Meet the New York DSA Slate!

I first pitched this article in mid-January of this year, and at the time, we had four insurgent candidates — Illapa Sairitupac, David Alexis, Samy Nemir Olivares, and Sarahana Shrestha. As part of the NYC-DSA Comms OC, I asked for help connecting with the campaigns, and another OC member, Aaron Hill, who heads DSA-TV (our media team) suggested filming the interviews in each candidate’s district.

These interviews were conducted from March 27 through April 22, and now it’s June. A lot has happened since January: Kristen Gonzalez, Vanessa Agudelo, and Keron Alleyne joined the slate; petitioning came and went; maps were drawn and thrown out and redrawn; election dates were postponed; AOC endorsed the whole slate, etc. Some answers are no longer relevant as circumstances and contexts have changed.

Finally, thanks to Aaron Hill and Rebeccah Hoffman from DSA-TV for making trips upstate and across many boroughs, sticking it out through bad weather, long email chains, and quirky miscommunications to work on these candidate videos. Read on to learn more about incredible, powerful socialists running campaigns for New York State.

1. Who are you?

DAVID: My name is David Alexis. I’m running for the State Senate in District 21, which includes East Flatbush, a little bit of Brownsville, Midwood, Kensington, Ditmas Park and Flatlands. I’ve been a DSA member since 2018 and I’ve organized with several different campaigns, particularly the Healthcare Working Group. I was involved with the Amazon HQ2 fight with the Tech Action Working Group, a lot of the different ecosocialist work, and Tax the Rich, which was one of the most exciting moments to actually be a DSA member with all of the amazing organizing that we did. At the end of the day, we were able to get billions of dollars added to the budget, and this year, there’s a budget surplus. All of that is a result of that fight.

ILLAPA: My name is Illapa Sairitupac. I’m a social worker, community organizer, and I’m running to represent New York Assembly District 65. I originally joined the ecosocialist working group a few years ago. Climate change is one of the most passionate topics I fight against. I approach it from the lens of fighting for Mother Earth — I believe in that as an indigenous person. I was on the Anti-War Working Group OC for a few years. I also co-founded the DSA Latino Socialistas group, which is all about bringing leftists, Latino, Spanish-speaking, working class people into our movement. DSA has been my organizing home for several years now. I’ve met a lot of friends, a lot of comrades, and I’ve grown as a leader, as an organizer because of DSA.

KERON: My name is Keron Alleyne. I’m a candidate running in the 60th New York State Assembly District which encompasses the majority of East New York, pieces of Brownsville and Canarsie, and all of Starrett city. Besides being at the helm of this space in combating the city food desert, I’m an all-around organizer.* I’m the co-chair for Operation POWER, which is People Organizing and Working for Empowerment and Respect — a social justice, political, socialist organization working to make sure that our community is represented by Black radicals and that the community members have power. I’m also the deputy district manager for Brooklyn Community Board 5, where we respond to community concerns and connect them with agency representatives that could do something about their issues. I could talk about rallies against smoke shops that are posing as candy shops to safeguard our children, runs with Black Men Run: New York City, and getting Black people moving in communities where they encompass the majority. In Operation POWER, we do a lot of political education to make community members aware of all of the various races coming up and their own cultural connection to all these things.

*Note: Keron’s interview was conducted at the 400 Montauk community garden.

KRISTEN: My name is Kristen Gonzalez. I’m running for New York State Senate District 59, a brand new senate district that ranges from parts of Queens into Brooklyn.** I joined DSA in 2018. I was born and raised in Elmhurst, so AOC was actually running in my neighborhood, and it was through going to her events that I first learned about Queens DSA. I became involved as a tech worker with the Tech Action Working Group and I’ve served the last couple of years on the OC. My DSA experience has evolved and grown, focusing more on the Tech Action side. Last year, we launched an Internet for All campaign that was really exciting. This year, I’m reinventing myself in DSA as a candidate, so it’s a whole new level to my DSA experience. I’ve really cherished the years that I’ve spent in DSA, and I really see DSA as my political home.

**Note: At the time of this interview, Kristen was running in the new District 17. That map was thrown out, but the new District 59 still covers a similar region, now including part of Manhattan.

