With only a few more days until the primary for the District 8 alder race (along with other WI non-partisan races), I can honestly say the campaign trail has been good to me. Perhaps not in the mental health sense, but for the most part, it’s been very smooth making the transition from progressive organizer to progressive candidate for political office.
As I’ve said in many other contexts, the amount of support I’ve received in this endeavor has been overwhelming, and that’s certainly been helpful in encouraging me to keep up the momentum. Obviously, many of the endorsements and pledges of volunteer support have come from personal friends; but most support has come from people who had only heard of me, knew me peripherally, came over to my side due to friends’ encouragement or took a liking to my distinct platform.
The little coverage of this race in the local media has focused on this issue of endorsements, and so I’ll take the time here to briefly give my input. (For an outstanding account of the more substantive issues in the race, read this Cap Times overview.) First things first: They largely don’t matter. In this sense, I very much disagree with Kevin Bargnes’ recent Herald column on the issue. One of my opponents, Scott Resnick, was recently endorsed by the current D8 alder, Bryon Eagon, and has been doing his best to spread the news via press releases and announcements at various forums. Bargnes seems to think this will somehow give Resnick’s campaign a boost; I tend to think it’s mostly irrelevant, since the only people for whom an Eagon endorsement is likely to positively impact are mostly types who wouldn’t vote for a candidate like me, anyway.
Beyond that, Eagon’s name carries almost no weight on this campus – outside of the College Democrats (again, along with certain ASM leadership types, the one significant campus milieu with a built-in resistance to my candidacy). I agreed with Resnick’s criticism of Eagon at the Young Progressives forum two weeks ago; at the event, the candidate critiqued the current alder for his “lack of engagement with his constituents.” Christian Barry, the other candidate in the race, voiced similar criticisms in a recent interview.
In addition to this lack of constituent outreach, Eagon has not been a particularly active alder, as more than one current Council member has discussed with me – with considerable disappointment, given that the two previous D8 representatives were Eli Judge and Austin King, both of whom were very passionate about the position. For these reasons, Eagon’s support was not sought by my campaign, nor would it have been accepted had it been offered.
Ultimately, when I say that endorsements don’t matter a whole lot, you can probably trust that I’m being unbiased since, in this sense at least, I have a huge advantage over both of my opponents. The seventeen current or recently serving Council, Dane County Board and School Board members who have endorsed my candidacy literally represent a majority of the most important local progressive policy makers over the last half decade. This type of support, almost unheard of in student races, has left me truly humbled. In addition, the various endorsements from student and community leaders and local organizations has also been highly encouraging. I would like to think I have earned this support from my years of community involvement during my time as a student-activist here in Madison. Regardless, I look at it as a challenge: A call to live up to these very high expectations, set by some truly amazing people and organizations, if elected.
If these endorsements aren’t electorally all that important, why bother seeking them out? First, they do matter a little. For instance, one can imagine a student thinking more highly of a campaign having received a flyer with the Teaching Assistants’ Association’s seal of approval. Second, they’re a good way of indicating to everyone interested in my candidacy the type of alder I intend to be. As my endorsements show, I view people like Austin King and Brenda Konkel as role models for this position. Finally, endorsements express commitment. By garnering the support of Audre Lorde cooperative members, for example, one can probably guess that I intend to prioritize issues that are important to people of color.
Moving on…I would have liked to have seen more in-depth coverage of the D8 race from the campus media (as I noted above, Kristin over at the Cap Times has done an amazing job). The Opinion coverage has been almost nonexistent, while the News articles (also few) did little to educate readers about the differences between candidates. Except for those voters who received a knock on the door or piece of literature from the candidates, and those who are members of politically-charged groups like SLAC and the College Dems (an infinitesimally small percentage of students), the residents of this district are unlikely to even be aware that there is an election this Tuesday.
Which is why I was grateful for Bargnes’ recent column, even if I did mostly disagree with it. On a personal note, however, I can’t tell you how enviable a position it is to be assigned the label “underdog” by the media, as Kevin did in his piece – it certainly takes off a lot of the pressure.
There was another point that Kevin made in his article that is worth mentioning, too. Actually, it’s important enough to quote him at length:
In closing, the district eight race will largely be debated online. To be frank, this newspaper is not interested in wasting valuable space to cover mudslinging rants written by the student government wonks that now infest the fledgling campus blogosphere.
This is a clear, and devastating shot at some of the more recent noise that has come out of the student blogosphere, and I’m very appreciative of Kevin’s insistence that this type of thing should not be considered part of the legitimate debate in this race. It’s nothing new; it harkens back to the incessant online dishonesty directed at former student leftist Supervisor Ashok Kumar, who regularly endured incredibly obscene and racist vitriol (regularly hosted by the Critical Badger) that makes most of the current stuff look tame by comparison.
So, the fact that politically inactive conservative bloggers have decided to target my candidacy, as well as the good work of some of my friends in the student activist world, is not a surprise. Their posts may be obsessive and ad hominem and dishonest – all the hallmarks of Glenn Beck’s style – but they are, more importantly, irrelevant. So, I encourage them to continue having fun at what they do.
Ultimately, I have grown very thick skin over they years and fully expected all sorts of attacks on my character from various student conservatives with whom I’ve battled in the past – right from the beginning of this race. In truth, the ability to overcome even the most viscous personal attacks is something I’ve gained a lot of practice in doing from my years of political involvement. On a personal note, this has helped me in becoming increasingly less sensitive to ad hominem attacks in my non-political life as well. The ability to go through life immune to the ridicule and cruelty of others is a great gift, liberating the individual from so much of the noise that normally drags one down. I’ve achieved an enormous amount of progress in this Zen-colored goal and, for this, I have the “mudslinging rants written by the student government wonks” to thank. Come to think of it, I am enormously indebted to them.
Finally, I want to give a huge shout-out to the TAA, SLAC and everyone else out there who is tirelessly working to coordinate the incipient protest movement against Walker’s fascistic attacks on this state’s organized labor. He can bring in the National Guard, but the beautiful public working people of this state and their allies will not be intimidated. Since arriving on this campus in 2005, I don’t think I have ever witnessed such a rapid and widespread mobilization of progressive forces. I was briefly talking with Tyler Junger on Facebook tonight, and he told me that members of the ASM leadership have also been participating in this effort and plan on attending the massive demonstration on Tuesday. If you need any better proof that this movement has hope and inspired large swaths of people of this state, I can’t think of a better example in making this point.
It’s true that, regarding the impact for local progressive candidates, Walker’s announcement to destroy the public sector could not have come at a worse time. I’m guessing my friends T.J. Mertz and Brian Solomon are also relying on a campaign team and volunteer base of activists that would otherwise be involved in the anti-Walker activities. Further, it’s also diverted a lot of resources away from our campaigns. This is the nature of running a campaign that considers itself one with the labor movement and other progressive causes.
However, for those who have worked over-time on my campaign in the midst of this new crisis – especially Adam Porton, Leland Pan, Michael Johnson and others – I hold an enormous amount of gratitude. They serve as a reminder that for social justice candidacies, the individual candidate is not what the race is about; rather, it’s about a larger movement, a larger set of values and issues, a larger vision for what our small part of the world can look like.
In this vein, I think the candidacies of myself and like-minded others can draw strength and energy from the inspiring acts of resistance we are currently witnessing.
Peace and solidarity.