Editor’s Note: Continuing our retrospective on the American “sewer socialism” movement.

Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders at the January 20, 2021 Presidential inauguration.

By Jason Sibert

Senator Bernie Sanders (I-VT) established himself as a political trailblazer in his two runs for the office of President of the United States in 2016 and 2020. He made a lot of items – affordable higher education, single-payer healthcare, a livable minimum wage, a more power collective bargaining system, paid family leave, and expanded social security for retirees – part of the mainstream political discussion, items not part of the discussion in the years of the Reaganite/Clintonite synthesis. However, and rarely mentioned in current media coverage of the senator, Sanders established a trailblazing record of a classic sewer socialist as the mayor of Burlington, Vermont from 1981-1989.

Truth be told, the Bernie of the 1980’s advocated for a more leftish politics than the Bernie of today. In that decade Sanders voiced the opinion that certain segments of the national economy, or at least the most capital-intensive sector, could be nationalized by the federal government in a democratic way. After being elected to the House of Representatives in the 1990s, his views changed to that of a Scandinavian social democrat, emphasizing social insurance (Medicare for all and expanded Social Security) and social welfare programs over nationalization.

When Sanders ran for mayor of Burlington, he stressed the idea that the city was not for sale, and this hit on an important tenet of sewer socialism – the city exists for residents and not for special interests. The socialist mayor made it a point to take on real estate interests. One of the key issues of his time as mayor was Burlington’s Lake Champlain waterfront. Tony Pomerleau, an influential local businessman, planned a mega-project that included a 150-room hotel, retail space, a 100-slip marina, and 240 condominiums in 18-story buildings. In his first campaign, Sanders pledged to kill that plan. After Pomerleau withdrew his proposal, Sanders backed another waterfront plan that included some commercial development, affordable housing, and generous public access. He called it a “people’s waterfront.”

As is the case with the history of sewer socialism, after his election, many in Burlington thought that Bernie Sanders would turn the city into a miniature version of the old Soviet Union. However, in time, many, including members of the business community, observed Sanders’ willingness to pay attention to a wide variety of views, a true perspective of one committed to democracy. The business community noted the mayor’s interest in development, even though he opposed developments that hurt middle- and working-class residents or impacted the lives of low-wage workers in a negative way. The Sanders administration provided new firms with seed funding, offered technical assistance, and helped businesses form trade associations – including the South End Arts and Business Association and the Vermont Convention Bureau. It also lobbied the state government to promote business growth.

In the early days of Sander’s mayoralty, Burlington’s downtown residents’ quality of life suffered from the lack of a supermarket in the area. The major grocery chains told city officials that they would invest in a new store only if they could build a mega-market that residents believed to be too large. So, the Sanders administration pushed the local Onion River Cooperative. With 2,000 members in its former location, some felt a move downtown was too risky. It turned out to be a good investment, and under Sanders’ successor it became City Market, a thriving enterprise with more than 9,000 members.

The Bernie Sanders Administraiton also went to bat for affordable housing. The city channeled a large portion of its federal block grant funds to nonprofits committed to that goal. A part of the strategy included support for the Burlington Community Land Trust with an initial $200,000 grant. The portfolio managed price-controlled houses, condos, co-ops, and rentals; and owns over 120,000 square feet of commercial space and nonprofit facilities. The land trust also owns residential real estate land. In turn, this makes the price cheaper for those being housed, including homeowners. In addition, market-rate residential projects were required to set aside 10 to 25 percent of the units at rents and prices affordable to families with modest incomes and to keep them affordable for 99 years.

Sanders promoted cooperatively-owned housing in the affordable housing battle. The Northgate Apartments in Burlington, an affordable housing project subsidized by the federal government for 20 years, went through a change for the better. Landlords found a loophole that allowed them to convert the buildings into market rentals or luxury condos.  At the end of the story, Sanders ensured that Northgate became a housing cooperative.

Bernie Sanders’ days as mayor represented a contemporary chapter in the history of sewer socialism!

Jason Sibert is the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.


The following resolutions were unanimously passed at our recent national convention in Buffalo, New York:


The Socialist Party of America, and its latest iteration, Social Democrats USA, have been actively involved in and supportive of the labor movement going back to its early days; first as the AFL then as the AFL-CIO, including the UAW and the Teamsters.

