I am withdrawing my consideration for endorsement from Our Revolution Somerville (ORS). I do this in solidarity with the candidates of color who received unfair treatment and outright exclusion at recent candidates forums. This is not an endorsement or rejection of any candidate, but rather an acknowledgement that all people deserve to be treated fairly and equally.
I helped form Our Revolution in Somerville. I took great pride in encouraging a new generation of Somerville residents to focus locally on economic inequality and social justice. The landslide ORS victory in 2017 was one of the greatest moments in my life. I’m still immensely proud of all we accomplished and still consider many ORS members friends and comrades. However I find the treatment of first time candidates of color at the recent forums to be unacceptable.
Four candidates of color signed a letter withdrawing their consideration for endorsement, citing specifically the refusal to let Ward 2 City Council candidate Stephenson Aman, a Haitian American man who grew up in the Mystic Housing Development, participate in the forum. ORS issued a statement saying they made attempts to accommodate Stephenson who failed to meet the deadline. This may be true, but at the end of the day Stephenson qualified for the 2021 ballot and should have been given a chance to speak at a forum as a legitimate candidate.
Bernie Sanders, the founder and figurehead of Our Revolution, held a rally in Seattle in 2016 when two black women jumped on stage and grabbed the mic from him. They didn’t follow the rules. What did Bernie do? He listened. If Bernie could do that under far more dramatic circumstances we can accomodate a black man who certified for the ballot and respectfully asked to attend the forum.
While Stephenson was denied entry outright, the other candidates of color were the victims of blatantly biased questions meant to humiliate them and promote members of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) Boston chapter, most of whom are white. I encourage everyone to watch the final segment of both the at-large and ward councilor forums where candidates were asked personal questions. You can identify DSA candidates when the moderator used the word “bold” to describe their policies before giving them softball questions, and by the candidates who responded “I love this question!”
Non DSA candidates of color, by contrast, were openly accused of ignorance. Their commitment to the very communities of color that they are a part of were questioned. I don’t believe these biased questions were intentionally racist, but they clearly favored white DSA candidates over their non-white opponents. A system is racist if it favors white members over others.
Unfortunately what transpired represents a familiar pattern in left-leaning movements. I was a veteran of Occupy Wall Street and watched a movement that was meant for the 99 percent devolve into a movement of 99 issues occupied by an exclusive club of affluent people with enough free time to attend every meeting. They strangled the life out of what should have been a worker-led movement and made people of color and working class people like me feel unwelcome. I now have that same unwelcome, exclusive feeling with ORS/DSA. What started as a unifying campaign to elect candidates truly committed to affordable housing has become a movement that demands absolute purity on a litany of issues that only a narrow, privileged group of people could possibly uphold or identify with. The movement’s failure to organize low income neighborhoods after years of activism makes the exclusion of Stephenson, who grew up in affordable housing, all the more problematic.
I’m not out to “cancel” anyone. People make mistakes, people can learn from those mistakes, and people are deserving of forgiveness. I’m speaking out because of the overall direction the movement is heading in, which is exclusionary and divisive and will ultimately lead to our failure to enact true change. ORS and DSA should acknowledge these problems and take action to rectify the harm it has done in recent days. A movement meant to represent the most underrepresented people in the city and in the nation must constantly assess whether they are leaving those very voices out of the conversation. I hope to one day seek the endorsement of Our Revolution again and continue to fight for our shared values together. Until the day comes when all the voices are at the table, however, I must decline the endorsement.