Bernie Sanders is a self-identified democratic socialist, and young people flocked to his presidential campaign in part because he employed grassroots strategies and challenged the corruption pervading existing institutions. But ever since the election — and despite Sanders' loss in the primaries — more and more millennials have found their own way to democratic socialism.
According to a Los Angeles Times report back in March, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) saw its dues-paying membership triple to over 19,000 over the course of a year — a number that has since increased to 25,000, according to The Young Turks. This has been a significant amount of growth in a short period of time for the DSA, which was founded in 1982. Jacobin noted that a socialist organization of the DSA's size has not existed in decades — and that young workers' rekindled interest in socialism has much to do with the DSA's growth.
Millennials' interest in democratic socialism was also reflected in their attendance at the DSA's annual convention, which launched on Thursday. As the first day of the convention kicked off, people from across the country made their way to Chicago to attend, and the DSA anticipated that this year's convention would be its largest yet.
Bustle asked millennials on Twitter to talk about why they are attending this year's convention, or why they became involved with the DSA in the first place even if they could not attend. They were quick to respond, and concisely described both specific organizing goals and personal reasons for their engagement with democratic socialism.
For many young people, the widespread excitement about Sanders' excitement illustrated the power and potential of mass movement-building. Democratic socialism, in turn, is their way of turning all of that energy into a focused movement that prioritizes solidarity.
Many young people feel drawn to democratic socialism because they do not believe the Democratic Party serves their needs. The Democratic establishment's firm opposition to Sanders during the election made many of his supporters feel as though their calls for change were being neglected.
Millennials involved with the DSA are also turning to democratic socialism as a means to resist Donald Trump, as well as the systems in place that enabled his election victory.
Of course, democratic socialism is not just about Trump, though his presidency directly contradicts many of its principles. Millennials involved with the DSA have numerous goals, including combating climate change and rendering health care more accessible to everyone.
It is important to note that democratic socialism has global implications. Corinna, a DSA convention delegate from Boston, told Bustle in a Twitter direct message that Sanders' popularity in the United States, coupled with Jeremy Corbyn's success in the United Kingdom, signify a "need for an explicitly leftist politics to counter the failures of our corporate political parties":
We don't have a left party in the U.S., we have a choice between a centrist party and a far-right party, and the Sanders campaign showed the extent of the appetite for something else. As millennials we're accused of "apathy" but the truth is we haven't been offered anything worth fighting for — when we are, we're engaged. The DSA's massive recent growth shows that, and as a broad organization it seems the best chance for an explicitly socialist mass political movement we've had in the U.S. in a long time.
This last point is particularly salient. Millennial engagement in democratic socialism stems — as it did during Sanders' campaign — from a desire for profound change. It became evident during the election and afterward that there was a significant amount of tension between the more progressive "Sanders wing" of the Democratic Party and the party establishment.
Now, more young people are seeking an outlet for leftist politics elsewhere, and democratic socialism has presented them with a new avenue to push for the changes they want to see. So, while this year's DSA convention aims to elect the organization's political leadership and finalize a priorities agenda for the next two years, it also appears to represent a turning point for millennials' involvement in American politics.