Since Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s surprise primary victory late last month, there has been a renewed interest in the Democratic Socialists of America. Outlets have run pieces exploring the group and its positions, and thousands have signed up to join its ranks. Across the country, DSA-endorsed candidates like Julia Salazar are challenging the status quo of party-backed incumbency. Even Cynthia Nixon has embraced the socialist label.
This has also been a banner year for high-school organizing, from the students in Parkland, Florida, taking on the NRA to the high schoolers organizing against Chicago’s $95 million police academy. High-school students’ getting involved in organizing and activism is nothing new, but some students are taking their resistance even further—they’re calling themselves socialists. Like Ocasio-Cortez, Salazar and thousands of people across the country who have joined DSA, these students are committing themselves to a politics that imagines a world where everyone can live comfortably with access to free education and health care, where no one lives in fear of immigration agents or police, and where poverty has been eradicated.
Decades ago, a generation of students learned to fear the specter of communism as public schools bore a purge of teachers at the Cold War’s height. Now, in high schools across the country, teens are not only joining the Democratic Socialists of America, they’re starting up chapters in their schools.
A large part of the DSA’s surge in membership can be attributed to young people—70 to 80 percent of the 24,000 who have joined DSA since November 2016 are under 35. According to Michelle Fisher, co-chair of DSA’s youth wing, Young Democratic Socialists of America, some of this new membership is still in high school: There are four official chartered chapters of the YDSA in high schools across America. Since Ocasio-Cortez’s win, Fisher says, members from 21 different high schools have expressed interest in organizing chapters at their schools.
The 2016 presidential election was many high-school socialists’ political turning point; it certainly was the case for 17-year-old Josh Kuh, a junior at Garfield High School in Seattle who discovered DSA in late October 2016. “I was realizing that in order to fight against the possibility, and then the reality of a Trump presidency, there needed to be grassroots opposition from outside the Democratic Party,” he said. He has since been organizing a YDSA chapter at his high school that has been meeting since this past October.