From Queens to the Capitol

Young Socialists Have Won Political Power in New York. And they intend to keep it.

by Michael Morris

When I was a kid, I wanted to be Barack Obama, and I promise that every black boy in my third grade class would say the same thing. I grew up a few miles outside of Atlanta, a city often called the black Mecca because there’s no other place in America where black people have achieved as much success in entertainment, business, and politics.

I remember watching Obama’s Iowa victory speech on an old Dell desktop computer at school. It may have been unprofessional for our third grade teacher to play it for us in full, but she did it anyway. You could see the excitement in her eyes. I recall her saying things I couldn’t understand about history and black America. 

When Obama won, my mom bought tickets to the inauguration. She thought it was important for my brother and I to know what black men could achieve. I was eight years old and don’t remember anything Obama said. I only remember being in a crowd so big I was scared. Everyone was packed in like sardines – we couldn’t move. At one point, my mom put me on her shoulders so I could see. But it didn’t last long. A man who was trying to get in front of us kicked my mom’s legs over and over. I remember her grunting, and thinking she was going to drop me. But a white woman next to us yelled at the man until he stopped. And I mean really yelled. I’ll never forget that.

This was the beginning of my political education. My mom had the inauguration tickets framed next to the New York Times front page:  “OBAMA TAKES OATH, AND NATION IN CRISIS EMBRACES THE MOMENT,” it read.

Obama was the face of hope, someone the black community could trust. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I saw Obama for who he really was: a centrist. Progressive aspirations of black and brown liberation were merely projected onto him. That was made clear in 2014 after the police killing of Michael Brown, a black teenager. I remember it well because I was also a black teenager. I wrote about the riots in Ferguson for my high school newspaper. On November 24, hours before the grand jury chose not to indict Officer Darren Wilson I used a sharpie and wrote BLACK LIVES MATTER on my white t-shirt in the middle of the school day. Later, a white girl read my shirt and confided in me that protesting was pointless. 

“I don’t understand what they want,” she said. “A decision has already been made.” I didn’t respond. Maybe we were asking for someone to care. For someone to say something beyond “diversity training” and “calm down.” That same day, Obama ordered the national guard into Ferguson to crush the riots. Military tanks on everyday streets, flares, rubber bullets. 

In his speech from the White House Briefing Room, Obama spoke vaguely about plans to improve racial diversity in police forces across the country. They never materialized. He commended peaceful protestors, but didn’t acknowledge that many of them had been shot with rubber bullets and beaten in the street by state troopers. Really, the speech was a call to stop all demonstrations. “To those in Ferguson,” he said, “there are ways of channeling your concerns constructively and there are ways of channeling your concerns destructively. Michael Brown’s parents understand what it means to be constructive.” Obama’s words didn’t fit reality. If even the most peaceful of protests are met with state violence, then really there is no avenue to “be constructive.” Ironically, as the president spoke, Michael Brown’s stepfather consoled his crying wife in a crowd of demonstrators and exclaimed, “Burn this bitch down!”

At 14, I watched this spectacle unfold. Being a black teenager is particularly painful, in an existential way. You watch people who look like you die on TV, over and over, and then you watch people pretend to care. Obama let me down. I learned that justice can be denied, and that protests can be crushed, even under a black president.

For the past few years I’ve been asking myself whether there are any politicians who actually  care, who don’t just offer lip service. Is anyone genuinely interested in improving working people’s lives? 

A new left has blossomed in the years since the Ferguson Riots. In 2016, Senator Bernie Sanders breathed life into the decades-old Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). Sanders called himself a democratic socialist for the first time in 2016, not because he had ties to DSA, but because he was looking for a way to describe the brand of socialism he advocated. The adjective “democratic” was a tool to thwart media attacks that compared Sanders to socialist and communist dictators. 

