Skip to main content

Sign up for our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values. Direct to your inbox.

This #GivingTuesday, whatever is your first priority, your second priority has to be independent media.

2021 has been one of the most dangerous and difficult years for independent journalism that we’ve ever seen. Our democracy is facing serial existential threats including the climate emergency, vaccine apartheid amid deadly pandemic, a global crisis for biodiversity, reproductive freedoms under assault, rising authoritarianism worldwide, and corporate-funded corruption of democracy that run beneath all of this. Giving Tuesday is a critical opportunity to make sure our journalism remains funded so that we can stay focused on all your priority issues. Please contribute today to keep Common Dreams alive and growing.

Please Help This #GivingTuesday -- Though our content is free to all, less than 1% of our readers give. We’re counting on you. Please help Common Dreams end the year strong.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks during a town hall hosted by the NAACP on September 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. Also pictured is Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY) speaks during a town hall hosted by the NAACP on September 11, 2019 in Washington, DC. Also pictured is Rep. Rashida Tlaib (D-MI). (Photo by Zach Gibson/Getty Images)

What Democrats Should Learn From the Spate of Socialist Wins on Election Day

It’s not enough to be anti-Trump. Socialists are showing you can win elections by standing for something.

Mindy Isser

 by In These Times

While many had hoped that Elec­tion Day would result in a sweep­ing rebuke of Trump and Trump­ism, nei­ther a pan­dem­ic nor an eco­nom­ic reces­sion were enough to deliv­er an over­whelm­ing rejec­tion. And although it’s look­ing like­ly that Biden will eke out a vic­to­ry, the 2020 elec­tion was in many ways a bust for the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, which lost seats in the House and most like­ly did not win a major­i­ty in the Senate. 

But demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ism, pop­u­lar­ized by near-pres­i­den­tial nom­i­nee Bernie Sanders (I‑Vt.), had a much bet­ter night. The Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca (DSA), an orga­ni­za­tion that boasts near­ly 80,000 mem­bers nation­wide, endorsed 29 can­di­dates and 11 bal­lot ini­tia­tives, win­ning 20 and 8 respec­tive­ly. There are now demo­c­ra­t­ic social­ist cau­cus­es in 15 state­hous­es, includ­ing Mon­tana. (Dis­clo­sure: I am a nation­al­ly elect­ed leader of the orga­ni­za­tion; I sit on the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ist Labor Commission.)

DSA’s vic­to­ries, both in the pri­maries and the gen­er­al elec­tion, have rolled in as pun­dits and poll­sters decry social­ism as polar­iz­ing and raise fears that social­ist can­di­dates will end up back­fir­ing and get­ting Repub­li­cans elect­ed. Sanders’ sup­posed lack of elec­tabil­i­ty was one of the most com­mon­ly used argu­ments against him in the pri­ma­ry. His pri­ma­ry oppo­nents and promi­nent writ­ers like Jonathan Chait claimed that the vast major­i­ty of Amer­i­cans wouldn’t vote for a social­ist, and that there was no way he could defeat Trump. 

While there’s no real way to know for cer­tain if that’s true, it is clear that cen­trist Democ­rats aren’t nec­es­sar­i­ly shoo-ins them­selves. Demo­c­rat Jon Ossoff, who lost a con­gres­sion­al spe­cial elec­tion in 2017, looks like he will also lose this cycle’s Sen­ate race in Geor­gia. Demo­c­rat Sara Gideon, who raised $70 mil­lion to run against Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Susan Collins in Maine, has con­ced­ed, and it looks like Demo­c­rat Cal Cun­ning­ham will also lose his run for Sen­ate in North Car­oli­na. Amy McGrath, who ran as a pro-Trump Demo­c­rat, raised near­ly $90 mil­lion and still lost to Repub­li­can Sen­a­tor Mitch McConnell. The list goes on and on. Even Joe Biden, who seems set to be our next pres­i­dent, often spoke more about beat­ing Trump than any poli­cies he would enact once in office.

Plen­ty of pro­gres­sive can­di­dates also lost, but most can­di­dates nation­al­ly endorsed by DSA sailed through. And while it’s true that many of them had tough pri­ma­ry bat­tles and less dif­fi­cult elec­tions on Tues­day, they still won as DSA mem­bers. All four mem­bers of ​“The Squad” — a pro­gres­sive bloc in Con­gress that includes Demo­c­ra­t­ic Reps. Rashi­da Tlaib (Mich.), Ilhan Omar (Minn.), Alexan­dria Oca­sio-Cortez (N.Y.) and Ayan­na Press­ley (Mass.) — were reelect­ed to the House. (Tlaib and Oca­sio-Cortez are DSA mem­bers and endorsed by the orga­ni­za­tion.) Pro­gres­sives also added two more DSA-endorsed mem­bers to their squad: Demo­c­ra­t­ic Rep.-elect Jamaal Bow­man in New York, and Demo­c­ra­t­ic Rep.-elect Cori Bush, the first ever Black Con­gress­woman in Missouri.

