When Green Party presidential nominee Jill Stein tapped Ajamu Baraka to be her running mate back in August, there was a flurry of news stories. Most tried to paint him as the anti-Obama—too radical, too intense, too left to occupy the space just a heartbeat away from the Oval Office.
All of these characterizations of Baraka amounted to attempts to insult him with compliments.
Long a voice for oppressed people around the globe, Baraka’s presence on the Green ticket is both self-aware and forward-moving. Southern organizer, human rights activist, veteran and socialist, Baraka is strategically positioned to prove that the core of what centrist Democrats would like you to believe about the Green Party is a lie.
Despite what many liberals will tell you, considering a vote for a third party is neither a duplicitous right-wing tactic nor dangerous self-righteousness. The Green Party is not solely the domain of privileged, young, white millennials. It is not solely a party full of selfish, naive narcissists who don’t understand how electoral politics function. There are vast differences between seeking political purity and demanding political parity.
Of course, there have been several questions raised about Stein’s positions—as there should be about any political candidate, particularly one running for president of the United States—and, by extension, a Stein-Baraka ticket. There is also the matter of liberal racism within the Green Party at large, which 2008 Green Party vice presidential pick Rosa Clemente discussed with me in a previous interview.
Still, white supremacy has always been and will always be a party crasher. And as the 2016 election cycle descends into a crash landing, Jill Stein and Ajamu Baraka are asking a critical question:
What does life look like after the death of political duopoly?
Between fearmongering and sexual assault allegations—the old Bill Clinton ones and the new Donald Trump ones—both Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton and Republican presidential nominee Trump are trying to convince voters that their opponent is the real racist.
Mainstream media coverage is primarily hand-wringing over Trump and, in many ways, rightfully so. The man is a racist, misogynist demagogue; he also has a vice presidential running mate who I would not be surprised to learn keeps Nazi memorabilia in a temperature-controlled cellar in his basement. This makes it easy for any and all serious criticism of Clinton to be mocked, dismissed and suppressed. White pundits have to put in little effort to appear anti-racist—any iteration of #NeverTrump will do. Witty black commentators are welcome as long as their comments fit neatly within the two-party scope.
And for black voters, the inevitable moment of reckoning now that President Barack Obama is leaving office is upon us. As I’ve written previously, Obama can no longer be the site of exploration where many black people grapple with what real black political power looks like situated within a white supremacist structure. Identity politics and neoliberal agendas can no longer masquerade as collective advancement, and some voters are slowly, painfully climbing out of a rabbit hole where progressive blackness seemed to be defined by proximity to the African-American man in the White House.
President Obama himself has joined the chorus publicly chastising voters even considering a third-party vote. “A vote for anyone other than Hillary Clinton is a vote for Trump” is the talking point of the day. Centrists have joined hands to ridicule the “protest” or “vanity” vote, while “pragmatic radicals” have positioned themselves as the only ones who can see the big picture—and that big picture is apparently voting for Clinton to ensure that black progress is not repressed or snuffed out altogether.
Academic and political contortions have been front and center as an entire of class of black folks try to make those on the left believe that unlatching from the Democrat Party is just too scary and risky right now—as if the “better of two evils” argument is a new revolutionary thought.
Despite these blatant attempts at silencing political freedom, interest in the Green Party continues to rise, and Baraka is committed to making sure that it does long after Nov. 8.
“This is something that we are dealing with across the country, specifically in black and oppressed communities,” says Baraka in an exclusive interview with The Root. “This real concern, it’s legitimate. The threat from the Trump campaign, some people refer to it as ‘Trumpism.’
“By the attention being focused on Trump, we are missing the fact that there is a political realignment taking place, where significant elements on the right are in the process of coalescing with the right wing of the Democratic Party to form a new kind of political formation,” Baraka adds.
In our wide-ranging interview, Baraka breaks down why the Green Party is the future of radical black politics.