The DSA’s general strategy is to primary centrist Democrats in deep blue districts, with the goal of replacing them with socialists. In stark contrast to the Democratic party, they are proud to be on the left. “Defund NYPD” is one of New York City DSA’s policy initiatives. They see police as an oppressive force on black and brown bodies, and believe the solution to crime is to give resources in the form of social workers, mental health services, and increased education funding to the most impoverished communities.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez is one of the most famous DSA-endorsed candidates. The Queens branch of the New York City DSA endorsed her back in 2018. That year was formative for Queens DSA. It was largely because of AOC’s stunning victory over establishment Democrat Joe Crowley that the organization saw an influx in new members and leadership. Few of Queens DSA’s current members were part of the group before 2018, and many of them were drawn to it because of AOC. While she’s the poster child for Queens DSA, they have had other significant, but lower profile victories. 31-year-old first-generation Ugandan immigrant, Zohran Mamdani won his seat in the New York State Assembly in 2020. Tiffany Caban, a public defender also in her 30s, won her seat on the New York City Council in 2021. The Queens DSA is one of the most electorally successful DSA branches in the country. 

“DSA’s theory of change is building organic, independent working class power that’s accountable to the org,” said 32-year-old Matt Thomas. I sat down with him at Aubergine Cafe in Woodside, Queens, a few blocks from his apartment. “You build up the org, the org represents the working class, and the candidates are accountable to the org, and that’s how you drive change.”

Matt is a member of Queens DSA, and was also the Communications Director for Zohran Mamdani’s 2020 campaign (and a researcher for Tiffany Caban’s unsuccessful 2019 campaign for Queens District Attorney). Inspired by AOC, he attended his first DSA meeting in 2018, even though he’d never voted in an election before. That’s not to say that Matt wasn’t political before DSA – he has a masters degree in Middle Eastern Studies. In the past, he just didn’t think his vote mattered.

That changed in 2018. “Being in the district and seeing the posters around and the sidewalk chalk and seeing the mailers, it felt like something was happening around me,” he said. “Also, this was after Trump came in, and it really felt like we were going to build a left to counteract him. The Democratic Party had failed, and people were trying to build something real. That’s what attracted me to it.”

Matt spent his childhood in Delaware County, Pennsylvania. It’s generally a white, working class community, though Matt says he grew up “white trash.” Neither of his parents had college degrees,  his dad was a mailman and his mom worked at a bank. When his parents divorced, Matt’s mom went back to school and married his step-dad. At 9, Matt moved with them to Claymont, Delaware. Over the next few years, Matt’s family went from poor to upper-middle class. Matt attended Archmere Academy for high school, the same Catholic preparatory school Joe Biden graduated from in 1961. 

Matt’s parents and step-dad were lifelong Republicans. But in 2016, he noticed that education shifted his family’s politics. His mom and step-dad had obtained college degrees, and his father hadn’t. Matt’s mom and step-dad voted for Clinton, and his dad voted for Trump.

“My mom told me one time, ‘I remember when Bill Clinton got sworn in and I looked at Hillary and thought, ‘Man I hate that bitch,’” he said. “She thought she was so stuck up. She was the striver career-woman, college-educated elite that my mom hated. But then she became one of those people.” 

Matt began his own political evolution in 2018 when he joined Queens DSA’s electoral working group (EWG), a small, tight knit committee focused on recruiting and supporting candidates for elections. Among them were Dan Lynch, a software engineer in his mid-30s, 28-year-old Sasha Weinstein, who works for the Deparment of City Planninng, and Zohran Mamdani, the future representative.

“In the electoral working group, for a good part of the year you’re just reaching out to people in tenants orgs, tenant unions, labor leaders,” said Dan. “You’re desperately trying to find someone who has great values and is willing to go through the wild process of running for public office.” 

Dan is part of DSA’s National Electoral Committee, meaning he helps support local DSA campaigns across the country. He grew up in Pittsburgh, in a union family. His mom is a nurse and his dad cuts trees off of power lines. Dan considers his parents left-leaning. “They’re hardcore union Catholic people who have a lot of compassion for folks, but aren’t reading Marx or whatever,” he says. 

