Washington DSA member Joshua Collins’ digital campaign is courting pissed off young voters.
This is a rush transcript and may contain errors. It will be updated.
Kim Brown: Welcome to The Real News. I’m Kim Brown. As a record number of Americans filed for unemployment due to millions of jobs being lost due to the COVID-19 pandemic, rent was still due April 1st and it’s going to be due again on May 1st. However, there are dozens of grassroots organizations planning and executing rent strikes and rent freezes nationwide. There’s at least one congressional candidate who sees this as a very big issue and is part of his platform. Today, we’re joined with Joshua Collins. He’s from Washington state and he’s seeking to occupied the seat currently held by Democrat, Denny Heck, who is not seeking reelection. This is for Washington state’s 10th congressional district and Joshua joins us today from Tacoma. Joshua, thank you so much for being here. Welcome to The Real News.
Joshua Collins: Yeah, thank you for having me.
Kim Brown: So you gained a lot of attention after a Reddit post that you authored went viral of sorts. It was a link to petitions for different groups organizing rent strikes in all 50 states and the District of Columbia. Talk to us about why housing is such an important issue and why people, especially in this time, should go forward with rent strikes.
Joshua Collins: Well, housing is the biggest expense people have right now and we were already in crisis. Housing prices were so high all over the country and it made it difficult for people to survive before this started happening. So I think it’s really important that we acknowledge the fact that people can’t afford to pay their rent right now. They were already living paycheck to paycheck and now that they are getting like completely laid off or having their hours cut, that’s going to be more difficult. So I think it’s important that we make sure people are able to stay in their homes. I think housing is a human right and I think we need to affirmed that with actual action and policy.
Kim Brown: Joshua, should people stop paying their rents and if so, then what?
Joshua Collins: Well, in order to do that, I think you should organize a rent strike. Rent strikes are not… It’s not just not paying your rent, it’s organizing with other tenants who have the same landlord, or corporate landlord I guess. The purpose of it is to demand that there will not be debt at the end of this. I don’t think it’s fair that while the working class either can’t work or cannot work as much is suffering, that the landlord class doesn’t take any hitch to their finances. I think that burden should not be on working class people from this crisis. I do not want people coming out of this with thousands of dollars in debt to their landlords. I think that’s an insane proposition and I really don’t want that happening. Currently, that’s the dynamic we’re seeing.
Kim Brown: According to Pew Research, African American households who are renters are more likely to be what they call, “rent burdened,” more so than that of white renters, which means that a greater portion of their income is going towards housing. In your opinion, is housing a racial injustice issue?
Joshua Collins: Yes. Like many other economic issues, it disproportionately affects black and Brown communities. I think it’s something that we all need to stand together on. I think because it’s such a universal issue, it’s something that we really need to have strong voices and we need to have real action we need to organize on because this will not only increase the wealth gap from the richest Americans to the poorest Americans, but it will also increase the racial wealth gap. I think that’s something that would be disastrous. We’ve seen the effects of past inequities and how they lead to even greater and equities later on. So I think it’s important that we allow this moment to exacerbate the already existing wealth and income inequalities based on race, gender and class, et cetera.
Kim Brown: Joshua, it would seem as though, especially at this point in American time, that the policies of Senator Bernie Sanders would it be more well received by the American public. However, Joe Biden is still the front runner in seeking the democratic nomination to be president. Obviously, Senator Sanders stands for Medicare for All, which I think a lot of people as we are experiencing this COVID-19 pandemic would agree would be a best course of action to make sure that all affected are able to receive care. As a democratic socialist, what are your opinions about how the message from your party and the platform that your party represents is or is not being heard right now by democratic voters?
Joshua Collins: Yeah, so I think the issue in this election cycle is largely that a lot of the democratic party base trusts the mainstream media. What the mainstream media is telling people is not why they should vote for Joe Biden based on policy, but that Joe Biden is the more likable candidate. I think that’s fundamentally untrue. Joe Biden does not have a big appeal to independence on policy. He is not where the majority of them of the democratic base is actually at, let alone the independent left. I think we do need to talk about how they are also taking advantage of this crisis to actually sway the elections in favor of Joe Biden. They should not be holding elections at all right now. They should be postponing all of them.
But instead, they are actually punishing states who do that and do the responsible thing and taking advantage of it, for example in Illinois, where they did still have their elections and if you are someone who is working class or is immunocompromised and you’re more likely to be a Bernie Sanders voter, you’re probably more likely to need to stay home. I think it’s incredibly irresponsible they’re still holding elections right now because they know that decreased turnout good for the establishment, which is Joe Biden.
Kim Brown: Washington state’s primary is August 4th, I believe. The news that was out this week is that the scheduled primary in Wisconsin was also postponed by the governor because of the COVID-19 concerns. So in your opinion, how should we be handling elections, primaries and most importantly, the November election when we elect pretty much the entire house, a third of the Senate, and perhaps a new president. How should this be handled in your opinion?
Joshua Collins: Well, I think in the primary, depending on how quickly we can actually handle this crisis, I think if it hasn’t gone down by then, I think we need to postpone all primaries. As far as the November election, I think we should switch to an entirely mail-in ballot system. In Washington state, fortunately we already have that. You do not have to go in person to vote in Washington state. In fact, you can’t do that. You register to vote, which you can do so online. You get your ballot in the mail and then you have 17 days to turn in your ballot. You can put it in the mailbox or in a voter Dropbox and you don’t actually have to show up to a polling location.
