We’re organising a political revolution in the United States that mirrors the situation in Britain, though in the particular American context.
Like you, we have faced a steadily worsening crisis in housing, in the economy, and in care – health care, elder care, and child development programs. Many US voters responded in the last election by supporting Bernie Sanders, a maverick, independent Democrat in the Democratic primaries, against the thoroughly establishment Hillary Clinton. But Clinton won, and in the general election enough voters either stayed home or voted for Donald Trump, a billionaire Republican who talked about upending the establishment in Washington, DC, that he became our president.
The Sanders campaign blew open the US political system and his current popularity demonstrates a massive public hunger for change – and a serious threat to the establishment. President Obama, for who Clinton was a political continuation, presided over eight of almost forty years of austerity economic policies which rigged the economic market and forced us to compete with each other for scraps in the wealthiest country in the world. Sanders said “no more”.
Sanders is a politician, but all politicians need the people to help them stand up to the special interests and keep the wind at their backs. Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) aims to do just that. In a parliamentary system, we would be a political party, but since we’re in the US, we’re a pressure organization bringing people together around a shared vision for change. Sanders opened the door by naming the problem that so many Americans had no words to describe, capitalism, and the worship of the market and the billionaire class. We’re providing an avenue for them to keep fighting.
And we’re needed more than ever. Much of the world looks on in horror and disbelief at the antics of President Trump. But he is merely the American face of a global authoritarian trend. We’re in a dangerous moment, from Germany to Spain to India, with anti-democracy forces using nationalist and racist rhetoric to divide working people from each other and distract us while they go to the bank. This summer fascists rammed their car into a crowd of protestors in Charlottesville, Virginia, and Trump’s faint condemnation has emboldened the far-right. His economic policies meanwhile squarely target poor and working class people to shift even more wealth to the richest classes.
DSA’s response is to attack the establishment, but from the left, with socialism and a politics of solidarity.
What does this mean? For example, we began pushing for a single payer healthcare system immediately after the election. The US has a barbaric system where people regularly die from because everything is rationed by a patient’s ability to pay. Care is distributed by the market.
From publicly embarrassing politicians at town hall events to threatening them by organising voters in their home districts through a door knocking program, we are creating a litmus test for establishment politicians while building a grassroots, organised constituency for change, and in some cases even electing our own members to office or supporting allies. Most importantly, we’re getting people working together across lines of race, gender, even citizenship status. We all need healthcare and we know the money is there to pay for it. The problem is not fraud by other poor people, it’s hoarding by the wealthy.
We’re doing our work at both the state level and the national. For example, we’ve been pressuring neoliberal California Democrats who oppose a state level single payer bill. But when Trump and the Republicans tried to push through a federal bill that would have cut healthcare for millions of people, we organized sit-in protests in the offices of Republican Senators in some of the most conservative states in the country.
We have the momentum. Sanders has introduced a single payer healthcare bill, and establishment politicians have scrambled to support it. We see this as a sign that we’re on the right track. But while the Republicans maintain a majority in Congress we are stuck, so our priority is building an army for change.
DSA has more than quadrupled in size since Trump was elected, and we are now the largest democratic socialist organisation in the US since Eugene V. Debs led the Socialist Party one hundred years ago. People flocked to us as they realised that the moderate Democrats are incapable of mounting an effective attack against Trump in this populist moment. Wall Street Democrats are too trapped by their neoliberal worldview and economic interests. Meanwhile, we’re fighting for public investment and quality public services, a fair living wage, and a fundamental restructuring of our economy to empower the 99 per cent at the expense of the billionaires.
We’re organising poor and working class people door by door, street by street, community by community, demanding change from politicians and electing replacements when they don’t heed us. We’re putting in the hard work to fight for this vision because we know that only together will we win.
Maria Svart is the national director of the Democratic Socialists of America