Somewhere embedded in all of our socialist souls is the memory of that first book — fiction or nonfiction — that set us on our course to socialism. You might have encountered it well before you actually decided to join DSA. But without it you wouldn’t be a socialist …
My journey leftward contained a few familiar beats: lurking on the r/SandersForPresident subreddit in 2016, paying for premium Chapo Trap House episodes in 2017 and finally joining DSA in 2018. But there’s more to the story of how I ended up spending my weeknights in a leftist movie club, my Saturdays in a Capital reading group and my Sundays building a modest newsletter that inundates my friends and family with red reading material.
While the narrative arc isn’t all that dramatic, I can recall moments when socialist tenets truly clicked with me. These moments accumulated over time, patiently organizing themselves in the back of my head until the conditions were right.
Like many preteens who came before and after me, I learned from Green Day that angst is a perfectly reasonable response to an unjust world. My takeaways from American Idiot were overly simplistic — war is bad and President Bush lies — but it was the first time I encountered resistance to the status quo that I could process on my own terms.
Despite the revolutionary shortcomings of branded “alternative” music, bands like Green Day, NOFX and Anti-Flag inspired me with their steadfast opposition to the Bush administration’s warmongering. “Which side are you on?” has been a formative question (and singalong) for many generations of socialists, and I would come to find out that my pop-punk heroes from adolescence taught me well.
American Studies 203, “Popular Culture in America,” was by far the best class I took as an undergrad at the University of Maryland. My professor, Dan Greene (check out his new book), introduced me to Antonio Gramsci’s notion of cultural hegemony, and throughout the semester we investigated cultural norms, rituals and “common sense” — how these things take shape, how they’re policed and reinforced and how, in many cases, they serve the interests of the ruling class.
It would take me a few years to shift from analyzing common sense to considering how we might change it, but this crash course on cultural hegemony equipped me with new ways of seeing the world — and its complex power structures — through the lens of social relationships. AMST203 epitomized one of my favorite aspects of socialist education: the revelations that result when a concept or turn of phrase helps us more clearly understand our conditions.
As Bernie Sanders’ first presidential campaign ended, I turned to leftist magazines to better understand why I was so drawn to his candidacy and what to do next.
Current Affairs, with pieces like “Democrats Need to Stop Insisting That Everything Is Going Well” and “For A Luxury Leftism,” rebuked the cynical messaging of the Democratic establishment and presented an alternative vision of joyous, imaginative political possibilities. The Baffler’s anti-capitalist salvos were consistently provocative and incisive, and my used copy of the anthology Commodify Your Dissent revealed how Thomas Frank and company had long been sharp critics of our “new gilded age.” And while I was initially a bit overwhelmed by the breadth of theory, history and commentary Jacobin had to offer, Miya Tokumitsu’s essays “In the Name of Love” and “Forced to Love the Grind” transformed my attitude toward work at a time when I was searching for a “do what you love” career to stoke my passion after college.
Countless doors (and tabs) opened when I discovered that the socialist tradition extends far beyond Bernie, and five years later I’m still finding new paths to explore.
Life on the Left is full of little breakthroughs. When we share our breakthroughs with each other and act on them together, I believe we can bring forth a better world.