Candace Owens of the right-wing org Turning Point USA recently held the group’s #Blexit conference in Baltimore. Jacqueline Luqman talks with Brandon Walker of Ujima People’s Progress Party about their protest of the event, and the political realities that Black voters really face.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: This is Jackie Luqman with The Real News Network.
Trump’s recent disparaging comments about Baltimore has turned the attention of the right wing of America’s political apparatus onto the city. Never one to miss an opportunity to promote her new right-wing gimmick to allegedly attract black voters away from the Democratic Party, Candace Owens of the organization Turning Point USA held the group’s #Blexit Conference at Baltimore’s Rams Head Live last week as well. The event itself was sparsely covered by the corporate media, which is probably a good thing, but what is not acceptable is that that lack of coverage has also ignored the fact that there were protesters outside of that event and what that dismissal means in terms of the political options, the real political options that black voters actually have.
Here to talk about that protest and those options is Brandon Walker. Brandon is the Outreach Coordinator for the Ujima People’s Progress Party in Baltimore, Maryland. He is also a member of Black Alliance for Peace and is a Baltimore native and resident. Thank you so much for joining me today, Brandon.
BRANDON WALKER: Thank you for having me.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Let’s start with Trump’s rhetoric about Baltimore because that’s arguably the reason that Owens brought her rally to Rams Head Live. What’s your response to those comments that Trump made about Baltimore?
BRANDON WALKER: Well I’m glad you asked, and thank you for asking me that question. I believe Trump’s rhetoric itself were his specifically and his ideology that he speak from, from a right-wing perspective where he does not necessarily represent those of the poor and working-class people. It was very contradictive considering that he casted a whole entire city as rat-infested and rodent infestation and nothing more but disparaging comments to cover an entire city. But it does nothing more but expose the contradictions of him having to present an Opportunity Zone in such an area that’s supposed to be rodent-infested.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: The response to those comments resulted in a lot of right-wing commentators, politicians, organizations talking about Baltimore, covering Baltimore. There was even a group of so-called activists who came to Baltimore to “clean up” a neighborhood in West Baltimore, and they were actually armed. Our own Eddie Conway confronted and exposed this group as being a right-wing aligned group. Even the President came and held an event, a speaking event last week. What has that been like for a resident of Baltimore knowing the situation in the city and seeing all of this so-called attention and concern being focused on the city? What’s been your response to that?
BRANDON WALKER: Well, I decided that the narrative had to be framed differently because when we talk about exactly right-wing activists doing work inside of a community whose class interest is diametrically opposed and on either side of the coin, I come to ask the question, well, you have Sparrows Point, you have industrial areas with run-offs, you have Dundalk, you have Essex, you have plenty of areas where the population is diverse and also can use more attention where they’re also significantly right-wing white supporters as well who could clean up the area, but they’re not getting covered or they’re not cleaning those areas.
And also, it had done a disservice to a lot of local grassroot organizations, community leaders, parents, stepparents, family members, people among the ranks who get out every day and clean up their areas, but they take advantage of it to use it as a political jab to slight the Democratic mis-leadership as a way to gather up votes for 2020.
I look at the right-wing activists as nothing more but just political gamesmanship being used to align with the right-wing agenda to gather votes and to pony up an opportunity to look good after making comments about Congressman Elijah Cummings and as well as brandishing an entire city, which’s demographic happens to be majority black as a way to say, “Hey, we’re your friends. Leave this party for another imperialist party.”
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So I need to go back to two points that you made that I’m so glad that you made. First, you mentioned the black mis-leadership class. And you also mentioned some other areas of Baltimore that are experiencing issues of pollution, industrial pollution, environmental issues that were not focused on, but also are a little bit more diverse, but have a different class makeup and don’t serve the interests of the political games that are being played by these right-wing activists. So let me take this or present this to you in chunks. When you’re talking about the black mis-leadership class, what does that mean in terms of the situation in Baltimore with what some people would argue black residents and poor residents are faced with?
BRANDON WALKER: Well, I’ll go into a historical sense. Baltimore City had been in a Democratic-Republican mayorship for a little over 150 years, back and forth. So a lot of those political battles, or should we say violent elections— pretty much war without bloodshed for that matter— it spills onto the locals, the populace.
