"All revolutions are impossible until they happen; then they become inevitable."
—Albie Sachs, South African activist and judge (1990)
With a knowing chuckle, Peta Lindsay recalls this quote when I ask whether our country could feasibly adopt socialism. Then the 27-year-old, who is running for president of the United States on the Party for Socialism and Liberation ticket, explains why she thinks we can.
"With the explosive growth of the Occupy Wall Street movement, people are already struggling against the exploitation of the capitalist system," she told The Root from her Los Angeles home. "People are in motion."
For Lindsay, her campaign serves as another front in that movement. Along with her running mate, 26-year-old Colombian native Yari Osorio, and volunteers from PSL branches in 25 states and Washington, D.C., the bubbly African-American activist has been speaking at campuses, handing out flyers at community meetings and planning demonstrations about economic change through the socialist transformation of society.
"We're highly organized, and we're used to doing a whole lot with very little resources," she said of the grassroots operation. "But it's really the strength of our ideas that will get people out for this campaign."
While this is Lindsay's first leap into the electoral arena, it's her party's second presidential attempt. In 2008 it ran Gloria La Riva for president. She pulled 6,818 votes across the nation. Lindsay, who was named the 2012 candidate last November and filed with the Federal Election Commission in February, expects to build on La Riva's numbers — if not actually get elected. For one thing, at 27 she doesn't meet the constitutional age requirement to hold the office. It's a technicality to which she pays little mind.
"I think it's a very undemocratic rule, considering that there are so many people in this country whose lives are affected by the decisions made in our government, yet are not eligible to run for government," said Lindsay, who expects to be on the ballot in at least 12 states, based on her party's 2008 effort. "But I think the people who will take us seriously are people who are going to respond to our message, and not so much to the particularities of me myself."
If She Were President
A self-described "revolutionary Marxist party based on the working class," the Party for Socialism and Liberation was formed in 2004 after its founders split from another socialist organization, the Workers World Party. Its membership has since drawn a diverse mix of ages and backgrounds. "We're actively involved in many working-class issues and struggles, from the anti-war campaign to anti-racist to pro LGBT and women," La Riva told The Root. "All our members work day and night organizing actions. That's what makes us stand out."
Lindsay, then 20, was one of the founders. "We believed then, as we believe now, that the U.S. capitalist system, and indeed the world system, was about to enter a period of profound crisis," she said, citing deepening unemployment and poverty as results of a system driven by profits regardless of social cost.
As president, Lindsay's number one priority would be to declare a moratorium on all foreclosures, cancel all student-loan debt and establish a robust job-creation program. "As socialists, we believe that the wealth that is created collectively by society belongs to society," she said. "We want to seize the profits of the biggest banks and corporations and use that money to create jobs, and have housing and health care for everyone."
Other key issues on her platform are ending the $300 million-a-day war in Afghanistan and establishing full legalization for all immigrants. "I think what's important about the campaign this year is Peta's youth, and that of the vice presidential candidate Yari Osorio," said La Riva, 57. "There are so many young people coming into political activism from the 2008 election after the excitement, and then disappointment, about Obama. And despite Peta's age, she has the rich experience of being involved in many struggles over the past 11 years."
Lindsay agrees that her youth may be an asset to her campaign, given the enthusiastic response she says she has received through online social networks. "I get a lot of Facebook messages, sometimes from people in places like North Dakota and Oklahoma, where we don't have a branch, but they're following the campaign," she said. "Everybody's for housing, health care and education. They just want somebody to say, in very plain language, 'This is how we should do it.' "
The Evolution of an Activist
Lindsay came to be that somebody after more than a decade of activism. The Virginia native, whose mother taught African-American studies at Howard University and whose grandfather was a union-organizing coal miner in West Virginia, grew up in a politically conscious family. But it was the Sept. 11 attacks that fully triggered her participation. As a senior at Washington, D.C.'s School Without Walls, then the closest high school to the White House, she found herself at the center of much of the panic that followed.
"I was immediately impacted by how much of the understandable sadness and fear that people were feeling was being used to fuel a war drive," she said. "There was so much racism against Muslim and Arab people that I was seeing in the media, and on the street, and I became so disgusted that I really wanted to do something about it."
She began volunteering with the ANSWER Coalition (Act Now to Stop War and End Racism) and co-chaired the organization's first national anti-war rally in 2001. She continued to organize with the group while studying history and African-American studies at Howard, chairing and speaking at all of its anti-war rallies and representing ANSWER in global anti-war forums in France and Switzerland.
Lindsay's belief in socialism was cemented during a 2002 trip to Cuba with Pastors for Peace, where she marveled at the free education, housing and health care. During a tour of a bioengineering plant, she was struck by the scientists explaining their country's food production — all Afro-Cuban women. "Could you imagine in the United States walking into a building and seeing all black women scientists?" she said. "It's not something that happens here, and it shows how far Cuba has come in educating all of their public."
Rating the Obama Presidency
As Lindsay fights for socialism by day — and attends the University of Southern California by night, where she is pursuing a master's degree in teaching — she laughs at the idea espoused by some on the political right that President Obama is a socialist. "Obama presided over the largest transfer of wealth to the banking sector in our country's history," she deadpanned. "That's not something that a socialist would do. Giving the public's money to private capitalists is the opposite of socialism."
She's equally dismissive of criticism from some on the left that her candidacy would take votes away from the president and serve only to help the Republican nominee. "Neither candidate is good for working people," she said plainly. "The elections are a forum for the extremely wealthy to maintain their rule of society. It gives the appearance of choice, but it doesn't actually give people a choice."
As Lindsay sees it, Obama is beholden to the same corporate and financial interests as any other candidate, pointing out that Goldman Sachs, JPMorgan Chase, Microsoft, Google and Citigroup were among the top contributors to his 2008 campaign. Her campaign is funded through donations from individuals, she says.
"Think about when Obama first won, and thousands of people were in the streets excited about it. Democrats were controlling both houses of Congress. Obama could have done anything," she said. "He could have passed [a universal] health care bill. He could have withdrawn the troops. People would have supported him, but he didn't do it. That's not because the people didn't want that. He didn't do it because he has a responsibility that's not to the people, but in fact to greater profits for the big banks and corporations."
Despite the financial sector's role in politics, Lindsay remains optimistic about a socialist revolution. "The United States has a long, rich history of struggle," she said. "From the 1930s, there was a strong labor movement, and in the '50s and '60s, there was a movement for civil rights. I feel like this is just a next phase of the movement in the U.S."
Cynthia Gordy is The Root's Washington reporter.