An Interview with Joshua Collins

At the present historical moment, we find ourselves in the midst of innumerable crises egged on by capitalism. And the rise of far-right movements the world over threaten to make matters even worse. However, not all hope is lost.

In many respects, there has been an equal and opposite reaction on the Left. YDSA and DSA are experiencing explosive growth. We are witnessing the rise of a generation who have fallen in love with the promise of a better tomorrow — and the polls bear this out. 70% of millennials say they are “likely” to vote for a socialist, and more than half of Generation Z have a negative view of capitalism.

In short, young people are crazy about socialism. A reinvigorated progressive movement has facilitated the rise of uncorrupted candidates to elected offices previously thought to be unattainable. In Washington’s 10th congressional district, Joshua Collins looks to continue this trend. 

An avowed democratic socialist, Collins is taking on a political establishment that harbors nothing but complete and utter contempt for working class people like himself. In addition to the standard progressive platform (Medicare for All, a Green New Deal, etc.), some of his more ambitious policy proposals include abolishing the CIA, repealing Taft-Hartley, and lowering the federal voting age to 16.

After the retirement of incumbent Democratic representative Denny Heck, Collins now appears to be the frontrunner in this race — and his online following is growing quickly. At the time of writing, his Twitter, Instagram, and Tik Tok have 54.1, 42.3, and 13.7 thousand followers, respectively.

Let us not mince words: Joshua Collins earning the right to represent Washington’s 10th district in the US House of Representatives would be a paradigm-shifting moment. On December 11th, 2019, we had the privilege to speak to Collins about a variety of issues including his campaign’s use of social media, his relation to (Y)DSA, and much more. Before the start of the interview, Collins immediately wanted to let us know about his opposition to a new liquified natural gas (LNG) plant being built in his district on treaty-protected indigenous land. He drew comparisons to the Dakota Access Pipeline and passionately condemned Governor Jay Inslee “who ran for president as the climate action candidate, but didn’t say anything about something in his own state.”

The conversation has been edited for clarity and length.

EK: Could you give us a brief rundown of who you are, what you’re about, and why you’re running?

JC: So, I am a 26 year old truck driver. I am a socialist, and I am not someone who has ever run for office before. I have never held positions in the Democratic Party. I usually vote Independent or Green, depending on the candidates. I am a big climate advocate, and am also very vigorous about getting money out of politics. My biggest issue is the environment. It’s always been my number one issue. As a truck driver, I drove around the country watching the forest turn into just this bowl of burned down trees, and that had a big impact on my decision to run for office. 

My representative is Denny Heck. I have been in his office multiple times over a whole host of issues. But the Green New Deal was probably the number one thing I went in there for. And when I went in there with the Sunrise Movement he wouldn’t even show up.  He also assaulted a veteran woman activist during the 2018 election just for asking him to support Medicare for All. The activist is someone who runs an organization called The Red Berets, and all they do is lobby politicians to support Medicare for All — either on the state or on the national level. When she asked him to do that at a public event, he grabbed her and angrily shouted at her. There were witnesses; she filed a police report. And the state party confronted her and did everything they could to sweep this under the rug. So he dropped out, not because of the reasons he gave, but because he assaulted a woman veteran activist who was just asking him about healthcare. Although they hid it in the past, I have a big enough reach that they cannot hide that info anymore.

EK: Does the campaign sort of feel like you’re the definitive frontrunner right now? I also want to reference a tweet that you put out about a week ago. You said that, after Denny Heck announced his retirement, over 20 people started mulling a run. So I am just kind of interested to know: what is the state of the race from your perspective?

JC: I think this will likely be a crowded race. There are likely to be several establishment candidates, and a lot of them will probably drop out before the voting comes — because the establishment will eventually pick their candidate based on polling. Amazon had given Denny Heck $17,000 already, and they’re going to pick another candidate now that he’s out. So we can expect them to pour money into our race just like they did in Seattle against Kshama Sawant and Shaun Scott — two socialist candidates that ran this last cycle. 

So, the state of the race… we’re in a very strong position. It is significantly easier to run against a non-incumbent than it is against the incumbent because they will not have name recognition. They will likely not have as much money. And, in this scenario, we are likely to run against some with an equally bad record [to Heck], or close to it. Anyone who runs with corporate money will run into the same issues that [Heck] has, in that they can say that they support issues but we won’t stay quiet about where their money comes from and who is actually influencing them.

EK: You mentioned your ties with Olympia DSA, and I know you have a lot of young people supporting your campaign, but have you been in contact with any YDSA chapters? And do you have a campus presence already established for your campaign?

JC: We don’t actually have any official YDSAs within our district. We do have some student unions who are applying to become YDSA [official chapters], and I just met with several of them. It seems like the application process takes a while. What we have been doing, though, is trying to get young people to join Olympia DSA, and we do have a meeting coming up this month where we expect a big turnout out with young people. [Olympia DSA] are essentially going to be our organizing hub. This really helps us so that we can decentralize the campaign and lean on them for help in managing our volunteers and our army of young people who are now getting activated. The college campuses — we have a lot of support on them. We also have a lot of support on high school campuses — and that’s largely because of my use of Tik Tok and Instagram, and my presence at the climate strike. I did recently give a speech at the climate strike in Olympia, and it was a pretty good turnout. My message resonated with young people because I really believe it, and I really care about this issue. We are actually reaching people who have never voted, people who are too young to vote.

