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Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library. Photo by Shannon McGee.
Courtesy of the George W. Bush Presidential Library. Photo by Shannon McGee.


Democracy is for everybody, not just the rich. So get to the polls!


Local elections are far more important than Mass voters seem to think, given the historically low turnouts for most of them in recent decades. Especially during off-year contests like this year’s. So, for starters, I just want to encourage everyone who is reading this in a municipality that is holding elections to get out and vote on November 5. Particularly working people—who are the focus of this epistle. 


Because politics in a democracy is not supposed to be solely the province of millionaires and billionaires. It’s supposed to be for all of us. However, if working people don’t use our franchise to vote for candidates who will fight on our behalf, then democracy itself is in danger. 


Not sure if you’re a working person? Well, if you’re an adult and you don’t own a big business or a huge amount of voting stock, then you are probably a working person. If you’re unemployed, but need to find another job to survive, then you are probably a working person. If you consider yourself poor, working class, or middle class, then you are probably a working person. And if politicians don’t snap to attention when you drop them a line, then you are almost certainly a working person.


I understand that working people are busy by default and that many of us are already focused on the 2020 presidential election—which is as high stakes as it gets in the American political system. But much of what happens in our daily lives is determined in no small part by municipal governments. Important decisions about housing, commercial development, transportation, K-12 education, local taxes, public health, and our lived environment are made every day by Bay State mayors, city councilors, selectpeople, town meetings, and school committees.


Failing to cast your ballot in local elections ensures that lots of important decisions that affect your life get made by politicians you had no hand in choosing. Pols who all too often end up doing the bidding of rich and powerful interests. Rather than fighting for justice for working people in an era when it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to make ends meet.


Changing that situation not only requires that more working people vote in local elections, but also that we actually take the time to inform ourselves about different candidates running for local offices. The problem is that many of the few people who cast votes in local elections don’t really pay attention to who they’re voting for. They go by which college degrees candidates hold. Or which neighborhood they grew up in. Or who their friends tell them to vote for. Or worse still, they vote for the candidates who have held their offices the longest. 


None of these are inappropriate reasons to back a politician—taken together with an even cursory understanding of that candidate’s political views and closely held beliefs. The problem is that most voters don’t have that understanding when they go to the voting booth. As trustworthy candidate information can be thin on the ground.


Traditionally, working people turned to local news media to learn more about all the municipal candidates—and read debates between their supporters—as well as synopses of campaign debates. But with local news outlets in decline, and regional and national news organizations having little time to cover local politics, it can be hard to find enough good journalism to be able to make a truly informed decision. Even in Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville, the main cities that my DigBoston colleagues and I cover. 


So, I’d like to offer a few suggestions for how working people can become informed local voters. Ideas which, as luck would have it, also hold true in larger elections.


1) Read candidate questionnaires

Most cities and towns have at least a few civic and political organizations that put together lists of questions on key issues that they ask all the candidates in all the local races. Find them and read them over—trying your best to get your hands on questionnaires organized both by groups you like and groups don’t like. To ensure that you get candidates’ answers to broad array of questions. This alone will give you an excellent idea of which politicians are interested in standing up for working people’s interests.


2) Find out who each candidate takes money from

It’s important to know how campaigns are financed. If your locale has at least one functioning news outlet, you may find articles by professional journalists that cover this ground. But failing that, Commonwealth voters can go to the Mass Office of Campaign and Political Finance website at and see who donates money to the campaigns of every candidate you’re considering voting for—and which candidates have the most money. Pay special attention to big donors who happen to run or own large corporations and banks. Because that will usually correlate to the candidates toiling on behalf of the local establishment, and against the interests of working people. Which is why it’s often good to support candidates who focus on raising lots of small donations from lots of regular folks. If their politics seem solid.


3) Ignore attack ads

Advertising by candidates, if done with a light touch, can be helpful and informative for voters. Unfortunately, many campaign ads are just rank propaganda—and filled with questionable assertions about the opponents of the candidates who buy them. So they are best ignored. Instead, as above, search out information about candidates’ actual positions. Preferably by buttonholing them at public events and asking them for their positions on key issues.


4) Attend candidate forums and debates

The events may be called candidate forums or debates, but whatever they’re called working people should always try to attend at least one for every significant local race. They are the best places to hear candidates’ ideas from their own mouths—plus watch how they engage with other candidates’ ideas and handle themselves under duress. A candidate that can’t take a bit of sparring with an opponent will probably not be the best person to represent working people’s interests.


