I didn’t leave the Democratic party; it left me.
Technically, I’ve been an Independent for years, occasionally voting for Republicans, Democrats and Greens. But Democrat candidates often got my vote.
However, three things got my commitment to become a member of the Democratic Socialists of America:
- Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, the magnetic DSA member who upset powerful incumbent Democrat Joe Crowley in New York’s Democratic primary, left me impressed and hopeful;
- Wall-Street-cozy Democrats’ recent “Third Way” conference, which brainstormed ways to kneecap progressive Democrats, left me frustrated and angry; and
- mostly, the Supreme Court’s recent “Janus’ decision that public employees need not contribute to the unions that negotiate their contracts (encouraging a “something-for-nothing” temptation to become “free riders”) left me realizing I was a free rider concerning democratic socialists, 90 percent of whose priorities I support, since I paid no dues.
The DSA doesn’t want a version of Venezuela or Sweden, but red-white-and-blue institutions and services operating in the public interest that make civilization: health care and hospitals, mass transit and museums, parks and pensions. In the immediate future, DSA is working to strengthen organized LABOR, influence ELECTIONS (without dogmatic platforms, but priorities, partnering with groups such as Indivisible, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders’ Our Revolution, unions and the NAACP), and push for MEDICARE FOR ALL (like I enjoy, wondering why my son can’t have such access, given that people like me are willing to pay more taxes, even on retirement income).
Other common-good tenets include public education and libraries, credit unions and state banks, affordable housing, consumer and/or worker co-ops – none of which is radical in a nation that helps farmers with subsidies, brought electricity to rural American through co-ops, and even considered industrial planning in the 1970s, when Republican Sen. Jacob Javits and 16 other GOP Senators including Illinois’ Chuck Percy (and conservative Strom Thurmond!) voted for the bipartisan “Full Employment and Balanced Growth Act,” which President Carter signed after the House passed it with 27 Republican votes.
Now, Americans aren’t represented by the people elected to do so, officials who instead listen to donors, the powerful and wealthy. They don’t fight for people but use money to divide us by class, race, gender, etc.
In contrast to Republicans’ and Democrats’ party-over-people politics and lesser-of-two-evils elections, democratic socialists envision a society created by and for everyone. Rather than basics privatized to minimize access and maximize profit, the economy should have a “people motive,” not a profit motive.
The economy doesn’t have to be lop-sided, concentrated in the hands of a few. Ocasio-Cortez, 28, said, “In a modern, moral and wealthy society, no person should be too poor to live. Democratic socialism is the fight for a basic level of dignity that our society refuses to violate.”
Troubled that progressives increasingly reject the strategy of appealing to Republicans (which failed miserably in 2016), Third Way co-president Jon Cowan has said Democrats are straying from the practical into “Sanderism.” (That seems to say, “Let’s be safe and not advocate for things people actually want.”)
The DSA and others want to reach non-voters and Democrats dissatisfied with centrists.
After Sanders’ 2016 presidential-primary campaign and Republican Donald Trump’s defeat of corporate Democrat Hillary Clinton, thousands of Americans have felt like me. Surveys show people have moved away from a failed market economy and failing political centrists, and support such mainstream reforms. Gallup reported 55 percent of people 18-29 are positive about socialism, and a University of Chicago poll of 18 to 34 year olds had 61 percent support of socialism among Democrats (and even 25 percent among Republicans). And DSA’s membership has grown from some 6,000 in 2015 to almost 50,000 in hundreds of local groups – in every state.
The middle-of-the-road Establishment is unglued, and criticism’s increasing. Conservative columnists such as George Will and Cal Thomas drew on Cold War fears. Illinois liberal Sen. Tammy Duckworth told CNN, “I don’t think you can go too far to the Left and still win the Midwest” (ignoring Iowa’s having the highest number of DSA chapters per capita of any state). And west-central Illinois Democrat Congresswoman Cheri Bustos at the Third Way soiree hosted by billionaire Winston Fisher said, “If you look throughout the heartland, there’s a silent majority who just wants normalcy, … people that just don’t really like protests and don’t like yelling and screaming.”
Many also opposed union sit-ins, Civil Rights’ Freedom Rides, marches for women’s rights, etc., and Chicago Alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa scoffed at stereotyping people, saying, “Midwesterners aren’t a monolith, demographically or politically, and we’re also not scared of bold Left-wing policies. In fact, we’re hungry for them.”
(Personally, I’m an Illinois guy, a Catholic, Cubs fan, newspaperman and union man who reads comic books, so I’m used to criticism; have at it.)
Finally, democratic socialism arguably is rooted in faith, hope and love, in a “big tent” (like my church, whose figures have ranged from arch-conservative, Depression-era broadcaster Father Charles Coughlin, to progressive agitator Dorothy Day), so there’s plenty of room for opinions and individuals.
Ocasio-Cortez said, “There is nothing radical about moral clarity in 2018.”
Scholar Cornel West – DSA member, co-author of “The Rich and the Rest of Us: A Poverty Manifesto,” and a leader of DSA’s Religion and Socialism Commission – said, “DSA is the major organization on the American Left with an all-embracing moral vision, systematic social analysis, and political praxis rooted in the quest for radical democracy, social freedom and individual liberties.”
And socialist Eugene Debs – who a century ago this month was sentenced to 10 years in prison for speaking against World War I – viewed socialism as “Christianity in action,” a “secularized gospel.”
So: I’m going to chip in, help out and do some part in pushing for change. Why let others do the work that I see is needed.