[Marxism] Victory in Seattle Inspires Chicago Socialist Campaign

Tristan Sloughter tristan.sloughter at gmail.com
Sat Jan 25 08:59:52 MST 2014


If a socialist can win an election in Seattle, why not Chicago? That was
the spirit at the University of Illinois-Chicago’s Jane Addams Hull
House Museum on Wednesday night, where close to 100 Chicagoans gathered
for the founding meeting of the Chicago Socialist Campaign.

Drawing on the example of Seattle’s Kshama Sawant—who in November became
the first socialist in recent memory elected to a city council—the
campaign seeks to run a socialist candidate for alderman in Chicago’s
2015 city council race. Activists also plan to use the electoral effort
to amplify the demands of popular movements in Chicago, such as the call
for a $15 minimum wage.

The January 22 meeting drew members of several socialist
organizations—including Solidarity, Socialist Alternative and the
International Socialist Organization—as well as members of community
organizations and unions, such as Chicago Teachers Union, AFSCME and
Service Employees International Union. Overall, the mood was hopeful.
Shaun Harkin, a member of ISO, called the campaign “an exciting
opportunity,” and his sentiment appeared to be shared by an ebullient

Inspired by Sawant’s victory, Chicago organizers first held an impromptu
meeting last month to gauge interest in a similar effort in the Windy
City. They emerged with a vision statement that calls for building a
“people-centered” movement to “make real and lasting change” to the

On Wednesday, they turned to fine-tuning that vision statement and
discussing organizing and campaigning plans. The biggest question, of
course, is who to choose as a candidate. The campaign plans to begin by
deciding where to run a candidate, as aldermen must reside in their own
ward. By February, the research committee plans to have identified four
wards conducive to electing a socialist candidate based on community
support and incumbent vulnerability. One ward will be ratified by vote
in a February open meeting.

Attendees expressed belief that a suitable candidate would arise
organically from grassroots organizing. But organizers did identify the
type of candidate they hope for—a socialist who would represent a
multitude of community voices.

Ervin Lopez, a local teacher and community organizer, noted that the
movement was seeking to represent a population that wasn’t necessarily
in the room. “Right away my first observation was that it seems like
another predominately white-Left socialist group,” Lopez said of the
event, adding that local labor and activist leaders from the South and
West Sides of the city weren’t present.

The Chicago campaign is also seeking an independent socialist
candidate—someone without a socialist party affiliation. In doing so, it
is making an important departure from the Seattle model, where Sawant
ran as a member of the Socialist Alternative party. Chicago is home to
many existing socialist organizations and independent socialists who,
organizer Isaac Silver believes, must be brought together to achieve
operational unity.

Organizers hope to have a candidate by late spring, but the deadline is
Aug. 26, 2013, when the campaign can officially begin collecting
signatures for the ballot. A minimum of 473 valid signatures is needed
to gain ballot access. Campaign organizers aim to secure at least four
times that many, while also registering new voters, whom they see as key
to the movement because many potential supporters do not vote for either
major party.

The sense that the major political parties had failed to represent the
masses pervaded the room on Wednesday. Organizer Eugene Lim said the
campaign was not just about winning office, but reclaiming the word
“socialist” to mean those who fight for the proletariat and the
disenfranchised. “If we go forward in those arenas,” he says, “We have

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