Electoral Wins for Pittsburgh DSA

by Mike Elk


PITTSBURGH, PA. – The party inside of the MixTape bar in the historically lefty neighborhood of Garfield was absolutely jubilant. Hipster dance music blared over speakers as young hipster members of the Pittsburgh chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)  embraced long-time neighborhood activists, who had been involved in organizing in the community for decades.

The scene was, for a lack of a better word: Lit!

“I can’t believe it,” said Pittsburgh DSA Co-Chair Adam Shuck and author of the popular Pittsburgh food and politics newsletter “Eat This, Read This”.

“I just can’t believe it,” Shuck told me over and again as activists repeatedly interrupted our conversation to embrace the 6 foot, 2 gentle giant.

Shuck and his comrades had reasons to be ecstatic. In their first major electoral test, the 385 dues-paying members strong Pittsburgh DSA proved that they weren’t just a group of hipsters, but a serious political force that could shake up stagnant Pittsburgh political machine.

Not only did a DSA member flip a county council seat back to Democrats, but the DSA toppled District Justice Ron Costa, one of the longtime bosses of the Costa political family. In addition to these wins, reform oriented candidates in the industrial, inner-city suburbs also defeated long-time incumbents in key races.

The campaigns were noted for their innovativeness and creativity in a Pittsburgh political scene long ossified by political legacy candidates.

Running under the slogan of “I don’t sell out, I sell auto parts”, 54-year-old DSA member Anita Prizio, filmed TV ads promising “Bad Puns, Good Policy”. Her campaign focused on the need for more transparency in local government, tackling the opioid crisis, and combatting lead poisoning affecting Pittsburgh area residents. Her quirky outsider campaign garnered the support of DSA and Our Revolution.

Despite running in some of the richest suburbs of Pittsburgh as well as some inner-city neighborhoods, Prizio was able to knock off incumbent Republican county councilman Ed Kress by a margin of 50.8% to 49.1%.

However, the most stunning victory was the defeat of 24-year incumbent District Justice Ron Costa by independent candidate Mike Pappas. A civil rights lawyer and former staffer to legendary progressive State Senator Jim Ferlo, the lifelong Pittsburgh resident Pappas ran under the slogan of “Addiction is not a crime”.

As a District Justice, Pappas pledged to reduce mass incarceration and implement principles of restorative justice. This radical platform garnered the attention of progressives nationally and earned him the first-ever endorsement issued in a judicial race by the Bernie Sanders backed group Our Revolution.

Pappas’s DSA endorsement prompted Judge Costa, an old-school machine Democrat,  to send a letter to thousands of his constituents warning them that “You need to know that the DSA is a splinter group that has called for the elimination of prisons and police as well as drastic changes to our law”.

Despite the red-baiting and lacking a position on the ballot as a Democrat, Pappas trounced the 24-year incumbent Costa by an 11 point margin. Pappas mobilized over a hundred volunteers throughout the district and increased the voter turnout from 5,800 votes in the District Justice election in 2011 to 8,900 votes in 2017.

“No one had any idea that Mike Pappas was going to win this race so I think for a lot of people it came out of nowhere,” said DSA Pittsburgh’s Adam Shuck. “We have proven that we have dedicated members doing more work and I hope that attracts more people to join”.

The news of the defeat of Judge Ron Costa set off alarm bells throughout Pittsburgh politics Tuesday night.

“Dom Costa call your office” immediately tweeted out veteran Pittsburgh Post-Gazette political reporter Chris Potter, referencing the old school Italian-American political boss, State Representative Dom Costa, Judge Costa’s cousin.

The 65-year-old Pittsburgh Police Police Chief is seen as vulnerable in next spring’s Democratic primary. His district encompasses Lawrenceville, the neighborhood some call the “Brooklyn of Pittsburgh”, as well as many of the working and middle-class  suburbs in the North Hills, which helped elect DSA member Anita Prizio to the county council.

As a pro-life, pro-cop State Representative Costa’s old school politics are out of sync with many of the younger more progressive-minded residents of his district. The 66-year-old Costa will face a formidable opponent in 31-year-old DSA activist Sara Innamorato.

