What’s the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA)? Is it a Socialist party trying to hide under the veneer of the politically safe term of “Democratic” or is it your typical run of the mill liberal party trying to look a bit edgier with the word “Socialist” thrown in? Or, is it something else completely? I keep hearing people drop it’s name in conversations, and I decided to check it out. My home, Kansas City, recently opened up a DSA chapter, and I went undercover on a mission to find out.
Everything You’d Expect
As my friend and I were driving to the meeting, we took guesses at what it would look like. Probably mostly young people- my friend said. Probably mostly white people- I guessed. Why young and white? Socialism is an old concept, but it is just beginning to become acceptable in the US. Why white? Because, progressive groups, while they have great ideas to make society more equitable, don’t always save seats at the table for a diverse array of voices.
Walking into the meeting- it was exactly that: young and white. But something that happily surprised me though was their knowledge on accountability politics. They talked about wanting to get a more diverse community membership, but they also spoke about needing to participate in the social justice initiatives already being done by people of color and other marginalized groups. They talked about listening to community needs in open forums, instead of figuring out community needs in these exclusive meetings that did not have much diversity.
National History of DSA
DSA is the largest national socialist organization in the US, and is the US affiliate of Socialists International. On the DSA website they state,
“As we are unlikely to see an immediate end to capitalism tomorrow, DSA fights for reforms today that will weaken the power of corporations and increase the power of working people.”
They aim to do this by decreasing the influence of money in politics, empowering ordinary people in the workplace and economy, and the restructuring of gender and cultural relationships to make society more equitable. All in all, they sound pretty rad on paper.
The socialist movement unified in America in the early 1900s with the rise of Eugene Debs. They helped with AFL union organizing, and also were connected to the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW). Socialists were also some of the founding members of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP). The party, however, fell on hard times and become subdued with the dawn of WWI, and then relatively obscure with the Great Depression and Americans’ reliance on capitalism to pull them out the hard times.
In 1983 the Democratic Socialist Organizing Committee (DSOC)- made up of older socialist ideas- and the New American Movement (NAM) – made up of newer leftist ideals- merged to form the current DSA.
Today, socialism as a political route has very recently been brought back into the American mainstream as an acceptable form of politics by the rise of Bernie Sanders popularity turning the 2016 American election. I can’t help but think that this election had a big influence on Kansas Citians decision in the past months to start a DSA chapter in the city.
Kansas City’s DSA Platform
At the DSA meeting we broke up into working groups to lay out the platform for the city on a variety of issues. This is what we came up with in an hour and a half time span on a Monday night.
Socialist Feminism: Local sex education for schools and the general population in the city, affordable childcare access, funding of under resourced domestic violence shelters, care packages for homeless population, parental leave
Climate Justice: Transit reform (biking, buses), severe storm plans, native plants, expand recycling, local super fund site extensive clean up
Healthcare: revitalize healthcare subcommittee, focus on blocking harmful legislation, push local politicians to push for single payer healthcare, minimize Trumcare damage at the state level, support nurses unions
Racial Justice: address housing segregation in the city, address food deserts in the city, engage community gardens and farmers markets, collaborate with local racial justice organizations, criminal justice reform, promote access to those who speak other languages, support marginalized voices as candidates, engage with ex-convict reentry groups
Education and Net Neutrality: Address educational inequality in the city, fight to end unpaid internships, education on net neutrality, raise the minimum wage and pay teachers more
Queer Liberation: housing discrimination, respecting queer identities/etiquette, support groups in place in city, policy accountability education, queer/trans specific sex education, address queer poverty, nametags with preferred pronouns
All in all, DSA’s platform, ideas and easily accessible meetings make the organization promising. But they definitely have a lot of work cut out for them if they are going to begin implementing their philosophies and ideals into real time with real people and organizations. I wish them the best.
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