Growing the Grassroots


Moumita Ahmed talks with Jessie Mannisto

Moumita Ahmed, cofounder of People for Bernie and its successor, Millennials for Revolution, is one of the thousands who have joined DSA since the end of Bernie Sanders’s presidential campaign. We caught up with Ahmed to see what the rest of us can learn from her experiences—as an immigrant, as a working-class woman of color, and as a leader of a grassroots movement.—JM

JM: There are a lot of progressive organizations out there. What brought you to DSA?

MA: I joined around the end of Bernie’s campaign because I was so frustrated with the Democratic Party, and I wanted to fully commit myself to a socialist movement. I’d never joined any organization officially before that—I’d always been unaffiliated as a socialist. But all of our editors at Millennials for Revolution are now members of DSA.

I really like how DSA members are working inside the Democratic Party to move it to the left, and that DSA does both movement and electoral work. I did electoral work, and I understand the value in it. I have a ton of friends who are registered Democrats, but they’re really socialists—they have the same values. They can help push the Democratic Party to the left.

JM: What kinds of experiences led you to become a socialist?

MA: After we moved from Bangladesh when I was six, my mom worked at a fast-food restaurant for years to raise me and my brother. So I really cared about labor and economic justice issues. I knew that if I wanted to be an organizer, I had to understand things from that point of view. But a lot of times when I was doing electoral work early on, knocking on doors for campaigns, the candidates couldn’t address the people I was talking to. The amount of money these people are earning isn’t enough to raise a family. 

Then there’s the racial injustice that immigrants face every day. When I was 12, my dad was arrested for no reason, just because of his last name and his skin color. No one told us where he was taken—I had to call hospitals looking for him. They slapped him with a stupid charge for disorderly conduct, which was a lie. When our lawyer said, “You can fight this,” we said, “This is gonna cost so much money. We might as well just let it go.” That’s when I realized that justice costs money. And my parents couldn’t exactly take off work to go sue the NYPD. I even had to talk to the police for my mom that day, because she didn’t speak English well. It really took a toll on us. Being an immigrant, being a person of color, does impact where you are in society, and it plays a role in economic injustice.

JM: Where do you see the left going from here?

MA: What I’m hoping for now, and what I’m seeing, is that people are finally awake and want to get involved. They want to come together and hold not just Donald Trump but all our elected officials accountable. It’s getting harder for the politicians to hide their interests and their motives. People are looking to elected officials to do their job and work for the people, and they’re ready to challenge them in primaries if needed.

JM: Tell us a little bit about some of the work you’re doing now.

MA: I’m working on a resistance house in Washington, DC—we call it District 13, because the idea is similar to District 13 in The Hunger Games, the district that was secretly helping all the other districts unite and wage resistance against the Capital. But our District 13’s not a secret: it’s going to be an operating base for building resistance against Trump. The idea is for activists and organizers to have a place to call home, come and leave their stuff, stay a few days to organize an action. We’re going to support them. 

JM: There are lots of people just like that joining DSA today, and they’re ready to get involved for the first time. With all the work you’ve done, do you have any advice to pass on to them?

MA: I think the advice would be to not forget the working-class people out there who might not call themselves socialists, who might not have the time to get involved or know as much as some of the people who are involved in DSA. When I was traveling around doing door knocking for Bernie’s campaign, when people asked me about his affiliation with socialism, I would pivot to a conversation about their own suffering: “Are you affected by South Carolina’s minimum wage? Are you upset about how the police target your community?” Most people agree that the billionaire class is hoarding too much of the wealth. Even if they don’t like the word “socialism,” they’re saying in their own way, “I agree with you.” They said, “I’ll look into Bernie if this is what he’s trying to do.” Whether people call themselves socialists or not, we should take the ideas of socialism and go door to door, talk to people, and do whatever it takes to get them on our side. Being a socialist means being on the side of the working class and fighting with them against racism and fascism. 

Mannisto.jpg Jessie Mannisto is a writer and a member of the DC Metro DSA chapter.

This article originally appeared in the Spring 2017 issue of the
Democratic Left magazine.

 Individually signed posts do not necessarily reflect the views of DSA as an organization or its leadership. Democratic Left blog post submission guidelines can be found here.