5) Find the accessible candidates

Any candidate running for local office—especially one who purports to represent the interests of working people—should be easy for any constituent to contact on short notice. As the election approaches, try emailing or calling the campaign offices of candidates you like and ask to speak to them about any question you have about their policy proposals. They should get back to you quickly. If they do, it’s likely they will continue to be easy to reach once in office. For those candidates already in office, you can contact them with a constituent services request. Or contact their campaign office as with other candidates. Same drill. If they get back to you—a typical working person—quickly then they probably aren’t just catering to corporate supporters.


6) Vote for your interests, not the interests of the rich and powerful

The preamble of the constitution of the storied militant labor union Industrial Workers of the World (IWW) began with the following statement: “The working class and the employing class have nothing in common.” There was much truth in the sentiment then, and there is much truth in it now. So when you, a working person, go to the polls, keep that statement in mind. Don’t vote for candidates who work in the interest of the real estate industry. Don’t vote for candidates who say they are pro-housing when they are really pro-commercial development. Don’t vote for candidates who say they are for “smart growth” when they are really for “letting real estate developers do whatever they want wherever they want” in the interest of fatter profits. Don’t vote for candidates who feign concern about global warming, then support policies that increase the number of cars on the road. Don’t vote for candidates who say “no new taxes”—when what they mean is “no new taxes on the rich.” Et cetera, et cetera.


Vote for candidates who talk about shifting the tax burden back on the rich and corporations. Get enough of those candidates into office to control local governments, and start doing just that. Raise property and commercial taxes. Increase the pathetically small payments in lieu of taxes (PILOTs) that nominally nonprofit private colleges like Harvard, MIT, and Tufts University currently pay cities like Boston, Cambridge, and Somerville. Then use the funds to bankroll an expansion of social programs that benefit working families. At the local level this would include—for example—building more social housing (a European term connoting public housing better than most American public housing), making public schools around the Commonwealth as good in poor towns are they are in rich ones, building more public health clinics, and rebuilding streets to favor public transportation, bikes, and pedestrians over cars.


But none of this can happen without working people getting more involved in our political process at the local level. So go forth, put some real effort into learning about the candidates for local office, and then get to the polls. Every time there’s a local election. Onward… 


Apparent Horizon—recipient of 2018 and 2019 Association of Alternative Newsmedia Political Column Awards—is syndicated by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism. Jason Pramas is BINJ’s executive director, and executive editor and associate publisher of DigBoston. Copyright 2019 Jason Pramas. Licensed for use by the Boston Institute for Nonprofit Journalism and media outlets in its network.


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Red Star Over Massachusetts


Plus an endorsement for Michael Capuano for Congress (MA 7th District)


August 28, 2018



It’s never easy being a socialist in the United States. And at no time is it more difficult then come election season. Because neither of the two major parties—hard-right ravings to the contrary taken as given—is socialist. Both Republicans and Democrats are capitalist. There have been many attempts to form major left-wing anti-capitalist parties over the last couple hundred years. Some, like two I’ve participated in—the Green Party US and the Labor Party—have been national efforts. The former is still struggling on gamely, though Mass affiliate Green-Rainbow Party currently does not have official party status—having failed to win 3 percent of the vote for any state or national candidate in the last election or to enroll 1 percent of registered voters. The latter petered out over a decade back. There have also been state-level efforts like the Peace and Freedom Party in California—which, for one reason or another, haven’t spread to other states.


The received political wisdom is that the major parties have set up so many structural roadblocks over their many decades in power that it’s impossible for any of the smaller so-called third parties to achieve major party status. And from my experience that received wisdom has been correct. So far.


Where does that leave a socialist like me? Well, I have a few options. None of them ideal… unless we manage to change our political system to allow for small parties to more easily become big ones. I could go back to the Greens. I could join one of the tiny socialist parties that runs candidates from time to time like Socialist Alternative. I could join the somewhat larger Democratic Socialists of America—which is not a party but a pressure group that throws its weight behind the most left-wing candidates it can find or field, mainly in the Democratic Party. I could help try to revive an effort for a “fusion” ballot in Massachusetts with the Working Families Party (of New York and several other states). Such a move would create a formation that would be allowed to support larger parties’ candidates (i.e., the Democrats for all intents and purposes) without sacrificing independence. But allowing that would require a change in Bay State law… and a 2006 attempt to make the necessary change failed. I could help start a new left-wing party in the Boston area, and try to win some municipal races before moving on to state and national contests. Or I can join the majority of Massachusetts voters and be an independent. Registering as “unenrolled” in our state’s parlance. Currently the simplest and easiest option. And a reasonable one for a journalist like myself since I remain independent of all political parties.


So like many other left-wingers, I’ve bitten the proverbial bullet and have been unenrolled for most of my adult life. But it’s a dissatisfying place to situate myself politically. Because functionally it means that I’m voting for whoever comes closest to my beliefs on a case-by-case basis. Not usually for a slate. As minor parties like the Greens rarely have the wherewithal to run candidates for multiple offices in one voting district. Just individual candidates. And should those candidates win, they are basically on their own. Meaning any political gains they make typically won’t outlast their terms of office.


