In the central Illinois town of Urbana, Colin Dodson, a member and organizer with the Party for Socialism and Liberation, Champaign-Urbana branch, is running for the Urbana City Council for Ward 2. Dodson, who uses “they” pronouns, is also a member of the Champaign County Anti-Racist Coalition, and organized several racial justice rallies last summer. They have served on the boards of both the Urbana Independent Media Center and the Common Ground Food Co-op. Their campaign represents the culmination of years of organizing by the Champaign-Urbana branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
Allies of the PSL asked the local branch to consider running a candidate in the Urbana Ward 2 election to complete an informal progressive slate of Urbana City Council candidates. Dodson was a clear choice; their family members have been on village and town councils in Illinois towns for decades, they have roots in the community and they are a highly capable organizer who can get things done. Dodson’s experience attending Urbana City Council meetings, and their time on the boards of local institutions has taught them what it means to be the only socialist in the room, and how not to compromise on those principles while still achieving results.
Dodson hopes that if they win this spot in City Council, they can bring a meaningful and inspiring socialist alternative for the majority of poor, working and oppressed people of Urbana. Dodson recognizes there is still misunderstanding and fear of socialism within the community. Their campaign focuses on the following issues:
- The Urbana Police Department is the same violent institution that protects and serves only the rich and white.
- The police budget will put the city into debt within three years.
- To address these situations, the police department should be defunded and investment made in much-needed community alternatives that are cheaper and more effective.
- Work should address the root material and economic causes of what is called criminal in the United States, such as housing insecurity, poor housing quality, community underdevelopment, and food insecurity.
- The immense power of Urbana workers and organized labor needs to be harnessed and organized toward the betterment of local communities. Dodson has been in discussion with local labor unions as to how the city government can better interact with workers.
With a strong coalition of poor people and organized workers, Dodson would address many of the challenges facing the City of Urbana, including the problem of costly violent police.
Infrastructure in the city is lacking: Massive potholes in the streets don’t get addressed, and the beautiful historical brick streets and sidewalks become nearly inaccessible during the winter. Big infrastructure projects in the heart of the city — ones that were started and built by capitalists putting profit over people — have floundered and should be converted into public squares where people can simply gather and build community instead of forced to be either at home, at work or school, or at a business buying goods.
However, at the end of the day, no one person’s ideas make a movement successful; it is the power and involvement of the masses that make change happen and make change stick.
As a member of the PSL, Dodson represents the poor, working and oppressed people of Urbana, not pro-corporation and pro-capitalist interests. While politicians in local government have demonstrated they support the interests of real estate owners, Dodson does not own any land, and acknowledges most people do not own property they can profit from. To get support behind their campaign, Dodson believes having one-on-one conversations with the community is the best place to start. They emphasize the importance of building relationships and knowing your neighbors and community.
The decision to run in local elections is not an obvious one from the perspective of revolutionary socialists. Electoral politics do not limit our vision, and we know that capitalism will never allow the necessary gains to be won by a vote. However, this does not mean that we must throw out opportunities that electoral campaigns can present us. Our party ran a presidential candidate in the 2020 presidential race: Gloria La Riva. We did this not because we think that simply electing the right person once every four years will solve the crises of capitalism, but because presidential elections are the first things that many poor, working and oppressed Americans think of when they think of political involvement.
We need to meet people where they are. Therefore, PSL Champaign-Urbana is running a local government candidate to spread our values and our analyses. Furthermore, while many people may be sympathetic to the idea and values of socialism, imperialism and capitalist indoctrination have convinced them it is not a viable alternative. To combat this, we need to build a socialist movement and a socialist party that can prove to the mass of people in the United States that not only is socialism possible and beneficial, but that poor, working and oppressed people in the United States are in a uniquely perfect position to begin its construction.