Joshua Collins is an openly socialist candidate running for Congress in WA-10. A founding member of the Rose Caucus, which has largely adopted his campaign's platform, Joshua is part of the new wave of leftist candidates that have garnered national attention this election cycle. We sat down with Joshua to get to know the man behind the campaign a little bit better, discuss his campaign’s strategy, and the role of social media in contemporary politics in Part I of this interview series. (Donate to Joshua's Campaign)
Background and Political Motivations
Before we dive into the nitty-gritty portion of the interview in regards to your campaign, platform, and policy ideas can you tell me a bit about what you like to do in your free time when you're not busy working on the campaign?
I had a problem with not taking any free time for quite a while, but lately I've been using my free time to play League of Legends and walk my dog more. We're also about to start refurbishing a table that we found on the curb, like a whole dining set.
Can you tell me a little bit about your life growing up and how that has informed your system of beliefs?
I grew up pretty poor; for the first 14 years of my life I lived in Kansas. During my early youth, I went into the foster system. My parents had a very contentious custody battle and were both very young. My mom, I was her third child when she was 20 years old, had her first child when she was 14. So that's kind of what I grew up in. My mom became a nurse in her 30s and she's been a nurse since then. That's allowed her to at least afford to take care of her kids. I think that's about as good as it was ever going to get, you know? My dad I haven't spoken to in over 10 years. My childhood home was, quite frankly, one of the most decrepit places I've ever seen and, after my mom got custody of me when I was 14, it was condemned and demolished the next year.
Tell me about the work you did as a truck driver and how this helped to shape your political beliefs.
So my wife and I are both truck drivers and when I became a truck driver it was out of necessity. I got laid off from my job at a factory at a very bad time... The situation is actually pretty crappy; I was visiting my dying grandmother and had asked for the time off from work. I actually enjoyed the job that I had; it wasn't union and it didn't pay great, but I liked a lot of my co-workers, so it was a job that I enjoyed. When I visited my dying grandmother, we were driving because last minute plane tickets are expensive, right? We got halfway across the country and I got a call from my boss telling me that I'd be fired if I didn't come back by Monday; so we turned around, but I got a call from him saying I was being let go anyway. So even though I didn't get to see my dying grandmother, I had paid for gas on my credit cards, and had basically spent everything I had just trying to get there, I still lost my job and it was nearly impossible for me to dig myself out of that hole.
I took a part time job while I was looking for another job, I think delivering pizzas, but I really couldn't find anything that would give me full time hours or even $10 an hour. This was in Las Vegas, Nevada where my mom lived. I knew that trucking paid well—grandfather was a truck driver and I have a lot of friends that went into trucking—so I looked it up and found a company that would pay for my school up front under the agreement that I'd have to work for them at a relatively low wage for the industry for a year and then, basically, your debt was paid off. So I did that and then my wife joined me after a couple months of driving by myself. We drove around the country for the first year of our time together and then we came up to the Northwest and we both loved it up here, so we found a job and moved up here.
Was there any specific moment or experience that led you to decide to run for office?
There were a lot of things. In general, l felt very powerless; I felt very excluded from the political process. I looked into people who had run for office and I didn't feel like my ideas were represented; I didn't feel like there were a lot of people who came from a background like mine. Even people who are considered working class that go into Congress, they still have a college degree and they have some degree of privilege. It felt like I was coming from a place of actual poverty; a part of society that I feel like really doesn't get represented in Congress. Even if you feel poor for a person in Congress, you're probably rich compared to the average person in America.
I was participating in trying to support down ballot candidates and support a challenge to my Congressman in 2018. The candidate who ran against him didn't really get a ton of traction. She was a really great candidate and a great speaker, a very passionate speaker, which I think is one thing that she had that I don't. She did a great job and worked really hard, but in the end she lost to him and basically couldn't get any support from the Democratic Party; they fought her really hard. I saw what she had to go through and I thought that maybe if I started early enough, I could build enough power and a big enough campaign—fund my campaign enough—that I could be a serious threat to my opponent.
I initially decided to run for something because Bernie Sanders said, "If you're working class, go run for something." It was something he'd said at a town hall and repeated a bunch of times. The decision to run for Congress came out of just watching a progressive primary challenger in 2018. I decided that that's what I was going to shoot for. I was just old enough, you have to be 25 to run for Congress and I turned 25 after the 2018 election, and I think the person I was initially challenging was a particularly bad Democrat. I'm probably to the left of almost everyone in Congress, but I think that he was part of the New Democrats coalition. He flat out said that he'd never support Medicare for All (M4A) when pressured by our large activist community in the Tacoma area; he didn't support a Green New Deal (GND) and he wouldn't even meet with the Sunrise Movement activists. He was funded almost entirely by corporations and he was basically everything you wouldn't want from a Congressperson if you were on the left, so I started challenging him.
