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Even as virtually every country's economy has struggled in recent months amid state-imposed lockdowns intended to combat the coronavirus pandemic, some disaffected progressives are convinced that the problem is capitalism -- reportedly sending membership in the Democratic Socialists of America [DSA] surging by 10,000 since March, for a still-paltry total of 66,000 members overall.
The coronavirus outbreak originated in China, a communist country, and went on to ravage several European countries with public health care systems, including Italy. With Bernie Sanders out of the presidential race, though, many socialists increasingly have sought a cause to support. They apparently found it in pandemic relief, saying the government's temporary stimulus checks could serve as a model for universal basic income even in good economic times.
"People are really starting to just look around and say, 'Man, capitalism isn't working,'" an unnamed co-chair of the Detroit DSA chapter told The Atlantic. "If the markets can’t even produce hand sanitizer or toilet paper or masks during a plague—what good is this system?"
While there was no evidence to suggest a socialist economy would be better equipped to handle a nationwide government quarantine, Julia Shannon, a member of the Los Angeles DSA, echoed that argument.
"There's the sense that [this situation] is unacceptable and immoral, and that feeling is really pushing people into the meticulous work of organizing," Shannon said. "We have to try to work toward harnessing that momentum and energy to create structures that work for the majority of people."
DSA has remained a relatively tiny organization, even by the standards of fringe U.S. political parties; the Libertarian Party, for example, has boasted over 600,000 members. Founded in 1982, DSA had only 5,000 members in 2015 when Sanders mounted his first presidential run. The election of New York. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, a self-described democratic socialist, reinvigorated the group.
However, DSA has faced strong headwinds, especially as states start loosening economic restrictions and allowing people to return to work. A massive $3 trillion stimulus bill recently passed by House Democrats -- full of left-wing progressive wishlist items, including protection for illegal immigrants and "environmental justice grants" -- appeared to be dead on arrival in the Senate, and doesn't even have full support among Democrats there.
DSA also has seen some public struggles with its own commitment to inclusivity. Last August, the DSA National Convention in Georgia came to a screeching halt when one delegate formally complained of "sensory overload" from "guys" whispering in the room -- prompting another "comrade" to grab the microphone to angrily demand an immediate end to the use of "gendered language."
The back-to-back moments of impassioned hypersensitivity at the gathering of the largest socialist organization in the United States led to bipartisan mockery from commentators, who compared the scene to something out of the sitcom "The Office" or the sketch comedy group Monty Python.
"Uh, quick point of personal privilege, um guys," began one delegate, who identified himself as James Jackson from Sacramento, and specified that he uses the "he/him" personal pronouns.
As soon as Jackson said the word "guys," an individual in the audience could be seen becoming visibly irate in a livestream video of the convention posted online.
"I just want to say, can we please keep the chatter to the minimum? I'm one of the people who's very, very prone to sensory overload," Jackson said. Several other delegates could be seen waving "Jazz hands" in the air, instead of applauding, as he spoke. Jazz hands are considered less "triggering" to those sensitive to loud sounds.
"There's a lot of whispering and chattering going on. It's making it very difficult for me to focus. Please, I know we're all fresh and ready to go, but can we please just keep the chatter to a minimum? It's affecting my ability to focus."
"Thank you, comrade," the chair responded.
But the situation would not end so easily for the approximately 1,500 socialists gathered at the convention. Within seconds, the individual who had appeared irritated by Jackson's words stumbled toward the microphone to yell, "Point of personal privilege! Point of personal privilege!"
"Yes?" the chair asked.
"Please do not use gendered language to address everyone!"
"OK," the chair said, seemingly flustered.
Jackson, however, would soon come back for another round.
"Quick point of privilege ONCE again!" Jackson said later in the day, before reciting rotely, "Hi, James Jackson, Sacramento DSA, he/him."
"I have ALREADY asked people to be mindful of the chatter of their comrades who are sensitive to sensory overload," Jackson said. "And that goes DOUBLE for the heckling and the hissing. It is also triggering to my anxiety. Like, being comradely isn't just for like, keeping things civil or whatever. It's so people aren't going to get triggered, and so that it doesn't affect their performance as a delegate."
Jackson said that while "your need to express yourself is important," it does not "trump" his own personal needs.
Earlier in the day, a speaker outlined the rules of the convention, which included a prohibition on "aggressive scents" in the quiet room.