Socialism, Coming to a State Fair Near You

Give us funnel cake, but give us roses too.

“I think people around me distrust centralized power and the elites. They might not call that the ‘ruling class,’ but that’s what it is.”

DES MOINES, IOWA—What do fried enchilada funnel cakes and democratic socialism have in common? Both made their debut this year at the Iowa State Fair, an annual tradition deeply embedded in American culture and politics. In the August 9 opening parade, amid floats advertising Iowa Catholic Radio and corn mazes, 30 Iowa socialists chanted, “How does single-payer pass? Unify the working class!”

Every four years, presidential hopefuls flock to the Iowa fairgrounds to test their messaging and prove their common touch. Things are quieter in off-years, so local Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) members decided to try an experiment. Why not use the event to test Iowans’ appetite for socialism?

“We had no idea how people would react,” says Christine Darr, secretary of Iowa’s newly formed Dubuque DSA chapter. In fact, the socialists got a warm welcome, with many in the crowd cheering their calls for universal healthcare.

Since its launch in January, the Dubuque chapter has grown to about 40 members. It’s one of four Iowa chapters that have sprung up since Donald Trump’s victory. DSA even has a member running for a seat on Des Moines’ non-partisan city council: Abshir Omar, 26, a Somali refugee.

He wouldn’t be the state’s first socialist to hold office. Prior to 1960, the Iowa branch of Eugene V. Debs’ Socialist Party successfully elected candidates in at least eight cities. That included the city of Davenport, where voters pulled off an astonishing political revolution in the midst of the first Red Scare: In 1920, the mayor and five of eight city council members were open socialists. A socialist candidate for governor, George Peck, ran that year calling for publicly owned utilities and state insurance for industrial accidents, but the influence of…

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