We built a pretty strong campaign against him and felt that we were going to defeat him. We had pretty much consolidated support within the Democratic Party. He had campaigned for and endorsed Republicans, so he was not very well liked within the Democratic Party, which makes me a much better option for a lot of people who maybe aren't as far left as I am; it felt like an easy decision to them.
He dropped out and announced his retirement in December. We expected this based on a lot of signs and we also knew who some of the primary challengers would be if he did drop out. One in particular is State Rep. Beth Doglio. They spent a lot of time strategizing before announcing and I feel like a lot of it was based on how to approach challenging someone who is not corporate funded. For the first time in her career, she decided to not take corporate PAC money for a cycle and, I think that is respectable, she did make some changes and said that she supports a lot of our policies. She doesn't have a public position on a lot of stuff, just basically M4A and the GND, which I like. However, she is running a pretty typical establishment type campaign, where they're expecting money and endorsements to win the campaign.
There's Kristine Reeves, who's also running; she is the most well funded candidate in the race. She is straight out of the military industrial complex. She was an executive for the Washington Military Alliance and was also a state representative, but she stepped down from her seat to run in this district. She's probably the strongest candidate just based on the fact that she has way more money than everybody else, so we view her as our strongest opponent.
You've been very open about being on the spectrum. When I spoke with Violet Rae, we discussed the importance of having increased representation for all individuals: from indigenous peoples, people of color, the neurodivergent, etc. In what ways do you think increased representation is important for neurodivergent individuals and these communities at large?
I thought a long time about whether or not I'd be open about that because I know that it comes with a certain stigma and it's going to make people attack me in ways they initially wouldn't have attacked me. It's a focal point for a lot of my opposition now, but I look at the impact that Greta Thunberg had by just being openly autistic. When she was struggling with it, it became a moment to teach people about it and get them to understand that this isn't something that makes you incapable of doing everything. It can make you struggle in certain situations, but in other situations it gives you a sort of an advantage. She calls it her superpower, and I agree with that framing.
I think that if I wasn't autistic, I wouldn't have gotten to the point that I am in this election. As a truck driver with no connections, no friends that would fund my campaign, I built everything from scratch just by being laser focused on one thing and having what's known as a 'special interest'. Politics is my special interest, and that's part of my being autistic. For the greater part of 2 years, I've spent every single waking moment on this, on the campaign, on building my platform and all that stuff, on organizing and it didn't feel odd to me; it didn't feel weird that I didn't have something else going on, and I think that's beneficial if you're trying to build something like this.
You already touched on this, but how do you think being neurodivergent will function as a strength for you once you take office?
I do think it'll lead to me taking a different approach than any person who's ever been in Congress. My tact, my approach, my messaging, and the strategies I've used so far have all been very unique and different, for better or for worse, but I do think that I would take a very different route than other progressives that might get elected. I do intend to try to polarize the working class and try to push certain issues that are maybe put on the backburner by a lot of leftists.
I want to change how people view politics in general. I want people to see that this isn't something that you have to be some really well educated person to do. I want people most of all to recognize that working class people can govern; it's not something that we're incapable of. The government has been run by people who came from poorer backgrounds in the past and I think that's something that we should push for more. We do want more working class people in Congress, more people from backgrounds that aren't professional managerial class, from being CEOs or whatever.
Your campaign has arguably the strongest social media game of any candidates running for office. Do you think this has significantly increased your ability to reach out to voters?
It has, but not in that social media is our voter outreach. Social media is actually our method for raising money and building our volunteer force. Without social media we wouldn't have nearly as much money, we wouldn't be able to pay our 5 full-time staffers, and we certainly wouldn't have nearly as many volunteers or as many people in our Discord server, helping out here and there. It has empowered us to run a very strong campaign on the ground.
How large of a role do you think social media has in running a political campaign? Do you see social media as a means to replace the traditional ground game of campaigns, or as a supplement to more traditional methods of voter outreach?
So there are different ways that candidates run campaigns, but the most common one is the advertising game. It's viewed as their version of the field, and this is why you'll see candidates with $800,000 or $1,000,000 still losing to the incumbents and not being able to successfully defeat an incumbent because they're putting all of that money into advertising: Facebook ads, Google ads, and it used to be Twitter ads as well.
