Green Party VP Candidate on How Elections Can Advance People Power
From the 2016 Green Party national convention, Green Party Vice Presidential Candidate Ajamu Baraka says that though no party alone can advance revolutionary change, the Green Party presents an opportunity to push a radical electoral strategy
KWAME ROSE, TRNN: Kwame Rose here with Dharna Noor for the Real News Network.
We’re in Houston, Texas at the Green Party National Convention. Just moments before the nomination ceremony begins for Dr. Jill Stein and her newly selected Vice Presidential candidate who’s joining us now Ajamu Baraka.
Thank you for joining us brother. How’s everything going?
AJAMU BARAKA: It’s my pleasure to be here. It’s been a very interesting experience. Things are going well. The delegates are involved in serious conversations. This afternoon we have the actual nomination process and we hope to be the candidates for the Green Party. So we’re feeling pretty good about it.
ROSE: Now Ajamu, you’re new to the Green Party.
BARAKA: Somewhat. I’ve been a supporter of the Green Party for quite some time. Especially after 2008, when Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente ran and I ended up really helping and supporting the Stein campaign in 2012 and ended up on the Green shadow cabinet for 4 years as the public intervener on human rights. So you know I’ve been in the Green circles for a while now.
ROSE: Let’s talk about your time in the Green Party. It’s the Green Party. It’s an interesting moment with the Bernie Sanders delegates and surrogates leaving–a lot of those individuals are leaving the Democratic Party, coming to support the Green Party. Interestingly enough, how important is this moment for the Green Party? These next few months up until November?
BARAKA: Well I think it will be very important because as you said many of the folks who were mobilized, in particular the younger folks by the Sanders campaign are who now understand that as very difficult as Jill Stein says, to try to revolutionize a counter revolutionary formation that they have to have an institutional home. And the only viable structure right now is the Green structure.
Now the Green structure has challenges. There’s a lot of work to be done to make it the kind of institution that can support progressive electoral activity but it’s in place and it’s something that we can work with. So we think the campaign will be a fantastic opportunity to engage not only the Sanders folks but the American people at large about how do we look at the electoral process? How should social movements look at electorialism? How do we? To what degree can we use these elections to really advance popular power?
So those kinds of conversations we need to have and we’ll have over the next few months.
ROSE: Well it’s interestingly more on that topic, you’re the only black candidate right? A lots at stake for black people in this election, in particular with racism, the admitted racism of Donald Trump, and kind of the secret to liberal racism of Hillary Clinton. What’s at stake for black America and how is the Green Party the solution for black America?
BARAKA: Well I would say that there is a lot at stake. There’s no question about that. And I wouldn’t argue that the Green Party is the solution for black America. The Green Party is a structure that can be an instrument for progressive change. It depends on how we want to relate to it.
So we’re not advocating that black oppositional politics have to be expressed through a Green Party formation. We say that it’s vitally important for us to build autonomous black organizations that are free from the party systems. Now if folks believe that there is a, if they develop a broader strategy that includes electoral politics then we say that it just makes sense to use the Green party structure if you can’t in your particular state.
So our message is not like the traditional parties. We’re not coming to the people saying hey, vote for us and this is going to solve your problems. We want to talk about a process. We want to talk about the fact that we have to build a democracy. We have to build oppositional structures and that this campaign is one step. A significant one. But one step in that process.
Our conversation with the black community is, it’s time to consider coming off the democratic party plantation. You’re going to engage in electoral politics, do it from an independent base because it’s clear that they don’t have your interests at heart.
DHARNA NOOR, TRNN: Ajamu, you speak about the Democratic Party. You say that it’s the counter revolutionary party. You speak about the importance of building independent parties. Is it ever appropriate to wage a struggle for transformative change within the democratic party?
For instance, I know that on a local level, you have in the past worked with, for instance, Chokwe Lumumba who ran really on a radical platform but ran as a democrat in Jackson, Mississippi. Are there ever times where it’s appropriate to try to use the democratic party despite it’s sort of–the soul of it being like an elite power. Is it ever appropriate it to try to use that for transformative change?
BARAKA: You know that’s a strategic question. One thing we have to be aware of when we talk about these parties. We sort of rarify these things as though they really exist. These parties are basically legal sort of entities.
