When Nadarius Clark, candidate for delegate in the 79th district of Virginia reached out to our chapter this past March about an endorsement I had some initial concern. At the time, Tidewater DSA had already opted to endorse two candidates, Hannah Kinder and Jeff Staples, and as a smaller chapter, if we were going to take on more, there would have to be a very good reason. We sent him the details on our application process: a brief Google form followed by a general assembly meeting where there would be a Q&A with our membership and then a vote.
So, who was Nadarius Clark? We hadn’t met him in any of our organizing circles so far, but Hampton Roads is a big place, and we didn’t have many strong ties to organizing in Portsmouth at the time. We initially made the mistake of thinking his website didn’t have very many details (we would later see them clearly spelled out on the “Vision for the 79th” page), but after reviewing them, saw that we were largely aligned on core issues. A 26-year old man of Portsmouth, he had experience organizing against the KKK and fought for a $15 minimum wage during his time at Virginia Union University while maintaining strong connections to his faith community. He never explicitly used the word socialism in his outreach to us, but he specifically sought our endorsement and seemed to genuinely believe we were a great match on values.
And he really was a good match on values! As we got to know Clark at our Q&A, we learned that we saw eye to eye on virtually every question we could think of — Clark supports single-payer healthcare, the Virginia Green New Deal, repealing Right-to-Work, reparations, ending qualified immunity and more aggressive legislation on boosting the minimum wage and legalizing marijuana. He’s refusing all money from Dominion Energy and fossil fuel companies, and he sees no conflict whatsoever with his faith and supporting the right to choose and backing LGBTQ rights. Despite Clark’s passion for racial justice, our biggest sticking point was on policing: he still prescribes increased training and regulation as part of the solution on policing — but he doesn’t reject the Defund the Police movement either, agreeing that he did not want to see increased funding for policing and thought that funds should be invested in the community instead.
And on these matters with the Democratic incumbent Steve Heretick, there was no comparison. Often described as one of the most moderate Democrats in the Virginia legislature, Heretick opposed Breonna’s Law and was the lone Democratic vote to deny localities the right to remove their own Confederate monuments. Everything the DSA would like to see passed in the Virginia legislature cannot happen unless moderates like Heretick are ejected from their seats or can no longer sit in them comfortably. In this sense, the Nadarius Clark campaign had an opportunity to win along what I think of as the AOC model: a strongly progressive candidate running against a strongly moderate incumbent in a low turn-out primary of a strongly blue district.
But I found that one of the most important questions to ask when considering entering a campaign is: what would it mean to become a part of this campaign? What kind of result would the investment of time and effort and people be for socialist organizing really produce in our area? Would it be worth it? Even before considering the potential outcomes of the election, I could see the opportunity presented by the campaign. Here was an opportunity not only to grow electoral capability as an organization, an opportunity not only to mobilize our membership and our surrounding activities around an attainable goal, but an opportunity to form increased dialogue with the communities of the campaign: with Portsmouth and Norfolk communities, with Black communities, with faith communities — in other words, with the working class communities of Hampton Roads. If we could help it, I didn’t want us to sit that dialogue out.
Once our chapter voted to endorse Clark and began to show up at his volunteer events, it became clear that we were dealing with a formidable electoral force. The experience Clark had acquired knocking doors for Obama’s presidential campaign was on full display: he was running a mature campaign that was making the most of voter outreach and volunteer mobilization software such as ActBlue, Mobilize.Us, VAN and MiniVAN. It was a fantastic experience for our chapter to see these campaign captains and targeted door knocking in action, and we could tell from the strength of his volunteer force that he had a genuine shot at winning over voters.
It was only once Clark defeated Heretick in the primary by 6% that we began to process what the outcome really means. Clark is anticipated to win his general election in November, and if he does, we’ll have a DSA-endorsed fighter in the Virginia legislature who knows our chapter’s leadership on a first-name basis. The dialogue begun between the DSA, a campaign and community will now grow into a dialogue between the DSA and an elected representative, between an elected representative and the community he’s a part of. While the legislature he would walk into is by no means a friend of the working class, and will perhaps grow even less friendly in the coming year, it is meaningful for us to know that we'll have a friend there fighting for us; a friend who stands on his own but will listen and work with us toward our common goals.