Monday, December 20, 2010

LA Socialist Local Holds Organizing Meeting (Discussion with Mimi Soltysik, Local Chair)

(originally published at OpEdNews)

The Los Angeles County Local of The Socialist Party of The United States of America held an organizing meeting in LA on December 11, 2010.

I attended the meeting to capture for OEN what American Socialists are doing to free us from the one party, two name corporate dictatorship under which the American government operates. In the name of full disclosure, I am also a member of The SPUSA, but not of the LA County local.

In attendance at the meeting were Lynn Lomibao and Rich Fuller, leaders of The Feminist & Family Services Committee, Mohammed Arif, leader of The Muslim Affairs Committee, Justin Simons, leader of the Youth Action Committee and Lauren Avery, Gay and Lesbian Affairs Committee leader.

Also at the meeting was Stewart Alexander, The SPUSA’s 2008 vice presidential candidate. Stewart’s presence seemed to have an invigorating affect on the others in attendance.

The meeting was Chaired by Mimi Soltysik, Chair of the LA County Local of the Socialist Party.

I caught up with Mimi a few days after the meeting to ask him about the goals set at the meeting and his impression of how much longer Americans can exist under a corporate dictatorship.

MB: Mimi, thanks for taking the time to talk to me. I hope that this doesn’t take more than an hour of your time. I know you’ve got some recruiting to do.

MS: Rock it, my friend.

MB: How many people actually belong to Socialist Party of the United States of America and how many belong to your local?

MS: Your first question would probably be best directed to Greg Pason at national. He probably has the most accurate numbers.

I know that in the 2008 general election, there were 6,528 votes cast for Brian Moore and Stewart Alexander.

As far as the L.A. Local is concerned, the best figure I can give you is the number of those registered in the state, which I believe is right around 100.

Numbers haven't been a huge part of the focus in the first six or seven weeks that I've been in this position. Organizing a foundation that can be built upon has been the primary focus to this point and we’re starting to see some results in that area

MB: If not in numbers, how are you measuring your results? In what ways have these results manifested themselves?

MS: A few things we've been able to do in the first weeks.

We have a Facebook page up and running which has acted as an information hub.

We’ve been posting releases on places like Indy Media to let the general public know that the Socialist Party in Los Angeles is up and running, that there’s an active presence in Los Angeles with an infrastructure positioned to move forward with the Socialist agenda.

We have people in place who are motivated to carry out the Socialist agenda in the context of their particular fields of interest.

We organized and carried out our first meeting in Los Angeles, which you were a part of, to set up issue-specific committees intended to carry forth a plan of action in the community. People have volunteered to run with those committees and these volunteers are already meeting and setting up dates for future plans of action to have a positive impact in the Los Angeles County.

We are seeing this with the Feminism / Family Services Committee, the Youth Action Committee, and the Gay and Lesbian Committee.

We have a goal, which is to reach 10,000 Los Angeles residents who have registered with the Socialist Party in a one year time period.

Having said all of this, we are still in need of help, which we are actively seeking. Los Angeles County is the largest in the country and as I mentioned in the meeting, we need a sizable cadre of members to run with the Socialist agenda, to reach every pocket of the County, to provide examples of how the Socialist Party is determined to satisfy the needs of the working class, the impoverished, the hungry, the disenfranchised. As Chair of the Los Angeles Local, I can only hope to facilitate this process.

MB: Well, I think I may have asked the wrong question or I’m not understanding the meaning of that last answer. There are 10,000 registered Socialists in LA?

MS: Oh no. I think there are roughly 100 registered in the state of California. The goal is 10,000 by the end of 2011.

A goal of 10,000 registered in the city of Los Angeles.

MB: That makes more sense. I was going to ask why those 10,000 didn't vote for the Socialists.

MS: I think that there were less than 7,000 who voted Socialist nationwide in the '08 general election.

MB: 6,528 votes is a far cry from the 900,000 votes that Gene Debs was able to receive at the beginning of last century. What do you think happened to those Socialists and, judging from the activity in the LA area, is there anything that can be done to recapture what Debs was able to bring to Socialism?

MS: Let me start by saying that my answers are purely my own and that I give great deference to Greg Pason and Stewart Alexander, as well as Lynn Lomibao and others active in the Party.

I believe that the political and social climate is considerably different now than when Eugene Debs garnered 900,000 votes across the country. Third parties haven’t had a lot of success in the U.S. as of late.

MB: That's putting it mildly.

