socialism that prioritizes community organizing.

That’s not to say that everything has gone smoothly. Some working groups which attracted strong initial interest, including Anti-Racism and Education, have failed to lead to viable plans for action. Working out the organization’s actual logistics has also been an issue, in particular keeping lines of communication open and ensuring tasks are accomplished without bylaws to enumerate a defined organizational structure.

That said, those growing pains speak to Mid-Missouri DSA’s potential to make real change in the community. There is a tremendous opportunity, right here in the middle of “red state America.” It is up to our chapter to seize it.

One member of the Labor Working Group, who is a restaurant worker himself, explained why he felt joining DSA was the right call. “I was tired of feeling unrepresented,” he said. “And then I heard about this, and I had hope.”