So in the states you have these legal entities, the democrat and the republican parties that if you are going to run for elected office you have to fit yourself in one or the other. Unless you are in the state where there are valid access on the Green lines. If not, then basically the states have this ability to block out third party challenges. So Chokwe running in Mississippi, in Jackson, it was a strategic decision to run for mayor and then he called himself and the movement called itself, representing the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party. Which was a challenge to the Mississippi Party back in the 1960’s. But legally they had to run it through the Democratic Party.
So I’m not one of those ones to say that basically any strategy should be dismissed. And I don’t take a position either that there should be some kind of principled argument against engaging in certain aspects of bourgeoisie politics. It is really a strategic question that depends on local conditions or state conditions or whatever. We got to grow up in this country. If we’re talking about trying to really build power and really build a radical alternative and understand that basically it’s not about certain kind of abstract imaginable principles. It was about what the conditions require for us to do in any particular concrete situation.
NOOR: And in the moment that we’re in right now, you being the presumptive VP nominee for the Green Party. What do you think is success for the Green Party in this particular moment? What would success look like in this election season for the Green Party?
BARAKA: Well, I mean success would be the party won on the national ticket. But real success would be if we come out of this with really developed state structures that we have thousands of people who are willing to participate in the processes. That we have engaged in a conversation with the American people, with radicals and get some clarity on how we relate to the electoral process. How we see the electoral process. So for me that would be success. If we are positioned to continue to struggle to organize because we have to be. Because no matter who wins, other than the greens, we’re still going to see a consistent movement towards the right.
ROSE: You emphasized on the proper use of good strategies. In this election for the Green Party, it’s a little advantageous to think that the Green Party will actually–the approach to aggressively approach the presidency in this campaign. Would you support a swing state strategy for the Green Party, where if you’re a Republican or a Democrat to vote Green unless you’re in a state that matters?
BARAKA: No, we don’t take that position. Basically that’s another strategy that sort of plays into the party’s, is a strategy based on fear. It is a strategy that does not really honor the potential agency of the people. We say that we have to draw a line. We cannot allow ourselves every four years to be in a position we have to determine that either we’re going to be involved in independent politics or we’re going to have some sort of fusion sort of approach where we just struggle for power in those places that we’re afraid that a Republican might win. We’re not concerned about the Republicans.
ROSE: But that strategy might also help get the Green Party up to 15 percent to make it to the national debate stage. It might solidify the 6 percent which in some polls Jill Stein is already polling in, you and Jill Stein are polling in now, to be on the majority of the ballots. So in the long term, short term, it’s a great short-term strategy, but you don’t think it’s a good long-term strategy for the Green Party?
BARAKA: I don’t, I question it. Because it, again, it undermines our argument that we’ve got to draw a line and really be committed to building alternative power, and not be concerned about what is supposed to be the pragmatic consequence of that. We say, we’ve got to build alternative power. We have to trust the people.
And so, no. you know, if we take–we take whatever comes from this. But we’ve got to finally determine that it’s time to build a real revolutionary party if we’re going to engage in the electoral process at all.
ROSE: Now, I think building a revolutionary power is extremely powerful. Marc Lamont Hill talked about why he’s supporting the Green Party because he thinks it’s time for a political revolution. I want to talk to you, or get your thoughts, on the Green Party has probably been the, out of the four parties, Democrats, Republicans, Libertarians, Green Party, the Green Party has probably been the most on point with their support and vocalism on Black Lives Matter and supporting oppressed communities. But this convention is really a white convention. Only a handful of black and brown bodies. Does that just spill into the same thing that Hillary Clinton is doing when we have white people talking about black and brown issues?
BARAKA: Well, I mean, it’s a valid critique, and something that the party’s been struggling with for quite some time. And I think that the Green Party will be able to make some real inroads.
What I’m advocating for, in terms of how black people or Latino people relate to the Democratic Party is for them to take it for themselves. That basically it’s not coming to the table as visitors, or invitees, it’s coming in as full, equal participants. And so I think we have, we will see, a browning, if you will, of this party as a consequence.
Most of the major structures and institutions here in this country have the same kind of issues. They are politically committed to so-called diversity, and have some good lines on race, but they find it very difficult to bring people to their operations, largely because they don’t know how to do it. So you know, we’re going to engage in the honest conversations and talk about whether or not folks believe that this Green Party structure’s something that they can relate to. We’re not taking a dogmatic position on that. You know, I think that through conversation, if people believe that they can utilize it in their particular states, they will. Where they don’t, then they won’t. That’s fine with me.
