Demo­cratic so­cial­ists surge in lo­cal races

Na­tional or­ga­ni­za­tion is be­hind elec­tion push for ANC seats in 5 wards

The Washington Post Sunday - - LOCAL OPINIONS - BY MARISSA J. LANG marissa.lang@wash­post.com

Amer­i­can so­cial­ism is hav­ing a mo­ment.

Lead­ing up to Tues­day’s midterm elec­tions, the ide­ol­ogy has been em­braced by some as the fu­ture of pro­gres­sive pol­i­tics and shunned by oth­ers as a dan­ger­ous no­tion that could de­stroy the Amer­i­can way of life.

But in the Dis­trict, home to a pres­i­dent who is un­abashedly hos­tile to so­cial­ism in all its forms, demo­cratic so­cial­ism has taken root.

So­cial­ist can­di­dates ap­pear on this year’s bal­lot for Ad­vi­sory Neigh­bor­hood Com­mis­sion seats in five of the Dis­trict’s eight wards. It’s the largest elec­tion push by the Demo­cratic So­cial­ists of Amer­ica in any city in the coun­try.

They’re tabling, can­vass­ing, knock­ing on doors and pitch­ing them­selves as your friendly neigh­bor­hood so­cial­ists. And they want your vote.

“For me, so­cial­ism is some­one who doesn’t want to be con­trolled by pol­i­tics or the typ­i­cal po­lit­i­cal stan­dards,” said Jewel Stro­man, a can­di­date run­ning for an ANC seat in South­east Wash­ing­ton. “So­cial­ists just think that the peo­ple should run the sys­tem, that the peo­ple should have a big­ger voice. And I agree; we should have the big­gest voice in these de­ci­sions that are made about our lives.”

The DSA — an or­ga­ni­za­tion that has en­dorsed can­di­dates such as Alexan­dria Ocasio-Cortez, the 28-year-old who un­seated New York’s top Demo­cratic con­gres­sional in­cum­bent and is poised to win on Tues­day — is sup­port­ing 11 ANC can­di­dates in the Dis­trict, which has 40 such com­mis­sion­ers.

It’s the largest elec­toral ef­fort the DSA has spear­headed in the Dis­trict and the be­gin­ning of big­ger things to come, or­ga­niz­ers said.

“Two years from now, we’re go­ing to run a whole lot more peo­ple,” said Matthew Samp­son, 27, a DSA or­ga­nizer and grad­u­ate stu­dent at Ge­orge­town Univer­sity run­ning un­op­posed for an ANC seat rep­re­sent­ing the Dupont Cir­cle neigh­bor­hood. “We want to show our neigh­bors that so­cial­ists are not peo­ple to be afraid of. We’re peo­ple who want to push for change from the bot­tom up in­stead of the top down.”

Fo­cus­ing on ANC races in­stead of back­ing a D.C. Coun­cil can­di­date will put can­di­dates closer to the is­sues fac­ing com­mu­ni­ties, of­fi­cials said. Or­ga­niz­ers said it could be a pre­cur­sor to hav­ing a so­cial­ist can­di­date run for higher city of­fice.

DSA can­di­dates are run­ning for seats in North­west, North­east and South­east Wash­ing­ton. ANC mem­bers, who serve two-year terms with­out pay, are non­par­ti­san elected rep­re­sen­ta­tives who ad­vise Dis­trict gov­ern­ment lead­ers. Not all of the city’s in­hab­i­tants are sold on so­cial­ism.

Last month, the White House is­sued a 72-page anti-so­cial­ist man­i­festo that de­cried some ideas of lead­ing Democrats — in­clud­ing Medi­care-for-all and free col­lege ed­u­ca­tion — as echoes of op­pres­sive so­cial­ist regimes of the past, such as Vladimir Lenin’s Soviet Rus­sia and Mao Ze­dong’s Com­mu­nist China. The re­port com­pared so­cial­ist po­lit­i­cal plat­forms of to­day to poli­cies that led to the vi­o­lence and in­sta­bil­ity of pre­sent-day Venezuela.

