07/22/2010 12:12 pm ET Updated May 25, 2011

A Socialist Revival in Los Angeles

There's been a distinctly red haze over the Santa Monica Mountains. The Democratic Socialists of America, the largest socialist body in the United States, is about to restart its Los Angeles local. Since the 1990s there has been no DSA unit in Tinseltown, despite the city's liberal stereotype. A kick-off public meeting aiming to change that and revive socialist activism here will take place on July 25th.

The National Director of DSA, Frank Llewellyn, will address the gathering and lay out the organization's program for the future. Llewellyn will be coming to Las Angeles directly from the Netroots National Conference in Las Vegas, where progressive bloggers from across the country, like MoveOn and Daily Kos and, of course, the Huffington Post, will be trading strategies.

Llewellyn plans to describe DSA's new Social and Economic Bill of Rights for the 21st Century. That document insists that everyone has the right to a living wage job, affordable and safe housing, life-long health care, and a high quality public education--from elementary school through college. The new Los Angeles local will join with national DSA in promoting these basic rights in this region, aiming to grant them to all regardless of economic position or social standing. Other components of this new-era rights package include sufficient nutritious and safe food, life-long income security, and a sustainable environment. DSA also lists rights less frequently cited, such as adequate leisure time, especially for workers, and opportunities to freely organize and participate in decision-making.

That's all well and good, but skeptics might hurl an objection over the cost of all of this. DSA thinks it has the answer. Establish progressive tax policies, where the rich pay their full share. Drop our far-flung and astronomically expensive military and imperialist operations, with bases strung around the world devouring billions of dollars. In this process, shift from overseas nation building to domestic nation building. Finally, transform an inefficient and expensive health care system that is draining our treasury to one that eliminates private profit as the central element for providing heath care. In parallel, reform the financing of social security by removing the cap on income subject to a social security tax. Would all of this generate the necessary funds for DSA's far-reaching caring society? That's subject to debate; but DSA thinks it's worth a try.


It's time to confess that I don't have a neutral stand on this new development in L.A. Truth to tell; I've been the local organizer for DSA, a volunteer role. With three hundred dues-paying members in the area, and with the dreadful, downwardly spiraling politics of the times, I do believe it's high time for an organized democratic socialist presence on the Los Angeles scene.

Despite Tea Party rantings, Obama is no socialist by far. It will be up to committed progressives to push for rational and just economic and social policies, with more of America's riches falling to ordinary people rather than bloated corporate executives at the top. DSA represents a clear humanist alternative to capitalism--a push toward greater equality, a sustainable environment, and participatory democracy.

The San Diego local of DSA has given priceless assistance to their Los Angeles big sister in getting organized. Virginia Franco, a member of the national Local Development Committee who lives in San Diego, was the sparkplug in initiating the Los Angeles start-up through phone calls and visits. Historically, the then vigorous L.A. local of the 1980s reached out to San Diego and supplied leadership and inspiration that brought that unit into existence. According to Herb Shore, Franco's partner in this campaign, "We felt a kinship and obligation and also a sense of disappointment that our neighbors-in-arms had not remained intact. With the present political turmoil ravaging the country, we desperately need to apply socialist energy now toward creating jobs and reconstructing our deteriorating infrastructure."

Notwithstanding the high spirits of the San Diego crew, I found in my recruiting work that the recent period of inactivity has created a downbeat tone in this community. A former member and current union staffer told me, "I'll confess my skepticism on connecting a DSA local to a word like, say, vibrant." But some felt otherwise. An old timer said, "As a member who goes back to 1981, I recall the days when DSA was an important presence in Los Angeles. I remember old comrades and friends like Ben Dobbs and am bullish about the revival of the local."

So, are there prospects for a vibrant democratic socialist voice in Los Angeles? Maybe.


The general public is invited to the kick-off meeting at the Workmen's Circle Building, 1525 S. Robertson Blvd., Sunday, July 25, 2010, 4:00 - 6:00 PM.

Professor Peter Dreier of Occidental College will speak on the topic: "We Have the Hope; Where is the Audacity: The Inside/Outside Strategy."

Interested parties wanting to attend or seeking further information are asked to contact or 310-470-5003.