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Current Affairs - July 13, 2021

On a warm afternoon in late May, Charlotte Kelly spoke to a half-dozen volunteers ready to knock doors for her City Council of Somerville campaign. A densely-packed city of 80,000 nestled within Boston’s patchwork suburbia, bounded to the south by Cambridge (of Harvard and MIT) and to the north by Medford (of Tufts), Somerville has found itself host to an intense summer-long political battle for municipal government. With months to go before this relatively minor primary (in September), Kelly’s campaign already runs canvasses almost daily, and Tuesday isn’t even the busiest weekday, she told me. 

When a short orientation wandered into a discussion of bike lanes, Kelly herself cut in: “This neighborhood in particular, Washington Street, got two bike lanes added, and Beacon Street has bike lanes added, and so some residents lost parking. For me, I talk about comprehensive road safety, for bikers, walkers, drivers, etc.” As Kelly continued, volunteers nodded. “And how we can’t build bike lanes in a piecemeal fashion, which means that a biker or a driver goes from one situation to another very quickly and they don’t know what’s going on. So talk about things like holistic changes to the road, making sure that we are building universal systems for biking and transit traffic.”

Kelly is one of seven candidates running for Somerville City Council who has been endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA). This slate of campaigns is bound not just by the idea of winning socialism in a general sense, but specific, concrete reforms to pave the way. To get there, the candidates demonstrate intricate knowledge of policy battles and embed themselves in community organizing, but it’s more than that, too: their proposals for the future drill down to the details. According to Spencer Brown, co-chair of Boston DSA, the election centers on three issues of daily life—affordable housing, climate change, and public safety—and in addressing those issues the DSA-endorsed candidates move seamlessly from broad-stroke abstractions to net zero stretch code and idling police cruisers. The slate in Somerville has the potential to translate the grand aim of socialism into the minutiae of city politics.

Besides the mayor, Somerville’s municipal government includes an 11-seat city council, with four at-large and seven district seats. Two of the incumbent district councilors are also endorsed DSA members: J. T. Scott in Ward 2 and Ben Ewen-Campen in Ward 3. Beyond the incumbents, the socialist slate features five candidates running in open races, including three for the four at-large seats—Charlotte Kelly, Eve Seitchik, and Willie Burnley Jr.—and two more for district seats—Tessa Bridge for Ward 5 and Becca Miller for Ward 7. According to a spreadsheet by Calla Walsh, data from the Massachusetts Office of Campaign and Political Finance shows that, as of the end of June, all seven DSA district candidates lead their races in fundraising (though Miller leads what may be the tightest district race by less than $2,000).

But it’s important to consider the slate collectively, Boston DSA co-chair Brown said. For some, the decision to run itself was collective and contingent on others’ running, but also prompted by the disappointments of the current Council’s governance. On paper, the Council looks like a fairly left-leaning legislative body. Besides the two socialist incumbents, a clear majority identify as “progressive.” Back in 2017, coming off of Bernie’s first run, Our Revolution secured a wave of victories in the city. But amid the uprising against police brutality sparked by the state murder of George Floyd, the Council failed to implement a full 10 percent cut to police spending, a decision some candidates cite as something a socialist-majority Council would have done differently.

When over a thousand people gathered in Boston to counter-protest a white supremacist “Straight Pride Parade” in August 2019, they were violently attacked by Boston-area police, including Somerville PD. Seitchik, one of the at-large candidates—and a data scientist by trade—was there with trans and queer protestors alongside straight and cis allies, and “saw people in Somerville police jackets tackle and arbitrarily arrest my friends… You know when I walk past the Somerville police officer[s], I see them tackling my trans comrades.” ...
See full report at Current Affairs