As Democratic Socialists Gain Momentum, Arizona Democrats Try To Ease ‘Hurt’ Feelings

Phoenix Democratic Socialists of America member Trevor Keeley attended the March for Science with other DSA members. (Photo by Christopher Silavong/Cronkite News)

By Christopher Silavong

PHOENIX – The election of President Donald Trump has ignited the progressive movement, sparking weekly marches and protests throughout his presidency.

Although Democrats and leftists have united in their opposition to Trump, experts say there’s still a gaping wound that hasn’t healed after the Democratic primary.

The Democrats are trying to bring in supporters of Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders, who lost the presidential nomination to former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton. That’s why Tom Perez, Democratic National Committee chairman, and Sanders stopped in Arizona in April for their “Unity Tour” aimed at healing that wound and working toward Democratic victories in local, state and congressional seats in 2018.

However, Democrats continue to struggle with bringing in many Sanders supporters, who blame the Democratic National Committee for favoring Clinton behind the scenes, citing hacked emails released by Wikileaks.

Some Sanders supporters are done with the Democratic Party, said Steven Slugocki, the Maricopa County Democratic Party’s chairman.

“There are still hurt feelings from the primary last year,” Slugocki said. “It’s unfortunate because we’re a big tent. I want to welcome all groups.”

One Arizona Sanders fan has a different strategy.

“Our goal is to work with the Democrats and pull them to the left … to shift everybody back,” said Phoenix resident Jake Bell, a member of the Democratic Socialists of America.

The DSA is separate from and further left of the Democratic Party, which became centrist during the 1990s.

The DSA, founded in 1982, said its membership spiked by nearly 175 percent after the presidential election, from about 7,600 members to more than 20,700, according to its national office. The DSA credits its growth to Sanders openly campaigning as a democratic socialist, once believed to be political suicide in American politics. The group has about 225 members in Arizona, the spokesperson said.

The group’s membership and visibility pales in comparison to organizations such as Indivisible, which burst onto the political scene in late December. But the Democratic Socialists of America’s structure, unlike Indivisible, isn’t based on loose associations like that of the Black Lives Matter movement. The growing membership has led to more local groups and branches.

Bell said that a Phoenix chapter is in the works, and they plan to do more than “resist,” which means putting forth new policies in the legislature, serving the community, performing charity work and volunteering.

“Deeds are more than words,” he said.

What is democratic socialism?

Leftists groups once considered fringe by modern American political standards seeped into the national consciousness during Sanders’ campaign. He unapologetically called himself a democratic socialist, giving the old term a new audience.

The term socialism, for many, stokes memories of the Soviet Union and Maoist China – authoritarian dictatorships. But, like liberalism and conservatism, there’s a spectrum.

Democratic socialism emphasizes “decentralization,” said Tara Lennon, a lecturer at Arizona State University’s School of Politics and Global Studies. This means they oppose government running most aspects of society while advocating employee ownership of business.

The U.S. has had a long democratic socialist tradition stemming back to the progressive era in the late 19th and early 20th century. Progressives and socialists fought for many policies, including minimum wage, overtime pay, an eight-hour work day and labor rights.

Arizona’s constitution even began with a few progressive ideas. Article XVIII defined an eight-hour work day and regulated child labor. The framers also included a provision for citizen initiatives, which has been under attack since Arizonans voted to raise the minimum wage.

Arizona: More purple than red

Most people recognize Arizona as a red state – Republicans control the legislature, governor’s office, secretary of state and state treasurer’s offices. But actually, the state’s voting population is more nuanced.

According to the secretary of state’s most recent count of active registered voters, about 30 percent are Democrats, about 34 percent are Republican and nearly 34 percent identified as “other.”

However, this does not mean that progressive groups and their members are registered as Democrats. Some might have registered as independents and lean Democrat, while others might not bother voting at all.

Although Democrats only make up a third of registered voters, the party has seen a surge in turnout, activism and engagement, Slugocki said.

“We have seen a tremendous amount of growth in all our districts,” Slugocki said. “There’s so much going on (that) it’s sometimes hard to keep track of.”

Typically, Slugocki said, political campaigns start near the beginning of an election year, but several people already have announced for state offices.

“It’s an exciting time for the county party,” he said. “It’s a wild ride, and I’m not quite sure where we’re going to be a year from now, but we’re in a better position than ever to win elections.”

But Arizona Democrats alone won’t get their nominees elected to state offices and legislative seats. They may have to sway independent progressives and other leftists, who are still angry about the primary, into the voting booths. Democrats will have to send the right message and follow up with action.

“I am more than willing to help (outside groups),” Slugocki said, but for groups that reject the party, he wishes them luck.

“Hopefully, we can all accomplish the same goals,” he said.

