History Lost in History

Olga Bancic is the badass Resistance freedom fighter you need to know about

Olga Bancic was a force to be reckoned with. Her bravery and determination to always stand up for what was right should be an inspiration to us all. But who was she? Bancic was born in 1912 to a working-class Romanian Jewish family, and her life wasn’t easy. She began working in a mattress factory at the age of 12 in order to support her family. The conditions spurred her to join a workers’ union and participate in a strike. Despite her young age, she was beaten and arrested by strikebreakers, sparking her strong belief in workers’ rights. 

Bancic would later become a strong force in unionist and left-wing activism in Romania. She faced arrest and imprisonment multiple times, but never stopped fighting. 

As fascism started to spread throughout Europe, Bancic’s political activism ramped up. She joined the Spanish Republican cause, made up of liberal democrats, socialists, communists, and anarchists, to fight the fascist takeover of Spain during the Spanish Civil War. During that time, Bancic transported weapons and assisted soldiers at the front. She, unfortunately, had to flee in 1938 when it became apparent that fascist victory was in sight. She later moved to Paris where she met and married Alexandru Jar and gave birth to their daughter, Dolores.

Bancic was always a fighter, but it was during World War II that she truly became a hero. Since Bancic and her family were Jewish, they were in grave danger when Nazi Germans occupied Paris. She and her husband left their daughter with a sympathetic French family and took up arms in the French Resistance. They joined the FTP-MOI (Francs-Tireurs et Partisans de la Main d’Oeuvre Immigrée), a group of immigrants and refugees who fought against Nazi occupiers. She took part in dozens of acts of sabotage against the Nazis occupiers, working as a manufacturer and transporter of explosives as well as a messenger.

Unfortunately, authorities put an end to their Resistance activities in 1944, near the end of the war. As immigrants and political dissidents, they lacked the same kind of protection that other French Resistance members had. The Gestapo specifically targeted them, releasing propaganda posters denouncing them as foreign terrorists and calling for the arrest of the “Manouchian group,” so named after the group’s leader, Missak Manouchian. The French police worked with the Gestapo to arrest the fighters. Bancic and twenty of her comrades were arrested and tortured.

The courts handed down a death sentence to the entire group without a proper trial. As the only woman of the condemned group, she was executed separately from the other members. It was illegal to execute women on French grounds, so her captors cruelly executed her in Germany. Her husband and daughter survived the war and were able to keep her memory alive. 

Olga Bancic was a strong and tireless advocate for human rights. She sacrificed herself for a country that disowned her and refused to protect her. France was not willing to defend her rights as an immigrant and a Jewish woman, yet she gave her life to defend the citizens of France. She faced betrayal and hostility from her government, but she fought for those who couldn’t fight.

Bancic fought to secure a better future for her daughter and so many others like her. It’s hard not to tear up reading her last letter to her daughter. In the letter, she tells her not to cry because “I believe that your life and your future will be much happier and brighter than your mother’s.” Up until her last moment, she thought of the future she hoped to secure for her daughter. 

We can all learn from Olga Bancic who was willing to sacrifice everything to create a better future. She braved terrible factory conditions, antisemitism, police beatings, imprisonment, torture, warfare, and even death. She wanted to create a fair and peaceful world. 

We should honor her strength and conviction and know that she did not die in vain. Bancic’s story shows us that it is not only presidents and politicians who create history but ordinary people as well. This woman, a mother, a mattress-factory worker, a convict, and a hero, was braver than some of the most famous men of her time. The world would be better off with more Olga Bancic’s. It is up to us to give power to her memory.

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Health News Gender Race The World Policy

Gig and part-time workers have been left out of the healthcare conversation in the United States for far too long

It is no secret that the healthcare system within the United States is flawed. In large contrast to other countries, there is no universal healthcare. As such, the U.S. government does not provide healthcare for most of its citizens. Instead, healthcare is provided by multiple distinct organizations. These include insurance companies, healthcare providers, hospital systems, and independent providers. Such healthcare facilities are widely owned and operated by private businesses. 

Millions of people are left vulnerable to falling through the cracks as public and private insurers set their own rates, benefit packages, and cost-sharing structures within the bounds of federal and state regulations. 

