Kaizad Irani ‘22
Socialism first officially entered the American political arena back in 1912, when Socialist candidate Eugene Debs received six percent of the popular vote in the presidential election. Since then, the socialist ideology has fought an uphill battle in gaining the support of Americans, especially during the rise of the Soviet Union. Fast forward to 2018 and Democratic Socialism is garnering the interest of millions of Americans, including those on Davidson’s campus.
Arianna Montero-Colbert ‘19, Will Thurston ‘19, and Lucas Weals ‘19 co-founded Davidson’s chapter of the Young Democratic Socialists of America (YDSA) this past summer. The YDSA is the youth section of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) organization, the largest socialist group in the country. The DSA is not a political party, but rather an activist organization that “fights for reforms that empower working people,” according to its official website.
“Historically, we felt that left groups on campus have failed to galvanize support in the same numbers than groups on the right,” said Montero-Colbert. “We identified a need for a hub for political education and action which starts with a capitalist state as the main target.”
With the political success of 2016 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders and New York congressional candidate Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, it is clear that Democratic Socialism has been on the rise. According to the DSA website, membership stands at approximately 50,000 members. Prior to the 2016 election, membership was at 8,500.
“Ideas like socialism and Marxism have been suppressed over the past 50 years. Up until recently, there has been a systematic removal of discussing these topics in classrooms and in political discourse,” emphasized Thurston.
“Right now, I see a lot of people that are upset with the current political framework and I think an anti-capitalistic view can help bring everyone together and evaluate why things are so bad in their lives.”
Along with the growth in membership, the DSA’s platform is resonating the most with young people. According to a 2018 Gallup poll, 51 percent of Americans aged 18 to 29 have a positive view about socialism. The median age for a DSA member is 33.
“For a lot of young voters, a pivotal moment in their political consciousness was the economic crisis of 2008. As a result, the questions arose of who is going to pay for this and who is going to get punished,” said Weals. “What happened was that ordinary Americans, statistically a majority of them being people of color, footed the bill for this criminal activity. Most Americans have a fundamental understanding that the current capitalistic system is not working for them, and it is only going to get worse with the Trump presidency.”
The main goal of Davidson’s YDSA club is to educate the community about the Democratic Socialist ideology. Additionally, they hope to work directly with DSA in political campaigning and work with other clubs on campus.
“Definitely one of our main intentions with this chapter is political education,” explained Montero-Colbert. “We want to educate and help demystify the socialist agenda. Also, we want to work with student groups that have similar interests as ours, including the Davidson Students for Just Admissions club.”
With the addition of the new YDSA chapter, Davidson currently has six political organizations on campus. Joe DeMartin ‘21, president of Young Americans for Freedom (YAF), is looking forward to the new political voice on campus.
“I am always excited about new perspectives on campus, and I think the YDSA is going to bring an extremely unique and not yet represented point of view,” said DeMartin.
Like the YDSA, the YAF is a chapter of a nationwide political outreach organization. They are a conservative organization that “is committed to ensuring that increasing numbers of young Americans understand and are inspired by the ideas of individual freedom, a strong national defense, free enterprise, and traditional values.” Despite their political differences, DeMartin wants to maintain a friendly and respectful relationship between the two clubs.
“I hope that despite of our policy and political disagreements, we can still get together for some engaging dialogue and discussion,” explained DeMartin. “I feel as though one of the most important and exciting things about going to a college like Davidson is that we have access to people of all different backgrounds. It is super important to talk about different ideas and investigate our own claims.”