Eugene Puryear, a 29 year-old African-American activist, was the vice presidential nominee of the Party for Socialism and Liberation (PSL) in the 2008 election. He recently ran for an At-Large seat in the DC Council with the D.C. Statehood Green Party. Puryear is the National Organizer of the anti-war ANSWER coalition and has helped organize large protests against the Israeli blockade of Gaza. Puryear and the ANSWER coalition were involved in the campaign to free the Jena 6. He also writes for the PSL’s newspaper and journal.
Puryear studied history at Howard University. During his freshman year, Puryear was interviewed by the Washington Post and designated an “activist-in-training.” He discussed the importance of organizing against gentrification, racism and the US occupation of Iraq. Eugene is one of the founders of #DC Ferguson, an anti-police terror organization. He has led numerous demonstrations throughout the country and provided a powerful voice in opposition to police murders of Black men and boys. Puryear is the author of Shackled and Chained: Mass Incarceration in Capitalist America.
Coleman-Adebayo: You recently ran for the Washington, D.C. City Council ‘s “At-Large” seat on the DC Statehood Green Party ticket. Why did you decide to run for this position?
Puryear: I ran for this position primarily because, from my perspective, one of the biggest weaknesses of progressive—and radical—movements that engage with electoral politics do so purely from the standpoint of looking for the “best available.” We don’t draw from our own base both amongst the masses of people or our own activists and organizers. Thus, we see people in these movements constantly unhappy with their choices, and with the narrative of many campaigns that claim to be progressive but fall short in terms of substantive proposals.
I wanted to, on the one hand, advocate for solutions to the problems of capitalist society that spoke to the scale of the issue, but also empower others by showing that you don’t have to be some sort of “specialist” to run and be taken seriously while pushing a radical agenda.
Coleman-Adebayo: If you had won, as a socialist, what would you have brought to the DC Council that traditional candidates have lacked?
Puryear: I would have brought a commitment to poor and working people exclusively. We have people who represent every monied interest imaginable, but no one on our City Council unequivocally fights for the rights of the exploited and oppressed. That recognizes in capitalism that there are various political “sides” as an extension of the broader struggle. My role on the Council would not simply be to try to pass innovative proposals or conduct rigorous oversight—which I would have done—but to first and foremost advocate and agitate as loudly and clearly as possible for our “side” in the struggle, the side of the exploited and oppressed.
“You don’t have to be some sort of ‘specialist’ to run and be taken seriously while pushing a radical agenda.” So, perhaps one easy way to say it is that I would have brought class polarization. Hopefully, clarifying the “sides” in this battle in general and in how it plays out from the point of view of legislation which is almost always constructed to benefit the rich more than the poor.
Coleman-Adebayo: Do you think that running under the DC Statehood Green Party undermined your campaign?
Puryear: I do not. Running as a Democrat would mean becoming a part of a party and a system that is thoroughly committed to the capitalist structure of D.C. A party that has actually carried out policies that have resulted in brutal gentrification of Black working class communities. So while running as a Statehood Green—and for that matter being a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation—gives you some built in disadvantages well-known to third party campaigns, building political instruments that people most oppressed by this system can believe in is a precondition for actual change. The Democrats are an Imperialist party, they are not changing, not one person who has entered the Democratic Party to change it has even remotely succeeded. The only two real examples [who tried to change the Democratic Party] would be Harold Washington in Chicago, who had trouble getting a large section of his own party to support him before his tragic death, and Jesse Jackson’s ’84 and ’88 campaigns that despite being very significant failed to have any lasting impact on the rightward moving Democrats. So while people will go on-and-on about “inside/outside” strategies it should be entirely clear that without getting on with the business of building new political instruments that can serve the working class and oppressed peoples we will not make substantive or lasting change.