The following is an interview with Drew Langdon, an activist in the cooperative movement in New York as well as a Green Party candidate for the New York State Representative race.
AJ: Could you please give us your background in politics and activism?
Drew: I’d say that my first experience in political activism was as a student at Houghton College when I participated in an action organized by our campus’s chapter of Evangelicals for Social Action. On this rural, politically conservative campus, we staged a reenactment of the lives of the millions who live without homes in the United States. We established ourselves on the steps of the campus chapel and went on a fast, only eating what was given to us by our peers. While we knew that our experience really had no comparison to the reality of homelessness, it sparked an intense conversation that many on the campus would not be exposed to otherwise. I was also involved in the establishment of an environmental advocacy club while a student.
A few years after I left school, I once again threw myself into activism by participating in the 2010 Soulforce Equality Ride, which advocates for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer persons in conservative Christian settings such as my former school. We toured the country for two months discussing sexuality, gender, and spirituality, and forcing ourselves into spaces that refused to have that conversation.
Then, after the Green Party regained it’s ballot status in New York due to Howie Hawkins’ gubernatorial campaign, I decided to get involved with the Party. I had always considered myself a Green since I began voting and my first election I cast my ballot for Malachy McCourt, who was our candidate in 2006. But now I decided to really get involved to promote the values of democracy, sustainability, nonviolence, and justice in the political system. I joined the local Green Party committee and helped a few of our candidates with their campaigns.
What got you interested in cooperatives?
Drew: While looking for a job so that I could move to Rochester, I came across Small World Bakery through their product at the local food co-op. After really enjoying, their black bean & raisin bread, I looked them up and discovered that they were a worker cooperative and that they were looking for new workers. So I joined and started working. Although I had been shopping sporadically at the food co-op before, Small World was really my introduction into what a cooperative was. The concept of applying democratic principles to the workplace hadn’t occurred to me before. It was new and exciting to be able to make decisions with all of my other co-workers. I am no longer a part of the bakery, but I am still a cooperator through my membership in Ant Hill Cooperative, a housing co-op in the Plymouth-Exchange neighborhood. And I am now looking at ways to jumpstart cooperative development in Rochester.
Do you feel that the cooperative model is the best approach when it comes to answering our economic issues?
Drew: Really I think that it is not only the best approach, it is the only one. The capitalist model that has become the only possible economic paradigm in the minds of many in this country is clearly failing us. Homelessness, unemployment, and an inequality in food distribution are becoming ever-increasing problems. People have no options, not through any fault of their own, but because capitalist corporations and their CEOs prioritize profits over people’s needs and well-being. Cooperatives can shift that paradigm because the focus of their economic activity is to benefit their member-owners. They expand the principle of democracy from politics to economics, ensuring that greed-infested corporations can’t exploit and dictate government policy. The concerns of people in a community become the concerns of the economic institutions within that community. And everyone benefits, not just a few.
What advice do you have for those who are interested in forming a cooperative?
Drew: There are lots of great resources in the cooperative movement that can advise anyone interested. The key though is to connect with people. This past weekend, I participated in the national conference of the US Federation of Worker Cooperatives in Boston. I learned so much while I was there and met lots of people with similar goals. I look forward to working with them and asking for their advice when I come across an issue, because someone within the Federation has almost certainly experienced something similar before. And since the biggest obstacle to overcome at the moment is that there is not much capital available to new cooperators, it is important that people engage the communities that they’re in, to help out in whatever way they are able. Cooperation is above all about building communities, and it is our communities that will make these projects succeed.
What made you decide to run for office, and why under the Green Party?
Drew: As an activist, it can often be difficult to get your issues into the public spotlight. So we have to experiment with different tactics to get the powers-that-be to pay attention. I’ve come to the position that electoral politics can be an effective way to do this, even if we don’t win our elections. While we didn’t win our local elections in 2011, we did see several smaller campaign issues adopted by the City. And for many people, our elections are the only time that they get political in any way. So if you can get ecological, anti-capitalist voices into candidate forums or into the media, you get your message into the minds of those who may not otherwise respond to or pay attention to street protests or civil disobedience. So even if we don’t win an election battle, we can still win the overall sociopolitical war.
The Green Party provides a path to accomplish this as potential political ally of the progressive social movements. We can no longer rely on the Democratic Party to get anything done for us. They have essentially become a center-right party, and it is time for progressives to recognize that and build the Greens as a viable non-corporate alternative.
Young people are running for office on all levels. In your opinion, why do young people want to get involved in politics earlier in their life rather than build up experience?
Drew: While the wisdom and pragmatism of our elders may be important, if we can’t dream and imagine occasionally, the conversation becomes stale. We become disillusioned and accept that the world that we live in is the best of all possible worlds. But we know that’s not the case. Young people bring idealism and new energy into the political conversation. We won’t take “that’ll never work” as an answer. Our lack of experience can be a positive thing, because we are much more likely to experiment with new models and maybe we’ll discover that the reason that something may have failed in the past is different than the reason that we thought.
What advice do you have for young people who are interested in running for office?
Drew: I think it is advisable to be involved in at least a few campaigns before launching your own, but don’t let people discourage you from running because of your age. There have been many young people across history that have radically altered the course of history, such as 19-year-old Joan of Arc. If people refuse to listen to your ideas, it is their loss. And there’s nothing to lose by bringing your ideas to the table sooner rather than later. It gives people more opportunities to realize that you bring the solutions to a wide array of problems, it gives them more time to think through what you propose and eventually it’ll just become common sense.