Many of the leaders of the AFL-CIO were also members in good standing of the socialist movement and its leadership; figures like Morris Hillquist and Sidney Hillman of the Amalgamated Clothing Workers, David Dubinsky of the ILGWU, IW Abel of the Steelworkers, Sam Fishman of the UAW, A Phillp Randolph of the Brotherhood of Sleeping Car Porters, Paul Hall of Seafarers International Union, and many others. Furthermore, during World War II young socialists like Donnie Slayman and Sam Fishman organized their comrades at work in the factories such as the General Motors plant in Buffalo, New York.

Members of the Socialist Party were active in organizing campaigns in Detroit and other parts of the Midwest and western states in the 1930’s. And of course, they were also involved in labor actions in New York and on the east coast – in other words, during the 1930’s, socialists contributed to labor organizing and strikes all over the US. In the 1960’s, YPSL’s (Young People’s Socialist League) and the Young Social Democrats, with the support of the national AFL-CIO and UAW, organized and operated the groups know as Frontlash – the Youth Institute of for Peace in the Middle East, the US Youth Council, the A. Phillp Randolph Institute Youth Division, the Coalition of Labor Union Women, and more.

We do not simply support the American labor movement as all good progressives do, and we don’t just love the American labor movement because it works for and protects the American working class, or because we are committed trade unionists, feminists, and organizers. Moreover, organized labor has and is the greatest American social institution for assimilating immigrants, integrating the races, promoting equality, and providing meaningful affirmative action. Furthermore, it is as democratic and non-corrupt as any huge body of human beings can be – especially when competing with and/or fighting against capitalist institutions, and captains of industry. If it weren’t for the American labor movement, we wouldn’t have the weekend, the eight-hour day or 40-hour week, the minimum wage, collective bargaining, and much, much more. The American labor movement has not now, nor ever been, perfect, but more often than not, has supported the right cause for the right reasons, be it civil rights, the ERA, or the fight for women’s reproductive freedom.

Members of SDUSA have worked to register union voters all around the country and worked on labor-endorsed candidates’ campaigns as well as union organizing campaigns. SDUSA stands in solidarity with the three million members of the New York state AFL-CIO and the millions of trade unionists all over this country who are our brothers and sisters on this Labor Day and always.

–> Submitted by Patti Friend, National Chair of SDUSA, and Jason Sibert, the Executive Director of the Peace Economy Project in St. Louis.



Whereas, no military-grade assault weapons should be sold or otherwise be made available for hunting,

Whereas, no one under the age of 21 should be purchasing an assault weapon without a proper background check or be allowed due to shopkeeper discretion,

Whereas, no military-grade assault weapons be made available in the United States of America unless purchased legally according to the new ATF standards by the Biden Administration, 

SDUSA endorses a complete ban on military-grade assault weapons. In the interim, we insist there be no proliferation of military-grade assault weapons without proper background checks, a collector’s permit or legal purchase in the United States. 

Submitted by Michael Mottern, first vice-chair of SDUSA.

SDUSA Endorses Call to Bring Our Railroads Under Public Ownership

By Susan Stevens

At its biennial national convention in Buffalo on Labor Day weekend, Social Democrats USA affirmed the January 30, 2023 resolution drafted by The United Electrical, Radio and Machine Workers of America (UE) to make rail companies accountable to the American people, not to shareholders. To quote from UE’s resolution titled ‘Railroads Must Be Brought Under Public Ownership’: ‘Communities near rail yards, which are primarily working-class communities and communities of color, suffer from heightened rates of cancer, asthma and other health problems due to the exhaust pumped into their air by diesel locomotives.‘ Private ownership keeps our rail companies locked in the deadly grip of those intent on maximizing shareholder profits by stinting on needed updates and lobbying against the same degree of safety standards that they’d demand if the trains were running through their neighborhoods. Public ownership gives voice to those intent on leaving a legacy of clean air, water and food for all our children and children’s children.

