With election season coming up, we’re re-launching our Working People series “Working-Class Politics,” where we talk to working-class people running for elected office at all levels—in their unions, in local, state, and national government, etc.—as well as candidates fighting with and for the working class. In the latest installment of this ongoing series, we talk to Paul Prescod (aka “Labor Paul”), a socialist, high school teacher, and member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers. Listeners may know Prescod as the co-host of The Jacobin Show, but he is now running for Pennsylvania State Senate in its 8th district, pledging to make organizing around working-class issues and legislating universal programs his top priorities. We talk to Prescod about the importance of building working-class coalitions, earning the trust of organized labor, and what it will take to serve the needs of working people in his district.
Additional links/info below…
- Paul’s campaign website, Facebook page, and Twitter page
- Paul’s Jacobin author page
- Peter Lucas, Jacobin, “Teacher and Pennsylvania State Senate Candidate Paul Prescod: “The Rich Need to Start Paying”“
- Paul Prescod, The Real News Network, “The industrial working class is not dead”
Featured Music (all songs sourced from the Free Music Archive at freemusicarchive.org):
Jules Taylor, “Working People Theme Song”
Maximillian Alvarez: Hey, guys. It’s me again, your intrepid Working People host Maximillian Alvarez, with another quick update before today’s episode. If you listened to our episode earlier this week, then you heard my announcement that we here at Working People are teaming up with our dear friend and host of the show Morning Riot, Mel Buer, to put on a six-hour livestream fundraiser for the 1,400 workers who have been on strike at cereal giant Kellogg’s since October 5th. That livestream is happening this Friday, Dec. 17 from 6:00 PM to midnight Eastern Standard Time, streaming on the Working People YouTube channel. If you check out the show notes for this episode, we have a link to the Working People YouTube channel. We also have a link to the GoFundMe fundraiser page that we set up.
A reminder, as I mentioned in my little introduction in the episode earlier this week, Mel and I have been working with the four locals of the Bakery, Confectionery, Tobacco Workers and Grain Millers’ International Union, or the BCTGM, which represents these striking workers at Kellogg’s plants in Omaha, Nebraska; Battle Creek, Michigan; Lancaster, Pennsylvania; and Memphis, Tennessee. All of the funds that we raise, 100% of them, through that GoFundMe campaign will be divided up equally and sent to the four different strike funds for those different BCTGM locals.
Now, we’ve been planning this livestream. We’ve got a lot of great guests coming on including representatives from those local unions. We’ve also got some surprise guests that you’re just going to have to watch to find out about. But we’ve also got some amazing guests that we have let the public know about, including Marianne Williamson, including Alex Winter, including perhaps special guest messages from Krystal Ball, and we may also be hearing from other workers, like at the Warrior Met Coal strike, the Columbia strike. So it’s going to be a great, solidarity-filled six hours, and it’s for a really important cause, so please, please, please join us on the livestream at 6:00 PM this Friday, Dec. 17. We’ll be going until midnight.
We, again, are trying to raise money for these brave workers and their families, and as I was saying, we’ve been planning this. We’ve got a great slate of folks coming on the stream. We’re going to have a lot of great conversations about the strike, about the labor movement, about what folks around the country and beyond can do to support the working class. But this week has also been a little nuts, because after we announced the livestream, Bernie Sanders – Shout-out to Bernie – Announced that he was going to be doing a rally this Friday as well at the Battle Creek, Michigan, location, which is awesome. And we also learned one day before the livestream was going to go on, that there is a new tentative agreement that has been reached between the union negotiators and Kellogg’s. We wanted to assure everyone that we are still pressing on with the livestream because we are going to learn the details about this tentative agreement. We don’t know what the results will be when the union membership votes on it, but we will know that by early next week.
But the fact of the matter is that these workers have been on strike since Oct. 5. They’ve been on meager strike wages for that time. The holidays are coming up, and again, the strike may continue. We don’t know. We’ll hope for the best and we will keep y’all posted with any developments that we hear about on the livestream and afterwards. But these workers still need help, they still need our support, and we can still use this livestream to raise awareness about their struggle, to raise funds for them and their families, and to also, yeah, bring on other folks who are fighting the good fight around the country, help build cross-class solidarity, solidarity between workers in different sectors of the workforce, and between all of us who will be watching, and who are paying attention.
