Systemic Change

Note: this post is written by our members to generate debate and discussion and is not an official branch statement. Want to be part of the conversation? Join our mailing list.

Over the past few months we’ve noticed that some folks are using the phrase “systemic change” to talk about the changes they want to see, and, well

Spurred to debate, the Marin DSA branch had a good conversation about how we understood systemic change. 

Folks pointed out it can be understood both as “changes to the system” as well as “changing the system at the root”. In the first sense, the phrase gets used by liberals to signal they want to change the laws to be fairer. The second sense calls into question the system itself, and asks what would be required for the system to be completely different. Both definitions are technically correct, but our intent with the phrase is important.

One member used the metaphor of seats at a table to explore systemic change. If your system has a certain amount of seats at a table for decision making, reforms can change the amount of seats at the table, who gets to sit in the seats, even the shape of the table, but ultimately, without a change of system, it’s only the people who have seats at the table that make decisions. 

Systemic change wouldn’t just affect our economy, but transform our work and groups as well – how do we value time and the labor that gets done? Do we acknowledge the need for rest and relationship building? Is the growth of our group more important than the health and personal values of our group? Members brought up the parallels to conversations about decolonization. That just saying “decolonization” doesn’t make it so.

We are democratic socialists because we realize that reforming capitalism (redistributing capitalist wealth while keeping the capitalist for-profit value system) does not ensure actual freedom. These reforms can make space for exploring alternate systems, but because they depend on capitalism to generate the wealth needed to implement them, they do not inherently pose a threat to it. 

If we want to make sure that everyone’s voice gets heard, we have to get rid of the table, and come up with something new.