Mitchell Park is usually a place where SLO residents gather to relax and play. But on the first Wednesday of every month, it's also a hub for the city's nascent socialist movement.
The park is where members of the SLO Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) hold their monthly general meetings. The SLO DSA has been in existence for less than a year, but its members are already planning to take on two of the city's most pressing issues, affordable housing and homelessness.
"There really has not been a strong voice for working-class people or people who are vulnerable and marginalized in SLO," said Grant Helete, a member of the SLO DSA. "We really want to provide that voice for them."
The 25-year-old said the group, which currently has about 15 regular members, wants to tackle SLO's problems from a left-wing perspective. In the case of housing, the group will push for rent control in the city and support for Proposition 10, a state ballot initiative that would allow local governments to adopt rent control ordinances. Helete said the SLO DSA would also campaign for renters' rights, public housing, and a citywide tenants' union.
The group plans to call for the city to decriminalize poverty and homelessness in SLO. That includes working to abolish what they believe are discriminatory anti-homeless ordinances, such as SLO's ban on car camping. Members also support issues embraced by the DSA's national organization including a Medicare for all health care system, free college education, and dismantling the U.S. Immigration Customs Enforcement (ICE).
"We think we can advocate for these types of positions that others won't," Helete said.
Following the primary campaign, democratic socialist presidential candidate Bernie Sanders, and the election of Donald Trump in 2016, the DSA's national membership sharply increased. Currently, the organization has 50,000 members and more than 170 chapters in cities and states across the country. The SLO DSA is currently in the process of applying to be recognized as an official chapter by the DSA's national organization. An official with the national DSA said that the group's application was under review.
The growth of the DSA and the success of democratic socialist candidates like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, who unseated a 10-term incumbent Democratic Congressman in the New York primary elections, has been encouraging for individuals like Helete.
"It's really exciting," he said. "People are starting to realize that socialism isn't a dirty word." Δ