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Brittany Ramos DeBarros Shows How It’s Done

Article published:
Black and white image of Brittany Ramos DeBarros crossing her arms superimposed onto a yellow-tinted image of the Staten Island Ferry

In her losing race for Congress, DeBarros offers a winning lesson: take on corporate Dems in the primary, join forces to beat MAGA in the general.

Much of the Left wrestles with the complexities of navigating a political moment when racist authoritarians are driving toward full control of the federal government and all too many Democratic politicians offer only a corporate-friendly and militarist agenda.

How do we stave off MAGA without being reduced to carrying water for Democrats who resist desperately needed, deep-going change? What are ways to contend over program and vision with mainstream Democrats that strengthen rather than undermine a joint fight against the threat of today’s growing fascist movement?

There’s no one-size-fits-all pattern for threading through those challenges. But Brittany Ramos DeBarros, whose primary challenge to a mainstream Democrat in New York’s tough 11th Congressional District was rooted in peace and justice politics, offers an example of how it can be done.

Fight like hell in the primary…

Before entering the electoral fray, DeBarros was a grassroots peace activist. An Afro-Latina veteran who had served in Afghanistan, she spoke out against the U.S. war while still under military discipline. After her discharge she became a full-time organizer for About Face. She ran in New York City’s most conservative House district. Her opponent was a former incumbent in that district, moderate Democrat Max Rose, who was defeated by Trumpist Republican Nicole Malliotakis in 2020. Rose, also a veteran, is far from the worst Democrat bidding for a House seat. (For a full profile of the DeBarros campaign, see Militarism on the Ballot: Two Vets Vie in NY York Primary.)

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DeBarros pulled no punches in her campaign. She hit hard on housing issues and COVID relief as well as peace, and she campaigned all over the district. She raised more than $600,000, the vast bulk from small-dollar donations. She was endorsed by Our Revolution, the Working Families Party and Jewish Voice for Peace. She is a member of Democratic Socialists of America.

The Democratic Party establishment went all out for her opponent. “DeBarros’s political insurgency resembles that of other young leftist women of color—most famously Representative Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez of New York… many of them working-class, who have been challenging incumbents of the Democratic establishment and often winning,” Liza Featherstone wrote in The Nation.

No one in her district (or beyond) had any illusion that DeBarros and Rose advocated the same program. Those voting for DeBarros—or against her—knew that she was someone who would take on the corporate Democrats. And it was no secret that that her effort was connected to a nationwide effort to build progressive power for the long haul.

…And beat MAGA in the general

DeBarros lost the primary, winning just over 20% of the vote. She conceded the election and sent a thank-you message to her supporters that forcefully made two points:

One, she is not going anywhere, and will work to nurture the “precious spark for change” her campaign cultivated.

Two, everyone must do “everything in our power” to prevent the Republicans from gaining a majority in Congress. “That means we must do whatever we can in this district to oust Nicole Malliotakis, and others like her in districts around the country.”

DeBarros closed her message with:

“We must have the discipline and courage to keep our flames burning and fight off the darkness that we face today, so that we can continue to build toward a true victory for all of us tomorrow.”

That’s how it’s done.

Here is the full text of Brittany Ramos DeBarros’s post-primary message to supporters:

Thank You.

I know the outcome of this race isn’t what we wanted. I am heartbroken for our communities right now and I won’t pretend otherwise.

And also, I am so proud we built a powerful campaign centered on working people, our interests and a bold, principled vision for our future. I am so grateful for all that we have accomplished together. What we have cultivated here is a small, precious spark for change amidst the darkest of conditions. It can only grow.

I am not going anywhere and neither is what we started.

Thank you. Thank you for every call you made, every dollar you gave, every text you sent, every post you retweeted, every door you knocked, every event you tabled and every kind word you shared. Words will not do justice.

Your contributions left imprints on our communities that will endure.

I am sorry to say that I believe things will get worse before they get better in the coming months and years.

We face highly organized and well-resourced forces that are determined to drag this country into full-blown authoritarian fascism. To answer them, we have Democratic leadership who are mostly feckless, cowardly, and out-of-touch. 

Whether Max or Nicole win in November, NY-11 will continue to suffer under the minority rule of millionaires bought and paid for by special interests. That is the painful truth. We must have the courage to face it.

It is also urgently true that if Republicans win control of the house in 2022, the likelihood that there will be any semblance of election integrity in 2024 dwindles drastically. 

We must do everything in our power to prevent that outcome.

That means we must do whatever we can in this district to oust Nicole Malliotakis, and others like her in districts around the country. 

From the moment we launched our campaign, I knew that cynicism and despair were our true barriers. To have hope requires great faith, discipline and courage. My message remains the same now in loss as it did at launch:

I believe in us. We are the majority. We are already powerful. We owe each other too much – we need each other too much – to surrender to despair.

We must have the discipline and courage to keep our flames burning and fight off the darkness that we face today, so that we can continue to build toward a true victory for all of us tomorrow.

I hope you will join me.

In deep love and solidarity always,

Brittany Ramos DeBarros

Featured image: Compilation photo of Brittany Ramos DeBarros (credit: Brittany for the People) & the Staten Island ferry (credit: Public Domain Pictures)