To the Mayor of our great city, my council colleagues, my family that have stood by me without prejudice, to the mighty residents of the South Ward, I am honored to be here today on this auspicious and historical occasion to finally after some 16 long years begin to serve you as the Councilman of the South Ward!
It has truly been long and sometimes tumultuous years, but each time we were knocked down we had the strength to get back up. And I know even today (Joan Whitlow) that there are those that question my ability to make this happen to struggle daily with lives of our children and to struggle for greater democracy in our city -that there are many that would abdicate their responsibility or question my intenentions from the shadows of indifference and the crowded spaces of opportunism and cowardice I say differently that often time I sacrifice myself, my family, my time and sometimes my immediate happiness for a cause greater than myself …but I truly believe that the fight for the safety and future of our children is the same as the fight for our families and our communities- I am also more than certain that History will absolve me- but more important than anything else –is that the people of the South Ward understood that and showed it at the polls. So by the grace of GOD and the will of the people I stand before you today!
We know that these are important and grave times for working families, children, seniors and the most vulnerable sectors of our society. We are living in a time where economic freedom and growing markets have become the chief organizing principle of govt. Where in the so called Post Cold War- post racist society everything is for sale- even culture and race itself, where health care, education , prison, and now even our water has become commodities for continued public distribution but for private profit! Where more privatization is the answer for shrinking public resource and therefore shrinking public discussion and ultimately the shrinking of democracy as we have come to know it; Where the last market is the public market- Where even our ideas are not safe.
This is the atmosphere; the stage for some of the worst economic times that working people in this country have seen in decades. I say working people because while South Ward mothers, raising children on their own, are asked to take two days off a month of an already meager salary- or sanitation workers are threatened with privatization and reduction of benefits Port Authority is making record profits, while we are threatening to lay off police officers in a city where dead black boys is quicker to come by than a decent supermarket – the Passaic Valley Sewage Company sits on our resource and our land and is woefully negligent in its responsibility to this city; while we use draconian measures to threaten obscene tax hikes for the few homeowners that have been loyal to this city for years we have not found the will to close the doors of the Prudential arena until they pay their debt to the families of this town. While our children’s schools are threatened with closure, overcrowded classrooms, destruction of after school programs and loss of guidance counselors Prudential as of March 31rst 2010 has at least 693 billion dollars worth of assets, their net income for the first quarter this year was 699 million dollars way up from 427 million this time last year. Yes this is a recession for working families, service employees, and transportation workers, for public employees, and small businesses, for everyone Gov Christie except those that make over 400,000 dollars a year. For those that live in Seth Boyden that risk their lives every night coming in from work or those of us watching homes and businesses disappear east and west of Bergen St. or Clinton Ave. Not for Exxon Mobile that has more revenue than all but 22 nation states around the globe, or Wal-Mart that has the larger economy than 178 countries, or those that participate in spending over two trillion dollars a day on speculation and hedge funds.
And I see the only way up is more democracy not less not using local democratic organizations to vote only for your friends and immediate family and closing even the ability to nominate others, its not schemes designed to suppress the vote but educating more voters, its not in putting black against Latinos it was Blk and Latino unity that got us the first Black mayor. Its not about empowering individual chieftains, and political landlords but seizing and protecting the peoples resources and the right to use them to feed and empower ourselves. Its not about using the church to lure the people in to a dark room but empowering our religious institutions to lead the people out of dark rooms, its not about using our education, multisyllabic words, and high minded quotes to trick the people in to giving away their goods or as a weapon to rob them of their dignity but bring them close to themselves to meet them halfway..To understand that to whom much is given much is required..Not to use your seat as means to gain privilege and wield power but use your seat as a means to diminish privilege and hand over power.
There is no more room for opportunism and opportunist whose guiding principle has always been money, that bear no beliefs, take no stance, and hold no positions just gross nihilism and selfish individual consumption at all of our expense. Whose leader is whoever has the upper hand at the time. Whose only drive is personal ambition. We need leaders whose ambitions are so big so huge so outrageously vast that there will always be room for the least of us…
I say let this be the beginning the start of a time when all of us in every ward despite the language we speak the music we dance to or the food we eat come together, every worker no matter the nationality or street corner, the block or hood, begin to come together and unite around what we have in common. Every worker from bus drivers to ticket writers, clerks to sanitation workers security guards to teachers declare our undying love for this city simultaneously by vowing to take it back one street sign at a time to protect our resources, to secure our neighborhoods, to surround our babies and forge our way forward together to refuse to be victims to no longer be separated to shout against ignorance and mediocrity .. ( I am from Newark born and raised and am proud of it from madison ave school to university high school I succeeded in these public schools played and was reared on these streets and I am no fiend ,no bum, no junky , no drug dealer or gangbanger, Im not incompetent or lazy- I am in the tradition or willie the Lion smith and Sarah Vaughn of Amiri and Amna Baraka of hundreds and thousands of people that struggle everyday to maintain their dignity and hold their lives together) and I just thank God and the people of this great city for giving me the privilege to be in the front lines of this fight. To take up this mantle to serve the people of the South Ward and the residents of the city of my birth I say thank you to all of you even those that didn’t want to see me here I say thank you to you too and that time will tell and victory will belong to the people God bless and God speed.
“If we are not serious representatives of the people we will wind up on the side of our enemies. And no matter the piles of glittering resources a society might have, remember the people are its most precious resource.” -Amiri Baraka speech in Johannes burg South Africa 1995
(Published by permission of author.)
A Challenge to Councilman Baraka and the other Councilpersons: “Beyond Personal Ambition…will you be the change agent?”
The City of Newark’s 2010 Inauguration was muddled with diverse human responses ranging from esteem to dissatisfaction. In post review of the Booker Team’s first term, anyone could detail an array of achievements. There has been increased national awareness of Newark and its concerns, enhancement of parks, increased private investment, restoration of attention on the marginalized (be they undocumented immigrants or LGBT Youth), and the institution of innovative operations i.e. (the 4311 help line) to name a few. Yet, I don’t know anyone that believes the term was fully successful. The Mayor and his team would likely agree with this sentiment due to the fact that in 2005 city government was dismal and the administration would be governing in the midst of the worst recession in a century.
Logically, Newark’s voters “shook things up” by electing two new representatives to city government including you, Ras Baraka. You are an intelligent individual that is respected for your commitment to the city, its youth and development. And, your speech demonstrates a strong ability to connect with the people. I interpret a significant portion of your speech as discouraging personal ambition as sole motivation for political involvement. My reaction is that in Newark politics this is a rarity but hopefully you can change that.
The systems and practices of city government do little to change perceptions of personal interest, self dealing, lack of oversight and transparency. It seems that no one is willing to deal with these issues in a comprehensive manner…? Which councilmember will introduce legislation that either reduces the pay rate/benefits of council members or makes the job a full time position? Will there ever be a limit to the number of public positions a Newark councilmember can hold? Who will be the first council person to publically debate the pros/cons of term limits for elected officials? Who will be the first council person to ensure citizens can obtain a list of all city contracts with the dollar value along with the familial/professional relationships that city officials/employees have with city contractors? Who will be the first city council person to decline “the city car” and similar perks that unjustly burden city tax payers? Which councilmember will ensure that no elected official in Newark will ever have the opportunity to travel the road to indictment that Addonizio, Gibson and James took?
Mayor Ken Gibson created the slogan that characterizes Newark as a city of change now coined by Mayor Booker “Wherever American cities are going, Newark will get there first”. Will the city be last on the priority list of self-interested politicians or will our elected officials be the first to abandon their personal ambition in politics…?
-Bryan M-C Epps