Jabari Brisport first came to Ohio to canvass for then-Democratic candidate Bernie Sanders during the 2016 primary. Last Monday, the artist, activist and teacher made his way back to Ohio for an event sponsored by the Kenyon Young Democratic Socialists of America (KYDSA).
Brisport’s work with the 2016 Sanders campaign became an important and politically formative experience for him.
“If Bernie had not run I would not be standing here today. It was through his campaign that I realized I was a socialist,” Brisport said. In the months following Sanders’ defeat in 2016, Brisport began to consider ways in which economic issues intersected with his own identity.
“You know black people were brought here as capital, that’s what slavery was — a pricetag on human beings,” Brisport said. “And then sharecropping, that’s what that was too. Red lining was a product of capitalism, so was for-profit policing and for-profit prisons … I started to think, ‘Oh, capitalism is racist.’”
A year later Brisport, who is based in Brooklyn, decided to run for a seat on the New York City Council. He ran as a Democratic Socialists of America-endorsed (DSA) Green Party candidate to represent New York District 35, which includes his home neighborhood of Crown Heights.
Although he lost to his Democratic opponent, his campaign launched him into the DSA network, the same group which backed Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez. After his city council defeat, Brisport’s former campaign manager went on to manage Ocasio-Cortez’s campaign.
In his talk, Brisport reflected on his campaign experiences and laid out his vision for democratic socialism on both the local and national levels. He has been an advocate for affordable housing in New York City, most recently fighting the construction of luxury condos in Crown Heights.
He also discussed the challenges of running as a democratic socialist and the need to balance larger ideological stances with the everyday concerns of local constituents. “We need to meet people where they are,” Brisport said.
Joe DeAngelo ’21, an outreach coordinator for the KYDSA who helped to organize the event, hoped Brisport’s talk would motivate students to become more politically engaged.
“There is a severe lack of any culture of political action at Kenyon,” DeAngelo said. “That’s why I got involved in the DSA. A speaker is a great way to lay the groundwork for what could become that culture.”
Helen Cunningham ’21 enjoyed hearing from someone in the DSA, but felt that Brisport missed an opportunity to engage with students directly. “I wish it was less of a political stump speech and more, ‘let’s talk about the issues,’” she said.
While DeAngelo believes that KYDSA can foster discussion about current political events through weekly meetings, he expressed a desire to shift the focus of the organization toward facilitating activism.
“Going forward, I hope the KYDSA can be a vehicle for whatever progressive initiatives Kenyon students want,” DeAngelo said.