Expelled! Will Las Vegas DSA make things right?
According to Jacobin Magazine, “Free speech is a left wing value.” In Las Vegas, however, that does not apply. I was recently expelled by the Democratic Socialists of America, Las Vegas chapter for engaging in free speech, an ejection which took place without due process and in violation of its own bylaws. The reason? Four pieces I wrote, three stories on my website Political.tips and one commentary that ran in The Nevada Independent, along with two tweets I authored.
At least, I think this is why, as Las Vegas DSA acted in a way described to me by a DSA member as “Chapter Fascism.” Unlike the notion of a creeping fascism that society is generally on guard against, the behavior exhibited by those who carried out this act came quickly and in a cowardly manner. A few text messages over the course of less than a month were all I received from their first warnings until my ultimate expulsion.
The initial text message from Tiffany Stoik of the DSA Steering Committee chastised me for my use of words in a story about CCSD Trustee Katie Williams that read “Exclusive: Spirited Katie Williams exhorts base "Be ready!"; Warns "Socialist Agenda is coming.” I was told that allowing the word socialist to be used in that context was “scandalous.” In the body of the same message, Tiffany also took umbrage at me tweeting to school district Trustee Lola Brooks about her membership in DSA, and asking Ozzie Fumo during an interview if he would accept an endorsement from the chapter. In reply I wrote simply, “Censorship is disgusting.”
My commitment to journalistic integrity prompted my next two interactions with steering committee members. First, I volunteered to exit a Slack channel focused on local and state electoral races. Shortly after that text exchange, I placed a call to inform the group that my piece highlighting progressive unrest in Nevada was slated to run in the next day’s Indy. During that same phone conversation, I briefed steering committee member Anthony Lambert on the fact that a dozen socialists had been interviewed for the piece.
About a week later, Lambert reached out to me by text. He began with “On behalf of the entire steering committee…” It was then that I was informed of “several concerns raised by a large number of members around your articles.” And then came a line straight from a dystopian cartoon: “Your intentions and loyalty are in question.” He continued by vaguely offering “a set of terms where you’ll be asked to limit what you write about and how you interact with other members.” There was no talk of specific expellable offenses or expulsion. That night, multiple members approached me letting me know DSA was preparing a move against me.
My next article ran on Dec. 2, exposing another example of seemingly duplicitous behavior by DSA endorsee and Red Rock Dems leader Anna Albertson in her efforts to help elect Republican attorney general candidate Sigal Chattah. Lambert sent me a text shortly after, inquiring “Who’s the intended audience…” Again, my response was short: “The 37k plus readers I’ve had.” Just prior to that exchange, I posted a tweet asking “Will the steering committee expel me?” Moments later, even though Lambert had said we would continue our discussion after he left work, I received another message from him. Citing my tweet as their reason, he dropped the guillotine. “You have been expelled from Las Vegas DSA.”
My shock at the blatant hypocrisy and fundamental lack of justice associated with my sudden removal was acute. According to the Las Vegas DSA bylaws, I was entitled to be formally informed of the complaints against me and to to be heard before the committee seeking the expulsion, as well as the right to appeal to a local grievance officer. None of this took place.
A group acting in such a manner is one that clearly doesn’t value or respect its own rules, the Constitution or the basic human right of free thought and speech. My embrace of the socialist label is based on a belief in Medicare for All, Universal Basic Income, and a desire to see a free and independent Palestine. My work with the Occupy movement and years of volunteering with international NGOs predated my membership in the group, as did my fervent, unyielding love of the First Amendment. The severing of my affiliation from a local group engaged in progressive Kabuki theater will do nothing to dim my beliefs.
The hard question that must be asked, though, is what are the beliefs of Democrats running the state and local parties and affiliated clubs? Anna Albertson, Judith Whitmer, chairperson of the Nevada State Democratic Party, and Chris Roberts, chair of the Clark County Democrats, are all Las Vegas DSA members. Do they, and the hundreds of other members of Vegas DSA, support this tyranny? Are they okay belonging to a group aiming to silence dissent and select kinds of speech?
Either way, Ms. Whitmer and Mr. Roberts should seek to convince the group to reinstate me and follow the bylaws — at this time, I don’t want back in so this would be a formality, but would show respect for the rules — or renounce and resign from Las Vegas DSA to show they stand for the values they proclaim. If they don’t, then how can voters, or the candidates they are supporting in the upcoming election, believe any of their claims and assurances? As for the broader membership, they must be wary of the eventual outcome. If things are not made right, they should either leave the group and support proper democracy or stay and bathe in the stench of hyper-controlling Democratic centralism — one of the things the DSA claims to most despise.
Sarah Ashton-Cirillo has lived in Las Vegas since 2004. A parent to one child, she is an analyst by profession and also publishes at the Nevada news portal, Political.tips. Ashton-Cirillo is a registered Democrat and former member of DSA who also has donated to the Nevada Democratic Party. Follow her on Twitter @SarahAshtonLV.