A native of nearby Ross Township and Millvale and now a resident of Lawrenceville, Innamorato has made her name in the social good marketing space; working on community engagement projects with the Pittsburgh Water and Sewer Authority, the Pittsburgh Food Policy Council, and as an organizer with the environmental justice organization GTECH.

As the Co-Founder of She Runs, an organization that trains women to run for office, and an activist in the DSA, Innamorato has a deep network of activists that she can draw on to knock doors and turn out voters

“It’s younger and more progressive than his votes are,” says Innamorato. “He tends to lean more conservative in neighborhoods that are really dynamic and changing a lot”

Innamorato says that Costa has largely been absent from the conversation about affordable housing in a market that is pushing out many of the elderly old-school yinzer Italian residents that were traditionally Costa’s base.

“If families, who have been here for generations wanna own property, it’s not really an option,” says Innamorato.

Not only will Morningside-based Dom Costa face a vigorous primary challenge, but so likely will his other cousin Pennsylvania State Representative Paul Costa, who represent a largely African American district in the inner city suburbs surrounding Braddock, Swissvale, and the neighborhoods of Woodland Hills District.

Paul Costa’s opponent in the race, 30-year-old Summer Lee, is a 2015 graduate of Howard Law School is a close political ally of the DSA and Innamorato.

Both Innamorato and Lee are likely to be aided in their bids by the Lieutenant Governor bid of Braddock Mayor John Fetterman who is challenging the incumbent corporate Democrat Mike Stack. Fetterman, who will likely gain the support of many of DSA members in the May 15th primary, has pledged to run on a reform ticket with other leftists; thus boosting the likelihood of down-ballot defeats for incumbent Democrats.

(Full Disclosure: Summer Lee and Payday Senior Labor Reporter Mike Elk attended high school together at Woodland Hills School District and were teammates on several track teams).

The DSA and its allies have shown strength in Paul Costa’s district, whose brother Jay Costa is also a State Senator in the area. Last night, four reformers, knocked off four incumbent Woodland Hills School Board members pledging to clean up the problems of brutality and abuse that have plagued the district.

In the nearby 15,000 people African American inner city suburb of Wilkinsburg, 32 year Marita Garrett also defeated 12-year incumbent John Thompson to become the Mayor. Garrett becomes Mayor of the inner city suburb as its popularity and gentrification have soared following Google’s decision to base an East Coast hub less than two miles away from Wilkinsburg along the East End Corridor of Penn Avenue.

Garrett has pledged to clean the city up and use the municipal status of the inner city suburb to pass some of the most progressive affordable housing in the country.

The DSA plans to invest heavily in organizing the many now gentrifying pre-World War II industrial pro-union inner city suburbs that line the deindustrialized Mon Valley.

“We have a lot of small industrial suburbs. They are actually historically more aligned with the kind of politics that we are bringing to DSA” says Pittsburgh Electoral Committee Member David Greve, a Woodland Hills graduate himself.

Grieve says that popular anti-incumbent Democrats could help bring some of the disaffected labor Democrats, who went for Trump, back into the progressive coalition.

“I watched the 2016 results and when I was looking at the local down ballots, it was clear to me that all the efforts of the machines were complete and utter failure and the people who backed the machine candidates winded up hugely embarrassed,” says Greve. “I think this victory over Ron Costa, one of the most recognizable names in Pittsburgh politics….is a huge victory for our chapter like ours and we are gonna keep it going”.

While the Pittsburgh Democratic Machine has attempted to depict the DSA as yuppies attracted to city’s growing tech scene, Pittsburgh natives like Greve and Innamorato say their success at the ballot box will show who their true constituency is.

“They’re finding their foot here and they still have ways to go when it comes to really get into the communities, but they know that they have to do that. From a racial and social justice, we still have a way to go” says Innamorato.

Innamorato says that organizations are likely to grow as they recruit many first-time office runners into the organization.

“A lot of people will tell you shouldn’t run,” says Innamorato. “You have to look inside yourself and be okay with you who you really are… People will tell you that incumbents are hard to beat, but if you really know why are doing it, you’ll find a way to do it. You just have to be creative”.

Reposted from http://paydayreport.com/pittsburgh-dsa-beats-democratic-machine-knocks-off-two-key-incumbents-eye/  with the permission of the author.


