Local socialist politician wins assembly seat


courtesy darrinmadison.com

Darrin Madison talks with Shorewood youth socialist advocate

This past August, Darrin Madison won the democratic primary for the 10th State Assembly District, and with no republican competitor, is the de facto winner of the seat. Madison, with the help of the Milwaukee Chapter of DSA (Democratic Socialists of America) and the Shorewood High School Chapter of YDSA(DSA’s Youth Branch), organized an impressive campaign, with a large canvassing effort across Shorewood and Milwaukee. It was another victory for socialists in Milwaukee, proving that the resurgent left can win big in Wisconsin and Milwaukee yet again, as they used to be able to do with the sewer socialists. I had a chance recently to talk with him about the race, and his prior work with SHS students. 

Robert Gronert: You’re running as an open socialist in the 10th District. What does being a socialist mean to you?

Darrin Madison: It means honoring the legacy of uplifting the needs of working class citizens and putting people over profit whenever possible. It shows up in the form of not taking dollars from corporate PACs, and also not aligning my values with them as well. Always ensuring that working class folks are uplifted and their voices are heard first. That’s what socialism means to me.

[Being a socialist means] upholding the needs of working class citizens and putting people over profit whenever possible.

RG: How does that intersect and influence your views on other issues than the economy? How does that influence your views on racial issues and social issues?

DM: It doesn’t, right? For example, we commonly separate racial issues from economic status and they’re essentially tied, right? If we’re not thinking about intersectionality in the work, we’re consistently failing, right? We can create more access points for black businesses, but if black businesses are, and this is an example, if black businesses are exploiting workers it’s still feeding into the broader system of racism, right, of capitalism and so on. So, as I think about the work, they’re tied. It means that in the assembly, as I’m serving there will be some times where there’ll be conflicts with both democrats and republicans, across the aisle, because their views on how we can ensure that folks are protected and uplifted differ from ours.

RG: When did you get this mindset, when did you start realizing about how all this is intertwined and how we need to fight for the working class, along with fighting for all the minorities in America?

DM: My journey started in high school actually. I was asked to write a paper related to something that was tied to me or my city or so on, and as I was doing research I found out about Milwaukee’s sewer socialist history and found out about how all of the great things that make Milwaukee, and all of Wisconsin great, came from those leaders. The idea that there was a pathway for leadership that was not leadership that was not upholding the party but upholding the people that they serve and everyday folks. At the time I was also doing political organizing with the democratic party and so I got to see the flaws in the organizing structure. And when I found out that DSA existed in 2019, I joined it, after I had a conversation with County Supervisor at the time Ryan Clancy and a good friend of mine, Rick Banks, who was the first DSA-endorsed candidate in Milwaukee, and I found a political home, that’s been a source of education for me as well as strategy.

RG: You mentioned that your journey started in high school. You’ve worked pretty heavily with high school students from Shorewood in the past, whether in your campaign or helping them with their own projects. Can you tell me more about that work you’ve done with students here from Shorewood High School?

DM: I used to work with an organization called Urban Underground and Youth Justice-Milwaukee, before that I was a member of that organization back in high school. Back in 2011 there was a young man named Adam who was about to be expelled from Shorewood High School over a school lunch, specifically chicken nuggets. They thought he had stole the chicken nuggets, and instead of having a conversation with him about that, he was arrested and then about to be expelled from the district, and young people that were a part of Urban Underground rallied around him and organized young people from around the region to fight for Adam’s justice when a lot of folks didn’t. And that was an incident that happened in Shorewood High School back then, and there’s been a series of more since then, and I’ve been helping young people, helping as a young person in those organizing efforts, whether that has been something related to school plays, or issues with the teacher that had young people doing research on slave games and so on, and then eventually, when I became a staffer for Urban Undergroud, supporting Shorewood students in their 50 Miles More campaign, which made national news, and then my own students, Eric Lucas, Cameron Fann, and Ilijah Taylor-Jordan, with organizing related to Black Lives Matter. I’ve always felt it’s important that young people not only have a seat at the table but true power. And that’s been a central point to my organizing strategy and my leadership, and that’s something I hope to continue to display in the Assembly.

I’ve been helping young people, helping as a young person in those organizing efforts.

RG: In your campaign this year, I know that one of the groups of students from Shorewood High School, the Shorewood High School YDSA, helped heavily in your campaign, and Milwaukee DSA really helped get behind you in that campaign.  What has your relationship with DSA been like?

DM: I’ve been a member of DSA since 2019, and I got the endorsement of DSA. Before I got the endorsement of DSA, a DSA member volunteered to be my campaign manager, and DSA helped coordinate my field operations. Also, DSA helped me refine my platform, to ensure that it aligned with our collective values. There have been a lot of resources that I’ve gotten to further my education as it relates to issues affecting working class people, as well as working collaboratively to draft legislation, legislative proposals, and supporting some of the work that has been happening with County Supervisor Ryan Clancy, and now also State Assemblyman-Elect, in his work to really ensure that there are a series of protections for those who have been incarcerated at the county level, and then also some of his amazing work with the Right to Counsel, which potentially will be, would be uplifting, as one of his first bills in the State Assembly, as a statewide Right to Counsel.  

RG: You talk a lot about Ryan Clancy. What do you plan to do with him, as two socialists in the assembly, what do you guys have planned to do to really get some working class power built?

DM: I’m confused about the situation we’re walking into as it relates to the state legislature, which is republican controlled with a democratic minority, and we are a democratic socialist minority. But the assembly provides a platform to uplift the mandate of working class people throughout the state of Wisconsin, and we plan on building a strategy and building a base of working class folks, not only in our districts, but throughout the state to be able to carry the mantle of that mandate. As legislators, we can author legislation, we can push issues depending on the committee assignments that we get, but, as a collective body of working class folks throughout the state, we can develop a mandate that even republicans won’t be able to deny, and that’s the long term strategy.

RG: You and Ryan both won elections to the state assembly, him being unchallenged, you being up against an incumbent mayor of Glendale, in Brian Kennedy, your two victories are just two in an endless list of wins we’ve seen in Milwaukee from socialists recently. What do you think these successes show about the future for socialists and progressives in Milwaukee and Wisconsin elections?

DM: It shows that there’s a pathway forward, and it shows that folks want true leadership that aligns with their values, and that’s what we plan on being.  We’re not at the helm of any special interest, we’re at the helm of the people that we serve, so their values is what always come first, not ours, not special interests and so on. I project there will be a wave of candidates across the nation that will continue to grow and rise, and push that mandate, push the boundaries, in terms of what folks need. 

Folks want true leadership that aligns with their values, and that’s what we plan on being.

RG: Is there anything you want to tell students at Shorewood High School or anything else you want to say?

DM: I think the biggest thing that I hope to convey to Shorewood High School students is that what I’ve learned throughout my experience as both a young person and now a young adult is that the time to be the change that you want to manifest into the world is now.  Not later, commonly the adults in your life will tell you you have to wait and that you don’t have the expertise to push the boundaries and you do, and you should have a seat at the table, but it’s up to you to demand it, so I’m hoping to be an advocate in any efforts that especially Shorewood High School students uplift, and please use me as a resource in the work moving forward because there’s a lot of work to be done, not only in the Madison Legislature, but also right here in the district.  There’s so many issues that young people could be amazing contributors to, and I hope that you all take the chance to make those changes now.