Monday, June 24, 2024

State Rep. Mike Connolly speaks at an April 15, 2017, rally on Cambridge Common. (Photo: Marc Levy)

As the saying goes, “we all make mistakes.” And I think the faction of the Boston Democratic Socialists of America that has filed written charges  against state Rep. Mike Connolly to demand his expulsion from that chartered local of a national political organization to the left of the Democratic Party has just made a big one.

Happily, as is typical in such situations, it’s not too late for Connolly’s antagonists to reverse course and save face. So I recommend they withdraw their charges and apologize publicly for their ill-considered action before the July 23 general meeting of Boston DSA when their expulsion motion is slated to be voted on by members.

Why? Because they’re unfairly maligning a popular and successful politician who has done more to help the working people of both his Cambridge and Somerville district and Massachusetts overall in the Legislature than any state representative in recent memory (this week alone, leading the drive to convince Gov. Maura Healey’s administration to push back work on a McGrath Highway bridge that would have shut down the green line extension spur to Union Square; the state failed to provide sufficient alternative public transportation options for stranded commuters at the same time the Sumner Tunnel was being shut down for repairs). But also because Connolly is not someone who anyone claiming to be a socialist should treat like some sort of pariah. He is the senior socialist elected official in the state, and the best possible regional standard bearer for an organization that’s aiming at being the “big tent” of American left-of-center politics.

Big in this case being just under 100,000 members nationwide a few years back. Smaller now at around 80,000, according to DSA’s own numbers as analyzed by a supporter in March, and visibly diminished locally in the last couple of years.

Compare that with 48 million U.S. registered voters identifying as Democrats and 36.4 million as Republicans (with Massachusetts fielding 1.4 million Dems and 436,000 Repubs) in October 2022, according to Ballotpedia.

The point being that while I believe, based on U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders’ performance as a presidential candidate, that the socialist, green and anarchist left that describes the “small-d” democratic and anticapitalist wing of American politics is much larger than 100,000 people, it is still vanishingly small compared with the two major capitalist parties. In fact, many of DSA members are also registered Democrats, and some of its most prominent factions work hard to move the Democratic Party to the left rather than start a new left-wing third party (a subject of much internal debate). And, as with the big parties, only a fraction of its members are actually politically active at any given time.

Which is worth underscoring here. The tiny faction of the shrinking chapter of the smallish group in question is trying to purge Connolly as if it is somehow in leadership of not just a political party, but a ruling political party – in some kind of Soviet-style communist regime that is the antithesis of the beloved community DSA is supposed to be trying to build in what their members believe will be the better socialist and democratic future to come.

A bad look, to be sure, reflecting especially poorly on a nonprofit organization that has not managed to convince even many longtime independent socialists such as myself to join its ranks through the recent years of its relative resurgence, or made much headway toward inspiring, say, 5 percent of the 13.2 million people that voted for Bernie Sanders in the 2016 presidential primaries (his top performance) to start paying dues. Let alone recruiting a more substantial portion of registered Democrats to come on board (or at least vote for its candidates more consistently) and reaching out to the solid chunk of working-class Republicans that would have to move left for there to be a sufficiently robust socialist camp in American politics to actually effect meaningful and lasting political change.

These are milestones DSA will never reach, or help a broader left movement to reach, if its national leaders allow its local groups to commit political suicide the way its Hub outpost could be on the verge of doing. Though it may be too late for the organization’s top officials to intervene.

Given the media firestorm that has erupted around Boston DSA since Connolly brought this matter to the court of public opinion Wednesday, it’s not clear the chapter will survive the crisis its newly elected coordinating committee created by allowing the expulsion vote to move forward in the first place. But BDSA would have a much better chance of getting past this unfortunate incident as a functioning formation if the local members who made the charges against one of the only two Massachusetts state representatives in their corner would simply withdraw them and say they’re sorry.

If that were to happen, it would be a sign to fellow Bay State leftists outside Boston Democratic Socialists of America and members of the general public not already turned off by what has transpired thus far that the group had enough maturity to stop itself at the precipice of political oblivion and start repairing its damaged reputation … rather than hurling itself over the edge. And that would be a good start on the road back to relevancy for DSA hereabouts.


Apparent Horizon is an award-winning political column syndicated by the MassWire news service of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism, where a version of this essay ran. Jason Pramas is executive director of the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and editor of the Somerville Wire. A photojournalist by trade, he is also a longtime labor and community activist.