The Ujima People’s Progress Party: Maryland’s First Black Worker Led Political Party
Nnamdi Scott of the Ujima People’s Progress Party joined us to discuss independent politics, the 2016 presidential election and Baltimore’s mayoral race.
JARED BALL, TRNN: What’s up, world. Welcome to another edition of I Mix What I Like here at the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore.
Today for this segment we’re going to be talking with Nnamdi Scott, of the Ujima People’s Progress Party, an electoral party forming here in Maryland. Nnamdi, welcome to the Real News and I Mix What I Like.
NNAMDI SCOTT: Thank you, brother.
BALL: So first, before we get too far, tell us again about the Ujima People’s Progress Party. The first black worker-led electoral party forming here in Maryland.
SCOTT: Yes, exactly. In the history of Maryland there’s never been a black, independent electoral party, especially led by black workers. We think it’s very important to do that, because here is a state where, first of all, we have 30 percent of the population is of African descent, which historically in this nation gives us fifth–ranked number five in the country of density. The other thing is that we have a lot of elected black officials, but that doesn’t translate into economic and real political influence for everyday black people.
And so we think that at this stage, where people are talking about solutions, that we have to start looking at it in a grassroots way, and what things serve working people. And history has showed that whenever black people have moved forward, the ball has moved forward for everybody, when they’re talking about social progress.
BALL: So in terms of electoral politics, where obviously the goal is to marshal enough votes to enact what it is you’re trying to enact, how does a black or race-based electoral political party work? In other words, why isn’t this meant to be a, a more multi-racial, multi-ethnic, workers-led movement?
SCOTT: Well, in practice it is, it is a mass-based, multi-racial approach. The fact is, and this is the problem that’s going to be very refreshing for people, the truth is black workers said, got together and said, we’re tired of not being represented. So black workers led a worker-based electoral party. It does not have goals and objectives that deny that other workers will benefit from the kind of things that we move forward. But this is the truth, and this is being honest, that we want to have a relationship that’s based on something different than what politics normally does. It’s not, it’s not adequate to say, or appropriate to say anymore that the Democratic party is the party created by the slaveholders of America. It’s just not what’s said, but it is the truth. And so when you say those things, people cry to get [little] [inaud.] but it is the truth, and we’re moving forward building an agenda that really speaks to everybody as working people and poor people can unite with.
BALL: So a lot of people, obviously, as I know you are familiar with, a lot of black people in particular say, well, the Democratic party is really our only option. It is the party most black people vote with, regardless of candidacy. What is your relationship, then, with the Democratic party, both in terms of what you want to see happen locally, but building even a broader effort here?
SCOTT: Sure. We, we are striving to be a real opposition party to the Democratic party where it’s in power, and in places where the Republican party has been a genuine opposition party. And that’s unique, because we have two major parties in this country that agree on many of the similar assumptions about white supremacy, about capitalism, and about who’s the, you know, what people get the spoils of this economy. So there’s no opposition in those two things. There are nuances between how they want to achieve those goals.
We want to be able to have people say, well, if the Democratic party is our best option, then when you look in Baltimore, or when you look in the state of Maryland, every bogeyman policy that comes out doesn’t come from the Republican party. The party that gets in your way for progress is the Democratic party.
Now, you could choose to keep voting that way. But when you get frustrated with schools getting closed, don’t get frustrated at activists or grassroots organizers, get frustrated with the Democratic party. When there’s police brutality and funds being overspent for the police department, it’s not the Republicans that do that. It’s the Democratic party. And people need to hear that over and over and over, so that you can’t run from the fact that the problem that you have is the Democratic party stealing your vote but not giving you anything back in return.
BALL: So Ujima is a black worker-led party here in Maryland. What are some of the conditions facing black workers here in this state that have led you and your constituency to form this party? What is it that black people are facing that the Democratic party can’t meet, or requires this new–the Democratic party can’t deal with, and that requires such a new move that, such as that you’re making here?
SCOTT: Well, the word ‘can’t’ is a generous word. I think the word is won’t deal with. We have, throughout the black community, we have no economic development. You see parts of North Avenue, East and West on both sides, that look like it’s been bombed out. How do people get reelected to that kind of garbage that people have to live in? We have schools that get closed. We have unions being shrunk. There is a real poverty level, almost 25 percent, in this city. These are the kind of things that are non-factors when Democrats and Republicans debate each other about how we move forward. This is not, and these are not situations that we can live with. And the truth is in Baltimore you can’t live, right, at the rate of 334-plus people a year we die. And those who don’t die from being shot and stabbed die from lead poisoning, they die from intellectual starvation that they get in school systems.
So the death is happening because we’re being ignored. This is what makes it possible for us to even have the conversation, because I’ve been told directly by members of, from the registration from the election board that both black and white, Democrats do not want to see an independent black electoral party get on the ballot.
