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.
Baraka on Hillary Clinton and the Democratic Party
The threat is that there is insignificant opposition of the continued rightist motion of U.S. politics and that is the real threat of the Hillary Clinton campaign and a Clinton administration. While we are concerned with Donald Trump, many of us are more concerned a potential eight more years of the politics of the Democratic right, a politics of a continued neoliberal, trickle-down economics, but even more concerning, a politics of war. A continuation of the policies and programs of both George Bush and Barack Obama, continuing under Hillary Clinton.
The issue of fear is important. And we understand and we acknowledge that. But if the Democrats were really so concerned about the threat of Donald Trump, it would seem to many of us that during the nomination within the Democratic Party, that the party elders would have decided that the best route to go would be to ask Hillary Clinton to drop out and give the nomination to Bernie Sanders when all of the polls indicated that Bernie Sanders could win handily against Donald Trump. But, of course, that didn't happen. It didn't happen because these folks are not concerned with any kind of existential threat posed by Donald Trump. These folks are concerned about power. And what we have to be concerned about—the oppressed, the extorted—we have to be concerned about how do we build our power. How do we build an alternative, independent, popular power, and the Green Party argues that you can't do that while continuing playing the role of a subordinate of a right-wing Democratic Party.
Baraka on Donald Trump and the Republican Party
The nuts and bolts of organization, the ability to attract people to an alternative is a process of also changing consciousness. That's not just going to be done through petitions and social media. It's going to be done in a systematic and persistent organization, and engaging people in serious, honest conversations. So it is a very tedious process but it is a necessary process. If we are concerned about the challenges of the most obvious right coming from the Republicans, how long do we engage in this game every four years? Because if you look at who's in the queue coming from the Republican side, you got folks there who are more dangerous than Donald Trump.
Donald Trump represents some real dark forces, but Donald Trump has no real core beliefs. You have some ideologues—dangerous, white supremacist ideologues—in the queue on the Republican side that are much more dangerous than Donald Trump. And dangerous in the sense, too, that they have the backing of significant elements of the ruling class. So, I'm more concerned about that than the possibilities of Donald Trump who, if he won, would go into office being fundamentally weakened as a consequence of the abandonment of key elements of the Republican Party in Congress, the abandonment of significant elements [of] the ruling elite that were supporting the Republican Party. He will find himself in the executive office with very little real power.
Baraka on the Dangers of Liberal Complacency
People have forgotten how to engage in a materialist analysis. They've forgotten to look at elements of power. Even people like our dear sister Angela Davis, who is a dear friend, and other folks that we know seem to be driven by pure metaphysics, pure emotions. Her position is one that people have been articulating for quite some time. The problem of course is that no one is really building that alternative. In fact, it seems like people are quite comfortable under the protective arm under the Democrat Party as opposed to looking at the concrete social and class forces that are really in play. And when you look at those class forces, we are at a real disadvantage by continuing with this ultrapragmatism and subordinating ourselves within the context of this Democrat Party. We've got to break from it. That's [the] only way that we're going to be able to build a real opposition. We've got to disconnect. We've got to disrupt our relationship to the Democrat Party on every level.
Baraka on the Need to Build Black Political Power in the Deep South
We have to recognize, as we struggle to dismantle this system, we also have to survive. We have to build dual power where we confront and utilize the state and local level to win real concessions for the people, while we also make sure that we have independent structures outside of the state and we're building within these independent structures additional survival programs. So what we have for example is Cooperative Jackson in Jackson, Miss., that's committed toward building real worker co-ops. Those kind of efforts we need to support, and if we had nominal state power, we have in our platform a program to provide real, direct federal support to worker cooperatives and businesses as part of a transitional program.
We also believe we've got to have federal intervention to address the astronomical rates of unemployment among people of color—both in the urban area but in the parts of the country that people seem to forget about, the rural areas. And the grinding unemployment and grinding poverty that we find. We have to force local and state governments to address this specific reality that face black youth and black working-class people in general. While we struggle, we have to build structures, and one of the structures there for the taking is, in fact, the Green Party structure.
