By Calvin Priest and Bryan Koulouris, Socialist Alternative USA
On November 7, the Ginger Jentzen campaign won a historic vote in the race for Minneapolis City Council, Ward 3. The initial six point lead on election night was fitting for our powerful campaign which had defined the issues in this year’s city elections from the start. We put a discussion about rent control back on the map and received widespread support from working people for our call to tax big developers and the rich to fund affordable housing, education and mass transit. We mounted one of the strongest ground games in an election campaign that Minneapolis has ever seen.
And while the Socialist Alternative’s campaign struck a powerful chord and won more first choice votes than any other campaign, when the third and final round of the ranked choice voting (RCV) was done the following day, we had lost by a thousand votes.
Nevertheless the result was a major victory for socialist politics. We won in every precinct except those in wealthy downtown Minneapolis. In working-class neighborhoods thousands of people were inspired by our bold demands and call for a political revolution in City Hall.
The high level of support was palpable. Red and white “Vote Ginger Jentzen” campaign signs were to be found on virtually every street in working-class areas in Ward 3, with “Not for Sale” written across them in bold letters. This main slogan, also symbolic of Kshama Sawant’s and Bernie Sanders’s campaigns, indicated that the Ginger campaign accepted no corporate or developer donations, and was entirely funded by ordinary working people. Nonetheless, we shattered all prior records for a Minneapolis City Council race, with more than $175,000 raised without a penny in corporate cash and a median donation of just $25.
In neighborhoods around the University of Minnesota, made up of predominantly student renters, our campaign tripled student turn-out and won by over 50% in the precinct overall.
But the vote was highly polarized, and the areas downtown dominated by luxury apartments and condos went just as strongly for the DFL candidates (Democratic Farmer Labor Party, the Democratic Party in Minnesota). This was on the basis of class interests but also due to the deep roots of the DFL.
Our Impact and Corporate Opposition
The stage was set for a historic election campaign this summer when the Minneapolis City council was forced to pass a $15 minimum wage under the leadership of Ginger and Socialist Alternative, who launched 15 Now and built a broad coalition of unions, progressive organizations and activists. This coalition brought huge pressure to bear against the majority of city council and mayor who had said that $15 was too high, not in the domain of city government and impossible.
Our election campaign faced the united opposition of the political establishment, corporate media and a last minute rush of PAC money into the race, backed by big business and for-profit developers. The billionaire-owned StarTribune’s editorial board spoke for Minneapolis big business leaders when it penned its “Anybody But Ginger” endorsement article in which it ranked and made the case for all three of the other candidates in the race: Democratic (DFL) establishment candidates Steve Fletcher and Tim Bildsoe as well as Green Party candidate Samantha Pree-Stinson.
But it was the efforts of corporate PACs to buy the election that most clearly expressed the political establishment’s fear of our working class campaign as well as the left candidates who were targeting establishment incumbents in a number of other races. Big business recognized that this left challenge, including by several Our Revolution endorsed candidates like mayoral candidate Ray Dehn, had to be fought off at all costs.
But without a doubt, big business was most threatened by our independent socialist campaign. Millionaire developer Steve Minn and his “Minneapolis Works” PAC singled out Ginger in their “call to action” in mid October, saying “If you thought it was impossible for a committed Socialist to run on a platform of rent control and establishing a municipal income tax … meet: Ginger Jentzen,” and warning that she was a “leading candidate” in Ward 3. Corporate money quickly began to pour into the race. Six PAC mailers landed in the ward in the final weeks backing Tim Bildsoe. Meanwhile, three attack mailers went out calling Ginger “nuts” for wanting to tax the super rich and big business and advocating for rent control and with the outright lie that Ginger wanted to create “new taxes on working families.”
It’s Not Just Seattle
Our campaign’s strong result showed that Seattle is in no way an aberration in supporting independent socialists, with City Councilmember Kshama Sawant’s campaigns. As Socialist Alternative has explained before, the hunger for bold working class politics exists all across the country. And while we know that many who voted for us don’t consider themselves socialists, the “socialist” label is not a barrier for ordinary people. With the growing interest in socialist ideas, Ginger running openly as a socialist was in fact an asset with many young and working class people who had supported Bernie.