I just wanted to let y’all know that the livestream is happening. One more time, that is this Friday, Dec. 17, from 6:00 PM to midnight, streaming on the Working People YouTube channel. Please hang out with us during the livestream. Help us spread the word, share it on social media. But if you can’t join us, then again, the GoFundMe link for the fundraiser is in the show notes to this episode. Please donate what you can. Spread it around. Ask others to donate. Thank y’all so much for all your love and support. Alright, now onto today’s episode, and I will see y’all on the livestream.
Paul Prescod: My name is Paul Prescod. I’m a candidate running for Pennsylvania State Senate in Pennsylvania’s 8th District, encompassing parts of West Philadelphia and Delaware County. Before this, I was a public school teacher, proud member of the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, general labor activist, Labor Paul, Jacobin contributor, all that stuff.
Maximillian Alvarez: Alright, well welcome everyone to another episode of Working People, a podcast about the lives, jobs, dreams, and struggles of the working class today. Brought to you in partnership with In These Times Magazine and The Real News Network, produced by Jules Taylor, and supported entirely by listeners like you. As y’all heard, we’ve got a special guest on the show today that I’m sure many of y’all are already familiar with, the great Paul Prescod. Folks who listen to this show probably know Paul, AKA Labor Paul, from the Jacobin Show, which is excellent.
I had the honor of joining Paul and Jen on the Jacobin Show a couple months ago. We did a kind of deep dive on labor history and the state of the labor movement and the working class. They do really incredible work over there, and Paul’s been really a vocal advocate for working people for a long time both as a rank-and-file worker, as an organizer, as someone involved in media, and now he is taking the fight to the electoral realm, as you heard. We’re going to link to this great interview that Paul did with Peter Lucas at Jacobin in the show notes, but just to introduce today’s conversation, I’m going to read the little opening passage here.
I guess it goes without saying, but this is actually going to be a mini-cast that re-ups our lapsed Working People series called Working Class Politics. Folks may remember, I think it was last season, we did a couple of these episodes. We did one with members of a labor slate running for local government out in California. We talked to Phara Souffrant in New York about her campaign. And this was meant to be a series where we talk about the importance of people from working-class backgrounds getting involved in electoral politics at any level, state, municipal, in their unions, and on school boards, and so on and so forth. We talk about the barriers that are put in place to working-class people getting involved in politics. We talk about what politics that is committed to serving working people and the working class, what that looks like at the state, municipal, and all other levels.
We’re really excited to get this series rolling again – And we’ll probably do more as we head into the next election cycle – But we’re excited to kick things off with the series once again with Paul here. And as I mentioned, I’m going to read just this opening salvo from Paul’s interview with Peter Lucas at Jacobin to give you guys a little introduction here. Peter writes, “Paul Prescod should be a familiar name to Jacobin readers. He’s the cohost of our YouTube show and a regular contributor to the magazine. As a rank-and-file teacher, Prescod has been an activist in the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and he’s running for Pennsylvania State Senate in its 8th District, pledging to make organizing around working-class issues and legislating universal programs his top priorities. Prescod’s campaign is in its early stages, but he has already earned endorsements from Teamsters Local 623, Teamsters Brotherhood of Maintenance Way Employees, AFT Local 2026, Temple Association of University Professionals, and the Philadelphia Democratic Socialists of America.” End quote.
Paul, I guess with that sort of greasing the wheels here, normally I would have you on the show to dig into the standard fare that we talk about on the show, but I’m excited to turn the mic around and get to know a little more about you and your campaign. Why don’t we start there? I guess, again, for folks who know you as Labor Paul, folks who know you through Jacobin but are maybe now just getting a deeper understanding of who Paul Prescod is and where your politics come from, why don’t we talk a little bit about that? Who is Paul Prescod, and why is he running for office?
Paul Prescod: Yeah, well thanks again so much for having me. It’s funny, I feel like I have kinship with Bernie Sanders in that I naturally rarely talk that much about my personal life, but there’s definitely a connection there between that and what I’m doing now. I guess to go way back, and since Barbados was recently in the news with the official removal of the queen, my father is from Barbados. He immigrated to this country in the mid-1970s, and I mention that because he is also a public school teacher, actually just recently retired, congrats Dad on that. But during his summer breaks, I used to go with him and live in Barbados for two or three months out of the year with family that is still over there. Some of them were very active in the Barbados Labour Party. They’re lucky. They actually have two labor parties, unlike our zero.
So I was heavily influenced by them politically, even before I knew it. As a kid, I didn’t necessarily think I’d be getting this involved in politics, but some of them have been trading and active in the Labour Party, so that really just set the framing for me going forward before I even knew it. But when I really got involved was my freshman year at Temple University, which is a college in North Philadelphia. I count myself lucky because that year, there’s a hospital attached to Temple called Temple Hospital. The nurses went on strike. And I, by chance, got involved in a student solidarity committee organization with the nurses. Going back to that year, this was 2010, right after the recession, and that year actually was a record low number of strikes in the country. I forget the number, but a very small amount of strikes, and this happened to be one of them I got involved with.