What I'm engaged in right now is a Green Party Southern strategy where we suggest to specifically black folks in the South that you have an instrument that can be used if you want to challenge the power of the Democrats in the various states to mount a real opposition to the control of the Republicans. Even in those states where you have Republican political control, there's still a lot of collaboration with the Democratic Party. People are comfortable playing that role and they're not really providing a real challenge to these Republican governors. If you want to have real opposition, you have to have a structure in place to engage in real oppositional politics. The Green Party can be that force that provides an instrument of direct challenge and to also place pressure on those black Democrats that continue to sell out the interests of black communities by collaborating with white power in the South.
Baraka on What It Really Means to “Waste Your Vote”
In the South, on a national level, we're talking about red states in the presidential election. Red states that are going to remain red. Black folks who are going to vote for Hillary Clinton at the top of the ticket, in fact, your vote really is wasted. Instead, you might want to consider giving your vote to the Green Party, and if you want, you can vote Democrat the rest of the ticket if you so choose. But that vote for the Green Party at the top of the ticket helps us reach that 5 percent where we can build a structure that we can be in a stronger position four years from now to challenge power more effectively. That gives us direct ballot access. We don't have to waste months and precious resources trying to get on the ballot. That will be automatic. It also will entitle us to some resources that we can engage in a more effective challenge. So what we are suggesting to black folk in the South is that we've got to build alternative power. That that power also has to be centered in the needs and realities of the most oppressed—and in the South we're talking about the most oppressed being black communities and Latino communities.
Our challenge is beyond just the Nov. 8 vote. We want you to vote, of course. But the Green Party is committed to operationalizing this Green Southern strategy, and continuing to work to build and to bring more black people into the Green Party—if they so choose.
Baraka on Building and Sustaining the Green Party Infrastructure
There are party apparatus in most of the states in the country. In fact, as a result of that, we were able to get on the ballot and that's no small thing to get on the ballot in 46 states. And we have Green Party candidates who are running all the way up and down the ticket. So this is part of the party-building process. This is not a "vanity vote." This is not a "protest" vote. We are about building power and that's not just voting, but building structures. We see this as an absolute, objective, historical objective. That we're not going to be able to confront the right and to transform society while we continue to play the role of subordinate elements within this major monopoly party controlled by the liberal bourgeoisie. We used to say just liberal bourgeoisie, but now we see a collaboration of the bourgeoisie within the confines of [the] Democratic Party.
The issue we have to deal with is how do we resist that, how do struggle, how do we organize and go beyond that? And those are the kinds of questions that we have to put back on the table. Struggle is not even the question. We have to struggle; we just have to ensure that we struggle effectively. Electoral politics is one aspect of that resistance, but resist we must engage in. And unfortunately, things will get worse under a Donald Trump or a Hillary Clinton.
Baraka on the Inability of a White Supremacist System to “Reform” Itself
The main objective has been to control black labor; now we have become the social problem that Du Bois talked about and that's a very dangerous place to be. That's one of the reasons that we have the intensification of the police. The primary function of the police is to contain and control. That control function, that containment function, has become more intensified even as crime rates are reducing. The structural relationship between the repressive apparatus—the state, the U.S. states and black working-class and poor folks—that relationship is going to remain constant and it's going to continue to deteriorate. We have to recognize that things are going to continue to disintegrate among black folks because the neoliberal capitalist order cannot reform itself.
Baraka on the First Day of a Stein-Baraka Administration
First day—attempt to release all of the political prisoners that we have confined here in this country. Secondly, we would begin to move toward an emergency job programs in urban and rural areas—we have these astronomical unemployment percentages—with a special focus on youth. Third, we would signal to our allies, specifically Israel, that the era of U.S. subversion is going to come to an end, and we would signal to Israel that all settlement processes that they are engaged in have to halt immediately. And these are just a few of things that we would do on the first day of a Stein-Baraka presidency.
