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New Socialist Group Enters Berkshire Political Scene

Two hands embrace under a rose over a red backdrop with "Berkshires Democratic Socialists Of America" in a ring around them.
Berkshires Democratic Socialists of America

Today is May Day: International Workers Day. In the Berkshires, some socialists are trying to convince the county that they have answers for the hottest questions in contemporary American life.

On March 23rd, the National Political Committee of the Democratic Socialists of America officially recognized its nascent Berkshire County chapter at its New England Conference in Boston.

“Fighting for human dignity, really, is the way I umbrella everything that’s happening," said Amillie Coster, 35. She is the chapter’s communications coordinator. The Pittsfield native says to her, socialism is a response to privatization, deregulation, and the outsized role of corporations in American culture.

“We can’t rely on private entities to look out for the wellbeing of everyone in the world and everyone in this country," said Coster. "And it’s clear that they don’t because of the growing socio-economic divide, and people losing access to healthcare, people losing access to education, losing access to schools, it’s very clear that humans aren’t being valued by corporations and by certain governments. So it’s important that a political movement is created that its sole purpose is fighting lobbyist money in Washington and making sure that we the people – our rights and our needs – are put first over corporations.”

The themes of universal access to healthcare, education, food, fair wages, and clean water dominate the DSA’s message. Members walked the picket lines with striking Stop & Shop workers last month, and Coster says working with labor unions is a high priority for the group. She says the local chapter is trying to offer answers for those caught in the struggle to put food on the table, pay rent, or even imagine a better life.

“You see it particularly in this county," said Coster. "There’s a lot of gentrification happening, there’s a lot of second home owners moving in and it’s making it very difficult for a lot of young people and things seem hopeless and people get apathetic and don’t want to vote and don’t think that there’s an answer – but we need to fight for ourselves. So that’s kind of what we’re all about.”

“It was after the election of Obama that I realized that it’s the system that’s the problem, not who’s in charge at any given moment," said John Prusinski, 68, of Monterey. He is co-chair of the chapter, which has around 70 members. Describing himself as “on the left side of things” for most of his life, he says that his turn to socialism is part of a larger frustration with politics.

“The problem with the Democratic Party is really the problem with Washington culture in general – which is that they’re so in a bubble now that they’re really disconnected from what’s going on in the country as a whole," said Prusinski. "And it’s not so much a problem that there’s a large portion of the country that’s turning to the right, it’s more that there’s a large portion of the country who doesn’t care anymore. They know these people don’t represent them, that no matter who they elect, it’s probably not going to make any difference to their daily lives.”

Prusinksi says it’s a ripe time for socialists to make their case – starting from the ground up.

“Basic Marxist theory is that a real revolution is actually an evolution. That it doesn’t happen all at once, and that it relates to what the conditions on the ground are," said the co-chair. "So you don’t come out into the street with pitchforks. You basically change things a little bit at a time until the conditions on the ground – that is to say, most people see that, for instance, universal healthcare is a good thing, and we all want that. And when you have everybody feeling that way – and it’s getting pretty close to that now – that becomes possible to do that.”

He says the DSA can show people that a better daily quality of life – from improved public transportation to easier access to healthcare – is possible through a comprehensive examination of how power operates in the United States.

“Climate change is related to inequality, economic justice, racism – all of those things effect each other, and you can’t solve one without approaching the other ones at the same time,” said Prusinski. 

The Berkshires DSA Chapter meets on the third Thursday of every month at the Berkshire Athenaeum, and hosts Socializing with Socialists the first Tuesday of every month at Thistle and Mirth in Pittsfield.

Josh Landes has been WAMC's Berkshire Bureau Chief since February 2018, following stints at WBGO Newark and WFMU East Orange. A passionate advocate for Western Massachusetts, Landes was raised in Pittsfield and attended Hampshire College in Amherst, receiving his bachelor's in Ethnomusicology and Radio Production. His free time is spent with his cat Harry, experimental electronic music, and exploring the woods.
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