It was very inspiring. I didn’t envision at the beginning getting so passionate about it, and I think what really hit me about it was that as I began to realize, as I talked to nurses who were involved, it was like they were actually striking mostly for patient safety, not just their own pay and benefits. They were striking for safe staffing ratios in the hospitals, for the right to speak up against unsafe conditions in the hospital, and so it was a very successful strike. There was a really great community support component to it. And it was good timing as well, because I had been starting to read about left politics and all these sorts of things, and this was a great, concrete example. This is what you can do. This is how working people can actually stand up to corporate power and win.
From that moment on, I was totally sold on the labor movement. Especially, I wanted to get involved, so my days as a student were spent in solidarity with the labor movement. It gave me a great opportunity to get to know unions in the area, get to know what it was all about, get to harden my skills as an organizer, and I went from there. I started teaching in Philadelphia’s public schools in 2015, became very active in my own union, the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, and this campaign is about many issues, but education, of course, is very dear to my heart as a teacher. There’s also, I think, just no greater example of the impact of austerity and disinvestment than what’s going on in our schools. Not just in Philadelphia, I mean, honestly, many parts of the state and of course many parts of the country.
I truly feel that if we keep going down this path, in the next 15, maybe 20 years, we’ll be looking at a totally privatized school district in Philadelphia. It’s happened in New Orleans. After Katrina, they took that opportunity to totally privatize the district. So I think we’re one or two crises away from that happening in Philadelphia. It’s common to have schools that are literally falling apart. I mean, we’ve had cases where roofs have been caving in, school buildings that held mold, lead, and asbestos, schools that don’t have full-time nurses, and kids have actually died during the school day in the last decade because of that.
So there really is no overstating the crisis in education. And again, going back to this method of disinvestment from our communities and from the public sector, and this continued concentration of wealth at the very top, and I think what we’re seeing in education is really, we’re seeing everywhere, whether it’s our infrastructure, our healthcare system, our housing. It really comes back to that disinvestment. And this campaign, if I really had to sum it up, is about public investment, reinvigorating the public sector, and really investing in our communities again.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, I remember having a similar conversation with Terrill Haigler, the Ya Fav Trashman over there in Philly –
Paul Prescod: Oh yeah, that’s right. Yeah, yeah, yeah.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, and we talked a little bit about this. He has a really, I think, beautiful philosophy on how you clean up your neighborhood street by street. Next, you take on the city, and then the state, and then the world. It’s like this grab a broom or grab a shovel sort of mentality for folks at the grassroots level, to really do what we’ve seen standard politicians won’t. Which is to take care of us, provide the services and investments that our communities need to thrive, instead channeling all of that into this machine that further empowers and increases the wealth of the people at the top.
I wanted to sort of build on what you were saying there and ask more about the campaign itself and your trajectory. How you basically got to this decision to run for office, and how your experience in the city, in the labor movement, shaped the campaign and what the campaign is about. I feel like this is a really interesting moment, where after, I think 2016, a lot of us on the left or newly on the left started looking for ways that we could channel the energy that folks were channeling into the Bernie Sanders campaign, how we kept that fire burning, how we didn’t just collapse into despair and just go back to relying on the standard politics that have put us in the position that we’re in now.
I feel like there are a number of different fronts that that’s happened on. Like you and Jen, there was a lot that I found in media that I thought could help to popularize these political messages, to lift up the voices and struggles of working people, which y’all have been doing a great job of over at Jacobin. But I know other folks have channeled that energy into the labor movement. Right now, there are a lot of folks after the… We’re talking a day after the first corporate-owned Starbucks store in the United States unionized over there in Buffalo, which is awesome, and now you’ve got a lot of progressives saying like, all right, we all need to go work at Starbucks or Amazon. We’ve got to keep this unionization push going.
Anyway, the point being is that there are a lot of different ways that I think people have found to channel that energy, not just in posting online and stuff like that, which is really exciting. You’ve done a number of those. As you said, you were invested in the labor movement even back when you were a student, and then as a teacher in the Philadelphia Federation of Teachers, you’ve been doing media work at Jacobin. So what, I guess, pushed you to feel like running for office was the next step, and could you tell us a little more about your campaign itself?
