BY ANDREW GROSSMAN
Published September 14, 2006
At age 12, most students thought socialism was something you did at a middle school dance.
It was at that age that LSA senior Matt Erard became a socialist after discovering the ideology online. Unlike those who abandon their childhood larks, Erard has hung on to the radical ideas that attracted him at such an early age.
Erard is running for state representative in the 53rd district, which includes most of Ann Arbor and all of the Central Campus area.
Erard, who is chairman of the Socialist Party of Michigan, will face Democrat Rebekah Warren and Republican Erik Sheagren in the Nov. 7 election. Because the Michigan Secretary of State does not officially recognize
the party, Erard will appear on the ballot without party affiliation.
Just getting on the ballot was tough for Erard. In order to qualify, he needed 600 signatures from residents of the 53rd district. He gathered almost 1,000 signatures to be sure he reached the threshold.
Wearing a black shirt with an American flag made up of bombs, dollar signs and the words "United My Ass" emblazoned across the front, Erard laid out his plans to fix Michigan's economy. His plan is quite different from the visions espoused by candidates from the two major parties.
"I'm not particularly interested in getting outside investments from major corporations into Michigan," Erard said. "When corporations do invest in Michigan from outside, or we have any kind of foreign or outside investments, the reason is usually either corporate welfare, lower labor standards or wages (and) less regulation."
Instead, Erard would push for a public takeover of Michigan industry.
"I'm in favor of socializing our existing productive capacity and making it accountable to the public at large," he said.
In 1997, the same year Erard became a socialist, he formed his own online activist group, the International Revolutionary Truth and Freedom Association, a now-defunct website devoted to combating censorship. Five years later, in 2001, Erard ran unopposed for the chairmanship of the state party. He has led the 50-member group ever since.
Now Erard balances his time between being a full-time student and a candidate for elected office. Time constraints forced him to quit his job working at a local Sears.
Erard's house, the Eugene V. Debs co-op on East University Avenue, is appropriately painted red. An Erard campaign sign sits in the yard. He plans to distribute the signs to supporters, along with 2,000 campaign brochures. A Facebook.com group titled "Matt Erard for State Representative" has 41 members.
Ann Arbor voters are largely Democratic, and both Erard and Sheagren face an uphill battle. Warren had $19,584 on hand, according to documents filed with the Secretary of State's office on Sept. 7, 2006. Meanwhile, Erard obtained a waiver exempting him from filing reports so long as he raises no more than $1,000. He has raised about $800 so far, he said. Sheagren has also filed a waiver.
Erard blames his underdog position on the two-party system, which he believes is dominated by corporate interests and stifles debate.
"The two-party system in the United States blocks out all other partisan political voices," he said.
But it's not just the Democrats and Republicans that Erard sees as being too far to the right. Erard said the more liberal Green Party's platform does not stray far enough left either.
"While socialists support pretty much everything the Greens do, we want to take it substantially further, beyond simply social reforms and towards an actual revolutionary transformation of society based on public ownership and worker control," he said.
But Erard isn't counting himself out.
"I think there really is a chance," he said. "The word about my campaign is really spreading."
Erard said Ann Arbor voters are becoming increasingly disillusioned with what he calls the Democratic Party's warmongering, attacks on social programs and day-to-day politics.
If Erard does manage to upset Warren and become the sole socialist in the state Legislature, working with other legislators won't be his first priority.
"My main purpose in running for office is not to do organic work in the state government," he said. "It's to use the position as a pulpit to encourage participation and formation of mass movements of working people on the streets and in the workplace."
Erard argues that this sort of grassroots effort is crucial for bringing socialism to the United States.
"You're not going to get socialism simply through the ballot box without anything happening on the street or in the workplaces," he said.
Amanda Markowitz contributed to this report.
Matt Erard on...
On Capitalism: "The capitalist system is inherently based on exploitation of the vast majority of the population - the working class."
On The two-party system: "The United States is a contest between the right wing and the extreme right wing."
On Solving Michigan's economic woes: "My campaign calls for the abolition of corporate welfare and for a 100 percent capital flight tax. If any major corporation operating in Michigan attempts to leave this state, it does not take its assets with them."