Employer-sponsored health insurance was first introduced in the United States in the 1920’s. This method indicates that employers might contract with private health plans and administer benefits for their full-time employees as well as their dependents. By 1965 public insurance programs such as Medicare and Medicaid were introduced as a means to compensate for some, but certainly not all, of the already existing flaws. 

Medicare ensures a right to hospital and medical care for all persons aged 65 and older, and later those under 65 with extreme long term disabilities or end-stage renal disease. On the other hand Medicaid, which covers around 17.9% of the American population, is state-administered and is meant to provide health care services to low-income families, the blind, low-income pregnant women and infants, and individuals with disabilities. Eligibility for Medicaid is largely dependent on criteria which vary by state. Individuals need to apply for medicaid coverage and to re-enroll annually. 

As of 2021, the U.S. ranks 22nd globally in terms of quality healthcare with countries like Finland, Japan, and Canada placing above it. In 2018, nearly 92% of the country was estimated to have health coverage, either through their employer or based upon other factors. That statistic leaves roughly 27.5 million people, or 8.5% of the population, uninsured. 

Those flaws intensify dramatically when it comes to the gig or part-time workforce. For one, it is no coincidence that struggles in regards to access to affordable healthcare also run along the lines of race, gender, and income in this country, just as it does with the countless other social issues which persist here. 

For one, those who work within a gig or part-time capacity are often not offered an employer-sponsored health insurance plan. Not to mention that they are also not salaried, so their income is often limited or unreliable, leaving these workers with little opportunity or access to the healthcare system that is in place. Such workers are either required to purchase their own health insurance or apply for Medicaid. Now, while Medicaid eligibility varies between each state, many people who are classified as low-income wind up making too much money to actually be an eligible candidate for the narrow assistance program. At the same time, however, many of the private health insurance plans are extremely expensive, leaving workers stretched thin financially or in danger medically.

This dynamic effectively allows for inequality to flourish. This is no surprise considering that the gig and part-time economy is mostly made up of minority groups, thus being complicit in the racially skewed power structures which exploit people based on their race, religion, gender, sexuality or socioecomic status. That includes single mothers, previously incarcerated people, immigrants and Indigenous, Latinx or Black adults to name a few. In fact, nearly a third or 31% of Latinx adults aged 18 or over earn money through the gig economy. This is compared to 27% of Black Americans and 21% of white adults.  

Workers rights groups in the gig and part-time sphere have been advocating in the name of things like workers compensation for various minutia including maintenance of drivers vehicles, the right to organize, access to 401K, paid family leave and proper employment classification, among other things. This is especially important when you consider that, contrary to popular belief, most people are not using their gig or part-time job as a “side hustle” to compliment their salaried and health-insurance sponsoring full-time position. Instead, this is likely their primary source of income, along with perhaps a second or even third job doing something similar. They are doing as much as they can to make ends meet and survive within a world and system which layers on barriers to their success and sustainability. One that fails to acknowledge their exhaustion and that remains complicit in their vulnerability. 

At the root of what workers are demanding is dignity on the job. 

Workers are fighting to dismantle the system of exploitation that has further isolated and damaged vulnerable communities across the country. To put this better into perspective: there is an unprecedented number of care deserts in the United States. Medical care deserts are best defined as a region which is more than 60 minutes away from the closest hospital. Nearly 1 in 5 residential areas in America, or around 640 entire counties, fall under this definition. 

Also affecting access to healthcare and employment status substantially are child care deserts. Child care deserts are areas in which there are little to no licensed child care providers. An estimated 51% of all residents in the United States live in a child care desert. Plus, child care is especially limited among particular populations such as for low-income families, rural families, and Latinx or Hispanic families. 

Each and every person is deserving of the right to proper healthcare, especially that which is free of the leaps and bounds of a system that oppresses and makes it extraordinarily difficult to access or afford. 

That said, the COVID-19 pandemic without a doubt boosted the telemedicine industry dramatically, putting more accessible and affordable healthcare on the map. A rainbow behind storm clouds, telemedicine has the potential to help people in many ways beyond what we saw over the past year. 

