What Exactly Does It Mean To Be A Democratic Socialist?

Supermajority Education Fund

September 10, 2020

A few years ago, the term “democratic socialism” was completely foreign to most Americans. But ever since Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders claimed the label in his 2016 presidential campaign — as did Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), who was elected to the House in 2018 — the political identity is now far more mainstream, and particularly drawing the attention of many young people.

“We believe that society should be organized for the well-being of all people,” 28-year-old Marianela D’Aprile, an elected member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) National Political Committee, told Supermajority News. “We believe that people should have democratic control over their lives, and they should have a say over how society works, how things in their neighborhood work, how politics work.”

According to the DSA’s website, democratic socialism is the belief that to achieve a more just society, “many structures of our government and economy must be radically transformed through greater economic and social democracy so that ordinary Americans can participate in the many decisions that affect our lives.”

This belief translates into national policy in the form of support for Medicare for All, supporting unions, and abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement (ICE). Most recently, democratic socialism was displayed late last year during Senator Sanders’ presidential run, during which he promised to “break up” ICE and train its employees to be “recruited and trained for a humanitarian mission, not a law enforcement mission.”

On her website, Congresswoman Ocasio-Cortez voiced her democratic socialist views on universal healthcare by saying “that healthcare is a human right and will continue to fight for every person to have access to high-quality and consistent care.”

On a local level, democratic socialist policies can also take the form of trying to weaken the power of big companies. Take for example the energy company ComEd (Commonwealth Edison), which makes millions in profit from having a “near-monopoly” on Chicago’s electricity. The company’s contract with the city is ending by the end of this year, and in response, five members of the city council are looking to municipalize Chicago’s electricity by having the city run it, rather than a corporation. Those five members are all linked to the DSA, which means democratic socialists now make up more than 10% of the city council.

Rossana Rodriguez-Sanchez, who was elected Alderwoman of Chicago’s 33rd Ward in 2019, is one of those city council members. “Capitalism has completely stalled to meet the needs of humanity,” she told Supermajority News. 

Young people of color in particular have been attracted to democratic socialism, Alderwoman Rodriguez-Sanchez says, because they “have been historically marginalized, they’re the people who have been the most impacted by the crisis that capitalism has created.”

If that’s the case, it explains why the DSA’s membership numbers have been steadily increasing since 2015 — at which point there were only 5,000 members. As of May 2020, the number of members had increased to 66,000. There are chapters in multiple cities in all 50 states, and there are over 100 chapters on college campuses. 

But even though democratic socialism is increasingly attractive to many Americans, most high-profile candidates who the DSA has endorsed have still often run on the Democratic party ticket — the most notable politician being Bernie Sanders. So will the DSA someday become its own party?

D’Aprile says that at the DSA’s convention last year, a resolution was passed that outlined an electoral strategy that will allow the DSA “to build toward an independent party that actually represents the interests of the working class, and is not controlled by corporate interests, lobbyists and big donors.”

To the critics of socialism who say it doesn’t work and will turn America into Venezuela, Alderwoman Rodriguez-Sanchez laughs. 

“How exactly has capitalism worked? I think capitalism is founded on slavery, and it created a racist system,” she says. “I don’t think capitalism works because the majority of the people are going to be suffering.”

Given how democratic socialism has been gaining momentum across the country, as its long list of national endorsements shows plus the success of DSA-endorsed candidates in New York earlier this summer, democratic socialism is clearly not a movement to disregard. Besides, with our country’s current economic troubles that will likely last for many years, there’s a chance democratic socialism will become part of the everyday fabric of American politics.