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Hamden swears in Connecticut’s first socialist slate in 60 years

For many years, the word “socialist” has been taboo in U.S. politics. But there’s a growing population of voters -- especially younger voters -- embracing leftist ideology. This is especially noticeable in mainstream national politics with self-described Democratic Socialists like Bernie Sanders and Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

Now this leftist wave is reaching local elections.

The town of Hamden recently swore in Connecticut’s first socialist slate in 60 years (in contrast with individual socialist candidates). Three members of the Democratic Socialists of America were elected -- two to the Legislative Council and one to the Board of Education.

“People really resonate with socialism -- or, at least, politicians or elected officials who kind of stray away from a binary political system and put people before party,” said Mariam Khan, Hamden’s newest Board of Education member.

Khan ran as part of the JAM slate -- short for Justin Farmer, Abdul Osmanu, and Mariam Khan -- a coalition of three like-minded Hamden natives, all of whom graduated from Hamden’s public schools. It was also a highly diverse slate: all three are people of color from immigrant backgrounds. And each candidate shattered records: Khan and Osmanu are the first Muslims ever elected in Hamden. Khan is 19 and a sophomore at Yale, making her Hamden’s youngest-ever elected official. Osmanu, a few months older than Khan, is Hamden’s youngest-ever legislator.

Farmer and Osmanu both ran unopposed in their districts because their opponents couldn’t collect enough signatures to get onto the primary ballots. But in Khan’s packed race, she still received overwhelming support during the Democratic primary. She was the highest vote-getter of any primary candidate across the entire ballot -- including the mayoral race. She attributes her success to her engagement with the community.

“Abdul calls us a ‘people-powered machine,’ and I think that’s what it was. It was about starting early, being organized, putting people first and building those connections and relationships,” said Khan.

She said that each member of the JAM slate earned these votes through years of activism. They’ve all been politically engaged since before they could vote; all three have experience with campaign work, voter outreach and organizing rallies. Khan said she’s seen progressives grow increasingly frustrated with a lack of progress on the national level and instead focus their attention on local activism.

Khan, Osmanu and Farmer plan to take aim at issues like affordable housing, education funding and addressing racism in the community. And like many Connecticut progressives, they hope that young people start reaching out beyond the ballot box and continue to get involved in local politics, where they can make the most immediate change.

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