SAMY: My name is Samy Nemir Olivares and I am running for New York State Assembly District 54. That includes Bushwick, Cypress Hills and East New York. I’m running to make sure that the New York State government treats housing, healthcare, and education as a human right. I became a DSA member in 2018 after Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Julia Salazar’s electoral victories showed us that there can be a different path in politics, that we could fight for radical change and transformational change for people over profits. I became involved in different fights such as divesting from incarceration and criminalization to investing in our communities, the 2019 Rent laws with DSA Housing Justice for All, and against the North Brooklyn pipeline to fight against fossil fuel companies.

SARAHANA:  My name is Sarahana. I’m running for State Assembly District 103 in Mid-Hudson Valley. I organized with the Mid-Hudson Valley DSA chapter as the co-chair of the ecosocialism working group. I really got into organizing with DSA through climate work. I am also the co-chair of the Ulster County committee there — we do work in three counties and Ulster is the one where I live. Through our ecosocialism working group, I became involved in the Public Power coalition campaign that has a lot of DSA chapters. That’s been my primary focus of work.

VANESSA: My name is Vanessa Agudelo. I use she/they pronouns. I’m running for State Assembly District 95, which goes as far down as Ossining, including a portion of Briarcliff Manor, encompassing all of Portland, Peekskill, half of Yorktown, and then also comes into Putnam County and covers Phillipstown. Here in the city of Peekskill, the city I grew up in, we’re facing a number of issues, including the housing crisis. Peekskill has the highest population of tenants considered cost-burdened in Westchester County. As a district along the Hudson River, we’ve been carrying a very heavy burden of environmental injustice with two fracked gas pipelines, recently expanded in the last decade. The Wheelabrator right behind us is the number one polluter in Westchester County by six times. Folks from all over the tri-state area in Jersey, out in Greenwich, Connecticut, truck over their garbage here to Peekskill and burn it right in our backyard. Given all these crises, there’s a lot at stake, but there’s also opportunity for us not to be defined by our past, to finally demand the kind of justice that our community should see in terms of housing, healthcare, environment, and bringing back resources so that families can thrive regardless of whether they live here in Peekskill or down in Chappaqua in Scarsdale, which is a very different place than where our district is at right now. We need to start building movements, both on the outside and on the inside, to make sure all of our families across the district can take advantage of those opportunities.


2. Why are you running?

DAVID: If we were going to get a Green New York, then we needed to take on Kevin Parker, who serves as the Chair of the Energy and Telecommunications committee. It is impossible for any legislation addressing climate change to not go through Kevin Parker, one of the most powerful people in the legislature in his 20th year in office. Leadership has been absent in many ways, so this race is a chance to return the seat back to the people. I’m talking about an opportunity to build a coalition of the likes of the A Philip Randolphs and Bayard Rustins of the New Deal, the Martin Luther King’s, Medgar Evers’ and Malcolm X’s during the Civil Rights Movement — actual periods of time where the mass of people through organized struggle, were able to affect the entire breadth of American society. As socialists, we need to be thinking of ways to bring the mass of people in coalition with us to get the big change we need. This race is an experiment, if you would, on how we actually do that.

ILLAPA: This is an open race — our current assemblymember Yuh-Line Niou is running for Congress.*** We’re trying to get in this seat so we can have a working class person in power down here. I live on the Bowery, in a dilapidated immigrant building. I live every day with the results of gentrification, of predatory developers building, even here, the Extell tower, this empty SkyRise that doesn’t speak to the values of our community and doesn’t speak to the values of our movement. In Lower Manhattan, we are surrounded by water, ground zero for the next Hurricane Ida. We need to fight and push for climate change legislation that will protect us from the next climate catastrophe.

***Note: At the time, Yuh-Line was running for State Senate. She announced a congressional bid for NY-10 on May 21. 

SARAHANA: If we do not build power statewide, if we don’t have a DSA presence that has strength statewide, then it is difficult to win. Up here you can very easily pit issues as, Oh, that’s a downstate issue, that’s an upstate issue, when in reality it’s not. The major issues that we want are all the same across the state. It becomes the obvious next step for the DSA For The Many slate, for example, to start adding candidates that are not just city candidates. This year, we have two from Hudson Valley, which I think is very exciting.

