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A former Panther's campaign in Georgia
"We're stuck voting for people who don't serve our interests"

October 14, 2005 | Page 6

ELAINE BROWN, a former leader of the Black Panthers during the 1970s, is running for mayor of Brunswick, Ga., on the Green Party ticket.

More than half of the residents of Brunswick, with a population of 16,000, are Black. Yet if Brown wins, she will be the first Black mayor of Brunswick. She's running against Republican Mayor Bradford Brown, who takes pride in being a lieutenant colonel in the Sons of Confederate Veterans.

One in four Brunswick families lives in poverty--even though Brunswick is home to a major shipping port and adjacent to the so-called Golden Isles of Georgia, including the posh Sea Island, where George W. Bush hosted a Group of Eight international summit in June.

Elaine spoke with Socialist Worker's ELIZABETH SCHULTE in August. For more information about her campaign for mayor, go to www.elainebrown.org on the Web.

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TELL US about your campaign and why you are running.

THE CONDITIONS here reflect the conditions that Blacks and other poor and oppressed people suffer throughout the U.S. Here, in the year 2005, in the so-called richest country in the world, we find ourselves locked into a life that's difficult to maneuver through from the beginning.

The campaign platform addresses the question of development. Right now, there's an effort on the part of this city's existing administration to institute a development plan called "Blueprint Brunswick," which would effectively remove the Black population from Brunswick and give this prime real estate to not only big developers, but ultimately a gentrified population.

The Black community clearly needs some employment. There is absolutely no industry in this city with the exception of a chemical plant that is doing nothing more than polluting the city and employing a very small number of people. I'm looking to developing and supporting self-employment or small businesses for ordinary people.

We have to have decent housing. The housing stock here is falling apart. There's so much deteriorated housing here, but no more than I've seen in Philadelphia New York, Baltimore Chicago, etc.

I'm calling for complete health coverage, which means, as far as I'm concerned, free health coverage. We have to provide food programs so that our children can eat every day. I'm looking to put more money into public education. While the city technically has no relationship to the public education board, it can certainly influence what happens and begin shifting some budget money from war and prisons to public education.

We need a public transportation system here. Many people are working in people's homes as servants, as maids, as butlers, and as cleaning people working in hotels in surrounding areas, and they're walking across these causeways to Sea Island--sometimes at night. There's no excuse for that.

We need clean air and green spaces. This area is considered one of the most polluted in Georgia primarily because we have this chemical plant. We need to clean that out, and quickly.

We need to honor the Gullah/Geechee heritage. This is a city that celebrates the Confederacy without any concern whatsoever, while ignoring the heritage of the Gullah/Geechee--the slaves in this area who built up these rice paddies so that America could feed itself and divorce itself from England, and continued to do so until 1865 and then on the 40-acre plots distributed under the Sherman field order [during the Civil War].

We want to talk about so-called "crime prevention," which is really not my language because I know that the question of crime is a political question and not a moral or ethical question. The real issue would be to figure out how we can break down this system of mass incarceration, particularly of Blacks.

Finally, to share all of the resources and the money that comes from those resources among the people in this community.

That is the platform in a nutshell. These are the kinds of things that we can do to start over and have a creative base for a progressive movement in this country.

HOW DO you see the relationship of your campaign to the civil rights struggle nationally?

MY POSITION is to use Brunswick and the electoral process to trigger the resurrection of a movement in this country. Brunswick, while it may be seemingly obscure, has two great interests that we can use.

One is a small population, majority Black, so that means it's winnable for Black people. There has never been a Black mayor in this city.

Two, it has a very, very big port, and that port is incorporated into the boundaries of the city of Brunswick, yet is not presently controlled by the city. It's controlled by the Georgia Port Authority. If we can bring the port back under the authority of the city--and we will--then the billions of dollars that flow through that port every year can be used in the interests of the people. It's called redistribution of the wealth. This is one way we can actually do it.

REV. AL Sharpton called the Brunswick mayoral race the daughter of movement against the son of the Confederacy. Tell me more about this.

MALCOLM X said that the South was everything south of the Canadian border. So when we talk about the South, you can't be arrogant about what's going on in the North. The Southern variations on the theme are interesting in that they heighten the contradictions and sharpen them. That's important, but they aren't unique in America.

The present mayor touts himself as a lieutenant colonel in the Sons of Confederate Veterans. This isn't simply, as he tried to say in the paper recently, "a re-enactment of a heritage." If you go to their Web site, the Sons of the Confederate Veterans, you will see that they are calling for the return of the Confederacy.

