India Walton is a socialist candidate, nurse and activist who could be the next Buffalo mayor. Walton is leading her race against incumbent Democrat Byron Brown in the June 22, 2021, primary to represent the party in the New York city’s election. Walton has claimed victory, but Brown has not yet conceded as he awaits absentee voting results, the Buffalo News reports. The newspaper adds that insiders do not believe there are enough remaining ballots for Brown to overtake Walton, who holds an 11,132 to 9,625 vote lead.
The 38-year-old would be the first woman to be the mayor of Buffalo if she is inaugurated in January 2022. She could have one more challenge ahead, as independent Scott Wilson is currently on the November 2021 election ballot, but according to the Buffalo News his status as a petitioning candidate is being contested. Brown could also mount a write-in campaign against Walton in the general election, WIVB reports. Brown has been the city’s mayor for four terms.
Walton, who was endorsed by the Democratic Socialists of America and the Working Families Party, said at a victory celebration, according to WIVB, “This is the work of a well-meaning group of rebels and revolutionaries that had a bold vision on what we want the future of our city to look like. We set out to not only change Buffalo but to change the way processive politics are viewed in Upstate New York. From the very start, I said, this is not about making India Walton the mayor of Buffalo. This is about building the infrastructure to challenge every damn seat — I’m talking about committee seats, school board, common council.”
When asked by reporters if she considers herself a socialist after the primary election, she said, “Oh, absolutely. The entire intent of this campaign is to draw down power and resources to the ground level and into the hands of the people,” according to the Buffalo News. She added, “Being the third poorest mid-sized city in this country, we should be considering how we begin to eradicate concentrated poverty and disadvantage. And Democratic Socialist leanings are a big step in getting us there.” She would be the first socialist mayor in a major American city since Frank Zeidler in Milwaukee, Wisconsin, who held the seat from 1948 to 1960, according to The New York Times.
Here’s what you need to know about India Walton:
1. Walton Was Born in Buffalo & Gave Birth to Her First Child When She Was 14
Walton was born India Suttles in Buffalo as one of six children, according to her campaign website. According to her website she, “became a full-time working mother at the age of just 14.” She had two more children, twin boys, when she was 19.
Walton told WIVB in May 2021, “I am a leader! I think that the whole inexperience line is kind of a trope. It’s inaccurate. I’m very experienced, and even though I’m just 38 years old, an hour is probably not enough time for me to talk about my life trajectory and my story. The experiences I have had have shaped me into a bold and fearless leader, and I’m unafraid of anything. I think those are qualities that people are craving in leadership.”
Walton told the news station, “I was pregnant at 14 because I was a know-it-all. I thought I knew everything. I thought I was in love and if I had a baby, it would help me escape from my home. I was the primary caregiver for my younger siblings. I figured, ‘Listen, if I’m going to run a house anyway, I might as well run my own house.’”
2. Walton, Who Left High School, Later Returned to Her Education & Became a Nurse & Union Leader
Walton left school when she was pregnant as a teenager, but later earned her GED while pregnant with her twin sons at the age of 18, according to her campaign website. Her sons, “were born prematurely, an experience that inspired her to become a nurse in the same NICU where her boys’ lives were saved.” Walton graduated from Erie Community College with an associate’s degree in nursing in 2007.
According to her campaign website, “As a healthcare worker, India became a representative in the 1199 SEIU union, standing up for both workers and patients from picket lines in Buffalo to the steps of the U.S. Supreme Court, where she was invited to speak at a national women’s rights rally in 2014. Continuing to serve as a nurse in Buffalo Public Schools, India witnessed the health disparities among our most vulnerable citizens and became determined to change the systems that cause these injustices.”
She told Spectrum News a week before the election, “What has the experience over the last 16 years been? I am a registered nurse and I know if I were underperforming and actually causing harm to my patients, I wouldn’t have a job. Buffalo is ready for leadership with new, fresh, bold ideas to bring us out of this pandemic with a just recovery.”
3. Walton Has Been a Longtime Activist in Buffalo & Was the Lead Organizer for Open Buffalo & the Executive Director of the FB Community Land Trust
Walton has been an activist in Buffalo for several years, but her run for mayor was her first foray into politics. According to her LinkedIn profile, Walton served as the lead organizer for Open Buffalo from 2017 to 2019 and was the founding executive director at the FB Community Land Trust Inc., from 2018 to 2020. She is also a board member of Locust Street Art, Slow Roll Buffalo and Cooperation Buffalo, according to her LinkedIn page.
According to her campaign website, “India’s commitment to systemic change called her to become a community organizer for Open Buffalo, establishing herself as a thought leader on a wide range of issues including criminal justice reform and fair housing. Her work on the latter led her to be named the founding executive director of the Fruit Belt Community Land Trust, for which she worked with longtime residents to develop permanently affordable housing.”
Walton told Jacobin magazine, “Our campaign is an insurgent campaign powered by people: individual donors, grassroots fundraising, door knockers, phone bankers. We are proving in real time that you don’t have to be a part of the establishment to be competitive.”
