City Councilor Kendra Lara on Being Socialist: ‘My Politics Are My Philosophy In Action’

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District 6 Boston City Councilor Kendra Lara was scheduled to give her maiden speech about socialism to the council during its Wednesday meeting. But due to time constraints, she was unable to do so. Lara answered questions from Jamaica Plain News about socialism, how it can help her constituents, and more.

District 6 City Councilor Kendra Lara (Mayor's Office Photo by Jeremiah Robinson)

Lara was elected as Kendra Hicks, but has since changed her last name to Lara.

Q: You have stated you are a socialist. Do you regard yourself as a socialist philosophically, politically, or both? How have your personal life experiences led you to embrace socialism?

Lara: There is no reason to separate the two; my politics are my philosophy in action. Coming from a Black, working-class immigrant family, I knew early that our economic system was extractive and only benefited a small group of people. I knew we needed to realign all of our systems—economic, political, and interpersonal—to center the needs of people and the common good. Socialism offered me a vision centered on racial justice, a more livable planet, affordable homes, fair wages, safe communities, strong public education, vibrant expressions of culture, and the time and space necessary to envision the world we deserve. Coming from a marginalized community, I take on the task of building a freer world willingly, for the love of our people and our communities, for our planet and our survival.

Q: Why are you a registered member of the Democratic Party? If given the opportunity to register for any political party, which party would you want to be a member of?

Lara: Out of all the tactics we employ as organizers, electoral politics can serve as one of the many levers we pull to help move us closer to the world we want to see. Unfortunately, we live in a country with a rigid two-party system. In this context, it makes sense to position ourselves within the party most aligned with our vision. There is a regional, statewide and national movement to shift the Democratic Party towards socialism. I see myself as part of that movement. Many Democrats want to see the party deliver policies that support working people. All too often, the party fails to deliver. Despite my ideological disagreements with the Democratic Party, I think our immediate task is to—as a part of a larger movement strategy—continue building a wing of the Democratic Party that better reflects the material circumstances working-class people face every day.

Q: From a granular perspective, how do you see socialism relating to city government and services for constituents? Specifically, how can a socialist agenda be used to help constituents?

Lara: Socialism within the municipal government doesn’t have to look one way. Rather than thinking about socialism as a prescriptive set of policies or manner of governing, I see it as a series of questions that, when asked, move us closer to our collective vision. When thinking about policy, we must ask: does this shift power to the people? Are we building a deeper democracy by expanding who can make decisions? How do we move away from a top-down capitalist toward a solidarity economy? And ultimately, are we reckoning with the history of anti-Black racism in this country and pushing towards reparation?

Socialism makes it plain that we have a responsibility to meet the basic needs of our people. To serve the people of District 6, we need a robust, proactive, and well-resourced constituent services operation that makes meeting those basic needs, responding to questions, and further involving our residents in the democratic process possible. Socialism isn’t just about abstract policies and resolutions. It is safe roads, well-lit, accessible parks, helping a neighbor with the permitting process, connecting constituents to resources, etc. We believe that it's one of the central functions of our office, to create ease around the little things so that we can work collaboratively with our people on the big things.

Q: In your teenage years, particular texts informed you about socialism. What texts spoke to you, and do you think would better help people understand how you view socialism and why it would benefit individuals and society?

Lara: We should all understand how resources are produced, distributed, and consumed. We should know who is at the center, who is pushed to the margins, and how those divisions fall along race, gender, and class lines. There is an endless amount of critical thought to be explored. Three texts that helped ground me in my understanding of socialism are Women, Race, & Class by Angela Davis, The Combahee River Collective Statement by the Combahee River collective and, Ujamaa: The Basis of African Socialism by Julius Nyerere. These thinkers helped provide a framework I could use to understand my own life experiences. A People’s Guide to Capitalism by Hadas Their is a more contemporary book that explains the economics behind socialism and serves as an introductory guide for people who want to learn more.

Q: For many people in the U.S., socialism invokes fear. What about socialism do you think scares people? Do you believe there is a misconception of socialism and its effect on people’s lives?

Lara: Socialism benefits the vast majority of us. There are a few—those who benefit from the oppression and exploitation of others—that, in a narrow view, stand to lose something in a fair and equal society. Unsurprisingly, these are the folks who often get to shape the public narrative. Whether through decades-long propaganda campaigns from the US government or political mailers like the ones sent out by my opponent, they’ve managed to convince our neighbors and us that socialism is a threat. But a threat to what? And to whom? 

When I’m in conversation with people who are apprehensive about Socialism, I ask them to consider who stands to benefit from maintaining the status quo. Who wins when workers are exploited? Who profits if we can’t afford healthcare? Who benefits when housing is unaffordable? I hope that by deeply interrogating the circumstances we find ourselves in, people will discover that a system where ordinary people have an authentic voice in our workplaces, neighborhoods, and society is beautiful and not something we should be scared of.

Q: Your campaign ideas were passionately embraced in and outside District 6. What about your campaign do you think spoke to people? Whether they knew it or not, are there socialist themes that people embraced in your campaign?

Lara: From the beginning, our campaign was about creating a collective vision. When we built our policy platform, we went to those most directly impacted by the issues, the stakeholders, those who would stand to benefit from these policies. Together, we created a roadmap for a better Boston. Collective governance and shared power are central tenets of socialism because they elicit buy-in from the most directly impacted people. People across the district and the city embraced these ideas because they weren’t mine alone; they were ours. 

You don’t have to be a socialist to want a safe, affordable roof over your head.

You don’t have to be a socialist to want well-resourced public schools.

You don’t have to be a socialist to want to breathe clean air.

People didn’t embrace our platform because it had Socialist themes. They embraced a shared vision of a city where we all thrive.