Paul Prescod: Yeah, and it’s funny, this whole thing, it’s kind of ironic, because I truly have always been someone that… And still am. I’ve always believed that being active in the movements is the most important thing, and especially the labor movement. And I know this is probably the corny thing every candidate is supposed to say, but it really is true. If you would have asked me over two years ago, would I ever run for office, the answer was hell no. Not, I don’t want to do it. I believe the labor movement is more important as a site to be in, and that was how I truly felt.
But I’ve definitely been, and I think so many of us have been inspired, I mean starting with Bernie in 2016. I mean, candidates at the national and local level who have shown us there’s a way to do electoral politics differently. It doesn’t have to be the same cookie-cutter route, not just in terms of the platform, but like approaching electoral politics as an organizer, and using… It being one way you can help to further a movement or give a movement a platform in the state. I think this has, of course, been a very long, ongoing debate probably forever on the left, especially in the US, about the tension between electoral politics and movement work.
What I’ve found is that I think that debate as it exists in the United States reflects our weakness as the left, honestly. Because going back to referencing Barbados, or really anywhere in the world that has developed whether it’s a labor party, or a socialist party, or whatever, I think the people there understand more as a matter of fact that of course you need a movement, whether it’s labor or other social movements. But also, we need these movements reflective in the state, that we’ve got to be able to consolidate gains through legislation, or move things forward there, and it really should be this virtuous cycle where both are working in tandem.
And again, it’s different in this country. Of course, we do not have a true party of our own, a labor party or socialist party, so in that sense, it is understandable why the debate is more fraught here about which to do. But we have seen… No one can deny. I was caught by surprise by this in 2016, how much Bernie Sanders’s movement helped further the left movement in this country. I think there just can be no denying that at this point. We’re starting to see, like it is very possible for other candidates like me in my mold to win, and for that winning to make a difference.
And I’ve strongly felt like if we’re going to have people running for office, they should be people who come from the movement, and especially working people, and I think especially union members. These are the kinds of people we need to be running for office, and that we need to have occupying positions in the state at various levels.
So I joke, although it’s really not a joke. Maybe quarantine drove me a little crazy or something. This was where I got the idea. And it just came from, for so many years, having informal conversations with people I work with politically and always harping on the same thing, saying this wave of new left candidates is really great, but I think we need more people from the labor movement, especially coming, people who can start with a base of labor as well as a base in the left, and that was a moment where it’s like, well, why not me?
I think given the work I’ve done for so many years in Philadelphia, having that network that’s, I think, broad too. Like yes, I’m active in labor, but it’s not just labor. Other kinds of movement, DSA, that broad coalition, I think that’s a strength that I’m bringing to this, is having a foot firmly in the world of the left, progressive left broadly speaking, and the labor movement. And these two worlds, of course, are not always working in tandem and a lot of my work in the past has been trying to bring these worlds together in a productive way.
So that impacted it, this decision to run, and it’s a tough decision and I’m sure you’ve talked about this before in this series and we can talk more about it today, about it’s a tough decision as a working person because I had to stop teaching this year. I mean, if you’re going to run seriously, at least I think, you pretty much have to do it full time. So this is a financial hardship to even do this and there was honestly a unique set of circumstances personally that allowed me to even take this risk at this moment, even financially, to do this.
That’s just a barrier that is going to come up all the time, unfortunately, for working people given how expensive these elections are in the US. The amount you have to raise and things like that, it’s a very hard decision for an average person to make if they don’t have a support network, or sometimes unions do have a good pipeline for their members to run and I think that’s something we need a lot more of. But that was definitely a factor in this decision.
And yeah, I mean in terms of how the campaign so far… I mean, one thing I’m proud of is we’ve been able to start from the beginning with this much labor support, and it honestly is not very common for someone like me challenging a long-time incumbent as I am to have that early labor support. There’s many reasons, and many of them, honestly, understandable reasons why often unions don’t want to take that risk even on someone who might clearly have a better labor platform.
But I think what that speaks to, it’s not like I just showed up one day to a union meeting and made a dazzling speech and then they endorsed me. But this was able to happen because of these longstanding deep relationships I’ve had with these unions over years working with them and they know truly what I’m about, that I’m serious about this. And that’s how, again, thinking about, before I decided can I actually do this, I thought I had that base of support from that work on those relationships over the years.
Those unions have already endorsed. We’re anticipating, I’m hoping some more in the near future as we keep growing the coalition. I want to also make clear I think the vision for labor in this race is not just about yes, get the endorsement. They’ll donate money. That, of course, is important. But when I think about the field program as well, this is also a big thing I’m thinking about where labor has a role to play.
