Justin Charles

Justin Charles

Co-Chair Candidate

I'm a cisgender, heterosexual, able-bodied black man. I grew up in Orange, New Jersey, raised by a black American mother and a Haitian immigrant father. I'm an adjunct faculty member at Parsons School of Design where I teach design history & theory and I’m a rank-and-file member of the adjunct faculty union there, UAW-7902. I'm also a software developer and interaction designer.

I came to socialism in a roundabout way. My politics up until last year would probably best be described as social democratic. I knew what socialism meant, I had even read the Manifesto, but if you asked me what a socialist was in practice I'd have told you it was a guy in a room with some other guys discussing books and feeling smugly superior. I had no idea what it meant to actually be a socialist.

Then the Sanders campaign happened. Hearing the 'S' word associated with a platform that spoke to our everyday struggles and offered an inspiring vision planted the idea in my head that maybe the kind of world I wanted was possible. I saw folks who I'd never known to care about politics engaged for the first time because of Bernie. I began to notice more rose emojis on Twitter and learned about DSA.

And then Trump won. Between November and January, I was awakening to the necessity to engage in politics in a new way. I'd always shown up at the polls, for off-year elections, local elections, you name it. But the failure of the liberal establishment to provide an adequate alternative to a reality-TV personality real estate con artist led me to question why we gave them so much power.

The inauguration came and went. The Women's March, heartening as it was, left me wondering what more could be done. Then the Travel Ban came down, and I was enraged. When I saw that people were flocking to JFK that morning, I decided to join them. It was extremely cold and I hadn't worn enough layers but I was amazed by what I saw. People from various left organizations with their signs, chanting in solidarity with the people being held in the airport. Taxi drivers striking and causing a traffic jam. I felt connected with everyone in that crowd.

When I found out later that the legal challenges to the ban led to some victories, I remembered all those people and the power I felt out there in the cold with them. That feeling of solidarity built by standing together against injustice with other everyday people was exactly what I needed.

I went to my first DSA meeting the next week. I could not believe the number of people in that room. Like me, folks were fired up after the show of solidarity at airports around the country. People talked about the campaigns they were engaged in. There was chanting. I paid my dues about a month later.

Even though I was a newcomer in NYC-DSA, I got to work right away. I joined the Electoral Working Group’s Candidate Recruitment Committee, served on the interim OC for the Media Working Group, where I built web projects for campaigns and coordinated web developers & designers. I assisted with the B&H Campaign through constituent outreach to District 34 Councilman Antonio Reynoso. I participated in our local and national conventions.

When I got back from Chicago, I helped found the North Brooklyn branch alongside an amazing group of organizers I barely knew and who I now consider some of my closest comrades. I was elected to two positions, and have served as both co-chair and steering committee representative of our branch since. Establishing a new branch of DSA is a lot of work, and I had never done something like it before. But somebody had to do it so I stepped up.

I’ve seen so many people step up in the past year and do what needed to be done and I’ve learned that that’s what it’s gonna take, over and over. That’s why I’m running. I’m running for co-chair because this is an organization in which we all have it in us to take action and become someone we didn’t know we were. We can all lead, serve, organize, learn from one another and figure out our next steps—together

My vision for this chapter is one in which every member really feels a sense of ownership and pride in what we are building. We’ll be deeply participatory, creating levels of engagement for every member no matter how little or how much time they have, how deep they wish to dive. We will be continuously recruiting and onboarding new members into the life of the chapter and equipping them with the skills and knowledge they need to contribute to our campaigns and organize in their buildings, neighborhoods, and workplaces. We’ll intentionally develop outreach strategies to diversify our membership and put down roots in our communities. We will create a culture of organizers constantly seeking to organize themselves out of a job by relentlessly developing new leaders. We’ll make our administrative, political, and strategic leadership bodies as accountable and transparent as we can so that those new leaders feel empowered to step into them. We will build an institution that endures the many fights ahead and, ultimately, prevails.

I see some of my tasks to help us get where we need to be as cochair as:

Relationship Building

Our mission to create a truly democratic society binds us but I’ve learned in the past year that in order to successfully carry out our work we need strong organizing relationships. I don’t mean friendships, though I’ve made many through my work in DSA. I mean talking with comrades face to face, in group settings and one-on-ones, and developing our understanding of the work we’re trying to do together. As co-chair, along with Annie Shields, I aim to facilitate the growth of these relationships between us on the steering committee and all members as well as those between members. We should be developing our individual branch cultures but also consciously bridging gaps between them. We should be working to bring members who work primarily in their working or caucus into contact with as many other members as we can. I’d say we have a healthy, vibrant social life in each of our spaces and I hope to connect them to each other.

Openness and Approachability

I want the Steering Committee to be a body that isn’t a mystery to members. They should know it is that we do. They should feel comfortable reaching out to us to talk about anything related to the chapter. I, along with Annie Shields and the rest of the committee, plan to make myself available to members as much as I can.

Putting Down Roots in Our Neighborhoods

There's potential within out mobilizer lists if constructed based on proximity to create a group of members who can help mobilize and organize one another at a local level. They should support each other in their growth within the organization but should also work together to put down roots and understand the neighborhoods in which they live. Through coaching from trainers and each other, they should intentionally make themselves a part of their communities, power map them to understand who the organic leaders are, build relationships, take part in the preexisting local struggles, and build power alongside their neighbors. I will work with the committee and branch leaders to make this happen.

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