Colton Evans of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) says it might be easier to define the organization by what it is against rather than what it’s for. “We’re anti-racist, anti-sexist, anti-imperialist, anti-colonialist — and anti-capitalist, of course,” he says over drinks on Friday, June 30 at The Paddock.
More than a dozen DSA members and supporters gathered for this group happy hour, chatting about their daily lives and Marxist theory in equal measure. They also planned upcoming actions, especially for next weekend’s town hall with Sen. Ron Wyden.
Adam Kishel is a dues-paying member. Kishel points out that many important wins for the working class came out of socialist movements, including the 40-hour workweek, social security and unions. “None of us here are Stalinists,” he says, adding that he instead admires American socialists. “DSA encapsulates a lot of ideas of the left, but the basic idea is that we work to make significant practical reforms based on socialist ideology that will lead to a more egalitarian society.”
The Eugene chapter is a new entity — chapter chair Jen McKinney says the first gathering to start a local chapter was in February, and the national DSA only granted chapter status a few weeks ago. McKinney has been there since the beginning.
She says she joined DSA out of frustration over the fact that the two major parties did not represent her ideologies. “The Democrats are certainly pro-capitalism and that just doesn’t fit my views,” she says. “Capitalism has destroyed workers, has destroyed women and destroyed minorities.”
While the DSA is not a political party, it works to influence the Democratic Party from the left.
The Eugene chapter is focused on single-payer health care, access to higher education, workers’ rights and fighting social inequality.
“The DSA is a big tent,” McKinney adds. “We welcome anyone who is questioning the Democrats, who is questioning capitalism, who wonders why they have to work more and more hours but their paychecks are not getting higher.”
Evans says he joined partially out of concern about student loan debt. By the time he finishes school, he’ll have $20,000 in debt, he says. “I have no illusions that the Democratic Party cares either, because if they did, they’d do something about it,” he says.
Evans also hopes for campaign finance reform because officials are “beholden to their donors, not their constituents,” he says.
The DSA has chapter meetings every other Sunday at 609 E 13th Avenue. The next one is 6 pm Sunday, July 16.
Those interested in supporting the cause can also show up at the Wyden town hall 11 am Saturday, July 8, in the Springfield High School gym at 875 7th Street.
Chair McKinney says the DSA plans to exert pressure on Wyden to clarify his stance on single-payer health care. She says they’re seeking a “yes or no” answer from him, and “if we can get enough people, we can ask some follow ups on that if he doesn’t give us a straight yes.”
To join DSA, visit dsausa.org. Dues vary from $27 for low-income members to $175 a year for “sustainers.”