Many of the signs and posters at a recent protest at the City-County Building looked like the ones that became familiar sights on downtown streets throughout the summer.
“NO TO PROP. 291!” one sign read, referencing the failed proposal that would have made it more difficult to help the homeless. “SOLIDARITY IS NOT A CRIME!”
“FUND PEOPLE’S NEEDS! NOT THE POLICE!”
At the bottom of those signs was something less expected: “PARTY for SOCIALISM and LIBERATION” along with Indy10 Black Lives Matter’s name.
The Party for Socialism and Liberation, or the PSL, was a mainstay at protests through the summer and into the fall when a special prosecutor announced there would be no charges filed against the officer who shot and killed 21-year-old Dreasjon Reed in May. The PSL’s members have red shirts and hats and bring big banners with one person on each side to prop it up.
“We’re trying to build movements,” said Chris Dilworth, who joined the party this summer.
Dilworth, an attorney, felt like he had no choice as a Black man but to get involved with protests. It’s fine to sit in your room and read about the world’s afflictions, he said, but at some point you have to take real action.
Dilworth started looking for local groups online and found the PSL, which he said is in line with his politics.
Joining the party isn’t as simple as signing your name to a piece of paper. There’s an online application, followed by a conversation with a party representative, and then there are classes to learn about everything from what the group does to political theory. Anyone carrying the label of socialist has to be ready for challenges.
“We need our people to be sharp and to understand and be professionals at this,” Dilworth said.
The PSL is a national political party founded in 2004, which, according to its website, says humanity faces two options: “an increasingly destructive capitalism, or socialism.” The party has run a presidential candidate in every election since 2008.
The local PSL chapter doesn’t have much of a hierarchy — no president, vice president, etc. — but there is a steering committee.
Timi Aderinwale, a member of the four-person steering committee, joined in 2018 after they found the party’s Facebook page.
Aderinwale, a 20-year-old Ivy Tech student, said there was a good amount of interest in the party at protests. Plus, members routinely distribute the party’s newspaper, Liberation, and other literature.
“Communism is an idea a lot of people identify with unknowingly,” they said. “We can show them a better way.”
According to Gallup, 47% of Americans in 2019 agreed government should “do more to solve problems” (up 11 points from 2010), and 39% had a positive view of socialism (up 3 points from 2010).
Derek Ford, a longtime PSL member, said he sees hope in the young, poor and others most heavily oppressed in a capitalist system. Ford started a party branch in Baltimore in 2007 and has been in Indianapolis since the local branch formed in the summer of 2017.
There are American myths — being a bastion of democracy and freedom, for example — that have fallen apart with events such as the Great Recession and never-ending wars, Ford said, and more people are starting to recognize that, which is a start.
“It’s not enough to believe that it’s wrong,” he said. “You have to believe that an alternative is possible.”
Contact staff writer Tyler Fenwick at 317-762-7853. Follow him on Twitter @Ty_Fenwick.