DSA Launches National Boycott Against B&H

by Maria Svart, National Director DSA

For 16 weeks, DSA members in New York City have been picketing every Friday and Sunday in support of hundreds of unionized warehouse workers fighting to save their jobs and win a contract at B&H Photo and Video. They’ve engaged in direct action, contacted city politicians, pressured the company on social media, produced flyers and videos and organized fundraisers for the campaign.

But B&H is a national retailer, with $2.65 billion in sales revenue – and so the campaign against them must be national too. That’s why today DSA is launching a new national boycott effort and website, www.boycottbnh.com, to tell the company: Settle a contract with your workers! End the exploitation!


B&H is the largest non-chain distributor of media production equipment in the U.S. It’s also a notorious violator of workers’ rights with a long track record of inhumane working conditions and rampant discrimination. The company is currently being sued by the Department of Labor for racial disparities in hiring and forcing Hispanic workers to use segregated bathrooms, among other abuses.

Please visit www.boycottbnh.com today and sign on to the boycott of B&H Photo and Video to tell the company that you won’t stand by while it exploits its warehouse workers. Share the website on social media and tell all your friends, family, co-workers and acquaintances to sign on too. Remember to tag your social media posts #BoycottBnH.

The conditions under which B&H warehouse workers work are deplorable. These include

  • 5.5-day work weeks with frequent demands for 16-hour days but only a 45-minute break;
  • denial of ambulances when seriously injured;
  • exposure to asbestos, benzene, and fiberglass dust resulting in chronic nosebleeds and other complications;
  • lack of training on operating dangerous equipment like forklifts, powerjacks, and pickers, and on handling of hazardous chemicals like sodium selenite and ammonium bromide;
  • lack of basic safety equipment; and
  • coercion to sign away workers’ comp benefits after injuries.

During a 2014 fire at one warehouse, workers were denied access to fire exits so management could run them through metal detectors to check for potential theft.

The warehouse workers are fighting back against these abuses – but they need your help. Please visit www.boycottbnh.com now, sign on to the boycott and share the website widely. Use the hashtag #BoycottBnH. Tell B&H: End the exploitation!

After the 2014 fire, workers contacted the Laundry Workers’ Center (LWC) to help them organize and address their grievances. In November 2015, the workers voted to join the United Steelworkers to secure a union contract. Management has fought them every step of the way and now intends to close the warehouses where they work and relocate production to Florence, NJ, 75 miles away rather than settle a union contract.

On July 10, the workers delivered their response to B&H’s demand that they accept the move: No! Let the workers know you stand with them – and against union-busting – by signing on to the boycott of B&H Photo and Video at www.boycottbnh.com today. Then share the website with everyone you know using the hashtag #BoycottBnH.

While DSA has coordinated nationally on many labor campaigns in the past, it has historically played a supporting role. This boycott marks the first time in recent memory that it has launched its own coordinated national labor initiative. DSA is the driving force behind this boycott – and so it is critical that each of us do our part to see that it succeeds.

If you would like to get more involved in the campaign, please write to nyc.strike.solidarity@gmail.com, especially if you work for or are otherwise affiliated with an organization that does business with B&H. And remember to visit www.boycottbnh.com today!

In Solidarity,

Maria Svart, DSA National Director

boycott b & H

Dump the Racist Trump

Continue the Political Revolution Down Ballot: Build Multiracial Coalitions
DSA’s Electoral Position for 2016

DSADemocratic Socialists of America believes that the Left must balance two crucial tasks in the November 2016 elections. On the one hand, the progressive movement must roundly defeat Donald Trump’s racist, nativist, Islamophobic and misogynist presidential campaign, as well as isolate and delegitimize the far-right hate groups that his campaign has strengthened. On the other hand, the Left must sustain and expand the independent electoral and social movement capacity built by the insurgent Sanders campaign, while broadening it out in an explicitly antiracist and multiracial direction. Thus, through November, DSA will prioritize two goals:

Building an independent “Dump Trump” movement, primarily in swing states where we have the capacity to make an impact, and
Developing local multiracial coalitions and campaigns that can build independent socialist organizing capacity and challenge neoliberal, pro-corporate Democrats in November
As an organization primarily oriented towards social movement building, DSA does not normally endorse presidential candidates. We decided to encourage Bernie Sanders to run for President — and then proudly participated in his movement — because he offered a political program that genuinely advances the democratic socialist vision. Hillary Clinton’s politics are quite different, and therefore DSA will not offer her our endorsement. Continue reading

