The Rise Of America’s Democratic Socialists
When Cynthia Nixon announced her run for governor earlier in 2018, a lot of people didn’t take her seriously. The immediate headlines made jokes about the actress’s iconic “Sex and the City” character, portraying her campaign as a vanity exercise in a time when a reality TV star actually became president and other celebrities like Kanye West and the Rock have expressed an interest in running for our country’s highest office.
A few months later, the headlines focused on the achievements that the candidate made since announcing her run. The New York Daily News recently reported that Nixon got 65,000 signatures to get on the ballot, way more than the required 15,000. She has gained attention in particular for her proposed policies, such as increased funding for New York’s public schools and public housing, legalizing marijuana, and fixing New York City’s subway system.
On July 10, Nixon announced that she is a Democratic Socialist — a move that would have been unthinkable even a few years ago. The word “socialism” has long been a dirty word in American politics, but there are already many socialist aspects to the U.S., and there are socialist democracies thriving around the world, such as the Nordic countries of Denmark, Norway, Sweden, and Finland.
In the U.S., candidates running for the Democratic Socialists of America party are winning primaries against establishment Democrats. Democratic Socialist Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s primary win against long-time New York Congressman Joe Crowley is the most prominent example of this.
Additionally, three Democratic Socialist candidates won their primaries in Pennsylvania, running on platforms that include abolishing ICE and creating a Medicare-for-all system, and Julia Salazar went from leading socialist reading groups to challenging her state’s long-time senator in an upcoming primary. She says her opponent has hastened gentrification in their northern Brooklyn district.
The Democratic Socialists of America traces its roots to the Socialist Party of America, whose efforts were instrumental in many labor strikes that have resulted in worker protections that we take for granted today.
Today those protections seem to be in danger once again.
Politicians on both the right and the left seem to be more beholden to corporate interests and startups profiting off low-paid, non-benefited independent contractors, a reality taken to its stunning yet logical extreme in the recent hit movie, “Sorry To Bother You.” People are fighting back with unions, collective bargaining, and similar labor movement tactics. The momentum behind Nixon, Ocasio-Cortez, and others come from this embrace of labor reform.
Two years ago, when Bernie Sanders energized the Democratic Party by running for president on a Democratic Socialist platform, critics denounced his embrace of single-payer health care as too radical. He lost handily in the presidential primaries to Hillary Clinton, yet his message resonated with many millennials, even those who didn’t look like the white working class Sanders championed.
While Sanders has been criticized for not adequately addressing race and reproductive rights in his political stances, women like Nixon and Ocasio-Cortez have addressed these issues head-on. The Congressional district the latter is running in spans portions of the Bronx and Queens and is mainly made up of working-class people of color, many of whom are immigrants. Ocasio-Cortez comes from a working-class family and is uniquely positioned to understand and address the needs of the majority of her constituents.
And when it comes to reproductive rights, Nixon told a powerful story about her mother’s illegal abortion, even brandishing a coat hanger, while criticizing Gov. Cuomo’s handling of the Reproductive Health Act, which would codify Roe v. Wade in New York law, but has stalled in the state legislature.
Political experts challenge the notion that this means a socialist wave overtaking the Democratic Party, pointing out that less-progressive Democrats have won all over the country. But it’s hard to dismiss the movement that these women have taken on, especially as they make socialism more inclusive.