Want the best of VICE News straight to your inbox? Sign up here.
Democratic Socialists, the current bogeyman of the right, are celebrating some big Election Day wins.
Of the baker’s dozen candidates endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America’s national committee, at least three won their seats, in cities like Philadelphia and Charlottesville, with a fourth on the cusp of eking out a victory in San Francisco. The victories — several of which were in purple states with a record of supporting more-moderate candidates — are both symbolic and historic for a surging group that has sometimes struggled to fully execute its organizing power.
The DSA candidates largely ran on installing better protections for renters, racial justice, and implementing a local Green New Deal — an unapologetically progressive agenda that has gained traction in less traditionally blue parts of the country.
“Not bad for an off year,” Abdullah Younus, a New Yorker who sits on DSA’s National Political Committee, told VICE News.
Some were historic victories. In Philadelphia, the DSA-backed independent candidate Kendra Brooks won her City Council seat by over 10,000 votes, flipping a slot held by Republicans for generations. The national organization even sent DSA members from New York down to Philly to help knock on doors for her.
Brooks, a Working Families Party member, ran on expanding rent control and affordable housing, as well as a “Philadelphia Green New Deal.” She’ll replace Republican Al Taubenberger, whose legislative priorities included combatting squatters and supporting veterans.
"We just made history,” Brooks said Tuesday night. “We broke the GOP.”
Another DSA candidate also picked up a win on the city council in Charlottesville, Virginia — the site of the violent neo-Nazi and white supremacist rally in 2017 that left a 32-year-old woman dead. The candidate, Michael Payne, is a longtime Charlottesville DSA member who has helped organize counterprotests against the white supremacist group led by Richard Spencer.
Spencer, the racist who co-founded that rally and was recently caught on tape making a series of anti-Semitic slurs, has since tried to bring a similar white nationalist rally to D.C.
Ostensibly an activist organization, not a political party, the DSA has multiplied in size and clout in the years since Donald Trump’s election. The vast majority of the group’s electoral pickups –– as of May, about 95 elected officials, from local seats to Congress –– have come since the 2017 elections.
It’s now the largest socialist group in the country, with north of 50,000 members. But Republicans, like Florida Sen. Marco Rubio, have also gleefully seized on the specter of socialism and tried to stoke fears that supporting socialist candidates will turn the U.S. into a failed state.
The movement’s de facto leader is Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who during the 2016 presidential election helped reintroduce the concept of “democratic socialism” to mainstream politics. Since then, middle-of-the-road Democrats have scrambled to distance themselves from the label — and from other prominent DSA candidates, like New York Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez — over worries that it will alienate voters.
But other DSA wins on Tuesday were less surprising.
In the reliably blue Cambridge, Massachusetts, DSA-endorsed candidate Jivan Sobrinho-Wheeler won a seat on the City Council, while another DSA-backed candidate is close to winning a seat on the San Francisco Board of Supervisors.
And Chesa Boudin, the self-described socialist who’s gunning for the District Attorney position in San Francisco, is only a few hundred votes away from winning the seat. (DSA has not endorsed Boudin.) Boudin’s parents were both members of the Weather Underground, a militant far-left political group that gained notoriety in the 1970s after bombing over two dozen government properties, including the State Department and the Pentagon.
Also on the West Coast, a race between socialist Seattle city council candidate Kshama Sawant and opponent Egan Orion is still too close to call. Orion, widely seen as a business-friendly candidate, benefitted from the $1.5 million Amazon pumped into a local PAC.
The race has come to symbolize progressives’ frustration with companies like Amazon, which has contributed to rising income inequality in the metro area. Sawant, a former tech worker, is advocating for a weighty tax on big businesses that would help fund services for homeless people.
DSA members not endorsed by the national committee also won city council seats in Medford and Lansing; in Virginia — where Democrats won a majority of seats in the state legislature and turned every branch of the state blue for the first time in 26 years — delegate Lee Carter, a DSA member, won reelection.
“Now,” Younus said, “all eyes turn to 2020.”
Cover image: Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez endorses 2020 democratic presidential candidate Bernie Sanders at a Bernie Sanders campaign rally in Queensbridge Park on October 19, 2019 in Queens, New York City. (Photo by Bauzen/GC Images)