Seize the Seat

Poet-Activist Ras Baraka Runs for Newark City Council

Among Baraka's opponents are Donald Tucker, a longtime political player who was first elected to an at-large council seat in 1974, and Ron Rice Jr., son of a state senator, who is running on a platform similar to Baraka's. But to Baraka, the real challenge is the powerful behind-the-scenes forces—"multinational corporations, big developers, finance capitalists, basically people who look at you and see an enemy."

Of course, one person cannot guarantee the reversal of the political misfortunes that Newark has faced, and Baraka doesn't see his election as the solution to the city's problems. "No one individual can change the whole system," he says. "It will be a concerted effort between the people and the elected officials that represent them."

Currently in Newark, access to city government is limited, if not restricted, and residents have little say in policy changes that affect their lives. Baraka speaks of community planning occurring without the community having a voice in the process; city council meetings are held in executive session. After 10 years of fighting on the streets of Newark, he feels that it is his time to infiltrate and work from the inside.

Ras Baraka: "Take it personal."
photo: Pak Fung Wong
Ras Baraka: "Take it personal."

Ultimately, Baraka is running to continue the "protracted struggle" that was begun by the civil rights movement. The time has come, he says, for the next generation to do its part. Although as the son of artist-activists Baraka had a stronger foundation than most, it is because of his own sense of duty that he has decided to get into the trenches, and he urges others to do so.

"Our generation has to further that struggle. [The movement leaders] didn't just fail. They was murdered. King didn't quit. He was killed on a balcony in Memphis, gunned down. Malcolm ain't say, 'Fuck these people, I'm out.' He was shot in his chest at the Audubon Ballroom. That's what happened.

"It is our time to push for the struggle for democracy. . . . We have a responsibility to forward the struggle or force the ideas, and ourselves, into history and onto the pages of history right now. We have to stop reading about historical events and make history ourselves."

For Baraka, the objective is clear. "Seize power for the people. That's what it's about. It's not grand or huge or some academic diatribe. It's simple as hell."

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