Being unenrolled also means that I’m almost never voting for a candidate I fully support. Unless a maverick left-wing candidate happens to run for one office or other in my area—usually in a nonpartisan local race—I’m nearly always forced to compromise. And, sure, voting always involves compromises. Even for dyed-in-the-wool Democrats and Republicans. Yet casting such votes usually requires that I make a big compromise. A fundamental one, as the candidates on offer all share the major flaw of backing a political economic system—capitalism—that I don’t believe in. Even though I’m forced to participate in that system by nature of being born in a capitalist country in this time and place.


At this juncture, some readers will naturally ask, “Well, why vote at all?” After all, I’ve got more than a little bit of a libertarian streak in the sense that I’m a big fan of liberty. And many left libertarian traditions—notably anarcho-syndicalism—push for direct democracy at the local level in place of representative democracy at every level. I’ve always had a soft spot for such views. But I have never found them practical for a nation-state of over 300 million souls amid a planetary population of over seven billion and rising.


Ultimately, as messed up as capitalist democracy is, I refuse to take my franchise for granted. For much of human history, people like me didn’t get any say at all in how they were governed. Even the US restricted voting to white males with property at its inception. Only after generations of grassroots political struggle did we get universal suffrage for everyone 18 or older. So as long as we remain an even nominally representative democracy, I’m going to keep voting.


Great, but how do I go about picking candidates to support? Not easily, and I simply don’t vote in races where none of the candidates are good by my lights. Still, taking next week’s primary as an example, let me shed some light on my internal decision-making process. For sake of space, I’ll think aloud about only the hottest current local political fight—the 7th District Congressional race between incumbent Michael Capuano and challenger Ayanna Pressley—in the manner I normally do when preparing to vote as an independent socialist. Mainly by considering the candidates’ political positives and negatives from my perspective.


Capuano’s positive policy points include backing Medicare for All for many years and consistently anti-war foreign policy stands. Strikes against him include taking campaign contributions from the real estate and biotech lobbies. Pressley’s positive points include taking decent positions on issues like housing and immigration—including recent support for abolishing Immigration and Customs Enforcement. Strikes against her include more hawkish foreign policy views. And a long Intercept piece on the race paints her as the chosen candidate of corporate Democratic leadership. Someone who fakes left, but will likely break right when it matters. A big negative in my book.


For me, Capuano is one of the last old line social democrats in Congress. Meaning he’s about as left-wing as he can be without leaving the Dems. He’s also been in office a long time and holds key committee positions that would be lost with the election of a first-term opponent. He’s brought a lot of money to his district that benefits the working class, and he’s taken a lot of stands he didn’t have to take in defense of that class.


Pressley has done much less as a politician thus far. According to Politico, her “biggest projects have ranged from supporting pregnant teens and revamping sex education in schools to expanding liquor licenses in minority neighborhoods.” Admittedly while holding a seat in a political body, the Boston City Council, that has very little power. So not an entirely fair comparison, but food for thought nonetheless. However, given Capuano’s predictable and significant lead in the polls and in funding, I can’t shake the feeling that Pressley’s really doing groundwork for her next big race more than expecting to win this one.


For these reasons and many more besides, I have to back Michael Capuano in the Democratic primary for the 7th District Congressional seat.


But all that said—and there’s much more to say—in backing Capuano, I’m still backing a capitalist. This is not a guy who is pushing for workers to own the means of production. This is a guy who has consciously decided that the best path is to shave the rough edges off of capitalism to make it less harmful to workers. While allowing billionaires to control the commanding heights of our political economic system. He may not like it. But he’s decided that’s the best that can be done under the current circumstances.


I respect that decision, even if I disagree with it. Yet whatever I think about individual candidates, I always have to come back to the same problem: What can I do to help ensure that there is a mass socialist (and anti-racist and feminist and environmental and anti-war, etc., etc.) party that can field candidates with the experience and funding to win enough electoral races to change the face of politics in Massachusetts and the United States for the better?


And my answer? For the moment, I’m writing for a growing audience about the kind of political changes I’d like to see, and looking for opportunities to help build the kind of political party that could bring those changes to fruition. There are seeds of what I’m searching for in Democratic Socialists of America and Socialist Alternative and many other existing socialist and anarchist and green formations besides. But none of them presently fits the bill for me. All I can say is that I’ll know the party I’m looking for when I see it. And jump on board as soon as that happens. But for now, I’ll just muddle through at election time in the fashion I’ve described above. As best I can.


Readers interested in engaging in discussion and debate on this and related matters in various public forums can contact me at