On the heels of Black August, a month-long celebration of the Black Liberation Movement in the United States, the Party for Socialism and Liberation opened the doors to their new Salt Lake City office.
The Salt Lake Liberation Center held its grand opening Aug. 29. Party organizers gave speeches about the history and meaning of Black August, as well as the need for continued political struggle.
Dodge Hovermale, Westminster philosophy major and party organizer, explained how the space will be used and expressed excitement for its potential. Hovermale said it’s really great as organizers to have a dedicated spot to meet and gather that isn’t just someone’s apartment.
“We’ve been slowly hosting more events here […] we’ve had a couple movie showings, and then the Black August forum,” Hovermale said. “[…] we can collect all of our study materials here, which is really exciting, and moving forward this could be a great spot for tenant organizing.”
A post on the PSL Salt Lake Instagram page tied the opening of the Liberation Center to their larger goals as an organization and said, “The Center will be a community organizing hub that brings workers and oppressed people together to struggle around the most crucial issues that we face — from skyrocketing rents, neverending wars, poverty wages and disrespect on the job.”
The PSL and Radicalism in Utah
The PSL was founded in 2004 by Gloria La Riva, when she and a number of members split from the Workers World Party. The party is affiliated with the Act Now to Stop War and End Racism (ANSWER) Coalition, which was founded in the early 2000s to oppose the invasion of Iraq.
Despite having branches in over 90 cities, the PSL is somewhat new to Utah: the Salt Lake branch was founded in 2017, and there are currently organizers in Provo and Cedar City working to start additional branches.
However, party organizer Deja Gaston said that it is an error to think of socialism as being wholly new to Utah, or something exclusively for young people.
“We had a worker’s party that was prominent in the ‘20s, the ‘40s — a lot of very labor-oriented parties that were openly socialist and communist,” Gaston said.
John McCormick, historian and author of “A History of Utah Radicalism: Startling, Socialistic & Decidedly Revolutionary,” backs up this information in a 2012 interview with Kolbie Stonehocker of City Weekly.
“It’s been stronger at some points than others,” McCormick said of Utah’s socialist tradition. “It was particularly strong in the ’30s, during the Great Depression, because the Great Depression affected Utah as badly as it did any state.”
McCormick said in 1931, roughly one in six Salt Lake City residents voted for communists for local office.
Vestiges of these socialist roots remain in Salt Lake City as well as elsewhere in the state. Gaston said she and other party members were surprised by the support they received in Central and Southern Utah when campaigning for Gloria La Riva for United States President in 2020.
“There’s this forgotten aspect of a lot of these rural folks,” Gaston said. “They have radical roots. A lot of them were miners and coal workers, and a lot of them were either in a union or fought for those things.
The Black August Forum
The opening of the Salt Lake Liberation Center doubled as a public forum on the history of Black August. Black August has its origins in the California prisons, and originally commemorated the death of George Jackson and his comrades in San Quentin State Prison in 1971. Since the ‘70s, it has become a larger tradition commemorating black radicals and freedom fighters in the United States.
The PSL has held Black August celebrations since 2019, in solidarity with the Black Liberation Movement, according to Gaston.
According to the announcement for the Black August Forum, party members dedicated themselves to “fasting from food and drink, frequent physical exercise and political study, and engagement in political struggle.” These Black August traditions date back to its founding in the ‘70s.
“This isn’t a hobby for us, this isn’t a social club, we’re here with a specific goal in mind,” said Westminster senior Dodge Hovermale in discussing the party’s expectations for organizers. “That means discipline, study and work, and a level of respect for your cadre and the work you’re doing.”