Published on April 7th, 2014 | by Jen McClellan0
Interview with Mimi Soltysik
JEN MCCLELLAN: Mimi Soltysik, you’re running openly as a socialist for State Assembly for the 62nd District of Los Angeles. Why you?
MIMI SOLTYSIK: When we decided locally to do something like this, the “me” part was secondary to the idea. We collectively made a decision that we wanted to try to run an electoral campaign, understanding that we might have some challenges in terms of capacity, but also feeling like it would be worthwhile in the context of our capability. I felt comfortable with filing the paperwork and having my name appear on the ballot. However, the way that we’ve been approaching the whole campaign is to use it as more of a vehicle for members of the local to express ideas, to engage with members of the community, to have a dialogue, and to establish more relationships. So the “me” is not really important to me.
JEN MCCLELLAN: What is your definition of socialism?
MIMI SOLTYSIK: I’m pretty comfortable with using the Socialist Party USA’s explanation on the party’s statement of principles …
“Socialism is not mere government ownership, a welfare state, or a repressive bureaucracy. Socialism is a new social and economic order in which workers and consumers control production and community residents control their neighborhoods, homes, and schools. The production of society is used for the benefit of all humanity, not for the private profit of a few. Socialism produces a constantly renewed future by not plundering the resources of the earth.”
… and when this question comes up I’ll frequently refer back to that and encourage others to take a peek. It does a really good job of humanizing what at times can sound mechanical or perhaps sterile, in my opinion.
JEN MCCLELLAN: What does it mean to be running as a socialist? (What do you hope to accomplish?)
MIMI SOLTYSIK: Initially we (as in the L.A. Local and the Ventura Local folks that frequently participate in the L.A. Local affairs) wanted to use the campaign as another way to talk to the community about democratic socialism. We’re using the campaign to bring new members into the local and to help with local projects. We initially had to consider “can we even get on the ballot?” And now that we’re on the ballot, it gives us another round of opportunities to get down with the community about democratic socialism, to hear from them about what they face, what their feelings are about their working conditions, education, the environment, and things like that. It has enabled us to broaden a dialog with the community, and we are learning a lot.
JEN MCCLELLAN: Have you ever done anything like this before?
MIMI SOLTYSIK: I worked with the Socialist Party’s presidential campaign in 2012 but I wasn’t the candidate. That experience was more about looking at things on a macro level because that was a national campaign. This feels a bit more intimate because the people that we have these discussions with, engage with, and establish these relationships with, tend to be neighbors; so it is a bit different.
JEN MCCLELLAN: So this campaign is more about the experience and less focused on winning?
MIMI SOLTYSIK: We’re just trying to add another contribution toward the advance of the socialist movement. We try to use every tool we can to do that, and that can include an electoral campaign. We understand that we’re not going to fight toe-to-toe with our big-moneyed Democratic Party and GOP challengers who are going to outspend us 200 to 1. We may use some more unorthodox tactics, perhaps guerrilla tactics to narrow the gap. We are certainly being realistic about what we’re up against and who the challengers are. I was really inspired by Pat Noble’s campaign in 2012, and at the end of the day, if we can learn some new things locally, and develop closer relationships with the community, that’s fantastic!
JEN MCCLELLAN: I’ve noticed since I have begun telling people (co-workers, professors, fellow students, members of other leftist groups) the SPUSA is running a candidate it seems they’ve begun taking us more seriously. Why do you think that is?
MIMI SOLTYSIK: So many people have a familiarity with the electoral process, and this is another reason we chose to run an electoral campaign. This is a language that is widely understood, in my opinion. So part of it is involving ourselves in a relationship that people are already comfortable and familiar with. Flatly rejecting electoral politics is, to me, somewhat like saying, “I don’t care about going to where people are at.” It would be like choosing to pull yourself out of touch with what people know. So it makes sense to me that people would take socialism or the SPUSA more seriously when we talk about something they’re more familiar with. There’s a built in dialogue because they understand the language of an election.
JEN MCCLELLAN: Mimi, who is your favorite musical artist, what is your favorite food, and what is most memorable quote by author, political radical, etc.?
MIMI SOLTYSIK: Favorite musical artist – this is going to sound like a cop out – I’d say I have two. One is Led Zepplin, because Led Zepplin sounds just like magic. They mix danger, beauty, sexy and mystical in an insanely catchy package. If “cool” had a sound, to me it would be Led Zepplin. I would also say Ween because what Ween is, and what they’ve done throughout their career, is sort of bigger than life. It’s terribly funny, it’s terribly sarcastic, and at the same time it’s very beautiful and poetic. It’s textured. It’s deep. Again, it’s got this magical quality to it.
JEN MCCLELLAN: Food.
MIMI SOLTYSIK: Oh! I love pizza. Uh, I can’t get enough, as you can probably tell.
