Bill de Blasio.jpg

Imagine: If Mayor de Blasio Really Were a Socialist

Cliff Connor & Michael Steven Smith Jan 6, 2014

For a lot of people lately, "socialism" is not a dirty word.  Trying to smear incoming New York City mayor Bill De Blasio by falsely calling him a socialist seems not to have hurt his campaign at all.  In fact, his support continued to grow, and he won by a landslide.

Proving that socialists can be elected in America, a young woman named Kshama Sawant recently ran a bold socialist campaign for City Council in Seattle, and, with a great deal of union and community support, defeated a long-tenured Democrat.  A 2011 national Pew poll discovered that 49 percent of people younger than 29 had a favorable reaction to the word "socialism," and the two most looked-up words in the Merriam-Webster online dictionary last year were "socialism" and "capitalism."  Pope Francis recently described capitalism as a "new tyranny" that has created a "throwaway culture that discards young people as well as its older people."  None of this should be surprising, given the failure of real wages to rise over the past 40 years and the quantum leap in economic hopelessness brought about by the 2008 crash and the current Great Recession.

Imagine if Bill De Blasio were really a socialist and came into office with socialist goals. What might he do as Mayor of New York City?  He would have one potent weapon to wield: the "bully pulpit" of which Theodore Roosevelt spoke. He could mount that pulpit to rally public support to fight for socially progressive measures.

Socialist Mayor De Blasio could continue to emphasize that he is telling a tale of two cities, one of the 99 percent versus the ruling 1 percent.  (The disparity is actually much more stark; more like 99.99 percent against .01 percent.)  The latter are the finance, real estate and insurance interests that really run our city, where 50,000 individuals make more than $500,000 a year, and 60,000, mostly children, are homeless on any given night.

A socialist mayor could be a tribune of, and for, the people.  What agenda might he advance?  Here are some possibilities:

• Launch a mass action campaign for single-payer health care, "Medicare for All," free for everyone, recognizing health as a human right.

• Put the city's resources on the side of the poorest workers, like those in the food chains and garment shops, and demand a $15-an-hour minimum wage, sick days, pensions and vacations with pay.

• Find or build housing for every homeless person.

• Support tenants defending rent controls and extend rent control to small businesses as well.

• End the illegal stop-and-frisk practice of the Police Department by withdrawing Bloomberg's court appeal and abiding by Judge Scheindlin's decision that 600,000 people a year, mostly young people of color, had their 4th and 14th amendment rights violated.

• Dismantle the police state surveillance of New Yorkers.  Take the street cameras down.  Get the police spies out of the mosques and Muslim communities.  Stop police collaboration and office-sharing with Wall Street bankers.  Get the police out of our grassroots political organizations.

• Allow for street protests without pens and nets and videotaping of activists.  Apologize for collaboration with the FBI and the Department of Homeland Security in raiding and breaking up the Occupy Wall Street encampment.  Restore the Handschu consent decree limiting how police can spy on New Yorkers.

• Prosecute the banksters who crashed the economy in 2008 and then got bailed out with our money.

• Work to implement a municipal tax code that eliminates all regressive taxes like the sales tax.  Replace them with taxes on Wall Street financial transactions and support higher corporate taxes.

• March on picket lines with teachers and students to roll back cuts in education financing and tuition.

• Declare New York City a "Demilitarized Zone" within the USA where the peace movement is encouraged in its opposition to our country's illegal, immoral, obscenely expensive and seemingly endless wars abroad.

• Make education and actions about human-caused climate change the number-one priority which, if not controlled, will doom us.

Michael Moore, echoing FDR, proposed a second Bill of Rights in our new book, Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA.  Moore wrote of the goals that might guide a socialist mayor: "That every American has a human right to employment, to health care and a free and full education; to breathe clean air, drink clean water and eat safe food; and to be cared for with dignity and respect in their old age."

Socialism has a tradition in America. Our most famous thinker, Albert Einstein, was a socialist. Martin Luther King said, "If we are going to achieve real equality, the United States will have to adopt a modified form of socialism."  Mayor De Blasio, as you take office, we remind you of the song of another socialist, John Lennon, who wrote in "Imagine" that, You may say I'm a dreamer / But I'm not the only one / I hope someday you'll join us / And the world will live as one.

Mr. Mayor, this expresses the desire of humanity since the days of the prophets.  The majority of the people who elected you would be for it.  Do you dare?

Cliff Conner is on the faculty of the School of Professional Studies of the City University of New York Graduate Center, where he teaches history.  Michael Steven Smith is the cohost of the radio show "Law and Disorder" and on the board of the Center for Constitutional Rights.  Both contributed to, and Smith coedited with Frances Goldin and Debby Smith, Imagine: Living in a Socialist USA, to be published by HarperCollins.

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