This spring and summer, Buffalo, NY, DSA helped propel community organizer and rank-and-file union activist India Walton to victory in the city’s Democratic mayoral primary, beating four-term incumbent Byron Brown. Walton, backed by an entirely grassroots campaign, worked with Buffalo DSA and progressive groups not only to win the election but to address the concerns of working-class communities and advance the fight for socialism in western New York. She earned support from years of involvement on projects such as the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust and Black Lives Matter protests.
In an interview for Jacobin magazine earlier this year, Walton told me that “[o]ne of the things that our campaign has been really good at is storytelling — being able to explain to people why socialism is not this evil monster that the establishment wants you to believe it is.”
Given Walton’s record and her embrace of democratic socialism, the Buffalo chapter was excited to endorse her from the start. A vote to endorse her campaign passed unanimously at a January general membership meeting.
Buffalo DSA had hoped to run independent canvasses and host fundraisers, but the legal and organizational complications were too great for the relatively small chapter to handle in the short amount of time they had to win. Thus, the chapter’s organizing flowed through Walton’s official campaign. Over the course of the election cycle, as many as 70 members became active in the campaign with phone banking, canvassing, event visibility, data entry, and more.
“What’s important to know is that Buffalo DSA is far more passionate about our candidate than the establishment is about theirs, and when the energy of grassroots volunteers is well organized, we can win,” chapter member James Skretta said.
Days after his defeat, Brown announced a write-in campaign for the upcoming November general election, hoping to win an unprecedented fifth term. Although write-in campaigns aren’t typically successful, Brown will have name recognition, enthusiastic support from big money donors, and potentially even help from the Buffalo GOP.
Even though Walton’s campaign mostly flew under the radar until election night, it did not change the approach that has been key to the success of many DSA electoral projects— the slow build and hard work of knocking on doors, making phone calls, and hanging posters.
Elections give the organization a unique opportunity to talk to people across the political spectrum at their doorsteps about universal programs and working-class organization. It is this commitment to doing the less glamorous work of talking to strangers that not only decides the outcome of elections but plants the seeds of hope in the community that we can win a better world than the ruling class has offered.
Moving forward, Buffalo DSA has an exciting opportunity to explore the possibilities of municipal socialism and connect its nonelectoral efforts to a member in public office.