CHICAGO — One of the questions confronting the American Communists gathered here this weekend is whether they should be running their own Party candidates in elections or helping push along the left-wing currents already ascendant within the Democratic Party.
For one young delegate at the CPUSA’s annual event, the answer to that was easy — never confront it.
“They never asked,” said Wahsayah Whitebird, who last April was elected as a councilman in Ashland, Wisconsin.
“When they did ask, after the election, I said right away I was and showed them my Party identification,” he said, noting the card he has held since 2011.
Mr. Whitebird, who makes his living as a deli worker, is a Native American, raised as a member of the Chippewa tribe on the Bad River Reservation.
Even if the local press had asked about his Party affiliation earlier, Mr. Whitebird thinks it wouldn’t have mattered. He ran on what he calls “a poor platform” — affordable housing, increased minimum wage, building homeless shelters — and defeated a Democratic opponent.
“I’m convinced it would have been a non-issue,” he said. “The Party should try to run its own candidates and make alliances where it can and should with other candidates. The key is to focus on policies, not partisan affiliation.”
Wherever one stands on the political spectrum — and many of the attendees here are unabashed revolutionaries who would like to see a Bolshevik-style revolution — Mr. Whitebird presents a compelling figure.
For one thing, he is mature for his age, already taking care of an older brother who he said has had repeated brushes with the law. For another, at a convention where many delegates have a rather rumpled appearance he stands out in a suit and tie.
He’s clearly comfortable as a politician, as he stopped at various tables and shook hands with delegates as he returned to his seat Friday afternoon after speaking on the subject of supporting the Green New Deal.
Mr. Whitebird said he saw nothing incongruous about a conference repeatedly calling for “democracy” while supporting a political philosophy that, historically, has usually tilted toward totalitarianism. He conceded his current vision does not extend to what the USA would look like if the Communist Party actually took control, but said some of his ideas found a ready audience in his rural Wisconsin province.
“The point is about making government work better, and if that means public ownership of some areas that are now run for-profit, if it means smaller government can take advantage of ridiculously low rates and ready money to accomplish some things without raising taxes, I’ve found people are ready to listen,” he said.
He acknowledged he would like to see markets like that of developing, building and selling real estate run more like a public utility company, although he acknowledged he hadn’t figured out just yet how to pay both the workers that would be needed and the workers who would presumably be thrown off their jobs with the government takeover.
In addition, Mr. Whitebird said his local budget has been capped at around $10 million a year for some time and that there is little enthusiasm for boosting it, given most of the tax avenues available he thinks have been pushed to the limit.
Still, for all his inchoate economic plans, Mr. Whitebird presents a surprisingly convivial and open-minded persona, one who remains committed to the Communist ideal and skeptical of some of the images Western sources have painted of Communist societies abroad.
“Just focus on the policies,” he said. “If we do that, I believe there is space in the political arena for the Communist Party and room for us to maintain the Party’s line and presence.”