I’ll give one example. One of the unions that endorsed, Teamsters Local 623, they represent UPS workers. And right beside my district are the two big UPS facilities in Philadelphia, so a lot of the members of that union live in my district. This is a union that they’re not just going to cut me a check but they’re working on mobilizing their members. They’re working on identifying where are shop stewards that live in the district that can help turn out the vote and talk to their neighbors about this race. To me, this is not just on principle a good thing to do, which it is, but it’s actually a critically pragmatic factor of how I’m going to actually win.
We’ll have to raise money of course. We’re doing a great job with that, but ultimately I’m not going to out-fundraise my opponent that’s getting money from billionaires. We’re going to win this on the ground by talking to people and building those relationships. And yeah, so it’s really nice to see this progressive labor coalition that we always talk about is actually coming together in this race. We just got the DSA endorsement the other day which I’m excited about. I’m looking forward to some other great progressive organizations that do work in the city. Their endorsement process will be starting soon.
And this is like… Honestly, this to me is like a skeleton outline of the broader coalition we need nationally to win. I am envisioning, once we really start knocking doors with volunteers, we’re going to have working-class Black teamsters canvassing with maybe middle class white University of Penn students together, or a middle class DSA person canvassing with a working-class sanitation worker. This is the coalition we need both electorally and movement wise to really win anything, and that’s what I’m hoping to bring together in this race is that broad working-class coalition in all its diversity.
I know I’ve seen some things you’ve posted, Max, on Twitter about this. We really need to embrace this vision. Like, the working class of course is not just someone in a hardhat. They are of course part of it, and they are very important, but even just you look at my endorsements. It includes UPS workers, railway workers, but also faculty at our Community College of Philadelphia, which is a really important working-class institution. So many of my students I’ve taught at the high school level have relied on the Community College of Philadelphia to get a good, affordable education, so those people are also a part of what we mean by the working class. This is about bringing together the working class in all its diversity, not just by race, but also by occupation.
Maximillian Alvarez: Yeah, man. Don’t trigger me. Don’t –
Paul Prescod: Right?
Maximillian Alvarez: It is definitely a constant point that we harp on on this show. It’s like we should be looking at every chance we have to build bonds of solidarity between different segments of the working class. Obviously, different types of workers doing different types of jobs are different, yeah. No shit. Everyone knows that. That’s the task. The task is to find ways to unify the working class, not to segment them, divide them up, and try to identify the one or two segments that you can put all your chips on. That doesn’t work. Yeah, it is really exciting to hear folks like yourself really going to the mat on that philosophy. That we can build winning coalitions within the working class and across class divides to support politicians or union officials, or what have you, people who are going to actually fight for working-class folks.
As far as the campaigning side of that goes, I guess the thing to really stress here that has really changed in just the past few years is that we’ve seen that that can work. I think it’s easy for us to lose sight of how novel it was when AOC won her race through what you’re talking about. Ocasio-Cortez was going up against one of the most untouchable members of the Democratic Party, who was incredibly well funded, had the whole party machine behind him, and through that knocking on every door mentality, speaking to the needs of the working people in her district, she shocked the entire establishment, and we’ve seen that play out in a lot of other local races as well.
We’ve also seen, to give one other example, like India Walton. That’s how she won the Democratic primary in Buffalo, but then we saw the fucking shenanigans that were pulled there and how basically the Democratic incumbent broke the sort of unspoken, or actually quite spoken, rules about these elections. We can talk about that all day. But the reason I bring it up is because I wanted to… We’ll round out by talking a little more about your district specifically and what a working class serving politics would look like at the state level, what has perhaps gone wrong in the ways that that district has been represented up until now.
We’ll round out by talking about that. But before that, I wanted to pick up on that question that we do ask over and over again on this Working Class Politics series, which is what does it actually take to run a campaign, to build a campaign? I guess could you give us a sort of behind-the-scenes look of that decision you made, what it actually looks like to build a campaign that’s taking on a powerful incumbent, and what it says about the larger barriers to getting working-class folks in electoral politics.
Paul Prescod: Yeah. It’s tough. I mean, the first decision and the thinking I had was who’s going to be my core team of… And I’m not even talking to hired staff, but really needing a support base of people… But not just people who will support you emotionally or things like that, but also people who have different kinds of skills to help you get the campaign off the ground. And again, that was a big thought process before doing this run, is like do I have that base of support of people who will be like the core volunteers, the core people donating, and things like that. And this is what helps about being a part of an organization. So whether that’s a union, or a DSA, or both in my case. These are the people who, at the very beginning, helped me think through this and helped me really start to get things off the ground.