Dan describes his teenage self as mad at the world. He listened to a lot of Dead Prez, a rap group from the 1990s that made songs like “Police State” and “We Want Freedom,” commentaries on societal injustice. In college, Dan was “Elizabeth Warren left”; left of most Democrats, but not as far left as he is now. He had a political worldview that today he admits was totally wrong. Dan understood that the Republican Party was steadily moving to the right. Reagan was to the right of Nixon, Bush was to the right of Reagan, and the 1994 Congress was to the right of Bush. The Republican Party, by continually holding office, was achieving their own version of progress. Dan thought that if Democrats were able to hold office long enough, the party would move to the left in the same fashion. 

“I missed the whole activist base happening underneath the Republican Party,” Dan tells me. “I thought they just kept winning, and that they went further right, without noting that what was happening in the Republican ecosystem was just part of evangelical activism, big money, the Koch brothers. From the policy wonks down to the rank and file, there’s a huge activist base.”

He realized that Democrats were not going to move left on their own. They had to be pushed. Dan found himself at Occupy Wall Street demonstrations, at Black Lives Matter protests, and at rallies for recipients of Deferred Action for Childhood Arrivals (DACA). It was in these activist circles that he was exposed to the DSA.

In 2018, the EWG was reviewing potential candidates to endorse for the 2019 Queens District Attorney race. It was an inspiring time for the organization as AOC’s victory was just a few months prior. Now the group had their eyes on Tiffany Caban, a young public defender who was running against incumbent Melinda Katz on a self-described “decarceral” agenda. 

“A queer woman of color from a working class background is not the kind of person that’s traditionally elected to office,” Sasha Weinstein tells me over coffee and tea in Long Island City. He’s a bit short, with a mustache, a kind face, and a soft-spoken voice. “She worked as a lawyer, got to see how capitalism treats surplus populations first hand. Got to see how we deal with people who are unemployed and unwell, and that gives you a really powerful perspective on things that most candidates don’t really see.”

Sasha grew up in Westchester County. His dad is a public defense lawyer and his mom is a therapist. Sasha describes his parents as conventional liberals, though both of them were early supporters of DSA-endorsed Rep. Jamaal Bowman. During the 2016 election, Sasha saw Hillary Clinton as the only electable candidate. He says he listened too much to pundits and people around him. He didn’t move left until after Trump won. 

“People had very firm ideas about who was electable and who wasn’t, and then when Hillary lost it was groundshaking,” Sasha tells me. “Like the adults aren’t really in control. No one really knows who’s electable and who’s not. That was what helped me have such a strong affinity for Bernie, him challenging this conventional narrative of what’s electable.” In 2020, Sasha would go to Iowa to knock on doors and canvas for Bernie, sleeping on the floors and couches of other supporters.

When Queens DSA endorsed Caban, they helped her through the notoriously complicated petitioning phase of her campaign. In order to get on the Democratic primary ballot in New York City, each candidate must petition to get a few thousand signatures from verified, registered Democrats in their district. This is where an endorsement from an organization like DSA comes in handy, especially to lesser-known or first-time candidates. DSA can offer a group of reliable volunteers who will petition around the clock, providing man-power and legitimacy that lesser-known or first-time candidates often lack. And DSA members with electoral expertise sometimes take on major roles within campaigns. In the months before he started his masters in Public Policy at the University of Chicago, Sasha quit his job and became the Field Director for Caban’s campaign. 

In the end, Caban lost to Katz by only 55 votes. But by area, Caban only won around one-third of Queens, according to Sasha. Huge tracts of South and Central Queens were solidly Katz. 

“The reason why she almost won was turnout,” Sasha said. “Astoria and Jackson Heights really turned out for her, and in other parts of the borough turnout was not so high. The part of the borough where she beat Melinda Katz six-to-one, she then ran for city council there because that’s where she lived.”

