Paperboy Love Prince is a 26-year-old non-binary rapper and performance artist who is running an unconventional Congressional campaign to match these unprecedented times. They are running against 14-term incumbent Rep. Nydia Velasquez, a Democrat who became the first Puerto Rican woman in Congress when she was elected in 1993 — the same year Prince was born.
To hear Prince tell it, they are on a visionary quest to bring forth a politics of love. They support universal basic income, Medicare for all, ending the War on Drugs, and a complete overhaul of campaign finance. But more importantly, they represent all the people who have for too long been left out of the political process, Prince says. “Once they see what we do with [this office], it’s going to make every single politician that ever existed look like a jerk.”
On any given day in the past six months, Prince could be found rollerblading through streets of the district in a bubble costume, a parade of supporters trailing behind them with tambourines and noisemakers to create a social distance party/parade. On Sunday morning, Prince could be found in their campaign office on Noll Street in Bushwick filming an early morning dance break for Instagram.
Outside on the sidewalk, a young supporter named Brianna was spray painting a “Paperboy for Congress” banner. Another supporter, Julia, worked on duct taping finished signs to the front, sides and back of the “love bus,” a white and rainbow-striped artmobile that serves as the official chariot for Prince’s avante-garde campaign. The plan for the day: Take the bus out for a crawl through the district. With a loudspeaker blaring “Vote Paperboy Love Prince for Congress on June 23rd” in both English and Spanish, Prince would wave from the rooftop stage. With the pandemic making door-knocking unsafe, this is the next best tactic, Prince says.
For casual observers, this all may seem like an extended performance art project. But as I walk with Prince to get sandwiches for the long day of campaigning ahead, they assure me they’re serious. “A lot of people think because I have a very free and fun go-with-the-flow type image that I’m not purposeful. But I’m actually a very calculated and strategic person,” Prince says.
In fact, Prince has already exceeded expectations from local political watchers. Back in April, there was a challenge filed to Prince’s candidacy, stating that a majority of the signatures on their petition to be placed on the ballot were invalid. Prince represented themself in the Board of Elections hearing, and successfully argued the issue was null, given that the challenge was filed with a typo in their address. “Elections are good for our democracy and anyone can run,” Velasquez spokesperson Alex Huarek told the Brooklyn Eagle earlier this year, while defending the Congresswoman’s progressive record. (InStyle reached out to the Velasquez campaign for comment, but did not hear back by press time.)
Since the protests broke out following the death of George Floyd in May, Prince has gained impressive visibility at a time when the fervor for change is pervasive all over the country. On Juneteenth, Prince led a march across the Williamsburg bridge. A week prior, they hosted a “protest party march” that shutdown the intersection at Myrtle Avenue and Broadway. From atop the bus, Prince gave an impassioned speech into the mic. “Listen I didn’t come up here to give you guys any basic, regular rhetoric to spread fear, to spread division. We came to spread love,” they said. “This is our city. Everything you see was made by people no smarter, no better, no more special than you. We can do anything. We can have change now!”
I spent a few hours on the bus with Prince to talk about the campaign to keep them off the ballot, how the protests have supercharged their campaign, and the kind of diversity Congress really needs. Ahead, more of our conversation, which has been edited and condensed for clarity.
Why are you running for Congress, and not say, city council?
When I first told my manager I was running, he said the same thing, which is weird because he’s usually telling me to think bigger. But the policies I want to implement we need nationwide, not just in the city. And I feel like if I run on a nationwide level then the influence would be felt in the city by default.
It is very intentional for me to run for Congress. Because it is not about me and me getting into office as much as it was about helping the people with a specific plan. That specific plan involved me running for congress in New York’s 7th district because if you look at the makeup of the district it’s one of the most artist-heavy places not just in the country but in the world, maybe. And that’s in danger of slipping away if people don’t step up and stand up for artists, for our small venues. This is also one of the most gentrified districts in the country, and I have specific plans to help people and remedy that.
I support universal basic income. We saw how the stimulus bill helped a lot of people — it missed a lot of people, too. Poverty is one of the most violent things that can happen to a person, especially in America. We need to remedy poverty.
Do you think people have underestimated you?
Definitely. They’ve considered me a longshot candidate. They laugh and say we’ve raised zero dollars; but if this is what zero dollars looks like — an office, hella volunteers, people organizing events on their own — then… you know what I’m saying?
My ability to move without money has allowed me to speak unapologetically for the people. I can speak for Black trans people and undocumented immigrants and white students saddled with debt because of college, or Black students who have debt, or whoever, because I’m not worried about backlash. Nobody is pulling strings behind me with money.
How have the protests affected your campaign?
It definitely created a lot of momentum. People now see me as someone who just started this because of the riots. No, I’ve been campaigning hard as hell before this. We were in the streets every single day doing our own parade before people were rioting.
The message of the protests has been the message of our campaign. We’ve been saying this for months, since my first campaign speech. I talked about everything that everyone has been saying in the streets. In fact in mid-January, I predicted the riots. I left a vacation with my family in Florida to come back early for a meeting that the establishment tried to keep me out of. I talked about the riots that were coming. I said this is why we need universal basic income. We need actual politicians that care and know what people are going through. People are hurting! People need love!
If you listen to the establishment and our opponents, they try to paint me as crazy, weird, inexperienced, but every single person that listens to me speak for two minutes says I’m making a whole lot of sense. And they say, “This is the person who I want to represent me and fight for me in Congress.”
Have you experienced pushback?
There have been people who have tried to hate, or not even just they have a difference of opinion. We’re getting a lot of love. And I focus on the love, and that brings us more love.
The community has stepped up and at a certain point it’s not even about me and what I’m doing. People are just stepping up. We don’t have to ask. At our last protest, I didn’t have to ask a bunch of bikers to come and watch our front and watch our back and flank our side. They just did it.
Are you hoping to inspire other people from underrepresented backgrounds to run?
This is about inspiring a mechanic to run for office, inspiring a single mom to run for office, inspiring a mailman or mail-woman to run for office. One, I see that as everyone’s civic duty. But two, we would actually get a more diverse group of people working for us if that happened. Right now we have lawyers, rich people, and career politicians in power. When you have the same old politicians, you have the same old ideas, and you get the same old results. Right now we need different types of people. People like to talk about diversity like “oh put a Black person there, put a gay person there, oh there’s a Latina.” When we actually need diversity of thought. Black people are not a monolith. They think differently. If you put a Black person in there who thinks just like the establishment, they’re going to give us the same thing that anyone would give us.
What’s going to happen if you lose on Tuesday? What happens on Wednesday?
I don’t answer questions about losing. It’s win or win. All we do is win. It’s impossible for us to lose. We already won.
All of this isn’t new. Getting people together going out in the community, I was already doing it. Having events, I was doing it. Standing up for what’s right, I was already doing it. The only thing that will be different [if I win] is I’ll have an official title. But the way I’m going to use that official title is I’m just going to give that to the people. It’s going to be crazy.