MS: It appears that corporate politics has really got a stranglehold on the electorate.

Ballot access is incredibly difficult, the debates are a joke and the Democrats and Republicans have been highly effective, along with mainstream media, at erasing third party politics from the collective consciousness of the general public.

But, that can sound like an excuse.

We have to become more active on a personal and then a collective level.

MB: What's the connection between the locals and the national party?

MS: They make themselves available when I have questions and request literature. More than anything else, they seem to be comfortable with the autonomy of the Los Angeles Local. Which we all greatly appreciate. Not that we aren't open to working with them on a more frequent basis, but they're 3,000 miles away, so it might be difficult to run every decision by them in real time.

Stewart Alexander, the California Chair, is always there to offer support and advice.

MB: So the SPUSA supports the locals instead of the other way around?

MS: With 100 registered Socialists in California, I don't know how much more we can offer at this point aside from moral support and our commitment to build the Party to be the success we all know it can be.

Los Angeles is the largest county in the country and if we walk the walk, we should be able to accomplish this.

MB: How many locals are there in the US and do any approach the size of LA?

MS: That would definitely be a question for Greg Pason. Geographically, we might cover more area than other locals, but I suspect that, at this point, there are other locals in the country that have a greater membership than L.A. We really are starting fresh.

MB: CA is known for its "progressive" leanings, yet with Prop 8 and the recent ban on pot, it may not be as progressive as many think. Do you think that LA may be an easier target than an east coast target? Do you think we can ever get the Midwest to actually lead the charge again? Sorry, I think I asked three questions.

And by target, I mean is LA more open to Socialistic ideals.

MS: I think that for far too many, Los Angeles is a struggle. A struggle to pay rent, a struggle to find a job, a struggle to feed a family. As a result, Socialism is an approach that would offer the types of solutions many need. I think Los Angeles offers a tremendous opportunity to have a positive effect as far as quality of life is concerned. I would agree, however, that the perception of Los Angeles being highly progressive politically is somewhat off base.

MB: So, are you finding more acceptance? Is 10,000 a reasonable goal? Or is 10,000 an ambitious goal?

MS: I think 10,000 is both ambitious and achievable. We've got roughly 10,000,000 residents in Los Angeles County. I think that, once the full court press is in effect, 10,000 will appear all the more likely.

I don’t know, historically, how much effort has been put into recruitment in Los Angeles County. I know that effort will be placed on recruitment in L.A. County.

MB: Fear of Socialism probably started when Wilson wouldn't support the Bolsheviks. Communism, which Americans were told was going on in Russia, began to be equated with Socialism. Then came Stalin and he was a scary dude. McCarthy took off on that. Khrushchev and Kennedy heightened the fear and, judging from the ridiculous ad campaign against universal health care, that fear of Socialism has been branded into the American brain. Do you think an unwarranted fear of "communism" is the biggest hurdle you have to overcome?

Or just the word Socialism?

MS: Maybe the perceived correlation between Socialism and Stalinism. However, the further removed the general public is from the Cold War, it would make sense that Socialism would be discussed in a context that has less and less to do with Stalinism. To be honest with you, what I find most shocking is those on the far left who continue to reiterate this problem. It seems to drive home the notion that such a problem exists. It may exist to Glen Beck and those who find him credible, but I think we’re finding ourselves moving into a new era. It’s becoming much more difficult for the mainstream media to sell the idea that Chávez and Morales are bogeymen, in my opinion.

We may never see the day where the majority of Fox viewers embrace Socialism and that’s okay.

We need to see the day where equality is a reality for the people of this country.

MB: More difficult to sell the idea?

MS: I think that, if we stop painting the possible embrace of Socialism as impossible, we’ve already crossed a major hurdle.

If you present the Party platform to people, they can, and often do, decide for themselves that this is an option that meets their basic needs.

I do believe that people are fed up with corporate politics. They’re fed up, they’re tired and they’re angry. We need to unify and fight. The time for concession is over. Fat cats have had fun at the expense of the working class for way too long and I think people will gradually become more amenable to what Socialism has to offer.

MB: A little while back, you mentioned that people on the left are actually heightening the fear of Socialism. I’ve read both the SPUSA and Green Party platforms. They’re almost interchangeable. And there’s strength in numbers. Have there been any overtures either way? It seems as if the Green Party name tends to make it appear to be a one issue party. Are they not really Socialists as well?