 Almost a year of calling, getting hung up on, and convincing strangers to get involved was not enough to cross the 55-vote finish line. 

“Substantively, Tiffany was the only one who was going to do anything real in terms of not charging people for sex work, not charging people for low level drug crimes, go actually prosecute scumbag landlords, and invest in social services to reduce crime,” said Matt Thomas. “That loss was so awful.” 

Matt is quick to point out that even when candidates lose, they still push DSA forward. These campaigns are not just about one person, but about the potential voters and volunteers one candidate can pull into the fold for the next race.

Socialism is undeniably on the rise in Queens. Matt’s analysis of voter data from 2016 to 2021 shows that the vote share of Queens’ socialist candidates has gone up year after year, even when a candidate loses. For example, City Council District 23 saw Bernie Sanders win 37 percent of the vote in 2016. In 2019, Tiffany took home 25 percent of the vote, a notable decline. Then in 2021, DSA-endorsed Jaslin Kaur won 46 percent of the vote. Kaur lost the city council race, but improved upon Bernie’s performance by 9 points. Even more important is the racial breakdown. In precincts that were less than 10 percent white, Sanders received 31 percent of the vote, Caban received 32 percent, and Kaur received 59 percent. It’s among immigrant communities that DSA sees the steadiest and most substantial gains.

In March of this year, Queens DSA endorsed another candidate: Kristen Gonzalez, a 26-year-old Queens-native and DSA-member running for State Senate District 17. The district is brand new – the result of recent redistricting – and stretches from Long Island City down past Sunnyside and to Ridgewood. The district has a hispanic plurality and is minority white, a clear advantage for the DSA.

 


 

On a rainy Sunday morning, I met Dan and Sasha at Transmitter Park in Brooklyn, where Greenpoint Avenue dead-ends by the East River shoreline, for a Gonzalez petitioning event. It was scheduled to start at 11:30, and by 11:33 more than 14 people are crowded around 21-year-old Aaron Fernando, who’s running the show. Supposedly, some kind of tent is coming, but it’s not here yet. Aaron opens Voter Action Network (VAN) and rests his computer underneath two umbrellas on the ground. He has laptop stickers that read “DEFUND NYPD” and “MEDICARE FOR ALL,” key policy calls for the DSA. 

Aaron is the current co-chair of the EWG. He joined the DSA in 2019 and campaigned for Tiffany after bumping into her at a neighborhood fundraiser. It turns out they’re both from Richmond Hill. He met his girlfriend, Katelin, while handing out fliers at the Jamaica-179 Station a week before the election. They slowly became friends, then became inseparable once Covid hit.

The volunteers continue setting up. Kristen greets me, shaking my hand. She’s dressed casually in a white sweater and sneakers, a coffee in her left hand. State Rep. Emily Gallagher also introduces herself. She’s running for reelection in Assembly District 50, which overlaps with the district Kristen hopes to win. Multiple candidates can be placed on the same petition, which is how better-known politicians support lesser-known candidates. That’s part of Kristen’s strategy to make it onto the ballot. 

Eventually, a tent arrives and Aaron helps set up a folding table underneath it. He puts his computer and piles of campaign literature on it. A volunteer introduces herself to Kristen, and gives her a red DSA shirt. The volunteer’s tote bag says, “Fund Care, Not Cops…Caban.” Everyone is friendly, and it’s clear that most of the volunteers know each other. 

“Did I tell you about Friday night?” Dan asks another volunteer. He’s wearing a purple hat that says, “Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez!”, and a yellow shirt that says the same. “All these Bernie people were going out this weekend, and we were supposed to get wasted in Crown Heights. We were already drinking at my house, and then they’re like, ‘Can we make a detour?’, and it ends up being Eve Ensler from the Vagina Monologues’ house, and Cori Bush is there. I’m just like, ‘I’m way too drunk for this.’”