For one, people don’t have to worry as much about transportation, making virtual appointments not only cheaper but also less time consuming. Similarly, because such appointments can take place right from your home, the patient is offered a lot more flexibility to accommodate their work schedules and things like child care. Not to mention stressors in regards to scheduling, the possibility of domestic violence or even religion that can make traditional medical care difficult.  Therefore, due to its asynchronous nature, this intrusive care modality can be much less anxiety-inducing for patients. 

One telemedicine option, Alpha, has been offering such services for much longer than those which were forced into it by the pandemic. Alpha is a growing platform that allows for patients to receive primary care or talk therapy from home. It specializes in holistic treatments for women ranging from regular checkups to ongoing mental health appointments, nutrition and reproductive care – including postpartum depression – acknowledging that women often carry the burden of handling healthcare for their entire families (spouses, children, elderly parents, siblings, etc.) while also working. In this way, Alpha’s services are entirely patient led and personalized. 

Women’s health in particular is ignored, invalidated, and not taken seriously within the medical industry of the United States. Through the asynchronous telemedicine that Alpha offers, patients have a direct line of written conversation with their physician to ask questions or address concerns, unlike an in-person setting where phone calls are screened or a patient might see a different doctor each time they visit. This way, visits are much more private, personal, and accessible. 

Additionally, by allowing patients to pay with cash or in an a-la-carte fashion, the company stands by its mission to meet patients where they are. According to its website, Alpha has a few external/local partnerships in 43 states in the case that a patient needs a procedure done or to go to a lab to receive a test which cannot be completed from an at-home kit – remaining dedicated to combatting the issue of care deserts across the country. 

Alpha’s Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Jacobsen, highlighted a mission of the platform. “We educate patients on their medical condition. We are always involved with the patient because involving the patient in their care, making an informed and fair treatment plan and decisions about prescription medications is going to increase adherence to the plan by the patient.” 

 “And obviously,” Jacobsen continued, “support the relationship between the patient and the provider. We know that a good relationship with the provider actually shows better patient outcomes.” 

Alpha encourages all employers to consider health plans which include telemedicine, citing its inherent ability to provide a less stigmatized experience for patients. More specifically, much of the patient demographic using Alpha are people either without insurance or moving in and out of insurance.

“It is a great fit for gig workers and very convenient, given the fact that you don’t have to take time out of business hours.” Gloria Lao, co-founder and CEO, added, “you can solve your medical issues at midnight on your couch and still get cared for.” 

It is surely going to be difficult to return to fully in-person treatments after the pandemic considering the cutting-edge programs which have emerged and its potential to drive affordability. Perhaps, with a more urgent shift toward progressive politics in the United States and as the unions formed by workers across the country begin to catch fire, we can expect to see more attention focused on finally making healthcare accessible, affordable, and non-discriminatory.


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USA The World

Here’s what you need to know about the ongoing fight to unionize Amazon warehouse workers in Alabama

Last week, 6,000 workers at an Amazon warehouse in Bessemer, Alabama, voted on whether to unionize. If a majority vote in favor of unionizing, this will be a historic win for workers in the United States. Even if the union doesn’t pass, The New York Times describes the recent efforts in Bessemer as “the most significant unionization effort in Amazon’s history.” 

Over the last few decades, progress has occurred at a rapid pace. There have been new innovations intending to transform all walks of life. Amazon has largely been at the forefront of this change, introducing technological advancements to many of its operations across retail, grocery, entertainment, and more. However, as Amazon continues to expand, its employees are drawing attention to the cost of this aggressive advancement: workers’ health, wellbeing, and dignity.

As the second-largest private employer in the U.S., Amazon’s growth has helped to create thousands of jobs. The behemoth has also been applauded for paying its workers above the federal minimum wage, which at the time of publishing is $7.25; most Amazon employees start at $15 per hour.

Bessemer warehouse workers are arguing that compensation is still too low in light of the grueling conditions they endure while at work. 

AP News reports that Bessemer Amazon employees work on their feet for 10 hours a day and only receive two 30-minute breaks. At a Senate hearing, one worker testified that people are punished or even fired for taking more breaks than the allotted two. This has prevented warehouse workers from using the restroom a “normal amount,” according to Vice—which echoes complaints by Amazon’s delivery drivers, who often have to urinate in bottles to meet quotas.

