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One Sweet Victory | The Nation

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Katrina vanden Heuvel

Katrina vanden Heuvel

Politics, current affairs and riffs and reflections on the news.

One Sweet Victory

A friend and I were watching CNN the other night. After fifteen minutes of the Headline News, she asked, "Is there any good news in the world?"

Yes. But it's harder and harder to find.

As I wrote in this space last July, "It can be difficult, in these times, to maintain a sense of hope--as war, corruption, lies and injustices large and small loom all around,and outrage threatens to overwhelm us. But in these past months, as millions of us slug away, agitate, organize and mobilize, there have been some hard-fought victories to celebrate."

One sweet victory took place last week in Albany, New York when a young activist attorney named David Soares rocked the county (and the state) with his stunning landslide victory in the Democratic Primary for District Attorney. A nominee of the Working Families Party, his race was a referendum on the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws, and his victory was a magnificent accomplishment for the urban-suburban, black-white, gay-straight, grassroots community-labor campaign led by Albany WFP chair Karen Scharff.

Soares brought a struggling Democratic machine to its knees--defeating incumbent Albany County District Attorney Paul Clyne, one of the strongest defenders of the Rockefeller Drug Laws. (Final tally was 62 percent for Soares compared to just 38 percent for the incumbent, with record turnout of more than 22,000.)

Soares, wrote the Albany Times Union, "had the nerve to stand up to the entire political establishment in Albany, fight for what's right--and win...Support for his stance on repeal of the strict Rockefeller Drug Laws and his platform of inclusion was seen in the incumbent's staggering across-the-board loss."

Soares' victory is a clear sign of popular support for reforming antiquated and cruelly ineffective drug laws. "This is the single most important development in more than a decade of trying to reform the Rockefeller Drug Laws," according to the Drug Policy Alliance Network, which supported Soares' candidacy. "It's also the first time in contemporary American history that voters have thrown a politician out of office because he's a drug war zealot."

Soares' resounding defeat of an incumbent district attorney in New York State's capital, even in a primary election, sends an unmistakable message to other District Attorneys who, for years, have been the principal obstacle to reform. "All 'lock-'em-up, throw-away-the-key' DAs should take notice of what just happened to Paul Clyne," said Drug Policy Alliance's Executive Director Ethan Nadelmann. "I can't think of anything which will do more to change the prospects for...reform than this."

This victory is also a testament to the Working Families Party's role as a growing force in New York State politics. "The primary result," according to the New York Times, "highlighted the party's power to organize, raise money, make phone calls and knock on doors, as it did in aiding Mr. Soares in a county where registered Democrats outnumber Republicans by 82,300 to 43,516 as of February."

As Dan Cantor of the WFP argues, Soares' victory is "evidence that a campaign that has a crystal clear stance on key issues, that appeals to the voters' best instincts, and that is unrelenting in getting its message out door by door by door can actually overcome the status quo and the advantages of incumbency."

Soares still has to win the general election in November, and the reform of the Rockefeller Laws still awaits legislative action, but it's worth savoring this sweet victory.

In the next few weeks, here are a few things you can do to support David Soares and the fight to repeal the draconian Rockefeller Drug Laws:

1/ Support the Working Families Party.(Click here for info.)

2/ Support the Drug Policy Alliance Network(Click here for info.)

3/ If you live in New York State, write your local paper and call your local talk-radio show to stress how important Rockefeller reform has become in this year's election. You might even commend the New York Post for its editorial last week calling for reform of the drug laws. This represents a major reversal of the Murdoch-owned paper's longtime position. (Click here for contact info for your local media outlets.)

4/ Vote for David Soares in November if you live in Albany County--or tell your friends who live there to vote for him. And contribute to his campaign no matter where you live.

Finally, please click here to send me your nominations for small and sweet victories worth noting. I plan to keep highlighting them in this space in the weeks and months ahead and I want to include your responses.

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