Now, this has given us a pretty high voter turnout for the state of Washington. I think it’s good for our system. You can also verify your votes in our state. Personally, I think the rest of the country should be modeled off of what we have. Although we did have decreased youth turnout, we did still have pretty decent turnout in our primary here. I think that’s what we would like to see in the rest of the country. We all know that when voter turnout is low, the people who suffer are the democratic party and leftists candidates. So I think it’s important that we actually do change over to the system so that people can still vote without risking your lives.
Kim Brown: Joshua, let me ask you a follow up about how Washington state votes because you said you can verify your vote. What does that mean?
Joshua Collins: Well, the state has a very transparent process where the ballots are counted and you can actually verify whether or not your vote was counted and who it was counted for online. If it hasn’t been counted, you can get another ballot and then send it in. You have 17 days to do that, which is plenty of time, especially if you try to go early. If there is an error on your ballot, let’s say you vote for Bernie Sanders in the primary, but your signature is kind of messy or maybe you didn’t fill out the ballot properly or whatever, we actually also have a ballot chasing system where volunteers can go out and go to your door or call you on the phone and verify who you intended to vote for.
We have a very secure system and we have a very accurate system. It does take longer. Often, we don’t know the results of an election until sometimes weeks after the actual election date just because of that ballot chasing process. Also, people mail their ballots in from all over the state and that takes awhile. But it’s been really efficient and it’s allowed us to have a lot of really good candidates. I also think we should of course switch to public financing of elections and that’s a whole entire different issue, but really think we could model the country’s election system off of our own.
Kim Brown: Joshua, I have a lot of questions about your campaign in itself because when I was researching the 10th congressional district in Washington state, I discovered that it was one of a handful of hundreds of communities that voted for Barack Obama in ’08 and ’12 and then went for Donald Trump in 2016. I thought that was a pretty interesting mesh, you could say, of politics in your region. How was your message being received by voters in the Tacoma area in the surrounding counties, and what do you think your chances are?
Joshua Collins: Well, my message has been received pretty well. My district is working class people. The top industries that people work in are construction and service workers, so I relate to them very well. Their politics are actually pretty far left. Their opinions on how the government should be run are pretty far left. The engagement has been pretty low, typically. The reason that our district has gone to the right several times is not because of good voter turnout where they just happen to go one way. It’s because people just don’t show up to vote for a lot of the candidates who run in this district. We have some of the more right-wing Democrats running it here. We had Denny Heck in the past who was an anti-Medicare for all politician. He opposed almost the entire leftist agenda and then, the local and county politicians are very similar to the down-ballot politicians.
We have been activating voters. I’ve been talking to a lot of people who said they haven’t ever voted before. They’re going to vote for me. People who have never engaged with the democratic party in their entire lives who are volunteering for me in organizing for me. We are doing this very differently. The thing that I think makes my campaign the strongest is my support from the youth. It’s very difficult to get young people to care for any politician. But fortunately, most of my support base is young. I have been on college campuses. I even have a lot of support among high schoolers here and that’s a lot… A lot of that is due to my really successful efforts on social media. Social media is often mocked, but I used it to raise… I think we’re now like $218,000 from 14,000 donors. I’ve been really successful with that and it’s also gotten us thousands of volunteers, which is almost impossible to do for a congressional race, especially for a first time candidate with no political connections beforehand.
So we’re in a pretty strong position. Before, we were going to take advantage of the fact that we have so many young volunteers. They might not have a lot of money, but they do have the enthusiasm and the ability to do volunteer, so we were going to knock basically every door in the district, but now that we can no longer do that. That is no longer an advantage that we have. But I do have a larger web presence every single other candidate in my election combined, which is an interesting position I find myself in. Everything is kind of up in the air right now. It’s hard to get people to pay attention to politicians right now and my approach to that has been just doing the work, organizing with mutual aid organizations, with tenants unions with, rent strike 2020 as a national effort and I’ve been pretty successful at just doing the work to let people see what I would do if I were actually in Congress.
Kim Brown: Joshua, you are a truck driver by trade. I was wondering how you and your family are fairing during not only the pandemic, but the shelter in place directive that is in effect for Washington state. How are you able to do your day job and remain safe at the same time?
Joshua Collins: Well, I’ve actually taken a break from my day job. So I’m not driving a truck at the moment. I lived in my truck for an entire year to save up money so that I could take the time off work to campaign full time, so that I could actually witness. Fortunately, I’m doing okay, but a lot of my family is not doing okay. My sisters are both service workers and they’ve been completely screwed over by this. They saved up money to kind of move out on their own and start like living their lives as adults. This has forced both of them moved back in with family and basically, wiped out their entire savings. They are getting screwed over and it might take them years to recover from this. My mom is actually a nurse, so she’s working an insane number of hours right now. I also have undocumented family and unfortunately, there is no aid going to be given to people who are undocumented. So I think that this is a very difficult time for my family doing everything I can to help.
Kim Brown: Well, we certainly appreciate the sacrifice that your family is making on behalf of those who are dealing with the COVID-19 infection. Joshua, can you tell our audience what’s your website?
Joshua Collins: It’s Joshua1010.com.
Kim Brown: All right. Well, we’ve been joined today with Joshua Collins. He is seeking to win the 10th congressional seat for Washington state. He is a democratic socialist candidate and he believes that rent strikes are essential in this time right now with people losing their jobs and unable to pay their bills. But the rent strike needs to come without debt at the end. Joshua, we appreciate your time today. Thank you so much.
Joshua Collins: Yeah, thank you for having me.
Kim Brown: Thank you for watching The Real News Network.
Kim Brown has been covering national and international politics for over 10 years and has been a sought-after voice on issues on race and culture.