Also, given that the American people depend on freight transport to provide a large portion of our food and other commodities, it makes sense for rail companies to be directed by fellow-working class Americans who depend on the same system — who, being customers themselves, see providing good customer service as treating others as they themselves want to be treated. Under private ownership, the only “customer” that matters to the rail companies is the wealthy shareholder. To quote again from the UE resolution: ‘Even Martin Oberman, chair of the Surface Transportation Board, the federal agency that regulates rail, has called the railroads “monopolists” who are cutting services and raising prices because “that’s the easiest way for them to get rich.”

Moreover, our escalating climate crisis demands a focused response that will never be forthcoming from those singularly focused on profit. From the UE resolution: “…the greater fuel efficiency of using rail to move both people and freight means that moving more of our transportation onto the railroads will be necessary to address the existential threat of climate change.” Investments in safe, reliable and affordable public transit pay huge dividends in terms of making life more livable for those who can’t economically afford a car — and now we also know that our planet itself won’t be livable if we keep pretending that we can environmentally afford for everyone to drive a car. In summary, public ownership of the railroads will catalyze investments in long life and prosperity for all of Earth’s people. Let’s boldly do this! 🖖🏿

Susan Stevens is the Chair of Kansas City, Kansas SDUSA.


The Venue

Eugene V. Debs Hall was created by SDUSA member and Buffalo NY city planner, Chris Hawley, It Is a not- for-profit social club created out of the former building that was once the whistle stop-rest area and bar for the New York Central railroad workers, whose main terminal was right up the street. Comrade Hawley named the hall after Debs, because of his background as leader of the American Railway Workers and 5- time presidential nominee of the Socialist Party. The Hall contains mementos of Debs’ 1912 presidential campaign, FDR and Karl Marx. The Hall can accompany over 500 people and has sleeping arrangements and air mattress for 15 people. It is located at 483 Peckham St., Buffalo N.Y. 14206.

The theme of our Convention: the defense and expansion of Democracy, which is in grave danger, both nationally and internationally. In the United States, Democracy faces threats from authoritarian and neo-fascist MAGA forces in the Republican Party; abroad, from the so-called populist authoritarian governments in Hungary, Poland, Israel, Russia, China, and from like-minded movements throughout Western Europe.

Day 1, Friday, September 1: Convention goers arrive and settle in.

Day 2, Saturday September 2: The Convention will open with welcoming speeches by SDUSA’s National Chair Patty Friend and National Secretary David Hacker. We have invited to address the Convention, via Zoom, representatives of a speakers tour of prominent Ukrainian and Russian socialist activists that is being sponsored by the Ukraine Solidarity Network. The Network supports Ukraine’s right to self-determination, and the speakers will be visiting Chicago at the time of our Convention.

—> The official announcement of the tour by the Ukraine Solidarity Network is the following:

Resisting Russian Imperialism: Ukraine’s Struggle for Self-Determination”

Ukrainian socialist Alona Liasheva will be joined by Russian socialist Ilya Budraitskis in Chicago and New York and Russian Socialist Ilya Matveev in the Bay Area to analyze the nature of the war and argue for the left to support Ukraine’s struggle for self-determination and a progressive – not neoliberal – reconstruction of the country.

—> A 6 – 8 minute video will introduce a delegation from the Hungarian Socialist Party that we met at the Socialist International Conference in Madrid last year. They will discuss the erosion of democracy in their country and how we can help campaign for democracy there and how America can be more aware of what’s going on with the rise of fascism/populism.:

  • 2:00 PM: Co-chair Imre Komjáthi will give a welcome speech (Niki Szöllősy will interpret).
  • 2.10 PM: Co-chair Ágnes Kunhalmi and Vice-president Gábor Harangozó will each talk about the challenges facing democracy in Eastern Europe in general and Hungary in particular


—> “All Politics is Local: Buffalo Edition”: a panel with guest speakers:

  • Eve Shippens, common council candidate Buffalo New York, (D)
  • Mary Jobaida, Democratic Socialist organizer Niagara Falls New York. (WFP)

Join Zoom Meeting

Meeting ID: 841 5909 3386 Passcode: 146416

Day 3, Sunday September 3: At 11 AM, author Dennis King will speak on “Red and Brown: The Dangers of Extremes Meeting in US Politics”

—> At 2 PM, Godden Zama, a representative of the Social Democratic Front of Cameroon will speak at the Convention.

—> ”A Conversation With French Leftists”: Moderated by SDUSA Chair Patty Friend.

