Feeling the Bern for 2020: the NYC-DSA’s Efforts to Drive Turnout and Activate Workers and Poor People

Illustration by Noah J

By Jack C

When NYC-DSA endorses a candidate, we really go ALL IN. That’s why the endorsement process is so rigorous. So when it looked like Bernie Sanders was going to run for the Democratic Party nomination for the 2020 election, it was natural that NYC-DSA members would have strong feelings about it (both for and against). When the pro-endorsement contingent ultimately won out in February in, anticipation of DSA’s national endorsement, the question of how we would support the campaign naturally became one of vital importance.

That’s when Nina Svirsky and Oren Schweitzer, both from NYC-DSA’s YDSA branch, cosponsored the convention resolution entitled “Committing NYC-DSA’s Bernie 2020 Priority Campaign to Voter Registration through October 11th.” The title says it all, but more specifically, the focus of the resolution is that “NYC-DSA’s Bernie 2020 priority campaign will prioritize voter registration initiatives on CUNY campuses and high traffic public spaces in low income or predominantly black, Latinx, and immigrant neighborhoods.” For this look into our chapter’s strategy and goals for Bernie 2020, I got on the phone with Nina to discuss the resolution. I also followed up with a variety of NYC-DSA organizers from different branches to see how their work tied in the broader goals of the DSA.

Feeling the Resolve

That both Nina and Oren are from the YDSA should come as no surprise. While Bernie has fans of all ages, he’s found a special place in the hearts of young people, many of whom are feeling especially crushed by our present hyper-capitalist era and have never had a political figure they could genuinely feel good about and be inspired by. Disillusioned with the political system in the wake of the 2016 election, Nina joined the YDSA in the fall of 2017.

“Unlike most other YDSA chapters, which can be confined to campus issues,” Nina notes, “the NYC-YDSA chapters work very closely with the NYC-DSA proper, which made me really feel like we were a part of the larger organization.”

The reasoning behind the wording and direction of the resolution is simple, Nina explains. The goal is to reach poor and working-class New Yorkers where they live: at CUNY colleges and in high-traffic areas. This tactic works on a variety of levels. First, it engages a large segment of the population who has never voted and tries to get them behind a progressive candidate whose policies would actually benefit the poorest Americans. Getting more voters for Bernie on the rolls is great, but it’s just the beginning of what this work can do, Nina says. It’s also about political education, class consciousness, and inviting these workers into the struggle for their own liberation:

“What Socialists want and what Bernie wants is fundamentally different from what mainstream liberal voters and politicians want and are offering… It’s not just about registering people to vote, it’s about building an independent class-struggle movement around a broader set of ideas—Democratic Socialism.”

It’s only through struggle, solidarity, and mutual aid that we can hope to overcome capitalism’s death-grip on working people and the world. Reaching people where they live, registering them to vote, and helping them gain perhaps the first inkling of class consciousness, are powerful steps towards realizing our liberation. This same approach has taken form in the other branches of the NYC-DSA.


Labor for Bernie is an independent group within the DSA, but a lot of DSA activists have been involved, both in NYC and around the country. Tying the Sanders campaign’s efforts to help poor and working people to the struggle of labor against the capitalist class is important to building the larger movement that many see as the only path forward if we are to overcome the crushing pressures of our present economic situation. There have been two general Labor for Bernie meetings, with over 50 attendees in total. Dozens of union members have signed “Labor for Bernie” lists and pledge cards at NYSNA strike rallies, the Michael Lighty Medicare 4 All town hall, the TDU fundraiser, the Bernie rally in March, CWA retiree meetings, and other events.

Nationally, several locals have passed resolutions calling for democratic endorsement processes that actually poll the membership instead of jumping in on an early endorsement for, one might guess, Joe Biden. The first outright union local endorsement for Sanders has been the Roofers Local 36 in Los Angeles. NY Labor for Bernie is actively looking for unionists and labor movement fellow travelers to join up and bring the political revolution to our workplaces, our unions, and our workers centers. If you’re interested, email nylaborforbernie@gmail.com!

Brooklyn Electoral Comms

The Brooklyn Electoral Comms committee has decided to focus on cultivating media liaisons within every geographic branch. The liaisons would maintain a list of media outlets interested in their location and contact these newspapers, websites, etc, in advance of a newsworthy event or action, in order to increase coverage. They would also be trained to act as spokespeople and help guide the media story to explicitly tie Sanders-related actions directly to DSA’s larger efforts and vice versa. Committee co-coordinator Paul Swartz says of the media liaison project:

“We’re looking to link our Bernie work to our other efforts around the city, demonstrating that they’re all part of a larger political struggle. We want to use each to draw attention to the other.”

Trainings are currently being scheduled for the coming weeks and all interested parties should email Paul at paul.swartz1@gmail.com.

Geographic Branches

The geographic branches of NYC-DSA have been busy as well! South Brooklyn DSA For Bernie has run voter registration drives at Celebrate Brooklyn in Prospect Park, at the Puerto Rican Day Parade in Sunset Park, the 5th Avenue Street Fair in Bay Ridge, and in Coney Island. The goal of these actions has been to reach poor and working-class New Yorkers in their communities, explain the ways that a Sanders presidency would positively impact them, and differentiate Bernie from the Democractic field. North Brooklyn DSA for Bernie has held several voter registration meetings so far, focused on registering voters ahead of primary registration deadline.

They’ve already registered 50 voters and brought 30 new comrades into the DSA. Bronx/Upper Manhattan’s Bernie-related activity so far has included a campaign organizing meeting and a voter registration event in Harlem.

Turning Up the Heat

As the Democratic primary begins to dominate mainstream media coverage  and the already superfluous crowd of interchangeable candidates continues to grow, NYC-DSA for Bernie has to remain focused on playing our own game and sticking with the fundamentals. Reaching poor and working-class people where they live, registering new voters, increasing class consciousness, and tying theses efforts (and the Sanders campaign in general) to DSA goals and projects can help build the sweeping, large-scale movement that is needed to transform politics and this country and give all of us a fighting chance against our capitalist oppressors.

About Rebecca Capua 117 Articles
Red Letter spotlights editor, former MWG OC