Socialist Worker spoke to Sam Dean, a member of the Los Angeles branch of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). He is co-chair of the branch’s electoral politics committee.
He talked about how Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory earlier this week can act as a lightning rod for the movement that created the conditions for her win.
There’s an appetite for change in US society, from teachers strikes earlier this year, the Women’s March and the Black Lives Matter movement, all the way to Ocasio-Cortez’s win. Where do you think that comes from, and how can the left build out of it?
The Trump administration has forced many to acknowledge that the existing political system has failed them. And that the ostensible leaders of the opposition—in the Democratic party and beyond—are too complicit in that system to do anything about it.
People are starting to realise that nobody is standing between them and the people trying to exploit, deport, or murder them, so they need to organise to fight back themselves and build a new generation of leaders.
These daily struggles and recent victories have been radicalising more Americans every day.
The left needs to keep pushing an anti-capitalist analysis of what's going on and keep offering a better vision for the future. It also needs to scale up its organising efforts and capacity to match the massive surge in political energy.
What is the significance of Ocasio-Cortez’s victory? How do you think this can be rolled out by the DSA in other electoral contests?
Ocasio-Cortez defeated the one of the highest ranking Democrats in the primary on Tuesday—to call it an upset is an understatement. It came as a complete surprise even to some working hard on the campaign.
She's all but guaranteed to win the seat in the November election—the district is overwhelmingly Democratic, and she'll only be facing a Republican in the general election. And she pulled this off running as an open and ardent socialist, and a member of DSA.
This marks a new level of legitimacy for the DSA and socialist ideas. Ocasio-Cortez will be able to use her public profile to support the coming waves of left candidates and the ongoing non-electoral struggles across the country.
Every primary contest is its own beast but it seems clear that pitting young, charismatic socialists against establishment incumbents is now a winning strategy.
How do you think the establishment of the Democratic Party will react?
So far the reaction has been denial from the national leadership of the Democratic Party.
They seems to remain wedded to the fantasy that the past 30 years of failed neoliberal policies remain popular. The Democratic establishment think their chances for presidential victory in 2020 lie in convincing moderates to vote for a Democrat more respectable than Trump.
This is seem preferable to convincing working-class Americans that it's worth showing up to vote for a Democrat who actually represents their interests.
To what extent is Medicare for All a key argument you push? What issues cut the most with people in your experience?
Medicare for All is a very popular idea, and subsidised healthcare in general has widespread support.
The challenge for us is the scale of that goal—Medicare for All is a national policy goal, and only achievable when the house, senate, and presidency are all behind the idea.
So, while people we speak to are excited about Medicare for All, it's difficult to articulate a vision and campaign with concrete goals to bring it about. That limits its power as an organising tool outside of candidate platforms.
One campaign we have had success with locally is housing. LA is the most rent-burdened city in the US, and our unhoused population is over 60,000 and climbing.
We’ve seen rents, eviction, and homelessness skyrocket in the past five years. We're currently focusing on a campaign around rent control and strengthening renter's protections.
Precarious housing is on everyone's mind. In my experience just talking about rent or landlords is enough to get people ready to organise.
How can the left limit the ability of the Democratic leadership to fight back against future challenges?
The old guard will continue to mobilise to defeat any challenges from the left. It remains to be seen how a congresswoman like Ocasio-Cortez will be treated by the rest of the Democratic caucus once she's in office.
Luckily, the American parties aren't particularly strong organisations, and almost anyone can run on the Democratic line in a primary with a sufficient number of signatures, or just by paying a fee.
So candidates like Ocasio-Cortez can run on the Democratic line without needing to interact with the existing party apparatus beyond dropping off the paperwork at the local elections office.
Corporate-backed incumbents and their corporate backers will organise their giant piles of cash against any left challengers. And given the current state of campaign finance law we're mostly powerless to stop them. But Ocasio-Cortez's victory shows we can still win anyway.