Research

Subject/topic research:

The Democratic Socialists of America is the largest Socialist organization in the country with over 35,000 members. It was founded in 1983 when the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee and New American Movement merged. It is a “big tent” organization, and members range from anarchists to democratic socialists, to communists however all put their political ideologies aside in order to organize. Since 2016 membership has nearly tripled, and the average age of members has dropped by almost half according to their website. The organization operates with a bottom-up approach, as the local chapters set almost all priorities and vote on rules at biannual conventions. In the D.C. area, there are over 1,200 members of the local chapter and 2 branches (Metro D.C. DSA website). Branches operate by finding hyper-local issues to organize around one example being the free brake light replacement program founded by DSA New Orleans.

Historic

The first Brake Light clinic was held by the New Orleans chapter of DSA in August of 2017. Since then, dozens of chapters have replicated the project, which seeks to limit police contact with poor, immigrant, and minority communities. The goal is to reduce the number of fatal police encounters by eliminating one of the number one reasons why people are pulled over. In 2015 Washington Post Reported that there were over 100 fatal traffic stops. This makes something as simple as changing a brake light life-saving. These deaths disproportionately affect communities of color and are supported by research done by the Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights. Besides reducing the number of police murders, the clinic’s seak to eliminate the threat of financial burden that falls on individuals when they receive tickets for burnt out brake lights. Research shows that the tickets are most often issued to those at the bottom of the socioeconomic chain, and the added fines only compound their problems (Back on the Road California).

When a DSA chapter goes to hold a brake light event they have to: fundraise, create flyers, choose a location, learn how to change brake light, create a legal waiver, and much more. DSA New Orleans created a how-to guide, which is available online, with the basics on how to run a clinic.  Beyond that, it is up to each chapter to figure out the nitty-gritty and recruit volunteers.

Competitor

Other than DSA, one of the most popular socialist groups is Socialist Alternative or SALT. SALT is a Trotskyist group, meaning it has a strict top-down form of organizing. In addition, they adhere to a very specific ideology and any member that joins is assumed to adhere to it. As a result, while there has been an increase in membership, they have not experienced the same influx of people as the DSA. SALT organizes around many of the same issues as DSA, like racial justice, affordable housing, and anti-fascism, however, they tend to also be more aggressive and oriented to actions centered on spectacle.

Audience

The audience of the brochure is people unfamiliar with DSA and the brake light program. These people will change depending on the location where the clinic is held and how many people stop at each time. Generally speaking, these individuals will be old enough to own or drive a car (16+), members of a minority group (Hispanic or African American) and have little to no idea who or what DSA is.

Visual vocabulary

The DSA has a national style guide, with specific colors, typefaces, and logos. Each branch and chapter is free to build upon this by creating their own logos, however, all are encouraged to stick to the specific colors and typefaces. The official DSA colors include a red, black, gray, and white. Manifold DSA is a typeface created for DSA use and is what DSA branded material is to be written in.

The audience will not be familiar with DSA as an organization or brand, so everything will include DSA’s name and logo. Visuals and language will be clear and free of jargon so that it is accessible to the public.

Education

The education level of the primary audience will depend. Most should have high school diplomas or equivalent. Anyone can stop though, so if a Ph.D. needs their brake light changed they will not be turned away.

Media perception

Depending on which side of the aisle you’re on DSA is seen as harmless, a threat to democracy, or a place to build local power. Since the burst in popularity in 2016, there have been numerous articles published about DSA and what it’s popularity means for the entire country. Most outlets are skeptical that it means much of anything, as though 35,000 members is a lot, it is still a minority group.

Social media presence/trending

Recently, a video highlight the DSA free brake lights went viral on social media. it followed a local group as they changed brake lights and explained why  DSA is doing it.

Sources

New Database Allows Stanford Researchers to Find Disparities in Officers’ Treatment of Minority Motorists, 19 June 2017, news.stanford.edu/press-releases/2017/06/19/database-reveals-disparities-officers-treatment-minority-motorists/.
“About Metro DC DSA.” Metro DC DSA, mdcdsa.org/.
DSA New Orleans. “Brake Light Clinic Guide.” New Orleans DSA, dsaneworleans.org/wp-content/uploads/2018/04/brake-light-clinic-guide.pdf.
“Democratic Socialists of America.” Democratic Socialists of America, www.dsausa.org/.
Heyward, Anna. “Since Trump’s Victory, Democratic Socialists of America Has Become a Budding Political Force.” The Nation, 21 Dec. 2017, www.thenation.com/article/in-the-year-since-trumps-victory-democratic-socialists-of-america-has-become-a-budding-political-force/.
Lawyers’ Committee for Civil Rights of the San Francisco Bay Area. Paying More for Being Poor: Bias and Disparity in California’s Traffic Court System. Paying More for Being Poor: Bias and Disparity in California’s Traffic Court System.
Peyser, Eve. “The Democratic Socialists Are Here to Fix Your Brake Lights.” Vice, 30 Aug. 2017, www.vice.com/en_us/article/xwwkaa/the-democratic-socialists-are-here-to-fix-your-brake-lights.
SF Phoenix Publishing. “Shining a Brake Light on Basebuilding – The San Francisco Phoenix – Medium.” Medium, The San Francisco Phoenix, 22 Feb. 2018, medium.com/the-phoenix/shining-a-brake-light-on-basebuilding-c7e3c36964c.
Back on the Road California. Stopped, Fined, Arrested-Racial Bias in Policing and Traffic Courts in California. www.lccr.com/wp-content/uploads/Stopped_Fined_Arrested_BOTRCA.pdf.