Boston DSA backs candidates in three cities
While some folks were holding their noses and values and deciding which horrendous major party candidate to vote for in the last presidential election, droves of other people were looking for viable alternatives to hitch up with in hoping for a better future. With many in the latter group being disenchanted Bernie Sanders supporters, it’s no surprise that the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA), along with other similarly minded fronts, has attracted significant attention in the mad dash toward decency. Including here in Greater Boston, where our DSA affiliate has been increasingly active of late.
In addition to helping organize regular educational events, the Boston DSA, which is an activist group as opposed to an actual party, has played a role in recent actions, including the rally outside of the State House during the contentious “Free Speech” demonstration on Boston Common earlier this month. The group’s also busy pounding the pavement and knocking on doors for a number of candidates in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville, and so we asked Matthew Miller, an executive board member of the local chapter, about the potential boost of all this socialist momentum.
It seems you’ve seen a major increase in interest in your organization since the last presidential election. How much of that interest, on the general membership side, is reflected in the amount of interest people in your orbit have in actually running for office?
DSA membership has exploded over the past 9 months since the Bernie primary and the election of Trump. The vast majority of our members have less than a year of experience in a democratic socialist group, and our primary concern in the short term is turning these new members into activists [and] organizers, and [to] help drive change on a host of issues.
Running DSA members for office and supporting democratic socialists for office is definitely something we are going to be pursuing over the next few years. Two of the endorsees (JT Scott and Ben Ewen-Campen, both in Somerville) are DSA members, and there are several other DSA members who considered a run for office.
There is a sense in which we understand that resistance to Trump needs to be rooted in resistance against a neoliberal economic and political system that is rotten at every level. It’s not simply enough to call our senators, block the Trump agenda, and hope that in 2020 we’ll elect a Democrat president. The problems our society faces are actually much deeper, and we need to be building a deep bench. There aren’t many DSA members or democratic socialists who could credibly launch a campaign for Senate or governor, so we need to start at the municipal and state rep level now.
What kind of support can DSA offer candidates around here? How about nationally?
Locally, DSA’s primary support will be people power. There are over 50 DSA members in the Boston area who have volunteered to door knock for our endorsed candidates, and we are planning to focus those people on a few key races (JT Scott, Ben Ewen-Campen, and Lydia Edwards). We’re socialists, so we don’t tend to have huge amounts of money to throw towards a campaign, but people power can defeat well-funded opponents who don’t have the volunteers.
Nationally, DSA is endorsing a handful of a candidates, including JT Scott. National can direct remote resources for phone banking and tap into a bit of the small donor money machine that the Bernie Sanders campaign relied on.
What are some of the biggest challenges that you see the candidates you are endorsing, a rather progressive lot, facing? In the primary election in particular, since that’s where a lot of the action is around these parts.
Most of these candidates will only have a nonpartisan general election—most of the drama is going to come around Nov 7. Many of our endorsements went to challengers, and there are a host of difficulties that challengers face: building their name recognition, raising money, defeating the power of incumbency. However, at the local level, those issues are actually less difficult to overcome than, say, at the congressional level. You can knock an entire municipal district several times before the election and get your message out. You can’t do that in a congressional district.
Once elected, we suspect many of these candidates will face obstacles in getting their policies enacted against conservatives and even centrist liberal democrats. Lydia Edwards is a champion for affordable housing in the city of Boston, but it’s not clear all her potential colleagues on the City Council would be allies in efforts to pass meaningful reform.
In Somerville, we are excited by the prospect that a critical mass of DSA-endorsed candidates could get elected to the board of alderman and really shift the balance of power on some critical issues related to development. Union Square zoning passed with only one “no” vote. However, if we add another three to four strong leftist aldermen to the board, you could imagine scenarios in which the “good progressives” side against the mayor, and with the left, to push for stronger accountability for developers.
Could you see a situation where a candidate could lose some general support from centrist voters as a result of an endorsement from DSA?
