North NJ DSA

By Dylan W.

On a hot summer Labor Day weekend, thousands of leftists congregated at the Socialism Conference
of 2022 in downtown Chicago. The conference was host to various panels and presentations including abolition, identity politics, abortion rights, and more. Socialists from different backgrounds and philosophies had come to socialize, share stories, and network. Organizations at the event ranged from big tent ones like DSA to more focused groups like Science for the People.

One of the speakers I most enjoyed was Liat Ben-Moshe. Ben-Moshe highlighted the concept of “disability/madness liberation” and how it is linked with the abolition of carceral systems. In addition to prisons, she argues institutions meant to “protect” patients in psychiatric hospitals and residential living spaces also contribute to the dehumanization of poor, marginalized individuals. It was empowering to hear someone advocate for the needs of those abandoned by capitalism. As someone who has faced abuse inside a mental health facility, I realized my challenges do not make me lesser than others even if capitalist institutions say that I am.

Other panels called into question what is meant by “the left.” This question culminated in the live recording of “The Dig,” where authors Robin DG Kelly, Ruth Wilson Gilmore, and Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò argued that there are multiple “lefts” that collaborate and/or clash. They also emphasized that movements that often aren’t seen as “left” by leftist circles actually are, including protests against apartheid in South Africa and against the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan by the US military. One highlight was Ms. Gilmore saying it’s okay if people don’t want to talk about ideas like racial capitalism, but they need to “shut the fuck up” about it if they don’t. It was a frank statement from one of the sharpest critics of racism and capitalism on the contemporary left.

I did not expect a panel to move me so much that I would cry but one of the best speakers at the conference did. In her talk Becoming Kin, Patty Krawec weaved her personal and ancestral history as an indigenous woman to show how differences between people are not divisions, a collective identity does not mean we need to erase our individual identities, and that the environment isn’t a resource, but a living being just like us. Despite all the harm that has been done through systemic abuse, human beings can choose differently.

In the final sendoff of the conference, Ash-Lee Woodard Henderson gave a powerful speech. Her main point was that performing leftist political work should be based on love and compassion. She indicated that doing the work, however small, has value. What I took away from her speech was that work is being done despite claims of demobilization on the broader left, especially in the south where voting, abortion, and LGBT rights are heavily under attack. These were points that were echoed earlier in the conference by Derenda Hancock who described the closing of the last abortion clinic in Mississippi after Roe v. Wade was overturned. Despite bleak circumstances, work continues in unlikely corners of the south and elsewhere.

Every aspect of life is connected. Being your authentic self and, as many speakers said, “trying to do shit” for others is a radical political act itself in a system that isolates and disempowers people. This process should be celebrated and emphasized as much as the outcome. The journey can be difficult, but dedication to what’s right and taking that first step is vital.

So yes, at the Socialism Conference, I danced. I hung out with science nerds, had a sick root beer float, finally met one of my best friends, touched a typewriter for the first time, and I made new memories with someone I cherish. In a reality full of hardships, participating in a large gathering of socialists was a joyful act of rebellion.

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