Not too many years ago, the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) was a political afterthought, a movement that was born of the near-constant internal doctrinal struggle that hard-left ideologies encourage and endure.
Now, the DSA has about 100,000 members across the country and more than 160 elected officials from the House of Representatives to school boards.
One of the most successful local “chapters” of late has undoubtedly been the DSA-LA.
Last fall, the DSA-LA increased its presence at City Hall, helped push through rent control in Pasadena, realized a majority of the Culver City School Board, and just saw one its long-time members, Los Angeles Unified School District Board member Jackie Goldberg, tapped as president of the School Board (Goldberg, over the past 40 years, has served on the city council, as a member of the state assembly, and on the School Board).
Nationally, five members of the House of Representatives are DSA members, including, of course, lightweight firebrand Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-NY), 50 members serve in state senates and/or assemblies, and about 100 occupy more local office. California has one DSA member in the Assembly – Silicon Valley’s Alex Lee, who is most known for his youth and his efforts to tax what rich people might make in the stock market.
DSA members include the mayor of Richmond (and members of its contentious city council) , school board members scattered throughout the state, and city council members from Burbank to Sacramento.
It should be stressed that the DSA is not a political party in the common sense of the term and its members do not run as “socialists” on the ballot. For the most part, they run as Democrats, leading to the criticism that the DSA is “Trojan horsing” the party and not being completely upfront with the public.
“They’re using them as a home,” said Venice Beach Neighborhood Board member Soledad Ursua. “But the Democrats let them in.”
It should be noted that multiple attempts to contact the LA-DSA, the Richmond chapter, and even the national organization were made. None engendered a response.
It is in Los Angeles that the DSA seems to have a particular impact. In November, Hugo Soto-Martinez and Eunisses Hernandez joined Nithya Ramen on the council, giving the DSA 20 percent of the council seats (and more if the DSA “supported” candidates are included; the DSA, it seems, only endorses its own members when they run for office and only “supports” non-DSA members on the ballot it finds agreeable).
Critically, the DSA supported Kenneth Mejia’s successful run for City Controller; while that may not sound like a terribly important position, the controller is not only the chief accountant for the city but the office also has the power to audit city departments and programs and projects whenever it deems fit. Mejia has already launched an audit into the police department’s use – or overuse – of its fleet of helicopters. While that may seem a bit obscure, the DSA has been at the forefront of the so-called “defund the police” movement, leading some to wonder if Mejia has grander political motives and is just starting with a “baby step.”
So how has the DSA become so important in LA recently?
First, they have a very committed group of volunteers and supporters who knock on doors (far more important than too many candidates think, by the way), hand fliers, go to public meetings, and purposefully reach out to the “non-profit” octopus – particularly the city’s multi-billion-dollar homeless-industrial complex – to extend their reach.
“They are really good at social media,” Ursua noted. “They come across more like ‘influencers’ than politicians.”
Mejia, for example, has an active TikTok page – and, yes, he does look that young and the chapter’s Facebook page has 12,000 followers.
Another possible reason for the DSA’s success is the very distinct impression they leave that many – or at least enough – of their members are guilt-ridden rich kids wanting to do something – give money, give time, etc. – to atone for their privilege while not actually giving up that privilege.
In other words, the children of limousine liberals are now socialite socialists.
Until it was cleaned up and fenced off two years ago, the city’s famed Echo Park (remember the boating/photographing scene from Chinatown? that place) had been taken over by members of Los Angeles’ burgeoning homeless population. The cleanup was appreciated by neighbors but met with fierce resistance by the DSA and “homeless advocates,” which in LA often means groups that want to continue to allow thousands of people to literally die on city streets each year.
For a deeper dive into the politics of Echo Park and Mejia’s highly questionable new office team.
New Councilman Soto-Martinez has already ordered the removal of the fencing around the park, saying he will remove the fence, “because it has not done anything to solve homelessness. He says it’s a symbol of the failed homeless policy of the previous city administration.”
An additional factor in the DSA’s growth may be a simple, old political tactic – hardball. The DSA not only tends to the dogmatic, members and supporters can and do get in the trenches of city political life by disrupting and/or participating in meetings, yelling into microphones, and protesting outside of homes. In fact, Soto-Martinez himself has been identified as the possible leaker of the now-infamous racially charged “Nury tapes” – that turned city politics on its ear shortly before last November’s election.
What the future holds for the DSA and LA is not certain, but it seems clear that the future – at least in the near term – will involve the DSA.
PHOTO: Democratic Socialists of America Rally. Photo by David Shankbone. Attribution 2.0 Generic (CC BY 2.0).
Thomas Buckley is the former mayor of Lake Elsinore, California and a former newspaper reporter. He is currently the operator of a small communications and planning consultancy and can be reached directly at [email protected]. You can read more of his work at: https://thomas699.substack.com/