The campaign took on something of a national left profile, receiving coverage in several prominent media outlets, including The Nation, The Intercept and The Young Turks, as well as a series of stories in major local media of the StarTribune and the front cover of the main Minneapolis weekly, the City Pages.
We won endorsements from several key left unions, including ones that had endorsed Sanders in 2016, like the Minneapolis Nurses Association, Communication Workers of America MN Council, and the United Transportation Union. Ginger was also endorsed locally and nationally by the Democratic Socialists of America, as well as the local Our Revolution. Prominent individual endorsements included Dr. Cornel West and Ray Dehn’s campaign manager, left Democrat Joelle Stangler, along with several other local left activists in the Democratic Party.
The campaign and coalition we built will help lay the basis for a struggle for expanded mass transit and rent control in Minneapolis over the coming months. Transit workers, with Socialist Alternative member Ryan Timlin as the union’s new local President, are going into a contract battle involving workers across Minneapolis. Ginger’s campaign shows the popular support for rent control, and this can be built upon to fight against the big developers and their attempts to turn Minneapolis into a playground for the rich.
Establishment Pushes Back
The Minneapolis establishment made use of the ranked choice voting system against our independent socialist campaign. When the weaknesses of Fletcher’s campaign became apparent it led to the late entry of Tim Bildsoe into the race in mid August.
The other candidates ultimately delivered the second and third choice votes that the DFL needed to win to Steve Fletcher, including the Green Party candidate Samantha Pree-Stinson. This shows not only that ranked choice voting (RCV) is not a panacea, but that it can even be used as a tool by the establishment to attack independent campaigns. Of course, in the absence of RCV the race would have had a different dynamic. There is no doubt that “lesser evil” arguments would have been used against our campaign to push voters toward Steve Fletcher saying it was necessary stop the more conservative Tim Bildsoe, who ran under the Democrat label after serving on a suburban city council for 16 years as a Republican.
In a setback for independent politics, the candidate who most openly and fiercely attacked the Ginger Jentzen campaign was the Green Party’s Samantha Pree-Stinson. Pree-Stinson was formerly an establishment Democrat who chaired committees and actively built the Democratic Party for years until earlier this year when she sought the Green Party endorsement. She was endorsed and backed by the Green Party in spite of running clearly to the right of Democrat Steve Fletcher. She made statements against the $15 minimum wage and attacked the campaign for supporting movement demands like “Black Lives Matter”, “Medicare for All”, and “No Ban, No Wall, No Raids”, while herself not supporting rent control or taxing the rich. Unfortunately, the national leadership of the Green Party amplified Pree-Stinson’s campaign despite multiple appeals from SA members for them to encourage second-choice votes for Ginger.
Across the country, many candidates backed by Our Revolution and the Democratic Socialists of America were elected. This is an extremely positive development, but it will also be a test to see if they can withstand the pressure of the corporations, big developers, Democratic Party and political establishment to tone down their politics. In Seattle, we’ve shown how just one elected office for the socialist movement can transform city politics if connected to a clear program, mobilization of working people from below and building an independent organization.
Election night in Minneapolis took place on the 100th anniversary of the October revolution in Russia, where working people took power and held onto it for the first time in history, winning unprecedented gains for workers, peasants, LGBTQ people, women and oppressed nationalities. Though many of those gains were lost after Stalin rose to power at the head of a grotesque bureaucracy, the historic victory of the Russian working class in 1917 and the lessons of that revolution are more relevant than ever.
As the most politically conscious workers and young people around the world debate the meaning of the Russian Revolution, some will also hear in the coming days about the tremendous campaign Ginger and Socialist Alternative waged in Minneapolis. The ideas and experience of October and genuine Marxism live on, central as they are to the fight for a world based on solidarity and genuine democracy, and free from poverty, racism, national oppression, sexism and environmental destruction. A new generation of workers is losing faith in the bankrupt system of capitalism and searching for an alternative.
Socialism is rising again.