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How ‘socialism’ stopped being a dirty word to some voters – and started winning elections across America
US Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Senator Bernie Sanders are both members of the Democratic Socialists of America. Joe Raedle / Getty Images Left-wing Democratic Socialists in America, who helped Congress star Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez get elected in 2018, appear to be a big political player again in New York City’s 2021 municipal election. The group has yet to approve anyone for the post of mayor – the top prize in the June 22 Democratic primary in New York City. But the 51 city council seats are up for grabs this year, and the DSA has six of them – including Queens public defender Tiffany Cabán and Brooklyn tenants activist Michael Hollingsworth. With two state senators and five representatives out of 213 lawmakers, the New York State Legislature already has the largest DSA legislative caucus in the country. These Democrats share a left-wing platform that includes guaranteed housing as a human right and an end to mass incarceration.The DSA has turned local politics upside down in this Democratic stronghold, and its victories extend well to the – beyond New York – Virginia, Nevada and beyond. How did socialism move from the fringes of American politics to its very center? American Socialist History The roots of the DSA can be traced back to the Socialist Party of America, which was formed in New York in 1901 to promote issues such as the establishment of an eight-hour work day and public ownership of public services such as water and electricity. Socialist Party union leader and presidential candidate Eugene Debs campaigned in 1900. Historica Graphica Collection / Heritage Images / Getty Images Writer Upton Sinclair, Christian theologian Reinhold Niebuhr and Planned Parenthood founder Margaret Sanger were prominent members from the first hour. But many early American socialists were Jews and immigrants from Eastern Europe – groups that were seen as well outside mainstream “white” society at the time. My research as a historian of American socialists reveals that early 20th century socialists found electoral success by fielding candidates who represented the economic and racial diversity of their communities and championed issues that mattered to working class voters. and immigrants. In 1918 – at the height of the New York Socialist Caucus, when Socialists held 10 of 121 State House seats – Socialist politicians were teachers, colony lawyers, and union leaders. They proposed New York’s first birth control bill, allowing advocates to give women educational pamphlets on contraception, and proposed programs to create old age insurance and rent control. The Socialist Party began to lose membership to the growing Communist Party in the 1930s. By the mid-twentieth century, it had responded to growing American anti-communism with a turn to the right. In 1972, the party leadership actually renamed the party the Social Democrats in the United States because many people associated the word “socialist” with the great American antagonist, the Soviet Union. DSA, Past and Present Disillusioned, activist and Marxist professor Michael Harrington left the organization and in 1973 formed the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee, which later merged with another leftist group, the New American Movement, to train America’s Socialist Democrats. Unlike the Socialist Party of America, which was a registered political party and ran candidates on its own ticket, the DSA is a political group. Harrington wanted to create the “left wing of the possible” within the Democratic Party. DSA founder Michael Harrington, who died in 1989. Photo by Barbara Alper / Getty Images For four decades, DSA members mainly ran in the Democratic primaries, trying to push the party to the left – on the war in Iraq and NAFTA, for example – while supporting the Democrats. nominated for president from Walter Mondale to Barack Obama. He had some early local successes. From the 1980s to the early 2000s, DSA members were elected to city councils across the country and won mayoral races in liberal college towns like Berkeley, California; Ithaca, New York; and Burlington, Vermont, where openly socialist politician Bernie Sanders served as mayor from 1981 to 1989. In 2016, Sanders ran for president. His campaign, coupled with Donald Trump’s subsequent victory, created an increase in DSA membership among younger voters. The group’s median age fell from 68 in 2013 to 33 in 2017. The DSA now claims more than 90,000 paying members, up from 6,000 in 2015. The DSA’s electoral strategies also changed after 2016, in part due to the influx of new members and partly frustrated by traditional Democratic candidates. In Democratic primaries across the country, DSA candidates came forward to replace older, centrist and white incumbents with young leftists who vowed to fight for “Medicare for all” and “hold elected officials” accountable. . It was a winning strategy for the Trump era. Since 2016, DSA-backed candidates have won district attorney races from Philadelphia to Travis County, Texas, and hold four seats in Congress. Forty DSA members sit in 21 state legislatures. DSA members hold five of Chicago’s 50 city council seats. Today’s DSA legislators have professional backgrounds similar to that of their ancestors. New York State Senator Jabari Brisport, elected in 2020, was a teacher and tenant organizer. New York State Representative Phara Suffering Forrest was previously a tenant organizer and nurse. The DSA’s legislative proposals – rent control, free college, and reproductive rights – are classic socialist issues, updated for the 21st century. The Democratic Party has now adopted many of these proposals, but moderates like West Virginia Senator Joe Manchin have not. DSA activists in New York march for immigrant rights, May 1, 2019. Spencer Platt / Getty Images As in the past, the DSA tends to support candidates from marginalized groups – whether African Americans , Caribbean, South American or South Asian – which reflect the racial makeup of the neighborhoods they represent. Angry demons and DSA argue The growing political profile of the DSA has caused tension within the Democratic Party. Shortly after DSA-backed candidates in March 2021 swept aside the five leadership positions of the Nevada Democratic Party, many longtime party staff resigned rather than work under the new left-wing leadership. But first, according to the Nevada Independent and other local newspapers, Democratic staff members transferred US0,000 from the Nevada Democratic Party coffers controlled by the DSA to the Democratic Senate Campaign Committee, which is controlled by the National Party. democrat. Some DSA policies that stray sharply from the Democratic Party line – such as its support for Israel’s boycott, divestment and sanction movement for its militarized occupation of the Palestinian territories – have drawn strong criticism from the Democratic Party. other Democrats. The DSA has also been accused of having a “race problem”. Although mainly featuring candidates of color, the leadership of the organization is largely white and male. Some DSA members say the group is silencing the concerns and voices of people of color. After new groups emerged within the DSA to recruit more black leaders, the DSA National Committee announced in February 2021 that it would launch an initiative to better attract, mentor and retain people of color. In the 20th century, American socialism crumbled under the weight of infighting and social change. Can modern DSA survive the challenges of the 21st century? His next test will be in New York on June 22. This story has been corrected to accurately reflect the political identification of Bernie Sanders. Sanders is a self-proclaimed “democratic socialist” and is endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America, but is not a member of the group. This article is republished from The Conversation, a nonprofit news site dedicated to sharing ideas from academic experts. It was written by: Joshua Kluever, Binghamton University, State University of New York. Read more: Why Trump is more likely to win in the GOP than to take his supporters to a new third The FBI reaches out to Hasidic Jews to fight anti-Semitism – but the office has a loaded history with Judaism states across the country Joshua Kluever does not work, consult, own shares, or receive funding from any company or organization that would benefit from this article, and has not disclosed any relevant affiliation beyond his academic appointment.