SP-USA members from around the country submitted questions to Brooke Shannon who compiled them into one town hall interview. Angela Nicole Walker provided answers in November 2015; in between national days of action, doing lots of great work, and all around hustling for justice in Milwaukee, WI.
What was it that moved you to become an activist? That is, was there was one specific event or moment where you realized something was really wrong with the world and that you needed to work to change it? – Stephanie Cholensky from Chapel Hill, North Carolina
Angela: I’ve felt that things needed to be changed since I was a teenager, but the thing that actually got me out into the streets for the first time was the year 2000 presidential election. I voted in Florida, where then-governor Jeb Bush gave the state to his brother. The misconduct with the ballots was so epic and so disrespectful that when a trip to Tallahassee to protest and demand a ballot recount was announced, I made sure I went. It was a huge experience for me. Huge.
How/when did you come to socialism and/or the SP-USA? — Paul Garner and Ace Madjlesi from Memphis, TN
Angela: I would say that I’ve been a socialist most of my life. I believe that the things that are best for people should be embedded in the infrastructure of this country, like public schools, public transportation, state parks, city parks, public hospitals, and the like. I’ve never been comfortable with the idea that folks have to compete to get ahead, or that you need to beat out the next person for resources. Socialism appealed to me as a young person, even before I knew what it was, because it ensures that everyone involved is taken care of, and that the goods and services produced by the people are things that benefit the people. I loved that idea then, and I love it now. We can ALL be all right.
How do you plan to bring democratic socialist ideas to the public with “common,” or non-movement jargon-y, language? With that, what strategies do you have to present these ideas as common sense solutions instead of abstract ideas? — Greg Pason from Montclair, NJ
Angela: I think that part of the reason a lot of folks in the neighborhoods are able to be frightened away from socialism by the media and politicians is the fact that no one is speaking to them about it in plain terms. One of the greatest strengths of the Black Panther Party was its ability to remove the jargon and speak to the people in a way that made them receptive to the ideas being shared. I believe in making things plain when talking to people, and illustrating how a lot of socialist concepts are already working in their lives, and how more will benefit them. Folks might not understand all of the minutiae behind the idea of national health care, but they definitely understand needing and deserving the same quality of health they pay for as politicians, and that their care should be free. They understand the concept of working in an environment where the workers are all owners of their workplace, and making things that help make where they live better; they get that.
Where would you draw the line between building a mass movement of like-minded socialists and aligning yourself with people with whom you might not agree? — Jeremy Craig from Colorado Springs, CO
Angela: I think there are points where folks need to compromise, and I also believe that there are places where no compromise is acceptable. I understand that there are many on the Left who won’t agree with me on my support of the Black Lives Matter movement, but I will not change my stance on that. I don’t believe you can play politics while people are being systematically murdered in our streets. I don’t believe there is any room for compromise when folks who are most in need are being denied a living wage for their work, or when women are denied the respect of the sovereignty of their own bodies. Denial of the effects of climate change on our planet is not negotiable. It is what it is. One of the reasons I decided to align myself with the SP-USA is that I can fully support the party’s platform, and I don’t have to be apologetic about doing so. I don’t have to play the politics game, because folks know where I’m coming from and expect me to take the stances that I take. I can say what needs to be said.
If elected, how would you navigate the pitfalls of dealing with a Congress not made up of SP-USA? — Jesse Morgan from St. Louis, MO
Angela: I really think it would be very difficult, to be honest. I believe that any policies put forth by Mimi and I would be blocked by opportunists and corporatists at every turn. I think we’d end up being more reliant on the people in the states to help move policies than the folks in Congress, if recent trends are any indication of what’s ahead. That said, I would stick with the facts of each policy, why it’s relevant to the folks who elected us into office, and I’ll be vocal about why cooperation is so necessary. I’ll push, no matter what, and I don’t have any illusions about how Mimi and I would be treated by Congress.
As a public figure who is also a socialist woman of color, how do you stay safe? By “stay safe,” I mean that when I think of running for office, I get nervous because people will come for women in a way that they don’t for men. Double true for women of color. Triple true for socialist women of color! — Ace Madjlesi from Memphis, TN
Angela: I expect folks to target me. I’m a member of the least protected, least respected segment of this society, and as such, there are plenty of people, including folks who should be allies, who will disregard what I have to say. I know that going in, so I’m not worried about it. There is nothing about me that anyone can truthfully say that I haven’t already said myself. The sheriff race inoculated me, so at this point I don’t worry about the folks who have disparaging things to say.
What strategy would you take to develop socialist leadership among people of color? – Keon Liberato from Philadelphia, PA
Angela: Educate them. People of color have long had a presence in socialism, and I believe that we haven’t been educated on that history. I would like (and am planning to do this here in Milwaukee) to have community education sessions where the role of socialists in the struggles for Black Liberation, Brown Liberation, Civil Rights, Women’s Rights, LGBTQ+ Rights and Labor are highlighted. People don’t know what we’ve accomplished, and no one is telling them. It’s a great time to reopen that conversation, get people involved and educated, and get them moving on the advance of socialism in neighborhoods across the country. Whether it’s activating parents to stand up for their public schools and take over the control of their districts or getting youth to organize for the protection and expansion of public transit with the eventual goal of making it a free service for all; people have to be reminded that they have power, and given opportunities to exercise it.
What needs to be done to save and improve the public school system? — Travis Dicken from Ligonier, Pennsylvania
Angela: Parents, students, elected school board officials (if they’re doing what’s in the best interest of the district), educators and community members should be the ones running their school districts. A large majority of people don’t know what’s happening with school privatization; that it has a history and that it is intentional and completely money-motivated. So educating parents, educators, students, community members and organizations, and also politicians is the place to start. Once people know what’s happening and who is involved, they can create strategies and decide on tactics to save and reimagine their school districts. One model that we are moving is the community schools model, where public schools are integrated into the communities they serve. They can be accessed by the folks who live and work there, and the services they offer reflect the needs indicated by the community. We as people across the country need to also reopen the discussion of what public education is, what it means to be educated, and what resources our schools need to be successful; all the while pushing back corporate efforts to privatize our public schools.
After running for Milwaukee County Sheriff in 2014 as an independent socialist and saying afterwards that it would be your last electoral campaign, what made you decide to run for Vice President with Mimi Soltysik and the Socialist Party? — Pat Noble from Red Hook, NJ
Angela: The campaign goals and vision Mimi outlined to me were so impressive that I couldn’t refuse. The SP-USA principles align with the goals of the sheriff campaign I ran in 2014, and I think that socialists would be remiss if we sat out the 2016 election cycle, which seems to me to be wide open for us. People are ready to hear what we have to say, and to be presented with a vision they can carry out themselves. We can help with this. And also, this is a perfect time to reshape the dialogue about socialism, and frame it in a way people can appreciate and understand.