Although the cur­rent iter­a­tion of DSA has been around since the ear­ly 1980s, the orga­ni­za­tion only became polit­i­cal­ly rel­e­vant dur­ing Sanders’ first pres­i­den­tial cam­paign in 2015, and explod­ed when Trump was elect­ed. Five years is a very short peri­od of time to have helped elect City Coun­cil mem­bers, state sen­a­tors and rep­re­sen­ta­tives, and mem­bers of Con­gress all across the coun­try. Accord­ing to a 2018 Reuters sur­vey, 70% of Amer­i­cans sup­port a nation­al health care plan — due to Sanders’ pop­u­lar­iza­tion of the uni­ver­sal health­care pro­gram and to the orga­niz­ing and can­vass­ing DSA chap­ters, along with oth­er orga­ni­za­tions like Nation­al Nurs­es Unit­ed, have done around the legislation. 

DSA-backed can­di­dates suc­ceed for a few main rea­sons: They cam­paign on actu­al poli­cies, have a vision of how to gov­ern, and don’t just depend on the fact that they’re not Repub­li­cans. These poli­cies include Medicare for All, a Green New Deal and a Jobs Guar­an­tee — pro­grams that would improve the qual­i­ty of life for work­ing peo­ple all over this coun­try. And because poli­cies they sup­port are so pop­u­lar and inspir­ing, DSA-backed can­di­dates attract ded­i­cat­ed can­vassers and orga­niz­ers, will­ing to spend nights and week­ends knock­ing doors and mak­ing calls to get them elected.

Now, thanks to DSA mem­bers across the coun­try, there is a social­ist in Austin City Coun­cil and in both the Rhode Island and Mon­tana State Hous­es. In Penn­syl­va­nia, there are three social­ists who are almost cer­tain­ly head­ed to the leg­is­la­ture in Har­ris­burg. Social­ists in Boul­der, Col­orado worked along­side the ACLU to win a bal­lot mea­sure that guar­an­tees no evic­tion with­out rep­re­sen­ta­tion, and DSA mem­bers part­nered with the labor unions AFSCME and SEIU to pass Preschool for All in Mult­nom­ah Coun­ty, Ore­gon. And in both Flori­da and Port­land, Maine, bal­lot ini­tia­tives for a $15 min­i­mum wage passed. 

While it’s clear that most DSA vic­to­ries have been in big cities or more lib­er­al states thus far, it’s impor­tant that we don’t dis­count the incred­i­ble orga­niz­ing hap­pen­ing in the South and in rur­al areas. (Mar­qui­ta Brad­shaw ran a DSA-backed cam­paign for Sen­ate in Ten­nessee but lost; Kim Roney, endorsed by her DSA chap­ter, won a seat on the Asheville City Council.)

And while the Demo­c­ra­t­ic par­ty is loath to give DSA any encour­age­ment, DSA mem­ber Tlaib may have helped to secure Biden’s vic­to­ry in Michi­gan by help­ing to mas­sive­ly increase vot­er turnout from 2016. DSA’s ide­ol­o­gy, focused on a soci­ety that works for all of us instead of the wealthy few, is far more inspir­ing to young and work­ing peo­ple than some­one who is run­ning for office just because they’re not Trump. It might take the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty time to real­ize that (or per­haps it nev­er will), but to the aver­age per­son, polit­i­cal con­di­tions are chang­ing fast — and DSA is play­ing a crit­i­cal role in that transformation.


© 2021 In These Times
Mindy Isser

Mindy Isser

Mindy Isser works in the labor movement and lives in Philadelphia.

... We've had enough. The 1% own and operate the corporate media. They are doing everything they can to defend the status quo, squash dissent and protect the wealthy and the powerful. The Common Dreams media model is different. We cover the news that matters to the 99%. Our mission? To inform. To inspire. To ignite change for the common good. How? Nonprofit. Independent. Reader-supported. Free to read. Free to republish. Free to share. With no advertising. No paywalls. No selling of your data. Thousands of small donations fund our newsroom and allow us to continue publishing. Can you chip in? We can't do it without you. Thank you.

Omar Hangs Up After Boebert Uses Call to Double Down on 'Outright Bigotry and Hate'

"Instead of apologizing for her Islamophobic comments and fabricated lies, Rep. Boebert refused to publicly acknowledge her hurtful and dangerous comments."

Jessica Corbett ·


Win for Alabama Workers as NLRB Orders New Union Vote After Amazon's Alleged Misconduct

A union leader said the decision confirmed that "Amazon's intimidation and interference prevented workers from having a fair say in whether they wanted a union in their workplace."

Jessica Corbett ·


'For the Sake of Peace,' Anti-War Groups Demand Biden Return to Nuclear Deal With Iran

"It's time to put differences aside and return to the Iran nuclear deal," said one advocate.

Julia Conley ·


'That's for Them to Decide': UK Secretary Rebuked for Claiming Vaccine Patent Waiver Won't Be 'Helpful' to Global Poor

One U.K. lawmaker asked when the government would "start putting the need to end this pandemic in front of the financial interests of Big Pharma?"

Andrea Germanos ·


Shell Slammed for Plan to Blast South African Coastline for Oil and Gas During Whale Season

"We cannot allow climate criminals, like Shell, to plunder in the name of greed," said Greenpeace.

Kenny Stancil ·

Support our work.

We are independent, non-profit, advertising-free and 100% reader supported.

Subscribe to our newsletter.

Quality journalism. Progressive values.
Direct to your inbox.

Subscribe to our Newsletter.


Common Dreams, Inc. Founded 1997. Registered 501(c3) Non-Profit | Privacy Policy
Common Dreams Logo