BY MARISSA JOHNSON-VALENZUELA – THE BAFFLER
... I first heard about this people’s lawyer guy, Larry Krasner, when I moved to Philadelphia in 2000. He was representing, pro bono, my then housemate, Kate Sorenson, an ACT UP activist who’d been wrongfully arrested and held on million-dollar bail during the Republican National Convention protests that year. (Her case went to trial and she won.) It wasn’t the last I heard of him. His name kept coming up, year after year, as he defended countless lefty activists, including several involved with the Occupy and Black Lives Matter movements. At some point, a friend and fellow co-founder of the Up Against the Law Legal Collective, Jody Dodd, became his assistant, and I started to hear about his support of decarceration.
Like many of us who campaigned for Krasner, I believe in the kinds of changes he advocates for because I’ve seen the evidence. I have done street outreach and social work with families involved with DHS and with teens on probation. Now, as a professor at the Community College of Philadelphia, I teach college classes in city jails and special re-entry classes at the main college campus.
The “new” ideas we need have been around for a long time, and so have the people. It’s just a matter of getting them into electoral politics—a task that is much easier when we have someone to believe in. Krasner’s campaign was able to use an adhesive not always seen in local politics: enthusiasm. There were so many potlucks and fundraisers and community events for Krasner that at least one reporter published a piece mocking the candidate’s packed calendar and earnest following. The race was soaked in money, and Fox News and others lost no time spinning the tale that Soros had straight up bought the Philly DA race, citing the $1.45 million a Soros-funded super PAC spent endorsing Krasner. (Never mind the $1.25 million of personal funds dropped by the fifth-place finisher.) But clearly they weren’t seeing just how completely Krasner was able to upend politics as usual.
I mean, this is a guy who, just a few days before the election, performed with the popular punk band Sheer Mag a cover of The Clash’s “Clampdown,” a song that is critical of the failures of capitalism. (He took off the jacket but kept the tie.)
So of course this was also the song I played when Krasner arrived at the election night party and took the stage. “This is not about one person. This will never be about one person,” Krasner said in his victory speech, and he couldn’t have been more right. This win was brought about by a broad multi-racial coalition of community groups, unions, and volunteers, who knocked on tens of thousands of doors to start conversations about criminal justice. And Krasner was able to pit his unified supporters against a chaotic wreck of a field. In a seven-person primary, traditional city power structures were divided. The governor, mayor and the Democratic party declined to endorse anyone, and the city’s traditional big backers split their approval among the usual-suspect candidates. For once, divide and conquer seemed to work for us rather than against us.