Reveal investigated a “mounting injury crisis” at Amazon warehouses. After obtaining company records, Reveal found that injuries have increased over the past four years, with Amazon failing to hit its internal safety targets because of its rapid rate of production. Vice adds that during the pandemic, Amazon failed to properly protect its warehouse workers, resulting in almost 20,000 workers testing positive for COVID-19. 

In addition, Bessemer workers say they do not feel valued or respected. Many have noted that they are monitored throughout the day in order to ensure productivity goals are met. This surveillance on top of what  TIME describes as a “punishing pace of work,” has created low morale as workers feel dehumanized and disposable. 

The culmination of both the Black Lives Matter movement and the pandemic has brought to light employers’ responsibility to respect, protect, and listen to their employees. In addition to fairer compensation, many of the Bessemer workers who voted in favor of the union simply want to feel dignified in their workplace and have their complaints heard by Amazon. Vox reports that 80% of Bessemer Amazon employees are Black, with Amazon’s “overall front-line workforce disproportionately composed of people of color,” leading union organizers to also focus on issues of racial empowerment and equality. 

Historically, big businesses have discriminated against workers of color, often paying BIPOC less than their white counterparts. In the South, unions have long supported racial empowerment and equality, with sanitation, steel, and mining unions, to name a few, championing for Black workers’ rights during the Civil Rights Movement between 1954 and 1968. Unions are also who we have to thank for creating the framework of today’s work conditions. CNN lists weekends, 8-hour workdays, better pay, health care and retirement benefits, and banning child labor as the results of unions tirelessly working to protect workers and advance their interests.  

However, not all employers and employees support unionizing. Business Insider spoke to two Bessemer employees who voted against the union. They asserted that Amazon already provides what a union would, such as decent pay and benefits, and that a union would not be able to protect workers against termination. 

Amazon is also opposed to the union, preferring to speak with its employees directly on workplace issues. The company has taken an aggressive approach, including a PR campaign and papering employee bathrooms with anti-union rhetoric.  

While Amazon is doubling down on its treatment of workers, Vox notes that Amazon could be more worried that a union would “upend the speed and agility of warehouse operations; typically, the faster Amazon pushes warehouse workers, the quicker the company can get orders out the door to customers.”

It’s also important to note that Jeff Bezos, Amazon’s CEO,  continues to amass billions of dollars in wealth, while his employees do not. Brookings reports Amazon has “shared little of its astonishing profits” with its workforce. Specifically, Amazon earned an additional $9.7 billion in profit last year while Bezos added $67.9 billion to his personal wealth—and yet the company chose to end its $2 per hour pandemic wage increase.  

March 29, 2021 was the last day for Bessemer employees to vote on unionizing. After months of advocating, lobbying, and organizing, the results of the vote are expected to arrive any day now. No matter the result, many labor experts are expecting the efforts of Bessemer Amazon workers to inspire other warehouses, with Vox predicting a possible reshaping of the future of warehouse work in the U.S. 

However, the question remains: what is the price of progress? How far we are willing to go in the name of innovation must take into account individuals. It is people who make up a company, and it is people who are helping to drive digitalization. Amazon workers in Bessemer, Alabama, remind us that the price of progress cannot and should not be people’s lives, wellbeing, and dignity.

If we sacrifice that, what will remain?


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Health Care The Pandemic Love + Sex Love

Here’s what happens every time you order NSFW toys during a pandemic

An Amazon employee has recently gone viral for his remarks about dildos during a protest prompted by increased coronavirus concerns. He was advocating for the e-commerce company to pull back efforts on the manufacturing of unessential items.

He said that while shipments on essential items have been delayed, even sold out, employees were still working shoulder to shoulder processing items that were unimportant.

This makes it impossible for the workers to practice social distancing policies while at work.

Terrified, and frankly exhausted, from having to risk his own life and his families life for these non-essential items, this employee suggested that the company prioritize essential shipments and decrease staff as well as the number of hours worked. 

He says, “They should not be selling non-essential items,” talking about the company’s policies. “If you go on the website, all of the essential items are sold out. Until you restock and until you close this building, shut it down.”

