The race for Urbana City Council Ward 2 is a unique one, with a progressive Democrat and a Socialist challenging each other for the seat. Neither candidate is an incumbent. Colin Dodson is member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, looking to bring their activism into elected office. 


Smile Politely: Tell me a little about yourself and your background.
 
Colin Dodson: My name is Colin Dodson (they/them/theirs) and I’m running for Urbana City Council in Ward 2. I grew up in a small town in Southern Illinois with a strong family commitment to civic engagement. My dad was the president of the United Mine Workers Association local chapter, a volunteer EMT, and later a village council member for about 10 years. My grandpa and uncle were volunteer firefighters, and my grandpa served as the township supervisor as well. Growing up watching this kind of work has had a profound impact on who I am today. I came to Urbana in 2008, and it was here that I got involved with community organizing. A few years later, I helped found the local branch of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, a national organization dedicated to grassroots organizing and the struggle against racism, exploitation, and inequality.
 
In 2018, I was elected to the Urbana-Champaign Independent Media Center Board. That
same year, my coworkers and I led a successful campaign to get employee representation on
the board of directors at our workplace, Common Ground Food Co-op (CGFC). The next year, I was the first worker elected to that same board where I served on the Policy Committee and helped CGFC adapt to the changing public health situation. In the midst of the mass uprising against police brutality and racial injustice last year, I helped found the Champaign County Anti-Racist Coalition. CC-ARC is a coordinating body for over a dozen civil rights organizations around town working together in the movement for Black lives. Working with PSL and CC-ARC, I helped make sure that there was food, water, medics, and sound equipment available for all the community actions throughout the summer. I’ve been on both sides of the policy process: in the street with a megaphone and at the table poring over reports. I want to use my experience to improve my community.
 
SP: What motivated you to run for city council?
 
Dodson: I remember standing alongside many other community members outside the Urbana City Building as we listened to City Council ignore public outcry and approve the reappointment of Police Chief Seraphin. This decision came in the aftermath of George Floyd’s murder at the hands of Minneapolis Police & the violent arrest of Ale’yah lewis, an Urbana resident who wasn’t even suspected of any crime. From that moment on, I started thinking about running for City Council to make sure that the wishes of Urbana residents would never be ignored that blatantly again.
 
SP: You’ve chosen to run as a member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, rather than one of the major parties. Can you explain how your ideals differ from those of other progressives?
 
Dodson: The Party for Socialism and Liberation believes that political parties should serve their constituents all of the time, and does not just exist to get candidates elected. Unlike the Democrats, we don’t primarily focus on elections, and we don’t have any superdelegates or superPACS. We have branches in dozens of cities large and small where we help coordinate protests, distribute food, organize with unions, and build grassroots power. All of our members dedicate themselves to making their communities stronger and we train to be better organizers in our workplaces and neighborhoods.

We’re proud socialists. This means that we believe workers should have a say in how
their workplaces are run, that megacorporations & utility companies should be publicly owned, and that production should be oriented towards meeting people's needs and not private profit. We have seen that capitalism is chaotic, unsustainable, and exploitative. When we talk about capitalism, we’re talking about a very specific economic system that puts the vast wealth created by everyday people into the pockets of the few. This happens on an individual level every day. When you go to work for a wage or salary, you’re generating value. For your boss to make a profit, they need to pay you less than the total value you’re generating. This labor-market is only profitable for companies if there are more people looking for jobs than there are open jobs. That means private companies not only need to pay you less than the real value of your labor, but also that they need to artificially limit the number of available jobs so that they can keep the cost of your labor—your wages—down. Letting production be dictated by the profit motive and the anarchy of the market means that every few years, the economy crashes and millions lose their livelihoods.

We also stand unequivocally for Black liberation, Indigenous Sovereignty, reparations,
self determination, and an end to all forms of oppression. If you’re interested in the work we do, I encourage you to check out our work at LiberationNews.org or reach out to our branch here at PSLChampaignUrbana@gmail.com.

SP: What is something you think is working well in Urbana city government?

Dodson: I think the City has done a good job preserving the historic character and charm of Urbana, the little things that make me proud to call this place home. The brick streets, the green spaces and trees, and our wonderful public library. Our public transportation is efficient and reliable. I also think the One Door policy is a promising first step towards police reform. City government couldn’t function without the hard work of many Urbana residents. Bus drivers, snow plowers, sanitation workers, city staff, and teachers, are the real backbone of our city. Their labor is what makes this city operate day-to-day and stand out. It’s the residents of Urbana who make this city run, and city policy should reflect that.

SP: What are the three most important reforms you would like to see?

Dodson: 

Common-sense public safety

Right now, we rely on the police for all sorts of calls, from violent crime to traffic
violations. Police are being sent out to call after call, dealing with a range of situations that they are neither trained nor equipped to deal with. Police in Urbana have a documented history of using excessive force and racial profiling. Rethinking public safety is critical to addressing the deep racial and class disparities perpetuated by the police and mass incarceration system.

