The many vs. the money: Working class brings the heat to Bowman campaign
Rep. Jamaal Bowman and Sen. Bernie Sanders on stage, June 22. | Taryn Fivek / People's World

NEW YORK—Despite June 22 being the hottest day of the year in the Bronx, hundreds of people – many of them union members and community organizers – gather at the Gil Scott Heron amphitheater in St. Mary’s Park to support the re-election of Jamaal Bowman for Congress. An incumbent member of “The Squad,” Bowman faces a primary challenger financed by MAGA and AIPAC (American Israel Public Affairs Committee) money in what is now reported to be the most expensive primary race in the history of the United States.

And why is this Bowman rally being held outside of Bowman’s district? Organizers close to the campaign explained to People’s World that Westchester County – where Bowman’s opponent, George Latimer, is county executive – refused to issue a permit for the rally. Latimer is backed not only by big money but by big names as well.

Just two weeks prior, Hillary Clinton gave her endorsement. Mondaire Jones, a former ally of Bowman, followed suit, along with sitting Congressman Josh Gottheimer. This rallying of center-right forces in the Democratic Party signaled to some that Latimer’s primary challenge against incumbent Bowman was “reigniting a civil war” between progressive and establishment Democrats.

Organized labor was out in force, with unions like the Teamsters well-represented. | Taryn Fivek / People’s World

It is a terrible day to be outside participating in such a battle, though, as temperatures rise well over 90°F. The line waiting to go through security snakes through patches of tree cover as people try to stay cool while dodging MAGA and Larouchite candidates holding signs comparing Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez and Joe Biden to Hitler. On the other side of the metal detectors, members of Teamsters Local 202 are a sight for sore eyes as they hand out bottles of water from trash cans full of ice.

“People are probably going to get heat stroke out here,” observes Juliana, an organizer with Fridays for Future who came from nearby Washington Heights to attend the rally. “It’s unbearable, but every year is the hottest year on record, and that’s really scary.”

Indeed, before the day is over, People’s World sees two people, one of whom is out protesting against Bowman, loaded into ambulances after succumbing to the heat. But this is precisely why Juliana is here: to support candidates who are battling against the climate crisis. “It’s just a really big priority for me because climate change is not only time sensitive, it’s the most intersectional abstract monster issue there is. It affects everything.”

Liz from the Bronx has her own reasons for being here. She believes that sections of the DNC refuse to support their own incumbent because of outside money, and a fear that “we may be becoming more progressive.”

“I believe in democracy,” she tells People’s World. “There’s too much money in our elections, and one of those organizations that has a lot of power is AIPAC, and they’re supporting [Latimer].”

SEIU members take a break for a group photo. | Taryn Fivek / People’s World

Organized labor has turned out in force as well, and it’s not just the Teamsters. NYSNA, SEIU 1199, and the American Postal Workers Union reps are speaking from the stage and in the crowd below. Members of UAW 9A, who represent some of the graduate student workers at Columbia and NYU, are also present.

As the rally begins, some distance away, a small group of activists have gathered to protest against the candidates on stage because, in their estimation, they haven’t gone far enough in their opposition to the genocide in Gaza. A few of them weave through the crowd at the rally, handing out pamphlets. Though their numbers eventually increase to several dozen, the rally can only hear their drum beats. “PALESTINIANS WILL NO LONGER ACCEPT THE BETRAYAL OF SO-CALLED ‘PROGRESSIVE ALLIES’” their pamphlets announce.

One of the UAW members, a Columbia graduate student, says that Bowman is “not as tough as he should be” on Palestine but has done enough to earn his support. “There’s been a lot of pro-Palestine rallies at Columbia.” Along with Bowman, the UAW also calls for a ceasefire, and so “we are here to support.”

“We’re here because the UAW supports the working class and Jamaal Bowman supports the working class,” adds Andrea Joseph, President of UAW Local 4100.

Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez on stage. | Taryn Fivek / People’s World

After NYC Public Advocate Jumaane D. Williams and NY-7 Rep. Nydia M. Velázquez are finished on the stage, the music turns up several decibels, and Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez bounces out to a wave of cheers. This part of the Bronx is inside her district; the crowd is electrified, and the photographers come running. AOC is here not just to drum up support, but also to encourage rally attendants to become volunteers for the campaign. Buses are waiting nearby to take scores of newly minted door-knockers up to Bowman’s district after the rally concludes.

Bowman is just as ebullient when he appears on stage after AOC. He is sweating through his yellow t-shirt, bare-headed in the direct sunlight. He rolls up his sleeves and gets down to it: “Because they see the power of our movement, they are spending more money than was ever spent [on a primary] in American history, y’all!” he says. “But they are the money; we are the mighty. They are the money; we are the many.”

Sen. Bernie Sanders is the closing speaker, and his tone is more concerned, grave even. The 82-year-old son of Brooklyn commends his fellow New Yorkers for electing “some of the finest people in congress… we are from the working class, and damn proud of it.”

But his overall message and serious tone underscores the reason why the crowd is assembled here today: “This election is about whether or not the billionaire class and oligarchs will control the U.S. government.”

AOC, Bernie, and Bowman are here in the Bronx because they know the stakes of this election. And, perhaps, the rally-goers sacrificing their Saturday to suffer in the heat understand the stakes better than they do. This is the most money ever spent on a primary race in the history of U.S. elections, and much of that cash is coming from AIPAC, MAGA forces, and big business – and all of it is aimed at unseating Bowman.

And what has earned him so many well-financed opponents? It’s not just that Bowman has called for a ceasefire in Gaza; he’s also demanded a Green New Deal for public housing that would not only invest hundreds of billions into already-existing public housing like NYCHA but also eliminate the Faircloth Amendment, which prevents new units from being built. Indeed, between the war profiteers and real estate interests, he has made powerful enemies among the billionaire class.

Yet, through his approach, and as evidenced by the hundreds gathered in the heat to hear him speak and volunteer for the campaign, he has earned many allies as well. Volunteers from far away have come to support as well – not just Bernie Sanders.

Alex Solomon, a young African-American organizer who recently graduated from Howard University, has spent two weekends in the past month traveling to the Bronx to volunteer with the campaign. “I’ve gone to six canvasses and have talked to hundreds of people in his district,” Solomon tells People’s World. “I believe this campaign is the many against the money. Bowman, himself who lived in New York public housing as a kid, has a genuine appeal to many working families in his district, particularly for people of color.”

Some polls have Bowman behind Latimer, but considering all of the work put in by volunteers so far, does Solomon think he has a chance to win? “I don’t know if Bowman will win or not, but I believe in the multiracial working class and the power of our communities to come together and overcome those who are buying our democracy.”


Taryn Fivek
Taryn Fivek

Taryn Fivek is a reporter for People's World in New York.