Because of the somewhat reserved nature of leadership in the Democratic Socialists of America, and because it is a brewing scandal that recent events have shown no sign of calming, I wanted to make clear my personal thoughts on the issue of Danny Fetonte’s continued presence on the DSA’s national political committee. It should be perfectly clear that these are my opinions alone, and that I do not speak for the membership of Chicago DSA, its Executive Committee (of which I am co-chair), or the Northside branch (of which I am a member).
Regardless of the vote by the current members of the NPC, it is my opinion — which I have voiced publicly before and will not hesitate to do again — is that Danny Fetonte must go. Now that the NPC has failed to expel him, a decision for which there will be consequences moving forward, I will support and do everything I can to move forward a Special National Convention to achieve that goal, as provided for in the DSA’s constitution.
I do not believe Danny Fetonte has done anything that would justify expulsion from the DSA, and I would protest strongly any attempt to do so. I believe those who vouch for his hard work, his character, and his efforts in organizing the Austin chapter and its activities; whether or not he remains in a leadership position in Austin is the decision of the Austin chapter and no one else’s. However, it is not his dedication, his character, or his intentions that we are discussing here; it is his work with police unions, and, more crucially, his decision to obfuscate that work in his biography while running for NPC. I have no reason to doubt that Danny Fetonte is a good man, or that there are degrees of moral shading to the work of representing police unions. What I doubt is that we can trust him in light of his failure to disclose this work, and whether our reputation can withstand a poor handling of this issue.
Is the act of working with police or prison worker unions inherently disqualifying? It’s a complicated issue, to be sure, and a debate to be had. It is, indeed, an issue on which I have only recently come to change my mind — in the direction of saying it is, in fact, prohibitive. The DSA has been remarkably welcoming to people of all professions; we have in our ranks members and even leaders who work for or have profited from destructive capitalist enterprises, including finance, defense, tech, and manufacturing. We have landlords in the DSA. We have bankers in the DSA. We have bosses and soldiers in the DSA, and all manner of people who profit from rent-seeking behavior, inheritance, and other forms of wealth that do not produce social goods.
And we have been, in my view, extraordinarily welcoming to them, on the assumption that no matter how deeply you are involved in the repressive nature of capitalism, you can be a valuable instrument of combating it outside of that work. However, police must be a different matter. They are, and always have been, the most direct instrument of capitalism for enforcing the will of the monied class, let alone their poisonous role in propagating class division, racism, misogyny, and violent homophobia. I have personally been the victim of police brutality, as have dozens of my colleagues — many of them working-class people of color. We can argue over whether or not the police as individuals can be good comrades, or if the police as an institution should survive the revolution, but we cannot argue that there is at present a role for the police or their union representatives in the currently constituted DSA, particularly in light of the fact that we are even now working hard to protect our internal security, engaging in a high-profile campaign against police brutality, and calling, with our comrades of color in the new Afro-Socialist Caucus, for an abolition of prisons.
Even beyond that, there is the question of Danny Fetonte‘s judgment in this matter. He may be a good comrade and a good man, but what does it say about him that he soft-pedal the nature of his work, referring to it only as representing “state workers”? What does it say that he did not openly discuss his work and either defend it or disown it? What does it say that he did not willingly disclose this work and allow the delegates to decide for themselves whether they would vote for a representative of a police union? And what does it say that he has continually dug in against all criticism, blaming everyone — the internet, the DSA’s younger members, a shadowy cabal of haters determined to bring him down — except himself? No one who read his public statements, listened to the hagiography of him at an Austin branch meeting led by himself, or saw his entrenchment and contempt for the will of his comrades could possibly think he has the best interests of the DSA in mind at this point.
At best, he elided his record in a crime of omission; at worst, he engaged in an act of deliberate concealment. This makes him look bad; it makes us look bad; and it makes the DSA look bad. It also brings to question why he would run in the first place, knowing that he had such a potentially damaging past. If he didn’t think his work for police unions would be an issue, he is guilty of misunderstanding the direction of the DSA and the strongly held beliefs of his comrades; if he did think about it and intentionally hid it, he is guilty of misleading them. I cannot see supporting him, whichever is the case. He decided to run despite the fact that he knew there was something easily discoverable in his past that would cause harm to the organization. This, in my view, shows a selfish nature and very poor judgment. Even if there is nothing more than the perception of wrongdoing, that perception is of paramount importance, particularly at this critical time in the DSA’s history.
Having said all this, it is important that we keep the matter of his presence on the NPC in perspective. He is one man, and one man who faces the open hostility of his entire organization. There is a limit to what he can do in the two years he will be seated, even if we don’t find a way to remove him; indeed, his sitting alone and isolated in a position of restricted authority where no one even wants to speak with him may be a worst-case scenario. Austin should do what they can to manage him, and both the NPC and the lay membership should do anything in their powers to either remove him or quarantine him, but the idea that this is a doomsday scenario that will spell the end of the DSA is alarmist rubbish. Anyone familiar with the history of leftist organization knows that crises of leadership date back to the lifetime of Karl Marx at the absolute latest, and it is a sign of immaturity to storm out in a huff the first time you run into a roadblock. What tools we have for dealing with Fetonte should be ruthlessly employed, and what tools we lack can be created and exercised democratically; taking your ball and going home is the easiest thing to do, and not coincidentally, the least effective.
Likewise, the idea of a dues strike will harm the effectiveness of an organization that is overwhelmingly against Fetonte. Hundreds of us are finding ways to do whatever we can to force him out, and most of us are volunteers who do enormous amounts of work for the DSA for free — indeed, at significant personal expense. Why punish us for the misdeeds of one man, particularly as we’re in the middle of trying to find a way to do the very thing you’re trying to get us to do? And as long as we’re on the topic, anyone who’s using the Fetonte situation to settle personal or ideological beefs — or, worse yet, to engage in showmanship, ego-gratifying publicity, or brand-building — can join him in receiving the contempt of the membership. Learn the meaning of solidarity before you start tossing it around as a catch-phrase, and remember that what you have in common with Danny Fetonte is that you’re making the DSA all about you and not about building a better world through socialism.
To conclude: I scarcely need to go over the dismal history of police infiltration and destruction of leftist organizations. This is not the first, last, or only time we will have to deal with a cop in our midst or a reactionary in our leadership; but it is our best opportunity to equip ourselves with the finest tools for extracting them. The best outcome here is that Danny Fetonte does the right thing and resigns immediately from the NPC. If he does not — a decision that would, again, seem to indicate that he places his own ego above the needs of the DSA — I will do what I can to support any tactic that results in removing him from the leadership. Fetonte and his most extreme detractors are both wrong; he isn’t the most important thing about the Democratic Socialists of America. He has a chance to prove it by leaving voluntarily; they have a chance to prove it by supporting the organization while we work to get rid of him if he doesn’t.