And when we speak about the Democratic leaders, specifically mis-leadership— I’m sorry, I want to make sure I’m correct too. We’re looking at exactly out of that 150 years of 75% of those years or more, being represented by black faces in servitude of white power or white power in servitude of the ruling class and both that does not adhere to the issues that are happening to everyday folks such as myself, working-class folks who try to make a living and also take care of their families. That tends to go on deaf ears, but somehow, we’re looking at more and more disparities and under-development in the communities where people are trying to make a difference, but at the same time are getting swindled out of their votes, and also being had for the opportunities to please someone else who comes in with millions or even billionaires for that matter, to come take land and property.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So we’re talking about in terms of black mis-leadership, that’s the mostly the Democratic Party that is the focus of Candace Owens and her Blexit organization. That’s the kind of narrative she thinks that she is seizing upon, but you’re saying this is a bigger narrative than that. It’s not just that the Democratic Party doesn’t help black people because when we look at the situation in those other areas that you mentioned, in the Dundalks and the Essexes where there’s environmental pollution, that none of the Republican activist operatives focused on. Then, we could point to the Republican leadership that Baltimore has been under, that also didn’t do anything about those situations, correct?
BRANDON WALKER: Absolutely. What we’re dealing with right now is we’re looking at Westport where even in Brooklyn and Curtis Bay areas, where homes are, again, being underattended and left for slumlords to pretty much wait until the next Opportunity Zone pool comes from the federal administration to make areas who are once deserted and blighted into hotbeds for cheap and free investment almost. So with that, it also presents a false narrative that these areas where people live at in the inner city and in West Baltimore, that black and poor working-class people do not care about their communities, when nothing could be further from the truth. These are people who get up every day in the morning, come home at night, send their kid to school and as well as try to put themselves and their older kids to school, to be able to make a difference in their area and in their lives.
But when we have a political mis-leadership that does not have a political will from the state house in Annapolis to Baltimore City down on Holliday Street specifically, this kind of tells us everything that we need to know. Where anytime that we are electing someone else, we’re just electing white supremacy and also white power in a different form of blackface that does nothing for the constituents or also serve those of the ruling class.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And that is true. You say whether you elect a black Democrat or a white Republican, or a white Democrat or a black Republican, what you’re saying is this political apparatus, as it exists, Democrat or Republican, serves the ruling class that does not serve the working people at all?
BRANDON WALKER: Absolutely. Absolutely. And just to expound on it just for whatever time I have at this moment, we’re dealing with public schools that still have lead in their water. We’re still dealing with areas where they’re not transportation accessible, where bus lines had to be discontinued because there aren’t enough people who live in those neighborhoods. This is not to say that there’s completely a black demographic in those areas, but we also know areas such as the corners of Southeast corridor, Harbor East, going into certain areas, where they have all the attention and all the development as well as the political interest of those in City Hall and in Annapolis.
That question becomes, well, how easy is it to write such a narrative? What do you have to lose from the words of a Donald Trump to join us and the Republican Party, when you’re just pointing to the Sandman who puts everyone asleep for the boat to come vote for the boogeyman, which the Democratic Party wishes to pretty much keep black people in lock-and-step voting for?
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So let’s turn our attention particularly to the protest last week at Ram’s Head Live. It was a protest of Candace Owens or Turning Point USA’s #Blexit Conference. For our viewers who are unaware, Blexit is this right-wing campaign for black people to leave the Democratic Party because of the Republican narrative that the Democratic Party is a plantation and it does not serve black people. But as you have just expounded on, we’re talking about a system of imperialism and corporate and elite control that neither party, in your argument, serves black people or working people in general. But the interesting thing about this protest or this rally is that it didn’t get a lot of media coverage. So I think the first question people would want to know, Brandon, is why protest an event that the media didn’t cover?
BRANDON WALKER: Well, I look at it as that the optics, for one, weren’t appealing and I would say more so of a racial-type matter that, okay, wasn’t covered by a lot of white folks or people of that matter who weren’t outside the black community as the visiting of President Trump on Thursday, from Vice President Mike Pence on Friday, and climate demonstration on Saturday.