NS: You’re one of the first candidates for a congressional race to personally use TikTok to campaign. Would you consider your use of TikTok a success so far? And how do you measure success in such a new and untested political medium?

JC: My impact has been pretty great on TikTok. I have one video that reached over 250,000 views, and it only took me four minutes to make. My biggest difficulty was getting up to a thousand [followers] and … now we’re up to ten thousand a week later. In total, I’ve probably spent two hours on the entire account and, from that I’ve got hundreds of dollars of donations and several very active volunteers.

EK: You’re going to have challengers — both on the Democratic and Republican side — claim that you are unqualified as a result of your youth and “inexperience”. How would you respond to those charges, and do you think those allegations are likely to resonate with voters and stick in terms of denigrating your campaign?

JC: I don’t think they will stick — in part because, who will they even tell that to? My audience is very supportive. They are very young, very active online, and they are growing up in a time in which there isn’t really a divide between the online world and the “real world.” When I posted about how I was speaking at the climate strike, dozens of young people went out of their way to go and watch me speak. I didn’t spend any money to get them to show up — I just posted about it. And that’s something that is really powerful that young people detect and understand. 

Quite frankly, it has funded our entire campaign. We’ve raised over $105,000 in small dollar donations. I think it’s somewhere around 6,500 donations total. We get nearly $4,000 in recurring donations alone. That is so powerful because I don’t have to spend time begging rich people for money, whereas establishment people do. Then they get told to make capitulations to the agenda of the capitalist class — I’ve experienced that. One of the first people I got on the phone with asked me to change my policy for her — and I wouldn’t. I refused to. And it’s curious: what do other candidates do in those situations? And is that the reason why we see these moderate platforms for all of them who are well-funded? 

EK: What policy were you asked to change?

JC: My tenants’ bill of rights. I was on the phone with a landlord who said she really liked me. Apparently she had checked my website out, saw the tenants’ bill of rights and told me: change that, and then I’ll give you money. So, you can see that [the tenants’ bill of rights] is definitely still on the website. I still have the most progressive leftist agenda in the country.

EK: The primary issue you’re running on is the climate, and your website says you support a labor-oriented Green New Deal. Could you explain what that means and why it’s so important?

JC: What we saw happen in France when their government tried to deal with carbon emissions was that they instituted a regressive tax that affected primarily working class people. The financial burden of their slow transition was forced on people who were already struggling. I will not let that happen in this country. I will do everything I can to ensure that this transition does not hurt the working class, and that this transition comes from the massive number of billionaires — the richest people on the planet who live in our country — who have been siphoning wealth from our economy and from the labor of our working class. If we transition to green energy, it must be something that lifts up the working class — not something that crushes it. 

NS: What inspired your beliefs and how have you developed them?

JC: I get that question a lot —  I didn’t read a book and then turn into a socialist. My experience has been one of hardship and just constant failures of the system. I grew up poor and in an abusive home, and my life has been just difficult from there. I had to work near full-time hours in high school, and I got in a car accident when I was planning on using the military to pay for my college. One of my most pivotal experiences was when I was working in a glass factory in Las Vegas, Nevada. My grandmother was dying. I asked for time off to go visit her. When I got halfway there, I got a call from my work saying, if I didn’t come back, I would be let go — even though they had approved [the time off] previously. So, I began driving back, knowing I would miss my grandmother’s death. They then called me and let me know I was being let go anyway — and there was nothing I could do. I was powerless. This scenario caused me to have to drop out of college and become a truck driver. It was the only way I could keep myself from becoming homeless and ensure that I had a good-paying job. That experience radicalized me. If we lived in a socialist society, I wouldn’t have to live without healthcare. I wouldn’t have had to worry about paying for college, and I would have a decent paying job guaranteed to me and I wouldn’t have been laid off just for visiting my dying grandmother. 

NS: What advice do you have for young socialists looking to get involved in politics both inside and outside your district?

JC: If you [don’t] live in or near district, you can sign up on our website and we’ll contact you about phone banking and text banking. If you are in or near district, we definitely need help knocking doors — even if you just show up one time. It’s given us the freedom to not have to depend on the Democratic Party, which blocked us from being able to use [their resources]. One really cool thing that everyone should know about is that we have a plan to do a “socialist summer camp” next summer. We’re going to have a weeklong period in which we invite people from all over the country [to knock doors.] We know that if we get enough people, we can knock every door in the district in a week. This is something that can set the model for how socialists can win elections anywhere.

Elias K is the president of YDSA at the University of Michigan, a member of the YDSA NPEC, and an editor of The Activist. He is a junior studying economics.

Nate S is a founding member and chair of UMBC YDSA, a member of the YDSA NPEC, and an editor of The Activist. He is a senior studying philosophy and global studies.


Want to support The Activist and help build a mass working-class movement by and for student socialists? Become a YDSA member today! YDSA members: we want to hear from you! Find out how to submit your work to The Activist here.