He added, “Dildos are not essential items. Books for kids, yes, but dildos? No.” He was obviously frustrated. 

It is important to say outright that NO, dildos are absolutely NOT a top priority right now. Neither are fragrant oils, yoga mats, bathing suits, or picture frames. Though they certainly do serve some purpose in terms of self-care. 

The obvious priority here is the lives of workers who are employed by Amazon. It is no secret that Amazon hires predominantly low-income people to work in its facilities, while also having a disturbing history of poor working conditions

This makes it even more unsurprising that in the middle of April Amazon fired at least two employees who were outspoken about the mistreatment of warehouse workers and other safety matters surrounding COVID-19.

But, by May 1 Amazon VP Tim Bray resigned after much dismay about the firing of those whistleblowers who raised serious alarm, which is a notable sign of empathy and solidarity, and might even be something we can all learn from as we make our own shopping decisions.

As consumers, it is imperative to understand our responsibility to those who are working despite their vulnerability. These people should not be forced into serving the lifestyles of those who don’t really care what happens to them.

Which brings me here:

As the COVID-19 pandemic has grown more intense, and people have become more isolated, it seems that they have fallen on dildos for some sort of salve. For many people, dildos are among the lists of items that are an absolute necessity to make it through times of crisis. And there’s a reason for that. 

Dildos, and masturbation in general, are known to have outstanding mental health benefits. They have also been associated with improved sexual wellness and of course, self-love.

We can knowingly reach the big O from our own doing, and there is a lot of power in that. In some cases, dildos have also been known to increase blood flow in the clitoris, increase sexual arousal, help the body make it own lubricant, and therefore make more pleasurable sex possible.

Orgasms are good for your health, too. According to a Next Avenue report, sex that satiates a persons desire triggers hormones that help us to feel relaxed, less stressed, and more contented. 

So, what can we do to keep exploring our personal sexuality at home without the possibility damaging the life of someone working in an Amazon warehouse? Well, for one, there are other e-commerce options to shop from that don’t have a cruel history like Amazon does. Or, we can buy small and local. Let’s face it, no one is going to stop ordering online, especially when all storefronts are closed. But we can be smart about what we order and who we order from.

One alternative is Grove Collaborative, which sells a nice selection of household essentials and personal care items. This e-commerce site values social welfare and is known for being safe and environmentally friendly, as it is working towards being entirely plastic-free. All shipments from Grove collaborative are non-toxic, cruelty-free, and are carbon-offset before they reach your door.

A second option is Verishop, which is just as convenient as Amazon but offers a more curated selection. Most of its products are sustainable and natural, making it a more organic shopping experience. This e-commerce site usually ensure free 1-day shipping on most order made within the U.S., but during the pandemic this policy has shifted to free 2-day shipping. Which is not a bad deal in my book. Plus, its sexual wellness selection seems to be hand-picked and rather expansive.

With all of this in mind, we are better equipped to keep loving every part of ourselves at home while also making safe and compassionate online shopping decisions that protect workers and the environment!

Editor's Picks Gender Policy Inequality

This is the bitter truth behind your cup of tea

Sri Lanka’s estate workers are used to being forgotten.

Brought down from India in the early 1800s by British colonizers, those who survived the journey did so on a diet of false promises and little else. Denied both Indian and Sri Lankan citizenship as a result of their migrant status, they worked on upcountry plantations for years before half of them were forcibly shipped back to India in 1946, following an agreement between both governments.

Of those who remained, only some received citizenship. Approximately 3600 estate workers only received Sri Lankan citizenship as recently as 2008, after 200 years spent cultivating the country’s most valuable export: tea.

Today, 65% of labor input in tea production is by female workers.

Tea pluckers have become symbolic of this country – they are on promotional images for Sri Lankan tourism, on tea company brochures and websites, plastered on the immigration desks at the airport, romanticized in articles like this one. Baskets tied to their heads, straining their necks, sweat on their foreheads, smiling or squinting or both.

And while these women form a clear majority within the estate worker community, they remain largely underrepresented in its leadership, within trade unions, and in negotiations with the government and private corporations.

Even media coverage of the recent wage strikes, which went on for 2 months and cost the plantation industry roughly Rs.240 million ($1.4 million) per day, was decidedly male-dominated.