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Meeting ID: 812 2916 9140 Passcode: 031383

The afternoon session will consist of internal SDUSA business, including considering resolutions submitted to the convention.

Please be advised that throughout the day, we’ll be doing activities, different activities, from 10:00 a.m. to 11:00 p.m. so be prepared to hang out with us and have a cool time!

Day 4, September 4, Labor Day: Labor Day celebration both at Eugene V Debs Hall and Buffalo’s Olmsted Cazenovia Park, in South Buffalo, will host the parade. But the host of the overall parade is going to be done by New York AFL-CIO, WNY, (Western New York). The parade is going to be very busy so be prepared and ready to go by 10:30 -11:00 a.m. Delegates to the convention will be marching in the parade as the SDUSA contingent, walking behind our banner. If you have a banner for the parade, please feel free to bring it! We’re going to be bringing ours and carrying some handheld American flags along with Social Democracy flags!

     The Labor Day parade is taking place at Caz Park, more details for the rally point will be given upon arrival.. And we can join the labor unions together after the parade in the park for the annual picnic! It’ll give you a chance to meet AFL-CIO New York’s most prominent member organizations, like, United Steelworkers, CWA, Communication Workers of America, SEIU, Service Employees International Union, and other unions like the United Auto Workers, and the Working Families Party as well!! Many politicians locally will be in the parade like Buffalo’s Mayor, Congressman Brian Higgins, State Senator Tim Kennedy and the State Assembly members

    At 3:00 PM, we will return to Eugene V Debs Hall for the resumption of our formal Convention program. The main event will feature our special guest, Mark Talley as our keynote speaker, He is the organizer: of the organization “Agents for Advocacy” in Buffalo, New York. His beloved mother Geraldine was killed. on May 22, 2022, as one of 13 victims of a racially motivated shooting at the Tops supermarket in the predominately Black east side of Buffalo, by a white supremacist, who lived far outside of the city. All the victims were Black and 10 of the 13 were killed and 3 injured.  Mr. Talley will speak on the topic: “Stomp out white supremacy, bigotry, and right-wing fascism.”

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Meeting ID: 812 2916 9140 Passcode: 031383


Day 5, Tuesday, September 5: 

—> 10 AM – “All Politics is Local – Kansas Edition”:

  • Aaron Coleman, Kansas City, Kansas and former statehouse representative in Topeka. (D)
  • Susan Stevens, Chair of SDUSA Kansas City, Kansas.


—> 2PM – “The Nakba, Then and Now”:

  • Nadiah Saah, Project48, Jewish Currents Editorial Board (by Zoom)
  • Sheldon Ranz, SDUSA Special Projects Director; Editor, Socialist Currents

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Meeting ID: 890 3667 4386 Passcode: 047344


Day 6, Wednesday, September 6 will be devoted to any remaining internal SDUSA business including further consideration of resolutions. In addition, if time permits, we will have an excursion to Niagara Falls and other points of interest around the Buffalo area.

Michael Mottern, First Vice-Chair of SDUSA, is the Buffalo Local’s coordinator for the convention For information on traveling to Buffalo and accommodations, contact him at 716-279-5466 or at his e-mail address,


Resolution in Support of 2024 Democratic Presidential Primary Debates 

Social Democrats, USA urges the Democratic National Committee to fight fascism by exemplifying the antithesis of fascism — democracy — in our 2024 Democratic Presidential Primaries.  We the American people have a right to listen to our Democratic Presidential Primary candidates as they respond to our questions about the issues and policies affecting us. 

Toward this end, we would like to see the DNC structure these debates in a less adversarial way — a way that encourages thoughtful and respectful discourse and allows each candidate ample time to respond — so that we can compare and contrast each person in order to make a fully-informed decision.

Certainly, each individual has a right to judge any or all candidates as unserious or unqualified to serve as President — but not to deprive other voters of that same right. Fascism is too overwhelmingly present today for Democrats to get on the fascist bandwagon by limiting voter choice. We exhort the DNC to reconsider its stance of having no plans to sponsor Presidential Primary debates in 2024, and to instead make plans for a robustly democratic Democratic Primary season.

–Passed unanimously by the National Executive Committee on July 11.