Louisville DSA has endorsed two candidates for the Louisville Metro Council elections on June 23, and the results of the election will be a good measurement of to what extent a democratic socialist base is cohering among the working class in Louisville. The campaigns of Ryan Fenwick and Robert LeVertis Bell are a test of the organizing capacity for socialists in Louisville and an extension of years of labor and issues-based organizing.
The chapter has an active labor committee carrying out a rank-and-file strategy. That means we encourage members to take positions in strategic industries with existing unions and work alongside leaders in those unions to help build militant, member-led organizations capable of waging class struggle. Louisville DSA has focused most of their labor efforts thus far on education, public services, and logistics, with a number of members playing a role in Kentucky’s “Red State Revolt” teacher uprisings in 2018 and 2019. Robert LeVertis Bell, a rank-and-file teacher and member of the Jefferson County Teachers’ Association, has been involved in teacher activism in addition to his organizing with DSA.
Louisville DSA has also organized around the annual Louisville Metro Budget. In 2019, a budget crisis in Louisville led to Mayor Greg Fischer and Metro Council debating severe cuts to public services. In partnership with AFSCME Local 3425, the library employee union, the chapter undertook a Save Our Libraries campaign to organize against Fischer’s proposed draconian cuts to the library system. The mayoral budget proposal would have permanently closed two libraries, reduced services at all libraries, and led to the firing of dozens of library employees. After a public pressure campaign that encouraged the city to examine the unnecessarily large police budget instead of cutting already underfunded vital services, the budget was adjusted; one of the libraries was saved and none of the employees were laid off — a partial victory.
Ryan Fenwick has been no stranger to facing off with Greg Fischer, having opposed him as a community activist on issues ranging from environmental concerns to the treatment of Louisville’s homeless population. In 2018, Fenwick ran for Mayor of Louisville against Fischer — forging a grassroots coalition anchored by Louisville DSA and Kentuckians for the Commonwealth to take on the two-term millionaire mayor. While Fenwick did not win the election, he got 12,000 votes in the Democratic primary. After the election, Fenwick refocused his efforts on building the local DSA chapter.
In late 2019, Louisville DSA decided that the coming year presented two primary avenues for organizing. The first was the threat of further budget cuts and austerity from the city government. The second was a recognition that the chapter’s DSA for Bernie campaign presented a strong opportunity to run DSA members in carefully selected down-ballot races. Fenwick was the first to jump at the opportunity, deciding to challenge an incumbent Metro Council representative in District 10. The chosen district, in addition to being where Fenwick lived, had been won by Bernie Sanders in the 2016 Democratic Presidential primary and had contained some of Fenwick’s strongest precincts in his 2018 mayoral bid.
In District 4, the incumbent Metro Council representative decided to not seek re-election after only one term. Bell’s background as a neighborhood and community activist affords him a strong personal base in his district that made him a compelling candidate for the seat. Bell’s grandmother is a well known local civil-rights activist, and Bell himself has been organizing against racism and police abuse for 20 years. His campaign has shown the ability to bring together a multiracial coalition of support that has too often been lacking for progressive campaigns.
Louisville DSA quickly endorsed Bell and Fenwick at its 2020 Local Convention with no opposition. The choice had been easy because both candidates had been in the trenches with DSA members — serving on the chapter’s Steering Committee, leading committees and political education sessions, and being active volunteers for the Louisville DSA for Bernie campaign. Robert Levertis Bell’s work within DSA labor networks and the Bread & Roses DSA caucus has also led to a wide network of committed supporters across the United States. Not only did Louisville DSA trust the two candidates to be a reflection of their politics, but members took on key roles with the campaigns from campaign manager on down to regular volunteers.
The chapter approached these two electoral campaigns as part of a broader, multifaceted “Solidarity City” campaign. The Solidarity City campaign has focused on demanding a city budget which deemphasizes policing, reinvests in public services, and ends tax giveaways and loopholes in an effort to find revenue for the kind of city government we’d like to build. In addition, the campaign has put pressure on the city to honor public employee union contracts, implement much stronger environmental protections, and deliver a worker-centered response to COVID-19. Fenwick and Bell’s platforms are based in part on the core demands of the Solidarity City campaign.
Since January, Louisville DSA members have knocked on thousands of doors, made thousands of phone calls, and put in countless hours of volunteering to elect two comrades to the Louisville Metro Council. The chapter now faces the ultimate test for their efforts: the Kentucky Democratic Primary on June 23. The election will determine how well the chapter currently develops its members to run for office and serves as an organizational anchor for successful electoral campaigns.
Both campaigns are considered strong contenders with a realistic shot of sweeping their races. However, one final volunteer push is needed to get Robert LeVertis Bell and Ryan Fenwick elected to the Metro Council. DSA members from all across the United States can and should volunteer to make phone calls. By standing together in solidarity across all the disparate fights we face, the socialist movement can win major victories for working-class power and begin building that brighter day we all know is to come.