The strikes – allegedly organized by a public figure to gain political favor while falsely appeasing workers – were aimed at increasing the estate workers’ daily wage from Rs.500 ($2.8) to Rs.1000 ($5.7) daily.

In January 2019, a deal was reached between unions and plantation companies that increased daily wages to Rs.700 ($4), a decision that workers called a ‘sellout’. Prior to January, daily wages had remained at Rs.500 ($2.8) since 2016.

Lakshmi* tells me all this in her office in Hatton, pulling numbers and dates from memory and pausing every few minutes to refer back to an A4 sheet of paper on which she has listed everything she would like me to know about the history of the estates. The office is airy and open, and Lakshmi’s desk stands in the center of the room. There is little available space on the walls – they are covered in photos from workshops and conferences, posters and banners from events Lakshmi has engineered and overseen. Hers is the only organization in the country dedicated to advocating for the rights and concerns of female plantation workers.

“We didn’t start out as a women’s rights organization,” she says. “When we started, in 1992, it was for worker’s rights. But we have always advocated for those who need it most, and right now, that’s women.” The organization was officially founded and registered in 1992 by Lakshmi’s husband. The original registration certificate is framed behind Lakshmi’s desk, along with a photo of her husband, who passed away three years ago.

An overhead view of a Sri Lankan tea plantation in the daytime. The hills are a vibrant green with winding pathways running through them. The sky behind is blue and slightly cloudy.
[Image description: An overhead view of a Sri Lankan tea plantation in the daytime. The hills are a vibrant green with winding pathways running through them. The sky behind is blue and slightly cloudy.] Via Jaromir Kavan on Unsplash.
It is through Lakshmi that I meet Meera*, a welfare officer, and Sasikala*, an estate worker, who work with the organization on a voluntary basis. These women work 18-hour days, inclusive of their work on the estate and housework, with no benefits besides a tea allowance of 500g a month.

“Water is our biggest problem,” Sasikala says, noting that Sri Lanka’s prevailing dry season has been brutal for those living on the estates. “The factories use what little clean water there is, so our families have to drink from streams polluted by medicines and fertilizers.”

Water and wages are issues that impact the entire plantation community.

They are united in their dedication to finding solutions, to fighting for justice. The same cannot be said of the sexual harassment on plantations and within NGOs, the widespread alcoholism-fuelled domestic abuse, the lack of leadership and representation for the women who are the backbone of the tea industry. These are issues that do not receive as much media attention or attempts at serious reform.

The fact that they are exclusive to women workers, who contribute the majority of labor to an industry that made Rs.20.1 billion ($115 million) just this past January is of seemingly no consequence.

NGOs and aid organizations in the area are part of the problem. Lakshmi tells me that one such organization imposes forced family-planning procedures on women workers, adding that those higher up are complicit in the practice.

Workplace sexual harassment is easy to cover-up. “No woman is willing to risk her job to report something that no one will believe,” Meera says. Sasikala suggests replacing men in senior positions with the younger generation of educated, ambitious women to reduce the likelihood of abuse.

Alcohol-fuelled domestic abuse is routine on the estates – at one point, a hospital admitted between 60 and 70 women roughed up by their drunken husbands in a single month. The police are unwilling and unequipped to deal with such cases, so they have begun reporting them to Lakshmi instead. She is not always in a position to intervene, but – as with everything else – she does all she can.

Volunteers at her organization have formed pressure groups – they are taught their legal rights and provided knowledge on the processes of reform and policy-making. These women then go into their communities and replicate this training process with other more women. Knowledge of how to create change spreads, as does a certain hunger in this pursuit.

“My job,” Lakshmi says, “is only to light a match and start a fire. Once that is done, I just step aside and watch it burn.”


*The names in this article have been changed at the request of those mentioned.

USA Politics The World

More and more Americans are turning into Democratic Socialists. Why?

The past couple of years have been rough for left-leaning Americans.

But every once in a while, we get a glimpse of the fact that another world is possible. One of those glimpses occurred when Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez won the Democratic primary against longtime incumbent Joe Crowley in what some are calling “the year’s biggest political upset.”

