The 2016 Democratic Party primary proved that, for a great many people, “socialism” is no longer taboo. Bernie Sanders, a self-described democratic socialist, garnered over 13 million votes during the primaries, performing particularly well among millennials. The Dubuque Democratic Socialists is a truly grassroots activist organization affiliated with the Democratic Socialists of America, a nation-wide organization, which supported Sanders and has long championed many of the policies that he and his supporters favor.
Despite Sanders’ strong showing, there was very little substantive media coverage of his political perspective. Hence, for many people, “democratic socialism” remains a new idea, and something of a mystery. What do democratic socialists, like those of us involved in DDS, stand for? What is our political vision?
Although Americans have long heralded the profit motive as a driver of innovation, we recognize that it has a dark side. It has given rise to many of the most pressing problems with which we are confronted, including a now endless series of wars, which profit the perversely named “defense” industry; a health care system that works only for the privileged; rampant poverty and indebtedness; ecological degradation and climate change; and the abuse and exploitation of workers, both here in our country and throughout the world. As socialists, we believe that production and economic activity more generally ought to be responsive to our needs and the satisfaction of common interests, not the private profit of owners. By contrast, under a capitalist system, all economic production is ultimately designed to increase the wealth of owners and investors.
We seek to create a social and economic system that empowers, rather than disempowers; which fosters solidarity rather than division; which is responsive to the will and needs of the people, rather than the financial interests of the few. The economy, not just the government, ought to be of the people, by the people, and for the good of the people. As democratic socialists, we believe that the economy will be truly responsive to the needs of the vast and overwhelming majority only when it is brought under the control of truly participatory and inclusive political institutions.
Authentically democratic governance is both a means and an end. We seek to more fully democratize our communities, our political institutions, and our workplaces, as both a goal in its own right and as a means of bringing about the economic system that we believe is necessary for ensuring human flourishing. Our faith is not in the invisible hand or market discipline; we believe that these have been proven inadequate. Rather, we place our political faith in authentically democratic political institutions. Not only do we believe that inclusive, participatory, bottom-up decision-making would result in better policies, but we believe that such self-governance is an expression of and realization of our shared humanity.
For the Dubuque Democratic Socialists, the source of our most intensive and immediate work will be our local community. Hence, our work ought to begin by taking stock of our present reality. What follows are a few of the important questions we can consider to help us do this.
- What are specific impediments to democratic participation in our community? How do existing political structures and civic institutions privilege certain people and exclude others from participation and decision-making?
- Which institutions shape our political values and sense of community? Are they doing so in a positive or a negative way?
- What are the sources of power and influence in our community? How do those with economic, social, or political power develop, maintain, and exercise that power in our community?
- Which interests are prioritized and privileged? In what specific ways do current ordinances, policies, or norms benefit the economically and socially privileged at the expense of others?
We also need to begin imagining alternatives to help reinvigorate and sustain democratic participation. Thus, as we take stock of our present reality, we should also consider questions about how to change this reality:
- How could the power-dynamics in our community be shifted? How could we empower those who are currently disempowered? How can we ensure that power doesn’t just shift from one group of privileged people to another group of privileged people, as is the case when there is simply a change in the political party that is in power?
- How can we foster a sense of solidarity among groups who do not feel connected? Where can people come together? How can we negotiate or acknowledge differences, while nevertheless working together?
- Which institutions or groups ought to be the focus of our activism? Which groups are capable of, and open to, change? Which simply serve to maintain the status quo?
We welcome your thoughts, comments, and additional comments!