A Democratic Socialists of America rally on Daley Plaza. [Lucie Macias]

The Chicago chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America went from endorsing one unsuccessful candidate in 2015 – 25th Ward hopeful Jorge Mujica – to helping elect six Socialists who will take office on May 20. 

One of the City Council’s most vocal members, Ald. Carlos Ramirez Rosa, who joined DSA after he was elected, will be joined by five political rookies.

They will replace veteran or dynastic aldermen like Danny Solis (25), Deb Mell (33) and Pat O’Connor (40), while others will replace those who left under a cloud of scandal like convicted Ald. Willie Cochran (20) and Ald. Proco Joe Moreno (1).

While the group is finding its footing in City Hall, deciding what a potential City Council Socialist Caucus might do, its aldermen must also navigate how to stay true to DSA’s roots while cobbling together the 26 votes necessary to pass legislation — and delivering ward services.

Chicago DSA Co-Chair Lucie Macias said those tasks are difficult, but not impossible.

“We want to make sure that we are building coalitions, that we are working with other groups, ‘cause we’ve seen that already,” she said on The Daily Line’s Aldercast. “But I think if we start to make too many concessions, then we’re not actually building socialism or what we want to achieve.”  

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“Yes, we may only have six DSA members, but I think that can still move the direction of where the conversation is. Just like we’ve seen nationally, Alexandria Ocasio Cortez, as a DSA member, has already done so much at the national level to shift the conversation further left on so many issues,” she said.

In tandem with other progressive groups that supported like-minded, progressive candidates in the 2019 elections — unions, Reclaim Chicago and United Working Families — “that builds up the numbers,” she said.

“There’s no real decisions that are being made yet,” regarding specific policy pushes, Macias said. “In my wildest dreams, when we started to take in some of these conversations about who we were going to endorse, I never imagined we would have six. So we’ve exceeded some of our goals. I don’t want to say we’re totally unprepared, but we want to make sure that we’re being very deliberate about the conversations we’re having and the way that we’re moving forward from here.”   

Like thousands across the country, Macias was radicalized during the 2016 election by the presidential campaign of Sen. Bernie Sanders and the eventual victory of President Donald Trump.

“I think Trump getting elected was sort of a wake up call,” Macias said, “Sort of like I needed to become part of an organized movement.”

Macias had been active in politics previously, but pointed to catalytic events like witnessing multiple evictions, the difficulty of receiving affordable healthcare and the 2008 bank bailout as major factors in her activism. She went from attending a few meetings to manning communications for the growing chapter.

Nationally, DSA went from “an organization that had some local chapters and maybe 7,000 or so nationally to chapters forming in every state and 25,000 members in less than a year,” to close to 60,000 members nationally, Macias said. “That was huge.”

Takeaways from her interview:

  • Why DSA did not endorse in the mayoral race  Though City Council’s sole DSA member, Ald. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa (35), was an early and enthusiastic supporter of Toni Preckwinkle’s bid for the mayor’s office, the chapter did not end up reaching consensus about a mayoral endorsement, “which I think made a lot of sense,” Macias said. It allowed the organization to focus on a small number of races. “I don’t know that we would have been able to help support the six candidates that actually got elected had we also been focusing on a citywide race as well.” Macias herself ended up voting for Preckwinkle, but “personally, I was not super enthusiastic about either of the candidates.” Some in the group supported Amara Enyia, but not in sufficient numbers for an endorsement. In October, the group endorsed Byron Sigcho Lopez in the 25th Ward, Rossana Rodriguez Sanchez in the 33rd Ward and Rosa in the 35th Ward. In December, the group endorsed Ugo Okere in the 40th. In the runoff, they endorsed Andre Vasquez in the 40th and Jeanette Taylor in the 20th Ward. Taylor joined the organization at the same time as her endorsement was announced. Membership did not endorse DSA member Daniel La Spata, who won in the 1st Ward in February, but Macias said many members volunteered on his campaign.
  • Expectations for Lightfoot — Despite the group’s lack of enthusiasm for Lightfoot, the DSA supports Lightfoot’s calls for transparency, community involvement in decision-making and neighborhood investment. However, Macias said she was disappointed about how the Lincoln Yards TIF agreement played out. Lightfoot called for a halt to the vote and got a two-day delay before aldermen voted to give Sterling Bay hundreds of millions in TIF funding for infrastructure with concessions for increased minority contracting added by the mayor-elect and a promise that Lightfoot would hold Sterling Bay accountable throughout the construction process. “Already I’m like, ooh are we going to trust Lori Lightfoot? I don’t know,” Macias said. “I don’t want to say too much too soon about that, because I do think I want to see more details about certain things, because some of those things, in broad statements, seem like a good idea,” Macias said, adding that she wants to see how Lightfoot confronts neighborhood development, charter schools and the city’s mental health landscape.

  • Next push – municipalize ComEd? – The chapter is considering a big target – Commonwealth Edison – for its next organizing push. The city’s contract with electricity provider ComEd is up in 2020, and the chapter wants to push the company to “institute progressive rates, abolish electricity shut-offs, demand investment in renewable energy,” and empower employees. “It’s a pretty big undertaking, I’m not going to lie and say that it doesn’t sometimes seem very daunting,” Macias said. “It’s perfect timing,” she said, between the new City Council and the contract expiring. “If we’re going to try for something big this would be the time.”