Wanna Be a Socialist? Here’s How!
Lisa Lai and Amanda Malaski
I spoke with Lisa Lai, the founder of the Heart of Iowa DSA organizing committee, about the process of creating a DSA chapter and how she envisions it fitting into her community’s progressive scene.
PVI: What is required to start a DSA chapter?
Lisa: The first step is forming an organizing committee with 5 dues-paying members. After that, 15 dues-paying members are needed to ratify bylaws and elect officers. Whether you’re a member or not, everyone is welcomed at all of our meetings and events!
PVI: What has the process been like for you so far?
Lisa: It’s been incredibly fun and rewarding. I’ve met so many wonderful people through DSA who are willing to fight for a better world. Our organizing committee was formally recognized on July 11. We have about a dozen dues-paying members so far, and as many as 18 people are showing up at our biweekly meetings. Best of all, we’re seeing new faces all the time.
PVI: What made you decide to start an Ames chapter?
Lisa: I wanted to give a voice to working class people in my community, and to those who feel left behind by politics. We have a economic system that lets the top 1% make obscene profits off the backs of the working class. At every level of government, corporations do things like lobby to suppress our wages and cut our benefits, while demanding enormous tax breaks in the name of “job creation”. This abuse of influence strips everyday people of our collective power. We need people power to fight their money power. I think DSA is the best vehicle for creating exactly the kind of grassroots movement we need.
PVI: What role do you think a DSA chapter can fill in the Ames progressive community?
Lisa: I hope DSA will push the envelope of what’s talked about in local politics. We differ from other progressive groups in that we’re unapologetically socialist. We’re unafraid to name the problem: capitalism. Bernie Sanders created a space for people who are further left than the mainstream of the Democratic Party. We learned last year that this is a huge portion of the population. Many of them got involved in politics for the first time, because they saw a candidate who spoke to their struggles and their values. We want to be the political home for folks like that.
PVI: What are your goals for the Ames DSA chapter?
Lisa: We want to be a voice for the vulnerable. That means, for example, being allies to the undocumented worker population, and standing in solidarity with unions on strike. We’ll also do our part to advance DSA’s national priorities locally, including fighting for Medicare for all and $15/hr minimum wage. We’ll be a support system for our community members’ political development. Nationwide, wages have stagnated for 40 years while worker productivity has increased and CEO salaries have skyrocketed. Working class people feel the stress of this in their daily lives, whether they’re able to name the problem or not. We want to show them that the world doesn’t have to operate like this, that a more just and compassionate system exists.
PVI: With the increase in membership and awareness of DSA, what are your hopes for the movement nationally?
Lisa: Not being a political party, we have the freedom to be as bold as we want. With over 25,000 members and chapters in every state, DSA is now the largest American socialist organization since World War II. I hope this is the beginning of socialism coming into the mainstream. I hope that in the future, we’ll have socialist voices at all levels of government.
PVI: How can people get involved?
Lisa: We have two big events coming up. The first is an open house at the Ames Public Library auditorium on Sunday, August 27 at 2:30. This is an opportunity to learn about DSA and how you can plug in. The second is our Labor Day potluck at the Brookside Park Linden shelter on September 4 at 3:00. All are welcomed! Also, members and non-members alike are welcomed at our biweekly meetings.
You can sign up to be a dues-paying member at https://dsausa.nationbuilder.com/join. In the spirit of socialism, membership dues are whatever you’re able to pay–no background check and no strings attached. It’s an example of “from each according to ability; to each according to need” in practice. For more information, email HeartOfIowaDSA@gmail.com.
PVI Note: If you aren’t in the Ames area, there are chapters in Iowa City, Des Moines, the Quad Cities and Dubuque. You can find contact information for the other Iowa chapters or sign-up to start your own chapter at http://www.dsausa.org/chapters