OP-ED: Vote NO on Nixon/Williams – Democratic Socialists of America



Members of NYC-DSA are voting on whether to endorse Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams’ run for governor and lieutenant governor, respectively. While we respect our comrades who support endorsement, we nevertheless encourage our fellow members to vote “no” on an endorsement and sign on to this letter.

Members of NYC-DSA are voting on whether to endorse Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams’ run for governor and lieutenant governor, respectively. While we respect our comrades who support endorsement, we nevertheless encourage our fellow members to vote “no” on an endorsement and sign on to this letter. Our reasons include the following:

  • With only a month and a half until the primary, not only do we lack a statewide strategy that would include our fellow New York DSA chapters, we also lack a chapter-specific strategy.
  • We do not have the capacity to take on two more electoral campaigns, in addition to our existing two. The suggestion to only canvass in Julia Salazar’s district makes little strategic sense, since many neighborhoods in District 18 have favored progressive challengers in recent years and shifting one district is a drop in the bucket compared to the votes still needed to shift the race statewide.
  • The compressed timeframe makes our potential influence in these races significantly weaker than in previous campaigns, thus limiting our ability to hold Nixon and Williams accountable should they win.
  • While Cynthia Nixon requested our endorsement before Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez’s victory, she announced that she was a democratic socialist in an interview released mere minutes before a forum with NYC-DSA members. She has since equivocated on that statement (relevant segment at 5:44). We will not gain members or normalize socialism with a candidate who is not committed to democratic socialism.
  • A prevailing narrative among pro-endorsement arguments is that this is the only way we can win universal healthcare and universal rent control; however, as the recent teacher strikes in primarily conservative states demonstrate, these demands are won by building working-class power that holds our elected leaders accountable.
  • A common argument in favor of endorsement holds that because progressive community organizations such as Make the Road and New York Communities for Change have taken a political risk in supporting Nixon and Williams, NYC-DSA is obligated to do the same as a show of “solidarity.” This misrepresents both the real sources of our power and the purpose of allying with such groups. DSA is not an advocacy organization or a nonprofit agency, and we should ensure that we partner with these groups not as a symbolic act or a narrow transaction of political capital, but to build a mass working-class movement.
  • Jumaane Williams has accepted money from real estate, right leaning groups, and correctional officer unions. This would be our first endorsement of a candidate who takes corporate money — a disturbing precedent under any circumstances, but especially so after passing a resolution at this year’s citywide convention specifically barring NYC-DSA’s endorsed candidates from taking such donations.

As NYC-DSA’s democratically-enacted electoral strategy document reminds us, “Engaging in electoral work forces us to confront questions at the heart of building a mass socialist organization. How do we build collective power?” Our goal is not simply to elect friendly faces who might answer our calls or return the occasional favor when it is politically convenient for them to do so, but to build an organization and a movement that can make demands of capital and the state regardless of who is in office — that forces capitalists and politicians to act in the interests of the working class — and that can go beyond the reforms we fight for here and now.

Members of NYC-DSA must ask: What is the role of socialists and socialist organizations in the conflict between capitalists, politicians, and the working class? Where and how are working-class people in conflict against capitalists, and how can we best deploy our resources to fight alongside them? These questions demand answers regardless of who governs, and the answers should guide our electoral endorsements.

Endorsing Nixon and Williams may not only fail to bring us closer to building a socialist movement led by the working class, but it may in fact impede our efforts to do so. Nixon is a multi-millionaire who owns rental properties, has exploited financial loopholes to avoid paying taxes, and has donated less than 5 percent of her income to charity. She has filled her campaign with personnel associated with Mayor Bill de Blasio, including her campaign manager, who helped write the mayor’s “affordable” housing plan — a Trojan horse for gentrification and mass displacement of poor, predominantly black families. Williams, meanwhile, has accepted campaign funding from real estate interests and correctional officer unions, among others. Endorsing him would violate the resolution passed at our most recent citywide convention — the highest decision-making body in our chapter — to not endorse candidates who accept corporate money. DSA has shown that candidates who refuse to take capitalist money can run strong campaigns and win, and we shouldn’t expect otherwise from DSA-endorsed candidates.

A recent story in Seattle shows the power of capitalists against progressive politicians. Last month, Amazon stopped construction on its Block 18 tower to protest a $275 per employee tax on major corporations to fund programs for homeless people. The $800 billion company’s capital strike and a business-funded “No Tax on Jobs” campaign pressured the Seattle City Council to repeal the tax after only one month. In a statement, Mayor Jenny Durkan and seven city council members said: “It is clear that the ordinance will lead to a prolonged, expensive political fight over the next five months that will do nothing to tackle our urgent housing and homelessness crisis.” Amazon (whose CEO, Jeff Bezos, is the richest person in history) and other major corporations functionally vetoed progressive legislation passed unanimously by democratically elected officials.

