Black queer socialist makes history, winning Democratic primary in Harlem
Kristin Richardson Jordan, winning New York City Council Democratic primary candidate from Harlem, marches at the head of a demonstration. | via Kristin for Harlem

NEW YORK—History has been made in Harlem. Overcoming many challenges on her path to victory—including smears and homophobic attacks by reactionary opponents—local community organizer and third-generation Harlemite Kristin Richardson Jordan has declared victory in the District 9 City Council Democratic primary.

Due to the relative safety of Democratic majorities across New York City districts, Jordan is all but guaranteed to win her seat after the hard-fought primary victory. Following her likely victory in November, Jordan, who is 34, will be the youngest Black woman ever to be elected to New York’s City Council. She will also have the auspicious record of being the first out Black lesbian to run and win a seat in any office in New York history.

However, this race has far deeper implications than representation of oppressed people in the halls of power. It is truly a sign of the political times that would have been unpredictable even two years ago. An open socialist, prison abolitionist, and proponent of a “Black liberation agenda,” has beaten the well-known incumbent and former DSA member Bill Perkins at a time when New York City is likely to elect an ex-NYPD detective and conservative Democrat as its next mayor.

Jordan’s success can in many ways be attributed to the building of a grassroots, coalition-based campaign led by Black and brown women, without the support of more popular progressive or socialist organizations, and by focusing on radical worker-first messaging even as some supporters advised a rhetorical shift.

“This is the power of grassroots base-building. This is the power of organizing the working class. This is the power of policies that aim at dismantling systems of oppression and redistributing wealth,” exclaimed Campaign Manager Stefi following Jordan’s declaration of victory. “We mobilized thousands upon thousands of Harlemites to join this movement, many of whom became volunteers, and together we broke the old-world Harlem machine!”

A teacher and long-time community organizer, Jordan didn’t shy away from proudly spelling out—literally—the people-first socialist agenda she hopes to help deliver to her constituents. Her main slogan, “Kristin for H.A.R.L.E.M.,” was found on all of her campaign posters and literature across the district. The letters hit all the highlights of her agenda:

  • Holding police accountable;
  • Actually affordable housing;
  • Redistribution of wealth and resources;
  • Living longer: Gun control, health, and care for our seniors;
  • Education for all and environmental justice; and
  • Meaningful change

Though perhaps clunky, the charming slogan makes it clear that the soon-to-be councilwoman has no plans to go along with the establishment Democratic machine that controls politics in the city.

This win may come as a surprise to many residents outside of the District. KRJ, as she is affectionately called by supporters, volunteers, and voters, was a relatively unknown name to many. She did not receive the endorsement of the more established progressive electoral organizations, such as the Working Families Party, New York Progressive Action Network, or Our Revolution. And though currently a member of the Democratic Socialists of America, Jordan did not receive the NYC-DSA endorsement, either. Volunteers on the campaign have speculated that political sabotage from opponents, latent racism and sexism, and Jordan’s former membership in the left-wing Party for Socialism and Liberation were potential reasons for the endorsement snubs.

Throughout the winter and spring, her campaign gained grassroots support from community organizations such as the Black Women’s March, the New York Young Communist League, Met Council Action, and the local Sunrise Movement chapter. By the end of primary season, Jordan even had the coveted endorsement of Rep. Alexandria Ocasio Cortez’s Courage to Change PAC.

However, these endorsements and pledges of support do not carry the weight of the more well-known progressive electoral organizations. Yet without any major political backing, Jordan still managed to pull off a victory, beating out a crowded field of 12 other candidates. Other than Perkins, no candidate besides Jordan got a significant vote share in the first round of the newly implemented Ranked Choice Voting system.

Kristin Richardson Jordan | via Kristin for Harlem

The true heart of Jordan’s campaign were the dozens of primarily young people of color who came out to organize across the district every day for over a year. Throughout the pandemic, the team provided daily mutual aid in the form of groceries and PPE to residents of NYC Housing Authority blocks and other underserved members of the community. Jordan and her team went to weekly community protests supporting striking workers, the movement for Black lives, and the fight against the backdoor privatization of public housing.

Every day, while volunteers knocked on doors or put up posters and flyers in every free space they could find, Jordan herself was out in the streets of Harlem talking with residents about their needs and her vision.

While looking to meaningfully address residents’ fears of issues such as gun violence and domestic abuse in their communities, Jordan did not shy away from centering the message of “Defunding the Police to Refund the Community” when talking with voters, no matter how skeptical they might be of the messaging.

Talking to a supporter on the night of her declared victory, Jordan explained the importance of staying resolute in the confrontational language of “Defunding the police” and “abolishing prisons.”

“I’m all for everything you say…but why call it ‘defund the police’?” the supporter asked, positing that the progressive movement could win more people over if it used different rhetoric, perhaps allow it to pass reforms towards its goals.

“Because [defunding the police] is actually the fight,” Jordan answered. “The actual fight is how we move money away from the NYPD, away from institutions that cause harm to us, that are racist, that are based in slavery, that are based in our oppression, and actually move the money into the things that help heal our community: The schools, and the hospitals, and housing. Mental and emotional health.”

The movement’s goal, she explained, is not to trick conservatives and liberals into police reforms or to cut a small portion of the NYPD’s $11-billion-dollar budget. “It won’t happen overnight,” Jordan said, but she continued to emphasize that the goal must be a revolution of the current capitalist system and movement towards the long-term vision of fully defunding police and abolishing prisons. The movement must state its goals plainly, she said. “If we get too busy playing semantics, we miss fighting for what the actual cause is.”

While New York City’s next mayor will likely be former Republican and ex-NYPD detective Eric Adams, it is noteworthy that an open socialist abolitionist will be challenging him in City Council. Though four out of six members of DSA’s slate for City Council lost their races, one notable winner they backed is local progressive favorite Tiffany Cabán. Cabán is another open socialist and abolitionist whose victory can be attributed to a popular front coalition, and who similarly refuses to shy away from strong language around the Defund movement.

It will be interesting to see, come January, how these two queer women of color will be able to work strategically to challenge the agenda of a political body still largely in the hands of the establishment machine.

In the meantime, KRJ continues to be out in the community every day, on what her campaign has dubbed a post-primary “listening tour.” She and her team of volunteers are talking with residents, learning what they need, and making plans to secure constituents the services and organizational victories they deserve.

Win or lose, Jordan and her team have no plans to stop working to disrupt the status quo of her district with “radical love,” and return Harlem to its radical roots. It seems she’ll be disrupting more than just Harlem, though; come November she’ll be working to bring revolutionary change to the halls of City Council.


CONTRIBUTOR

Justine Medina
Justine Medina

Justine Medina is a co-chair of the New York Young Communist League. She's also been involved in Democratic Socialists of America and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez's campaigns for Congress.

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