Ohio Socialist Runs for U.S. Senate

— Dan La Botz

I’M RUNNING AS the Ohio Socialist Party candidate for the U.S. Senate because I believe that the severity of the crisis, and the depth of dissatisfaction and discontent in our society, obligate socialists to put forward our alternative and to organize to achieve it. We on the left need to present the vision of a democratic socialist society, a society which can only be achieved through building a mass social movement and a radically different sort of political organization.

The idea of running for the Senate arose sometime in January when I was approached by a couple of people in the Socialist Party USA asking me to be the candidate. Because of lawsuits brought in 2006 and 2008 — following the notorious manipulation and possible theft of the 2004 election by then-secretary of state Kenneth Blackwell — there are new election rules that dramatically, although perhaps temporarily, lower the barriers for ballot access. This might well be a one-time opening to put a socialist candidate for office on the ballot.

The Petition Campaign

After discussing the idea with family, friends, and fellow activists and socialist co-thinkers, and making sure that the Green Party was not running a Senate candidate — since I didn’t want to run against the Greens — I decided I should enter the race. A longtime member of Solidarity, I also then also joined the Socialist Party and began to organize a petition campaign for signatures to get on the Ohio ballot.

I was delighted to find that other leftists and socialists in Ohio were excited by the idea and willing to help. Solidarity and the Socialist Party were joined by the International Socialist Organization (ISO) and also aided by members of the Ohio chapter of the Labor Party. In Columbus, I also received a warm welcome from the Sporeprint Infoshop, a radical social center.

In Ohio I found Green Party members and many Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) supportive of my campaign. I have been delighted with the idea that this campaign might help us to work together to involve more people.

We were required to gather 500 signatures in about a month. Within that period — despite three major snowstorms — we collected 1,200 signatures, most of them coming from Cincinnati, Columbus and Cleveland.

For the signature- gathering phase we produced our first piece of literature, in which I emphasized ending the wars; single-payer health insurance; jobs for all at living wages; and dramatically reducing coal and petroleum to stop the environmental crisis.

Gathering the signatures was a fascinating activity. Some people, of course, would turn away, but we experienced virtually no hostility (for the first time in my life as an activist, not one “#8220;Go back to Russia”). Some people would sign the petitions with phrases like “#8220;Well, you can’t do any worse than the ones we have now.”

Others — and this always cheered my heart — would say, “#8220;Well, that’s what America’s all about. Everybody should have a chance. Sure, I’ll sign.” African Americans signed our petitions to get on the ballot as readily as whites, although they may not be so prepared to hear a criticism of President Barack Obama’s policies. Most interesting, as several petition circulators reported, some young people who first turned away when they saw it was about a political campaign would say, when they heard the word “#8220;socialist,” say “#8220;Let me sign that.”

We are now building a state organization which will carry out the campaign until the November election. We will again work to involve all those on the left who wish to unite on this campaign. Among our assets are a few well-known Socialist Party members in the state, such as Rev. John Tamilio III, a senior pastor at Pilgrim Congregational United Church of Christ in Cleveland, and an outspoken advocate of LGBTQ rights. Beyond the small networks of the organized left, there are students on several college campuses, several longtime union activists, and some African-American community activists who also want to help.

The greatest challenge, of course, is getting media coverage. The Republicans and Democrats and the corporate-controlled media will work to marginalize all of the other parties and campaigns, including my own. High-level labor union officials, who remain deeply committed to the Democratic Party hoping that somehow it will solve their problems, will likely keep their union halls closed to a Socialist candidate — although hopefully not in all cases.

An Expression of Social Struggle

Shortly after turning in my petitions, I spoke to a group of high school students about my campaign. The first question was, “#8220;Why run when you can’t win?” I replied that the goal of the campaign was to raise an alternative vision, to organize a socialist movement in the state, and to inspire working people to fight for their jobs, their wages, their health care and their homes.

The second question was, “#8220;Do you think that government in this country is too big?” I replied that the question is not is it too big or too small, but whose government is it? We have a government today that represents bankers, corporations, insurance companies, and the very rich. We need a government by and for working people (including unemployed working people) of this country who constitute the majority.

Another student asked, “#8220;How do you see the reorganization of our society, from a capitalist to a socialist society taking place?” That question posed the biggest problem, because such a transformation takes place through struggle on a massive scale and through the bonds of solidarity that are forged in the course of a struggle.

I gave the historical examples of some big strikes and social movements, when the movement from below begins to transform itself — when in enormous strikes and social struggles working people find themselves taking over the factories, ensuring that the water systems and power grids continue to function, running schools and hospitals, taking responsibility for public security, and suddenly finding themselves running a city or even a country.

Such things have happened in the past, but in the present level of working-class struggle in the country, connecting a socialist campaign to the vision of a social movement will be the great challenge. [For campaign information: www.DanLaBotz.com].

ATC 146, May-June 2010