Ocasio-Cortez is a member of the Democratic Socialists of America. She is the latest and greatest in a series of electoral victories for the organization since the 2016 election when Bernie Sanders’s campaign helped put democratic socialism on the political map for many Americans. Her district has historically gone Democratic in general elections, and it is unlikely that she will face a serious Republican challenger in November.  

Earlier this spring, four female candidates backed by the (DSA) won Democratic state primary races in Pennsylvania. Three of them don’t have Republican opponents for the general election this fall, which means barring any extreme circumstances next year there will be at least three Democratic Socialist-backed candidates in the Pennsylvania statehouse.

These victories are part of a struggle over the future of the Democratic party (and American politics in general), between more establishment Democrats and more leftist upstarts entering politics.

The past two years have seen membership in the DSA surge around the country. I was part of that surge, joining the Portland, Oregon chapter last year. Membership in DSA has gone from about 6,500 dues-paying members in 2014 to roughly 37,000 this year.

That growth was spurred by the unexpected popularity of Sanders’s presidential campaign, but it has been sustained by the fact that Democratic Socialism speaks to people’s lived experiences of the world under capitalism, and to their disillusionment with the options provided to them by establishment parties.

In an era of rising inequality, DSA argues for redistributing wealth. Because top executives earn more in two days than the average worker does all year, DSA organizes for stronger unions and workers’ rights. As the climate changes and weather patterns grow more volatile, DSA pushes for a shift away from extractive industries that pollute the air, water, and earth that we all share.

I came to DSA relatively recently, along with thousands of others.

But I came to it because of a longstanding disappointment with the Democratic party.

As a queer teenager in the early 2000s, I remember desperately reading through Democratic party positions on gay marriage and finding that almost no one would go on the record as fully supporting marriage equality. It is hard to explain how my stomach sank when I realized that the politicians who were supposedly “on my side” still either didn’t believe in the full validity of my feelings or simply didn’t care enough to fight for them.

In college, I remember learning that the world produces more than enough food to feed everyone on the planet and then some. That’s what I think about most when I think about why I joined DSA.

That scarcity is not an inevitable fact of life: it is possible to feed everyone, to house everyone, to give everyone healthcare. Republicans and Democrats are caught in the myth of scarcity, an ideology that encourages greed, and only argue over the parameters of how much greed is too much.

Democratic Socialism embraces the fact that we have enough for everyone if we only cared enough to figure out how to share our resources more equitably.

Ocasio-Cortez and Pennsylvania politicians Summer Lee, Sara Innamorato, Elizabeth Fiedler, and Kristin Seale are signs of a shift in American politics. But they’re not the only ones.

Last year, my own home state of Virginia elected Lee Carter to the state legislature. Carter is a member of his local DSA chapter and defeated the Virginia House Republican whip. At the same time, progressives won a number of other victories. Danica Roem, a transgender woman, defeated a Republican incumbent who had introduced an anti-trans bathroom bill to the Virginia House of Delegates. In fact, 15 DSA-backed candidates around the country won elected office in 2017.

Aside from Carter’s entry into state-level political office, their positions are at the local level, ranging from school board members to city councilors.

But their humble positions belie the fact that local politics often have a major direct impact on people’s everyday lives. That is a reality that has shaped Republican and right-wing organizing for years but has been a weak point for Democrats. Now, DSA members are offering a leftist alternative at that level, and people are choosing it.

DSA doesn’t operate as a political party in the U.S., opting instead for a nonprofit organizational structure. That means the candidates they back are running as Democrats, but bringing a stronger leftist sensibility to the party.

And now Ocasio-Cortez is leading the charge into national politics.

Money Now + Beyond

3 significant ways refugees are helping the Italian economy thrive

In 2016, over 176,000, asylum-seekers reached Italy’s shores. More than 76,873 migrants arrived in Italy since January, and more than 12,000 boats of migrants reached Italy over two days a few weeks ago.

In response, Italy is considering closing its harbors to humanitarian refugee rescue ships. But shouldn’t Italy welcome refugees instead?

From an ethical standpoint, the answer is obviously ‘yes’. Yet many worry that how high numbers refugees into the country will negatively affect the economy. On a recent visit to Italy, I asked a friend what his view on refugees was. ‘I am not in favor,’ he says. ‘We already have so much unemployment here: refugees just make things worse.’

