- Interview by
- Scott Heins
Brian Cina is a member of the Vermont House of Representatives, representing Burlington, Vermont. He is also a member of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).
At DSA’s biennial convention in Atlanta this summer, photojournalist Scott Heins interviewed and photographed several dozen elected officials from around the country who are members of the socialist group.
How did you come to be a democratic socialist and an elected?
I was already elected and had a bunch of experience before I joined DSA (Democratic Socialists of America), but I’d been a socialist in various capacities for twenty-seven years. I’d gone to ISO (International Socialist Organization) meetings for ten years or more, but I’m relatively new to DSA.
Why do you think it’s important for socialists to run, win elections, to hold office?
As the disparities between those who have and don’t have widens and the achievement gap widens, we’re seeing wealth being further concentrated in the hands of the few at the expense of the many and our planet. If we’re going to save species that are on the verge of extinction, if we’re going to preserve our ecosystems, as well as preserve culture, we’re going to need to drastically change the way that we’re doing things.
Democratic socialism is a path forward that would empower people to have more influence over the decisions that affect their lives. The policies we bring forward seek to build the common good and create opportunities for people to live to their fullest potential. I see our approach as a viable way for us to continue living as humans on earth, otherwise I don’t know what it’s going to look like.
How much impact has Bernie had on socialism in Vermont?
When Bernie Sanders became elected as mayor of Burlington, he demonstrated that democratic socialists were viable candidates and sparked a local revolution. A progressive coalition was born, which elected people to city council, allowing Bernie to move forward with a vision that aligned with traditional concepts of socialism. He told people, if we can provide the best possible services to citizens and take care of everybody, then they’ll be with us when we want to do bigger, bolder things.
And how have things changed since Bernie’s time as mayor?
The institutions he put in place that exist in Burlington are socialist-minded. The Community Economic Development Office still exists and is doing good work. He created a tradition that’s still alive. You have the Progressive Party that’s an active fierce force in the city, fighting for socialist ideals, fighting to protect the commons, and putting people over the profits of corporations.
Beyond electoral politics, it built a culture in Burlington that’s socialist, whether or not people call themselves that. The norm is socialism. The political wins that he made sparked a fire that continues to burn, and now there’s a whole new generation of progressive electeds. Socialism is more alive in Vermont than it ever has been.
What would you say to someone who is shocked to realize there are many DSA members who hold office?
Look at how diverse our society is. There’s lots of people out there whose beliefs align with socialism — we’re just a manifestation of that.
Socialism is growing in America because . . .
The people are waking up as the disparity of wealth grows. As technology changes the ways in which we communicate with one another and stay connected, the collective consciousness of humanity grows more aware of our common struggle.