Ajamu Baraka and Jill Stein, the GP's candidates for vice president and president in 2016
What does the Green Party nomination of longtime Black Agenda Report contributing editor Ajamu Baraka for Vice President mean for the Green Party and the 2016 presidential election? Is he just a black face on the ticket, or is it really time to begin organizing in black and brown communities outside the matrix of the bankrupt black and brown misleadership class?
In Houston on the first Saturday of August, the Green Party nominated Jill Stein, a Massachusetts physician, and Ajamu Baraka, a longtime human rights activists as its presidential and vice presidential candidates for 2016. Stein’s nomination was a foregone conclusion, having been the Green candidate in 2012 and the only one of several aspirants to raise money, hire staff and campaign across the country full time for more than a year.
Ajamu Baraka followed a different road to the nomination, having been an interested observer but with no organizational connection to the Green Party till now. Ajamu Baraka was the founding executive director of the US Human Rights Network, which still seeks to have the framework of internationally recognized human rights law applied to the victims of social and economic injustice in the US. This is a truly radical concept because the supreme law in the US is the Constitution, which chiefly guarantees property rights and the rights of corporations but not necessarily the rights of human beings to a quality education, the vote, decent housing, health care, renumerative jobs and the right to organize, or to a safe and clean environment, none of which are mentioned.
Ajamu Baraka was among the first to demand, in the wake of the Katrina disaster, that the 300,000 or so persons uprooted, the majority of them African American, be classified as “internally displaced” under international law, a status which would have guaranteed them the right to return to the cities and towns from which they were displaced and dispersed to the four corners of the US. Since the 1980s Baraka has been a consistent and principled critic of imperial US foreign policy over the years in Africa, Asia, Central and South America and the Middle East. He’s served in and led fact-finding delegations to Central America, Cuba, Israel-Palestine, Colombia and other places. In the wake of the 2010 hunger strike waged by Georgia prisoners, Baraka led an unprecedented civilian inspection team into two state prisons where they were able to interview staff and prisoners alike.
I should say here that I count both Jill and Ajamu as comrades and personal friends, that I was on Jill’s campaign staff for several months and that Ajamu Baraka has more than 50 articles published at Black Agenda Report.
So why Ajamu Baraka?
It’s not a simple matter of putting a black face on the ticket. Greens have run black candidates in local and national races before without managing to make a significant dent in traditional black allegiances to the Democratic party.
Stein chose Baraka because one of her campaign’s objectives is to strengthen state and local Green parties. As a result of his more than four decades of work in the movement, Baraka has longstanding personal ties with and has been mentor to many of the activists involved in the Black Lives Matter movement around the country. If anyone can carry the message to these forces that now is the time for organizing alternative centers of struggle for political power, centers of struggle outside the two capitalist parties and outside the nonprofit industrial complex, that someone is Ajamu Baraka.
African American voters have long been the rock upon which the Democratic party’s voting coalition rests. But since blacks vote Democratic mainly out of fear of the Republicans, they are a captive constituency whose votes are counted but whose demands are ignored. Jill and the Greens know it will take more than running good black or brown candidates to make its black, Latin and working class captive constituencies climb out of the Democrats’ trunk. Realistically that won’t much happen this election. The candidacies of Greens like Joshua Harris in Baltimore and Ashley Flash Gordon in Travis County TX are signs that something new and unprecedented is peeking over the horizon, something that will challenge the vacuity and lack of vision of the black political class. It’s not a challenge mature enough to accomplish a string of local electoral victories across the country. But it’s real, it’s gaining ground, building experience and it’s not going away.
The present black political class and the leadership model that supports it have been in place pretty much since the days of Booker T. Washington twelve decades ago. They won’t be displaced this election cycle, but their political bankruptcy is every bit as real and obvious as that of their white counterparts.
Why Vice President?
A frequently asked question is why Greens run candidates for president every year, but haven’t elected or even run candidates in many states for state reps and state senators, for county commissioners and members of congress. The answer is really simple.
