2015 Douglass-Debs Dinner Brings Us Together Again

On Nov. 18, a diverse crowd of over 120 community activists and supporters enjoyed MADSA’s ninth annual Douglass-Debs Dinner. After an inspiring speech by Bob King, former president of the United Automobile Workers – and a guest appearance by Bernie/Daniel Hanley – we honored Fr. Roy Bourgeois, founder of School of the Americas Watch; former State Rep. Tyrone Brooks; and our own Minnie Ruffin. The dinner is our main fund raiser, which supports our expenses and allows us to donate to our coalition partners and other good causes. For more photos and MADSA chair Milt Tambor’s report on our year’s activities, click on “Read more.”

A TENTH YEAR ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATION – by Milt Tambor (from the Douglass-Debs Dinner program booklet)

Sen. Vincent Fort greets dinner guests.

Ten years ago, Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) members in the Atlanta area decided to formally organize as a local. We formed a steering committee, adopted bylaws and began to hold monthly meetings and public forums. During the first year, the forums addressed public policy issues that resonate loudly even today: health care, labor reform, immigrant rights and environmental and economic justice. Local issues focused on Georgia’s low minimum wage, Grady Hospital’s mission to serve the poor, and gentrification and homelessness in the city of Atlanta.

In June 2007, Metro Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America (MADSA) organized a fund-raiser for Bernie Sanders, who was campaigning for Vermont’s senate seat. During the Sunday afternoon house party, Bernie talked to us by phone, speaking passionately about economic justice issues with special emphasis on health care and a living wage. Following his election, Bernie joined us in person as the keynote speaker at our first Douglass-Debs Dinner. At the 2007 dinner, Bernie presented a detailed analysis of wealth and income inequality in the U.S., predating the Occupy Wall Street movement. He also laid out concrete policy proposals dealing with jobs, child care, health care, family leave, minimum wage and college tuition.

Fast forward to 2015: Bernie has decided to run for president. With his social democratic proposals on the political agenda, national DSA embraced his campaign fully, making it an organizational priority. Looking forward, the goal is to build a strong left movement that can be sustained beyond the election. In Atlanta, MADSA activists help launch the Georgia for Bernie Sanders (GFBS) campaign. A kickoff event in June at Manuel’s Tavern attracts over 130 activists from around the state. Another large crowd turns out to a mass meeting at a union hall to hear Bernie’s video address and participate in an impassioned speak-out. A core group, consisting of many MADSA members — but operating independently and apart from the national Sanders campaign — begins to coordinate outreach events, house meetings and workshops. Many also join as individuals with the 1,400 people who greet Bernie at a September fundraiser in Atlanta.

The campaign also provided an opportunity for MADSA to connect Bernie’s political perspective to democratic socialism. In a study circle, renamed “Socialist Dialogue” and entitled “Democratic Socialism and the Bernie Sanders Campaign,” we shared with about 50 people how the Socialist Party legacy and its leaders—Eugene Debs, Norman Thomas and Michael—Harringtonshaped Bernie’s politics.

During this past year, Socialist Dialogue programs covered other stimulating and relevant subjects: “Crisis and Opening — an Intensive Introduction to Marxism,” “Socialist Perspectives on Slavery and the New Jim Crow,” and “Climate Change — Alternatives to Capitalism.” These programs have so grown in popularity that we now use the larger venues of the Decatur Library and Decatur Recreation Center. For our meetings and public forums, our growing MADSA membership has found a home at the Open Door Community. The 2015 forums included: “Running for Office as a Progressive in Georgia,” “Capitalism v. Democracy: Money in Politics and the Free Market Constitution,” and “The Black Panthers, Vanguard of the Revolution.” To face this period’s critical challenges, MADSA members also participated in an internal discussion of a new proposed national strategy document, which was approved at the recent national DSA convention.

Our MADSA local is particularly proud of our young socialists. A Young Democratic Socialist (YDS) chapter has been active for a year at the University of Georgia, and a YDS chapter at Emory has started up. We also hosted a two-day YDS Southern Regional Conference that brought together young socialists from all over the country in workshops centered on organizing in the South. Earlier in the year, non-members interested in learning about socialism were invited to a MADSA open house, complete with lunch, putting the “social” in socialist. MADSA also co-sponsored screenings of two documentaries with the North Georgia Labor Council and Atlanta Jobs with Justice. The films, Shadows of Liberty and The Hand that Feeds, critically examined the role of media bias and showed the importance of community support in union organizing efforts.

Building a mass movement requires mobilizing protest actions, generating “street heat,” and collaborating with other progressive and grassroots organizations. Accordingly, our MADSA local took part in campaigns waged by Moral Monday: standing up against voter suppression, opposing the governor’s proposal to take over “failed” schools and demanding the expansion of Medicaid. We marched in solidarity with Black Lives Matter, calling for an end to racist police brutality. We joined with “Fight for $15” in rallies leading up to and including the April 15 day of action. We participated in the national mobilization to stop the Trans-Pacific Partnership when the talks took place in downtown Atlanta, and we supported Occupy Our Homes Atlanta in their community organizing work within the neighborhoods surrounding Atlanta’s core. For the third year, MADSA marched in the Pride Festival and staffed a very popular literature table.

The Douglass-Debs Dinner is our primary source of local funding. We use the proceeds to support our coalition partners and YDS chapters. Our newsletter Equality keeps our members and friends informed about our ongoing activities. Our website www.atlanta-dsa.org and our Facebook page provides detailed information about current projects and a link to the national organization at www.dsausa.org.

L to R: Fr. Roy Bourgeois, Tyrone Brooks, Minnie Ruffin and Barbara Joye

Tonight we are honored to have as our keynote speaker Bob King, president emeritus, United Auto Workers. We are privileged to present awards to Tyrone Brooks, former Representative of House District 55 and Roy Bourgeois, founder of the School of Americas Watch. [A surprise award for creative activism also goes to Minnie Ruffin, of Grandmothers for Peace, Ga. Peace and Justice Coalition, and Coalition for the People’s Agenda.] Special thanks to our officers and executive board: Greg Ames, Brandon Payton Carillo, Daniel Hanley, Barbara Joye, Travis Reid, Barbara Segal, Education Chair Ray Miklethun and Webmaster Bob Wohlhueter. Finally, we are grateful to the Dinner Committee, patrons, and all who made this evening possible. The growing interest in democratic socialism we have witnessed over the past ten years may indeed suggest that the promise of a truly democratic and progressive America can yet be realized.