Ajamu Baraka Makes His Case to the People of Baltimore
The Real News profiles scholar, human rights activist and Green Party Vice Presidential Candidate Ajamu Baraka on a recent visit to Baltimore
KWAME ROSE V.O. : The city of Baltimore, Maryland is a place filled with promise and potential. Plagued by poverty, unemployment and political decisions that benefit business developers at the expense of working class taxpayers. Baltimore was thrust into the spotlight last summer after protests erupted in response to the death of Freddie Gray, a black man who died after suffering injuries in police custody. Many of the people protesting never knew Freddie Gray personally but protested because their experiences of growing up in Baltimore were far too common with the deceased. Ajamu Baraka, the Green Party vice presidential candidate spent nearly a week here in Baltimore, visiting community members and their neighborhoods, sleeping in with the homeless, doing things unconventional for any presidential candidate from any party. After an in-studio interview here at The Real News, Ajamu agreed to let our cameras follow him as he visited a local barbershop before attending a Green Party campaign event later that evening. So we went Ajamu as he met with local residents that talked about the plight of what it means to grow up black and in Baltimore.
Ajamu Baraka was an honest man during our trip saying that this wasn’t about winning. This was about bringing awareness and bringing solutions to the problems that face the everyday people that the Green Party hopes to represent.
ROSE, TRNN: So, I wanted this ride along and go to this barbershop for a number of reasons. Number one, I’ll be honest, most of the people at this barbershop in this particular block – its kind of like in a sense a small black Wall Street in Baltimore – most of the people, a lot of the more conscious and older gentlemen on the block know who you are from your previous works. The majority of the people don’t know the Green Party in the block.
[Locals and BARAKA exchange greetings]
SPEAKER 1: I got a question for you right now, before you go in. What’s one of your missions right now as far as seeing the youth in the community?
AJAMU BARAKA: We gotta bring attention to the fact that our youth are suffering. Basically, there ain’t no jobs here. In Baltimore, Chicago, Detroit, it’s the same situation. But you got all these politicians who have all these plans. They talk about how they’re gonna generate jobs. You got Donald Trump talking about how he’s gonna generate 25 million jobs but they’re all playing.
ROSE: You’re the only black candidate, out of all 4 parties. But you also are probably not the black candidate that everyone expected. So talk to us a little bit about where you were born, your upbringing. Who is Ajamu Baraka?
BARAKA: Well I guess my upbringing was in fact sort of an uprising. I was born in Chicago, I was born in Indiana but I was raised in the South side of Chicago. In a time when there was a lot of political upheaval. When I became a teenager that’s when the Panther Party, under the leadership of Fred Hampton was beginning to make his mark. And even though some of us were too much of knuckleheads to go into the party at that time, we heard the message. We understood or began to understand what our responsibilities should be to the communities. So, that was one of my early influences. Ended up though being caught up in the last part of the Vietnam conflicts draft and ended up in the military and stationed in Germany. When I got out of the military, went south to organize. To be part of the ongoing movement for radical social change in this country and in around the world. So, my whole life had been a life of activism and struggle in an attempt to try to, in the best traditions of our people to, in essence, serve our folks.
[Locals and BARAKA exchange greetings]
ROSE: So, this is Rio. Rio just came home a couple of years ago. How long did you do?
RIO: 5 years.
ROSE: You did 5 years?
RIO: I did 5 years in prison.
ROSE: And are you able to vote now?
RIO: Yes, I can vote now.
ROSE: You’re registered?
RIO: I’m already registered.
ROSE: Who are you planning on voting for?
RIO: I don’t know yet. I don’t trust nobody. They’re doing all the goofy stuff and I’m not with it.
SPEAKER 2: What is a good reason for him to vote for you?
BARAKA: I can tell you a good reason why he should be active and to be doing things in the community. And if he wants to vote, that’s good. We’re not here just talking about voting for me. We’re using this campaign to talk about why we gotta get organized, why we gotta build movement. This ain’t about just another politician. Look, we see what politicians do. We got all these black faces behind fake places here in Baltimore and what’s the consequences? They selling out the communities to white folks with money. You know? So if we are not able to control these politicians, control our politics, then ain’t nothing happening.