At the same time, Aaron is walking around giving people “turf” from VAN, specific apartment buildings nearby with substantial amounts of active Democratic voters. He gives volunteers a code to enter into the VAN app on their phones. Once entered, volunteers can see their geographical “turf”.

“Phones out!” Aaron announces. “Ready for turf!” Another volunteer hands out campaign literature and clipboards with the petitioning sheets. 

“These people need to get elected,” one volunteer says to another. “We need to pass Just Cause, because otherwise I’m gonna get kicked out. We got the apartment at the bottom of the market, and the landlord was going bankrupt. So if they don’t pass Just Cause, they’re gonna raise our rent like a few thousand dollars.”

The volunteer was referring to Good Cause Eviction, a bill originally written by DSA-endorsed state Sen. Julia Salazaar in 2019 that would severely limit how much a landlord can raise the price of rent, and would give tenants more legal avenues to fight evictions. The bill has been stalled in Albany for three years, as the Democratic leadership has refused to bring it to a vote. 

Before lead volunteers begin training everyone in how to petition, Kristen gives a speech in front of the tent. “We’ve started the fight against climate change, the fight against gentrification, the fight to make sure that everyone after a pandemic has access to healthcare,” she says. “But we’re not done. Petitioning is not necessarily a glamorous part of movement-building, but you showing up to do that is doing the work. Showing that we’re not gonna stop. Every door, every conversation with every voter matters.” The crowd applauds. A volunteer named Katelin explains how to fill out the petitioning forms. Only blue or black pen, fill out everything for the voter except for their signature, try to follow the script that is given to you. 

I shadow Dan as the volunteers disperse. Before we even leave the park, we pass a couple with a dog. “Hey!” Dan says. “Are you registered Democrats?” They are, and they both sign the petition. 

Afterward, Dan opens an app called Reach and searches for the two voters. “It’s a relational organizing app,” he tells me. “If you meet someone on the street or someone in a building who is a supporter, this shows every Democrat and you can mark if they are a supporter.”

We walk toward the turf, which is on India and West Street. According to VAN, there are 65 potential voters in this building. “We’re gonna try to get into a building that may have a doorman, because there’s 65 people,” Dan says. “When we walk in, we just have to act nonchalant. Act like we’re talking about the parties last night.”

True to his word, Dan starts talking about parties the night before when we enter the building. I try to play along. It turns out there is no doorman. We try to buzz in, but end up coming in behind an older man who is leaving with a dog. Dan says we should work our way from five, the top floor, down.

When we get to our first apartment, no one answers the door. On it are children’s drawings that say “We are in this together” and “Do what’s right for everyone.” At the next few apartments, we get lucky. A woman named Rosana answers the door. She knows who Emily is, and supports her. She immediately agrees to sign the petition. At the next place, a man answers the door barefoot. He’s a big AOC supporter, and signs the petition. “I love this shit,” Dan says after he closes the door. According to him, only about 10 percent of people open the door. 

A man with a dalmatian walks past us in the hallway and into an apartment. Dan silently cheers because that apartment’s next on the list. But he tells me he’s scared of dogs because he was bit by one while canvassing for Bernie in Texas two years ago. 

Dan shows me that Reach has leaderboard rankings based on how many voters are found and evaluated per canvasser. That week he was ranked fourth and Aaron was ranked third. We went to every floor, and then went back to the fifth floor to see if people who hadn’t answered had moved the literature Dan stuck in their door, indicating they were home. We got three more signatures on the fifth floor that second time around. “This is how we win socialism,” Dan says.

After two hours, we leave the building with 16 signatures and run into Sasha on the street. “I gotta fill up this page, man,” Dan says to him. Sasha only has four signatures. We are two away from 18, Dan’s goal. We walk toward Greenpoint Beer & Ale where all the volunteers are supposed to meet Kristen for a celebratory drink. Dan starts yelling at bikers from across the street to sign the petition. He waves the clipboard in the air as they pass by. He asks a woman who we pass on the street to sign, and she responds in Spanish. Lucky for her, Dan speaks five languages and asks her to sign in Spanish. But she’s from Colombia, and isn’t a registered voter. Dan jokes that he’s off his game. “Coming out of hibernation,” he says. 

