Democratic Socialists and Leftists from near and far attended the latest Quad Cities Democratic Socialists of America Free School known as the Bi-State Socialism Summit. QCDSA held the summit at the Eastern Branch of the Davenport Public Library in Davenport, Iowa on October 12, 2019. The summit gave experienced social justice advocates and those new to the left  a chance to share stories, learn more about one another, and to attend a speech, classes, and a panel discussion covering a diverse number of issues relevant to a modern progressive movement.

The summit began with lunch and mixing among attendees as folks arrived from places such as Ames, Des Moines, Iowa City in Iowa and other locations across the river in Illinois. After lunch, organizers put forth some ground rules to make the conference run better such as “Step Up, Stand Back,” “W.A.I.T.,” (Why Am I Talking) and gestures such as the “Jargon Giraffe,” and snapping fingers instead of applause.

After ground rules, the summit went forward with Reyma McCoy McDeid and her presentation, “The Myth of Rural ‘Red’ America.” In her speech, Reyma  presented the narrative that Rural America had been left behind by liberals and progressives, but that with support and focus Rural America can come back. She then explored several myths regarding Rural America including that Rural America is white when in fact populations of color are growing. She  mentioned that West Liberty, Iowa is one such community where the population of those of color has grown to outnumber those who are white.

Other parts of the presentation included the argument that the Democratic Party of the 1980’s chose to embrace moderate voters instead of the Working Class. This drifting away from the Working Class may be the cause for rural areas to be forgotten by the Party and dismissed as “a bunch of rednecks.” This would have allowed funding to be given to population centers like Des Moines instead of races in red districts. Reyma made the point that Democratic losses in Iowa in 2016 and 2018 were largely due to this ignorance of rural areas.

In line with the idea that some Democratic Party operatives and progressives are making ignorant choices is the thought that many progressives think they are superior to Republicans and therefore superior to Rural Americans.  This further leads to the idea that everything is Rural Americans’ fault when in actuality progressives should be placing the blame on themselves for their ignorance and should apologize to them for their short sightedness.

Reyma then went into what happens to a failing progressive party when it is led by people of privilege, but also powered by the labor of marginalized people. Examples she gave was that of the DSA, Indivisible, and the Women’s March which are no stranger to controversy. She said that within the DSA there are many problems with racism and misogyny. These are difficult problems to face, but there are some good ideas such as DSA including mandatory quotas for women and people of color in leadership positions.

Furthering her criticism of progressive groups, Reyma  asked if anyone knew if the Democratic Socialists of America had a plan for engaging Rural America, and no one in the group was able to answer. She then said DSA has no committee that focuses on Rural America. Afterward, to offer ideas on how the DSA can change, she gave the following pointers:

  • Curtail the toxic narratives about Rural Americans
  • Approach Rural Americans as an individual and not in groups
  • Meet Rural America where Rural America is
  • Ask ourselves who among us in decision making positions is a current Rural American

Concluding her remarks Reyma  emphasized that we should be willing to step aside to allow for a member of the group that you want to see lead and that we be willing to apologize for progressive groups who have burned bridges in the past.

After the audience thanked Reyma  for her presentation, summit attendees broke out into smaller groups for four classes which are covered briefly below.

Socialism 101: Facilitated by Josh Caffrey, Gavin Lockard, and Joe Rodriguez

The class began by going over some of the attendees’ knowledge of socialist theory to get a sense of where people were at so everyone could get the most out of the session. The panel then put forth the idea that the core of Marxism as class theory is only the first step and not the totality of Marxism. The facilitators said that some try to reduce only to class, but that was not the case in this session. They proceeded to go over how Marxism deals with social theory, and how therefore class conflict is an important thing to consider when discussing it.

The panel discussed in further detail the idea of alienation. For instance, the alienation involved when selling one’s time and that the workplace doesn’t allow for creative productivity. One person gave the example that farmers alienate themselves from their product by not consuming what they grow but rather selling it abroad where it is consumed by livestock instead of humans.

The speakers went further to say that whether socialism means workers control the means of production, or whether it is democratic, it is always controlled from the bottom up.

The Pyramid of White Supremacy: Facilitated by Latrice Lacey and Laura Helena Rodriguez

This class focused on a graphic that visualizes the few Overt White Supremacy terms used in common language at the top of the pyramid that are typically viewed as socially unacceptable. Speakers lent more focus to the fact that underneath the smallest top part of the pyramid are many, many microaggressions that fit into Covert White Supremacy, and are unfortunately regarded as socially acceptable to many.  While there are many microaggressions out there, the class focused on how to identify them, terminology for discussing and criticizing white supremacy, and how to call out or interrupt these microaggressions.