He puts on the confederate uniform at least twice a year--once for so-called Georgia Heritage Day, which happens to fall in Black History Month, and another time for Confederate Memorial Day, which is a state holiday not only in Georgia but in every state that was part of the so-called Confederacy. It's hard to believe, but there it is.

He's supported by the Republican majority--this is the bastion of Republicanism here. He's supported by the Sea Island Company, which is the economic arm that controls this area. That entity brought George Bush here last year for the Group of Eight summit.

As with other things in this race, it points out the contradictions that exist throughout the United States.

While there are people who ask how you're going to put a Black Panther in office, they weren't even bothered by the fact that this man is in the Sons of Confederate Veterans. At the same time, they welcome Hilary Clinton, who has never done anything for Black people in New York. She hasn't been in any marches or movement; she just married the man who became president.

And it was after all, Bill Clinton gave us the three-strikes crime bill and criminalized poor women and ended welfare as we know it. This happened under Bill Clinton, not under some Son of Confederate Veterans.

YOU'RE running on the Green Party ticket, a party independent of the Democrats and Republicans. Why?

THERE'S ONLY one party--the Republocrats. We can't wax nostalgic about the Democratic Party because we know that in the South, the Democrats were called the Dixiecrats. We forget that the Democrats in the South were the advocates of segregation. The Democrats and Republicans don't have any particular claim on anything.

This country--I like to call it this company, because it was always always about money. All this business about looking for religious freedom and self-governance--you have to be kidding; you were looking for money. You came here, you killed the Indians looking for gold. You enslaved the Blacks trying to develop market products.

This was a slave-holding nation from the get go. So I don't care a thing about the Republicans or the Democrats any more than I distinguish between the Confederate flag and the United States flag. It's all one flag to me. All of these people promoted slavery and the oppression of Black people.

No matter how hard we fought to vote, we've always been stuck voting for people who have never bothered to serve our interests. The only reason I registered as a Green Party member is because at least the Green Party is a political entity that is doing electoral politics that calls for reparations.

THIS MONTH, a number of politicians marched in Atlanta to commemorate the anniversary of the Voting Rights Act. What do you think about the relationship between Black politicians and the Democratic Party?

The Department of Housing and Urban Development (HUD) in Atlanta has been at the vanguard of the most reactionary activities under the HUD housing program, and it's led by a Black woman named Renee Lewis Glover, who is a closet Condoleezza Rice.

She went into public-private partnership to give HUD land to private developers--in this case in Atlanta, to a guy named Tom Cousins--to develop so-called mixed-use housing where none of the people who lived in the public housing were able crawl back and find a spot in her vicious plan to use public money for private interests.

These people need to be shut down. That goes to Atlanta and Black politicians.

Atlanta is known as the Black Mecca, which is a joke because nobody Black in Atlanta controls anything in Atlanta. What Blacks in Atlanta do is act as overseers and serve the interests of the rich whites, from Tom Cousins to Coca-Cola to Home Depot. They serve as police, as jailers, as clerks in the county, state, city and federal offices--all to grease the wheels and make sure that no one steps out of line and messes with the money.

We have a situation where a Black person in the city council is calling for the criminalization of the homeless by saying that they're offensive in their behavior to the good tourists that come through Atlanta. This is an outrage. So for someone to be marching in Atlanta over voting rights and not talk about homelessness--what is your point?

You have a Black district attorney who started out his career as the first Black district attorney in the state of Georgia by prosecuting mainly young Black men under the new law that allows the state to try children as adults. You have a Black police chief who does nothing more than keep Blacks oppressed like any Bull Conner would.

It's not just the same. It's worse, because it's Black people themselves, elected and appointed, who have taken the machinery of government and instead of using it to serve the interests of Black and other poor and oppressed people, they have used it to serve the interests of the developers, the capitalists, the business owners and the big boys in Atlanta.

You've got Charlie Rangel in New York talking about bringing back the draft. You've got the majority of the Congressional Black Caucus voting for the three-strikes crime bill.

We Blacks have to take these people to task and quickly. They might as well not call themselves the Black Congressional Congress because they have not acted as a caucus for Black people. They couldn't even stand up against welfare reform.

So my disappointment is beyond disappointment. They have to be driven from office, and we have to use this ballot to put some progressive-minded people in office. I, for example, am working with Jason West in New Paltz, N.Y., the young mayor who was marrying gay couples and making everybody mad at him.

We have to seize these small pockets of power where we can, so that this movement can get another foothold somewhere in this country, because we have been slapped down since the Reagan era and haven't been able to get back up.

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