I believe that we need to redirect our public safety budget to include funding for mental
health counselors, crisis intervention specialists, addiction treatment, and other support
programs. Not only would this benefit residents and overworked police officers, it also makes
fiscal common-sense. Urbana spends $11 million — roughly 20% of the city’s budget — on the police while our city is projected to be $1 million in deficit by 2024. My priorities to make Urbana a leader in common-sense public safety include:

  • Redirect some of our public safety budget away from policing & incarceration and towards rehabilitation programs, mental health counselors, and domestic violence programs. Police do not need to be on the scene for nonviolent offenses, drug overdoses, or traffic violations.
  • Take police officers out of schools. Police in schools only serve to strengthen the school-to-prison pipeline, and student groups like Paign to Peace have been demanding the police leave their schools for a long time.
  • Revamp the Civilian Police Review Board. The CPRB needs the power to oversee all complaints of police misconduct, implement racial bias training, and approve the appointment of new police chiefs.
  • Expand the definition of “sanctuary city” to prohibit all law enforcement cooperation with I.C.E.
  • Reassess, and likely end the city’s bloated contract with the Fraternal Order of Police.
  • Ensure that no illegal fees are being charged by the city to process FOIA requests for police encounter information

Housing justice

Access to affordable, safe, and quality housing is a human right. We have more than 2,000 vacant housing units across Urbana, roughly four times the number of houseless people. But why do those apartments and houses sit empty as our unhoused neighbors freeze? Because Landlords and property management companies buy up houses and apartments to rent at a profit. Private control of the housing supply allows landlords to drive up the price on a fundamental human right.. This means that many of our neighbors have to sleep in their cars or on the streets, and that many more are just a paycheck away from eviction. With so many Urbana residents out of a job due to COVID, we need to make sure that no one is evicted even after the state-wide moratorium expires. My priorities to address the housing crisis include:

  • Implementing an indefinite moratorium on utility shut-offs.
  • Make Low Income Home Energy Assistance Program (LIHEAP) funds more accessible. Right now, residents need to notify their utility company if they plan to get assistance paying their bills through the LIHEAP program. We should eliminate that requirement and ensure that the city effectively communicates the availability of funds to residents at risk of shutoffs.
  • Ban evictions and advocate for the cancellation of all pandemic rent debt. PSL is organizing around these demands across the country. Read more about the campaign at https://www.canceltherents.org/
  • Enforce and expand the housing code. Landlords all across Urbana fail to do adequate repairs and often illegally discriminate.
  • Provide full grant funding for an independent tenants union. I want to give Urbana renters the tools they need to build community power.

COVID Recovery

Healthcare is a human right. The University of Illinois is able to process 13,000 COVID tests per day — and yet University testing sites are only open to students. But community health requires a holistic approach: testing should be open all, free of charge, to limit
community spread. The University is currently trying to sell their testing program to the the state and other cities — but they couldn’t have developed the tests in the first place without the labor of building workers, food service workers, graduate students, and your tax revenue.
My priorities for ensuring our community’s physical and economic health include:

  • Working to open University testing sites to all residents
  • Ensuring equitable vaccine rollout
  • Supporting the demands of protestors from this past summer to bring mobile check-ups to underserved communities, especially Black communities & poor communities. If countries as poor as Cuba and Vietnam can send community doctors to check up on
    their citizens, we absolutely could do it here.

SP: If elected, you will be the only member of your party on the city council. How do you plan to work with other aldermen to accomplish your goals?

Dodson: I’ve been the only socialist at the table before. When I served on the Common Ground Food Co-op board of directors, not only was I the only open socialist, but I was the only CGFC worker there. Yet I was still able to work with every member of the board and the Policy Committee to drive the Co-op forward.

I’m also running alongside a cohort of progressive candidates. I participated in a series of
“People’s City Council” meetings with nearly a dozen other progressives running for office
across Champaign and Urbana. There’s two other candidates from the People’s City Council, on the ballot this April. While we might not agree on everything, we do agree that Urbana needs progressive change and we’re committed to working together to make that happen, so I’m not in this alone.

Plus, city council members should represent their constituents. The interests of Ward 2 voters
aren’t that different from the interests of other working people around Urbana. If council
members genuinely listen to and respond to the needs of their constituents, we should be able to find a lot of common ground.

SP: Why do you feel you are the more qualified candidate?

Since I’m running with a new party I had to collect almost two hundred signatures just to be on the ballot. That’s almost as many Ward 2 residents as voted in the last election! So I organized my neighbors and supporters to go door to door and talk to the rest of our neighbors about why I wanted to run and what my priorities were. In just a couple weeks, we collected the most signatures of any candidate in the race. If elected, I’ll continue my collaborative approach to finding solutions by hosting regular community meetings and giving my constituents the tools they need — like grant funding for a tenants union — to make city government work for them. I think it is precisely this collaborative approach, incorporating the community into decision making through personal interaction, that Urbana needs right now.

If elected, I’ll continue working cooperatively and collaboratively with the residents of my ward tofind solutions that work for all of us. Additionally, I’ll strive to work with Ward 2 residents to
establish a regular forum for Ward residents to organize and communicate their needs and
interests with myself and City Council as a whole. By maintaining such a positive relationship
with my constituents, I’m confident that we can make the city government work for us and
achieve many of the goals that our residents need.

SP: Anything else you want to make sure voters know?

Dodson: If you voted for Bernie Sanders in 2016 & again in 2020, like I did, you probably know that the working class needs a progressive alternative to the Democratic party. I firmly believe that the Party for Socialism and Liberation is that alternative. We’re a progressive organization at every level: from our local branches to our elected national leadership.
We know that our work doesn’t end with elections. If you’re interested in organizing in your
workplace or your neighborhood to start building grassroots power, please reach out to me and the other PSL organizers in CU. We’d love to work with you to ensure that everyone has access to the resources they need. You can message us on Facebook, send us an email at
PSLChampaignUrbana@gmail.com, or reach out to my campaign at
ColinForCouncil.org/Sign-Up.

Watch the League of Women Voters Candidate Forum for Ward 2 to hear more from Dodson and their opponent Christopher Evans. You can find out information about all of the candidates in Champaign county at Champaign County Voters Alliance