I don't do any of that. The only time we've ever used Facebook ads was to turn out people to an event; we've never used it for trying to raise money, and I think that's an important thing to distinguish me from those people. We are using organic reach on social media to build a stronger on the ground game; what that's resulted in is, the last time we did have an in person volunteer event we had over 100 volunteers showing up and, for a first time candidate with no party backing, I feel like that's pretty impressive and it really shows the strength of building a massive online reach. We've reached people who, frankly, never would've engaged with politics and we did it without spending tons of money on advertising.
How has your campaign had to adapt in terms of responding to the Coronavirus Pandemic? Because obviously that affects your ground game.
Well, we're really hoping that we are going to be able to knock doors when it gets closer to the election. I don't know if that's going to happen, but it does look like we've handled it relatively well in Washington State. I'm sure we'll have lower turnout for our volunteer events regardless of what happens, if things calm down enough for us to actually have volunteer events, but other than that we've been focusing on making sure we have a large social media reach and using our volunteers to phonebank and text. We also have a Discord server where people can help with that. We are working on a pretty unique method of ID'ing voters; we haven't really released that yet, but we will be putting a lot of time and energy into it very soon.
I know you can't really talk about it because it's not released. Any hints you can drop as to what that involves that's different from other voter "tracking" applications?
We want to set the standard for what it looks like to do digital canvassing. We've been building it in a way that we think will succeed at that and we've been testing it out, trying to tweak it and to make sure it's good. But we are expecting to be able to actually ID voters in the district without spending ungodly amounts of money on ads. We'll be working on that soon and it involves voter surveys and trying to do something that will get people to actually pay attention and care about what you're doing, which I think is the biggest struggle most political people have. The vast majority of the American people have just tuned out from electoral politics. They already were kind of not paying attention to them in general, but this situation has made it so that people are even less interested. They see what a lot of Democrats are doing in Congress, where there are some of them fighting for us—and I love that that has been done—but a lot of Democrats are, frankly, just going along with Republicans and not really making a big deal about the massive corporate giveaways that they're doing.
I know that you've been working to get out the youth vote. However, critics of the Sanders campaign have argued that his inability to increase youth turnout was in part, responsible for his campaign's loss. Do you still believe this is the best means to increase turnout this election cycle? And if so, what is your campaign specifically doing to increase turnout in this generation of voters?
I think something that the Sanders campaign erred on was that they took young voters for granted; they assumed that the youth would just turn-out en masse without any real effort going into making that happen. I think that they tried to do a more decentralized approach, deciding the youth could organize themselves and they could focus on the rest of the electorate. I think that approach was a big mistake; they should have intentionally sought to register and turn out youth voters. I think a good example of this, and this isn't saying that this is everything, but they didn't really get onto TikTok until after the election was basically over. I think that was a big mistake because Bernie Sanders had so much support on TikTok already, so I feel like they kind of squandered that by not really appealing to those people and working to turn them into volunteers and organizers. They should have been trying to get those people not just to support Bernie, but to be people who are going to organize and turn out the vote amongst their peers in the election.
That's something we are working on. I'm the only candidate endorsed by the Washington Youth Climate Movement and I'm also endorsed by the Youth Climate Action Team, which are two different factions of the radical climate movement. We have been appealing to young people in a way that a lot of people haven't. I've spoken at climate strikes; I've gotten my name in front of young people both on social media and in person through various methods that not a lot of people are actually approaching in this cycle. And I think the most important thing about trying to appeal to young people is that they really care about policy and care about not being afraid and not choosing things based on what is strategic for yourself, but rather what's strategic for the movement. I think that's consistently what young people are most concerned about; even if they are politically aligned with someone on policy, they have constantly been let down by politicians who choose their own careers over the movement. And so I think that's something that we do a very good job of.
When I interviewed Violet Ray, she mentioned that the Rose Caucus and your campaign have been taking cues from the communities most directly impacted by the social, political, and economic issues your platform seeks to resolve. Can you tell me what the process of working with those communities to find solutions looks like?
A lot of it's just making sure that our policies are not what we think needs to happen, but what the most impacted communities think needs to happen. That's why our platform is perfectly aligned with the movement for Black Lives, our Indigenous Rights platform was stuff that was sourced from Indegenous people, and our Disability platform was sourced from people with disabilities. With our Trans Rights platform, we realized there was a need for specific policies for the Trans community, so we built that platform. Through the Rose Caucus we've got the candidates to also adopt that entire platform, which includes things like our Trans Rights platform that, frankly, wasn't really an issue a lot of candidates in the electoral sphere really focused on, and we've kind of changed that.
