Essex is an unusual place to find a candidate for next President of the United States, but six weeks before America goes to the polls Alyson Kennedy was not canvassing swing states but banging on doors in Harlow to talk to Britons about Brexit, immigration and her desire kick start a Cuban-style revolution in the US.
The Socialist Workers Party (SWP) nominee was in Britain as part of a European tour that had seen her visit Paris, Manchester and London alongside the Communist League, its UK arm. It is the second time that Kennedy has taken a swing at the White House: in 2008, she was vice-presidential candidate alongside SWP nominee Roger Calero. The pair won a total of 7,577 votes, less than 0.01% of the US electorate.
But luckily for Kennedy, it is not about the votes: the SWP is focused on door-to-door campaigning, spreading their message among working class voters in the US. Kennedy is only on the ballot in seven states and has little chance of getting to the White House. Like Communist League candidate Jonathan Silberman – who recently ran for mayor of London – Kennedy does not see elections as a method to overthrow capitalism.
"A big way that the wealthy class in the US rule is by convincing working people that you got to vote for the lesser evil – and they are doing this big time in this election, with liberals saying the lesser evil is Clinton [...]. Our party has a different view: we think that the attacks on working people have been carried out by both parties," she told IBTimesUK at the Communist League's offices in Dalston.
"We say that a vote for the Socialist Workers Party is a protest vote really [...]. The things that workers have won have not been at the ballot box, they have been through struggles."
Kennedy cites the civil rights struggles of the 1960s and 1970s as examples of how protest rather than politics has achieved change. As far back as 1975, she was involved in the struggle against racial segregation in schools in Louisville, Kentucky. In the late 1970s, Kennedy was instrumental in forcing US coal companies to hire women and from 1981 she was a leading member of the United Mine Workers of America (UNWA).
"It took affirmative action lawsuits to force coal companies to begin to hire women. But we still faced a lot of discrimination. The coal companies really didn't want us there [...] and there were some rank and file miners who were backward on this question [too]. But we quickly proved that we could do the work [and] women became some of the strongest union fighters," she said.
Kennedy worked in mines in Alabama, Colorado, West Virginia and finally in Utah, where she led a 2003 strike at a mine in Huntingdon. That three year struggle resulted in a deal with management that improved safety conditions and raised wages, which were then just $5 per hour. Since leaving mining, she has been employed as a garment worker as well as running for vice-president in 2008 and governor of Illinois in 2010.
What we talk about has been accomplished in the world. The best example of it is Cuba.
Like many observers, she sees the 2016 election as unprecedented in that the two main candidates – Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton – are loathed by some 70% of American voters. She has been frustrated by claims that working class voters have been drawn to Trump's racist and anti-Muslim message – just as the common theme in Britain is that working class voters opted for Leave because of a hatred of immigrants.
"Clinton said that 50% of the people who support Trump are deplorable, that they are racist, xenophobic and sexist [and] that is just not true. There are working people who support Trump but they support him because they think he is going to be different [...]. That he is going to fix things. That he's not a part of the Republican party machine," she said. But Trump is not the man of the working class," she said.
Kennedy sees not just an arrogance on the part of American politics and society when it comes to the working class, but a fear – a hatred, even – of workers. She sees Hillary Clinton and Donald Trump as part of the same machine, wanting to appeal to and speak for the working class while knowing nothing of their lives and struggles. And despite his status as the America's first black president, she sees Barack Obama firmly within that tradition.
"Obama [...] came out of Harvard. There are a lot of politicians [...] that come out these Ivy League schools, and they're very liberal but they have very arrogant attitudes towards working people. They really believe that working people are backward and that the way we live is causing our problems. They also really fear working people - and that is what's coming forward in this election," she said.
It is November 8, 2016, and as the votes come in Florida, Ohio and California have fallen to the SWP – both Clinton and Donald Trump phone Alyson Kennedy to concede the US election. America's first socialist president sits down with her VP, civil rights activist Osborne Hart, to plan their first move when they enter the White House on 20<sup>th January, 2017. So what is first on the agenda?
"Well, if elected, one of the first things I would do is use the office of the presidency to turn it over to the working class [...]. I would use the office of the presidency to organise the working class. But what we explain to working people is that we think the major thing in this election is the need for [...] a much more powerful movement – a revolutionary movement – that could take political power – for a revolution in the United States," she said.
"What we talk about has been accomplished in the world. The best example of it is Cuba."
Both the Socialist Workers Party (which is not related to and has major ideological differences with the UK socialist movement of the same name) and the Communist League are well known for their admiration for Cuba, and Kennedy visited the island nation as recently as May this year. She remains a staunch advocate of Fidel and Raul Castro, despite serious concerns about human rights in Cuba.
It doesn't matter if Britain Leaves or it Remains, the crisis is still there.
Human Rights Watch reported more than 6,200 cases of arbitrary detention between January and October 2015 as the government arrested human rights campaigners and journalists. Cuba restricts internet access and the government controls all of the island's media outlets. Although the Castros released 43 political prisoners as part of the historic 2014 deal with Barack Obama, HRW reports that "dozens" remain. But Kennedy is resolute.
"Where are the political prisoners? Name them. That does not exist in Cuba [...]. If there are political prisoners in Cuba then show us the list. They don't need to do that to maintain their power," she said.
During her campaign, Kennedy has attended both Trump and Clinton rallies to spread her message, and found that the anti-establishment sentiment that may have pushed working class towards Trump has made the SWP message well received. If anything, the 2016 election and Britain's vote for Brexit has illustrated the same thing, she said, that Britons, Americans – workers everywhere – are sick of politics as normal.
"Working people are getting fed up and they are looking for other views and perspectives. It doesn't matter if Britain Leaves or it Remains, the crisis is still there. No matter what these capitalist rulers do, they still have to face this international world oppression," she said.