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Greater Lansing Democratic Socialists want to empower the working class

January 20, 2023
Courtesy of the Lansing Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.
Courtesy of the Lansing Chapter of the Democratic Socialists of America.

Though it may sound like it is, members of the Greater Lansing Democratic Socialists of America, or GLDSA, do not view their organization as a political party.

Instead, they look at their group as a way for political organizers to meet and fight for a system in which the working class runs a democratic economy that meets the needs of the society. 

With members from Clinton, Ingham and Eaton County, the GLDSA is an organization of people with a variety of left-wing ideologies. Some members have beliefs that align with the Democratic Party while others more inclined to socialism or communism.

The group has backed candidates like Brandon Betz and Claretta Duckett-Freeman run for Lansing City Council to represent their basic ideals of empowering the working class and working against what they consider harmful capitalism. 

GLDSA Secretary Ian Hyslop said because politicians like Senator Bernie Sanders and Congresswoman Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez have become more prominent in national politics, GLDSA has been able to attract more members as well as receive recognition for the work the group wants to do and the goals they want to achieve.

Hyslop said the mission of the GLDSA is to bring about class consciousness and start conversations on how these problems can be solved through organization, education and electoral campaigns.

One of these issues Hyslop said the group is working with the People's Council of Lansing to provide shelter for the homeless by creating publicly owned 24-hour warming centers. These plans have led to the group interacting with the city government as well as becoming more engaged with state politics.

“I'd say it's important because, well, capitalism is everywhere,” Hyslop said. “We find that it's a harmful ideology that puts the profits of the few above the good of the many. We see that in Lansing, with developers coming in and taking tax breaks and then raising rents. Rents have been skyrocketing, especially in the last couple years, with no basis on why… it's making life unlivable for a lot of working class folks.” 

Steering committee-co chair Kyle Richard said he is focused on how education can lead to political change in “uniting the multiracial working class” and localizing topics and debates in international politics and using those issues to work on problems in the community. 

Richard said he wants to create a group full of leaders that are willing to stand up and speak truth to power, fighting for what they believe in. He said the GLDSA wants to build something impactful on what has already been a successful year for them, working with the three Lansing-area Starbucks stores and a Chipotle store that have unionized.

“I think it's cool to see anytime when workers step up and stand in their power,” Richard said.  “When workers stand together, that's when I think real change happens.”

When the membership comes from the pinnacle of Michigan politics such as in the GLDSA, Richard said that they have a firm grasp on what they want to see from their hometown to change the way the state operates on business and politics. One of the things on their radar is the Michigan Democrats’ new plan to repeal the right-to-work law. 

Michigan's Freedom-to-Work laws were signed by former Gov. Rick Snyder in 2012. These laws prohibit employers from making union membership a condition of employment.

GLDSA political education chair Atulya Dora-Laskey said the law was signed to make businesses more attracted to settle in the state without the fear of unionized workers. Dora-Laskey said they find unionization important to the mission of disentangling capitalism from democracy.

“Unionization across the board, not too specific to my workplace or any workplace, gives workers a lot more leverage and a lot more power and a lot more protections day to day,” Dora-Laskey said. 

Dora-Laskey was part of a DSA chapter while attending Alma College and would frequently come to GLDSA for ideas to bring back to the Alma chapter. After finishing college, Dora-Laskey decided return to the Greater Lansing chapter. 

Dora-Laskey said part of the reason they think GLDSA works well together was because the members came from every perspective and every walk of life, allowing the group members to perceive the problems they wanted to fix in eclectic ways.

“What I thought was really fascinating about Lansing DSA was it was a bunch of people who had…come to this realization that capitalism wasn't working with them anymore, but they were from really diverse backgrounds…and different workplaces and different lives,” Dora-Laskey said. 

Closing out the monthly meeting with "The Internationale," the international socialist and communist anthem, the GLDSA members look to the change they want to make. Richard said that the change starts with the conversations they have within the group and with the members of Lansing's working class, while they try and build "something better." 

“I think that that's sort of a fundamental element of socialism," Richard said. "The idea that we can do better than this. And, I'd love to see us do better.” 

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