Monday, July 17, 2006

Charles Barron's Pledge of Allegiance

UP FRONT News July 12, 2006
Published by Tom Weiss Editorial Advisor: Willard Whittingham
“The paper that can’t be bought and can’t be sold.”

PATRIOTISM AND RESISTANCE
CHARLES BARRON’S PLEDGE OF ALLEGIANCE

During the mid 1990’s (I don’t recall the exact year), George Pataki, working on
establishing his legacy as a politician totally beholden to the principle of private gain over the public good, cut a deal with an entrepreneur seeking to profit from the recycling business to build a pollution-spewing incinerator in East New York, Brooklyn, a low income, largely African-American community. The man who led the very grassroots effort to stop a plan that could only be described as an example of environmental racism was Charles Barron, at the time the president of the Bradford Street Block Association and now City Councilman and candidate for the U.S. Congress.

I had been introduced to Mr. Barron a few years previously by Rev. Dr. Timothy P.
Mitchell, Martin Luther King’s man in New York and Pastor of the Ebenezer Missionary
Baptist Church in Flushing, Queens (of which I am a member). Charles Barron, working closely with the New York Public Interest Research Group (NYPIRG, better known as one of “Nader’s Raiders”) and a broad-ranging community coalition (I was employed as a social worker in the neighborhood at the time), confronted the incinerator-developer and the Pataki regime, who were as intent on building their incinerator as the Jets owner and Bush pal “Woody” Johnson and Michael Bloomberg were in building Jets Stadium in Chelsea. I still recall us demonstrating on a July day when the temperature was over 100. Barron meant it when he said, “We shall not be moved” and Pataki threw in the towel.

Councilman Barron seems to be showing similar persistence in his current job, much to the consternation of what may fairly be called the “Quinnberg” Administration. Barron was the only member of the City Council not to vote for Christine Quinn as Speaker because he objected to the back-room (even if the rooms were no longer smoke-filled) dealing involving political bosses from the “outer boroughs” means by which Quinn was elected. The people of New York City had about as much to say in the determination of the very powerful Speaker position as Tibetans have as to who rules their occupied country. For his rebelliousness against the Party machinery Barron was threatened with the possible loss of his chairmanship of the City Council Committee on Higher Education.
As Mr. Barron put it in a speech on July 1, at a “State of the Black World Forum” at Rev. Dr. Herbert Daughtry’s House of the Lord Church in Brooklyn, when Ms. Quinn told him that she had decided, as Speaker, not to take his chairmanship, he replied in effect that, as far as he was concerned, that decision was his to make, not hers.

Barron was once again the only dissenter when the Council, evidently considerably less solicitous of community opposition in the South Bronx than it had been in Chelsea, voted to give McComb’s Dam Park to George Steinbrenner so that he can wreck the existing “House that Ruth Built” (which should be landmarked rather than destroyed)and build a luxury suite-rich new Yankee Stadium for his grossly overpaid teams.

Mr. Barron, who spoke on the theme of dissent being patriotic, enjoyed describing his budget encounter with Michael Bloomberg, which resulted in the Mayor targeting the “won’t back down” City Councilman with an undeleted expletive. Since Mr. Barron’s speech took place in a church, Mr. Bloomberg’s indiscretion was once again deleted. When it comes to obtaining funding for human needs projects that ordinarily are sacrificed because tax abatements for developers tend to get higher priority, Councilman Barron seems to be doing very well both in his district and, as Committee Chairman, on behalf of college students.

Mr. Barron’s keynote speech at the Forum came in the form of his Independence Day-
Relevant “Pledge of Allegiance.” Citing the demographic fact that 2.3 million New Yorkers are black, he pledged to use the power of the vote and of the streets to make black power a small “d” democratic reality. He pledged to carry on Dr. King’s dream as regards to the not yet realized blessings for black, brown, red, yellow and white children. And, stating very clearly that, when it comes to the reality of poverty and its derivatives (e.g. crime, illness, social decay), he knows what the problem is and that he intends to focus on solutions.

Unlike many in politics, “reformers” and “regulars” alike, Barron addressed also the concerns of the many who are alienated from electoral politics altogether. Although he didn’t put it that way, the message is “Register to vote, you have nothing to lose but your powerlessness!” That makes good political sense for a small “d” democratic radical (and capital “D” Democrat) who is challenging the incumbent Clinton-style Democrat Ed Towns for Congress.

I don’t live in Mr. Barron’s district, but if I did I’d vote for him.

A few weeks ago, when I told him about the seriousness of my campaign as a Democrat to unseat Hillary Clinton in the Senate, while I did not get an endorsement from Mr. Barron, I felt very much encouraged when he smiled, clenched his fist, and said, “Go get her.” If the voters elect Charles Barron to the House of Representatives and me to the U.S. Senate, I’d call that some fundamental change.

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