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City Council Candidate: With Run, My ‘Street Cred’s Right Out the Door’

Candidate Duffy in 2011, on Occupy Austin's first day at City Hall.
Photo courtesy
Candidate Duffy in 2011, on Occupy Austin's first day at City Hall.

It’s one of the eternal questions in politics – whether to work within the system, or outside of it.

A local political activist is attempting a run within the confines of the existing power structure, even if it may have cost him his anarchist street cred.

Filing for this May’s City Council election recently closed, and we noted the large amount of contenders vying for Place 5: six candidates, not including incumbent Bill Spelman who is running for reelection.

One of those candidates is John Duffy. His website touts his anarchist credentials and involvement with Occupy Austin. Our curiosity was further piqued by a press release stating “As a self identified anarchist, my candidacy is a contradiction of terms, and has cost me a lot of ‘street cred’ with other anarchists.”

“It’s a contradiction for me, you know,” Duffy tells KUT News. “Do I want to just get in there and sit down and not use any power that’s been given to me, or do I want to just at least use this campaign time to at least draw attention to a lot of major ecological, economic issues that we’re facing, and then just probably accept the fact that I’m not going to win this election anyway? But yeah, that street cred’s right out the door and I get it.”

Despite its “smash the state” reputation, anarchism has a rich history in organized politics. Duffy hopes to offer a broad critique of America’s political system. “Anarchists believe … in people starting to solve problems themselves. Their main two grievances are capitalism, as a way for people to relate with one another, and then the state, the power of the state. And unfortunately we live in a situation where the state is here, the state is massive, the state is powerful and often times when people try to solve problems on their own they are stopped by the state.”

But that said, Duffy also plans on discussing issues closer to home. He describes the city’s investment in the Fayette Coal Plant as problematic, and opposes the continued construction of Water Treatment Plant No. 4, even though it’s far along in construction. “When you’re doing something dumb, you don’t just go, ‘Well, we’re doing something dumb, so let’s just do it all the way and be all the way dumb. That just doesn’t make any sense.’”

Duffy also proposes bringing “public food forests” to Austin, where citizens can feed on fresh-grown fruits, free of charge. (One recently opened in Seattle.) Another initiative would create community food co-ops in unused public space and abandoned real estate to combat “food deserts” – poorer neighborhoods that don’t have convenient supermarkets.

Asked why he’s running in Place 5, Duffy says he was unaware he’d face so much competition, but stands by his choice. “Bill Spellman is a white male and I am a white male; I did not want to run against a black woman, Sheryl Cole, because the council is primarily male … So I did not want to run against her just because I do not want to be wiping out that diversity from the board.”

Duffy’s candidacy demonstrates that Occupy Austin's effects are being felt long after its encampments were banned from City Hall. Duffy characterizes his involvement with the group as “just the role of any other person;” judging from photos on his website, he participated in the Occupiers’ protest outside of private intelligence firm Stratfor, and was arrested during the Port of Houston shutdown in December, to name a few actions. But true to the Occupy movement’s leaderless ideals, the group does not endorse him.

It’s indicative of the issues Duffy’s facing, trying square his egalitarian ideals with the reality of a run for office.

“We do not need a hierarchical structure where people are forced into behaving one way or the other … Obviously when these are your sort of philosophical ideals, when people see that you’ve then appealed to an electoral system, you’re going against those ideals.”

Duffy is officially kicking off his candidacy with an event tonight at the Highball, 1142 S. Lamar, at 6 p.m.

Wells has been a part of KUT News since 2012, when he was hired as the station's first online reporter. He's currently the social media host and producer for Texas Standard, KUT's flagship news program. In between those gigs, he served as online editor for KUT, covering news in Austin, Central Texas and beyond.
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