ALBUQUERQUE — As the 2020 election cycle nears its end, some voters are turning away from establishment political parties.
One of the parties attracting young voters in particular is the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL), a self-described revolutionary Marxist party whose presidential ticket will appear on New Mexicans’ ballots in 2020.
The PSL 2020 presidential ticket features Albuquerque native and longtime activist Gloria La Riva for president and disability rights advocate and cultural worker Sunil Freeman for vice president. The party is hoping to ride a wave of youth support.
La Riva has been active in the socialist movement for more than 40 years, and has seen socialism go from a dirty word to an increasingly popular political idea in the United States.
“I’ve spoken with so many (students) who have joined our party,” La Riva said. “My feeling is that it started from at least (the 2011 Occupy Wall Street movement). Occupy was an expression of (the feeling that) the 99% are suffering at the hands of the 1%.”
A 2019 Gallup poll showed support for capitalism has declined among millennials and gen Z voters in the past decade. Only 50% of respondents viewed capitalism favorably, the same as the number who viewed socialism favorably.
College students supported Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, a self-proclaimed democratic socialist, during the 2020 Democratic primary. Although Sanders’ policy propositions are mostly in line with European social democracy, his performance in the primary is indicative of socialism’s appeal to young voters.
“For me the biggest thing that got me into (the PSL) was Bernie, and I think that’s (the case for) a lot of people in the party too,” Niklas Cole, a senior at the University of New Mexico and organizer for the PSL, said. “The things he was talking about really resonated with our age group: free education and free healthcare. We’re all scared of going to college and accumulating all this student debt, and we’re scared to get sick and get all these medical bills.”
Young voters have a tendency to lean heavily to the political left, but some have come to feel that Democrats do not represent their views. Indeed, even college voters who plan to vote for Democratic nominee Joe Biden are not very enthusiastic about his candidacy.
“I’m voting socialist because the Democratic Party is refusing to build its coalition leftward,” Joel Robinson, a UNM senior planning to vote for the La Riva/Freeman ticket, said. “They already lost with this strategy in 2016 and ignored the clear signs of movement to the left … It’s important to signal to the Democrats that they won’t win with a milquetoast coalition.”
A number of UNM students and alumni are organizers with the PSL and have played a critical role in getting the party on the ballot in New Mexico, one of 15 states in which La Riva and Freeman appear on the ballot. The Albuquerque PSL has been active on campus as well.
“We had a protest before school started about the tuition raise,” Cole said. “We highlighted where this money is actually going. Most of it is just going to big administration and President (Garnett) Stokes. We’d rather have our money going to us than funding someone and their paycheck.”
Beyond student-specific policy concerns, the party contends that two of the most pressing issues in the United States today — the failure to contain the coronavirus and the country’s reckoning with racism — have laid bare the failings of American capitalism.
When asked about a socialist approach to the pandemic, La Riva responded that a national plan is still possible and laid out a plan including testing and contact tracing programs, hazard pay for essential workers, guaranteed pay to keep workers at home, cancellation of rent and mortgages and a program to assist the unhoused, among other strategies.
“When you look at how the U.S. has handled the pandemic … It’s a pretty clear indictment of the way capitalism views human beings,” Robinson said. “I was fortunate to keep my job and receive a stimulus check, but most of my friends would not have been financially okay without the support of their families.”
The country is also in the midst of a renewed push for racial justice, sparked by the police killings of George Floyd and Breonna Taylor.
Several PSL members were recently arrested in Denver for organizing protests for Elijah McClain. McClain was killed by Aurora police in August 2019, and the case has received renewed interest recently. The protesters are reportedly facing felony charges, which the PSL has called “bogus.”
“The Denver protesters are facing possibly decades in prison for peacefully leading protests,” La Riva said. “The very district attorney that the protesters were demanding prosecute the police (who killed McClain) chose to indict the protesters (instead).”
A petition calling for the charges against the protesters to be dropped has received thousands of signatures, among them several prominent intellectuals, journalists, religious leaders and activists.
“There is a national committee being formed,” La Riva said. “(They) are joining together to demand that (the protesters) be freed and all charges dropped, and we’re going to keep fighting until that happens.”
La Riva and the PSL expressed unequivocal opposition to the Trump administration but do not believe voters on the left should be confined to always settling for the Democratic nominee.
“That’s been the argument every four years,” La Riva said. “We understand the justified anger at what Trump has done — he’s a criminal. But it’s not the person, it’s not the president, it’s not the party: It’s the system. That’s what has to change.”
William Bowen is a freelance reporter at the Daily Lobo. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @BowenWrites