Photo by Alexandra Chan

3. What’s significant about running a campaign that is endorsed by socialist organizations?

ILLAPA: I always said I only was going to run as a DSA endorsed candidate. I want to run with the movement, I want to run with my colleagues, I want to run as a proud socialist. I see how there are some more moderates in this race who want more incremental change. That’s the last thing we need. I want to be accountable to my organization, which built me as an organizer. I am running as an outsider in this race, I don’t come from this world, from this milieu of politics. I come as just an organizer, and I’m proud of that. And I want to run with my organization because this is DSA’s first Manhattan race ever. I always say that this community where I’m running, which is Lower East Side, Two Bridges, Chinatown, parts of Little Italy, Nolita, Seaport, this is where leftism really was born in this country. For us to win this back will be a real homecoming. It’d be very symbolic and poetic to win this back again. 

KERON: Operation POWER is an authentic homegrown, political group of my community. I like to say it’s where our culture and our politics mix. And culture being a huge thing. Black people should be at the lead of all issues and transformations that are happening within their community. It’s so important to have Operation POWER’s blessing, which has, of course. elected Mr. and Mrs. Barron. They’ve led to over 20 plus years of radical transformation within the community, have safeguarded it from gentrification — it’s extremely important to have that local, homegrown endorsement. And it is amazing to have the partnership of NYC-DSA because to have other socialists all around the city advocating for some of the same issues that we’re talking about, whether it’s single-payer and having universal healthcare, universal childcare, making CUNY free, all of these things we have alignment on. So to have the endorsement of DSA, work in partnership and solidarity with various communities around not only the five boroughs, but around the state is so so so important because we know when we go to Albany, we can’t do it alone. We have to make sure where there is solidarity from an ideological standpoint, that we’re together, and that’s why I’m really excited to have Operation POWER and NYC-DSA together.

KRISTEN: I would not have run without DSA. It’s not about one candidate, one seat — it’s about the larger movement. DSA reflects my values as someone who grew up in a Latino working class family. What we’re trying to do is provide other working class families with access to dignified life. DSA really has not only centered that within their movement, but they’ve done incredible work in mobilizing people, especially in Queens. Publicly-owned, publicly-operated infrastructure is the best way to ensure accountability and transparency in the hands of the many instead of just the very few. With things like public power, public land, public Internet: what does publicly owned infrastructure look like for us? What does accountability look like? And how do we work across our different communities, especially in the most diverse place in the world in order to achieve those things?

SARAHANA: When you run as a DSA candidate, it’s for all of the platforms that DSA stands for. It’s not just one person trying to have their own vision of a progressive agenda. Right now we have an elected bloc in our state legislature and that’s what I want to be part of. I’m not running as a standalone candidate who’s going to do my own thing — I’m running to represent a movement that’s really national. That’s a very key ingredient for why I even decided to run because frankly, I don’t think I would run as a non-DSA candidate because that’s a whole different genre of doing electoral work. I’m very much bought into the DSA model of doing elections, which is that you run elections to build base — those are primary goals other than just winning the election.

VANESSA: I’m a co-founder of my Hudson Valley DSA chapter here, back when we were one big chapter that extended from everything outside of the city up to everything under Albany. Building with our community here in the chapter has been incredible to see because we’ve been growing and growing and now we’re two different chapters. I’m really excited to also have gotten the endorsement of the Socialists in Office after being on the city council, already having been in elected office and having been ostracized because of being tagged as radical and because I have actively dissented against my colleagues. I don’t think that being in the Assembly is going to be fun, but at least we’re with each other and we’re together.

