Last beverage you drank:
Polar Ginger Lime Mule seltzer
Favorite NPC 2020-21 memory:
Honestly, the last NPC meeting of the term, which was very recent. I say that because of the appreciation and respect everyone on the body expressed for one another. It’s been an extremely hard two years full of upheavals. I’ve only been on the body for a little more than one year but when I joined we had just witnessed the largest protests in the country’s history all in the midst of a pandemic. Leading the organization through this political moment has been a great achievement on the part of my comrades on the NPC and I’ve been honored to serve with each of them. We’ve demonstrated political leadership; modeling how to work together across political differences toward the common goal of building DSA into the mass organization we need.
Song you have on repeat:
Skills you think we should teach all new DSA members:
How to have an organizing conversation that leads to action, how to talk about politics and socialism (especially with people who don’t necessarily agree with us), how to organize where we work and live, and how to both assess local conditions and how best to intervene wherever they may be.
My dog Stanley of course.
Last Zoom call you were on:
A call with some fellow members of my union organizing committee and our organizers from UAW.
Favorite zodiac sign:
As a Taurus, obviously Taurus. But some other faves are Cancer, Scorpio, and my other fellow earth signs, Virgo and Capricorn.
Best strategy to engage our paper members:
Ideally, we wouldn’t leave the kind of space that allows them to become paper members in the first place. So that starts with engagement from the moment someone joins DSA. That also means a tighter integration between chapters and national. When somebody joins DSA, somebody from their local chapter should be able to reach them within a week or less. Some of this is a technology challenge, the rest is an organizing one. We should be figuring out what this new member wants to get involved in and give them what they need to be able to go do it as quickly as possible. In the case of members who’ve become inactive or were never active in the first place, much of the same applies. I’d also want to know why they’re not active or became inactive and see if that information helps us engage people sooner.
Best dinner cooked:
It’s hard to pick the best meal I’ve cooked. I made barbecue spare ribs for our housewarming party last month that everybody who came loved. Not long before that, I made a really nice pernil when we had some friends over for dinner. I like to think my best meals are usually a nice, thick seared bone-in ribeye or pork chop with some kind of potato and some kind of sauteed green. If I get re-elected and we have an IRL NPC meeting in New York City I will happily cook a meal for everybody.
Last show you binged:
Season 2 of “Too Hot To Handle“
Hardest thing about being on the NPC:
Being on the NPC hasn’t really been harder than the organizing I did in DSA before I got on this body. Perhaps it’s just like I’m doing that kind of stuff but a lot more of it. If there’s anything that’s hard it’s kind of a fear that we won’t meet the demands of this incredibly fraught political moment. But that only really comes in flashes and serves as a reminder to get back to work so we can be successful.
Favorite seltzer brand:
Abolition or Unconscious Bias Training?
No amount of training is going to change the fact that policing, from its origins in this country to the present day, is a fundamentally white supremacist project. The carceral state disorganizes our class, pitting sections of it against one another, and makes working-class self-activity even more difficult. The state has also generally abdicated most of its responsibility to solve society’s problems to the carceral institutions, which aren’t at all suited to effectively do any of that. So it’s our job to do all we can to reduce the size, scope, and authority of the repressive forces of the state while simultaneously building and reinforcing a society that actually addresses societal problems and facilitating the organization of our class toward mass collective action and shows people what true justice and public safety looks like. This is why I and my Emerge comrades see the fights for abolition and socialism as co-constitutive.
What do you think is the importance of Internationalism in DSA?
I was incredibly proud of the internationalist resolutions we passed at the 2019 convention and I’ve been even more proud to see them come to fruition. I think internationalism in the US left can tend to be just a series of “we stand in solidarity” statements, which aren’t bad and are actually necessary, but I’ve been really excited to see us developing relationships with the left around the world, particularly in Latin America. Our delegation to the Congreso Bicentenario de los Pueblos del Mundo [Bicentenial Congress of the Peoples of the World] in Venezuela, I think, did some really solid work in building relationships and also helped show us some practical lessons. I was super excited to hear about the time our delegation spent visiting the communes as well as learning about hyperlocal block-by-block organizing. I strongly urge everyone to check out the debrief the IC gave.
What role do you see supporting rank-and-file organizing in labor unions play in building working-class power?
DSA members need to be deeply embedded in the labor movement. We need members entering and organizing in the rank-and-file in strategic industries. We also need DSA members in unions wherever they happen to work and if they don’t have a union there we need them to help organize for one. Every DSA member who wants to be able to organize on the job should have the tools, training, and mentorship needed to fight and win in their workplace. I personally drew on what I’ve been able to learn from comrades in NYC-DSA to help organize for a union at my job. I want that for every single member of this organization. I’m also excited about efforts to learn more about our members and where they work, like our membership survey. Knowing where we have strength in numbers could be a boon for both new and existing workplace organizing.
As opponents to DSA continue to respond with attacks related to the org’s racial and class makeup, what does an effective response to these criticisms look like? Is DSA too white?
I’ll answer the question about DSA’s whiteness with this: If the working class looks a certain way and the organization doesn’t quite look like that, sure that’s not good. This organization must strive to mirror the working class in all its diversity. I’d say we have not had much of an explicit recruitment strategy that doesn’t rely on the social networks that already exist among our members. When the makeup of DSA is more white, young, and professional, and we mostly passively recruit and draw on existing networks, we will only grow more white, young, and professional. That said, class struggle takes many shapes, like the class itself. It’s our job to find that struggle wherever it may be, amongst whomever, and embed ourselves in it, advance it, and tie it to other struggles in order to build a mass movement of the working class.
So when establishment Democrats make the claim that DSA is a bunch of white gentrifiers, we say “well look at who backs your campaign?’ Real estate developers, who do the actual gentrifying. And then we build with the existing tenant movement there. Or if there isn’t a tenant movement we help get one going. We have to be strengthening old working class institutions and building new ones amongst the demographics we’re lacking. Now working class Black folks and other people of color may not immediately join DSA. That totally makes sense. Our job is to reliably show up and build solidarity to demonstrate we’re worthy partners. Maybe they will never join. That’s a possibility too. But if we’re building working class power, showing people what solidarity looks like, and helping our class get wins then the composition of DSA is a problem that either solves itself little by little or diminishes in importance in my view.
DSA has grown close to 100K members during your time on the NPC. How do we become an organization of effective organizers?
The 100K Drive was really a beautiful thing. It was inspiring to see members everywhere focused on the explicit task of building this organization. In a perfect world, we’d find a way to embrace the mindset we had around that drive and replicate it on a smaller scale and on an ongoing basis.
I want to get to a place where every member of DSA has the skillset necessary to assess their conditions on the job, in their neighborhood, in their building, and wherever else they may be to figure out where the power lies to change their material conditions and those of those around them for the better. I want every single member to be able to have a solid organizing conversation that results in action that moves toward building power. To do that we have to continue to develop the capacity in-house to train members, to develop political education and get more members and non-members engaged in it, and to continue to run successful campaigns and deep organizing projects that win gains and build the foundation of a mass movement for socialism.
Justin Charles is a member of the North Brooklyn Branch of NYC-DSA, where he has previously served various local leadership roles including branch Organizing Committee, Chapter Steering Committee, and Citywide Leadership Committee. He is the Chair of Growth and Development Committee, Convention Platform & Resolutions Committee Co-Chair, on the Convention Steering Committee, Comms Committee, and Budget & Finance Committee.
He is an adjunct professor and UAW 7902 member, as well as a member of the organizing committee for his union at a non-profit. They just ran a successful campaign for voluntary recognition from management where they got nearly 90% of the bargaining unit to sign a union card.