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Grassroots: The Socialist Alternative Fights for the Working Class in Columbus

Lauren Sega Lauren Sega Grassroots: The Socialist Alternative Fights for the Working Class in ColumbusPhoto provided by Kyle Landis.
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If there’s mobilization behind a progressive policy, more than likely the Socialist Alternative is involved. The international organization, originating in the UK in the 50s and landing stateside in 1984, established its Columbus chapter in 2013.

“We’re not a single issue organization,” said Kyle Landis, local activist and member of the Socialist Alternative. “Anywhere people are moving into struggle, we want to be there and be a catalyst.”

Landis started working with the Socialist Alternative in 2015, at the peak of the “Feel the Bern” movement. In recent years, and with the help of Bernie Sanders’ campaign, the word “socialist” has shed a lot of the negative connotations it once carried, allowing those identifying as such to make policy changes nationwide, specifically in Seattle.

Seattle Council member Kshama Sawant has the big success story for the group. A member of the Socialist Alternative, Sawant raised enough money to beat out incumbent Richard Conlin, making her the first Socialist council member the city’s had since 1916.

Getting a Socialist into a city council was a major success, said Landis. But it’s not the sole purpose of the group.

“If we win, that’s awesome” he said. “And if we don’t, at least we interject those ideas and platforms in there.”

The local group, made up of 15 to 20 Columbus activists, focuses on working class issues: affordable housing, a $15 minimum wage, immigrant rights, women’s rights and others. At its core is a democratically elected branch committee of five people. Members pay dues, and they also receive donations from individuals and organizations for financial support.

Outreach happens a little spontaneously. Showing up for mass rallies and educating the fired up protesters is their main mode of recruitment. Landis, with a background in political science, and other members of the Socialist Alternative provide knowledge of a movement’s history or purpose.

“‘This is what we’ve seen, and this is how we fight it,’” Landis said. “We put that vision out there for people to see and follow themselves.”

Landis calls it the party of the 99 percent. Although the viability of a third party has always been called into question, he said we’re living in a new era — one where people are tired of the status quo and looking for alternatives, “which is how you explain Trump and Bernie Sanders.”


He applies the same explanation locally. Democrats are losing their legitimacy at the national level, potentially leading to a trickle-down effect.

“People are going to look at Democrats in city council and wonder ‘Who are you working for?’” he said.

If they’re anything like the national party, many of them work for the business class. For that reason, the Socialist Alternative has no plans on merging with the Democratic party, instead aiming at liberalizing Democratic policies.

Landis imagines that once Donald Trump becomes president, the group’s next big issue will be immigration. If that’s the case, they’ll convene with organizations already engaged in the issue and organize mass rallies to raise and profile it.

Right now they’re in a kind of holding pattern, waiting to see what moves Trump makes as he takes his place in the White House, which they’re not accepting quietly.

They’re planning a mass walk-out in coordination with groups across the country on the day of Trump’s inauguration, Friday, January 20. Some will be headed to the national Women’s March on Washington the following day, Saturday, January 21.

For more information on the Socialist Alternative, visit https://www.socialistalternative.org/.

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