Democratic Socialists Are Hosting Their Largest Convention Ever This Weekend, At UIC

By aaroncynic in News on Aug 4, 2017 3:50PM

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Democratic Socialists of America (Chicago Chapter) / Facebook

More than 1,000 members of the Democratic Socialists of America are assembling this weekend at the University of Illinois Chicago for their largest ever national convention.

“What we're seeing today is historic: the largest gathering of democratic socialists in an era,” said DSA National Director Maria Svart. “In the early 1900s, Eugene Debs and the Socialist Party rose in a grassroots movement against the forces of nationalism, oligarchy and authoritarianism. One hundred years later, today’s democratic socialists stand in that same tradition, at a time no less perilous.”

The DSA, which supported Bernie Sanders during the 2016 presidential primary elections, has seen an explosive growth in membership—quadrupling in size since the election—now claiming some 25,000 members that are part of 177 local groups in 49 states and Washington, D.C. The group operates as a 501(C)4 non-profit political and activist organization, rather than a traditional party, with its board directly elected by members at its convention, but chapters operate autonomously.

Several DSA members have been elected to local offices, including Dylan Parker, an alderman in Rock Island, and Chicago’s 35th Ward alderman Carlos Ramirez-Rosa. In addition, the group says it has participated in coalitions and direct actions for single-payer healthcare and against cuts to social programs. In May, members of the DSA’s South Side chapter joined striking AT&T workers on a picket line in Chatham, after some 35,000 workers across the country staged a weekend-long strike for a long-term contract.

In part, the DSA’s incredible growth since the 2016 election can be attributed to the Trump presidency, though its attempting to position itself as more than just another organization based on resisting the real-estate-mogul-turned-president's agenda.

“People were looking for ways to best resist the Trump administration and its policies,” David Duhalde, National Deputy Director, told Chicagoist. “Because DSA neither backed Clinton or a third party we avoided the baggage other groups had... There’s been lots of groups created who exist solely to stop Trump or are focused on policies to slow the administration down. We’re doing those things, but also advocating a world beyond capitalism.”

While the DSA has a lengthy agenda to hash out, which includes both electing national leadership and voting on at least 54 pages of resolutions, its autonomous bottom-up structure is quite different from the current administration. Whereas Trump seems to prefer to rule by edict and the resistance from mainstream Democrats has been panned by its critics as both weak and top-down, the DSA is trying to run a platform that sticks to ideals, rather than compromise with opponents that aren’t interested in crossing the aisle.

“Since the election, 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 healthcare for their family,” said Svart. “For years, we've been sold hope and promised change by Wall Street politicians—now we're taking matters into our own hands.”