Sanders Campaign Can Help Revitalize the US Labor Movement

This year the left must use the ideological opening created by the most anti-corporate political campaign in recent history to build political capacity that lasts well beyond this electoral cycle.
Joseph M. Schwartz
September 7, 2015 Posted on Labor Day

The Democratic primary candidacy of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) for president of the United States provides progressive labor activists with a unique opportunity to enhance the independent political capacity of a besieged labor movement. Reflecting his political roots in the American socialist movement, Sanders is the most consistently pro-labor member of the United States Congress. Just this Friday he walked the picket line in Cedar Rapids, Iowa, where workers are protesting the anti-union practices of the new owners of Penford Products, a potato starch manufacturer.

Backing a radical pro-labor candidate like Bernie Sanders in a Democratic primary would enable the labor movement to express its disgruntlement with the pro-corporate national Democratic Party.

This Labor Day tens of thousands of labor activists and their allies will participate in labor marches and picnics across the country in favor of Sanders’ candidacy. But except for endorsements from several progressive local trade unions, the South Carolina Central Labor Council, and the militant 200,000 member National Nurses Union, most established labor leaders have been silent about the Sanders candidacy or have endorsed his establishment opponent, former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. This despite Clinton’s roots in the neoliberal wing of the Democratic Party which is financially backed by Wall Street and has long fought to diminish labor’s influence in the Democratic coalition.

The Sanders effort is the most explicit pro-working class major campaign for president since Jessie Jackson’s Rainbow Coalition 1988 presidential run. His campaign insists that working people must fight back against the unceasing class war waged by corporate elites over the past 40 years. (Sanders is so focused on class injustice that he had to be pushed by #Black Lives Matter activists to explicitly address racial justice issues, such as mass incarceration and police brutality. He has now done so in a recent major addition to his campaign platform.)

Sanders’ platform differentiates him clearly from the centrist, pro-corporate candidacy of Hillary Clinton. Sanders supports raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour; he opposes “free trade” agreements that empower corporations and weaken labor rights and state regulation of corporate behavior; and he supports a “Medicare for All” health care system that would abolish the private health insurance sector. In contrast, Hillary Clinton has refused to unambiguously embrace any of these positions. Continue reading

Join DSA at the People’s Climate March

DSA at Occupy Wall Street

DSA at Occupy Wall Street

We’re counting down to the People’s Climate March on Sunday September 21!

Please confirm whether you will march with Democratic Socialists of America, meeting no later than 10am on Central Park West between 79th and 80th Streets.

DSAers are gathering in the “We Know Who Is Responsible” section of the march, along with other socialist organizations as well as anti-corporate, peace and justice, and other radical groups.

Why should you march with DSA rather than just going as an individual?

Because you know who is responsible and we need a large group so that our anti-capitalist critique is loud and clear!

We will bring signs with our anti-capitalist climate change slogans for you IF you confirm, once again, that you will march with DSA (RSVP HERE). We don’t want to waste resources making unneeded signs, so please don’t RSVP unless you definitely plan to show up no later than 10am between 79th and 80th on Central Park West.

Note: The police will close admission to each block on Central Park West once they deem it “full.” If the police won’t let you on that block you will be told to move north to an open block on Central Park West. Once you are on Central Park West you may be able to move south and find us, but given the expected size of the march that will be very difficult to do. So if we are to have a good sized group we need everybody to arrive on time!

Subways: note that Museum of Natural History takes up all blocks between 77th and 81st, Columbus Ave to Central Park West. There is a Museum Subway stop on the B and C trains, 81st Street, and also an exit on 79th St. at the museum. The exit to the street here is called “77th St” but it is actually at 79th St. You emerge either on 78th or 80th St. when you go up the ramp, so just look for street signs when you exit.

The People’s Climate March route is about 2 miles long and ends up on 11th Avenue.

What to bring:

Please bring your camera and take photos of us marching and tweet or post to your Facebook page about the march. Remember to mention you are with DSA.

