In his early 30s, David Alexis has already served in a variety of roles.
He’s a husband and father of two, a long-time community organizer, a rideshare driver, a former home health aide, co-founder of the Drivers Cooperative – a rideshare company owned and operated by its employees, and now, the Democratic Socialists of America’s pick to take on incumbent state Sen. Kevin Parker in District 21.
Alexis, who is the son of Haitian immigrants, has positioned himself as a candidate capable of building broad coalitions. He’s refused to take donations from large corporations and believes that an effective legislator knows how to work with and edify movements swept forward by the people. The Central Brooklyn district comprises neighborhoods including Kensington, Flatbush and Midwood.
While Alexis has garnered widespread support from a number of high-profile progressive politicians like Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, City Council Member Tiffany Cabán, state Sen. Jabari Brisport and a slate of progressive groups, he faces a big challenge in taking on Parker who has held the seat since he was elected in 2002. City & State sat down with Parker last month.
City & State spoke with Alexis this week to discuss his campaign, caring for his wife as she battles sickle cell disease, his relationship with the DSA, and how he hopes to empower voters. This interview has been edited for length and clarity.
As a first-time political candidate and a long-time community organizer, what pushed you to run in the race?
Going into 2021, we had our new DSA electeds that had come into the state Legislature, and I had been asked by one of the folks that had been organizing throughout several of these campaigns about considering running for office. I was like, “Me? No way.” At this point we’d had several campaigns around Tax the Rich, the New York Health Act for all and the public power, where we had put a lot of pressure on several elected officials about supporting some of these bills but hadn’t seen a lot of progress.
I think the thought was, “Who could we find as a real champion on these issues?” and I thought that was not me. I always saw myself as someone who was going to do a lot of the unsexy work like knocking on doors, going to whatever part of the city or the state that we needed to educate people, and to help them walk into their own power to be a part of this movement. Still, it sat with me for a couple months. Someone I had looked up to had passed away and talked about whether we were really doing all that we can for the things that we are passionate about, for our convictions and to ensure that we are doing all that we can to change our situation.
For me, being an organizer has always been something I did to survive. My wife has sickle cell disease, I have two little girls and my mom had to retire early because of her health condition. It was absolutely required for me to be able to find ways to provide for not only my wife, and my children, but also for so many others. That is actually why I became an organizer because there just wasn’t enough of what we needed. It was through organizing that we found a support system that could support us and then we were able to support others who were like us because our story was not unique.
It just so happened that Brookdale Hospital had changed its adult sickle cell program where one of the last comprehensive sickle cell programs moved the care of the patients out of Hematology Oncology, to be managed by a part time nurse practitioner with part time staff. At the same time, numerous members of the community had passed away during the pandemic. There were freezer trucks outside of Brookdale Hospital filled with all of the people who passed.
When I saw that, I thought to myself right now there is someone who is in the seat who has not done enough to work and edify our community. Who said he would sponsor many of the different bills from the sickle cell bill to the bill of public renewables, to being a sponsor on Good Cause, and did not do enough to really push on any of them. You could speak to any member of the Housing Justice Coalition who was really close to the negotiations and any of them will tell you, Parker was someone who was a barrier or if he did get on the bill, it was as the result of fighting and was a bitter process to kind of push forward. You can’t look at that and say that’s enough.
You’ve previously described yourself as a proud socialist. As you’ve gone about campaigning and bringing about this coalition, how have you bridged the hesitancy or preconceptions some constituents might have when they hear that term? How did you come to have a relationship with the DSA?
Whenever it comes up I always talk about, do we believe that communities should have a seat at the table for deciding the things that affect them? Do we believe that the way rent has been increasing is OK? Do we think the fact that this community has been priced out when it comes to their energy bills is OK? Or the fact that there is a lot of violence and not only gun violence but also the violence of poverty? Or that huge swaths of the community have been made to feel as if they don't matter because there's just no one interested in listening to them?
I’ve personally experienced the need for more support and investment. The only reason why I can be in a position to run for office is because someone decided to invest in me. Being the father of two little girls and struggling to provide for them, being a husband of a wife with sickle cell disease who was not getting the care she needed because of a fragmented health care system, having to work multiple jobs, being an Uber driver who received inadequate pay and was forced to work 60 plus hours a week to make ends meet – to me, it was very important to know that all of these things weren’t my fault.
We are often told that it’s our fault that we are struggling, but I realized I was in a situation that wasn’t my fault nor is it the fault of so many others who have the same story. How is it that the mass amount of people in this district are struggling with many of the same issues and it’s all of our faults? Absolutely not. Realizing that it wasn’t our fault is what led me to become an organizer.
I became a DSA member because I realized that I needed to build broader and broader coalitions. We can look at the New Deal coalitions, the Civil Rights movement, we can look at the LGBTQ movements of the past, we can look at the women’s suffrage movements – at every stage, you saw a mass amount of folks come together to push for legislation that would raise the experiences of people and create the stability that was necessary for them to enjoy more freedoms. My campaign has always been about organizing people and will continue to always be about that. And my work – whether it's as a DSA member or a father, a husband, a community organizer, a worker cooperator, as someone who wants to be a legislator – is always going to be predicated on how effectively we can build the power of the people. A good legislator will be able to edify the work of the people.
How has being the son of Haitian immigrants shaped your politics, your campaign, the type of senator you want to be?
Despite having a medical degree from the University of Guadalajara, my father came to this country and could not actually work as a physician or do a residency because his green(card) was considered insufficient. He ended up working in a factory for 12 years and when he finally got into a hospital, was only able to work in that hospital as a data entry clerk before he finally got into a residency.
Fortunately, my mom was able to get over to this country, but she had to work as a maid. She had to work as she got her high school diploma here and she ended up becoming a registered nurse and working to become a psychiatric nurse. Her membership with (Public Employees Federation) was quintessential when she got hurt on the job and developed a plethora of health conditions that inhibited her from being able to work. Those benefits were able to help hold our family afloat during such a difficult period.
I have tons of family members who are struggling with Temporary Protected Status, who have family members who lived at the border and struggled as a result of U.S. policy. Particularly here in New York, there's so much that has happened in the courts and the policies that have ripple effects that affect the entirety of the community.
My family is really big – I don’t even know all of my family members, so as I look at some of the other extended family members that we have in our orbit, I realize it could have been me. They are no different from me. The only difference between us is that I was able to benefit from policy that gave me stability. Public services saved my life. They are why I am here, they are why I’m even able to be in this position.
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