Photo by Klaus Berdiin Jensen via Flickr (CC BY-NC-SA 2.0)
The hardest thing about having a belief is putting it into action.
That’s not something any well-known political figure or other famous individual said; it’s a musing of my own that I keep coming back to, more so in the past few years. Because turning belief into action is the hardest thing, writing this article — about how American leftists can organize to affect change that reflects their beliefs — has been the hardest of the four.
I have no personal experience with leftist organizing. I go to my job, my classes, take care of my other personal obligations and most of the time have no time or energy left over to dedicate to bolstering the progressive movement (besides writing this series). Personally, however, the second defeat of Bernie Sanders in the recent Democratic primary and the absolute bungling of the response to the coronavirus pandemic by both the current administration and establishment Democrats has forced me to accept that waiting for some heroic figure to change things as president simply will not do.
It will probably be a very long time before the United States has a truly progressive president: one that unabashedly prioritizes human lives above all else. Putting all our energy into promoting one person in one campaign will never be enough. Change always happens from the bottom up. Change also, as it happens, doesn’t necessarily have to be political.
The biggest, most effective force that protects working Americans has always been a robust union. According to Wikipedia, in 2019, 14.6 million workers in the United States were part of a union, as compared to 17.7 million in 1983. A loss of just over 3 million unionized jobs over 36 years doesn’t seem, on the surface, to be of great concern until considering that the American workforce grew in the intervening years; those 14.6 million workers constituted only a little over 10% of all American laborers in 2019, whereas the 17.7 million union workers in 1983 constituted over 20%.
Unions usually guarantee workers 10-30% higher wages, protect them from arbitrary termination and ensure they are treated fairly in cases where they may be disciplined or have their working conditions changed. In such, an anti-worker climate as there exists today in the United States (I’m looking directly at you here, Jeff Bezos), working toward a goal of every American worker having access to a strong union, would improve the lives of tens of millions. Something as simple as talking about unions with your coworkers or working friends can help make that goal that much more realistic.
On the political front, there are no American leftist organizations that have grown as quickly as the Democratic Socialists of America. Achieving prominence after Sanders’ first presidential campaign, they champion many of the causes Sanders the candidate did. Per the DSA’s website: “We are a political and activist organization, not a party; through campus and community-based chapters, DSA members use a variety of tactics, from legislative to direct action, to fight for reforms that empower working people.”
Joining the organization is very simply done online, complete with the option to sign up for their mailing list to stay up-to-date with their activities. The DSA is a dues-paying organization, but they have Student and Low-Income membership options (of $20 and $27 per year, respectively), to make membership accessible to all — including and especially the people the DSA fights for.
Another group that often works alongside the DSA is the Working Families Party, who describe themselves as “our own party on top of the two-party system in the United States.” They recruit and train candidates — local, state and national — and support them in primary campaigns, usually in the Democratic Party.
Seeking out candidates running in your local elections that have been endorsed by these organizations and supporting them financially or simply with your vote is the easiest thing you can do for leftist progress. In the upcoming June 2 Pennsylvania primary election, West Chester can vote for a leftist candidate for State Senate.
Brett Burman describes himself as “a new voice against corruption who will fight for accountability, affordable healthcare coverage for all and restoring funding to schools.” He supported the recent general strike on May 1 to show solidarity with striking workers during this pandemic crisis and would be the first gay State Senator of Pennsylvania.
Burman is just one candidate, and while leftists should support him to challenge Tom Killian for his State Senate seat, we should also continue to seek out other candidates we can support locally who will reflect our beliefs. It’s a fight that never really stops, and while it can often be exhausting — especially when our chosen candidates lose — it’s also a fight that is too important to give anything less than everything we can.
In general, the future of the American left looks bleak. It will take years to build the organizations and movements that we need to finally wrest power away from politicians who are more concerned with protecting the interests of their rich donors than the lives of regular Americans. A hardened resolve paired with optimism for the future is required if we are to change our society to be more just and equitable for everyone.
I hope that, for anyone who has read this series, it has been helpful in directing your energy in productive ways that will lead to meaningful change. If you have read all four parts, I thank you, and greatly appreciate your willingness to engage in this fight with me.
Kyle Gombosi is a senior Music: Elective Studies major with a minor in journalism.