Left Wing Movement Targets Local Elections

July 8th 2017

In the wake of the election of Donald Trump last November, the left is understandably deflated. Not since Ronald Reagan has there been this decisive a right wing victory against the established liberal order.

But a number of left wing organizers and activists are taking advantage of their unique moment in history to promote candidates in races across the country.

And they're having some luck, though not in the big races. Instead, the left has won a number of smaller elections at the local level.

"We've realized local and municipal offices are our best chance to take power and we can build upwards from there," said Christian Tyler, an organizer with the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA).

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A recent article by John Nichols in The Nation listed the shift to local and state elections by the left in the last year.

"For progressives, figuring out where to win and how to win—not merely to resist, but to set the agenda—is about more than positioning," wrote Nichols.

In Jackson, Mississippi, Chokwe Lumumba was elected on an unabashed platform of left wing social change. Lumumba's was one of the highest profile victories yet for the resurgent left. He ran as a proud socialist in one of the most conservative states in the union.

He's not alone.

From Christine Pellegrino, a supporter of Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders' presidential campaign, who won a seat in the New York State Assembly in a special election in May, to khalid kamau, a democratic socialist who supports the Black Lives Matter movement and won a seat on the City Council of South Fulton in Georgia, the wave of municipal victories is building into something real. kamau prefers the lower-case spelling of his name, in keeping with the Yoruba African tradition.

Radio host and progressive activist Katie Halper thinks that elections are a good way to push the national conversation leftward.

Halper, who hosts her eponymous show on New York's WBAI (you can find it online, too), was a strong supporter of Sanders' ultimately unsuccessful bid for the Democratic nomination in the 2016 primary.

But Halper believes Sanders opened the door to a more left leaning politics in the United States. And she thinks that that's something to build on.

"One of the biggest opportunities," Halper told ATTN:, "is to use electoral races to put forward bold ideas and values that people have been told by consultants are too dangerous or alienating."


That's the mission of the DSA, which has seen its membership increase since the election.

"The day after Clinton lost we saw the biggest uptick in people committing to a socialist organization in at least 30-40 years," Tyler said.

The increased interest in the politics of democratic socialism has given the DSA new life. And the organization has turned its focus to a 50 state strategy.

"We moved from being a less than 25 state organization to having 155 chapters in 48 states," Tyler told ATTN:.

Tyler said that the DSA hopes to use local elections for two reasons.

First, the smaller scale allows the organization to field candidates that are more in line with socialist politics—"genuine socialists and not just progressives."

Second, and more importantly, winning local elections will hopefully snowball into a larger movement that can challenge the Democratic Party, which many DSA members sees as corrupt and too beholden to special interests. From there, the DSA could become a potent national political force.

"We can defeat the Democratic Party locally to crush it nationally which would hopefully lead us out of pre-party formation and into something like the [British] Labour Party," said Tyler.

It all starts locally.

However, it looks like there's a viable path forward for left electoral victories and success.

"It's naive to think that electoral politics are irrelevant, no matter how radical or grassroots you are," Halper said.

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