These Brooklyn Democrats Say They Go Where Socialists Won’t

More young people in New York City voted in 2020 than in the past ten years; last year, over 59% of people ages 18-29 went to the polls. But for the last decade, young people in America have been less and less likely to affiliate themselves with the Democratic (or Republican) Party. 

In 2016 and 2020, America saw young people vote for Bernie Sanders, and with the election of Alexandria Orasio-Cortez and Julia Salazar here in New York, there is no question that many young New Yorkers are favoring leftist candidates, who although elected from the Democratic Party ticket, advocate for policies left of the national Democratic Party’s and who are not necessarily endorsed by the national party. Since the pandemic started, groups like the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) have seen upticks in membership.

“We’ve been more and more moving to the left, more and more progressive,” said Brooklyn Young Democrats President Christina Das. “I think it’s not as much of a schism in the Democtratic Party, but in young Democrats; I think there’s a leftist push and a movement to get more real transformational change, not incremental change. And even in New York you see that with Democratic legislative members being defeated by DSA challengers.”

Instead of viewing the Democratic Party as a monolith and mirroring the endorsements and policy platforms of the Brooklyn Democratic Party or its national organization, some members of the Brooklyn Young Democrats envision the Democratic Party as a conglomeration of progressive wings, it’s highly structured nature facilitating political organizing and offering a pipeline to political leadership for aspiring young politicians.

Hunter Rabinowitz, Brooklyn Young Democrats’ Southern Brooklyn Vice President, and Monae Priolenau, Central Brooklyn Vice President, both labeled their own voting records progressive.

“I’m excited about Brad Lander,” said Priolenau of the comptroller candidate who joined the DSA while in college. 

“Like a lot of young people, I was very enthusiastic about Bernie Sanders in 2016,” Rabinowitz said. “I consider myself within the progressive wing. I’ve supported DSA candidates before. I’ve also supported people who are opposing DSA candidates.”

As a whole, the group has done the same. They have endorsed candidates like State assemblymember Emily Gallagher’s successful campaign to take the 50th district over in Rochester, herself a self-described “socialist.” But the group has also endorsed candidates like Walter Mosley, a former Democratic assemblymember who was primaried closer to home by Phara Souffrant Forrest in the 57th district in Crown Heights and Bed-Stuy.

Reaching Beyond Progressive Voting Districts

Rabinowitz suggested a more holistic approach to politics within the Democratic Party: “I think with progressive Democrats, there’s a wide range. You look on Twitter, you look in certain places, and people try to make a distinction between progressive and Democratic Socialist, but I think the reality is that when you look at what most people look at, what normal people look at, you’re a conservative, a moderate, or a liberal. Or you’re a progressive.”

The Brooklyn Young Democrats has focused much of its energy this election season on galvanizing voters in parts of Brooklyn they say are often left out of progressive political organizing. 

“We’ve been more and more moving to the left, more and more progressive,” said Brooklyn Young Democrats President Christina Das. She says she’s considering running for office one day.

“We are mostly made up of life-long Brooklynites, so we actually have board members from Bedsonhurst and Sheephead’s Bay and places that people that are transplants right away might not know,” Das said.

Das said she’s seen an uptick in progressive voting in these more gentrified areas of Brooklyn. “I think I would characterize them as both unequivocally more left and unequivocally progressive.” 

“Because people just pivot to the Williamsburgs or downtown Brooklyns or Park Slopes.”

“I think young people like the DSA,” Das added. “They’re aligned with that because they’re over politics as usual, and they see the DSA as a great, refreshing space for organizing. It’s not for politics, it’s for organizing, which I think is so important. I think the DSA needs to do a better job of organizing in those life-long Brooklynite communities and getting out of those gentrified communities.”

“It’s hard because these places are transit deserts so they end up being places where young people are starved of political activism, especially progressive political activism,” Das went on. “I think it’s awesome to uplift those people and give them a microphone to amplify their politics, because you have all the people in Park Slope or Bushwick or Williamsburg, and they’re a bunch of hippies, like everybody agrees, so it’s harder in those other areas for sure.”

