The Root Interview: Malik Rahim
The former Black Panther and founder of Common Ground Relief is biking from Louisiana to Washington to raise awareness about the environmental havoc being wreaked by the BP oil spill. Brad Pitt approves.
MR: Yes, we would be deeply involved in it. You have all this toxic mess in our nation; almost every chemical plant, almost every refinery -- if you go to most major cities and look where the sewage treatment plants are, they are around African-American communities. So the party would be deeply involved because they would know that Cancer Alley runs through African-American communities, so I know what they would be doing. I tell you this -- it wouldn't have taken a Brad Pitt, someone as noble as him, to talk about housing for black Americans and solar power. These are the principles that we stood on. The preservation of our community is based on us being able to breathe this air and drink this water.
TR: You mention Brad Pitt, whom you've worked closely with in the Lower Ninth Ward ...
MR: Yes, and the reason why I bring his name up is he is one of the greatest unsung heroes in America. I cannot say that the Lower Ninth Ward would be this far along if it wasn't for Brad Pitt. He has been that nucleus. Oh yes, I love him. I actually love him.
TR: You ran unsuccessfully for former U.S. Representative William Jefferson's historically black-held seat as a Green Party candidate. It ended up going to Anh "Joseph" Cao, a Vietnamese-American Republican. How do you feel about that?
MR: Well, one of the reasons why I ran was to bring awareness. I realized that our nation wasn't ready for the type of congressmen I would have been. The reason I'm not running this time is that with the crisis we are in, I feel I can better serve people from the outside. But I'm not just riding to D.C. just to turn around and head back to New Orleans. I want to go before Congress and lobby every representative and senator on why we must come together, and to tell them that if you are not making a stand about how can we address these environmental ills, then we won't vote for you. The Minerals Management Service is supposed to have been the entity that represented us, but they became a bed partner of the petroleum industry. So now we need to make sure that there are other safeguards in place to make sure this type of unholy marriage never happens again. One way is to make sure that whoever we elect to office represents us.
Brentin Mock, a regular contributor to The Root, is based in New Orleans.