ROSE: But Donald Trump, according to projections, is going to poll at the least margin in history with black support. He’s polling right now at 0, some polls say 1 percent. It’s a great opportunity here to gain black support for the Green Party. But one of the problems Bernie Sanders had in his progressive movement was that he wasn’t able to capitalize on mobilizing young black voters. And historically, older black voters have always been loyal to the Democratic Party, and in recent history the Clintons. How does the Green Party get young black and brown people to join on and fight in this movement, this revolution?
BARAKA: I’m going to tell you, one, I think, corrective to your comment is that a lot of young African-Americans and Latinos were beginning to come on board with the Sanders operation. Now, people said that because of him polling so low in the South, that that was the indication that he didn’t have and he couldn’t get black support.
But that’s very complicated. I mean, as you said, older voters tend to still be Democratic. And they’re Democratic not because they’re just loyal to Hillary Clinton, but black folks tend to be very pragmatic. And it was too early for them to say, we’re going to jettison our relationship to the Democratic Party for Bernie Sanders, who’s coming out of nowhere. And for Bernie Sanders’s campaign who had difficulties understanding how to connect with folks on the ground, in particular in the South, where I organize.
So you know, we saw as the campaign developed, we saw a lot of young folks who were coming toward the campaign. So it demonstrated the potential. So for the Greens, they have to study what happened with the Sanders campaign, and I think that with a, for example, what I’m advocating for is Southern strategy. I think we can make inroads. Because we have to remind people that in the South, when it comes to the national ticket, you are basically disenfranchised. Your vote doesn’t count, because those are red states, you know?
So basically, you’re talking about a state strategy, you might as well support the Green Party. Not just support the Green Party in terms of voting for it, but get in it. Organize it. Use it.
NOOR: We’ve seen, as actually Jill has pointed out a number of times, in this election cycle we’ve seen more distrust for the two candidates, for Donald Trump and Hillary Clinton, than we ever have before. Why is it that despite this, so many people across America, especially as we’re saying, marginalized people in a number of capacities, despite this continue to support either the Democrats or the Republicans?
BARAKA: The politics of fear. Both parties are using the politics of fear. The Trump folks and the conservatives, they support Trump, they’re saying basically, you should be terrified of a Clinton administration. And the Democrats are playing the same kind of game. And it can be effective, especially when we don’t have politics in this country that allow us to engage people in honest and sophisticated conversations. So folks can be manipulated by fear.
So that’s why we are reluctant to embrace even a swing state strategy, because it sort of plays into that. We say that basically if you want to build a radical movement we’ve got to build it, and not be concerned about what are the possible consequences for the two parties? And we–I come out of a tradition where we’re not really afraid of what happens if a Trump wins. You know, it’d be difficult. There’s no question about that. But you know what? It’s going to be difficult anyway in this country, even under a Clinton administration. So we say it’s time to draw a line in the sand, and let’s get real about building a radical movement.
NOOR: Are there any plans amongst the Greens to sort of deal with the backlash that would arise if Donald Trump did win for the presidency? You know, as we saw with Nader, I think we can all expect that if Donald Trump did win there would be a lot of backlash, even amongst those who traditionally align themselves with progressives against the Greens, saying that the Greens were those who cost Clinton the presidency, who made Donald Trump the presidency. Are there any plans to sort of deal with this?
BARAKA: Nothing I know of. Nobody’s even thinking about things in those terms anymore, because we know that basically even the critique of Nader in 2000 is based on the myth that–I mean, we all know that if Gore would have been a more effective candidate, if he would have won his own state in Tennessee, that he would have won. You know, we’re not going to condemn the American people for exercising their democratic right, their democratic vote.
So you know, we’re not concerned about that. And again, I think that the kinds of attitudes and perspectives we see with younger people, I don’t think that they’re going to fall for that argument again.
NOOR: Here we are with Ajamu Baraka, who just in moments will be onstage at the Green Party National Convention. We’re here in Houston. Stay tuned for more of our coverage. Kwame Rose and Dharna Noor here for the Real News Network.
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