Lessons from a radical campaign

Steve Hoffman on his run for US Senator from Washington

Campaign Manager Doreen McGrath (carrying the "Say no to Amazon's blackmail" sign) with a contingent of volunteers at a demonstration for an Amazon head tax. PHOTO: Annaliza Torres / FS
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Running for the U.S. Senate under the Freedom Socialist Party (FSP) banner this year was an invigorating adventure. In a field of 29 contenders, it’s not surprising that the establishment Democrat and Republican were the winners in Washington state’s top-two primary. Nevertheless, our socialist feminist effort disrupted politics as usual, giving voters a real working-class alternative.

From the start, the campaign team benefited from the advice of FSP comrades who had run for office before. Together we developed a platform that challenged the profit system with demands like public ownership and workers’ control of the banks and energy industry and the closure of military bases around the world. We took on incumbent Maria Cantwell, a corporate Democrat who has voted for every free trade agreement placed in front of her. Our goal was to promote the concept that international class solidarity can be more powerful than the money and political machines of the profit-mongers.

Candidate Hoffman on the campaign trail near Spokane, Wash.

We soon found that many workers are ready for politics like these. Interest in our literature and enthusiasm for an upfront socialist candidate were far more common than indifference or hostility. This was true from Seattle and Bellingham on the west side of Washington to the more rural areas to the east like Spokane, Wenatchee, and Cheney. Over 7,000 voters, from every county in the state, cast their ballots for an unapologetically revolutionary socialist!

This openness to our ideas was coupled with a healthy skepticism about the status quo. Often when I introduced myself to folks on the street and advocated for sending a working person and union shop steward to the Senate, I quipped, “Right now in Congress it’s just millionaires taking care of billionaires.” This was always met with a nod of agreement.

Our message was carried far and wide. Nearly 200 campaign volunteers talked to voters at fairs, festivals and doorsteps, took photos, posted on social media, researched issues, distributed thousands of pieces of literature, campaigned in over 40 cities, collected 2,600 signatures to get me on the ballot, and much more.

Common causes everywhere. As I traveled the state, I realized that there are so many opportunities to be in solidarity with others. When a campaign volunteer and I visited the cultural center of the Yakama Nation, two tribal employees spent over an hour explaining exhibits in the museum. We learned that the tribe struggles to assert its hunting and fishing rights on the 90 percent of its former territory that was ceded under the Treaty of 1863.

Our campaign also supported opposition, led by the Puyallup Tribe, to the building of a liquefied natural gas (LNG) terminal threatening Native land and waterways in Tacoma. Using what we learned about the tribe’s fight, I later opposed a resolution in support of the LNG terminal at the Washington State Labor Council convention.

Indeed, one of my favorite parts of running for office was speaking at union meetings. I went to over 20 and saw firsthand the union-busting and organizing challenges that labor faces today. It is clear that the Democratic Party is not defending our class. And that made my Senate race as an open socialist more important than ever.

A couple of weeks after my campaign ended, I was protesting against a xenophobic, far-right candidate who ran for the same office, Joey Gibson of Patriot Prayer. A young man came up to me. “I’m a union carpenter and I voted for you.” Being a good unionist, he quickly re-joined the picket line.

Several unions endorsed my campaign, including my own, Washington Federation of State Employees Local 304, and two other WFSE locals. Among other endorsers were the Puget Sound Chapter of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, Organized Workers for Labor Solidarity, and Radical Women.

Left endorsements came from Socialist Action, Socialist Alternative, and the Progressive Party of Washington. In Spokane we had lively political discussions with radicals and progressive folks, and joined them for a Sunday rally to oppose Joey Gibson, who was a no-show.

The trail ahead. After the primary election results came in, several unionists I know mentioned on Facebook that they had voted for me, but were rightly concerned that Joey Gibson had received 38,000 votes. They expressed how important it is that the labor movement get out in the streets and confront Gibson and his fascist supporters.

I certainly agree. Gibson got so many votes in part because newspapers and TV stations constantly covered the rallies he organized to target immigrants and leftists and attack women’s right to abortion. Each time, they mentioned his Senate campaign. Meanwhile the Seattle Times and other major media, except for the Spokane Spokesman-Review, refused to mention my name or our robust socialist feminist campaign. Gibson also no doubt won votes from rabid opponents of abortion, since he was the only candidate to explicitly attack women’s reproductive rights in his voter’s guide statement.

There is plenty of work to do for those of us who are eager to stop a rising fascist threat. Let’s collaborate and organize working people to fight for a future free of bigotry, exploitation, and endless war.

I appreciate everyone who supported our boldly radical campaign, which showed workers and their unions that they can declare political independence from the bosses and their twin parties. The whole experience made me more confident than ever that, if we stick together, we will win a better world.

Contact the author at stevhoff@earthlink.net.

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