Dan got his 18 signatures before we got to the bar. It should’ve been 20, but Dan made two mistakes on two different sheets (there’s only room for 10 signatures per sheet). When we get to Greenpoint Beer & Ale – which is on the edge between Queens and Brooklyn, right across the water from Long Island City – Dan even gets the bartender, a young white woman, to sign the petition. 

 

Kristen Gonzalez is running for State Senate in district 17 (Photo courtesy of Kristen Gonzalez).

When I meet Kristen in front of the old Long Island City courthouse in Court Square Park, she brings her dog, Sonny, a fluffy, white Havenese mix she’s had since her undergrad years at Columbia. It’s an early spring day. Kristen wears a gray t-shirt, a light jacket, and glasses. She’s between meetings, and I’m lucky to get time with her less than 60 days before the scheduled election. 

“I’m a hardcore New Yorker,” Kristen tells me. She grew up across the street from Elmhurst Hospital. “When I say I was born and raised in Queens, I mean my mom literally went into labor and waddled across the street to the emergency room.”

Kristen’s father passed away when she was a kid, and she was mostly raised by her mother. Today, her mom is an assistant teacher in classrooms for special education and Down’s syndrome students, but when Kristen was in grade school her mom worked odd jobs seven days a week, cleaning houses on weekends to put food on the table. 

“U.S. imperialism affects all of our families,” she says. “My mom’s from Puerto Rico. She came here in the 1960s with her family because they were pushed off their farm by U.S. imperialism. When they came here they lived in a two bedroom tenement on the Lower East Side. My mom was really concerned with me having opportunities that she didn’t have. A lot of my family has struggled with systemic poverty over the years.” 

Most of Kristen’s family members don’t have high school diplomas. Her mom wanted something different for her. Kristen’s local elementary school was an overcrowded one-story building. There was no gym, and during physical education classes they would run in circles and play kickball in an emptied out classroom. 

For years, Kristen’s mom did research online about how to get her daughter into a better school. When Kristen was in sixth grade, she received enough financial aid to attend the Dalton School. She moved from a public school in one of the most diverse areas of the country, where she remembers trying kimbap with Korean students and sharing empanadas with Colombian students during lunchtime, to an overwhelmingly white school on the Upper East Side. The change was a shock for her. She was one of few students who was of color or low income. 

“This is what politicized me,” Kristen says. “I would get on the train everyday and see the change. I would see a long line of immigrant workers waiting for their breakfast from the local Catholic charity on Roosevelt, and the first thing I would see when I would pop up on East 86th Street was a long line of businessmen in their suits and ties waiting for their Starbucks.”

Kristen had an affinity for social justice. She joined the school’s Democrat club and Model United Nations, but this wasn’t just an intellectual passion. Kristen was trying to make sense of her lived experience. Politics had an impact on her physical world. She could see everyday the stark divide in resources between Elmhurst and the Upper East Side. 

At Columbia, Kristen studied Political Science and Race and Ethnicity Studies. She was the president of the college Democrats, and worked in the city council as part of the young women’s initiative. There, she wrote policy recommendations for how the city could better serve transgender women and women of color. But by her junior year, Kristen was unsure about what she actually wanted to do. She wasn’t ready to make a commitment to work for the city council or in the nonprofit world, so she dropped out with no job and no plan. She wanted real world experience, and ended up getting an internship in the Obama administration, in the Office of Public Engagement. This was in the last year of Obama’s presidency, when pundits and establishment Democrats thought Hillary Clinton would win in a landslide.

The day after Trump won, Kristen and her colleagues were brought into a conference room with the department heads. Everyone looked sullen. “They were talking to us about not losing hope,” Kristen tells me. “They were surprised. They didn’t realize how racist this country was. They didn’t realize that Trump would win. But they also didn’t say what the problem was. At no point did they say that 50 percent of white women and 50 percent of white men voted for Trump.”

