Pittsburgh elects two DSA endorsed candidates
Anita Prizio decided to run for county council in Pittsburgh’s 3rd District because she felt the government needed to be more transparent and proactive in its communities.
Mikhail Pappas was determined to run for district justice in Pittsburgh’s 31st District to combat gentrification, mass incarceration and the drug epidemic facing his home.
Both candidates were endorsed by the Pittsburgh chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America and both of them won elections last November in unprecedented fashion for Allegheny county.
Part of a grassroots revolutionary movement started by U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders and further spawned by the election of Donald Trump, members of the DSA hope to form a government that educates and takes care of its people as a priority.
“I was a Bernie delegate inspired by his idea of grassroots-level work and I thought ‘this is an opportunity,’” Prizio said in her office Nov. 8. “Instead of resisting, it’s better to step up to the plate – to do something. When I came back from Pittsburgh I really found a space in the DSA.”
At this point, the DSA was only an organizing committee – not even an established organization in the Pittsburgh area. A handful of people grew into nearly 400 dues-paying members in a year’s time. The DSA seemed to be a place for people of many backgrounds and ideas to gather and come up with plans to get more involved in the political arena within their own communities, many inspired by Sanders’ platform.
“DSA is a big tent and I see myself as more of Bernie-crat in that tent,” Prizio said. “We all have the same idea – that we want a more equitable society.”
Prizio, who owns and operates Pittsburgh Crankshaft Service, an internal engine parts company, sees herself as one with her community. She’s been a citizen of O’Hara township her entire life and was a township council member for eight years. She’s seen the problems facing her home and felt the government wasn’t doing enough to fix them.
“The water crisis isn’t just a political problem, but an infrastructure problem that needs to be addressed,” Prizio said. “We need to be proactive and get to the root cause – that goes with a lot of things, whether you’re talking about the lead crisis or the opioid crisis.”
Speaking of the opioid crisis, Prizio stated that incarceration isn’t the answer.
“No community is immune,” Prizio said. “People need extended treatment and we need to find the root cause of the addiction. The health department is doing a program where they issue grants to actual community service organizations that are addressing the issue on the ground, which I think is so important.”
Prizio doesn’t pretend to be an expert in all of these fields, but recognizes there are citizens in her community that are. Growth of socialism in America can be attributed to people feeling as if their government has forgotten to listen to its people.
“Everybody needs to be involved in the conversation – county council sits up there with 15 people behind the podium, but the people with the answers are usually the ones in the audience,” Prizio said.
Darwin Lueba, Prizio’s campaign manager and a freshman at Yale University, was inspired by her ability to pull views from across a wide spectrum and how she sees voters as more than just a tally, but neighbors in this fight.
“It’s not just about grassroots politics, but grassroots policy,” Lueba said in a phone interview Nov. 14. “At the end of the day, it’s harmful for our society to be so divided.”
Pappas ran on a similar platform, fighting the mass incarceration, abusive displacement and drug epidemic plaguing lower income families in his district – his lifelong home.
“The DSA was riding the same wave that I was, pushing back against the Trump agenda,” Pappas said in a phone interview Nov. 22. “I sought a fairer and more transparent process and found that in the DSA. My campaign was an eclectic coalition between many groups – we were across the gamut in terms of diversity.”
One of those groups was young people – taking a more active role in politics that were beginning to affect their lives more than ever before.
“My understanding is that right now, millennials are the largest voting block in the country – representing almost 40% of the electorate.” Pappas said.
Issues like the connection between the growth of private prisons and the drug epidemic are problems that young people have been paying more attention to.
“Knocking on doors, I’ve seen a visceral response; everyone seems to have a story of someone they know that has been affected by this,” Pappas said.
Gentrification is another hot topic in the 31st District that Pappas has been passionate about throughout his campaign.
“We are the poster child for rising rent and displacement,” Pappas said. “I want these issues to be addressed at a local level – to avoid litigation for the sake of litigation – practices can be made to help prevent displacement and create a fair agreement between tenants and their landlords.”
Following a victory 11% ahead of his competition, Pappas will be sworn in as district judge on Dec. 15.
Pittsburgh wasn’t the only city DSA candidates won November elections – 15 endorsements celebrated success in the polls across the country, including Danica Roem, the first transgender women to win a state seat in Virginia House of Delegates’ 13th District. The umbrella of what it means to be a Socialist is growing in this modern adaption of a political ideology.
These issues that became a platform for DSA candidates are ones that afflict many living in America – in cities like Pittsburgh – struggling for the benefit of a few on top of the economic pyramid, according to DSA co-chair Adam Shuck.
“It’s right there in the word – “democratic” is really important here because we aren’t talking about authoritarian socialism, we are talking about a society and economy in which decisions are made by the people for the people’s good – not for the benefit or enrichment of a select few,” Shuck said in his office Nov. 8.
To influence change, the DSA places importance on active involvement.
“Little by little isn’t enough, we need to do work and show by example,” Shuck said. “Young people specifically have come to realize that it’s more than just a vote, they want to do more than that.”
Sean Bailey, co-chair of the Young Democratic Socialists of America on the University of Pittsburgh’s campus, said that his time here has been a positive experience in profound activism.
“You never feel that your contributions don’t matter,” Bailey said in Oakland on Nov. 15. “We have weekly discussions and just had an event where we planted garlic at a collectively run community organization to curtail gentrification.”
Committees are a staple in the DSA, where members can focus on specific points of interests they are passionate about pursuing.
“We have 12 committees, ranging from the electorate to support endorsement, the elected members of the steering committee, housing, single-payer healthcare, labor committee, socialists/feminists, education and more.” Shuck said. “By bringing working people together, we have hope we can make things better.”
A recent event DSA hosted to reach out and help their neighbors was “Gimme a Break (Light).” Members participated in an educational workshop and then volunteered to replace brake lights for free at the East Liberty Lutheran Church parking lot on Nov. 12 to help others avoid getting pulled over by police.
Over the past year, the DSA have made impacts by reaching out to their neighbors. In October alone, they’ve raised nearly $1,500 in donations to use toward more outreach functions in the area. Along with events, monthly meetings are held at the National Association of Letter Carriers Branch 84.
Despite growing membership across the country, socialism is still often addressed with apprehension in a capitalist society.
Arielle Cohen, DSA co-chair said when she is met with skepticism, she asks people to imagine what their own lives would be like in a societal system that was built on socialist ideals.
“First I ask them ‘what would life look like if people had what they needed?’” Cohen said. “Then I ask them ‘what would your life look like without so many barriers in obtaining those needs?’”
After imagining this scenario, she brings them back to reality.
“Would you want to live in that world? Because it’s not just an ideal – it’s possible,” Cohen said. “Countries like Denmark and Norway thrive much more with horizontal distribution of wealth and resources.”
A lot of members in the DSA have experienced downward mobility and growing debt.
“So many of us are told that we can go to school, find a job and buy a house someday, but I’ve seen in my life, my peers and friends that isn’t always the case,” Cohen said.
Recognizing America as a distinct place, and that socialism will need to be contextualized to fit the society, there are views she believes can be adopted worldwide.
“It’s not a question of who deserves it – in America, you are responsible, but in reality everyone deserves to have a home, be fed, and raise their children equally.”
Shuck said these ideals are within reach.
“We have a right to demand things to be different, for our government to treat society unbiasedly.”
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