Photo by Alexandra Chan

4. Reflect on NYC-DSA’s electoral work in the last five years — what was successful? What were some lessons learned?

DAVID: When we look post-2016, particularly 2018, 2019, 2020, some of the most consequential things at the state level like Housing Justice for All, DSA is one of the most successful components. DSA has been able to build common cause with other organizations and institutions, not only the progressive community, but also working people. We have Tax the Rich, which delivered a budget that we can actually invest in people and to start to slowly but surely change this dynamic of putting profits over people. We have started this project in tandem for the campaign for New York Health Act, which has languished in the state legislature for decades. It wasn’t until we had a mass of people who were able to get this on the table. And while there’s still more work to be done, we are closer now than ever in getting universal healthcare as a human right here in New York State. And what can I say about climate change? Even with Kevin Parker, we are on the precipice of going beyond with a mass movement to reach those goals outlined in CLCPA around certain dates in line with the International Panel of Climate Change scientists to actually ensure that we can mitigate the oncoming onslaught of this fossil fuel addiction that we’ve had. A lot of our leaders for quite some time have been able to stick to that need, that emphasis in capitalism to extract wealth at any and all costs in a system that continues to produce great wealth at the top end, but also incredible amounts of poverty at the lower end. When we had the New Deal movement, the coalition itself was made up of trade unionists. It was important that the revival of the labor rights was supported by the labor movement, but also socialists and communists, who had been slowly but surely picked off after a counter-revolutionary period where you saw this end. So, it is very important that New York City DSA plays a major role in this coming fight going forward.

SAMY: In the past five years, we have seen an incredible resurgence and growing movement of people really engaging into the electoral system that were not before, particularly young people, people of color, LGBTQ people, Black and brown people that were disinvested from the political system because of the status quo and the establishment not being attuned to the needs of our community. So through the New York City DSA slate and the Socialists in Office committee, we have been able to elect extraordinary advocates, grassroots organizers, nurses, teachers, that really are fighting the fight. They are fearless and outspoken not only in their communities, but in Albany, and organizing to win material needs and changes such as the Less is More criminal justice reform bill that Assemblywoman Phara was able to pass and like Senator Julia Salazar fighting for Good Cause, which has the support of so many people throughout the state. That would really dramatically change the history of housing justice in New York by capping rents and basically establishing universal rent control. Also Senator Jabari Brisport, advocating to really implement universal child care across the state, which are issues that our working class families are really struggling with. So I think there is a lot of excitement and there’s a lot of political education. People are excited to see people that look like them, think like them, and are organizing and walking with them in their communities, that they are being represented, heard, and that elected officials are not just accountable to the private interests, but to the people. They are demonstrating that a new way of doing politics is possible, that a new vision of politics that is rooted in people, in solidarity, in compassionate politics, is possible. We don’t have to settle with the status quo or moderate politics or incrementalism, but we could fight for big, transformative change, and it’s possible.

I think the importance of DSA’s electoral work in the past five years is to understand how literally, it’s life saving and life changing for so many people in our communities. While it might not be exciting for many people, or people don’t want to know about politics, or are very skeptical about it, it is one of the tools that we have in the current political system. We need to get more involved and activate and continue to organize, and make sure that after those electoral victories, we continue organizing. After we get those voices in office, we need people who come and support and push those other elected officials and the government to advocate and pass and fund the programs and the laws that our communities need. So it’s not enough electing someone, but we need to continue building and continuing to endorse and support other candidates. At the end of the day, it is the government who has the power over our lives, especially low income people. When I was growing up, I depended on all government programs to grow and develop. I went to public schools, I ate because of food stamps, I went to public college, I had housing assistance, my family was on unemployment and disability benefits. A lot of our families really depend on government programs. And, yes, we need to increase those social services. But at the same time, we need to fight for larger structural change, that doesn’t just give our families welfare, but opportunities and access to equality. We are going to continue to tax billionaires and corporations and distribute that wealth so that we can have a more equal and more fair society. New York is one of the richest cities in the world, and it’s unconscionable and inhumane that people are going hungry, that we have people dying because they don’t have medicine during the pandemic, or are getting evicted. That is an inhumane way to lead our city and if New York City is going to be the greatest city in the world, it needs to show it with policies and I strongly believe we can achieve a true transformation of the economic system and politics.

VANESSA: I’m super encouraged by the progress that’s been made so far. And I think all of us are really inspired by the power that’s been built out in New York City by the DSA branches out there and all the wins, electorally, that y’all have been able to have. Our chapter here in the Lower Hudson Valley got really involved with the Tax the Rich campaign, which was a huge success. We were able to pass some variation of the progressive tax on the corporate tax and yield a good amount of new annual revenue for New York State. And we were able to do that because Westchester County is very important in this grand scheme of New York state politics. We have the majority leader Andrea Stewart-Cousins here in Yonkers and we have a number of other legislators that hold important relationships with her, hold some level of seniority. One of the richest counties, a four person household AMI for Westchester County is $12,700,000. For Peekskill, it’s $5,700,000. The economic disparity there is extreme in terms of what people are making on a county level when you look at these smaller municipalities who are underfunded, under-resourced. So when you’re mobilizing folks who are in Westchester County, telling their legislators that they want to tax the rich and see funding going into their communities, education, healthcare, and bold action on climate change, then the tides start to change, legislators start to feel like they have to deliver. That’s a role that Lower Hudson Valley really played in this bigger fight, putting pressure on our electeds in this region, so that this demand to tax the rich was really echoing across the state outside of the boroughs. That just demonstrates the power that we’re building here in the Lower Hudson Valley that will make a big difference if we can get moving on the state level.