Finally, there are still some out-of-town DSAers in need of housing. If you can provide a bed, a couch or even floor space for a marcher, and have not responded to a previous email on housing please email Alex Caring-Lobel (helloalexcl (at) gmail.com).

If you have questions you can call Frank Llewellyn (718-522-2269).

Maria Svart in national director of Democratic Socialists of America.

Continue reading

Remembering Martin Luther King: Rallying for the Robin Hood Tax

by Bill Barclay

Bill Barclay speaking at Chicago RHT rally

Bill Barclay speaking at Chicago RHT rally

April 4th was the Fiftieth anniversary of an event that we don’t like to remember: the assassination of Martin Luther King, Jr. But, it also offers the chance to honor and carry forward MLK’s thinking and goals, particularly the concerns with poverty and inequality that he articulated with increasing intensity in the last years of his life.

So, on April 4th there was a national mobilization around the Robin Hood Tax (RHT), the proposal for a very small tax on financial transactions in stocks, currencies, debt and derivatives, futures and options based on these financial claims. The RHT has two goals: raising a large amount of money to reconstruct the U.S. political economy in a way that serves most of the population and at, the same time, restricting or even eliminating some of the most destructive aspects of finance and financial activities by throwing a small amount of sand into the gears of always increasing and always going faster treading volumes.

Continue reading

The Socialists Who Made the March on Washington

by Harold Meyerson

English: at news briefing on the Civil Rights ...

English: at news briefing on the Civil Rights March on Washington in the Statler Hotel, half-length portrait, seated at table (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

Rustin, working both with and for the unchallenged leader of the civil-rights movement, the venerable A. Philip Randolph, became the central figure in taking that movement national. For Rustin and Randolph, as for King, Baker, Levison, Harrington, Horowitz, and Kahn, the challenge confronting African Americans was always two-fold: to tear down the legal edifice of segregation that imperiled and degraded Southern blacks, and to remake the American economy into a more egalitarian social democracy under which—and only under which—black Americans could actually prosper.

This was the genesis of the network of democratic socialists who seven years later were to conceive, organize, and set the themes for the March on Washington.

Read the detailed article.  http://prospect.org/article/socialists-who-made-march-washington

See march logistics in this  post.  Join us.

Join the March on Washington – Saturday

“You can’t talk about ending the slums without first saying profit must be taken out of the slums. . . . There must be a better distribution of wealth . . . and maybe America must move toward a democratic socialism.”

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., speech to the SCLC staff, Frogmore, S.C., November 14, 1966

MARCH We March for the American Dream – August 24

Democratic socialists Bayard Rustin, Walter Reuther and A. Philip Randolph (ABOVE)  helped organize the March on Washington for Jobs and Freedom 50 years ago.

They knew that ending legal segregation and winning political rights for African Americans were essential, but not sufficient, to ensure justice and freedom for all. Without access to good education, to health care and above all to decent jobs that paid living wages, the vote was not enough. Continue reading

DSA on The Daily Show

Maria Svart, national director of Democratic Socialists of America, appeared on Thursday night’s episode of The Daily Show.

You can view the clip here.

Vodpod videos no longer available.

Where is the Beef ? An open letter to Dan La Botz on DSA and the Democrats

Dear Dan,

What gives?

David Duhalde

As a member of Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), I am puzzled and disheartened by your criticisms of our organization in your article “Occupy the Democratic Party? No Way!”  This article, first published on New Politics, has gone viral on other blogs.  While we can speculate why it is so popular, certainly one reason can be your strength as a writer and another is the respect you command on the radical left.  Your arguments hold weight, so I believe it is important to engage you when you equate DSA’s activism with “gatekeeping” for the Democratic Party.  I know this to be false, as  I have been a DSA activist for nearly a decade and come out of electoral politics.

Obviously, the Democrats have shifted far to the right since the 1970s. You noted correctly that Nixon governed to the left of Barack Obama on domestic economic policies, though that had to do with the power of social movements and not any kindness on his part. I also agree that if the Occupy movement folds its efforts into the Democratic Party (which it probably won’t), all we’ve done so far might be for naught. I also know that getting an institutional left staff job does not necessarily make one an influential socialist, activist or even an effective do-gooder. Many DSAers, especially the younger activists in the organization, share these sentiments. Continue reading