Democrats are holding their convention in Milwaukee. The city’s socialist past is an asset.Roundup
tags: Milwaukee, Democrats, socialism, 2020 Election
Tula Connell, a historian of the United States focusing on 20th century labor and social movements, is author of "Conservative Counterrevolution: Challenging Liberalism in 1950s Milwaukee."
With the announcement of Milwaukee as the site of the 2020 Democratic National Convention, political opponents wasted no time in raising the specter of the city’s socialist past. Even Republican Sen. Ron Johnson, who should be thrilled that his state landed a big event, instead asserted that the city offers the public a “firsthand look” at “Democrats’ extreme policies that would reverse the economic progress made under the Trump administration.”
This attempt by Republicans to make political hay out of the convention announcement might have made little sense to a lot of Americans. After all, many Americans weren’t even alive when Milwaukee’s last socialist mayor, Frank Zeidler, left office in 1960. But this history is relevant — and not in the way conservatives think. Long ago though it was, Zeidler’s administrations offer a look at how his brand of socialism, which has been resurrected by the likes of Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez (D-N.Y.), offered real-life solutions to problems strikingly similar to those facing our country today.
In 1947, Zeidler, a quiet, bespectacled autodidact, bested a field of more than a dozen candidates running for Milwaukee mayor. He proudly embraced the moniker of “Sewer Socialist,” a term bestowed by other members of the Socialist Party of America on socialists who emphasized clean sanitation and other healthy living conditions over a revolutionary change of government.
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