Internationalism Gone Local: The Ginger Jentzen Campaign Shows How Socialism Grows from the Bottom-Up

Bryant William Sculos I Politics & Government I Commentary I November 2nd, 2017

When Socialist Alternative member Kshama Sawant successfully ran and was elected to the Seattle City Council in 2013 (assuming office in 2014), she proved for the first time in a very long time that socialist politics, embodied and presented aggressively, openly, and strategically, can be viable in the United States. Since entering office, Sawant, as the only socialist on the council, has spear-headed a number of successful policy campaigns, including raising the city's minimum wage over several years to $15 an hour and reforming housing and rental policies in Seattle. Sawant has since been reelected and risen in national prominence. Her successes, supported by local, national, and international activists and organizers-combined with the massively popular Democratic Party primary campaign of Bernie Sanders in 2016-have led to a resurgent popularity of socialist ideals throughout the country, with those on left increasingly believing in the importance of building a political party to the left of the corporate Democratic Party.

The enthusiasm quickly spread to Minneapolis where another Socialist Alternative candidate for City Council is driving towards a possible upset election victory against a well-entrenched Democratic Party establishment. Ginger Jentzen's path to becoming one of the top candidates for the Ward 3 seat on the Minneapolis City Council is a bit different than Sawant's. Jentzen, before even considering running for office, led a massively successful uphill battle to convince the corporate-centrist Democrats on the City Council to support raising the minimum wage to $15 an hour (something that the current mayor, who ran on a progressive platform, wrongly claimed they did not have the power to do, in a failed effort to quell the 15NOW! movement in Minneapolis, which Ginger was the director of).

The Democrats on the council colluded with Republican judges to keep a $15 minimum wage referendum off the ballot in Nov. 2016. Despite the machinations of the Democrats and Republican parties in Minneapolis, the continued pressure from the 15NOW! campaign pushed most Democrats on the City Council to pivot earlier this year in support of the $15 an hour minimum wage demand, but still only with some concessions to the powerful local business interests .

Ginger Jentzen's campaign is built on this foundation laid by the grassroots activists primarily from Minneapolis, as well as around the country, to win this raise for the working people of her city. Jentzen is striving to bring her experience, passion, and political savvy with her into an elected spot on the City Council.

Ginger is fighting, and gaining a lot of political ground, for her platform centered on: housing affordability, community oversight of the police, increasing taxes on the wealthy, support for the LGBTQA+ and immigrant communities, and expanding support for public transit and education. The Democrats want nothing to do with these extremely popular positions-or rather, they are only interested in them so far as they can appropriate them for electoral victories only to abandon them without a second thought as they continue to cash checks from their corporate backers.

Jentzen has refused all corporate and anti- $15 minimum wage interest donations to her campaign. She is fighting against the establishment Democratic Farmer-Labor Party (the Minnesota iteration of the Democratic Party) candidates who continue to benefit from outside money from corporations and DNC affiliated PACs, groups that care nothing for the working people of Minneapolis. Jentzen has recently become the most successful fundraiser in the history of the Minneapolis City Council-almost all of that money coming from very small individual donations (which is now over $140,000 - a new record for a Minneapolis City Council race).

Ginger Jentzen's campaign has been endorsed by the Minnesota Nurses' Association, CWA Minnesota State Council, United Transportation Union Minnesota Legislative Board, Our Revolution-Twin Cities, Socialist Alternative, the International Socialist Organization, the Democratic Socialists of America, and last but not least, the long-time civil rights activist, world-renowned scholar and public intellectual, Dr. Cornel West.

While Jentzen's victory would still represent a tremendous upset, it is far from unlikely. She has the support of the working people and students in her ward. She has the potential to benefit from the ranked-choice voting procedure in Minneapolis (though her Democratic opponents are laughingly attempting to convince voters that this should benefit them). By allowing voters to choose their real first choice and not be brow-beaten into the continually failed strategy of lesser-evilism, Jentzen has more than a fighting chance.

This is how democracy and socialism, inextricably linked, are supposed to work. Democracy and socialism must be internationalist in its outlook and goals, but building support for the cause of all humanity (especially those long-oppressed and exploited peoples) is a process of persuasion and movement/organization-building that must occur at the local level in order to be successful. Kshama Sawant and Ginger Jentzen (regardless of the eventual electoral results) show why this is so. Local successes, in addition to improving the lives of people, breed confidence. They serve as models for others who may share political and economic solidarity with the socialist project but wrongly fear that those politics cannot be successful electorally in the United States-or that whatever successes achieved would remain local.

Kshama Sawant is a household name in progressive circles in the US, and even beyond. She has continued to live up to her promise to fight for the working people of Seattle while also contributing to the building of a national and international movement. Ginger Jentzen's campaign offer the same promises for success for the working people of Minneapolis, as well as the broader aims of continuing to strengthen the organized Left in the US and around the world. For Kshama and Ginger, a small part of this includes only taking a salary equivalent to that of a skilled worker in their constituencies and donating the rest to build social movements.

Forget Hillary Clinton. These are the real women leading the movements that could eventually break the highest class ceiling of all: the glass ceiling of exploitative, white supremacist, heteropatriarchal, imperial capitalism.

For more information about how you can help or support Ginger's campaign before election day (November 7), check out her campaign website.