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Cronkite News is the news division of Arizona PBS. The daily news products are produced by the Walter Cronkite School of Journalism and Mass Communication at Arizona State University.


  1. Democrats are nothing more than communists. Obama followed the Communist Manifesto. Read it and you will see the Democratic Manifesto of Socialism. Facebook is the mark of socialism. Trump was elected fair and square. We are the “Silent Majority” that voted for him and were taught of individualism and the rule of law. We swore to defend the Constitution of the United Sates of America. A fellow co-worker of mine is from Russia and is proud and thankful to be in America. She said people here don’t know the suppression of communist rule and is surprised Americans don’t know more of their history. I told her that our education system and our Media are the cause of that. On Memorial Day she whore a USA Patriotic Shit and thank me for my service to America. That made me Proud. Get to work demos because you free ride is coming to an end.

  2. Here the simple fact keep pushing extreme right wing conservative laws and when the pendulum swings the other direction it will be Swift and just as extreme.

    Most people don’t live in either extreme so I warn both sides you get what you deserve. Time will assure you both that will happen.

    Hay dios mio el amor de dinero y poder is so intoxicating. Has anything changed since time Jesus walked the earth?

  3. The Democratic Party is spinning towards the bottom. It will take ten years of employment to turn around the brainwashed from colleges. America is not a country of lowest common denominator. If we become that we will not be able to defend ourselves any longer. And evil will win. These socialists would be better off to drop the envy and get to work and make something of their lives.

  4. Surprisingly unbiased article. Too bad the people that come here and comment cant be as civil

  5. It would appear that The Democratic party is in a spinning free fall to the bottom. Can’t decide if they are socialists or centrists. Lost congress, lost the white house, 16 democratic governors, control only 18 state legislatures. This would seem to be great news if you are Republican. However, on the national level The Republicans do not know how to govern, and they do not know how to support each other and their President. They can’t get out of their own way, and they can’t see the forest because of the trees. The McCain’s, the Graham’s, the Ryan’s, and the McConnell’s of the party will find a way to negate this this advantage and keep Washington a swamp.

  6. Evil, she got the msm to proclaim her ‘victory’ on day 1 and then they pushed her onto everyone as the successor to the holy one bho! She was to be his 2d coming and after appearing thru the clouds in denver he thought he had it all and that all would bow before him. Yes he thought he was the new messaih, actually he was except it was the wrong religion of politics he was spreading with a manure spreader and the people did not like the smell. Well she inheritied the spreader and it broke down from all the excess baggage piled on it.

    But as to the article, yes the NAZI party had the same name and game. Sanders is another of those who had nothing to offer (had ever heard of him prior to the election cycle) and in reality had othing to offer except promise of making everything FREE. Guess these folks dont understand that NOTHING is ever free and they probably never will understand that concept.

    • The nationalist socialist party did not practice socialism any more than the democratic peoples republic of korea practices democracy. Nazis were staunchly opposed to the communists

      • But they used the same moniker and believed in violence as being justified in order to achieve the desired end. Sounds pretty much like the current bunch in the democrap party does it not?

        BTW from your retort sounds as if you think they are a bunch on socialists that want everything but do not want to produce any work in order to get it. Nice little socialist you are! The socialists actually opposed the nazis also not just the communists. Socialist is a great name to get the uninformed involved with the latest scam it seems. Just like blm, the 99%er’s and the others

        • And if they didnt practice it then their name doesnt mean anything, which is what i said. What kind of violence are you referring to, if you mean war, thats completely bipartisan. And what did i say that lead you to to the conclusion that i dont work.

  7. Sanders did not lose to Clinton. Clinton was handed the nomination on day one of the Primaries by the DNC.

  8. The Democrat Party is a big tent with a bunch of little segregated groups crying for attention, look at me I a bigger victim than you!

  9. Screw the little snowflakes that want something for nothing. Yea, socialism really worked well in Germany didn’t it. How about the old USSR? Lets let the inmates run the asylum…..what a wasted generation. Glad I would be around to see the results. These little tea cups don’t have a clue, don’t want one and only want what is best for them with the rest of us paying the price. SSDD in liberal land.

    • All of europe including germany to this day has socialist policies and they are enjoying lower income inequality, lower poverty rates, higher standards of life

      • That is because they do not pay for defense. USA has taken on that burden. Lets see how things are when they have to pay for defense!

        • They dont welcome our military intervention that led to the creation of isis and cost them more lives in the end

      • Might want to think about moving Lance. Since Europe is so great, might be just the right place for you and your socialized ideas. Don’t believe in history huh? Thought not.

        • Boy you sure are a thinkin man. While im at it, why dont all the republicans that bitch on here leave pima county since they are so fed up with the way the rest of the county votes

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