PSL campaign wins thousands of votes for socialist platform in Long Beach
Friday, April 16, 2010
By: Doug Kauffman
Building a movement to fight back
Stevie Merino speaking at a campaign meeting in Long Beach, February 2010
Photo: Raymond White
The writer served as campaign manager for the PSL Stevie Merino campaign for Mayor of Long Beach.
On Tuesday, April 13, thousands of people in Long Beach went to the polls and voted for an openly socialist candidate for mayor. Party for Socialism and Liberation candidate Stevie Danielle Merino got 5,057 votes—16 percent of all ballots cast—against a highly funded, corporate-backed incumbent. Merino is a 21-year-old retail worker, community college student and member of the PSL.
This Long Beach election was the first in that city in which the PSL fielded a candidate. Despite a shoestring budget and no paid campaign staff, the outcome was a significant manifestation of support for a platform that prioritized people’s needs, not corporate profits.
PSL members and campaign volunteers worked hard for three months to promote Merino’s campaign. The campaign scored great successes along the way. It received local press and campus coverage, talked to thousands of people on the streets of Long Beach, built relations with local grassroots organizations, and held numerous political forums.
The campaign brought those who are most alienated from the political process to the forefront of local politics—working-class people. It talked about the issues that really matter to workers, students and poor people—jobs, education, health care and housing. Most importantly, the campaign raised the banner of socialism throughout Long Beach, a multinational city of over 600,000 people.
The campaign did all of these things, while also exposing the so-called electoral process for what it truly is—a corporate-sponsored illusion where corrupt candidates are bought to do the bidding of big business.
Getting the message out
The campaign focused on delivering a socialist message to local communities within Long Beach, going door to door, and doing street outreach. It also went to local schools, such as Long Beach City College and Cal State University, Long Beach. Dozens of volunteers worked each week to promote the PSL campaign.
The campaign fought for apartment residents who deal with a notorious slumlord, Ned Basin, who is hated throughout the downtown community. Community members attended a campaign street meeting outside of one of the units owned by Basin to express their distaste for the corrupt government in Long Beach that handed Basin $10,000 to repair the complex, of which he only spent $1,500 on a paint job. Meanwhile, the complex is infested with fleas, roaches and rats; there are plumbing problems making some residents unable to get proper running water; and at least one resident has a hot water heater within inches of their bathtub. Despite countless complaints to the Housing Authority, and even lawsuits, slumlords like Basin continue to profit from the misery of working people and the corrupt city government.
The campaign built relations with the Gray Panthers, the Long Beach Coalition for Good Jobs, and the International Association of Machinists and Aerospace Workers. The IAM is the largest union of city workers who have faced drastic pay cuts thanks to the incumbent mayor, Bob Foster.
The Long Beach Green Party endorsed Stevie Merino for mayor, saying that “Stevie is articulate and has the right priorities for the city.” The Peace and Freedom Party State Central Committee and local community organizations, such as AF3IRM/GABNet, KmB Pro-People Youth, and Students Fight Back also endorsed the PSL campaign.
Local small business owners supported the PSL’s campaign. Rene, the owner of a Pan-African bookstore, told Liberation: “We need Stevie for so many reasons: to deal with parking issues, and permit fees for business owners. But mostly, our community needs her to help us create jobs for people.”
The priorities of the campaign included cutting the budget of the racist Long Beach Police Department and implementing community control over the police, as well as funding education, taxing big oil and corporations, a moratorium on evictions and foreclosures, issuing same-sex marriage licenses, and job placement and training for youth and the more than 15 percent of workers in Long Beach who are currently unemployed.
In this system, when a candidate places the working class first, they have no chance to garner the financial support that corporate-bought candidates like Bob Foster can muster. Foster raised over $300,000 for the campaign. The PSL Stevie Merino campaign—which has been a real people’s campaign—raised and spent less than $1,000 altogether. This is the most obvious way in which the reality of “democracy” under capitalism is exposed.
While the campaign fought hard within the electoral process itself, it also brought social issues into the streets. The campaign called for the firing of CSULB Prof. Kevin MacDonald, and demanded that Foster go on record speaking against him. MacDonald is a psychology professor, and the leader of a white-supremacist political party called the American Third Position. Foster, however, refused to speak out against fascism. The Stevie Merino campaign also openly supported the efforts of student activists from Students Fight Back to oust MacDonald.
