Leaders of DSA should aspire to this humble approach to politics. Danny Fetonte did not demonstrate such leadership when he failed to disclose his former employment with CLEAT, a police officers’ union, while he was asking DSA delegates to elect him to the NPC. He did not demonstrate such leadership when he met the genuine concerns of DSA comrades across the country not with sympathy and care but with dismissals and accusations. We are strongly disappointed with Fetonte’s nondisclosure, with the way he has acted throughout the controversy, and with his refusal to put the good of DSA as a whole first and consider resignation.
Fetonte remaining on the NPC has the potential to hurt DSA’s image. His continued presence on the NPC will also prolong the ongoing controversy within DSA that has taken up so much of our organizers’ time and energy, harmed our relationships with one another, and distracted us from the organizing we should be doing to build a socialist movement in the United States. His behavior throughout the controversy has also led us to seriously doubt whether he will be a productive and cooperative member of the NPC. As such, our commitment to the good of DSA, as well as our values of fairness, equality, understanding, and justice, lead us to call for Danny Fetonte to resign.
However, we support the NPC’s decision not to remove him for malfeasance. In a pluralistic, democratic organization, the NPC should only remove one of its own members for flagrant acts of intentional rule breaking while on the NPC. We condemn his omissions and much of his behavior during the past few weeks, but we agree with the NPC that he has not done anything that counts as malfeasance. It is clear from what many of those supporting his immediate removal have said, including the statement by the minority of the NPC, that the main reason they want Fetonte removed is that they do not want someone who used to be a police union organizer to be in DSA’s elected leadership. We sympathize with this feeling, but it is a political grounds for expulsion, not malfeasance. It would violate DSA’s democratic processes and set a dangerous precedent if the NPC voted to remove one of its members not for rule breaking but for political reasons. We are not a democratic centralist organization where a central committee can easily remove people from elected seats. The NPC wisely set a precedent to maintain DSA as a multi-tendency organization with genuine socialist values.
Let’s not do what many other self-destructive organizations on the Left have done. The CIO purged the communists and radicals from the unions. We all know about Stalinist, Maoist, and Trotskyist organizations in which it was common practice for central committees to expel members and elected officers not for wrongdoing but for political purposes. And we all know the long, sad history of left organizations splitting, stagnating and disintegrating because of those practices, often to the detriment of people of color. Let’s not enter into ideological purges in DSA.
In addition, in the debates in DSA over the past few weeks — especially on social media — self-appointed allies to people of color as well as some people of color themselves have made personal attacks, often sexist, racist comments, in response to their comrades’ requests for restraint and for due process. DSA members of color do not need to be lectured about “white supremacy” within our organization, particularly by self-appointed white allies. That is simply white guilt, white saviorism, and sucking up political space in the name of saving people of color from white supremacy.
Some have claimed that the NPC’s decision not to expel Fetonte reflected deeply ingrained white supremacy, or that strict adherence to procedures itself reflects white supremacy. They forget that the civil rights revolution, the Black Power movement, and the current abolitionists fighting mass incarceration have all actively fought for and want due process!
Many self-appointed allies have ironically tokenized people of color when making such arguments, as if people of color had a single, coherent position on what to do about Fetonte, or in all positions. Of course people of color have always had ideological, tactical, and strategic disagreements — socialists of color have been debating different ideological positions since the beginning of racial capitalism. The fact of the matter is that while many people of color have been among the outraged at Fetonte, there were also people of color, mostly women and LGBT people of color living in the South, actively leading the organizing campaign in support of Fetonte throughout the convention. And they have been actively defending him from many of the personal attacks throughout the controversy.
Much of the outrage in DSA about “white supremacy” is less an expression of solidarity with people of color and marginalized communities and more a play on white guilt, all of which has historically led to ongoing sad liberal framework of white privilege and the cooptation of social movements organized around black and brown communities. We cannot let ourselves fall into the trap of supporting a framework which keeps white people at the center of the conversation. Socialists of color know: it has never been about white people, but about the system.
Furthermore, Fetonte’s continued presence on the NPC may lead to some damage to our relationship with some coalition partners, as said above. But many have exaggerated this danger. Most coalition partners are much more interested in what our chapters have done on the ground than they are in single individuals in our 16-member national leadership. If a member of an allied organization expresses concern about whether pro-police politics have influence in DSA, our response is simple: Fetonte has politically isolated himself within the NPC and in the organization as a whole. His past work does not represent DSA’s politics. Fetonte sitting on our NPC does not mean that DSA has affiliation with CLEAT or that DSA has tuaken a soft stance against police unions. If our chapters are out on the street across the country demanding an end to mass incarceration, sitting-in at county jails, and shutting down ICE raids, who will really let their view of our organization’s work be overshadowed by the work history of just one member of our NPC? We will prove our meaningful opposition to the police state and white supremacy through real, on-the-ground organizing across the country, not through a symbolic expulsion of a single individual from our leadership.