And I’ll say, I mean it’s unfortunate things are this way, but the really biggest thing anyone would have to think about is like can you raise the money? Again, I hate saying that, but until we have publicly funded elections that would be the most important consideration. And you a lot of people think like, yeah, money for signs and buttons, and stuff. It’s like, yes, but you’ve got to remember, I have staff now that I need to pay a living wage so that’s literally where the bulk of the money is going to and things like that. And of course, depending on the level seat you’re running for, like city council races depending on the area can cost a lot less, state Senate costs a lot more, and obviously Congress is usually on a whole different level.
But and again, I see this whole campaign as a very organic outgrowth of the work I was doing as an organizer. Most of the people who have been donating to me are people I’ve organized with and I’ve built this network with, both locally and at the national level, over many years who know me from that work and now that has translated into people willing to donate and spread the word and things like that. So I think if anyone’s thinking of running, it’s really thinking about, do you have that base and network to support for the logistics of the campaign but also for the fundraising. That, again, it’s unfortunate that it’s such a prominent part but it’s something you have to think about is like do you have the money? Can you get the money to run a very viable campaign?
And also being creative. I meant to bring this up when you mentioned before about my work in the media world. I guess we have to think about everything we’ve built on the left, especially these last five, six years. This is a whole infrastructure including media. And again, this is partly a fortunate thing the way the timing worked out, but there’s many people that would have never known me to donate who are donating now because they know me from the Jacobin Show. So that’s something we can use to our advantage, or me going on other shows exposes me to more people who, even if they don’t live in my district, they can donate and things like that. I think we have to look at the totality of what we’ve built as a lef, and all of this can play a role in our movement work and our electoral work.
We’ve tried to be very creative about fundraising as well. Getting different DS people in different parts of the country can do a virtual fundraiser. I’m actually going to New York City tonight to do a fundraiser with some DSA folks up there, so trying to be creative about the fundraising and the network building as much as possible. And the good news is we have much more of an infrastructure to do that now than four or five years ago. We have a lot more to work with to get these things off the ground. And yeah, then going forward, on a personal level, again, it’s tough.
I mean, again, in my eyes I think it is a full-time thing, especially if you’re in a really tough race against an entrenched incumbent. It’s just not a decision I think you can take lightly or do part-time if it’s going to be serious. And one tension, even just balancing time is like, I know I need to fundraise. I know I have to do what they call call time which is me literally sitting for four hours calling through everyone I know begging for money. You’ve got to do that and that is ultimately the most effective way to fundraise. But also I want to make sure I’m knocking doors, getting to know people who don’t know me yet and things like that.
Balancing those, the time and the priorities of what you’re doing is definitely a challenge, and I think for people struggling to identify with the left who are running I think you always have to keep in mind like, yes, I’ve got my crew, my hardcore DSA crew that’s going to ride for me in the district and support me, but that also means I need to spend a lot of my time talking to people that don’t know me or don’t know what DSA even is. You know what I mean? And making sure you are not forgetting to make those connections in your district with people who don’t necessarily self-identify as left but at the end of the day would definitely support fully funding our schools and living wage jobs and infrastructure. I think that’s something candidates should keep in mind.
And also, I think this plays into social media use as well. I even thought about this a lot with organizing. Like, social media to me is just one tool in a very big toolbox, and I think it’s easy to get carried away almost with an ego on social media. You can post something, gets 1,000 likes, 500 retweets, but you got to think of like, if 950 of those likes are people who don’t even live in your district, don’t think too much into that. At the end of the day this is about votes within a certain geographic area.
But social media, at the same time, is a very powerful tool, again, whether it’s fundraising, getting more people to know about your campaign in the first place, but I think just keeping it in perspective of this is just one tool you have to use, and I think you can get an… There’s a risk of getting an inflated sense of your support through social media in terms of an election campaign. So just making sure you’re doing what you need to do in your own district to get to know more people that don’t already know you.
Maximillian Alvarez: I don’t know what to call it. I hesitate to call it apathy, but dissatisfaction. Being fed up with electoral politics in all realms. I mean, no one… This is the thing that Bernie Sanders said that I know you’ve been talking a lot about that we stress on this show, is the most important voting bloc in many ways is this great mass of nonvoters. You have so many reasons why people have lost faith in electoral politics and don’t vote, don’t care about the nice slogans that this or that candidate has because we’ve all been burned too many times. I wanted to round out by asking a bit more about that.