Those who wish to welcome refugees often reply that one must welcome refugees for ethical reasons, even if that means threatening the economy.

Both sides of the debate have bought into the idea that refugees aren’t helpful to the economy, and debate the question of whether we should help them anyway. Yet, data show that refugees are not, in fact, a burden on the economy. Economy and ethics are pointing exactly in the same direction here.

1. Refugees are boosting the economy.

Studies by the Leone Montessa Foundation show that immigration is saving Italy’s finances. Refugees and immigrants might be unemployed in the very short term (who doesn’t need a moment to settle?) but they soon become a stimulus to the economy. In 2015, immigrants generated almost as much revenue as FIAT, Italy’s car manufacturing company, providing a net gain to the economy of 4 billion euros.

Studies by Prof. Alexander Betts, director of Oxford’s Refugee Studies Centre, show that the impact of refugees alone on the economy is either equivalent to or greater than the impact of other immigrants because of the high proportion of skilled workers among refugees.

2. Refugees are saving Italy’s welfare state.

Refugees are also saving Italy’s aging population. The country has the lowest birth-rate in the EU, and a high percentage of millennials moving abroad (I am one of them, actually). Asylum-seekers, on average, are young and provide new tax-paying workforce.

Taxpayers, for Italy, are vital. They subsidize pensions and public services. Bluntly put, the fact that Italy’s birth-rate is declining implies that the country needs refugees and immigrants to pay pensions of soon to be retired Italians.

Alas, upon arrival, refugees often get offered only illegal jobs. A Nigerian asylum-seeker friend tells me that when he first arrived in Italy he could only harvest tomatoes illegally: ‘I was paid 3 euros per cassone [a huge cassette, of half a meter cube capacity, nda]. When tomatoes weren’t abundant, it was difficult to fill even 3 cassoni a day.’

The irony is that by giving asylum-seekers legal and properly paid jobs, they would subsidize our pensions and welfare state even more. In 2015, more than 600,000 Italian citizens received their pensions thanks to migrants’ social security contributions. If most working migrants could work legally, these numbers would be even more substantial – probably in a significant way, given Italy’s tax-evasion problem.

3. Refugees can help Italians preserve workers’ rights.

Italy’s working-class won important victories in the 80s; decent minimum wage, holidays and social assistance, among other things. Will a workforce swollen by Italy’s refugee intake erode some of these successes?

Not necessarily, and certainly not because of refugees.

As we have seen, legal work by refugees and immigrants stimulates the economy and support Italy’s welfare state. It follows that under the right conditions, immigrants are a crucial component in sustaining, rather than dismantling, workers’ rights. Any future weakening of workers’ rights would be made despite the presence of refugees in the workforce, not because of it.

Those who plan to lower worker’s wages upon the arrival or refugees are scape-goating and exploiting them for the sake of their own profit. But these profits are at odds with the interests of everyone else: refugees’, other workers’, and the interest of any Italian who benefits from Italy’s welfare state.

But then refugees could become allies, rather than potential dangers, in the fight for the preservation of workers’ rights.

So what can be done to integrate refugees?

Betts emphasizes that when refugees have work opportunities, access to capital, and education, they also have the greatest economic impact. Long-term economic benefits partly rely on successful integration policies.

In Italy, integration currently relies mostly on local measures. Some are impressive.

Trento, my hometown, has the Welcome Project (Progetto Accoglienza). Social workers pair up mentally-ill people with asylum-seekers and give them a home to share. Nicola Pedergnana, who came up with the idea, tells me that ‘the results are just incredible. A refugee does not judge the person she takes care of. She befriends them.’ The project currently has a 90% success rate.  Trento University also has a project to give refugees access to higher education.

In the south, dying Italian towns are also coming back to life thanks to refugees. The town of Riace adopted this repopulation plan first. A third of its current citizens are immigrants, and the town is alive and thriving again. Refugees also stepped up to help rebuild post-earthquake towns like Amatrice (the hometown of pasta all’amatriciana).

For sure, these examples of integration are not enough. But at least they tell us that integration is possible, and making it happen worth it.