Stevie Merino at counter-demonstration
against a right-wing religious cult
Photo: Raymond White
The campaign continued to fight against bigots, participating in the mass counter-demonstration at Wilson High School against the Westboro Baptist Church, a right-wing religious cult. The PSL campaign raised proudly the banner of full LGBT equality. Thousands gathered with signs reading, “Hate is not welcome at our school,” chanting “Go home now” as activists from the campaign distributed leaflets and explained that, if elected, Stevie Merino would immediately begin issuing marriage licenses to same-sex couples regardless of the bigoted Prop. 8.
The campaign participated in the March 4 Strike and Day of Action to Defend Public Education at CSULB and Wilson High School, where thousands of people gathered to demand an end to cuts and fee hikes. The campaign raised the demand that education should be free from pre-school through university, and pledged to prevent the mass firing of over 800 teachers in Long Beach Unified School District.
Candidate Merino marched shoulder to shoulder with anti-war demonstrators on March 20 in Los Angeles on the seventh anniversary of the war in Iraq. She was there to demand that money be spent on jobs and education instead of the war machine. Merino spoke on behalf of Students Fight Back, calling for an end to U.S. imperialism and the military-industrial complex.
The campaign also joined the more than 50,000 people who marched for immigrant rights on March 27, calling for full legalization and immediate comprehensive immigration reform. The campaign has not wavered on this issue. It demanded that the city of Long Beach become a sanctuary city with an end to all racist raids and deportations. No one should be considered “illegal.”
Building a movement
The overwhelming majority of people who came into contact with the campaign became supporters. On numerous occasions, working-class people shared stories of intense hardship, exploitation and police violence. No one has been left unaffected by the economic crisis in Long Beach. People have lost their jobs, cannot pay their bills, are being kicked out of their homes, have no child care for their children who have had all of their after-school programs cut, cannot afford their medication or hospital visits, and have had their homes barged into. In one instance, a young man even shared with us the details of how his brother was shot, execution style, by the Long Beach Police Department.
The campaign was covered widely in the Long Beach Press-Telegram, the Long Beach Post and all other local media outlets. Excellent articles outlined the political demands and program of the PSL’s openly socialist campaign.
Some cynical media “bigwigs” reacted to the campaign within the confines of bourgeois thinking. They questioned much of the program, somewhat hysterically, saying “It’s not possible! How can you call for such things?”
Before the election, the editorial board of the Press-Telegram endorsed Foster for mayor, predicting that Merino would not even get “one percent” of the vote. They were dead wrong: she got 16 percent! After the election, the Press-Telegram had to backtrack. It ended up honoring the PSL campaign, naming Stevie Merino as winner of the symbolic “David and Goliath” award for daring to face off against the corporate-backed and funded mayor.
What the PSL campaign fought for makes sense. It makes sense that same-sex couples should have the same rights as heterosexual couples. It makes sense that an all-elected community control board should be able to fire police officers and jail them when they murder members of the community. It makes sense that where there is work to be done, jobs should be created. It makes sense to fund public education when it is the children of Long Beach who are facing larger class sizes and overworked teachers. It makes sense to outlaw foreclosures and evictions when it is the ruling capitalist class that created this economic downturn—not the workers being kicked out of their homes. It makes sense to fund women’s clinics, homeless services, HIV programs, substance abuse programs, battered women’s shelters, after-school programs, and countless other services when working people are suffering most.
The only thing that does not make sense is the current system. The PSL campaign fought to change this. The campaign’s primary goal was to build a movement that can fight back, truly serving the interests of workers, the poor and students in Long Beach.
The campaign made a major impression in Long Beach. In fact, it made history. It isn’t every day that a worker finds an openly socialist 21-year-old woman of color on the ballot. As a matter of fact, few people in the country have ever seen that. The PSL campaign succeeded in challenging the electoral process, bringing forth working-class issues, and raising the banner of revolutionary socialism.
The PSL will not disappear now that the election is over. It is continuing to organize in Long Beach and the surrounding South Bay area. The PSL will continue to fight against capitalism and the ruling class on every level, local and national, while continuing to build the movement for socialism.
This is great news. As someone who is new to communist politics I could not believe the reaction among left-communists in the forums at this story.
Too bad you're in Ohio Kassad, you'd like Stevie.
Stevie and I are very good friends.