PITTSBURGH (KDKA) — They burst onto the Pittsburgh political scene with the nominations of Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato, two Democratic socialists, who defeated Pennsylvania Reps. Dom Costa and Paul Costa in the Democratic primary last May.
“It’s really exciting because it proves what we can do when we get out and knock on doors,” Becca Tasker told KDKA political editor Jon Delano on Friday.
Tasker is part of the leadership team of Pittsburgh’s Democratic Socialists of America, or DSA, headquartered in Wilkinsburg, one of the nation’s largest chapters.
“We got news back from our national organization that we are just over 900 members,” Tasker said.
So what does the DSA stand for?
Well, socialism and a belief that capitalism rips off workers to benefit the few.
“We understand capitalism is the root cause of our oppression and that, while we still have capitalism, we cannot have that collective liberation, and we will still have pain and suffering and folks starving and being homeless,” Tasker said.
Democratic socialists believe, says Tasker, that all companies whether large corporations or small family businesses should be owned by its workers who pay all a living wage.
“Yeah, we believe that a collective collaboration is best so that we can make sure that we are taking care of our neighbors and our community,” Tasker said.
The DSA is also visible in social justice protests whether it’s confronting elected officials or blocking traffic over the shooting of Antwon Rose.
“We understand that the roots of racism, sexism, and homophobia all lie within these strains of capitalism,” Tasker said.
And democratic socialists admit they are radical leftists.
“One of the reasons that we are so strong is that we are not a liberal group. We are strongly on the left. We are very deliberately on the left, and we have a set of principles we stand for that we don’t compromise on,” Tasker said.
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Last May, socialists Summer Lee and Sara Innamorato shocked the mainstream Democratic Party when they upset two Costa cousins.
“I personally knocked on 5,000 doors for Sara Innamorato, and a lot of members of our chapter knocked on way more doors than that,” Tasker said.
Tasker says the local DSA hopes socialists will challenge incumbents in next May’s Democratic primary for county executive, district attorney, and treasurer.
“Folks like [County Executive] Rich Fitzgerald and [District Attorney Stephen] Zappala don’t represent my ideals and they represent me in office, and I would love to have the opportunity to vote for someone who actually represents my ideas,” Tasker told KDKA’s Jon Delano.
But those ideas are not traditional Democratic ideas.
“We’re left of liberal. Like Democrats are here [pointing right], and we’re here [pointing left],” Taskser said.
A number of Democratic officials, who won’t go on camera, say they’re very worried that a Democratic socialist will run against them in upcoming primaries.
“That’s only helping the other party,” former PA Rep. Nick Kotik said. “That’s creating divisions within the Democratic Party, and ultimately Republicans are going to benefit.”
Kotik, a moderate-to-conservative Democrat, says lawmakers are worried about socialist challenges in the near future.
“Oh, very much so. A lot of them feel the ultimate goal is to take over the Allegheny County Democratic delegation,” Kotik said.
Kotik says nominating DSA members will only push mainstream Democrats into Donald Trump’s camp.
“Where we take these stands that the average Democrat doesn’t believe in philosophically, and they vote for the other party because of that,” Kotik said.
But Tasker says the DSA makes a candidate stronger.
“When you have 900 people who are rallying behind you because you’re in support of the ideals of Democratic socialism and socialist ideas and thoughts and passions, that makes you very, very strong,” Takser said.