Like I said this series, Working Class Politics, is really meant to try to give people a behind-the-scenes look of what it takes to run for elected office if you’re a working-class person, or what it looks like to bring a politics that focuses on serving and empowering working-class people, what that looks like at the state, municipal, national level, so on and so forth. So I wanted to ask how the political status quo there in your district, what that has looked like. Like, what sort of issues… You mentioned some of them already, but like what sorts of issues really matter to people in your district, how have politicians not addressed those, and what is it going to look like for Paul Prescod gets elected? Like, what does a sort of working-class politics look like in this district?
Paul Prescod: Yeah. All really great questions. Yeah, so a little bit about the district and its representation. My opponent I’m up against has been an incumbent for over 20 years. He, there really is no other way to say it, essentially inherited the seat from his father who was also a state senator, and in the 22 years he’s had the seat has never been challenged in a primary, believe it or not. And I think what that breeds is this low voter turnout because for so long no one has really had an alternative to vote for or been motivated to really decide between two different options. If he’s being voted for, it’s like well he’s on a slate with a bunch of other Democrats and his name is there. No one else is there, so let’s just punch his name sort of thing. Again, I think that just in itself breeds a sort of apathy or just non-involvement, when there really are no alternatives to choose from.
But also what I’m seeing is it has bred this sense of complacency among the incumbent and just taking everything for granted and everyone for granted, and assuming he’ll hold the seat forever and that he has a right to the seat just by virtue of his name. So in terms of the issues really impacting in the district, it’s an interesting district because it has a little bit of everything. It’s a very big district, around 230,000 people in it. It includes some heavily gentrified parts of Philadelphia, but also a very large section of non-gentrified, working-class sections. It also includes parts of Delaware County, the surrounding suburbs of Philadelphia.
So it has a little bit of everything. But within that, some of the poorer zip codes in the city, where… And I think their biggest indicator is if you would have taken a picture of it in 1980 and take a picture of certain sections now, it looks the same or much worse in terms of just the disinvestment. And I think especially gun violence is a huge… It is the thing most viscerally on people’s minds and as I’m knocking doors, especially in these last two years, it really has gone to a different level. I think there are… There’s not one solution to this problem overall, but I think it really comes down to public investment again for me and this lack of investment for so long in these communities, whether it comes down to the public schools…
I taught at so many schools where there’s no after school programs for kids to go to. And you just think about the situation of someone, a kid, where the school is underfunded and not serving them. Even if they were thinking, well, maybe I won’t go to college, but maybe I’ll get a good trade skill and get a good trade job, they’re also cutting the trade programs in these schools. So it’s like nowhere to go to, no good job prospects, no after school programs, no nothing. And it’s like what do we expect is going to happen when stuff like that’s happening for decades and decades? In that sense we should have seen that this big spike in gun violence was going to come at some point. And it’s only getting worse. So that’s a big issue on people’s minds and it’s very connected to all these other key working-class issues, of good jobs, good schools, secure housing, basically just having hope for a future, really, is what it comes down to.
And many people I’ve talked to, there’s the big policy differences between me and my incumbent, mainly he is a big proponent of school privatization. I mean, that’s where his money comes from is those big PACs and big billionaire donors that further that agenda. But even on a much more local, basic level, just this feeling of lack of basic representation. Like, lack of even trying to start to address some of these issues. And again, like taking things for granted that you’ve been in this seat forever, and that you will remain in it forever, and there’s nothing you need to really do any differently. That’s something I’m really picking up on that people really want to change.
And I think for what working-class politics will look like… And actually, let me first say something you hinted at, like in the campaigning aspect of how do we mobilize these voters who just usually don’t vote because they’re disaffected for very good reasons. One thing I just want to name is that… And I brought this up in the Jacobin interview. I basically said like, what Bernie had tried to do was, well, mobilize the nonvoters, it actually didn’t work out in that election. And really, I just think it cannot be done in one election cycle. This is a very long-term project that includes non-electoral organizing as well.
One thing I just want to name that I think just people should be aware of, in the context of an election there are very concrete pressures that mitigate that strategy as well. I’ll just name one example even in my campaign is you have ways of identifying the very high turnout voters, so basically the people we know will vote in every primary, and at least in the early stages, I’ve been trying to connect with them first and identify myself, introduce myself first as a way of targeting them because you have the better bet that they’re going to actually turn out and vote. That’s just a pressure that is going to be on throughout the whole campaign.