The Brooklyn Young Democrats make a point to stand in stark contrast to the DSA in terms of race— Das tells Bushwick Daily that the majority of the Brooklyn Young Democrats’ members are people of color, whereas the Democratic Socialists have come under fire for being too white and “the party of gentrifiers.”

In 2015, the group’s now-president Christina Das went to her first Brooklyn Young Democrats meeting. “It was a ton of white people in Park Slope, just talking about whatever, like registering to vote, and I was like, ‘this isn’t Brooklyn, this doesn’t look like Brooklyn, we aren’t discussing issues important to people across the borough.’ I just didn’t like it,” Das said. 

Rabinowitz has lived in South Brooklyn his entire life and has focused on organizing there. “If you look at the voting numbers, it is very red for the most part. And a lot of South Brooklyn does not come out to vote that often,” Rabinowitz said. 

Das said of a recent petitioning event in Sheepshead Bay in Southern Brooklyn, “A lot of the people we interacted with were Republicans or new Americans who didn’t speak English.”

“I wanted to recruit in diverse and underrepresented non-traditional communities, to raise money and support young people and people of color running for office with that money. Even if it’s 500 bucks, it makes a difference. And then to create a pipeline for involvement.” The pipeline includes recruiting students from, for example, Brooklyn College and local law schools.

A “Pipeline to be With the Leadership”

Amid falling support from young people and the group’s more recent struggles with the Brooklyn Democratic Party, the president of the Brooklyn Young Democrats sees reason to remain in the party game.

“We had members who were like, ‘we don’t care about being chartered,’ but I was like— and our board because we do everything collectively— ‘It’s important for the future of young democrats to show that we’ll work and that we’re willing to build a pipeline to be with the leadership.” The Young Democrats of America offers scholarships to members and provides opportunities to network with Democratic party leaders.

In March, the Brooklyn Democratic Party threatened not to renew the Brooklyn Young Democrats’ charter to remain an official part of the Young Democrats of America, which holds a biennial national convention and sends two elected officers to the Democratic National Convention. The party stated that the Brooklyn Young Democrats did not provide the proper paperwork for the rechartering process (which happens every two years).

This came after multiple clashes with the Brooklyn Democratic Party— the Brooklyn Young Democrats voted to censure Governor Cuomo after he was accused of harassing multiple women, they routinely endorsed more progressive candidates than did the main party and they directly called for reforms to make the Brooklyn Democratic Party less corrupt. 

They also criticized the Brooklyn Democratic Party’s handling of last year’s city council race in District 37 in Bushwick (the party maintained that candidates still needed to obtain 470 petition signatures at the height of the pandemic, thus eliminating all candidates besides party-backed Darma Diaz from the ballot).

“I could not have thought of something that was more wrong, to put it very lightly, than what they did in District 37,” Rabinowitz said. “I think most people heard about those stories, and people thought it was terrible; it was wrong. It doesn’t matter if you like the candidates or not. It was injustice on Kim Council, it was injustice on Rick Echevarria, it was injustice on the democratic process.”

“People were kicked off the ballot for such measly things,” Rabinowitz continued. “Truth of the matter is, forget the pandemic. This is a technicality that has been done for decades to get people out of the democratic process and it is just absurd that this is how a lot of people want to run elections. I think it was amplified because of the pandemic, but it’s not a new strategy that people have come up with to get a candidate off the ballot to get another candidate to win.”

But Das, who is herself considering running for office one day, is hesitant to cut ties with the official party.

“If I am the president of the Brooklyn Young Democrats, which is one of the largest chapters in New York state, which is one of the most left-leaning states in the country, some of us plan to run for office, so it’s important to create this network of leaders. If you charter us, or attempt to de-charter us, you’re cutting off a pipeline for mentorship, especially for Brooklyn, whose members are mostly people of color who need those Young Democrats of America scholarships.”

Top image via Brooklyn Young Democrats’ Twitter.

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