When a thousand socialists from across the United States gathered in Chicago over the weekend for the biennial convention of Democratic Socialists of America, DSA National Director Maria Svart declared, “What we’re seeing today is historic: the largest gathering of democratic socialists in an era.”
Since the 2016 election, Svart is delighted to report, “tens of thousands of democratic socialists have come together to build a future for this country in which everyone has the right to a decent job, a good home, a free college education for their children, and health care for their family. For years, we’ve been sold hope and promised change by Wall Street politicians—now we’re taking matters into our own hands.”
DSA got a big boost from the surge of interest in democratic socialism that grew from the Sanders campaign. Bernie upended decades of right-wing histrionics, Democratic Party caution, and media neglect that bordered on malpractice when he showed America that a national contender could embrace the “S” word and survive. “Do they think I’m afraid of the word? I’m not afraid of the word,” declared Sanders as he launched his bid for the Democratic nomination. “When I ran for the Senate the first time, I ran against the wealthiest guy in the state of Vermont. He spent a lot on advertising—very ugly stuff. He kept attacking me as a liberal. He didn’t use the word ‘socialist’ at all, because everybody in the state knows that I am that.”
Rather than getting harmed for making an effort to explain how democratic socialism works in places like Denmark, Sanders benefited from the fact that he wasn’t just another apologist for the capitalist experiment that has produced market instability, cruel austerity, and scorching income inequality. In particular, young people were excited about alternatives.
DSA invited them into the fold—with a smart “continuing the political revolution” message that built on the slogan of the Sanders run—and thousands joined. The group’s membership has tripled over the past year—to 25,000—and it now has 177 local groups in 49 states and the District of Columbia. DSA members are running for local offices and winning across the country.
That’s a striking development in a country where—because of the often irrational responses of media and political elites—major public-policy challenges go unaddressed because of the rejection of sound responses that are deemed too “socialistic.” This has happened even with proposals for smart social and industrial strategies that have been successfully deployed in countries with which the United States is closely allied.