Charles Barron Sees the Radical Movement Picking Up Steam


Sometimes it seems like former city councilman Charles Barron lives on a political island–the sole dissenter or the sole proponent on many issues. Speaker Christine Quinn, his longtime rival, praised him for “the courage of your convictions, certainly not afraid to stand alone.”

“Black radical revolutionary anti-capitalist anti-imperialist elected official,” Barron calls himself.

As we wrote in this week’s feature story profiling Barron, he is “a downright outlier who has planted his flag far from nearly every other politician in the nation.”

Nearly, but not every. Barron, in fact, is not some sole survivor of a movement long gone. To frame him as such diminishes the resonance of his message. It’s a message that has won over voters not just in East New York.

That much was clear to any one in attendance for Inez Barron’s inauguration earlier this month.

This week’s feature story: The Barrons of East New York: Charles and Inez Barron Aren’t Your Traditional Power Couple

The keynote speaker for the event was Chokwe Lumumba, the Jackson, Mississippi mayor who in September told Al Jazeera: “Nowadays you’ve got to call yourself a ‘change agent’ or something, or else you’ll make people scared. But I am a revolutionary.”

Unlike Charles Barron, Lumumba does wear suits. But his political philosophy grew from the same intellectual root. In fact, the two have known each other for decades. Like Barron, Lumumba first entered the public stage as an activist–he served as vice-president of the Republic of New Afrika, an organization founded in 1968 to promote creating an independent black nation out of several southern states. He eventually channeled his advocacy into law, specializing in criminal defense.

“It’s not like a last man standing kind of thing,” says Barron. “I see the radical movement picking up a little steam in the electoral arena.”

He can rattle off the examples. There’s Ras Baraka, the city councilman in Newark and son of poet-activist Amiri Baraka. And then in Detroit, there’s JoAnn Watson, the civil rights activist who served on the city council from 2003 to 2013, and Kwame Kenyatta, a councilman from 2005 to 2013. Kenyatta now works on Lumumba’s staff.

“I see a resuscitation, a revival of black radicals actually winning seats,” says Barron. “Remember in the ’60s black radicals didn’t win a lot of the electoral seats.”

Huey Newton ran for U.S. congress. Bobby Seale ran for mayor of Oakland. Elaine Brown ran for Oakland City Council. Eldridge Cleaver ran for president. Each one lost.

“We maintain that radical spirit,” says Barron. “And won elections. I don’t know of a time in history that many radicals won seats.”