BALL: Hmm. So–well, tell us about your campaign that is coming up. You are running for–.
SCOTT: City Council, 7th District in West Baltimore.
BALL: Are you all running a mayoral candidate here in Baltimore?
SCOTT: We are not. We are not. We decided we wanted to do something very unique. We’re working, actually, in partnership with several activists throughout the state. So it’s a state-wide campaign. And in Maryland you have to get 2,000 signatures from registered voters to become an electoral party, and that lasts for about four years. So that’s something broader than just what we are doing in Baltimore.
But a part of that conversation is in Baltimore we decided to dig in and build networks of organization. So the 7th District, where a lot of us live, we already started postering and organizing, and you know, using spaces to meet. So the question came at the very end whether or not we were going to run. We said, you know what, we’ve already started to build a machine here, right. So let’s test that machine and let’s see what it can do against an establishment candidate. Because I think one thing that we have that they don’t have is a real, organic, on-the-ground kind of organizing that no one’s being paid to do right now. It’s people who are really committed to ideas. And that’s a very dangerous thing to do when you have people committed to ideas.
BALL: You’re not running a mayoral candidate. But are you endorsing anybody for mayor? Are you in support of any particular candidate versus another? Or are you saying that whole system or that whole process is poisoned, and we have to sort of step back [from that]?
SCOTT: Well, in this case we’re not going to endorse anyone. And that may change over the course of time, because there’s going to be about, what, ten months before the election. I think it’s important to treat us like you would treat another party. You don’t ask the Democratic party, will you support this Green Party candidate, or will you support this Republican candidate? No, because that’s not what parties do. They represent their constituents they represent their platform. So that’s what they do.
So we don’t want to put ourselves in the position where people look at us like we’re not a political party. We are a political party. We just have not obtained the valid status. But we represent ideas, we represent economic and political interest, so we’re going to move forward like that always and only endorse people who are part of our, our party and who embrace our platform.
BALL: So I should have started with this earlier, but for those not up on their key Swahili, what does Ujima mean?
SCOTT: Ujima means cooperative work–cooperative work and responsibility. And we chose that because the truth is, is that for so long we’ve looked to leadership to come out of our black middle class, our educated class and those kind of ministerial class. And we’ve gone through several years of failure. And the truth is it’s time for the responsibility of the community to be called upon by working and poor people. We have to find our own solutions, our own answers, and build our own institutions.
BALL: So I’m assuming it would be similar to the question I just asked about the mayoral campaign here in Baltimore. What do you say to people who are looking at the national, presidential campaign right now?
SCOTT: Well, after you, after you take a bath, because you’d be sullied by all the dirt that you have to go through, I think people are going to have to make their own choices about that national question. I think that the question of Bernie is very provocative. I think he’s saying some of the things that people want to hear, finally want to hear. And for many years, people forget, he wasn’t a Democrat. Right, he was an independent.
That being said, by him running as a Democrat, he brings all the people who have been radicalized and activated right back into this comfort zone of the Democratic party. And they’re going to be frustrated. They’re going to be frustrated because you can’t have solutions for working and poor people in a capitalist party. It is–it doesn’t work that way. You know, and he’s kind of exposing that, which is the good part. But at the end of the day if he doesn’t win the nomination he’s going to bring everybody back in the fold, he’s going to support Hillary Clinton, and that’s what they do.
And there’s no answers for us. We have to have independent organization. We have to have our own capacity to say, this is what we want. So that even at some point where we’re, [inaud.] say, well, you’ll never win a national election. That’s not the question. If 30 percent of the people in this state say we know what we want, and this is our platform, and no one gets our vote unless you address this, then everyone has to address you. They treat you like a grown-up. They treat you like people who are contending for power. And that’s what we’re trying to teach people, that you can contend for power, but you have to be organized on your own independent terms.
BALL: You may also be offering a blueprint for others in the country to model.
SCOTT: Oh, we hope so. We hope so. We want to document, we hope that this gets out wide and broadly as possible. We’re doing the best we can to document it, with talks with other political parties around the country who are trying to do similar things. We have something that we think is very different. The on-the-ground process that we’re building is very important.
You might have heard it in the Republican party with this whole Tea Party. Build the bench, build the bench, right. This whole concept of you know what, you just win offices as city council–not even city council. You win offices as school board. You win as the tax collector. And all these little roles. But you build this credibility that people say, you know what, you can win. And you have won. And the truth for us is that we have to build our bench, right. And when you turn around you’re going to see an independent black organization that has an agenda and can speak for itself, and is funded by its own constituents. That’s what we’re trying to move forward with.
BALL: Nnamdi Scott, Ujima People’s Progress Party. Thank you very much for joining us here at the Real News and I Mix What I Like.
SCOTT: Thank you, brother.
BALL: And thank you for joining us here at the Real News and I Mix What I Like. And as always, for all involved, I’m Jared Ball in Baltimore saying, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind.
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