How does something like this happen? According to the Marxist sociologist Fred Block, the state under capitalism is a site of conflict between three primary actors: “the capitalist class, the managers of the state apparatus, and the working class.” While the state is not dominated by a class-conscious ruling class, and its managers (e.g., elected politicians) have “relative autonomy,” there remain structural barriers that discourage them from pursuing anti-capitalist policies. If managers of the state unilaterally pursue economic reforms, they can provoke a crisis of what Block describes as “business confidence,” or individual capitalists’ concern for their profits. This in turn can lead to a “parallel economic downturn,” with disastrous consequences for both politicians and the working class. So, as our comrades recently wrote in DSA’s national political education newsletter, The Stacks, while elected socialists have “some room to maneuver…they won’t have total freedom to implement the policies they want.”

This is not to argue for despair. “There is another, countervailing structural force: class struggle from below,” our comrades in The Stacks remind us. Even under incredibly difficult circumstances, the working class can win and strengthen their capacity to fight for more. At the Socialism 2018 Conference, for example, a teacher from West Virginia spoke about how she had been transformed by the nine-day statewide education strike earlier this year:

My husband and I were having a discussion during the strike and he said, “You know, Nicole, our labor belongs to us.” And I was like, “Oh my God, you’re right. Our labor is ours to withhold or to give.” That seems so simple, but I had never thought of that before.

This lesson was put into practice in an inspiring industrial education strike that included teachers, school staff, and bus drivers. By “creating a crisis,” even in a Republican-controlled state, as labor organizer and sociologist Jane McAlevey wrote for The Nation, teachers and education workers won all five of their major demands, including “a mechanism to fix the health-insurance crisis and a raise big enough to matter.” The strike not only wrested major concessions in a state controlled by right-wing politicians, she continued, but “perhaps most significantly, it restored the dignity of 34,000 workers, rebuilding the pride of West Virginia’s working class and reinforcing one hell of a union that will carry the struggle forward.” As workers left the state capitol following their victory, they chanted, “Who made history? We made history!”

The argument here — that politicians cannot enact reforms on their own, that capitalists can functionally veto reforms from their position outside the state, and that workers can, through class struggle, win by creating crises for capitalists and politicians — is not in itself an argument against endorsing either of the candidates before us. Our comrades could agree with us on all these points and still argue that an endorsement is a strategically valuable move. However, “The Case for Endorsing Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams,” co-signed by dozens of comrades in support of endorsement, argues for something very different:

It is not hyperbole to say that both of our citywide priorities live or die based on the Nixon/Williams bid for Statewide office. No other candidates with a realistic ability to win this year have demonstrated anything close to the passionate support of our two priorities that Nixon/Williams have.

We do not share this theory of power. We believe that our fight for socialism lives or dies by the working class fighting for themselves, not by who sits in the governor’s mansion.

Finally, NYC-DSA has already endorsed three resource-intensive campaigns in New York City, including our campaign for the New York Health Act, our tenant organizing campaign for Universal Rent Control, and our endorsement and field operation for DSA member Julia Salazar’s run for State Senate. Building power in this way is difficult and frustrating, and it often denies us the highs of attention from the media and political elite, but it is necessary to ensure NYC-DSA organizes and fights alongside the city’s working class beyond September 13th. If our priority campaigns “live or die” with anything, it’s this.

We ask that you vote “no” on endorsing Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams. If you agree with the case we’ve laid out here, please consider signing on to this letter at bit.ly/no-on-nixon.

