Why Are There No Gen-X Socialists in the United States?

As one of the 50,000 members of Democratic Socialists of America, I periodically go to the general meetings of my local chapter, Pittsburgh DSA. And one of the most striking things about these meetings is that there is almost no one my age there (I’m 45). I’m not surprised that the majority of people there are millennials — you’d have to have been hiding under a rock for the last two years to not know that millennials are all socialists — but what is somewhat surprising is that the representation of “Baby Boomers” at the meetings, while less than that of millennials, is significantly more than that of my own “Generation X.”

There are logistical reasons for this, of course. Gen-Xers, now in our 40s and early 50s, are much more likely to be mid-career, to have responsibilities for small children or aging parents, or to be lost in the swamps of midlife crisis. But I think there are political reasons for this, too.

I would submit that the relative paucity of Gen-Xers in the ranks of open socialists has to do with something that many on the Left* are loathe to admit, but that we need to grapple with: that the “Third Way” political project of Clinton and Obama (and Tony Blair in Great Britain) was, and in many respects still is, a robust and attractive political program. Although the benefits it delivered to many people were more psychological and cultural than material, they were still real — and it is the political project that was dominant on the center-left when we came of political age in the late 80s and 90s. Continue reading

My first year of grad school, when I was 22 and apparently much less afflicted by social anxiety than I am now, I walked into this building to find the seven TAs in the University of Iowa Dance Department and ask them to sign authorization cards for UE Local 896/COGS. I didn’t know any of them, I didn’t know anything about dance, but in my department (history) almost everyone had already joined, so those of us who were most committed to organizing went out and adopted other departments. I took theater, dance and music.

I don’t remember how many of the seven Dance TAs I signed up personally, or how many were signed up by the woman I recruited to be an organizer for her department, but I do remember that Dance was the first, and possibly only, department to get 100% of their co-workers signed up on authorization cards.

The last two weeks I was in Iowa helping Local 896 prepare for the recertification election required by Iowa’s 2017 anti-union law and, I have to admit, I came in with a little bit of a doom-and-gloom attitude. In the last two-plus decades, I’ve seen the labor movement lose more than it won, and have gone through bitter and embittering internal struggles in almost every organization I’ve been a part of. I now have this wisdom and experience to see every potential terrible outcome of every action.

Of course, if I had had that “wisdom” when I was 22, I never would have stepped into that building. I never would have given those Dance TAs the option to say yes rather than no.

Happy Labor Day everybody.