It was a turning point for Kristen. Because her job focused on Latino engagement, she had already had a hard time reconciling Obama’s record-breaking deportation of migrants with his historical legacy as the first black president. But in that moment, she saw the Democrats’ centrist politics as a damning weak spot. They couldn’t read the writing on the wall.

“I was already left, but it just pushed me further left,” she says. “I realized that I disagreed with so much. The administration was centrist, the entire Democratic party itself was highly centrist. When I came back from D.C. and I graduated, and started organizing, that’s when I joined DSA. That’s when AOC was actually running in my neighborhood.”

Kristen is a member of Queens DSA, but most of her work has involved city-wide projects. After college, she took a job with American Express as a product manager. She manages user experience, meaning she designs buttons, colors, and how you navigate through an app. She was elected by others in Queens DSA to serve as an Organizing Committee member (OC) in the Tech Action Working Group. 

The Organizing Committee is made up of one member per DSA branch. Kristen represents the Queens branch, and works with other OCs on city-wide campaigns. As part of Tech Action, Kristen has organized for data privacy on LinkNYC kiosks, the phone-charging stations that seem to be on every block in Manhattan. The kiosks are mostly run by Google and have very little government oversight when it comes to data collection. She has also campaigned for Internet for All, a DSA initiative that seeks to see public broadband in every nook and cranny of New York City.

Kristen says she never planned to run for public office. She’s an introvert, and subjecting herself to public scrutiny was never her dream. She was encouraged to run by members of the EWG who saw charisma and likability in her. Kristen fits perfectly into DSA’s electoral strategy. She grew up working class in Queens, speaks Spanish, and has been an activist. Kristen can speak to immigrant communities and understands where they’re coming from. She asks voters to trust her, not because she’s a socialist, but because she looks like them, and understands their needs.

It wasn’t clear in early 2022 what the newly drawn districts would look like, so Kristen’s campaign didn’t launch until February 2. This was just under five months before the June election. She’s running a compressed campaign. Not a marathon, but a sprint. Kristen was out on the street petitioning every single day in March. Because of the short campaign cycle, she opted not to spend money on a campaign office. Instead, she and her team meet in the evenings at someone’s apartment (either hers, or a volunteer’s), and strategize over coffee.

“I didn’t see myself running,” Kristen tells me. “But it became increasingly clear that even with the gains we’ve had – even with the new socialist electeds – there was still such a lack of leadership and accountability at the state level and the city level around things like having any preparation to defend our communities in a public health crisis. And we have a budget that just passed with pennies for climate, and the pennies that are there are for private companies. This seat is so incredibly urgent.”

Kristen’s received more than her share of negative attention. The New York Post ran a story in February that scrutinized Kristen’s employment at American Express. “The first declared candidate for one of New York’s proposed new state Senate districts is a socialist from Queens with a decidedly capitalist job,” it read. This implication that socialists should take some kind of vow of poverty, and not participate in the capitalist economy, is a classic attack. In reality, most Americans work for a capitalist enterprise. It’s hard not to when you have bills to pay. And like most who seek political office, Kristen’s been attacked on social media. So much so that she doesn’t manage her own social media accounts anymore.

“The heat that I’ve gotten, being called inexperienced, being called a know-nothing-20- something, a crazy socialist, all this stuff,” Kristen says, sighing. “Running for office is another system that wasn’t built for me. Similar to Dalton, similar to Columbia, similar to corporate, it makes me feel imposter syndrome. The advice I got from Zohran was there’s no such thing as a perfect candidate, there’s no such thing as a perfect person. I’m blowing up my life right now because I believe if we have more socialists in office we will see more wins, more change, more money in our communities. Because I believe that and because I want to build the movement up, it’s okay that I’m not perfect. It’s bigger than any one person.”