By Aron Solomon
On Tuesday, June 22nd, India Walton won the Democratic primary, defeating incumbent Buffalo Mayor Byron Brown. In what many have described as the greatest upset in Buffalo political history, Walton is now on track to be sworn in as mayor in January.
What Walton told The Buffalo News this week would apply equally well to many cities across the nation that have experienced decades of tough times but now have at least the beginning of an economic recovery for some of the people who live there.
“It’s been 16 years, and though we’ve seen progress in certain areas, there are a lot of people, the majority of us have not enjoyed in what is being called ‘the renaissance,'” Walton said. “I think that now is a time where people are standing up and saying that we’re not going to take this lying down. The status quo is not enough and people just want change.”
That Walton is a socialist simply detracts from the story. When asked by the Buffalo News if she was actually a socialist, she replied:
“Oh, absolutely! The entire intent of this campaign is to draw down power and resources to the ground level into the hands of the people.”
Yet this story is infinitely larger than Buffalo. Walton matters on a national scale because the fissure in the Democratic Party in the United States is irreparable. It simply needs to be pulled apart once and for all by the dynamic tension between people such as Walton and AOC pulling one way and people like Joe Manchin pulling the other.
The likely end result won’t be the third party that would surely sink Democrats for a generation, but a renewed, vital, Democratic Party that is more activist. Would this party lose voters? Yes but it would be a net gain because voters who are left of the political center in the United States have shown over the past year that they are willing and able to act, not just complain.
But what would a socialist mayor of Buffalo stand for? What does this philosophy speak to today?
In essence, it’s an effort to combine democracy with government control of major sectors of the economy, all in an effort to redistribute wealth and eradicate poverty. The Democratic Socialists of America – who endorsed Walton’s upstart campaign – spells out its vision on its website.
“We want to collectively own the key economic drivers that dominate our lives, such as energy production and transportation,” the group says. “We want the multiracial working class united in solidarity instead of divided by fear. We want to win ‘radical’ reforms like single-payer Medicare for All, defunding the police/refunding communities, the Green New Deal, and more as a transition to a freer, more just life.”
A recent article in The New Republic perfectly frames the conditions of Walton’s ascent:
In Buffalo, Walton is one of a few newcomers to local politics who came out of last year’s uprisings after the death of George Floyd. Dominique Calhoun led a police accountability protest we attended and is running for County Council. Myles Carter was tackled by Buffalo P.D. while giving a live television interview at a protest; he’s now running for sheriff (a tremendously long-shot campaign, as Buffalo is a blue dot in a very red county that is unlikely to respond well to the “defund” message). There are candidates like them around the country, and the challenges they face are not unusual—popular policy proposals but low name recognition, coupled with attacks not just from Republicans but from the right within their party that sees any anti-capitalist insurgence as an existential threat.
So as move in the diffraction of January and then slouch towards the 2022 midterm elections, the emergent theme today and over the next few months isn’t going to be the setting-somewhat-stale “Buffalo’s Renaissance,” but rather a version of Buffalo deserving (and perhaps under Walton actually receiving) better than what it has traditionally been given. For those who love or live in Buffalo, this will be such a welcome fresh start.