Photo by Alexandra Chan

5. Why has NYC seen so much of DSA’s electoral success?

ILLAPA: We’re very proud of the history of the city, proud to continue in this tradition. We’re also very proud to be the most electorally advanced DSA chapter in this country. We started off taking risks. We didn’t always win all our races, but we kept going hard, and we learned from our mistakes. It’s a combination of us being in this rich terrain of progressive leftist politics, and people being hungry. There’s a real appetite for these kinds of fights in this city. This is where a country kind of began in a lot of ways. So many immigrants came here first before they dispersed to different parts of the country. We’re proving over and over again that there is a hunger here and we’re trying to speak to the hunger and give people what they want, which is less moderates and more progressive leftist socialist candidates in office.

KRISTEN: One, we are doing the work. DSA is an incredible organization in that we know that the best way to organize is by meeting people where they’re at, by knocking on doors. The last question was around our electoral strategy, but it really is an organizing strategy, right? Because we know that the more doors we knock, the more of our neighbors we talk to, we’re changing minds, we’re also getting votes and building power. I’m not only proud to see how that has been built over the last few years, but as a candidate, and with this campaign, that’s exactly what we’re trying to do. We’re knocking on doors, we’re talking to our neighbors. That means success, it means that our path to victory is clear. We’re doing so in a way that’s intentional, that centers working class communities, and that also builds our base in all parts of this district.

SARAHANA: I would say it’s because you guys have a lot of members. People flood to come out and canvass for whoever it is. I’ve seen one picture of an AOC canvass shoot that was just like an ocean of people. The strength of our electoral work is that you have to turn out people to do something that they really believe in, and that will never be met by paid canvassers that other campaigns will use. Bringing out people is strength and New York City chapters have a lot of people who have become very seasoned organizers, not just electorally but generally. The quality of work that the New York City chapter is contributing to state legislation and so on is very high. In a small chapter like ours, we have been able to mobilize the most members that we have so far through this campaign. We will be bringing our own sort of flavor and strength to how we can win outside of New York City. As a state as a whole, for DSA chapters, I think it will be very informative and useful to see what happens with our race and our learnings through this phase.

Photo by Alexandra Chan

6. Share a memorable interaction or event that occurred during this campaign.

DAVID: There are so many of them. The most heartening and exciting moments have always been working in the community talking to people. I was knocking on a door for petitions with New York Communities for Change. A Caribbean gentleman asked me, “What do you know about the Green New Deal?” And the reason why this is a bit of a shock, is contrary to our thoughts, it wasn’t a young gentleman; this was a man in his 50s from Jamaica, who said that, “I wrote a PhD dissertation on the Green New Deal. And I wanted to hear what you knew about it.” I got a chance to learn a little bit more about the work that he had done around how the Green New Deal represents a promise of this vision of New York. One thing that was fascinating to me, was that this is someone who cares deeply about the Green New Deal. But he also paradoxically, had no problems with Parker, which is crazy, given the fact that Parker’s ability to affect the implementation of an actual Green New Deal. I spoke to him about that, “did you know that your representative was the Chair of the Energy and Telecommunications Committee, and anything that has to do with the Green New Deal, climate, energy policy or any of these things has to go through him? And if you are lamenting that, not much, not enough has been done particularly in a just transition, addressing these inequities that has been fostered by the system, in addition to the fact that we have not made meaningful change on any of these things has not happened.” He was very, very, very interested in continuing in this conversation, and it was one of the things that I’m actually really excited to actually have. There was another gentleman in Kensington. He was born in the building, in that apartment that he lives now, but talked about his inability to actually move anywhere else because as a special education teacher with a high five-figure salary, he himself could not afford to go anywhere else, because he was slowly but surely being priced out of the very space that he was born and grew up, where so many things around him were changing.

