NYC-DSA Should Wait on Supporting Sanders 2020

By Charlotte A

“Prepare for a Sanders 2020 Campaign” was just two votes shy of passing at the convention. The resolution asked NYC-DSA to take immediate steps to prepare for Sanders’ campaign, so that we would be ready to play a leading role if he announces and we decide to endorse. It tasked our Citywide Leadership Committee with developing a plan and asked DSA’s National Political Committee to do the same, closing by saying that “NYC-DSA enthusiastically calls on Bernie Sanders” to run. Though it wasn’t meant to be an endorsement, it read like one to me and I couldn’t vote for it.

Just weeks before the convention, Sanders voted for SESTA-FOSTA, a bill that not only deprives sex workers of their livelihoods and violates their privacy, but also directly endangers their lives. My first thought was, how would it look if we passed “Sanders 2020” a month after SESTA-FOSTA was signed into law? It might look like the largest chapter of a prominent US socialist organization cares more about a hypothetical presidential candidate than it does about sex workers’ rights. Beyond this one vote, it just goes to show that we don’t know what will happen during the next year or how Sanders will further betray our beliefs as an unapologetically socialist organization.

Naturally, debate over this resolution has opened up a larger conversation about how and if,  we should engage with a potential Sanders campaign in 2020. It’s a conversation I’m grateful we’re having, so I’ll be honest: while I might support an endorsement from national, I’m against endorsing Sanders as NYC-DSA.

I like the way our chapter approaches electoral politics. An NYC-DSA endorsement is not just a rubber stamp. We provide material support to campaigns that actually need it, in exchange for influence over those campaigns. We choose work that aligns with our democratically-chosen priorities and helps build working class power. Our electoral team is influential in NYC politics because they’re more than just another canvassing arm of the political machine: they run our own trainings, keep their own data, create their own internal structures. I don’t know how we’d preserve that kind of autonomy and control while working on a Sanders campaign.

NYC’s Electoral Working Group has created a democratic, multi-tiered endorsement process. Candidates fill out questionnaires, demonstrate their commitment to socialist ideals, and visit branches directly to ask for our support. Shouldn’t Bernie have to come prove himself to us too? One resolution that passed at the convention, “Create Standards for Electoral Work,” includes a line that “elected officials supported by NYC-DSA must be held accountable to our principles and policies while in office.” The truth is, Sanders doesn’t need us to win and we have no way of holding him accountable if he does.

I also worry that throwing all of our weight behind Sanders would detract from the organizing priorities we’ve already voted on as a chapter. There’s just so much work to do and we’re already stretched thin as it is. That said, I think there will be plenty of ways for our members to support his run without a citywide endorsement. If Sanders runs, his agenda and goals will likely line up with ours, so I’m sure we could use his candidacy to strengthen our existing campaigns and vice-versa.

If we do endorse Sanders, it must be democratically, it must be preceded by chapter-wide discussion, and it must come with qualifications. Qualifications about the policies we want to push him “left” on, yes. But more broadly, we must acknowledge that all US Presidents are class enemies and imperialists by virtue of office, and Bernie Sanders would be no exception.