Central PA's LGBT News Source
On the afternoon of Jan. 28, I sat in on a discussion of the Harrisburg chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America gathered at Midtown Scholar Bookstore to kick off a new reading group. About 15 people gathered for a discussion on the Karl Marx and Friedrich Engels's pamphlet, The Communist Manifesto.
Since the election of President Trump, 24,000 people have joined the Democratic Socialists of America, founded in 1982. About 75% of the new members are under the age of 35.
Afterward, I asked local Socialist Joseph Gauger, 30, a participant in the book discussion. Then I heard from Madison (real first name), 26, who wanted to share her views but asked that her photograph not accompany her answers to our Q&A. Madison noted she does not speak for everyone in Harrisburg DSA.
Central Voice: How did you connect with Harrisburg Democratic Socialists?
Madison: I had heard from that some folks from Philly had recently moved to Harrisburg and wished to start a local chapter. They were trying to gauge interest. I had made it my goal for the year of 2017 to be more involved in local politics, so the prospect of starting a DSA chapter greatly appealed to me.
My friends and I had had an idea to possibly start up our own local leftist organization, and the decentralized nature of DSA was convenient for us. DSA is an established organization that already has a foundation for us to build on, It is an organization that continues to grow. It has evolved into a movement that I'm proud to be a part of.
Central Voice: Are you a Socialist? Would you use other/additional labels to describe your politics?
Madison: I've called myself a Socialist since my late teens, but more recently I have started to describe myself as a Libertarian Socialist (not to be confused with right-wing Libertarianism). Libertarian Socialism, or LibSoc for short, has a more anarchist bend to it (advocating for a stateless, non-hierarchical society).
Central Voice: In what ways to you engage with electoral politics? (For example, registering to vote, joining a political party, voting in local/state/presidential primaries/elections, volunteering to support a candidate.)
Madison: I am not opposed to electoral politics because it is an option; however, I personally prefer direct action. I hesitate to support candidates that aren't running under a Socialist ballot. For example, if someone who is a member of DSA is running as a Democrat, I would personally decide if and how to support a candidate on a case by case basis.
I would like to point out that I do not speak for everyone in Harrisburg DSA. There are those who agree with me, and some who respectfully do not agree with me. These are conversations we've had at great lengths during our meetings. The decision of whether or not our chapter should endorse a candidate would be made democratically by the rank and file members.
Central Voice: What messages, if any, did you receive about Socialism growing up? In school/at home? Was it discussed in good or bad terms?
Madison: I think most people don't know what Socialism really is and are consistently mislead in their formative years. My parents are Liberal Democrats and still pretty staunch Capitalists, but they never talked about Socialism for reasons unknown to me.
In school, we were taught that Socialism was bad. Despite that, learning about the "evils" of Socialism is how I discovered the Communist Manifesto in high school, and it's been a slow evolution into Leftism over the course of a decade.
Central Voice: What are your thoughts on why DSA membership has increased so much in the last year compared to the rest of its history?
Madison: DSA was founded in the early 80s and was primarily (and still is, I suppose,) predominantly cis-gendered, straight white men. However, the swell in membership has moved the organization a little further Left from its more Social Democrat (and cis-gendered, straight white male) roots, which I think is a very good thing. I have attended trainings in racial justice, and I hope to attend trainings centered around feminism and ally work with the LGBTQ community in the future.
People want to learn more about Socialism and get involved because Capitalism sucks and it really does feel like the end is nigh. This country, and society as a whole, is begging for a shift in paradigms. There are other Left leaning movements building around the globe, and even across this country, and we need a way to combat the rising tides of Fascism and the onslaught of Fascist violence.