Democratic socialist India Walton, a surprise Democratic nominee for Buffalo mayor, hasn’t studied socialism since grade school, she tells us in the EIC interview

India walton stands outside in front of a house
The community activist India Walton beat four-term Mayor Byron Brown for the Democratic nomination in Buffalo, New York. Lindsay DeDario/Reuters
  • Nurse, organizer, and democratic socialist India Walton is the Democratic nominee for Buffalo mayor.
  • She says she’s not a Democrat because the party has not delivered.
  • She says her policies are meant to help poor people, but they’ll benefit the rich, too.
  • See more stories on Insider’s business page.

I’m Nicholas Carlson, the global editor in chief of Insider. Here’s the latest installment of my series, The EIC Interview, condensed and edited for clarity.

How is socialism different from democratic socialism?

I’ve never studied socialism besides in grade school. My values most closely align with social programming and the belief that government should serve the people. Getting caught up in the conversation about socialism versus democratic socialism versus democracy is semantics. It’s super confusing. The bottom line is that we just put people before profit. Simple as that.

You probably could have a similar policy agenda, just call yourself a progressive Democrat, and not have to deal with all that semantic baggage. So why not just call yourself a Democrat?

Because progressive Democrats have not delivered for the people, and I want to be accountable to the people that I serve. We also knew that Buffalo’s politics operate in a vacuum, and that in order to stand out we would have to be different than the same old milquetoast neoliberal Democrat.

When some people hear the word socialist, even if it’s part of “democratic socialist,” they think that you want everybody to have the same amount of money and lifestyle, no matter how hard they work or how talented they are. Is that what you want?

Well you know, as mayor, I can’t effectively abolish capitalism, right?

(laughs)

I think actually, if people are less poor, wealthy people are going to be more wealthy because there’s more money circulating in the economy. I believe that poor people are working, talented people, but we have a system that’s been set up to keep certain groups of people impoverished, while other folks, you know, make record profits off of the labor of others.

So no, I don’t believe that people who work hard should be the only ones being poor. Those that work hard should have an equal shot at justice and equity. That means that resources, especially when it comes out of taxpayer dollars, can benefit the working class.

I sometimes hear people say they don’t want equality of outcome; they want equality of opportunity. Is that your goal as well?

Well you know, the word equality is sort of loaded. I prefer to use the term equity. What equity means is that if a person has been 50 feet (15.24m) behind the starting line for the last hundred years, then we have to provide them with that 50 feet (15.24m) to get them to zero before they can even get started, right? That’s what equity means.

Our platform is on bringing people from the marshes and fringes into the mainstream and investing in things that we all deserve, like a quality education, housing, healthcare, and a good living-wage job.

How do you feel about the rich getting richer if the poor are too? You know, is that OK if that’s what’s happening?

If the poor are getting richer?

Meaning that, if you enact programs that help the poor gain economically, is it OK with you if one result is that it helps wealthy people too?

I don’t know if the poor can get “richer” …

(laughs)

We live in an economic system where when people are less poor, the natural consequence of that, intended or not, is that wealthy people continue to gain wealth, right? So there’s really no way for us to avoid rich folks getting richer.

But what we do need to do is appeal to the sensibility of a lot of wealthy folks, that they should pay their fair share, that they should pay their workers a fair and living wage. And society as a whole will do better when we don’t expect certain people to suffer for the benefit of others.