Sure. Municipal voters by and large are a mostly white, older, wealthier demographic that skews higher on home ownership than the general population. Fear of the word “socialism” is still probably a factor for some of those voters.
But these endorsements were sought out by the candidates themselves. Any candidate who thought they’d be hurt by an endorsement by “socialists” was free to decline to seek the endorsement. It’s a testimony to the changing political climate that so many candidates sought our endorsement.
The Bernie Sanders campaign really helped to stop red scare tactics against “socialism.” You had someone running for president and winning millions of votes who called himself a democratic socialist. Poll after poll shows that millennials and young people have no fear of socialism—in many cases, they have a higher opinion of it versus capitalism. In many cases, a DSA endorsement is going to bring in new voters who haven’t been engaged in the process before.
What were the criteria for these endorsements? What kind of communication have you had with the campaigns?
All candidates had to fill out a short questionnaire detailing their policies around housing, racial justice, and other local issues. DSA focused primarily on candidates who rejected developer money (which is the “big” money at the local level) and [on] those candidates who supported democratic socialist policies for housing, development, and policing.
After completing the questionnaire, we did follow-up interviews to clarify any questions, and then DSA’s electoral working group voted to make recommendations on which candidates we would support, and then sought a majority vote of our general membership.
Who are some of the standout shining stars in this bunch whom the organization is especially getting behind?
Boston DSA is focusing on throwing our support primarily behind JT Scott (Somerville Ward 2), Ben Ewen-Campen (Somerville Ward 3), and Lydia Edwards (Boston City Council in East Boston). All three of these candidates have staked out strong positions on affordable housing as key issues in their campaigns. Ben and JT are running against incumbents in Somerville, and we have a large number of members who live in Somerville and can support more campaigns there. We are also excited about the political climate in Somerville, where there’s a very active branch of Our Revolution, which is endorsing many of the same candidates.
With so much attention on the president of the United States and related national matters, whether they apply locally or not, how does your group plan on helping spur interest in municipal elections, which aren’t exactly headline events to begin with?
The traditional view in Mass politics is that voter turnout numbers are remarkably stable year to year and that you should always be skeptical if someone claims “this time is different.” Excitement at the national level typically doesn’t trickle down to the local level.
However, there are some indications that something really is different about this time: It’s not just that people were shocked by the election of Trump and want to defeat him—it’s that the level of grassroots activity on the left has increased dramatically since the election … but also vastly increased membership in DSA and other left groups. DSA is now the largest socialist group in the USA since WWII.
There’s a sense that the Trump administration needs to be resisted at all levels: You need to fight Trump in the Senate to block the healthcare repeal, but you also need to be calling the State House to pass legislation to make up for the damage Trump is doing to our climate, civil rights, and other policy areas. And for many, yes, there is a sense that you need to resist even at the municipal level.
In many ways, municipal elections have been sleepy in Mass because you don’t have a lot of contested races, and you don’t have a lot of activists on knocking doors. Well, there are a lot of people running right now, and a lot of people are starting to get involved and [are] talking to their neighbors. We hope that they see that they can help shape policy that matters in their day-to-day lives around housing and development, climate, and immigrant rights in their cities [in ways] that actually will make a difference and build the bench and build for success in the future.
- JT SCOTT (Candidate for Ward 2 Alderman)
- BEN EWEN-CAMPEN (Candidate for Ward 3 Alderman)
- JESSE CLINGAN (Candidate for Ward 4 Alderman)
- WILL MBAH (Candidate for Alderman-at-Large)
- LYDIA EDWARDS (Candidate for City Council District 1)
- ALEX GOLONKA (Candidate for City Council District 9)
- QUINTON ZONDERVAN (Candidate for City Council)
- VATSADY SIVONGXAY (Candidate for City Council)
- SUMBUL SIDDIQUI (Candidate for City Council)
- DENNIS CARLONE (Candidate for City Council)