Emidio “Mimi” Soltysik, a graduate of Troy University, was co-chair of the Socialist Party USA from 2013-2015 and served as chair of the Socialist Party of California. In 2014, he ran for California’s 62nd State Assembly district and earned 2.5 percent of the vote. On October 17, 2015, he received the presidential nomination of the Socialist Party USA.
Gemma: We should start from the beginning – tell me about your background and your political odyssey.
Soltysik: Much of life through my early thirties was a mess. I was incredibly self-destructive and didn’t really care much for anything, including myself. That started to wear thin by my early-thirties. My head was all over the place. I honestly felt like I had forgotten how to learn. I suppose I came to a point where I had a choice to make. I chose to find a way to engage life. It was tougher for me than I can probably say in a short paragraph, but, for me, it was all about putting one foot in front of the other, taking small steps forward, and building on that progress. I’m still going through it. As I was taking those steps forward, I started to listen. And listening, the words of suffering hit me like a brick. I started to wonder if there was a place where I might be able to contribute, to help fight the oppression. I mean, I wasn’t an academic, I had little organizing experience, and I was still trying to figure out who I was. Talking with a lot of folks, doing some research, the Socialist Party seemed like it might be a good fit for me – and it was.
Gemma: To date, where is the Socialist Party USA ballot qualified?
Soltysik: We’re on the ballot in Michigan and Colorado. We’re working on a few other states as well. We’ll keep news about ballot access posted on the campaign’s website (www.rev16.us) and social media pages. We expect to be a write-in option in every state that allows write-in votes, perhaps with the exception of North Carolina.
Considering the approach and strategy of the campaign, anywhere we appear on the ballot is sort of a bonus. If it helps to get the word out, that’s great.
Gemma: Tell me about your running mate, Angela Walker.
Soltysik: Two years ago, Angela ran as an independent socialist for sheriff of Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. She received 21 percent of the vote against the incumbent Democrat. Her platform included ending mass incarceration, evictions as well as anti-immigrant policing. I’m being honest with you when I tell you that Angela was the only person I had considered asking to be a running mate. I was a huge fan of her campaign for sheriff in Milwaukee. I was just blown away.
Angela has massive integrity. She’s honest and she’s compassionate. To me, Angela is a revolutionary. When she speaks, I listen. When she writes, I read. I can’t tell you how happy I was when she accepted the invite to run with me.
Gemma: What’s the history of the Socialist Party USA?
Soltysik: The Socialist Party USA emerged from the 1972 split of the Socialist Party of America. One faction thought it made strategic sense to work within the Democratic Party. The other faction wanted to maintain its independence from the capitalist parties and was also staunchly opposed to the Vietnam War. That second faction became the Socialist Party USA.
Gemma: I don’t want to spend too much time on your competition, but having several Socialist parties active politically can be confusing. Tell me the differences between the Freedom Socialist Party, the Party for Socialism and Liberation, the Socialist Equality Party, and your Socialist Party USA?
Soltysik: I don’t really see the organizations you mention as being competition. I also don’t spend a lot of time analyzing their positions. I’ll say this: the Socialist Party USA is a multi-tendency organization, a revolutionary organization, a feminist organization, and an anti-authoritarian organization.
Gemma: Are there Socialist candidates running for other offices – state and local?
Soltysik: There are! Two of my friends, Jarrod Williams and Michael Anderson are candidates: Jarrod’s running for U.S. Senate in Nevada, and Michael is running for State Rep (District 70) in Michigan. [Note: Williams is on the ballot as an independent, Anderson is the Green Party nominee.]
Gemma: The word Socialist has become more politically palatable with the extraordinary success of the Bernie Sanders campaign. Is there a specific strategy to reach out to his constituency?
Soltysik: Sanders supporters are friends, neighbors, family members, co-workers, fellow students, etc. We engage with them in a dialogue as we would with friends, neighbors, family members, co-workers, and fellow students. We have ideas. They have ideas. We’re also interested in the dialogue, and we engage every single day (sometimes all day).
I’ve yet to experience anything like what we’ve been experiencing throughout this campaign. I totally acknowledge that the inclusion of Bernie Sanders in the race played a role. But seeing folks reach out like this – all day, every day, is incredibly inspiring. Angela and I, as well as all the folks working on the Campaign, work very hard to make sure we are accessible to all the folks who have expressed an interest, who have lent their support, who have questions. It’s been amazing.
Gemma: The Socialist Party USA’s platform states, “In socialism, full employment is realized for everyone who wants to work.” How does that come about – would the federal government guarantee jobs via state-sponsored initiatives?
Gemma: What would America’s foreign policy look like under a socialist government?
Soltysik: I think our platform covers this rather well. For example, we call for the closing of all U.S. military facilities at home and abroad that train foreign military and paramilitary personnel. We call for an end to the Israeli occupation of the West Bank, East Jerusalem, and Gaza, and an end to all U.S. aid to Israel, as a precondition for peace. We call for an immediate 50 percent cut in the military budget, followed by additional cuts, with the aim of rapidly reducing the military budget to less than 10 percent of its current level.
Gemma: The Socialist Party USA platform calls for “a radical and fundamental change in the structure and quality of economic, political, and personal relations.” I don’t understand the meaning of the word personal in that statement.
Soltysik: We live in a patriarchy. We live in a racist, sexist, oppressive system. Everything about this is personal.
Gemma: The Socialist Party USA advocates a society “where working people own and control the means of production and distribution through democratically-controlled public agencies, cooperatives, or other collective groups.” How would that policy impact on a family business?
Soltysik: Worker ownership and control of production and distribution lies at the core of socialism. If the only employees at your family business are family members and those family members own and control production and distribution, I don’t see how anything would change.
Gemma: In 1944, Norman Thomas, the six-time presidential candidate for the Socialist Party, asserted that the “American people will never knowingly adopt socialism. But, under the name of ‘liberalism,’ they will adopt every fragment of the socialist program until one day America will be a socialist nation, without knowing how it happened.” He also claimed that, “I no longer need to run as a Presidential candidate for the Socialist Party. The Democratic Party has adopted our platform.” Has that in fact happened?
Soltysik: It’s been over seventy years since Thomas said that, and in 2016, there is nothing socialist about the Democratic Party. Polling data is showing that more and more folks are receptive to socialism. More and more are disgusted with the two-party system. I think we’ll continue to see a shift away from the Democratic Party and a shift toward more explicitly socialist projects.