In East Flatbush, Parker’s heart, there was a shooting at a park right across from Foster Avenue. You would think that this is where a lot of the fear mongering is that you would hear, oh, we need more police or whatnot. When we talk to several of these people in these homes about public safety, for them, it didn’t start with more police. It started with sanitation. “Our park, our streets are littered with abandoned cars. They’re littered with trash, and refuse.” An older woman — who actually had talked to me about being reached out to by Parker’s office directly, and him reneging on a promise to bring PPE over to her home — had mentioned the thing this cop had done that made her feel safe, wasn’t the fact that he was patrolling or anything like that. but the abandoned cars that were on her block were removed. Because something that was really important to her was addressed, she literally said the words “that made me feel safe, it made me feel heard.” And we don’t need police to get rid of abandoned cars or to clean up. This is the extent of things we can do if we were to invest in people. When we go back to talking about this vision of what New York can be, what this country could be, what our society could be, I think that there is so much that’s possible. And it’s going to rely on once again, reclaiming and building that coalition of trade unionists, regular people, socialists to come together to actually transform New York, our country, this society. And I’m really excited and honored to be a part of an organization that is allowing that to come to fruition.

KERON: I thought about this one. There are several. Going down memory lane, seeing friends and classmates that I went to school with for many, many years, running into a math teacher — I talk about her a lot — Miss Smith. I always wanted Miss Smith to see me; to see me as a student, I did well, but I sometimes felt like the students who weren’t doing well got her attention. And to see Miss Smith, while we were doing door knocking– I always talk about the teachers being community teachers, not teachers who are driving in from other spaces in places, but they’re teaching young people who look like them, who live in their community, and them having a hand in their future. For me to have an interaction with Miss Smith, to see her in her home, and to tell her that, look, I’m running for State Assembly, was a moment, because I was seen. I was seen by Miss Smith. And that was definitely a special moment.

SAMY: One of the most memorable moments of the campaign for me was canvassing, knocking on a door, and it was an elderly woman. And we started talking and she was paying over $2,000 on the second floor. She started sharing that she missed organic food that she used to receive, and I was like, Oh, I think I know the food was from Bushwick Ayuda Mutua. So I met one of the seniors who used to receive food from the mutual aid food program that I co-founded during the pandemic. We did it for two years, but because of the funds and the nature of mutual aid, we have not continued. But that was a fully 100% community led project, because the government didn’t do enough to make sure that people were fed, and it was really sad to see the negligence and the absence of the government when it comes to food justice and nutrition during the pandemic. This shows the solidarity of the community. It was very beautiful to meet one of the people that were benefited by this program, but at the same time, really outrageous that the program has to end because it was just volunteer-led, and that the government hasn’t really made sure that people are healthy, that they have something to eat, which is one of the most basic needs for human beings. And this woman was not even a member, or recipient of the food. She’d received the food through another woman who was a volunteer, and she would take food out to her neighbors. So it was not a direct beneficiary, but someone that got impacted or got food because of someone else. This shows how connected and how beautiful community is when we can distribute our resources. And if we can do that, at the very local level in Bushwick, share our food and raise money, we could do that at a macro level, at the state level, if the political will is there. If we were able to feed over 7,000 families just with very small donations from Bushwick families, if we fund these programs at the state level, we could satisfy most of the basic needs of our people.

Photo by Alexandra Chan

7. Some thoughts for your chapter?

ILLAPA: We are in a very exciting time, we’re only getting more strong as a movement, as an organization. Obviously, I’m running as a candidate but there’s so many different ways to get involved in DSA. If electoral stuff isn’t your stuff, that’s fine, that’s valid. There’s climate change stuff to be fighting for. There’s housing work to be done, there’s education work to be done, healthcare work to be done. So what I love about our organization is it’s a big umbrella, and you can pick where you want to go. There’s all these brilliant organizers under every category. I would say, listen to your heart and see where you’re pulled towards, as to what issues are important to you and just show up and keep showing up and you’re just going to grow as an organizer, as a public speaker, and it’s what happened to me,

SARAHANA: The budget negotiations have really shown us that the challenges that we have identified as an organization and our organization’s allies, are correct. Those are the challenges. We have a government that makes negotiations and deals behind closed doors and it leaves out everything that people want. All of these things are things that poll high: universal healthcare, banning fossil fuel, investing in renewable energy, making housing affordable, these are all very popular platforms and for whatever reason, every time people in Albany have closed door conversations, those are the things that get left out. So the challenges we have identified are correct. We’re on the correct path. And what we really need to do is make this a statewide structure of victory. We need to help other candidates run in other parts of the state and we need to make our organization stronger, really a force of challenge electorally throughout the state and not just in New York City.

