Why I’m Renewing My DSA Dues

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Are you renewing your dues? Or thinking of joining? Join or renew here or switch to monthly dues here, sound off with #DSAdues on Twitter, or fill out this form to tell us your DSA and election-night stories.

By Zach Shearer

I remember feeling cold the morning after our country elected Donald Trump. It was 6 a.m. and I sat in my apartment’s living room with my laptop, trying not to shiver. This feeling was, in part, a physical one. My apartment was lined with large, drafty windows and they let in a lot of outside air, despite my roommate’s attempt at installing plastic wrap insulation. Chicago winters don’t mess around, not even in November.

The cold, however, was deeper than just a seasonal annoyance. It was an existential debilitation too. Just a month prior, I’d moved to Chicago from Montana where, two years out of college, I’d lived in my parents’ basement and delivered pizzas for a living. In Chicago, I met my two roommates through Craigslist. Other than them, the only Chicagoans I knew were my brother and a handful of friends I hadn’t seen since high school. To add to that, I’d just started a job working nights at an international hostel. When you’re forced onto a schedule that’s a full eight hours off from everyone around you, capitalism’s penchant for isolating people feels personal. I was physically in Chicago, but my time zone was the same as Japan’s. “Banished to the shadow realm” might sound dramatic, but not after months of never seeing the sun.

And now, like a rotten cherry on top of an already disgusting sundae, Donald Trump was President-elect.

I was cold. I knew I wanted to not be cold. I also knew that I wasn’t the only cold person and that I wanted to help out with the general coldness problem.  So, like many others that day, I said ‘screw it’ and joined an organization I’d heard about from my brother, the Democratic Socialists of America.

It took awhile for things to really get going with the DSA. A couple weeks after paying my first year’s worth of dues, I joined a phone conference on how to get involved. A month or so after that, my brother and I went to a potluck where we met our first DSA members in person, who quickly became our friends. Then there was a Christmas party where we smashed a Donald Trump pinata into pieces and DSA pins poured out of his mangled torso.

There were hiccups in those early months. Many of the meetings and events didn’t fit my schedule. The ones that I could make were often over packed and not always productive. I never got my official socialist organizer card in the mail (If any DSA staffers are reading this: it’s okay, I forgive you).

But the good outweighed the bad. By a lot. I now had friends and a way to spend my time. Rather than staying home and watching Netflix or heading out to watch improv shows by myself, I hung out with my friends, my comrades. We went to O’Hare and stood together after Trump’s Muslim travel ban. We counter-protested NIMBY a-holes in Jefferson Park. We celebrated Jeremy Corbyn’s win together. In September, I organized my first event ever—a camping trip to the nearby Indiana Dunes. I now belonged to a community. That was no small thing, both for me personally and for the DSA in general. If you’re trying to build a movement, if you’re trying to gain power, there is no better foundation than an inviting and open community that cares for its members.

On November 9th, I’ll have been a dues paying member of the DSA for a year. I plan on re-upping my membership. Most likely I will switch to monthly dues. There are many reasons why I plan on continuing with the DSA and I have lots of stories from the past year that exemplify those reasons. But there is one story that sticks out. It doesn’t have anything to do with politics or activism, at least not really (I know, I know—the personal is political). But it has everything to do with why joining the DSA was the best decision I made last year.

On the morning of July 5th, my apartment building caught fire.

The blaze started in the room next to mine. The cause is still unknown. When it started, I was in my room, half-asleep and wondering which asshole was barbecuing already—July 4th was yesterday. I finally snapped out of it, opened my eyes,  and saw flames and black smoke billowing from my roommate’s window. I leapt up, fell down trying to put on some pants, and then checked my bedroom door. Maybe the fire isn’t actually that big?

When I opened the door, I saw nothing but a wall of thick black smoke.

I escaped out my window. We were on the first floor so it was a short drop, plus the window was screenless so I was able to get out quick. I was incredibly lucky. Even still, I suddenly stood in the street, watching my home burn down with nothing but my clothes, phone, and the mismatched shoes—one green, one black—I’d grabbed in my panic. No socks. Or renter’s insurance.

Of course, I did what every Millennial would and posted about it to Facebook and Twitter.

Minutes later, a friend of mine, a woman who I met at my first DSA party only six months prior texted me “how can we support you rn?” Not I, but we. She didn’t need to say it but what she was really asking was, how can Chicago DSA support you? How can your comrades support you?

I had a plethora of helping hands. I received multiple offers of places to stay by day’s end and I ended up crashing in a spare room from a woman who I met in our Environmental Justice Working Group. I was also offered replacement items: clothes, blankets, furniture. More than I needed. And when my dad set up a YouCaring page for me to help with costs, the names on the donation list was peppered with comrades I’d met—often people I’d only met once or twice, if at all.

To be clear, I received support from people outside of the DSA as well: friends, family, folks from my old church, high school and college buddies, people from my gym, and I’m incredibly grateful to all of them. But the kindness and generosity I received from the DSA was, save for my family, singular in its frequency, its immediacy, and how unquestioning it was. Solidarity in practice.

So that’s why I’m re-upping my dues. There are other reasons too, of course. I want to dismantle the system that’s ruining our planet. I want everybody to have free healthcare and housing. I want to end racism, sexism, and discrimination based on sexual orientation. And the DSA is fighting for all of that. That’s why I joined in the first place.

But when it comes down to it, what I really want is people standing by my side as we continue to struggle. And from what I’ve found, the DSA is chock-full of those people and they’ve already proven how lovely they are. They’re why I’m sticking around.

It’s been a year now since I sat in my living room, cold and angry. And honestly, I’m still pretty angry. ICE, endless shootings, neo-Nazis, and a demented President make it hard not to be. The difference is that, as I write this, wrapped in one of the blankets my comrade gifted me, I don’t feel so cold. In fact, I’m actually feeling a little warm.

Are you renewing your dues? Or thinking of joining? Join or renew here or switch to monthly dues here, sound off with #DSAdues on Twitter, or fill out this form to tell us your DSA and election-night stories.