Tonight, August 8, Boulder County Democratic Socialists of America members are sponsoring "What Is Socialism?," an event intended to teach folks in the community what socialism means, as well as to offer a vision of what a socialist Boulder County might look like.
Boulder County DSA co-chair Austin Bennett provides a preview by sharing his views on its main subjects. He stresses that he's speaking for himself, not the group as a whole — and that's an important distinction, since the organization's goal is for everyone to have a voice, and not just the favored few.
As for socialism in general, Bennett says that "we at the Boulder County DSA run into confusion about what it is, especially since, here in America, there have been so many negative connotations coming out of Cold War propaganda. I see a lot of people associating socialism with authoritarianism and poverty — state-enforced poverty."
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To counter the supposed connection with authoritarianism, he defines socialism of the sort promoted by the Boulder County DSA as "the expansion of radical democracy not just in our political system, but also in our economy at the national and local levels and in our workplaces, including having a measure of worker control. There are various means to accomplish this, but it's important to have a say in these systems that affect your life and control your livelihood — to help influence how they're built and run."
He uses the adjective "radical" to modify "democracy" because even though "people will say our current political system is a democracy, we push back against that. In our current system, there's no campaign financing and there's so much corruption: Look at the Robert Mueller investigation [into possible Russian interference in the 2016 presidential campaign]. It's a system that's less one-person, one-vote and more voting for the dollar. And it's also a very distant representative democracy. I don't know if having a system with 435 representatives in the national Congress each representing 800,000 people can be called truly representative and truly democratic. I have to ask: 'How much actual say do we have in the system as it exists now?'"
Regarding attempts to tie socialism to poverty, "we would point out that we live in the wealthiest nation to ever have existed," Bennett notes, "and its wealth isn't spread out. It's concentrated. You can't compare that to Russia, a very poor, feudal state that rapidly industrialized, or a place like Venezuela, where its economy was entirely based on oil, and when the oil prices tanked, their economy tanked. Those aren't things we have to worry about in America. If we move to a system that's meant for the many and not the few members of the economic elite, it's not going to impoverish the wealthiest nation in the world."
Capitalism, meanwhile, "is a system where the economy is owned by a select few individuals," he maintains. "The factories, the financial institutions, the workplaces, the offices: They're owned by wealthy people who have more or less absolute control over these forces of economic production. They get to dictate the terms of employment of those who work for them. The working class, the vast majority of people, are forced to work for a wage set by these select few individuals. And wage inequality is a big issue for us."
No wonder. In our recent post about Colorado communities with the largest gap between the 1 percent and the 99 percent, the City of Boulder finished in fifth place in Colorado and 44th nationwide in terms of this disparity. The average income of Boulder's top 1 percent, $2,049,421, was 26.5 times higher than the average income of the bottom 99 percent, $77,448.
How would a socialist Boulder be different?
"If you asked the members of the Boulder DSA that question, you'd get several different answers," Bennett acknowledges. "But to me, the important thing is that all the residents of Boulder County, all my community members, be afforded rights that give them full human dignity."
In his view, "it's securing housing as a human right for everyone in Boulder County. It's securing health care, it's securing good food, good education and enough leisure time to personally develop yourself for everyone in Boulder County. Securing those things for my friends and neighbors in Boulder County is my top priority."
Additionally, Bennett says, "I would like to see more worker cooperatives, with employees who own and manage their own workplaces collectively rather than it being one individual. I'd also like to see unions make a big resurgence in Boulder County. Every worker who's not in a worker's cooperative should be in a union, so they can bargain for the true value of the labor they're putting into the system."
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Politically, he says, "I'd like to see a larger, expanded city council — more members on there. I'm not the biggest fan of city managers, because they're very often appointed by the city council. I'd rather see the duties of a city manager be given over to city council members or the mayor, if we stick with a mayor. And I'd also like to see a salary increase for city council members. They're paid around $10,000 a year, the idea being that it's not a full-time position, but something that engaged citizens do as a civic duty. And that's a noble goal. But what it means practically is anyone who's working class, who doesn't have a flexible work schedule and doesn't come from wealth or have a big bank account, can't afford to become a city council member. In Boulder, $10,000 a year is chump change, not nearly enough to live on. That's why I'd like to see that changed, so people who have to work for a living are able to run and win city council office and still be able to lead meaningful lives where they don't have to worry about their financial situation."
To make these kinds of changes, more socialists will have to win elections, and at least two are running in Boulder this year: Cliff Willmeng, a Green Party candidate for Boulder County Commissioner, and Theresa Stets, a hopeful in House District 12. The Boulder County DSA is advocating on their behalf and working with other organizations to spread the progressive word. Bennett points out that "we've allied with sister DSA chapters in Fort Collins, Denver and Colorado Springs. In Boulder County, we support and are supported by Boulder County Protectors and East Boulder County United, and we're starting to get involved in the Save Our St. Vrain Valley project."
According to Bennett, "We believe it's our duty to help these causes, and other good environmentalist and pro-immigrant causes in our community. One of our core values is solidarity, and to us, that means your fight is our fight."
"What Is Socialism?" takes place from 7 to 9 p.m. tonight, August 8, at the East Simpson Coffee Company, 414 East Simpson Street in Lafayette. Click for more details.