US: Boston’s city council election: 6.5% vote for Socialist Alternative

Enthusiastic response to socialist policies

On Tuesday, November 6th, over 6.5% of those who voted in Boston’s city council election cast their ballots for Matt Geary, the candidate of Socialist Alternative.

This was in a city-wide election for City Council in which everyone in Boston could vote for up to four candidates. With each voter having up to four individual votes, 2.4 percent of all votes cast were for Matt, and this amounted to over three-thousand votes.

Socialist Alternative campaigned almost exclusively in working class areas, and we got a much higher percentage of the vote in many areas where we had a presence. For instance, at the polling station near Matt’s apartment, in one of the most notoriously crime-ridden and poorest areas of Boston (Upham’s Corner), Matt got well over 20% of all votes cast. In the polling station near my apartment, in a multi-racial working-class area, Matt got over 10% of all votes cast.

In terms of actual percentage of people who voted for Matt in those areas, the figures are much higher! When we analyse the full results, we will likely find many more working class areas with a disproportionately high number of votes for Socialist Alternative.

This was not a typical election campaign. Matt Geary is only 22 years old, and Socialist Alternative used this election to explain its programme rather than to gather votes. Some weekends, we had numerous activities in addition to people knocking on doors.

We did not spend our time going around to “civic associations” of political junkies that organize their friends and families to vote for candidates based on arbitrary ‘personality’ traits. We declined all invitations to attend meetings of Democratic Party hacks. Instead of taking short-cuts to votes, we focused on raising the banner of socialism and explaining our ideas.

When we decided to run a candidate for office (for the first time), we did so mainly to learn from the experience. We learned a lot, mostly from our mistakes, but also from our successes. The most fun part of our success was the candidates’ forums, in which we were given a ready-made audience to explain our ideas and expose the politicians. Matt did extremely well, and the Democratic Party politicians’ squirming was a priceless sight.

Campaigning on the streets, we learned a lot more about Boston. We did not just learn about the electoral system; more importantly, we learned about the issues confronting communities. We found that housing was the key issue facing many communities. We also were brought closer to a community campaign fighting against Boston University’s attempt to put a very dangerous, level 4, ‘bio-terror’ laboratory in their community. We learned that the lack of a library is an issue in Chinatown, and the proliferation of condos (expensive privately owned apartments) is an issue in many communities.

Bringing socialist politics to the streets

The most important aspect of the experience we got is the fact that many young activists got daily experience explaining the ideas of socialism to working class people in an understandable way. In this way, the importance of the campaign will be seen for years to come.

What we found everywhere in Boston, throughout this campaign, is that working class people are fed up. Angry at the lack of affordable housing, sick of the war in Iraq, fed up with the cost of living in the city, infuriated every time they see more condos being built, and tired of the stories that come every week about one young person killing another on our streets.

Unfortunately, this anger leads to mixed consequences. Alienated from what was on offer from the main parties, many simply did not vote. The turnout was just 13.6%, down from 24.6% in 2003 and the lowest in decades. Anti-immigrant sentiment seems to have gathered some steam; with an outsider candidate running on an anti-immigrant platform getting around four thousand votes. This is an indication of the political polarisation, both left and right, taking place in US society. Socialists need to be bold about taking up this issue, and we made immigrant rights one of our key issues, despite the fact that undocumented immigrants cannot vote.

We distributed tens of thousands of leaflets, and well over a thousand copies of our eight-page election-edition of the ‘Boston Organizer’, our local Socialist Alternative newsletter. Every single piece of literature and election material, including our one-hundred huge red signs, prominently placed the logo of Socialist Alternative. Quite literally, we raised the banner of socialism to more people in Boston than has been done for a long time.

Many people were very impressed with the seriousness of our election campaign, and many people are interested in joining Socialist Alternative through this work. As the war in Iraq ravages on, as the housing situation deteriorates, and as the attacks on working people intensify, mass struggle is likely to pick up in the US.

When this fight intensifies, new activists will look for alternatives on the political and electoral plane. Socialist Alternative does not wish to just stand aside and comment on this process. We want local and state lists of candidates, independent of the Democrats and Republicans, who fight against rising rents, home foreclosures and the high cost of living.

We would contribute to the political struggle for working class representation whether the candidates’ list was explicitly socialist or not, while not hiding our own socialist views. With our experience in Boston, we are now better positioned to intervene in this type of development in a serious way.

In this way, even if only on a very small scale, Socialist Alternative’s campaign in Boston served many purposes. The campaign raised the basic ideas and programme of working class socialism; it was a campaign that consciously built an organisation; it helped to educate a layer of young working class activists, and it was a tiny but important step towards creating working class political representation.

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November 2007