Democratic socialists group to hold convention in Atlanta

Protesters from the Metro Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America in this 2011 file photo. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Protesters from the Metro Atlanta Democratic Socialists of America in this 2011 file photo. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

The Democratic Socialists of America is set to hold its convention in Atlanta next week at a pivotal time for the political movement.

Republicans are increasingly painting their political adversaries as socialists even as more Democratic politicians and 2020 hopefuls are embracing left-leaning issues that just a few years ago would have been unthinkable.

The group, founded in 1982, is hoping to capitalize on the newfound interest. Membership soared after President Donald Trump's victory and organizers say they now count 56,000 members nationally and expect as many as 1,000 delegates in Atlanta for the Aug. 1-4 event.

The organization scored major victories in the 2018 midterms by sending its first two members to Congress - U.S. Reps. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Rashida Tlaib - and notching wins in lower-level races.

It’s also gaining attention thanks to U.S. Sen. Bernie Sanders, the 2020 candidate who calls himself a democratic socialist but doesn’t formally align with the group.

The DSA backs a sweep of issues adopted by some candidates in the Democratic field for president, including the Medicare for All push for a single-payer health insurance system and a more aggressive approach to climate change.

The delegates are set to discuss political strategy in the run-up to the election, stake out policy positions on 2020 debates and discuss the organization’s March endorsement of Sanders in the race for president.

The speakers are still being finalized, but organizers said they include Sara Nelson, the leader of a flight attendant union, and Linda Sarsour, a co-founder of the Women’s March known for her controversial views on the Israeli-Palestinian conflict.

The convention will also be closely watched by conservatives who see the DSA and its supporters as a threat to American values.

U.S. Sen. David Perdue and other Republicans are eager to cast Ocasio-Cortez and her allies as the faces of the Democratic party and have aggressively sought to paint all Democrats - even the more moderate ones - as socialists.

John Burke, head of a pro-Perdue group, said the DSA’s event was a clear sign “that socialist Democrats are intent on targeting Georgia to expand their radical movement.”

State Democratic leaders, meanwhile, heaped scorn on the organization’s convention. Adrienne White, a vice-chair of the state party, dismissed the event as a “non-starter” in Georgia.

“Democrats aren't socialist,” she said. “Socialists simply have no political home and are trying to latch on - and give Republicans political fodder.”

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