Democratic socialism sweeping across college campuses
Students seeking alternatives to two-party system
Democratic socialism is gaining popularity in the United States, particularly on college campuses.
According to historian Eric Foner, in the past, socialism hasn’t had broad appeal in the United States partially because of its association with authoritarian regimes like the Soviet Union. However, according to The New York Times, membership of Democratic Socialists of America rose from 5,000 in November 2016 to 35,000 in April 2018.
On CU campuses, socialist groups are similarly increasing in visibility. On Oct. 3, the International Socialist Organization and the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) chapters at CU Boulder and Auraria campus organized a protest in response to a CU Boulder event featuring conservative activists Charlie Kirk and Candace Owens. The event’s Facebook page specifically mentioned, “On Twitter, they frequently attack the character of Dr. Ford, and they deny the existence of rape culture altogether,” as a reason for organizing the protest.
Kirk himself has been frequently critical of democratic socialism, telling an audience in 2017, “Don’t fall for that. Democratic socialism…is immoral, it is evil, it is impractical when put in practice.”
The Auraria campus chapter of Young Democratic Socialists of America was founded during Spring semester of 2018, and they now have 14 members.
Brett Smith, the CU Denver Chair of YDSA at Auraria, said he’s been interested in “inequalities of our current system” since middle school but didn’t learn about democratic socialism until Bernie Sanders’ 2016 presidential campaign.
When asked why he was drawn to the movement, Smith added, “The Democratic Party didn’t really represent the people anymore.”
Nezzie Thomas, a CU Denver student who attended the Oct. 3 protest, is not a YDSA member but is considering joining the Auraria campus chapter. “I think it makes more sense to have the vast majority of people in charge of decisions that affect them…people shouldn’t be starving in the streets and homeless,” Thomas said.
Janet Ruppert, a Ph.D. student studying information science, attended the Oct. 3 protest and is part of the CU Boulder YDSA chapter. Ruppert was drawn to democratic socialism because “democrats and republicans are not offering us viable solutions.”
When asked why democratic socialists in Boulder were a part of an event to support victims of sexual assault, Ruppert said, “Redistribution of wealth, meaningful social programs… all that would benefit all women, including women of color, queer women, people being silenced.”
In 2018, 40 DSA candidates won contested primaries, perhaps most notably Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who defeated the Chair of the House Democratic Caucus, Joe Crowley, in New York’s 14th congressional district.
The movement is gaining popularity, particularly with those under 30, as the results of a November 2017 YouGov poll shows that 51 percent of 21-to 29-year-olds prefer socialism to capitalism.
Regarding the future of democratic socialism, Smith said, “I think we are on an upswing that will only continue as the institutions that we once held faith in continue to crumble as they are undermined by big business. We will see more candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez run and win across the country.”