Today marks Day 1 of the four-day long biennial Democratic Socialists of America Convention at the University of Illinois at Chicago, and the attendance is stronger than ever. Since the 2016 election, the number of DSA members has tripled, with as many as 177 local groups in 46 different states. In fact, earlier in the week, the DSA met last year's goal by reaching 25,000 members nationwide. With these numbers, the DSA claims to be the largest American socialist group since World War II.
While there are many factors contributing to the widespread socialist energy, the DSA's support of Sen. Bernie Sanders' campaign for presidency, and his reciprocal support, helped introduce DSA values to the liberal political mainstream. In hopes of continuing the pattern of growth, the DSA has launched three organized focus areas: DSA Praxis for radical theory and policy development; DSA Momentum focuses on winning leadership in unions and fighting for health care; and DSA Unity for building a stronger network within the DSA, but also with other leftist organizers.
"We believe that there is great potential for recruitment from people that are not yet self-identified socialists, and that working in movements broader than DSA, such as the Sanders campaign, will help DSA continue to grow," DSA Unity's platform statement reads.
This year's four-day national convention in Chicago features everything from interactive workshops, educational panels, debates over resolutions, constitutional amendments, and perhaps most importantly, the election of new national leadership to the National Political Committee. The new candidates who are elected will take charge of delegating and organizing the implementation of DSA campaigns, the growth of new chapters, and the development and evolution of praxis.
Needless to say, whoever is handed this mantle will be shifting the tide for a lot of the structure of DSA.
Since the DSA was first founded in 1982, it's safe to say that the range of promoted ideals have shifted with the political ties and will continue to do so. However, a focus on income equality, workers' rights, affordable health care, and prison reform are all at the forefront of current DSA values.
As with the Sanders' campaign, a large number of Democratic Socialists support concrete implementation of as $15 minimum wage, free college tuition, single-payer health care, and opposition to free-trade deals. Both the energy behind Sanders' campaign, and the subsequent election of Trump directly informed the recent growth in membership.
"The day after the election, our membership coordinator turned to me when she looked at her computer in the morning and said 'I can see the moment when Donald Trump announced that he’d won.' People started joining online in massive numbers," wrote the national director Maria Svart.
The Democratic Socialists of America convention will run until Aug. 6, at which point its new leadership will be announced.