More Americans are joining the Democratic Socialists of America — the party that rose to prominence with the upset election of New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — over their frustration with the response to the coronavirus pandemic, according to a report Tuesday.
Roughly 10,000 people have joined since March, bringing the far-left party’s membership to about 66,000, a number that remains small but could keep growing as the pandemic rages, party leaders and academics told the magazine.
“People are really starting to just look around and say, ‘Man, capitalism isn’t working,’” claimed the co-chair of the Detroit DSA chapter, who spoke to the magazine on the condition of anonymity for fear of professional repercussions.
“If the markets can’t even produce hand sanitizer or toilet paper or masks during a plague — what good is this system?”
DSA leaders say some of the gains were fueled by Sen. Bernie Sanders dropping out of the race, leaving his backers looking for other outlets to voice their discontent with inequality and push other progressive issues.
But they also say that current economic conditions, including tens of millions of Americans out of work as others toil for minimum wage risking their lives in supermarkets and fast food restaurants, are another big factor.
“There’s the sense that [this situation] is unacceptable and immoral, and that feeling is really pushing people into the meticulous work of organizing,” said Julia Shannon, a member of the steering committee for the Los Angeles DSA, which gained 300 members in April.
“We have to try to work toward harnessing that momentum and energy to create structures that work for the majority of people.”
One new member, Abby Harms, signed up after she and co-workers were laid off from a Denver board-games store as the state went into lockdown.
Harms got a call from the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America asking if she and her unemployed colleagues needed food, help to get groceries or filing for unemployment.
“I felt like I was doing something productive out of this whole nightmare. I had a purpose and something to fight for,” Harms told the magazine.
Ocasio-Cortez, 30, and fellow freshman Rep. Rashida Tlaib, 43, of Michigan brought the movement into the spotlight after their victories in the 2018 midterms as part of a wave that saw Democrats regain control of the House.
Eleven DSA members were elected to state legislatures in 2018, and more than a dozen others are seated on city councils across the US, a development that is “as impressive as anything that’s happened in left-wing history” since the Socialist Party of America reached its peak membership in 1912, said Maurice Isserman, a history professor at Hamilton College in upstate Clinton.
The DSA is portraying their efforts as giving struggling workers “a way to fight back,” the DSA Denver labor chair, Mariah Wood told the magazine.
“People are enthusiastically working with the DSA,” she said. “It’s a good time to be a socialist.”
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