Why the Left Should Run Candidates for Justice of the Peace

As rents continue to rise and pandemic protections against evictions whither away, Austin renters desperately need organization and representation to fight the unmitigated power of the landlord class. Austin DSA Electoral Committee member Mike N. argues that one way to build power for renters is by running our own candidates for justice of the peace positions.

By Mike N.

For the first time in decades there is a vibrant socialist movement in the United States. DSA is the largest socialist organization in more than a century, and more and more people, especially young people, are expressing their dissatisfaction with capitalism and interest in a socialist economy. Still, the idea of socialism is unknown or even scary to most American workers, who still need to be convinced it is possible to live in a different kind of world.

State and local politics represent a great opportunity to build the socialist movement. The still fledging socialist movement can find districts with renters, workers, young people and people who are left-leaning, and win elections based on politics the majority of the country does not yet support. These elected leaders can put these ideas into practice, and show working people that it is possible for a system to value people over profits, even when politicians, the media and the education system have told us our entire lives that the free market is the only possible system.

The 2021–2022 National Electoral Strategy of DSA also highlights the importance of electing organizers, who will not only govern well, but use their office to recruit more people to DSA, labor unions and other organizations that fight against the capitalist class. As DSA grows, it will be able to challenge larger and more difficult elections, and have more power to win gains outside of elections through strikes at workplaces and street protests.

One strategic level of government for Austin DSA to challenge is justice of the peace. Justices of the peace are known for handling weddings, but they also handle evictions, landlord-tenant disputes, and juvenile justice. Evictions have been especially controversial during the COVID-19 crisis. Both the CDC and the City of Austin recognized the public health crisis would be made worse by evictions and issued eviction moratoriums, but evictions have still occurred. The US Supreme Court recently overturned the federal moratorium, siding with landlords against tenants.

In Austin, for the public health of all of us, we need to make sure that families can stay in their homes. We need to elect justices who give tenants a fair shake. Often in the justice of the peace courts, landlords have high-priced corporate lawyers, while tenants are usually representing themselves or have an overworked public defender. Socialists should elect justices who will see through the lies of the landlords’ attorneys, show that valuing people over profit will make a healthier city for everyone, and use their position of power to fight for all workers, renters and people in our city.

The Austin DSA Electoral Committee is currently working to identify candidates who can run for justice of the peace, and will be making announcements soon. If you’d like to get involved, come to the monthly meeting of our electoral committee Tuesday October 19th at 7pm.