Tennessee Socialists Face Uphill Battle For Support | Nashville Public Radio

Tennessee Socialists Face Uphill Battle For Support

Aug 13, 2018

In a solidly Republican state, socialists in Middle Tennessee know they are playing to a small audience.

So the local chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America is tailoring its message.

The group was founded at the start of last year, in part as a reaction to the election of President Donald Trump. At first, its meetings in a church basement drew about 10 to 15 people.

Now, four times as many attend. Richard Lipschitz, a founding member, says they have many different beliefs but tend to be united by a few threads.

"We cover a huge range of politics," he said, adding "that a lot of the opinions of the people here is that no one in the world should be poor, no one should have to suffer through those things."

Socialists in Tennessee face a perception battle: They know their ideology conjures images of struggling countries like Cuba or Venezuela. But they say that American socialism is different.

One new convert is Chelsey Grundy, a veterinarian assistant. She grew up in Nashville and has leaned Democrat for most of her life.

"Definitely after the last election, that I kind of got radicalized," she said. "[I] decided to take my anger and upset over what happened and try to do something with it."

The national DSA's platform focuses on topics like unionization, abortion rights and mass incarceration. This chapter of the DSA also highlights specific planks — like expanding access to healthcare, education and housing. Members have also been petitioning to establish a civilian oversight board for the police and gearing up for the November elections.

They don't plan on running candidates for office this cycle but could see supporting certain Democrats if their values line up.

"We've got a big tent, and we are open to working with people that share our values," Mary Mancini, Tennessee Democratic Party chair, said. "We may not agree on everything 100 percent, but that's okay."

But outside elections and petitions, the DSA is just trying to grow its membership. Right now, they say they have about 300 members in total from across Middle Tennessee.