Also, I think that it was nothing more – was no interest involved because if the narrative is to be framed that black people do not value or cherish their areas, or let alone stand up for their political or economic interest, then to be able to omit that that exists, to ignore the far corners of independent black radical politics, and as well as those who fighting for the economic interest of poor and working-class folks, then it will serve right that well, hey, the city is in need of new leadership. Why go with Democratic leadership out of the 150-plus years that had been ran with Democrats and go with the opposite, or should I say, the same wing of it but just a number version of white supremacy with the Republican Party?
It wasn’t covered because there was no interest in it, but most of all, it was not even a political will for Democratic Party leaders, elites, insiders and supporters to come out and fight for the interests of black workers, black voters and Democratic voters in a city that is a Democratic stronghold.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And that is what you believe your role was in protesting this event, right? Because it wasn’t just Ujima People’s Progress Party. There was a coalition of black leftist organizations out there protesting. What were the other groups represented? Before this event and before this interview, have you gotten much attention from the media for the work that you guys do all the time?
BRANDON WALKER: I would say the local media itself, if they’re not able to slant and spin the news to a narrative that frames it to those in the far ends of East and West Baltimore County, and also in different parts of Maryland that tune into local news, if it isn’t appealing or it isn’t promoting a majoritive language that someone needs to come and present a level of saviorship and help these Negroes pretty much, as is being presented through the frameworks of the news narrative, then if it isn’t presented that way, then it will no longer be shown or even be reported to us or we will not have air time.
So for us, we thought it was necessary to be able to form our own independent black political interest, and get involved with something that is not only presenting the views of poor, working-class folks everyday daily, but to be able to film and document it in a way where we’re able to say, “Hey, even your own stronghold cities or a Democratic majority will not stand up for you. Why not stand for yourself? Why not defend your own interests, but most of all, why not place yourself first in the area where we’re dealing with so many forms of injustice and racial tension, that it’s up to us to be able to make those changes?”
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: I really do appreciate the fact that the online publication Hood Communist, which you are a contributor to, and several other members of the organizations that were represented— Black Alliance for Peace, Pan-African Community Action— and other organizations have contributed to a very clear analysis of the problems with the Blexit argument and the reason this protest that you were involved in, that you actually helped organize, took place.
But more importantly, I want to ask you this last question, and this is—I think this question goes to the narrative that needs to be corrected in regard to the political choices black voters have. Is it a choice between a Democratic Party that takes advantage of the black vote and a Republican Party that ignores black issues? Are those the only choices black voters have, or do your organizations represent a third choice or fourth, fifth and six choices, other choices for black voters to pursue the self-determination of black voters in this country?
BRANDON WALKER: I would say there are choices. You had the Baltimore City Green Party who was also in attendance. It’s out there as well. You had supporters and friends of Peoples Power Assembly, along with the group that you mentioned, and also Ujima’s Peoples Progress Party. The idea is to win power back to the people using local campaigns and local elections; such as those that could run for specifically a PTA position. Heck, you could run for a local dog catcher as far as we know, but to be able to run for such a position and to be able to bring change locally in your area, this is where the question begins as you have presented. How can we galvanize ourselves towards such a movement that our efforts are not just bland or in vain, but we’re now putting ourselves in a better position to make those changes?
Challenging the Democratic establishment, we’re able to ask, Well, how can the party have such a way of putting a mayor in office to support of $15 an hour bill, get elected and reneged? And then, the Republican Party which just doesn’t believe in raising the living wage or minimum wage for anyone. For us, we feel as though as workers and also as the black left and those who I’ve named, we are supporters of human-centered values. We do believe in the right to housing, education, clothing, access to education, and also jobs that pay a livable wage and transportation and environmental justice, against the racism and also the putrid systems that we’ve been dealing with between the two parties, are a better option because after all, we’re putting money inside the coffers of such campaigns and such people that we no longer have any other choice but to invest in ourselves to move forward. I think together as a coalition or a collective, we can do better.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Well, I really appreciate the time that you took to come and talk to me today about this growing movement of black left activists that so many outside of these communities know so little about. So I really appreciate you shedding light on your work. And I really appreciate the time that you spent with us today, Brandon.
BRANDON WALKER: Thank you so much. I’m glad that we had a chance to speak on it with you as well.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And thank you for watching. This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network in Baltimore.