Buffalo’s India Walton: What Now of Socialism?

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By Quentin Choy

June 25, 2021

The city of Buffalo, New York’s second-largest city elected a socialist as mayor in a political upset, defeating the 4-term incumbent Mayor Byron Brown, a close ally of Governor Andrew Cuomo. Like Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Jamaal Bowman defeated long-time incumbents in their congressional districts, Walton upset the political establishment in heavily blue Buffalo.

Throughout the mayoral campaign, Mayor Brown refused to debate Walton, not taking her campaign seriously as a threat to his power. Brown is considering to move forth in the campaign as a write-in candidate, as there is no Republican challenger for the mayorship.

India Walton has a unique life story for a politician, one to which many working-class Americans can relate. At 14 years old, Walton gave birth to her first child before dropping out of high school and becoming a domestic violence victim. She later obtained her GED while pregnant with twins who were prematurely born. She also became a nurse and community organizer focused on the issues of criminal justice reform and fair housing.

India Walton and her family. Courtesy of indiawalton.com.

When asked by a reporter if she was a socialist, Walton responded by saying “Oh, absolutely! The entire intent of this campaign is to draw down power and resources to the ground level and into the hands of the people.”

Walton expanded on the role of democratic socialism in her mayoral campaign and worldview, saying:

“When we think about socialism, you know, we’re perfectly fine with socialism for the rich. We will bail out Wall Street and banks and give a billion dollars in tax incentives to one of the richest people in the world to build an empty Tesla factory in South Buffalo, and when it comes to providing the resources that working families need to thrive, socialism becomes scary at that point.”

India Walton

Walton is the first socialist mayor of a major American city since 1960, when Milwaukee had Mayor Frank Zeidler.

One issue Walton wants to address is public safety, including new approaches to policing. She plans to end police responses to most mental health calls and to end enforcing low-level drug possession offenses. She also wants to tackle the issue of police brutality, as last year a viral video went around of 75-year old Martin Gugino being shoved to the sidewalk by Buffalo Police, causing him to bleed out of his ear.

Gugino after being shoved by Buffalo Police. Courtesy of Broadview Magazine.

At Walton’s victory event himself was Gugino, wearing a Bernie Sanders t-shirt.

Martin Gugino at India Walton’s victory event. Courtesy of Twitter.

Following Walton’s victory and the establishment of a socialist at the helm of a major American city, what is to become of socialism? With conservatives having used the term to describe almost every Democrat under the sun, will “socialist” be the boy who cried wolf when trying to fearmonger over India Walton’s victory?

Conservatives need to target their criticisms of Democrats to be more fine-tuned and policy focused rather than using broad strokes to describe Democrats as socialists, communists, and radicals because one day when a “true” radical like Walton will come about, fellow conservatives will simply think that this “actual” socialist is just another Democrat.

Conservatives have struggled classifying Biden, simultaneously calling him a corrupt sellout while also calling him a socialist. The same is true for Kamala Harris, who was classified by Fox News and Ben Shapiro as being socialist.

While the right is stuck with this issue of labelling everyone socialists, even those who are neoliberal and corporatist, those on the left struggle with the same issue in labelling everyone as racist, the left’s equivalent of a dead, nearly meaningless term.

This reckoning with the term “socialist” and its lack of meaning when criticizing opponents reminded me of Pete Buttigieg speaking during a 2020 Democratic primary debate for the presidency. While I despise Buttigieg, his quote on the right’s usage of the term “socialism” was keen.

It’s time to stop worrying about what the Republicans will say. It’s true that we embrace a far left agenda, they’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists. If we embrace a conservative agenda, you know what they’re going to do? They’re going to say we’re a bunch of crazy socialists.”

Pete Buttigieg during the 2020 Democratic Presidential primary
Pete Buttigieg on stage with former Republican mayor of New York City and billionaire, Michael Bloomberg. Courtesy of NBC News.

Walton’s campaign strategy in being a populist representative of the people with issues targeted to a local audience should be replicated in other local and state elections, especially in cities like Buffalo across the industrial Midwest and in the Heartland. Economics should be used to establish wide coalitions of working-class and middle-class voters rather than splitting groups between race, which is often less reliable.

Quentin Choy, creator of <em>WeTheCommoners Blog</em>
Quentin Choy, creator of WeTheCommoners Blog

Quentin is a student of Political Science. He became interested in history and politics in 2015 watching the Republican and Democratic primaries as well as the 2016 General Election.

He is from Hawaii and currently attends school in Colorado.

Image Courtesy of Brandon Lewis.

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