Baraka on Foreign Policy Being the Major Difference Among the Green, Democratic and Republican Parties
It became quite obvious during the second presidential debate how dangerous Hillary Clinton and the Democrat Party are. We've been focused on Donald Trump, but even in his confusion of how the world operates it seems to be that Donald Trump has somewhat of a commitment to lessening tensions between say the U.S. and Russia than we've seen from the Clinton campaign. Hillary's positions seem to be primarily committed to a more aggressive stance toward Russia, toward the Chinese, even toward Iran. And a continued commitment to giving Israel a free hand in the so-called Middle East. That approach, the rising tension between the U.S. and Russia, represents an existential threat to all of us. Because [Clinton] calls for a no-fly zone in Syria, she understands, and her advisers understand, that you are now risking the possibility of a direct confrontation, between the U.S., that is an illegal force in Syria, and the Russians.
The Russians have nuclear arms, and a confrontation can easily escalate out of control. That is a very dangerous position to advocate. The notion now, what's happening in Europe with the NATO troops on the western frontier of Russia, is another provocative act carried out now by the Obama administration that will continue under Hillary Clinton. This commitment to militarism, to continuing the strategy of full-spectrum dominance, to us represents the real threat. Hillary Clinton's foreign policy is even more dangerous than Donald Trump. Any vote for Hillary Clinton is, in fact, a vote for war. The only alternative, the demonstration that we're not going to go along with this kind of militarism and insane aggression, is, in fact, vote for the Green Party.
Baraka on Which Black Lives Matter to Hillary Clinton and Why
This notion that we can allow people like Hillary Clinton to pretend that black lives matter to them has to be confronted. You can't pretend that black lives matter to you in the United States while you support polices that end the lives of black and brown people globally. There's a moral inconsistency there that we have to raise that suggests that black lives do not matter to Hillary Clinton, just the continued hegemony of U.S. imperialism. We can't play games with this. We have to be concerned that Libya was destroyed. That the drone campaign has been expanded under Barack Obama. That the U.S. is now involved in subversion throughout Latin America targeting Venezuela and now Bolivia specifically. That AFRICOM has expanded throughout the continent and every place it's gone there's been an expansion of so-called jihadist terrorism. We have to recognize that we are a part of a globe. There is [a] pan-European colonial project whose function is to try to maintain its hegemony against the rest of us.
We are always critical of U.S. policy in the U.S. state, but that kind of critical approach has been eroded and especially these last eight years of Barack Obama. There is a conservatism among black people now that is so absolutely troubling.
In 1989, black feminist scholar bell hooks spoke about the "politics of location" (pdf) and the radical need to "identify spaces where we can begin the process of re-vision." She wrote:
Within complex and ever-shifting realms of power relations, do we position ourselves on the side of colonizing mentality or do we continue to stand in political resistance with the oppressed, ready to offer our ways of seeing and theorizing, of making culture, towards that revolutionary effort which seeks to create space where there is unlimited access to the pleasure and power of knowing, where transformation is possible? [Marginality is] much more than a site of deprivation … it is also the site of radical possibility, a space of resistance.
So much of the politics of location have been evident during the 2016 election cycle. Discussions of radical possibilities have been repressed; transformation has been positioned as dangerous—and reformation has been positioned as smart. Too many liberal voters are bargaining away the values they claim to possess while dismissing the quest for alternative pathways to true people power as a "spoiler."
This, of course, is not new. Black people, in some way, shape or form, have always had to bargain in order to navigate and survive a society where we were never supposed to live free. At some point, though, we have to ask ourselves the question: How can you spoil a system that was born rotten?
"We're not advocating electoral politics as the ultimate solution," Baraka said. "We're saying the Green Party is an instrument that voters can look at, and if you want to utilize it as part of a broader strategy, fine. If not, that's also cool."
While it is true that on Nov. 9, either Hillary Clinton or Donald Trump will be president-elect of the United States of America, there will still be much work to do. Democracy should not hinge upon gaslighting and the suppression of marginalized voices; rather, it should embrace a revisioning of what's possible and the expansion of political choices.
And despite what mainstream media would have voters believe, the Green Party, flaws and all, is one choice—take it or leave it.
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