Not My First Democratic Socialist Convention

In DSA’s resurgence, a flashback to 1979.

Joel Bleifuss

The Feb. 28, 1979, issue of In These Times featured John Judis' report from the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC) convention in Houston, along with this photograph.

At age 23, I attend­ed the 1979 Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ist Orga­niz­ing Com­mit­tee (DSOC, pro­nounced dee-sock) con­ven­tion as an at-large” del­e­gate from Colum­bia, Mo. Mem­o­rable moments includ­ed founder Michael Harrington’s keynote speech in which he crit­i­cized lib­er­als for adher­ing to the New Deal strat­e­gy of leav­ing the cor­po­rate infra­struc­ture alone and cre­at­ing an eco­nom­ic envi­ron­ment in which it can func­tion”; the vocal pres­ence of Har­ry Britt, the gay San Fran­cis­co Super­vi­sor named to fill the seat of Har­vey Milk, who had been assas­si­nat­ed the pre­vi­ous Novem­ber; and the grad­ual real­iza­tion that besides us social­ists (150 del­e­gates and 100 observers), the only oth­er peo­ple with rooms at the Hous­ton air­port Hol­i­day Inn were sex workers.

Report­ing on the con­ven­tion, In These Times’ John Jud­is not­ed that at a time when the Right was set­ting the terms of pub­lic debate,” the six-year-old DSOC, with 3,000 mem­bers, was show­ing sur­pris­ing signs of vitality.”

As a del­e­gate at the 1982 con­ven­tion in Detroit, I wit­nessed DSOC merge with the New Amer­i­can Move­ment to found the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca (DSA). Demo­c­ra­t­ic socialism’s time had come, or so I thought. But as the decades rolled on, I won­dered if I had been wear­ing pink-col­ored glasses.

Then came Bernie Sanders and a day this sum­mer — Sat­ur­day, August 5 — when I sat at the In These Times table sell­ing sub­scrip­tions to the 700 del­e­gates, most of them under 30, at the bien­ni­al con­ven­tion of DSA, which now boasts more than 25,000 mem­bers, with chap­ters or branch­es in 49 states.

That evening, In These Times and Jacobin co-spon­sored the con­ven­tion after-par­ty at our offices. As scores of social­ist mil­len­ni­als over­flowed onto the Mil­wau­kee Avenue side­walk, I stood at In These Times’ front door enforc­ing Chicago’s open con­tain­er ordi­nance. The next morn­ing, I awoke to read about the con­ven­tion, our par­ty and my Marx-inspired bev­er­age dona­tion signs in the Wash­ing­ton Post. Polit­i­cal rev­o­lu­tion seems to be back on the agenda.

Joel Blei­fuss, a for­mer direc­tor of the Peace Stud­ies Pro­gram at the Uni­ver­si­ty of Mis­souri-Colum­bia, is the edi­tor & pub­lish­er of In These Times, where he has worked since Octo­ber 1986.

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