By Peter Hasson
The Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) have yet to publicly endorse Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, but for months they have been laying the groundwork to campaign for Sanders, and only Sanders, in the Democratic primary, planning documents obtained by The Daily Caller News Foundation show.
The DSA played a key role in helping left-wing Democratic candidates, like fellow DSA member New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, topple establishment Democrats in 2018 primary races. DSA leaders are looking to replicate that success at the national level.
Three planning documents that were circulated among DSA members in January, before Sanders’s Feb. 19 announcement, lay out the DSA’s two primary goals for 2020: Do everything possible to help Sanders win while using his campaign to legitimize the democratic socialist movement within American politics. The documents may be read in their entirety here.
The DSA has yet to formally endorse Sanders. The national planning committee has a vote scheduled for March 21, but the planning memos treat the endorsement as a foregone conclusion.
The DSA won’t consider endorsing any “other candidate in the Democratic primaries,” according to a January 2019 exploratory report, which notes that the DSA began laying the groundwork to support Sanders’s campaign well ahead of its launch.
“If DSA is to play an important role in Sanders’s campaign — both growing DSA as a serious, independent, socialist pole in the broader Sanders movement and helping Sanders win the Democratic Party primary and go on to defeat Trump in the general election — then it is essential that DSA get involved in this campaign as early as possible,” the report states.
The DSA’s pro-Sanders campaign “will have its own national campaign infrastructure, independent from Sanders’s official campaign,” according to the report, which left open the possibility that the socialists “will coordinate with the official [Sanders] campaign.”
As a DSA chapter co-chair I just wanna set the record straight for a minute: communism is good
— Olivia Katbi Smithأوليفيا كاتبي (@livkittykat) June 30, 2018
The report notes that “in addition to developing propaganda and other national-level political interventions, a primary task of the national DSA Bernie campaign will be supporting the growth of local and state-wide Sanders campaigns.”
“This will primarily happen through facilitating the growth of DSA chapters, training and support of chapter activists, systematization and possibly centralization of key operations including data and fundraising,” the document continues.
“DSA’s national campaign should also, to the highest degree possible, involve DSA chapters in various organizing activities, such as putting on town halls, virtual phonebanking, or connecting down ballot DSA-backed candidates to DSA-for-Bernie efforts.”
DSA leaders plan to use Sanders’s campaign as a means of growing their numbers, much as they did during the 2016 primary.
“DSA has grown about 11 times over since 2015, from 5,000 members to 55,000,” the memo states, attributing the DSA’s support for Sanders in 2016 as a primary cause of that growth.
The DSA plans to repurpose its Medicare for All campaign towards helping Sanders win the primary, according to another memo, which was prepared by the DSA’s Medicare for All steering committee.
The committee “believes that we should turn a good deal of our campaign infrastructure toward a DSA Bernie 2020 campaign when and if DSA endorses,” according to the memo. “DSA’s Medicare for All campaign has spent a year developing a national organizing infrastructure that can be utilized in DSA’s campaign for Bernie Sanders.”
“In many DSA chapters, the Medicare for All campaign or Health Justice Working Group represents the best springboard for Bernie 2020 work: these chapters have been involved in mass outreach and canvassing work around a proposal closely associated with Sanders’ name,” the memo continues.
The memo describes the DSA’s Medicare for All campaign as “unique within DSA for its ability to organize on a national level, and the infrastructure built through the campaign will be essential to running a cohesive campaign for Bernie Sanders.”
Steering union members towards Sanders and away from establishment Democrats is a key objective of that campaign. From the memo:
The Bernie campaign gives us an opportunity to talk to rank-and-file union members and we should take that opportunity. Union leadership will be slow to come out in support of Sanders because they feel tied to the Democratic Party establishment.
We need to agitate for Sanders among rank-and-file members in the hopes of building DSA’s ties to those members and pushing more unions to support Sanders this time around.
DSA’s chapters have spent the last few years building closer relationships to their local unions through Medicare for All coalitions; the Medicare for All regional organizers are well equipped to facilitate this aspect of the campaign.
DSA spokesman Lawrence Dreyfuss didn’t return an interview request.
The DSA’s youth arm, Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA), is gearing up to support Sanders as well. YDSA passed a resolution at its 2018 summer convention to develop “a comprehensive plan for YDSA to actively support Sanders’s campaign in the event that he runs.”
The DSA’s national coordinating committee aims to “cohere YDSA’s existing national priorities with Bernie’s political platform in order to build a strong, independent student campaign for Bernie 2020,” according to the committee’s campus campaign plan. The socialists plan to “make YDSA’s campaign efforts around Bernie 2020 the leading student effort in support of Bernie.”
If Sanders doesn’t win the primary, the DSA may back a third-party candidate instead of the Democratic nominee.
“If Bernie Sanders is not the Democratic Party nominee, there will likely be very heated debates among DSA members about whether or not to back a different Democratic nominee, or an independent candidate, against Trump,” the January committee report noted.
The committee suggested “putting forward a resolution for debate at the 2019 convention addressing the question of whom to support in 2020 if Sanders is not the nominee.”
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