The socialist filmmakers who produced one of 2018’s most viral campaign ads are back with a sequel, this time for Kaniela Ing, a House candidate and political ally of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez who’s running in Hawaii’s 1st Congressional District.
Naomi Burton and Nick Hayes, Detroit-based members of the Democratic Socialists of America, connected with Ing after their ad for the Ocasio-Cortez campaign become an online sensation. Also a DSA member, Ing was among the first candidates touted by Ocasio-Cortez after her victory on June 26.
Ing, 29, was first elected to Hawaii’s state House at age 23. He is now part of a crowded primary field vying to replace Democratic Rep. Colleen Hanabusa, who is leaving Congress to run for governor.
His campaign, backed like Ocasio-Cortez’s by the progressive Justice Democrats, is banking on grass-roots organizers and a political platform that includes Medicare for all, the rejection of corporate money and his newly unveiled “housing for all” plan, which includes new rent stabilization laws and a “Tenant’s Bill of Rights.”
Producers Burton and Hayes, who met at a DSA gathering soon after the 2016 election and founded their small media company, Means of Production, in 2017, were paid less than $10,000 for the Ocasio-Cortez ad. After it exploded on social media, they reached out to Ing on Twitter, pitched him and – for about $15,000 this time – were off to Hawaii a few weeks ago to start filming.
The ad is expected be digital-only, Ing’s campaign said. The Ocasio-Cortez video never aired on television.
Though shot about 5,000 miles apart, the ads share a feel and message. Both begin in the apartments of the candidates, who in their narration demand a brand of politics “for the many” – political language with roots and resonance on the left. The ads, Hayes said, strive to create “a visual language that is a little bit confrontational.”
Ing wrote his own script, which took words from his social media posts, speeches and remarks at recent debates. The filmmakers followed him around for about a week earlier this month, giving the video a “documentary hybrid” vibe, Hayes said.
Getting together, Ing told CNN, was simple. Sharing a language that is still mostly unfamiliar even to many liberal Democrats also helped.
“The donor class wants to dress our ideas as somehow radical,” Ing said in an interview. “That’s the reason why we focus on (in the campaign and video) a message of, ‘We are the many and they are few.’ We have support from the vast majority of people. What’s radical is thinking that carrying on the way things are will somehow solve them.”
The Ing ad bounces back and forth between more familiar images of Hawaii, with massive glass structures rising over picturesque beaches, and those mostly hidden from Americans on the mainland – shots of the homeless, many native Hawaiians and veterans, who have been shut out and left behind.
“It was the same thing in New York,” Burton says, talking about the Ocasio-Cortez ad, “showing the skylines, showing the massive amount of development that’s happening that everybody knows is completely out of their reach. It’s the same issue in Hawaii.”
The absence of institutional support for leftist candidates has been a point of frustration among activists as insurgent campaigns are increasingly confronted with more intense mainstream media scrutiny and political attacks. That means developing new think tanks to help workshop policy and talking points, but also creating a media hub for electoral activities.
So if the Ocasio-Cortez ad and Ing’s strike a familiar tone, it’s not by coincidence.
“Our strategy right now is to create a cohesive front of socialist congressional candidates to take on the Democratic establishment, and we’re working to make sure all of those videos feel similar to one another because they exist within the same universe,” Hayes said.
Next up for the pair: Massachusetts’ Ayanna Pressley, the first black woman to serve on the city council in Boston. She’s challenging Democratic Rep. Michael Capuano in the state’s 7th District. “Vote her in next,” Ocasio-Cortez tweeted a few hours after securing her own victory over another 10-term incumbent, Rep. Joe Crowley.
Even with the backing of Ocasio-Cortez and the left’s most in-demand ad-makers, Ing faces what might be an even steeper uphill fight to win his primary. Former Rep. Ed Case entered the race late and leads in the most recent round of polling, published last week by the Honolulu Star-Advertiser, with 36% of likely voters. Lt. Gov. Doug Chin (27%) and state Sen. Donna Kim (14%) are second and third. Ing trails with 6%.
The primary is August 11.
Correction: This story has been updated to correct the polling numbers for Kim and Chin.