In February 2015, the INDY recognized Durham's Lamont Lilly with a Citizen Award
for his activism and journalism in the interest of advancing civil rights. At the time, Lilly was beginning to travel the country for speaking tours, protests, and political rallies, discussing issues like the Black Lives Matter movement, the criminal justice system, and the negative effects of American imperialism.
Lilly's profile has continued to grow outside Durham to the point that, come November, you can vote for him for Vice President of the United States. Monica Moorehead, the Workers World Party
candidate for President, has selected Lilly as her veep. We called up Lilly this morning to ask about running for VP as a socialist party candidate. He happened to be here in Durham, grabbing coffee at a Starbucks off Highway 55. He'll be back on the road, campaigning, soon.
How does it happen that you end up running for vice president?
Last November, at the Workers World Party national conference, Monica Moorehead chose me as her running mate. I humbly accepted, and members of the party got behind me and endorsed my nomination. For the last several years, I've been working as a journalist, activist, organizer, and over time that evolved into working in the socialist party—doing a lot of the things I've done in Durham locally, but throughout the country. I've been involved in the rebellions in Baltimore and Ferguson, been traveling and organizing like that since about 2014. Lots of planes, lots of trains.
But you're still based in Durham?
Yes. Durham is always gonna be my home. I've been here since 1998.
What's your schedule like? What is the day to day for somebody running on the socialist ticket in the U.S.?
Lately, the way it goes is I'm out somewhere for a few weeks holding community forums, doing street meetings, house meetings. Then I come back to Durham and rest up, see family and friends for a week or so. Then I'm back out on the road. I'll be in Chicago for a few weeks, but while I'm there I'm also shooting off to Rockford or Detroit for a day or two. Sometimes you're talking to 100 or 200 people, sometimes in smaller towns it's fifteen or twenty. That's beautiful to me, because they're all real people. We don't have the massive engine of corporations behind us. We're not Trump or Hillary. These are smaller networks of people that the mainstream candidates aren't connecting with.
What are the main issues you're talking about?
The reason we are running is not because we expect to win. We understand that, the way it’s structured, alternative parties face an uphill battle in terms of media attention, exposure to general public. Lots of folks won't even know we're running. But we try to use the campaign and the small platform we have to discuss the need for alternative third parties. The two-party system is such a ridiculous joke, man, it really is. We're trying to let people know they really do have another option. We've been indoctrinated to think we have to choose between—and I hate this phrase—the lesser of two evils. But you don't have to. If you're a working-class person, an oppressed person, black, Latino, LGBT, you can vote for a party like ours that actually represents your interests.
We're talking about state violence, police terror, police brutality, private prisons. We're talking about how broken the power structure is, how the oligarchy doesn't work for people. Socialism is about real people. It's about investing in people, the earth, the environment—not corporations. There are people who work forty hours a week, sometimes sixty hours a week, and they can't afford a two-bedroom apartment because the corporate power structure allows those at the top to not break off their profits and share them with the labor and workforce. That system just doesn't work, and we want to do something about that. We need to get back to valuing human life.
What are your thoughts on the Bernie Sanders campaign?
I have to give Bernie props for making the word socialism OK to say in America. It's much easier to discuss socialism and the ills and deficiencies of capitalism. There's no question that's because of Sanders. I was born in 1979 and grew up during the Reagan years, when that word just couldn't be said. Even two years ago, if you said the word "socialist," people would look at you like you were crazy. I'd say Bernie is more of a democratic socialist, which is different than what we are. Our campaign takes the position that the system can't be reformed. It needs to be dismantled and replaced completely.
Where will you be campaigning between now and November?
We'll be at both conventions, Republican and Democratic. I'll be in Wisconsin next month—Madison and Milwaukee. I'm also going to Salt Lake City. In the fall we'll be doing an HBCU tour, and we'll hit several colleges in North Carolina. We'll be talking about the same ideas, trying to open up some minds and get people to rethink how we live as a society, as an economy—as human beings in the world.