Signed by:
 Charlotte A (NBK, CLC Delegate)
– Ashley A (BUM/YDSA)
– Natalie A (B/UM OC)
– Bradley Allen (SBK)
– Niko Alzate (Queens, LSC)
– Miko B. (B/UM, Local Esperantist)
– Jonathan Bailey (Queens)
– Joshua Barnett (Labor)
– Colin Barrett (SBK, Interim NYC-DSA Libertarian Socialist Caucus OC)
– Matt Beatty (B/UM)
– Rebecka Hawkins Beatty (B/UM)
– Tiffany Berruti (BUM)
– Tom Brick (Staten Island, B/UM)
– Magenna Brink (NBK)
– Jordan Brown (CBK OC, NYC-DSA Medics Collective, Red Rabbits)
– Alex Burgos (NBK OC)
– Daniel Burton (CBK) 
– Brit Byrd (CBK)
– Sean C (B/UM, Former B/UM OC)
– Jose Rafael Cabrera Jr. (Queens, Marshall, Medic)
– Sam C (CBK)
– Miriam Callahan (BUM)
– Brian Cahill Moledo (Queens, Queens Housing Working Group Provisional OC, Boricua Socialist Diaspora Caucus)
– Justin Charles (NBK/Labor, CLC Delegate, Former NBK OC & SC Rep, AfroSoc Caucus)
– Rachel Clark Smith (B/UM)
– John Michael Colón (NBK, NBK DSA Political Education Committee, NYC DSA Libertarian Socialist Caucus OC)
– Alex Crowley (Queens, Queens Housing Provisional OC, Libertarian Socialist Caucus)
– Forrest D. (Queens, Former Queens OC)
– Caleb De Jong (Queens, Refoundation Caucus)
– Brian Elliott (B/UM, B/UM Electoral Working Group Co-Chair)
– Juan Escalante (BUM)
– Samuel Falcone-Coffin (CBK)
– Theodore Edwards (B/UM OC)
– Matt F (B/UM)
– Robert F (B/UM)
– Elizabeth Fetterolf (CBK, SocFem)
– Jake Fertig (CBK)
– Ben Gantz (NBK, Former NBK OC)
– Marvin Gonzalez (Labor, Service Industry Working Group)
– Michael Grochowski (NBK)
– SRB Gurkani (B/UM, Libertarian Socialist Caucus Interim OC)
– Emmy Hammond (NBK, Former NBK CLC)
– Tim H (CBK, Former BUM OC)
– Matthew Hochler (NBK)
– Jazz Hooks (B/UM, CLC Delegate, AfroSoc Caucus)
– James Hull (Queens)
– Nick Johnson (Queens, Refoundation Caucus)
– Willie Johnson (Labor, SocFem)
– Marian Jones (NBK, AfroSoc Caucus, SocFem)
– Adam Katzman (NBK)
– Alex Kingsepp (Queens OC)
– Jennifer L (CBK)
– Dan La Botz (CBK, Immigrant Justice Working Group, CLC, DSA Convention Delegate)
– Martha Larson (CBK)
– Jordan Leon-Atkins (B/UM, Former BK Electoral OC)
– Annie Levin (CBK)
– Landry Levine (CBK)
– Stephanie Monohan (SBK, Soc-Fem OC)
– Samuel Morales Jr (Queens, Libertarian Socialist Caucus)
– Erin Neff (NBK, CLC Delegate)
– Haleh (B/UM)
– Ben Mabie (CBK, Viewpoint Magazine)
– Katharine Maller (Queens, Former Queens OC)
– Natalie Matos (CBK)
– Michael Mordowanec (Low Man OC)
– Madi Morninweg (CBK CLC Rep, Former CBK OC, Immigrant Justice Working Group)
– James N (NBK)
– Marcelo N (SBK, SBK Political Education, Immigrant Justice Working Group)
– Stephanie Neptune (NBK)
– Brendan O’Connor (NBK OC, Former Labor OC)
– Ryan Olive (LowMan OC)
– Sunyoung Park (CBK, CBK Political Education)
– Jamie Peck (NBK OC)
– RJ Pettersen (B/UM)
– Yasmina Price (CBK, AfroSoc Caucus)
– Rahel (NBK, Former NYC-DSA Co-Chair)
– Chris Roberts (LowMan)
– Matt Rudinski (NBK)
– Julia S (B/UM, Labor)
– Lindsey S. (NBK)
– Evan S G (SBK, SBK CLC, SBK Poli Ed Rep)
– Justin Sanchez (B/UM)
– Alexander Sassaroli (CBK, CBK Pol Ed WG)
– Adam Schlesinger (BUM)
– Jason Schulman (B/UM, Co-editor of New Politics)
– Jason Shepard (LowMan)
– Annie Shields (B/UM, CLC Delegate, Former B/UM OC & SC Rep)
– Lane Silberstein (Queens/BUM)
– Maria Silvestri (NBK)
– Colin Snyder (NBK, National design Committee)
– Matilda Sokolov (LowMan)
– Ryan Solh (NBK)
– Eva L. Sotomayor (NBK, Former NBK OC)
– Andrew Stevens (Queens)
– Erik Stockmeier (CBK)
– David T (NBK, NYC LSC, NYC-DSA Medics Collective)
– Jake Tibbetts (B/UM)
– Tawny Tidwell (NBK)
– Colin Vanderburg (NBK)
– Boaz Vilallonga (LowMan)
– Andrea Vocos (NBK, Former NBK OC)
– Steven W (NBK, Former NBK OC)
– David Wheatley (Queens)
– Joe Wilson (NBK)
– Ariel Zakarison (NBK, Labor, CLC Delegate, Former Labor OC)
– Rob Zapol (SBK)

Authors of this letter are members of the North Brooklyn branch of NYC-DSA against an endorsement of Cynthia Nixon and Jumaane Williams.