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Barron recognizes the height of his platform: City Council of the biggest city in the most powerful country in the world. To him, that stage comes with a responsibility to keep alive a voice that has all but disappeared from American discourse, one that believes colonialism did not end the moment white men packed up and left the Third World, nor when a black man stepped into the Oval Office.
He watched his heroes fall, one after the other, during or after their fights against their Western conquerors. Cameroon's Félix-Roland Moumié, assassinated in 1960; the Congo's Lumumba, executed by firing squad in '61; Togo's Sylvanus Olympio, assassinated in '63; Morocco's Mehdi Ben Barka, abducted in '65 and never seen again; Ghana's Kwame Nkrumah, ousted in a Western-backed coup in '66; Mozambique's Eduardo Mondlane, killed in '69; Guinea's Amílcar Cabral, assassinated in '73.
Barron feels a duty to honor the liberators still standing. By doing so, he holds up a mirror showing that no hands are without blood. "How could you talk to me about Qaddafi and Mugabe when you supported Pinochet in Chile, Marcos in the Philippines, Duvalier in Haiti, Somoza in Nicaragua," Barron argues. "The most bloody, brutal, murderous dictators the world has ever known, America supported. What hypocrisy!"
He has taken on the role of counterweight against what he sees as a nation's selective memory, the double standard of history. This is a country, after all, that stamps the faces of slaveholders onto its currency, names schools and buildings after them.
Street signs, too. As Barron walks past African Burial Ground Square along New Lots Avenue, he lists the names hoisted on poles in his own district: Van Siclen, Schenck, Barbey, Hegeman, Blake, Van Sinderen, Snediker. "All slaveholders!"
This selective memory, he believes, enables the oppression he sees today. It may seem that the battle he fights ended long ago. But to Barron, it lives, through him if nowhere else. "East New York is a liberation zone," he declares. So he keeps the torch lit, no matter how faint the flame.
"When I first got elected, people asked, 'Are you upset that the revolution didn't happen when you were in the Panthers?'" he says. "Revolution is a process. It's still going on. And even though there are setbacks, it's inevitable that this must change. See, I'm a patriot. You don't love America when you allow for this false sense of security to exist, when you allow racism, classism, sexism to permeate every institution and say that's just how it is. If we want to get fundamental change in this country, we got to tell it how it is."
The City Council chamber is packed like Easter service for the term's final meeting. Staffers, reporters, lobbyists, and civilians stand shoulder to shoulder to pay respects or take in the spectacle.
The councilmembers are restless, stuck in their seats as a photographer climbs a ladder at the front of the chamber to take a group portrait. "Charles!" shouts James Oddo, one of three Republicans on the council. Barron turns behind him to see Oddo raising a Black Power fist. "Let's go, Charles!"
Barron elevates his own fist. The men chuckle. Oddo brings his arm down, but as the camera flashes, Barron keeps his raised.
The afternoon is filled with kind words and war stories. Councilmembers hug one another like prizefighters after a 12-round brawl. Constituents approach and thank their representatives.
Then Speaker Quinn opens the session by individually praising each of her 22 departing colleagues. When she gets to her bitter rival from the 42nd District, she introduces him as "the shrinking violet of the New York City Council, Councilmember Charles Barron! You are somebody who is true to your convictions, has the courage of your convictions, certainly not afraid to stand alone, and is loud and strong and clear for the issues, the communities, and the things that you believe in."
Once Quinn finishes, each departing member, in order of district number, delivers their own farewell address. Barron, 18th in line, has plenty of time to polish his thoughts.
Among those preceding him is Oddo. The recently elected Staten Island borough president declares that when he enters post-council life, "I hope I have someone who challenges how I think, like Charles Barron." Barron nods graciously. The two men will later embrace.
A few hours in, speech fatigue has overcome much of the crowd. Some browse Twitter on their phones, others compose emails on their laptops.
The presiding officer announces Barron's name.
"Uh-oh!" Manhattan councilman Robert Jackson exclaims with a smirk. Knowing chuckles ripple through the crowd.
"To my colleagues," Barron begins. "In my 12 tumultuous years with you, you've been very controversial and I've tried to keep you in line, but it was very difficult. I voted 'no' for so many of your projects, and I will be voting 'no' on some more today. However, I do appreciate that when my projects came before you" — he holds for the punch line — "you voted 'yes'!"
The chamber convulses with laughter.
"I have an assignment for those who are still here," he says. "On the real side, we shouldn't just have white men's pictures up on the wall. They're not the only ones in this town."