Donald J. Trump is the President of the United States. You know this by now, of course, but a year ago you may have thought it impossible. At the very least you had your doubts.
On November 8, 2016, some of us disconnected or went to bed early, only to wake up to a reality we feared might materialize but never thought possible. While some of us slept, others kept our children up late, so they could see a woman win the presidency for the first time. As the night wore on and we grasped its grim significance, we tucked them into bed abruptly. I know these people. You probably do too.
The next day, thousands of these people joined DSA. The time since has felt, in various ways, like the longest and the shortest year. But last night’s elections were a good reminder of how quickly DSA members have lept into action to create positive change in a country that claims a brash, crass, incapable egomaniac as its chief executive.
DSA members won more than a dozen city council seats across the country last night, in places like Somerville, MA, Allegheny, PA, Billings, MO, New Haven, CT, Duluth, MN, Knoxville, TN, and Lakewood, OH. One DSA member unseated an incumbent district judge in Pittsburgh. Another was elected to the Virginia House of Delegates with hardly any support from the state Democratic party.
Now that it’s time for many members to renew their DSA dues, we asked Chicago DSA members who joined around last year’s election to share stories of why they joined and why they’re re-upping their #DSAdues.
Audrey Steinbach — Joined November 9, 2016
I’ll be honest, I cried the night of the election. I’m sure a lot of people did. But when I watched the results come in I didn’t want to believe it. I was pissed, shocked, sad, scared, everything. I felt so hopeless. This was a common sentiment among my family, friends, and acquaintances.
I have organized with political campaigns in the past, and after Bernie lost the nomination I had a weird feeling. I started volunteering for the Hillary campaign because I was scared of the alternative. I went to the Chicago Hillary HQ every week and phonebanked for them but this still didn’t put me at ease. I’ll always remember, in the Hillary Chicago offices, seeing a poster of Hillary in sunglasses with the words “Madame President” below it. This poster was hilarious to me. I just kept thinking, “How does she know? How can they be so confident?” After the election, I realized that this holier-than-thou attitude in politics had to change. It wasn’t right and it wasn’t resonating. I guess that’s what drove me into action. The similar feelings that everyone was having but also the sour taste the Democrats left in my mouth.
Why DSA… Honestly I hadn’t heard about DSA until another DSAer from Milwaukee turned me onto Chapo Trap House a few days after their first episode came out. I know this isn’t a story that a lot of people like to hear about how folks came to the DSA, but that’s my story. Chapo and Twitter helped me realize that these were the folks that were going to get shit done. They were the only people I saw calling the Democrats on their shit and I liked and respected that.
I didn’t really have much of a theoretical or literary foundation coming into DSA. I knew what was right and wrong and that both parties in America weren’t really getting it. Being able to talk with comrades with different approaches to socialism has helped me realize how a society truly grounded in socialism can lift up all of us. I’m still learning but being around people that are wickedly smart when it comes to history, theory, and labor has been an awesome experience.
My most memorable experience with DSA in my year since joining has been a few different experiences rolled into one. What I mean by that is in the recent months I have seen other DSAers on the street or on the train and they’ve come up to me to say “hey,” even if we hadn’t chatted much before or never knew each other that well prior. This type of unbridled camaraderie is what I love about DSA and is what will be vital in our efforts to upend the current political structure ensnaring our nation. Plus it’s nice when someone says hi to you. I feel like people don’t do that much anymore.
Every day there is something worse happening in the world. It’s really hard to keep your head up, especially in the face of everything else that happens in people’s immediate day-to-day. It’s hard enough to stay positive with my own problems, and looking outward to a world that seems to be spiraling further and further into a void of morality and hope is depressing. DSA has given me a glimmer of hope that we can fight back against all odds. My comrades have helped me stay sane by understanding that we can’t tackle everything at once, and that when we support each other, we will win.
Carl Gilbertsen — Joined November 7, 2016
I joined the day before the election because I thought that Clinton had it in the bag, and to me it was important to be part of a non-electoral group that would pressure the Democrats from the left while they were in power. (I believe in both booing and voting, Mr. Obama.)
I feel that the right-wing fringe has been very effective at getting the GOP to adhere to their insane policy lines since the late ‘70s. They’ve done that through ‘threatening’ GOP incumbents with organized political power that could be mobilized at the grassroots level to present themselves as credible ‘threats’ or ‘rewards’ depending on the circumstances. They win with incredibly unpopular policies through this method, and I figured that the DSA could be even more effective, because what we fight for is both popular and ethically the right thing to do.
I’ve been part of two groups (Lower Hudson and Chicago DSA) and I have learned that local involvement and awareness is very important, and that there are a ton of people who are very concerned about their society. Tabling for DSA at the People’s Summit was amazing because you got to see people from all over the country coming to the event, and they all had great ideas and a ton of passion for making our country better through socialism.
I feel that DSA’s emphasis on being a decentralized organization that is responsive to local concerns is a great model to follow going forward. It’s great to find a bunch of politically involved people on the left whose message is not accusatory or guilt-inducing, and I feel like DSA is at an inflection point where it could change the tone of the left in a way that could totally reinvent how we think about politics in this country. To me the next step is to reach people who haven’t gone to college and develop leaders among those communities, who can in turn recruit their neighbors.
Anna — Joined November 9, 2016
Fear and frustration motivated my decision to join DSA the day after the election. Donald Trump’s win represented my absolute worst nightmare coming true, yet Hillary Clinton’s loss confirmed what I had suspected for a while: the Democratic Party is neither interested in nor equipped to address issues impacting the majority of people in this country.
I wanted to resist, but I also wanted to think about and build a future rooted in humanity and dignity, not cruelty and profit. The more I learned about democratic socialism, the more I realized that an organization like DSA embodied beliefs and values that I always knew I had but struggled to articulate. Signing up on November 9, 2016, felt like finally coming up for air after drowning.
Solidarity has informed my first year with DSA. I have learned so much from the comrades I have met and worked alongside. Being relatively new to Chicago, I also have felt so much more connected to my community. Seeing the willingness with which folks dedicate so much of their time and energy to organizing is inspiring and humbling. I was particularly amazed by the money raised by CDSA for the Chicago Abortion Fund as part of the National Abortion Access Bowl-a-Thon, as well as the turn-outs to both the Labor Day rally and the protest at the Stephen Douglas Tomb in Bronzeville.
Uncertainty clouds my view of America’s political future, because the systemic problems to be fixed sometimes feel too insurmountable to topple. Part of why I joined DSA, though, is to remind myself that there are people who understand this feeling yet remain committed to fighting on anyway. I am proud to call them my comrades.