The two capitalist parties protect themselves against competitors with a briar patch, a minefield of provisions and conditions expressly designed to make it all but impossible for parties not financed by the one percent to appear on the ballot. In many states, candidates who are not Democrats or Republicans are prohibited from appearing on the ballot until after their parties have scored one percent, two percent or five percent, depending on the state, in a statewide election.
This legal requirement in states like Georgia that Greens must score tens or hundreds of thousands of votes in statewide races before being allowed to run in local races is one more of the deliberate obstacles Democrats and Republicans have erected to competition from third parties at the ballot box. And it’s why Ajamu Baraka is running for vice president and Jill Stein for president much of the country were Greens are not allowed to run for local office.
Why the Green Party?
For the last fifty years, Republicans have deliberately made themselves the party of white racists and nativists. There’s simply in the Republican party or African Americans except a shorter line. Democrats talk a different game, but are responsible to the same one percenters who fund Republicans, so once in office, Democrats govern pretty much like Republicans. In fact Democratic presidents and governors frequently enact the oppressive policies we won’t allow Republicans to enact.
NAFTA came up twice during the first Bush presidency and failed. It took a Democrat, a President Clinton to rally enough right wing Democrats to ally with Republicans to get it into law. Ending public aid was also something no Republican could do, but Democrats only need the support of the black and poor when they’re candidates, not so much when they’re governing. The 2008 Bush bailout went before a Democratic Congress and it failed. Barack Obama had to suspend his campaign for a week and come to DC and work the phones to flip the Congressional Black Caucus and enough other Democrats to pass the Bush bailout, which he quadrupled down on once in the White House. Again it was a blow no Republican could have struck, though many wanted to.
Barack Obama used stimulus money to fund what he called “Race To The Top”, a drive to privatize public education that resulted in the closing and privatization of thousands of public schools, and pushed hundreds of thousands of qualified experienced public school educators out of the classroom. This too was something no Republican could have accomplished, much as they wanted to. There are many, many similar examples of Democrats accomplishing the right wing goals Republicans can only talk about on the state and local levels.
Republicans like Donald Trump talk about how they’d like to do mass deportations. But our First Black President has deported two million people, more than any other three presidents combined, after promising Latino voters “a road to citizenship” in both his campaigns.
The only reason to vote for Democrats is our fear of Republicans, and as Jill Stein says, this politics of fear has delivered to us everything we were afraid of. People voted Democratic to end the war in Iraq but we got more war in the Middle East and Africa. People voted Democrat to raise the minimum wage and see millions of new jobs created. But the minimum wage has barely risen and the only reason official unemployment figures are down is that his policies have pushed millions of people out of the formal workforce into increasingly precarious economic situations.
At the end of the reign of our first black president, a Democrat when blacks have been the rock and mainstay of Democratic voting coalitions for two generations, forty percent of black children are growing up in poverty. Isn’t it time for some new questions?
Why must “progressives” ride to Hillary’s rescue if we don’t get progress?
Trump is a bumbling clown and a bogeyman. He’s raising a fraction of the money Romney raised, four years ago. Hillary Clinton has a billion dollars to campaign with and most of the corporate media. If she can’t beat this fool with all the resources available to her, why is it up to us? Why? Hillary ought to be, and ought to have been helping us, not the other way around.
I don’t expect the Greens to win the presidential election. But the US system is almost 250 years old, one of the most elderly on the planet. Its creaks and cracks are highly visible and aren’t going away. Isn’t it time to start imagining and building what comes next, what comes after capitalism, what comes after genocide and ecocide, what comes after patriarchy and white supremacy?
Isn’t it time to start being the change we want to see?
That won’t happen inside the Democratic party. It’s been tried again and again. It’s time to build something different. So why not the Green Party?
Bruce A. Dixon is managing editor at Black Agenda Report and a member of the state committee of the Georgia Green Party. He lives and works near Marietta GA and can be reached via email at bruce.dixon(at)blackagendareport.com.