On Tuesday, November 6, over 6.5% of Boston voters cast their ballots for Matt Geary, Socialist Alternative’s candidate. Matt was running for an at-large position on the City Council and all voters in Boston could vote for up to four candidates. Over 2% of all votes cast were for Matt, amounting to over 3,000 votes.

Socialist Alternative campaigned almost exclusively in working-class areas, and we got a much higher percentage of the vote in many areas where we had a presence. For instance, at the polling station near Matt’s apartment, in one of the most notoriously crime-ridden and poorest areas of Boston (Upham’s Corner), Matt got well over 20% of all votes cast. In the polling station near my apartment, in a multi-racial working-class area, Matt got over 10% of all votes cast.

This was not a typical election campaign. Matt Geary is only 22 years old, and Socialist Alternative used this election to explain its program rather than to gather votes.

We didn’t spend our time going around to “civic associations” of political junkies that organize their friends and families to vote for candidates based on arbitrary personality traits. We declined all invitations to attend meetings of Democratic Party hacks when they offered. Instead of taking shortcuts to votes, we focused on raising the banner of socialism and explaining our ideas.

When we decided to run a candidate for office (for the first time), we did so mainly to learn from the experience. We learned a lot, mostly from our mistakes, but also from our successes. The most fun part of our success was the candidates’ forums, in which we were given a ready-made audience to explain our ideas and expose the politicians. Matt did extremely well, and the Democratic Party politicians’ squirming was a priceless sight.

Campaigning on the streets, we learned a lot about Boston. We didn’t just learn about the electoral system; more importantly, we learned about the issues confronting communities. We found that housing was the key issue facing many communities. We also were brought closer to a community campaign fighting against Boston University’s attempt to put a very dangerous Level 4 bioterror lab in their community.

The most important aspect of the experience is the fact that many young activists got daily experience explaining the ideas of socialism to working-class people in an understandable way. In this way, the importance of the campaign will be seen for years to come.

What we found everywhere in Boston throughout this campaign is that working-class people are fed up. Angry at the lack of affordable housing, sick of the war in Iraq, fed up with the cost of living in the city, infuriated every time they see more condos being built, and tired of the stories every week about one young person killing another on our streets.

Unfortunately, this anger leads to mixed consequences. Anti-immigrant sentiment seems to have gathered some steam, with an outsider candidate running on an anti-immigrant platform getting 4,000 votes. This is an indication of the political polarization, both left and right, taking place in U.S. society. Socialists need to be bold about taking up this question, and we made immigrant rights one of our key issues despite the fact that undocumented immigrants can’t vote.

We distributed tens of thousands of leaflets and well over a thousand of our eight-page election-edition of the Boston Organizer, our local newsletter. Every single piece of material, including our 100 huge red signs, prominently placed the logo of Socialist Alternative. Quite literally, we raised the banner of socialism to more people in Boston than it has been for a long time.

Many people were very impressed with the seriousness of our election campaign, and we have gotten many people interested in joining Socialist Alternative through this work. As the war in Iraq drags on, as the housing situation deteriorates, and as the attacks on working people intensify, struggle is likely to pick up in the U.S.

When this fight intensifies, new activists will look for alternatives on the political and electoral plane. Socialist Alternative does not wish to just stand aside and comment on this process. We want local and state lists of candidates, independent of the two parties, that fight against the rising rents, home foreclosures, and other attacks on our standard of living.

We would contribute to the political struggle for working-class representation whether the broad candidates’ list was explicitly socialist or not. With our experience in Boston, we are now better positioned to intervene in this type of development in a serious way.

In this way, even if only on a very small scale, Socialist Alternative’s campaign in Boston served many purposes. The campaign raised the basic ideas and program of socialism; it was a campaign that consciously built a revolutionary organization; it helped to educate a layer of young working-class activists; and it was a tiny but important step towards working-class political representation.

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