JEN MCCLELLAN: And then favorite quote:
MIMI SOLTYSIK: “Our words are weapons, and we may need our arsenal at any moment.” I actually have this tattooed on my arm. That was Subcomandante Marcos, who I have a lot of respect for.
JEN MCCLELLAN: Okay, so if this is a people’s campaign, if you running means I’m running, but I prefer Radiohead, raw sugar, and the quote by Victor Hugo, “He who opens a school door, closes a prison.” How are we to reconcile our opposing favoritisms? (How can we all run if we all like different things?)
MIMI SOLTYSIK: I don’t see what you just said – Radiohead, Victor Hugo, and raw sugar as being an opposing view. I appreciate that you dig Radiohead, Victor Hugo, and raw sugar. I enjoy you as a person so I can celebrate the things that you enjoy. I don’t see them as being confrontational. I have respect for you, I have love for you, and that this as an opportunity for you to voice yourself is, to me, golden.
JEN MCCLELLAN: Socialism is multi-tendency, which means it includes anarchists, for example. Typically anarchists refuse to use the ballot box as a means of struggle. Say I’m an anarchist — why would I want to support your campaign?
MIMI SOLTYSIK: Well, the Socialist Party USA is multi-tendency. This is a good question because I think there are certainly folks who think that anything involving the ballot box is a waste of time — perhaps somehow it’s not revolutionary. But if the question is, “why would an anarchist want to support this particular campaign?” I don’t know that they would. I certainly wouldn’t want them to do anything that they wouldn’t want to do. However, I do know some anarchists who do see value in electoral work. Anybody who wants to support the campaign – that’s fantastic, but if they don’t want to, that’s fine as well.
JEN MCCLELLAN: The Socialist Party’s platform calls for some pretty radical adjustments to our country’s current state of affairs. Some controversial aims include the abolition of the CIA, the NSA, and all other institutions of covert warfare, the decriminalization of prostitution so that all sex workers are guaranteed a full range of health, social, and legal services, as well as working conditions free from harassment, violence, and exploitation. These kinds of things seem like a faraway mirage-like vision. How could anyone, especially someone of the working class who spends a majority of their day working, hope to realistically accomplish these goals?
MIMI SOLTYSIK: Working as part of a local community effort is one way that we can break these things down into an organization framework where advances can be made, in my opinion. They might seem, as a whole, to be so daunting that barring some sort of revolution they can seem, I think you said, “mirage-like.” However, when we work at things at the local level, when we work in smaller working groups, we can start to make real advancement on the road to the broader goals, I think. Each local effort, no matter the size, is a piece of the puzzle. The Socialist Party USA chartered locals in St. Louis, MO and Marquette, MI this past week. Two more pieces of the puzzle.
JEN MCCLELLAN: I am learning and experiencing the importance of unions as a means to unify workers or students across the divisions created by corporations (where people might only be there temporarily or are only being taught a specific skill or trade). Are efforts people could put into organizing their individual work settings now being spread out to include this effort to organize members of the community of the 62nd district of Los Angeles?
MIMI SOLTYSIK: I certainly don’t see that because the people that are working directly with the campaign, to my knowledge, aren’t union workers, and I don’t think it’s detracting from their union work. Folks working on the campaign are pretty hip to the idea of focusing on labor, and will likely be getting involved in more labor-orientated issues, but I don’t see that (in terms of time) the two are really at odds with another at this point.
JEN MCCLELLAN: Where are you at in the election process?
MIMI SOLTYSIK: Well we have about two months until the primary. The Secretary of State has certified us, we’ll be on the primary ballot, and right now we are just canvassing, phone banking, doing mass emails, and having face to face discussions. We’ve gotten some endorsements that we’re pretty psyched about, and we just accepted an invitation to appear on a UCLA/Loyola Marymount candidates forum. I think we’re going to be shooting some videos as well.
JEN MCCLELLAN: Do you have any idea about how many people you’ve reached versus how many people you could potentially reach?
MIMI SOLTYSIK: We’re just scratching the surface. We still have a lot of work to do and we are learning as we go. Our intent is serious, and like I said we’re not running to lose. We are definitely trying to run a winning campaign. We’re going to be creative with how we do it. We’re realizing what our limitations are as a campaign (financially). And we’re having a lot of fun doing it!
JEN MCCLELLAN: What is the next step?
MIMI SOLTYSIK: Fundraising is going to help with what we are going to even be able to consider so probably funneling more effort into fundraising, getting more volunteers for the boots on the ground canvassing, and that sort of thing.
JEN MCCLELLAN: Where can I find out more about the SP, your campaign, or how to contribute?
MIMI SOLTYSIK: The SP has its national website at: http://www.sp-usa.org/
The campaign has a website: http://mimiforstateassembly.wordpress.com/
The campaign has a Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/RadandRedinLA