Chesa Boudin

Liquid democracy — I can’t vote. If you are on the fence about the DA vote, please cast your vote on my behalf.

7 min readOct 11, 2019
❤ Vote Chesa Boudin for DA this election ❤

The ask

  1. Please vote for Chesa Boudin. This will bring San Francisco into the forefront of prison reform in the US, in a moment where social justice seems to be going backwards at an alarming rate (see below for my reasons).
  2. Please convince one other human you know to vote for Chesa. Talk to them in person, perhaps your housemate, or colleges. Just ask them if they know who they are voting for DA and ask them to vote for Chesa Boudin. Get that name in their minds.
  3. If this post moves you, please share it with the explicit request for 5 people to commit to voting for Chesa in the upcoming election.

This is how we fight back against unjust incarceration. This is how we fight for those who cannot fight for themselves.

It is a rare thing that I feel moved to vote. I usually have the sense in voting that I am being asked to choose between a range of equally dire and pretty similar options and somehow I am supposed to be impressed with this level of representation. “Get out and vote! You get to choose between chopping off your arm or chopping off your leg — which of these splendid options represents you? Yay democracy! You are so FREE”.

This is a rare deviation from that. I would actively vote for this person. But as an English person, I cannot vote nor donate, so I am writing this to ask my fellow American’s to vote for me.

In the coming elections, we have a San Francisco public defender (!!), running for the role of district attorney. Why is this remarkable? the role of a public defender is to represent people accused of crimes who are unable to afford a private attorney. In court, they are in ‘opposition to the district attorney defending the accused and ensuring fair representation and a fair trial.

As Peter Gallota points out, “Their role is to defend people in a punitive system that has a history of treating people differently depending on how much money they have, where they’re from, or what they look like. [..] Electing a public defender as the city’s chief prosecutor would not just be different; it would also be transformative for San Francisco. And it’s exactly what many Bay Area and national advocates for criminal justice reform are hoping for.

This sounds a bit ropey on the surface — I was skeptical myself — one part of the state getting into bed with another part of the state. Yes, everyone thinks they are going to change the system from the inside, but suddenly they are in bed with the devil. But then I started to listen to what this human had to say.

:: “I commit to closing down county jail #4 and replacing it with comprehensive mental health care.”

:: “Black and Brown people in San Francisco are more likely to be harmed by the criminal justice system at every single stage of the process”

:: “I wouldn’t be running to be San Francisco’s next district attorney if I didn’t believe it were possible to do the job in a way that’s consistent with my values, in a way that makes the city safer for all of its residents, not just for some of its residents, and in a way that focuses on treating the root causes of crime and on decarceration”, from here

They want to “effectively prosecute police misconduct”. They want to end mass incarceration: “2/3 of people are back in prison within three years of their release. Breaking the cycle of crime and incarceration is the only way to make us safe”.. They quote Angela Davis — “In a racist society, it is not enough to be non-racist, we must be antiracist.” I was blown away. They are backed by an extraordinary portfolio of people and organisations — Restorative Justice International, Alicia Garza, a co-founder of the Black Lives Matter movement, Angela Davis (!!!), Shaun King, Mark Leno, Sunrise Movement Bay Area for their status on environmental justice, SF Tenants Union, Real Justice PAC. The list just goes on and on.

Chesa Boudin is the child of political radicals who were incarcerated for being part of a get-away heist when there were less than 2 years old. Their mother, Dr Boudin, was released on parole in 2003 and is now Co-Director and Co-Founder of the Center for Justice at Columbia University, specializing in criminal justice issues. Their father remains in maximum-security prison. So they have grown up knowing the pain of the carceral system.

Why does this personal story matter you might wonder? For a long time, I and others (Eric ❤) have been saying that you should not be allowed to be a judge unless you have spent time inside. How on earth can one wisely dole out experiences that are so utterly far from your realm of understanding? It’s absurd. I am a neuroscientist and I never do experiments that I have not run on myself first. How could I possibly understand the impact of my treatments and whether the experiment is ethical / bearable otherwise?

But here we have someone who deeply understands not just the experience of incarceration, but the wider societal harm perpetuated when people are ripped from society, mostly for non-violent crimes. The US prison system is like no other. We live in a nation where “police violence is a leading cause of death for young men in the United States. Over the life course, about 1 in every 1,000 black men can expect to be killed by police” (Edwards, Lee, & Esposito (2019), Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences)”. We live in a country where young people interacting with the police increases their likelihood to commit crime (Del Toro et al, 2019 Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences). In a country where reducing active policing can result in less harm (Sullivan & O’Keefe 2017, Nature Human Behaviour). We live in a country where most people who die in U.S. jails are unconvicted (Bureau of Justice Statistics 2016, Time Served in State Prison). In this world, of chronic injustice and counter-intuitive data, we need all sides of the criminal justice system to be able to question the status quo and our instincts about what is actually best for society in terms of harm reduction and harm prevention. This is someone who wants to inject transformative justice into the offices of the district attorney of San Francisco. And as many of you know, prevention over punishment is central to my life’s work.

I am not going to engage in a full critique of the US prison system here, but suffice to say, this feels like a moment where things in San Francisco could be wildly different. Here is someone who names racial issues, who explicitly aims to reduce mass incarceration, diverting those with mental illness and drug/substance disorders away from prison, going hard on police violence and police misconduct, and closing jails.

In this world, I fervently believe we need a Chesa. I am from England where we have free healthcare and we don’t execute people, so at times living in the US is an eye opening experience. But I chose to live in the Bay area because it is on the forefront of social technologies, it is not afraid to carve a different path forward. It has a revolutionary history, and I continue to hope we have a revolutionary future. And Chesa promises to completely reimagine how we deal with matters of crime and punishment in a way that we so badly need.

“A letter I wrote to the department of corrections in 1990 when the state tried to take away my family reunion visits with my dad. Been advocating around prison issues for going on 30 years now. BTW my letter and our campaign worked!” — Chesa Boudin #TeamBoudin #Boudin4DA

References & Links


Edwards, Lee, & Esposito (2019), Risk of being killed by police use of force in the United States by age, race–ethnicity, and sex, Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116 (34) 16793–16798.

Del Toro et al,. (2019) The criminogenic and psychological effects of police stops on adolescent black and Latino boys. Proceedings of the National Academy of Sciences, 116 (17) 8261–8268

Sullivan & O’Keefe (2017) Evidence that curtailing proactive policing can reduce major crime. Nature Human Behaviour, 1: 730–737

Bureau of Justice Statistics, Time Served in State Prison, 2016, Danielle Kaeble, BJS Statistician

In honor of the ever incredible Emma Goldman who’s words ring strong in me every day: “Every society has the criminals that it deserves”