By Julia T.
North New Jersey DSA is filled with members with a wealth of knowledge and experiences on the left. Through a series of profiles in the Red Star Ledger, I wish to highlight their years of organizing, share their thoughts on how the chapter has changed, and convey what they hope to see for the future. For the winter edition, I spoke with Stan Sheats, an organizer and attorney active in our Medicare for All working group who began as a member of DSA’s predecessor organization.
How long have you been a DSA member? What has your experience been like?
I started with the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee in the mid-1970s, which merged with the New America movement to form DSA. When I came back to Jersey in the 90s after moving away for work, I saw a DSA advertisement in In These Times and found out there was a local chapter. In those days the chapter was more or less a study group before it became more activist focused. At most, about sixteen people would attend meetings, then things petered out in the late 90s.
Some of those members formed a regular group of about 5 people in the late 2000s after being asked if we wanted to attend the national conference. I called people up to see if they were interested in creating a group and going to the convention. At the time, we were hosting speakers and panels at libraries and held campaigns around establishing a living wage and fixing campaign finance. The chapter really took off again about 8 years ago when Bernie Sanders and Donald Trump were running for president, and DSA sent an organizer from national to help get us going. Now, we regularly have chapter meetings where over 30-40 people are present. We are much more organized and are really accomplishing things.
What other organizations and movements have you been part of?
I moved to Syracuse in the 80s where I was part of the Syracuse Peace Council and a member of the Rainbow Coalition. In New Jersey, I worked with the group Solutions to End Poverty Soon (STEPS) in the mid 2000s, which has remained active in Lakewood.
In the 1970s I was also involved with an organization focused on growing cooperatives, using the Mondragon cooperatives in Spain as a model. There were movements for socialist economic restructuring like creating government owned factories, but I favored worker’s co-ops where workers actually have control. Co-Op America was a leading magazine and organization at the time, but eventually gave up on worker’s co-ops in favor of reforming companies to be more “liberal” by taking on environmental responsibility principles.
What kind of organizing work do you primarily take part in?
Right now, I am concentrating on Medicare for All. Conservatives are so much into the narrative that the poor are responsible for their own poverty that they don’t even want them to have medical coverage. To me, this is the height of cruelty because no one deserves to suffer or die because they don’t have insurance.
Initially, we were mostly canvassing and getting people to sign a petition for M4A. This year, we are working on getting a price cap on insulin, epi-pens, and asthma inhalers passed, a bill which is sponsored by Murphy and currently in the state assembly. We have a telephone campaign to put pressure on elected officials and want to get unions involved. We also advocate for abortion protections like the enforcement of New Jersey’s sanctuary state law, reviving legislation for funding abortion clinics, and state-level Medicare for All.
Ahead of our convention, what are some issues you hope our chapter takes on this year?
Supporting the revived labor movement and strikers, immigration following the chapter’s great accomplishments against ICE since Biden will likely keep acting out Trump’s policies, and feminist actions like pushing for an abortion clinic in Jersey City.