In the summer of 2020, I became radicalized. Somewhat. In quarantine, I was exposed to left wing ideas that clicked with my experience with the world so far. I had been given language to articulate the discontent and inequality that my previous liberalism did not have solutions for. I became obsessed with learning all I could. Analyzing every news headline, reading, and long hours spent scrolling on Twitter filled my days spent inside. I learned all the counters to Republican talking points and argued with my family. My Instagram was filled with long, informational graphics explaining where to donate to bail funds. Twice a week, I tuned into my favorite leftist comedy podcast. Unsurprisingly, I became depressed.  

I had learned a better world was possible, one that didn’t put people in debt for seeing the doctor, one where a working single mom could afford to live with dignity, a system where working people had democracy in their workplaces and the US didn’t spend billions on the military, while teachers had to buy their own classroom supplies. Knowledge of a better world only made living in this system more unbearable for me. I saw the pitfalls of capitalism every day on twitter but there wasn’t anything I could do about it. My only expression of my ideology was posting. My lowest point was when I realized that there was no difference between me and a right wing troll because I wasn’t taking action to help my community.

This realization pushed me to join my local Democratic Socialists of America chapter. Almost immediately, I felt a sense of connection that had been missing in my life. Before, my political views were just opinions. My daily activities besides paying more attention to the news were not different than when I was still a liberal. It was this sameness that led to my increasing nihilism: I became a socialist and didn’t change anything about my life; how could I change the material conditions in America? This hyper-individualist frustration was also leftover from my former capitalist mindset. Focusing on individual actions like buying ethically made clothes, food not grown on industrial farms killing the environment, and avoiding brands that profit off of the use of prison slave labor, (while important to be aware of) is a trap, because an American can never consume completely ethically. This personal failing to live up to the mark can quickly discourage. My individualist mindset and the isolated way I expressed my politics were not very helpful to me or my community.

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Art by Allie Ophardt

Joining DSA immediately turned this around. I was surrounded by other people who held my anti-capitalist beliefs and were committed to fighting for their community. They had raised wages for working people in Maine and fought for their hazard pay. Maine DSA members unionized renters to stand against illegal rent increases and evictions. If the community was in need, they were there in solidarity. With them, I stood on a picket line outside of Merrill Auditorium after the City of Portland hired non-union labor. It wasn’t just the local IATSE that was there; teamsters, socialists, and others from all across the state showed up in solidarity on the picket line. This network of solidarity was amazing: working people showing up for other working people. The DSA also marched with Vermont farm workers to pressure Hannaford into signing a fair foods contract with Milk With Dignity. I talked to pastors, state representatives, workers, and DSA members from all across New England who showed up for better working conditions for farm workers. Focusing on tangible victories like this made the world begin to feel less hopeless. Witnessing so many people come together and tirelessly campaign for a consumer-owned power utility for Mainers got me through watching Biden’s already conservative Build Back Better bill crash and burn. My internet activism may have taught me about socialism but it was impossible to imagine people actually coming together to fight for revolution by looking at my Twitter feed. 

As a socialist in America, losses come frequently. Be it the Democratic Party coalescing around Biden in the final hour, the appointing of a cop as VP after a summer of resounding protest against State violence, or India Walton being heartbreakingly overtaken by the write-in candidate in Buffalo… it’s easy to become disillusioned. The pandemic stretching into its third year puts leftist morale at an all-time low. The only way to overcome the isolation and helplessness capitalism creates is to get out there with like-minded comrades and organize in your own city. It is harder to reach out and bring others into the movement online. While factoring in safety during Covid times, organizing for the living and working conditions is an essential task. In my experience, organizing together was crucial for my personal and political well being. Nihilism is the likely outcome of being a socialist alone at home. Winning tangible victories for working-class people will encourage the workers to join in. Socialists can win the uphill battle on a national level by having committed and caring people organizing locally and showing working people what socialism is all about. Show up for your local union, create a mutual aid drop for your neighbors in the streets, fight tooth and nail for hazard pay, and you will begin to show people revolutionary optimism.

 

If you’re curious about the Democratic Socialists of America, you can learn more by visiting their site here. If you’re ready to join up, you can do that here!

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Jo Ophardt

Jo Ophardt is from Phoenix, Arizona, currently residing in Portland, Maine, and is minoring in creative writing.