[Locals and BARAKA exchange greetings
ROSE: We’ll just peek into City of Gods which is a black owned clothing store, it’s the biggest local owned clothing store in Baltimore and then we’ll pop in to get a margarita. But like I said, all these are black owned businesses. They’re closed today but this is, all this. But if you look at this building in particular in Baltimore City, they consider this a historical neighborhood. So, even though this building has fallen down, because of time and lack of upkeep by slumlords, they won’t let you knock it down. Or build anything on top. So, it will just sit here with infestation and sometimes you’ll find a dead body in the back. This will be here. Businesses surrounding it are black owned, because of these stupid laws. When they want a developer to come by this is what sits here.
BARAKA: What about the land trust where the community can buy some of these properties? Are people involved in that kind – any kind – of creative way to try to get some of these properties?
ROSE: I don’t know that answer but I’ll tell you the market right here – Baltimore’s known for their street markets – Kevin Plank’s brother, Kevin Plank who owns Under Armour, his brother just bought the market and all these buildings in this neighborhood. 52 buildings in particular.
This block right here is a save haven, there’s no violence that ever happens on this block. No fights – I mean fights – but nobody dies. But a couple blocks up is one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in the city.
[Locals, ROSE and BARAKA exchange greetings]
ROSE: What’s up fellas? This is Ajamu Baraka. This is Idris, he’s one of the owners of the shop.
BARAKA: Okay, glad to get a chance to see what ya’ll got here. It looks nice, man. How long have you been here?
IDRIS: 7 years.
BARAKA: 7 years? Okay, that means you’ve got a nice foothold. Nice clientele.
IDRIS: And then we represent and stand for something as well, so that always helps. People see that you represent and stand for something.
[Locals and BARAKA exchange greetings]
SPEAKER 3: You’re running with Jill Stein, right? So what’s separating the Green Party from the rest of the other candidates that’s running now. I mean outside of the big guys – the Democrats and Republicans – because they’re making everything a 2 party thing. But you guys are out there but people don’t even know about that. So what’s separating the Green Party? I think the last time I voted was when Barack Obama got office.
BARAKA: 2008, yeah.
SPEAKER 3: ’08 right? I voted for Cynthia McKinney, I think she was running?
BARAKA: In 2008, yeah, a friend of mine.
SPEAKER 3: I liked what she was standing on but she faced a lot of opposition afterwards. You know what I’m saying? So, what’s gonna stop you guys from getting pushed out of there?
BARAKA: Well, we’re facing the same kind of opposition even more so because this time they’re really scared of us. Because they see that the people are looking for change. The Green Party is about change. Green Party is saying that we recognize that we can’t have politics as usual. So we’re talking about we’ve got to build a new social movement because we can’t deal with the conditions we see around this country with the same old politics and because we’re talking about doing some new stuff like really trying to do something for the economy where we can put some real money in this urban areas. We’re talking about we’ve gotta have real educational reforms so we can really be producing healthy people as opposed to shutting down public education. We’re talking about we gotta have healthcare for everybody. You know? People don’t wanna have that kind of message to get out so they are targeting the party right now. That’s why they won’t let us in the debates.
SPEAKER 3: That’s crazy. So I thought the debates were open to all parties.
BARAKA: No, you have a corporation that’s run by the Democrats and the Republicans. They determine who can be in the debates. They don’t want the Green Party to be in that debate. They don’t want us to talk about why we gotta have social change here in this country. They don’t want us to talk about why we need to get out of these wars where we’re sending young people off to fight and die for the 1 percent. They don’t want us to talk about why we still got mass incarceration in this country or why we got so many black folks who can’t get a job because right now there ain’t no jobs.
ROSE: What does the Green Party winning this election represent for the unheard in America?
BARAKA: It would represent that there have been some profound changes and Jill Stein and myself win the election. So it would mean that the people in this country are prepared for and willing to suffer and struggle for real change. So, the difference is that Obama had a no change agenda. He used the rhetoric of change to win office but his agenda was already set. He was selected some years ago as an individual who had talent and who was completely ideologically committed to the status quo, to the interest of the 1 percent that really run things here in this country. So, they didn’t mind giving us the symbolism of a brother in the White House but that’s all it was. It was symbolism. It was to keep us ideologically committed to a system and to a government and to a society that was fundamentally organized against us. It was meant to fuse us and Obama was wildly successful in doing that. Because the ideological consolidation of black consciousness, that is, the identification with this oppressive system on the part of black folks resulted in this weird situation where even at the height of the economic crisis, where everybody was suffering and upset, the one group that was the most positive but yet was suffering the most was black folks. There’s complete disconnect between our realities and our subjective consciousness. That is the consequence of propaganda. The consequence of the manipulation of symbolism. The consequence of a distorted consciousness and that was the job that was assigned to Barack Hussein Obama.
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