Are there any particular lessons you've taken from speaking with these groups that have really stuck with you?
A lot of candidates tend to pander a lot and try to speak on issues that they are not particularly well-versed in; I think that's always a big problem. Another thing that a lot of communities want are the specifics of your platform. They don't want broad platitudes like, "support the LGBTQ community," they want concrete policies; things that you are actually going to do and push for, not just with your office, but at the state and local level as well. Like, are you going to support the movement as a whole for trans rights, or are you just going to say that you support the trans community and that's it, right? I think that's the thing that we have tapped into: the desire for someone who is going to unapologetically fight for specific policies and not try to just pander to get votes.
One of the things that we have all seen, just in the Democratic primary as a whole, was the actions of the Democractic establishment and mainstream media working behind the scenes to prop up the Biden candidacy and actively prevent Sanders from securing the nomination. You're in a unique position where the same forces are likely working behind the scenes to undermine your campaign as someone who is opposed to that Democratic establishment. Are there any specific instances where you can point to this occurring?
My opponent dropping out, I think that was a decision by the Democratic establishment; I don't think that was something he decided. That was a very eye-opening moment. The second it looked like I was going to beat the incumbent, rather than ignore it like they did with Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, they forced him to drop out. Supposedly he was announcing his retirement, which—if you go and look through the article—he referred to the retirement over and over again, and now he's running for Lieutenant-Governor of Washington State. Apparently, the narrative they pushed was all bullshit. I think they did that because I had consolidated support pretty well within the Democratic base, including party loyalists, and I think they saw that was going to be a winning coalition against him.
Since the day he announced he was dropping out, I've been pressured—mostly by progressive liberals—to drop out. I haven't really gotten a lot of pushing or contact in general from the more conservative Democratic wing or from the Republican establishment. Pretty much all of my opposition has been from progressive liberals who are more Warren types and feel that someone who is more established, like a sitting representative is more qualified for the seat than someone from the working class. That's kind of been my biggest obstacle from the Democratic Party, those particular people.
You've been recently vocal about your belief that the Democratic Party is beyond reforming; how do you rectify that belief with your running as a Democrat?
Well I have an announcement coming soon, so…
If a large enough bloc of socialist representatives were present in Congress, would you support the formation of a new party?
Yeah, of course. I feel like the biggest reason we do need our own party is because we have seen both on the federal level—and personally on my state, county, and local level—that the Democratic Party will stop at nothing to prevent people like us from getting into office.
The lasting implications of the American anti-socialist propaganda machine have become increasingly visible on the national level as we've witnessed more left-wing candidates running for federal office. How should the left work to combat these scare tactics, which have led large groups of the population to immediately dismiss socialism as a solution to our political issues?
I think now is the time to draw the parallels and just basically spell it out for people. What are we struggling with right now during this pandemic and why are we the country that's struggling the most despite being the wealthiest country in the history of the planet? I think we can point to specific ways that our economy is structured that has led to us being the country that's failed the most miserably at this. You can draw the comparison between our country, an extremely wealthy country, the biggest economic power in the history of the planet—we don't guarantee healthcare; we don't guarantee housing and, consequently, we performed poorly—whereas you have countries like Vietnam that guarantee those things as rights and view food as something that is a right—and have an amazing community garden system—and they have basically done better than almost every other country where there were actually cases found.
I think that's a strong lesson to be learned and it also makes it easier for us to make the case because we can draw specifically to what is happening in those countries and what is happening in our country right now; I think that resonates with people. Most importantly, we should be talking about: what should we be doing? What is the liberal capitalist vision of what we should be doing? And we see what that is: it's bailing out corporations. Thankfully this time we got a little giveaway of $1200, but bailing out corporations is their priority; it's always going to be their priority because they do believe that corporations are "job creators" and they believe that corporations are what makes our economy run.
The socialist left has the unique opportunity to point out that, "No, it's not those corporations. It's the workers; it's essential workers; it's people who, right now, have to take care of their families." I think we can make that argument and I think it's going to be really effective, particularly at this moment in history.
Learn more about Joshua's Campaign; if you wish to support his campaign, donate here. Part II of our interview series with Joshua will be up May 8th. The full audio recording of the interview will be uploaded to Spotify and other podcast services on May 9th (promoted via our Twitter and article will be updated to include links). Subscribe to our site's notifications to receive browser notifications when new content is published.
This interview has been edited for clarity and length.