MS: People may think the Green Party is primarily focused on environmental issues, but like you said, their platform is pretty comprehensive. I think there are some Socialist ideals included in the Green Party platform. I don't know that they capture the demand for equality in quite the same way the Socialist Party does.

In my opinion, the time for concession has reached its conclusion.

MB: Really. It sounds as if it’s been tried, then.

MS: I can’t speak on behalf of the efforts of others. Personally, I admire many who’ve run on Green Party tickets, but I don’t know how much effort has been placed on uniting the two parties.

MB: Maybe the word scares them a bit, as well. In CA, the Peace And Freedom Party had a platform much like yours. Was the Peace and Freedom party representing the Socialist Party? Was there a connection?

MS: I know that Stewart Alexander had a past connection with the Peace and Freedom Party.

As far as this new incarnation of the Los Angeles Local is concerned, there has been no connection.

Our primary focus is organizing and achieving the level of unity required to take this fight to the streets.

MB: OK so there’s that unity again. And the Greens and PAFP are so close to Socialists. I won't belabor that point anymore, though.

MS: There’s no problem with coalition building, in my opinion. We’re open to that.

I was happy to know that many friends voted for Carlos Alvarez.

MB: Let’s look at the other end of the spectrum. Having made use of the phrase "nanny state", Libertarians say that Socialism flies in the face of America’s “can do” attitude. How do you answer the “nanny stat” argument?

MS: I think that the corporate elite have a much better idea of what a nanny state looks like than the working class.

MB: Touché. Does part of your messaging speak to the basic misconception of Socialism=USSR?

MS: To be honest with you, what I find most shocking is those on the far left who continue to reiterate this problem. It seems to drive home the notion that such a problem exists.

I’m not saying that this perception doesn’t exist. It does.

What I am saying is that we intend to focus on what Socialism is and what it offers the working class. If we can collectively concentrate on that, I think we’ll start to see real progress.

I think we know why many connect socialism to Stalinism and it’s time to let that connection die. It’s an absurd connection.

MB: If you were to compare your ultimate goal, would it line up more with what Marx, Engels and Trotsky wrote about or more with what Scandinavia, especially the Swedes, have done?

MS: I think that Marx, Engels and Trotsky can’t be ignored. But, many in the United States have a very limited knowledge of who these people are and what they stand for. We have a responsibility to present those historical examples in a way that’s palatable and practical for the daily life of the working class. With an educated and empowered working class, I think we’ll see something a bit different from the sorts of Socialism practiced in the rest of the world. We can maintain an identity, while still adhering to Socialist principles.

I think the goal is to experience what a Socialist United States might look and feel like.

The people of the U.S. can be tremendously caring, charitable and sensitive.

The government and the media have enacted a masterful campaign of misinformation.

No more. Now, we can and should look to other Socialist countries in Europe with an open mind. Evidence shows that they enjoy a quality of life that we don’t experience here.

MB: The Greens have been going at it for quite a few years now and are very proud when they make any inroads. However, do we still have time in this country to build up slowly? We’re not in the same position we were in after the ’29 Depression. Manufacturing was still here back then. We’ve obviously lost it to cheaper labor. So, does the SPUSA have any plans to fast track its movement? I know this sounds like a question for Greg, right?

I fear that this country can’t really wait another 30 years for a paradigm shift.

MS: I hear what you’re saying and I agree. We intend to maintain a radical and revolutionary position and be as timely as possible. The mechanisms in place to deter this sort of movement are institutionalized and that’s an enormous factor. Many of us in the Los Angeles local spend a lot of time looking at our watches, wondering how we could’ve made better use of our time to push forth the agenda. I promise you that we take this seriously. It’s incredibly difficult to look in the mirror that you bought when you know that your neighbor is sleeping in his or her car.

Screw that. That’s unacceptable.

And, it’s disgusting.

Many who are much brighter than I have attempted to change this system, and I try to maintain a sense of reality. But I’m sincere when I say that the expectations couldn’t be higher.

MB: Agreed. Are there any “big spenders” in the LA area that you can access? For example, Bill Maher seems to be moving more and more to the left. Would it be possible to access him? And I know there have to be others.

MS: I think Bill Maher is funny, but I’m not sure he’d be willing to align himself with the Socialist Party. He has a boss. Do you remember seeing Michael Moore and Bill Maher on their knees begging Ralph Nader to drop out of the 2004 election?

Pretty gross, man.