But on the other side of that, we’re… I’m going to bring up the unions again as a part of the strategy of how we defeat this, is because for me, what’s so important about unions, it actually is deeper than just like yes, it’s a way to improve the economic wellbeing of working-class people of course, but actually, to me, it’s that it’s a very important part of civil society. Like, actually a very crucial part of our democracy, a way of getting ordinary people involved in the political process in-between elections, but also like for elections. And the more we’ve lost that intermediary of a union I think the more we’ve seen this disaffection and many just working-class people checking out of politics.
I think this can play a factor in my race. So with some of these unions that have endorsed, and I think especially some more of the blue-collar working-class unions like Teamsters and hopefully some more in the future, again, if the union will throw down in this race and really take the time to connect with our members I think you will be able to start to see they’ll be able to get some members to vote who maybe don’t normally vote. And see this campaign is different, because they remember me from four or five years ago being on their picket line and almost every picket line since then standing with them and they feel they have more of a stake in this race.
And I just mentioned that to say again that I think the union buy-in is actually a step towards achieving this goal of reinvigorating working-class participation in electoral politics, but it’s definitely a long process and I wouldn’t claim that I can just… I will be able to do it totally in just the confines of my one race. But yeah, I think broadly, what does this working-class representation look like? One thing I’ll say, and this is, to me, what was the most compelling part of Bernie’s campaign and honestly some of his history even going back to his days in Burlington, was this idea of what does it look like to be an organizer-in-chief, or use the office to further a movement?
What I’m thinking about is that there’s a high chance that even if I do win in Pennsylvania we’ll have a Republican-dominated legislature and it might be very hard to move transformative legislation. But still, let’s say there’s a strike taking place in my district or even just in the city. You have a role, if you decide to as a state legislature, to involve yourself in that fight. You can actually tip the scales in favor of the workers or the union. Or if there’s a unionization drive and the company is doing union busting, again, you can insert yourself into that and affect the outcome in favor of the workers. That’s the kind of stuff that I’ll be doing if I’m elected, is really having a close partnership with unions, with community organizations, and it’s not just about labor. The same can be said of a housing fight or a healthcare fight. Using my office to help these movements win and build power together is a big part of my vision of what this is going to look like.
And another part of this that I think is very important is this question of the Green New Deal and green jobs and how to relate to the unions on this. We’re starting to make some progress in Philadelphia and across the state with unions bought into the idea of green jobs and things like that. But again that’s a role as a state senator you can convene these sort of meetings and these coalitions between unions and environmental activists and really work together to hammer out in concrete detail what is this going to look like? Like, what would a real transition away from fossil fuels look like? What are some projects we can start doing right now with union labor and how do we facilitate that?
I think elected officials – Again, if they wanted to – If they had the idea to do it that’s stuff that they can and should be doing. And this is stuff that doesn’t necessarily take passing a law to be able to do. But broadly, legislatively, again, this campaign comes down to public investment and I think the key part of that is identifying and naming and going after the big corporate villains in this state that have been getting away for too long with just not paying taxes. Or we have a big problem with corporations setting up a headquarter in Delaware to get around paying anything, so really going after them and saying, like… We’re not going to get anywhere until we bring in more revenue for public investment and the only way we’re going to do that is by taxing the rich.
And I think there’s more of a mandate now than ever to do that. If we look at what happened during COVID, these fantastically wealthy corporations used COVID to get even more insanely richer. And all this talk about the essential worker, but now it’s time to repay that essential worker, and Pennsylvania, there’s a lot we need to do on this score. To name one example, we are a huge fracking state. I think we’re the second largest in the country. Our natural gas companies do not pay any taxes to the state at all. And my opponent is one Democrat who is in support of them not paying any taxes. If we even tax them modestly, that would bring in over a billion dollars to the state in just five years, let alone taxing them at what they should be taxed at.
That’s something we’ve got to change. We’ve got to go after that unapologetically. And it’s also, to me, a part of the vision of how do we move off fracking? Because I think if we want to come up with a transition plan, let’s tax them, let’s use that money to take care of the workers who might be displaced and make sure they can get another good union job at the same salary. Let’s use the revenue from the industry to do that. Now is the time to start putting those proposals on the table. And again, I don’t have illusions that it could be passed tomorrow or two years from now, but we need people aggressively pushing this and building a constituency for these policies that will benefit working people.
So people can go to paulprescod.com to see my campaign website, learn more about me and the issues I’m running on, and again, very important to donate if you can. Just press that donate tab. Whatever you can do will definitely help. And if you’re in a neighboring state or in the area you can sign up to volunteer as well. We’ll take door knockers from wherever they will come from, or phone bankers. So definitely go to that website, paulprescod.com, to learn about how you can get more involved.