Candidate Debbie Medina talks with Jason Schulman
Brooklyn DSA member Debbie Medina is challenging New York State incumbent Democrat Martin Dilan in the 18th N.Y. senatorial district. Medina is out to “bring the political revolution to Brooklyn.” This interview with her was conducted via email in early May.
JS:What led you to decide to run for State Senate?
DM: Our movements around rent and education have been repeatedly frustrated by a regressive state legislature. I decided to challenge a business-backed Democrat because I believe that these fights are essential for taking power, passing urgently needed reforms, and building our movement.
JS:When and why did you determine that you were a democratic socialist?
DM: I come from a community with a deep tradition of socialism, going back to the Puerto Rican Socialist Party, and for my adult life I have identified as a socialist.
JS:Why run for office openly as a socialist? And what does it mean to you to be a socialist?
DM: The essence of socialism, to me, is community control. It comes back to the community’s ability to define its own destiny. To me, socialism is about expanding that community control until our government, our housing, and our land are truly socialized.
Bernie opened the door for running as a socialist. I think it marks me clearly as an ally to those who oppose capitalism and the damage it causes to our communities. I think it helps to unite a coalition behind me, and I am proud to wear the label.
JS:Socialists often argue among ourselves whether to run for office as Democrats or Greens or Independents. Why are you challenging Martin Dilan in the Democratic primary?
DM: Typically, in a presidential election year, about 10,000 people will vote in a State Senate Democratic primary in the 18th district and 70,000 will vote in the general election. We can look back at 2012 to see what happens here: over 90% of those general election voters have no idea who the local candidates are. They are showing up to vote for president and voting for Democrats all the way down the ballot.
This means that I have 60,000 voters who were totally unreachable during the primary. To run as an independent, I would have to make the case that I could somehow reach this huge chunk of people despite a significant lack of resources. I hope this reality changes, but right now, it is a reality. I would be turning a winnable campaign into a borderline impossible one if I abandoned the Democratic primary.
I’m not here to waste everyone’s time. I’m here to win an election, and in this case it is clear that the way to do that is via a Democratic primary. This is very different from a Council race. When the general election does not fall on the same day as a larger election, it is far easier to win outside of the Democratic Party, although still quite hard.
JS:What do you hope you can achieve if you win the general election?
DM:Much like Kshama Sawant [openly socialist City Council member] in Seattle, I can use the resources of a state senator to strengthen organizing in the community. Through publicized hearings and a dedicated staff, I can provide venues around key, strategic issues (such as rent stabilization/rent control) where activists in the community can unite, recruit, and grow their ranks. The elevation of the most radical, achievable movement demands is an important goal of mine.
In the short term, I think that some of these goals are winnable. Strong and expanded rent control and rent stabilization can certainly be achieved this cycle. Finally, a win for me would pave the way for similar victories across the state—which is what we need if we’re going to achieve much of anything.
Jason Schulman is active in New York City DSA, serves on the editorial board of Democratic Left, and is co-editor of New Politics. He is the author of Neoliberal Labour Governments and the Union Response (Palgrave Macmillan, 2015).
This article originally appeared in the summer 2016 (early June) issue of the Democratic Left magazine.
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