VANESSA: To my local chapter, oh, man. I love you guys. In the end, it’s really all about building community. It’s really demonstrated at the doors when you talk to people about the issues. People don’t like talking about the fact that they’re underinsured, or that they’re avoiding going to the doctor because they don’t want to pay, for their copay is too high, and so when you start having these conversations, and you’re unapologetic about your own struggles, because you’re not the only one facing these, people start to also be just unashamed about their issues as well. That’s when we start realizing that these aren’t personal shortcomings. These are policy failures, these are systemic failures, that if we all got together and rose up and demanded an alternative, that is what we should get. That’s how we build community and that’s what DSA is building and that’s been a solace to me. I’m incredibly grateful for this space that we’ve been building, for the work that comrades have been doing across the counties, because it’s not just Westchester County. Folks are doing really awesome stuff in Rockland County as well. And keeping the hope alive, because that’s sometimes the hardest part, especially in times like these. We have to keep the hope alive, keep having fun and building solidarity, remembering why we’re doing this. Sharing the parts of ourselves that make us the most happy is what will allow people to open up and hopefully see that this vision for a future is possible.

Photo by Alexandra Chan

8. A few words for YDSA?

DAVID: For those of you who are a part of YDSA, you guys are part of the future. The most important thing as an organizer is that you want to create more and more leaders. You guys are the next wave. And I hope that you guys take advantage of going into leadership positions, getting involved out into the field, because that’s how you learn. And I am very excited to see what you guys do next. Change starts with the people and never in the halls of power. If you want to see that change, you need to become the change and it starts with you guys. So I’m really excited to see what we do next as an organization. 

KERON: Youth organizations are so important. When we talk about socialism, I feel like people think that it comes from reading lots of books, magazines, articles, and being so versed in the technical language, that sometimes we miss that it’s not that deep — not that deep in this respect. Youth organizations have to serve as conduits to make sure that these ideas don’t die. That’s what I feel like I am. I’m a conduit between the old guard and bringing it to a new generation. Youth organizations are important because you don’t have to wait until you’re 30, 40, 50 something to talk about socialism. You can talk about it right now at 15, 16, 17. I think that needs a whole lot more energy injected into it, because without them, all these wins of right now are for naught — they have to be the ones to champion it and to carry it on.

KRISTEN: I got started in organizing really young in high school and continued when I was a first generation low income college student. When you’re a young person in politics, it’s those that are currently in power or establishment politicians will really work to hoard that power, push us out, tell us to wait our turn, tell us that we don’t know any better, that we’re young and naive. But young people have been at the forefront of every single movement. So my message for YDSA is to keep growing, keep organizing — young people’s voices are essential to every single fight that we have. Especially for things like climate change, it is our future collectively that we’re fighting for. I’m so excited to be a younger candidate. I’m so excited to bring other young people with me as we’re doing this, and I hope to see an increase in other young candidates throughout the country. 

VANESSA: I’m only as hopeful as I am because of the younger generations, I mean, I’m not super old but I am also not super young. Big shout out to Andrew Basta — I’m a big fan. He’s one of the folks that has been a pillar in our chapter, so young and so driven. It is very inspiring to see people so young getting involved. I feel like if you’re in it now, then you must be doing a lot. It’s the long fight — that’s the thing that we have to remember. There’s going to be a lot of disappointing moments. We can’t win everything, but we have to keep fighting and we have to keep pushing. As hard as it is for those of us now to push the boundaries of what people think is possible, we’re doing it to make it easier for other folks to push even further. I may not be able to live to see all the great possibilities of what socialism can bring, but I can move us in that direction. That gives me fulfillment, being around people who want to do the same thing, so I’m grateful for that. The most important thing is keeping that spirit alive so people can keep coming back to that because it’s not going to be easy.