The division created by this debate is threatening the effectiveness of the organization, and it is in the best interest of DSA as a whole for Fetonte to step down from the NPC. However, we cannot lose sight of the more important things: maintaining the integrity of DSA’s democratic processes, and deepening and expanding our chapter’s organizing in communities across the country. It is times like these where cool-headed impartiality, adherence to a democratic process, full transparency, and comradely conduct are paramount.
Let’s not forget that the power and energy of this organization materializes through each chapter. Let’s build our movement. Let’s be guided by our common values of inclusion and democracy. Our values and our organizing are the reason for our historic growth and will be our saving grace in the face of future crises. Our efforts to build an anti-racist, multicultural movement will continue in our communities whether or not a person named Danny Fetonte sits on the NPC.
We, the undersigned, appreciate the NPC’s hard work to resolve the conflict surrounding Danny Fetonte, and support their decision not to expel him. We call for unity and trust between all DSA comrades, and also transparency and accountability from the NPC moving forward. Most of all, we call on DSA members everywhere to make a genuine commitment to the hard work of organizing for racial justice, immigrant rights, and eliminating the oppressive police and prison system. Comrades, let’s walk the walk together. The path is made as we walk.
In solidarity,1) Jack Suria-Linares, Los Angeles DSA2) Alejandra E Alcalde, El Chuco del Norte DSA3) Brandon Payton-Carrillo, Chicago DSA4) Paul E. Rakotoarisoa, Providence DSA5) Shelby Murphy, Austin DSA6) Ashley Rodriguez, El Chuco del Norte DSA7) Christopher Abilez, El Chuco del Norte DSA8) Alberto Aguirre, El Chuco Texas YDSA9) Alberto Rodriguez, Omaha DSA10) Marianela D’Aprile, East Bay/Chicago DSA11) Brandon Rey Ramirez, Los Angeles DSA12) Spencer Brown, Wesleyan YDSA13) Jose Gutierrez, DC DSA14) Paul Prescod, Philadelphia DSA15) Femi Agbabiaka, Chicago DSA16) Evelyn Nuno, At Large DSA,17) Bryce Phillips, Cincinnati DSA18) Jawanza James Williams, Upper Manhattan/Bronx Branch DSA19) Anthony Volpe, NYC DSA20) Elsa Stevens, East Bay DSA21) Frida Perez, UCLA YDSA22) Andrew Shelton, Boston DSA23) Antonio Herrera, East Bay DSA24) Timothy Zhu, Honolulu DSA25) Jonathan Musselman, East Bay DSA26) Joaquin Chavez, Sacramento DSA27) Anonymous, Los Angeles DSA28) Kenzo Shibata, Chicago DSA29) Heidi Chua, NYC, Media Working Group DSA30) E. Vanessa Assae-Bille, DC DSA31) Jesse Soria, El Chuco del Norte DSA32) David Gilbert-Pederson, At-Large DSA33) Caleb-Michael Files, NYC DSA34) Lizzie Maldonado, Fortworth DSA35) Lucie Macias, Chicago DSA36) H. Elenore Wade, DC DSA37) Remeike Forbes, NYC DSA38) CJ Demps, At Large DSA39) Martha Lucía Mercado, Austin DSA40) Charles Du, Central Connecticut/Los Angeles DSA41) Benjamin Fong, Phoenix DSA42) A Concerned Member, Metro Atlanta DSA43) Benjamin Arriaga, Sacramento DSA44) Jose Cabrera, Queens DSA45) Marti Garza, Metro DC DSA - NoVa section, former co-chair of DSA-YS46) Beth Huang, Boston DSA47) Olúfẹ́mi Táíwò, Los Angeles DSA48) Châu Lan Ngô, Co-Chair Austin DSA49) Jhari Derr-Hill, North Carolina Piedmont DSA50) Geneva Echeverria, Metro DC DSA51) Chris Wang, Austin DSA52) Angélica Wilcox, KC DSA53) Monica Olvera, Austin DSA54) Violet Ranson, DSA-Long Beach Steering Committee 55) Sitina Gutierrez, Austin DSA / Waco O.C.56) Pablo Yanez, Orlando DSA57) Arjun Jayaraman, Greater Lansing DSA58) Jeff Lee, East Bay DSA Local Council59) Daniel Pontoh, Southern NH DSA60) Virginia Franco San Diego DSA61) Randall Burnett, At Large DSA62) Hamer Rodriguez, Philadelphia DSA