After going over the terms used in the graphic, Latrice and Laura  also discussed the constituents of white culture including conflict avoidance and valuing formal education over life experience. They also went into two great myths around white supremacy including, “The Lost Cause,” which covers up the fact that the confederates lost the war with monuments and writings to glorify the Lost Cause of the South. The other myth is that of Meritocracy, which stems from Christian Ethic Influenced Capitalism that states that if someone has faults, it is the individual’s fault rather than systemic.

The speakers did offer some ways to interrupt white supremacy and those include privileged people stepping in and asking those who commit microaggressions, “Why are you doing that?” “Questioning the questions,” and, “Staring, not blinking.”

Housing Justice: Facilitated by Cody Eliff

Cody started the session by going over the fact that taking care of housing discrimination is a large portion of his job at the Davenport Civil Rights Commission. He went on to say that because of state, federal, and municipal laws Fair Housing is a right guaranteed to citizens. Some of the protected classes in fair housing laws include race, color, and disability  in federal protected classes and in Iowa some additional protected classes are sexual orientation, creed, marital status, and familial status.

Cody went on to say if a landlord breaks these laws they can be prosecuted for making statements, for ill treatment, or for steering a potential tenant away from a property. In addition to protected classes, fair housing laws protect people who are systemic victims of the law enforcement system from being unfairly targeted by landlords. Cody mentioned that while 11% of the citizens of Davenport identify as African-American, 60% of total convictions are of African-Americans. This represents a dangerous situation for African-Americans when renting, whereas landlords can use racial bias when selecting tenants by asking for arrest records.

Cody continued that many people who have suffered racial bias or a bias based on their disability should take legal action and in some cases report the offense to the Civil Rights Commission.

Accomplices Not Allies: Facilitated by AJ Reed

This class dealt with power gained by activists who align themselves with capitalist non-profits and that while some see their efforts as grassroots and community based, in reality they are only raising their status among the powerful because they are seen as champions of the oppressed.

The handout provided by the speaker stated that these power seeking activists only wear allyship as a badge in a landscape where solidarity is commodified and issues are framed and branded divorcing them from the struggle of the oppressed.

Instead of being allies, this workshop focused on seeing ourselves as accomplices and taking responsibility for the fact that we occupy indigenous land. Reed emphasized that accomplices do not act like self-proclaiming allies, and reminded attendees that meaningful alliances are not imposed, but rather consented upon.

After the breakout sessions, attendees of the summit came back to the main room to attend the closing panel discussion on Queer Liberation facilitated by AJ Reed, with Gini Lester, Erica S., and Josh  as speakers. The first question AJ  asked was, “How far have we come since Stonewall?”  Gini  made the point that the people who were involved with Stonewall were not mainstream and that now many of the pride events put on by the community are slowly being co-opted by the mainstream. Erica  said that there have been many incidents of hate at the St. Ambrose University campus and that more progress was needed. Josh  echoed the need for progress, specifically within the military, and went over some of the reasons why people stay in the closet.

Another question asked by the facilitator was, “Since the death of Matthew Shepard, why are the deaths of LBGTQ+ people still happening?”  Some speakers mentioned that while LBGTQ+ people may feel safe in some places and not others, we still need to be out.  Others mentioned that even though October was a time for coming out that sometimes it is not safe, especially for those who lack privilege.

AJ  went on to ask, “Are there real solutions to prevent us from marginalizing ourselves in the LBGTQ+ movement?” To answer the question, a speaker  mentioned that sometimes people who are oppressed will repeat how they are treated and oppress others. Another answer  was that sometimes people are accepted into the mainstream and enjoy privilege to the point that they put others down.

Another question AJ  asked to the panel was, “Do you think Ellen DeGeneres and Will and Grace have normalized being Gay ?” One speaker responded there is not one way to be LBGTQ+ and members of the community should be treated as individuals.

Finally AJ  asked the concluding question which was, “Do LBGTQ+ organizations serve our community?” There were several responses, including the fact that some organizations help with certain aspects, but not housing. Other responses included the fact that organizations do the best they can with limited resources.

After the panel discussion was over attendees thanked the facilitators and speakers for their time. As many attendees began their journeys across the region to get back to their home chapters, some made their way to a social event afterwards. Before leaving we all posed for a group photo, said goodbyes, and looked forward to another day when we could meet, exchange ideas, and enjoy the solidarity that comes with being with one another and sharing a commitment to our goals for social justice.

Quad Cities DSA