Demo­cratic So­cial­ists make noise, in­roads

Group’s pop­ulist mes­sages ad­dress ICE, Medi­care, stu­dent debt Doubters won­der how long DSA mem­bers’ en­thu­si­asm will last

The Dallas Morning News - - Metro & state - By OBED MANUEL Staff Writer obed.manuel@dal­las­news.com

On the right day, the North Texas Demo­cratic So­cial­ists of Amer­ica might change your brake lights for free dur­ing a com­mu­nity out­reach event.

Why? To get your undy­ing loy­alty to the work­ing class?

Ul­ti­mately, yes. But the goal in that mo­ment would be to get you to ques­tion why a burnt-out $2 light bulb could end up cost­ing you hun­dreds of dol­lars or pos­si­ble jail time if you can’t af­ford to pay off a ticket.

With 400 paid mem­bers in its ranks, the North Texas Demo­cratic So­cial­ists of Amer­ica is a group that’s re­ally up against the po­lit­i­cal tide. It doesn’t have the money, reach or mem­ber­ship of the Demo­cratic or Repub­li­can par­ties. And some ques­tion whether this group has a fu­ture at all.

But that hasn’t stopped DSA mem­bers from be­ing among the loud­est at Dal­las protests against Don­ald Trump, po­lice bru­tal­ity and white supremacy since the North Texas chap­ter formed in April 2016.

Mem­bers of­ten wear bright red T-shirts and hold signs that read “Abol­ish ICE” or “Medi­care for All.” They also call for elim­i­nat­ing stu­dent debt, more fi­nan­cial pro­tec­tions for con­sumers and other pop­ulist mes­sages.

Kris­tian Her­nan­dez, one of three co-chairs of North Texas DSA, said the group’s mis­sion right now is grow­ing and be­ing vis­i­ble.

Some­times that re­quires shout­ing.

“We’re an en­er­gized group. You don’t see a lot of those in Dal­las,” Her­nan­dez said. “We’re not be­holden to any cor­po­rate money. That gives us a lot of lib­erty to pur­sue things and say things in a way that is ‘real talk.’”

North Texas goals

Her­nan­dez said two of the group’s goals this year were the failed paid sick leave pe­ti­tion and the 3 per­cent raise for Dal­las ISD sup­port staff that the board of trustees con­firmed in Au­gust.

“We’re try­ing to change the nar­ra­tive that elec­toral pol­i­tics are the only way to make change in your com­mu­nity. They’re not the only way to have power and to fix things,” Her­nan­dez said. “I’m not say­ing they’re not im­por­tant, but there has to be a dual-sided ef­fort of elec­toral wins and com­mu­nity power.”

As for run­ning can­di­dates in the fu­ture, Her­nan­dez said the group would likely do so in the Demo­cratic Party.

Carol Donovan, chair of the Dal­las County Demo­cratic Party, said she and party mem­bers wel­come DSA be­cause they are likely to op­pose Repub­li­can lead­ers and Trump.

The group is also wel­come to run can­di­dates in the pri­maries, Donovan said, but she would ex­pect them to sup­port the Demo­cratic plat­form if elected.

“My con­cern is if any group that’s on the far right or far left, then you lose your cen­ter,” Donovan said. “Not only do you lose peo­ple who are right of cen­ter but you also lose your base. If lead­er­ship is in the cen­ter, then gen­er­ally you can keep the whole or­ga­ni­za­tion to­gether.”

Dal­las County Repub­li­can Chair Missy Shorey said she does not take demo­cratic so­cial­ists lightly de­spite the group’s size, though she doubts its mem­bers un­der­stand “how dan­ger­ous their ideas are.”

As for the group’s pres­ence in Dal­las, Shorey said she finds it in­ter­est­ing that they have flex­i­ble work sched­ules that al­low for reg­u­lar protests.

“I sup­port their lies be­ing un­veiled as they ad­vo­cate for failed ideas,” Shorey said.

National in­ter­est

Be­fore 2016, the DSA’s national mem­ber­ship hov­ered around 6,000, but the ex­po­sure it got from U.S. Sen. Bernie San­ders’ pres­i­den­tial pri­mary run put it in the spot­light and in the minds of young Amer­i­cans. As of the start of Septem­ber, the group says it has 50,000 mem­bers.

A 2016 Gallup poll found that about 55 per­cent of peo­ple be­tween 18-29 had a fa­vor­able view of so­cial­ism.

And in May 2018 Gen For­ward, a group fo­cused on mil­len­nial at­ti­tudes, found that about 61 per­cent of mil­len­nial Democrats had a fa­vor­able view of so­cial­ism and that black and His­panic mil­len­ni­als were more likely to view so­cial­ism fa­vor­ably.

Chris Rid­diough, 72, a found­ing mem­ber of DSA, said she never thought she would see the group grow the way it has in the past two years.

“We’re ob­vi­ously not in power, but the fact that so many more peo­ple are open to the ideas of demo­cratic so­cial­ism is a very ma­jor step for­ward,” Rid­diough said.

But James Rid­dles­perger, a Texas Chris­tian Univer­sity po­lit­i­cal sci­ence pro­fes­sor, said he would hes­i­tate to call this in­creased in­ter­est in so­cial­ism an ac­tual move­ment. “They’re go­ing to need a lot of money, votes and can­di­dates win­ning be­fore they can con­sider them­selves a vi­able move­ment,” he said.

Rid­dles­perger said San­ders’ al­most-suc­cess­ful pri­mary run em­pha­sized spe­cific goals like uni­ver­sal health care and tu­ition-free ed­u­ca­tion rather than his so­cial­ist la­bel.

In com­par­i­son, Rid­dles­perger points to the tea party, a move­ment that scored elec­toral wins, but ul­ti­mately melded into the main­stream Repub­li­can Party.

But Her­nan­dez said that while other chap­ters around the coun­try may try to win pub­lic of­fices, North Texas DSA’s fo­cus is on hav­ing an im­pact lo­cally.

And that’s what was on the agenda at a re­cent North Texas DSA meet­ing, where 17 mem­bers and non­mem­bers met at Half Price Books in north­east Dal­las to qui­etly dis­cuss racial jus­tice and lo­cal or­ga­niz­ing ef­forts.

Lead­ing the meet­ing was Her­nan­dez. At the close of the meet­ing, she urged non­mem­bers to join and to try to be at the next meet­ing.

“We know our place in Dal­las. A lot of it is to ag­i­tate and to have peo­ple ask more crit­i­cal ques­tions and to ques­tion power,” Her­nan­dez said. “We want to show peo­ple that they can de­mand bet­ter and de­mand more of their elected of­fi­cials.”

Smi­ley N. Pool/Staff Pho­tog­ra­pher

Michael Gonzalez of the Demo­cratic So­cial­ists of Amer­ica helped un­load pe­ti­tions at Dal­las City Hall in June call­ing for a city or­di­nance man­dat­ing paid sick time to be placed on the Novem­ber bal­lot.

Bran­don Wade/Spe­cial Con­trib­u­tor

Isaac Davis of North Texas Demo­cratic So­cial­ists spoke in fa­vor of a 3 per­cent raise for Dal­las ISD sup­port staff dur­ing an Au­gust board of trustees meet­ing.

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