Abby Harms was laid off from their job at a Denver board-games store the same day that the city went into lockdown. Within days of filling out a petition for laid-off service workers, Harms (who identifies as nonbinary) got an unexpected call from the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America. Did they need food or help getting groceries? Assistance filing for unemployment? Did Harms want to participate in a rent-cancellation campaign? To the last proposal, Harms eagerly agreed, and soon they were a dues-paying member of the DSA.
“I felt like I was doing something productive out of this whole nightmare,” the 32-year-old Harms, who says their politics have always been far-left, told me. “I had a purpose and something to fight for.”
Membership in DSA chapters around the country has surged in the past eight weeks. An estimated 10,000 people have joined since March, bringing the group’s total membership to roughly 66,000, according to internal figures. Enrollment fluctuates month to month, but the DSA hasn’t seen numbers like this since the election of Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez in 2018, a spokesperson said.
Leaders of the DSA attribute some of this recent growth to Senator Bernie Sanders suspending his presidential campaign in early April, which sent his supporters seeking another outlet for their organizing energies. But current economic and public-health conditions have sparked anger nationwide—and the present moment seems especially ripe for socialist outrage. Millions of Americans like Harms have been fired or furloughed. Fast-food workers and grocery-store checkers are risking their lives for minimum wage, while white-collar employees are attending Zoom meetings from the safety of their homes. And governors are flouting federal guidelines in allowing businesses to reopen, risking the “needless suffering and death” of their residents, as National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases Director Anthony Fauci put it.