Ac­cord­ing to a Gallup poll ear­lier this year, pub­lic opin­ion has warmed to the no­tion of so­cial­ism, par­tic­u­larly among young vot­ers.

Ac­cord­ing to the sur­vey, 51 per­cent of re­spon­dents ages 18 to 29 had a pos­i­tive view of so­cial­ism — though the term was not ex­plic­itly de­fined — and 57 per­cent of Democrats ex­pressed the same. Among Repub­li­cans, 16 per­cent re­ported pos­i­tive feel­ings about the ide­ol­ogy, a slight in­crease since 2016.

On the cam­paign trail in the Dis­trict, ANC can­di­dates said they’ve got­ten a largely pos­i­tive re­ac­tion.

“I think a lot of peo­ple are feel­ing like they don’t have a voice in pol­i­tics or a seat at the ta­ble,” Stro­man said. “Es­pe­cially with the pres­i­dent and what he’s said and done, I think peo­ple just want to take their gov­ern­ment back, and they want to have a say-so in what’s go­ing on. That’s why I think all this new en­ergy is there around so­cial­ism.”

Other res­i­dents don’t know what it means to iden­tify as a so­cial­ist, can­di­dates said. So­cial­ism is pred­i­cated on the idea that wealth, goods and ser­vices should be shared by the com­mu­nity as a col­lec­tive.

“Peo­ple are so used to the lib­eral-con­ser­va­tive thing that I think most peo­ple, when they hear my plat­form, just as­sume I’m a lib­eral,” said Samp­son, run­ning on a plat­form of more walk­a­ble and bike-friendly com­mu­ni­ties, fight­ing gen­tri­fi­ca­tion and dis­tribut­ing re­sources from wealth­ier wards to poorer ar­eas. “When I say, ‘Well, ac­tu­ally, I’m a so­cial­ist,’ usu­ally they’re just sur­prised. Like, ‘Oh, wow. Okay. Cool.’ ”

In­cum­bent Beau Fin­ley, a Cleve­land Park res­i­dent en­dorsed by the DSA who is run­ning for re­elec­tion to the ANC, said neigh­bor­hood is­sues aren’t al­ways as politi­cized as na­tional ones.

“When I’m go­ing door to door, peo­ple are re­ally ask­ing ques­tions like, ‘What are you do­ing about the pot­hole on my street?’ ” he said. “And there re­ally isn’t a [so­cial­ist] spe­cific an­swer to that ques­tion.”

Pot­holes, it turns out, just need to be filled.

Fin­ley’s other plat­forms are more in­formed by his pol­i­tics, such as af­ford­able hous­ing and con­struc­tion of a short-term hous­ing fa­cil­ity for fam­i­lies in cri­sis.

Stro­man is also run­ning on hous­ing is­sues — with a unique per­spec­tive: She once was home­less her­self.

Samp­son said the di­ver­sity of the DSA’s field — LGBT can­di­dates, can­di­dates of color and peo­ple from var­i­ous so­cioe­co­nomic back­grounds — is its big­gest strength.

“Our cur­rent po­lit­i­cal par­ties don’t ad­dress the re­al­i­ties in our lo­cal neigh­bor­hoods and com­mu­ni­ties,” he said. “They treat peo­ple like re­sources and wal­lets rather than con­stituents. The ANC cam­paign is part of our move­ment to chal­lenge that and push back on that think­ing. We’re go­ing to change the way D.C. pol­i­tics is done.”

JAHI CHIKWENDIU/THE WASH­ING­TON POST

Ad­vi­sory Neigh­bor­hood Com­mis­sion can­di­date Jewel Stro­man, a demo­cratic so­cial­ist, at a fo­rum with op­po­nent D.L. Humphrey.

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