MB: I don’t think that’s going to happen much more often. Yes I remember. Don’t you think that people have been duped enough by this “drop out or you'll screw it up for the Democrats” ploy? The Democrats have proven they drink from the same trough as the other guys.

MS: I’m not sure. I thought that might be the case in ‘08 until I looked at the numbers for Nader and McKinney. I know I’m not the first to say this, far from it, but Obama really laid an amazing marketing campaign on the people.

MB: I’ve fallen for it twice in a row and I thought I was smarter than that. But who didn’t want to be in on electing the first Black president, right? It’s proven to be a bust, hasn’t it?

MS: Man, I thought, and think, that Cynthia McKinney is a rad lady.

The real McCoy.

MB: I hope that we are all getting smarter than that.

MS: I hope so too. I’m optimistic. I know I’ve told you this before, but I was humbled by the effort you took to make it to our meeting. That has to be a good sign, doesn’t it? That a man in Antioch is willing to purchase a plane ticket to attend a Socialist Party meeting in Los Angeles?

A handful more Michael Bonannos and we're in business!!!

MB: Thanks. I have a lot of questions, but, as you say, many of them might better be asked of Greg. Thanks for giving me your time and you know I wish you all the luck in the world surpassing your goal.

MS: Thank you very much!! I look forward to the article.

MB: Have a good night, man.

MS: You too, my friend.


I, too, was humbled by Zolystik's compliment and, as mentioned, I did make the one day flight from the Bay Area to LA to report what happened at the Socialist meeting to OEN readers.


However, as a fairly new member of the party, I wanted to see what kind of “tyrannical” organization I’d joined. I suspected I didn’t join a tyrannical organization at all and, boy, howdy, was I right!


The number attending the meeting was small as one would imagine with a total of only 100 in the local party. However, they made up for their size with their enthusiasm. One would have thought that there was another million out there that maybe just couldn’t make the meeting.


There was none of the dry, whiny, cynical speech that we hear on C-Span everyday from Congress. There was fresh, passionate and very confident talk from these few Socialists.


I’ve heard that Democrats get into office and they try to make things right. It was FDR that started the social contract with Americans and, if one would listen to Democratic Party apologists, any Republicans who’ve been elected have worked hard to overturn those social contracts. The Democrats put money into public education and Republicans are elected and take it out and that’s why our education system is so broken.


Republicans purposely run up the deficit so that, when Democrats take over, they can point to that deficit and say, “We can't sustain these social “entitlements” that the Democrats want because we have to get the deficit down.”


Do you hear what the Democratic Party apologists are doing? They’re blaming the voters for the Democrats’ lack of accomplishing anything while they hold office.


Until Barack Obama became president, I thought that the best Republican president we ever had was Bill Clinton. Obama plays even more nicely with those who can’t make it any clearer that they want to promote anything but the progressive fixes that America sorely needs.


I ask the Democratic Party apologists, “After the two farces which were the 110th and 111th Congresses of The United States, do you still think that it’s as simple as “fixing the Democratic Party?” Really?


It's a crap shoot, dudes. Keep voting for Democrats until we get a majority of progressives. Under the American system of politics, that could never happen. Each and every Democrat and Republican in Congress is a wholly owned subsidiary of someone other than the people of the United States. Neither branch of that party, The Corporatocracy, wants to change the system as it pays off for each and every one of them in the end, one way or another.


The rumor is that Comcast is ultimately going to buy MSNBC. As tepid as MSNBC is, it’s the closest thing that people who want to live in a society, not a serfdom, have.


So here’s the deal. Mr. Olbermann, Mr. Soros, Mr. Hartmann, Ms Maddow, Ms Goodman, Mr. Chomsky, Mr. Moyer, Mr. Schultz, Ms. Huffington, Mr. Buffet, Mr. O'Donnell, Mr. Maher, Mr. Redford, Ms. Rhodes, Mr. Nader, Mr. Moore, Senator Sanders, Representative Kucinich, Mr. Donohue and all others who have so much more than we, the working class, can’t you challenge Comcast and buy MSNBC and run it as a worker owned cooperative? You, of course, would be the workers.


To paraphrase a line from The American President, when one looks at members of Congress, the Executive and the Judiciary, we see many people who claim to love America but who obviously hate Americans.

To the good people I mention above, I implore you, stop speaking for us and start working with us.


We need a new social order. We need a real "Great Society". We need Democratic Socialism. It is the only true "we" society.


To friendship,
Michael

“Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.” - Oscar Wild
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