I don’t think of myself as the center of this campaign. I’m not necessarily looking for all of the staff members and volunteers with the most conventional experience. I’m an organizer. I’m looking for people that I can help grow and educate. Win or lose, this campaign is building an infrastructure that is going to outlive and outlast this election. Our volunteers are gaining the real-life experience that prepares them to be volunteers, staffers, and candidates for effective insurgent campaigns in the future.
Activists in the streets last summer were told that we were just making noise, that it wouldn’t amount to anything. This campaign is bringing back that protest energy and turning it into lasting political power. It’s not impossible. You just need the infrastructure to do it. And because a lot of my background comes out of labor organizing, I understand that there’s no person who’s insignificant and that you pay attention to everyone, especially those who have the least, because the people who have the least and the people who have been listened to the least are going to be the ones who will fight the most.
Walton told Challenger Community News, “I decided to run for Mayor of Buffalo because I am tired of seeing my community in this condition. Nearly half of our children are living in poverty, while the racial wealth and homeownership gap in Buffalo continues to widen. It saddens me to see cranes in the sky and hear tales of a renaissance knowing full well that the story for the majority of Buffalonians, particularly east of Main Street, is the complete opposite. I am running because we have been striving as a community to be self-determined and self-sufficient. The way we get there is with leadership that works with, listens to, and is accountable to the people.”
4. Walton’s Campaign Included a Pledge to ‘Bring Accountability, Transparency & Community-Centered Service’ to the Buffalo Police & to Address the City’s Housing Crisis
Walton told Challenger Community News, “I am a tireless advocate for progressive change. From the bedside at the hospital to our schools as a nurse or fighting for criminal legal reform, fully funded schools, an end to the war on drugs, and the school to prison pipeline. A vote for me is a vote for us.”
On her campaign website, Walton lists public safety, housing, immigration, pandemic recovery, the arts, climate, economic development, education, food access and infrastructure as her key campaign issues.
She states, “Our platform is centered on people and rooted in love, with the belief that equity and justice are essential. We believe in love for community, respect for culture and reverence of resources. We believe that housing, healthcare, healthy food and a quality education are basic human rights; and when we invest in our community, we create the conditions where all residents feel valued and can thrive. Buffalo is rich in resources. From our waterfront location to our wonderful arts and cultural community, it has many economic engines. We envision a Buffalo where people are housed, healthy, and have the agency to live to their full potential.”
She told Jacobin:
The Buffalo that I envision is one free from militarized and hostile policing, one where there’s ample and truly affordable housing, where there are opportunities for collective ownership and cooperative employment, where folks are working for organizations that they have an ownership stake in. I want to live in a deeply democratic city where all voices are heard, including those who are not able to vote, whether it’s because of their age or their immigration status. The leadership of this city should govern everyone who lives here.
So my dream for Buffalo is just that: a state of deep democracy and co-governance where everyone is valued and can thrive.
In 2015 or 2016, I helped with a community policing survey, and there was an overwhelming consensus that there was a lack of trust between Buffalo police and the community. We took that information to the local newspaper and they dismissed it. We took it to the city and the city said, ‘No, we don’t have issues like that.’ Then, in the four or five years following, Buffalo police killed at least five people and assaulted a 75-year-old man during a protest last summer. Nothing was done. No accountability in any of those cases.
About policing, Walton wrote on her campaign website, “India will bring accountability, transparency, and community-centered service to the Buffalo Police Department (BPD). She will prioritize addressing the root causes of crime such as concentrated poverty and lack of living-wage jobs; emphasizing harm reduction and restorative justice programs rather than punitive measures.”
In her first 100 days she wants to, “Remove police from responding to most mental health calls and work with County and BPD leaders to establish a new response to crisis mental health calls that utilizes mental health professionals. … End enforcement of low-level drug possession by directing police not to arrest people for simple possession of a small amount of drugs and paraphernalia like syringes. … Order the Law Department to conduct a full review of the city’s ability to discipline and fire bad police officers, and to defend disciplinary decisions to the fullest possible extent. … Make police data public to the extent allowed by law including data on racial disparities in stops and arrests, officer disciplinary records, the number of officers who live outside the city, and an inventory of weapons and military equipment owned by BPD.”
5. Walton Is Married & Has 4 Sons
Walton is married to Vernon Walton and has four sons, Mahkahi Jones, Mikhail Walton, Marquan Walton and Mason Walton. A video of Walton excitedly celebrating after she declared election victory during a call with her mother, Doris Siddiq, quickly spread on social media. “Mommy, I won. Mommy, I’m the mayor of Buffalo. Well, not until January, but, yeah,” she can be heard saying.
Walton told The New Republic a week before the primary, “I didn’t like the way my family was treated when we were in the NICU. I felt dismissed a lot. That’s just an example of the resources it takes to live a decent life, right? And the expectation we have with people, to be able to function in a society where they are led to believe their resources are so scarce that they’ll never be able to achieve anything.”
Walton added, “When I went back to work there,” she tells me of the hospital where her twins were born, “it was even worse. I mean, people just openly—not only racist, but classist as well, saying disparaging things about some of the families and their means and resources.”
Walton also told The New Republic, “A family is me and all of my friends, and my neighbors are my family, and Buffalo is my family. We deserve community and to have leadership that is going to be rooted in the values of care and love. I think it’s something that’s becoming more and more attractive to people because we have been isolated for so long, right?”