Winning hearts and minds one free brake light at a time


CHANGE A BRAKE LIGHT AND CHANGE THE WORLD. Probably not. But it was a great place to start for the New Orleans chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

About 15 to 20 DSA volunteers took to a New Orleans roadside on August 26 to offer to change burned out tail lights. It turned out to be an offer 50 motorists couldn’t refuse.

“We had more people come, but we couldn’t help because they wanted something else done,” said Kaitlin Marone, a comedian who is also a council member-at-large for the New Orleans DSA. “Overall, our response was entirely positive.”

Marone says the idea for the roadside action grew out of desire to show how political theory can, and should, lead to direct action of immediate benefit to everyday people. The idea for the taillight action was a natural fit: it provided some practical aid and had an obvious link to the larger issue of police killings of black men at traffic stops.

“Out taillights are a main reason for traffic stops. Traffic stops are especially perilous and life disrupting to undocumented immigrants and people of colour,” says Marone.

“Also, there’s an aspect of building power outside of the electoral politics system. Doing service like this is a way of making change on the outside, and helping people meet their basic needs in a way the government will not.

“Helping people meet basic needs like that helps us build a stronger working-class base.

Members of DSA New Orleans at their roadside brake light stand

Seduced by the ‘brake light trick’

“People were mad because they thought we were trying to spread the disease of communism through the trick of free brake lights. We were not actively recruiting anybody through this process. We were just doing this as a show of solidarity and support for the community” says Marone.

The action gained a lot of social media interest. But online trolls were hard pressed to find fault. The best they could come up with was accusing the DSA chapter of wasting government money. “Yeah, like Donald Trump is sending money to the Democratic Socialists of America,” says Marone.

The New Orleans action resulted in a big organizing boost for the DSA. Eighty other chapters across the USA are now making plans to stage their own brake light actions.

The DSA has become a hot new trend with millennials. Since Donald Trump’s election the DSA membership has surged from 8,000 to more than 25,000. Roses, the group’s symbol, are popping up all over Twitter. This “brake-light socialism” could result in even more interest in the party of roses.

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