Supporters gathered to see Hairston speak on the night of the primary.

Reflections on Electoral Organizing

Civil rights lawyer and DSA member Andrew Hairston ran for Travis County Justice of the Peace Precinct 1 earlier this year. Hairston’s campaign highlighted the eviction crisis and the school-to-prison pipeline and advocated a socialist platform that centered the rights of tenants. Though the campaign failed to defeat the incumbent, it still provided valuable lessons for socialist organizers, expanded the organizing capacity of Austin DSA, and laid the groundwork for future campaigns. Hairston reflects on his campaign below.

By Andrew Hairston

The evening of Tuesday, March 1, 2022 grew increasingly somber as the hours passed by. With the expert coordination of Austin DSA, my campaign collaborated with Bob Libal’s team to gather folks at Black Star Co-Op for a watch party. For at least an hour, everyone had trouble refreshing the Travis County Elections page.

In Texas, early voting returns often provide good insight into the final outcome. 

Well, the website ultimately resumed operations, and bad news awaited me, Bob, and our teams. The incumbents drew at least 75% of the vote in both races. We moved quickly to buoy the spirit of the crowd, open a tab, and pull our families close.

We delivered our remarks flawlessly, uplifting our campaign messages of housing as a human right and no new jails. Our first campaigns were over. 

Electoral organizing is grueling work. The planning, the canvassing, and the fundraising  can easily consume a year. Putting one’s name out there in the most public forum possible can be affirming and nerve-racking. 

On a deeper level, I reflected privately and publicly on the relationship between electoral organizing and prison abolition—if any. 

I am deeply committed to ending policing and prisons in the United States. 

Could I earnestly advance that mission of my life if I served as an arm of the state in any capacity? 

I landed on the reasoning that the justification for my campaign existed within the local nature of the office. 

To be a Justice of the Peace or County Commissioner in Texas means living and operating in the same community whose members will appear in the elected official’s chambers. A local elected official should be more accountable to their constituents because their constituents are truly their neighbors. 

This principle underscores the dynamic governing campaign promises made and the track record in keeping them; there should be alignment between the two. Moreover, any public opposition to the police state is useful in a time of various crises. 

Having solidified this philosophy, I turned to the fundamental elements of campaigning: door knocking and calling folks for money. 

Although days come when a person would prefer to do neither, both actions provide a candidate and local DSA chapter with the best resource in electoral organizing: direct conversations with people. 

I trudged through cold weather in previously unknown neighborhoods to make my pitch to folks on their doorsteps—in thirty seconds or less. I frequently encountered ‘no solicitation’ signs and waves from folks indicating that they weren’t interested. 

However, as I often led my speech with reflections on truancy referrals and eviction proceedings, I had hundreds of people note their approval by requesting a yard sign. 

People responded passionately when I mentioned the school-to-prison pipeline, often sharing how their school districts would scrutinize the attendance records of their children. Through their personal experiences, they know intimately how kids are so often criminalized and pushed out of their classrooms in twenty-first century America.

They soulfully conveyed their apprehension about the looming eviction crisis, as various pandemic-era protections were scheduled to evaporate as Election Day approached. A few months after my campaign, I am encouraged to see the news of the $300 million affordable housing bond that will likely appear on the November ballot. Stable housing is – and should be – a pressing concern for us all. 

In the midst of very demanding electoral work, these field interactions renewed me each day. 

Even if—as in my case—the final result is a disappointing one, the nods of approval and pride that one may receive while canvassing make it all worth it. 

Future candidate-centered campaigns undoubtedly exist in Austin DSA’s future, and it’s exciting to see the chapter presently pivot toward work to support abortion funds in a post-Roe world and push for mass divestment from the Austin Police Department.

I look forward to joining my comrades in knocking doors for these and other efforts.

With each central Texan we reach, we expand the circle of our vision for the future: one that is rooted in radical love and collectivism. 

With my first campaign in my rearview mirror, I hope to continually apply its lessons to our chapter’s efforts to improve the material conditions of the working class in Texas. 

I thank Austin DSA for its endorsement, support, and its solidarity forever. 

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