ST. PETERSBURG, FL, June 6, 2017 — We are young! We are Black! We are Green! We are Red! We are a movement! That was the message from the diverse crowd of 50 gathered on the steps of City Hall for the two Uhuru candidates, Jesse Nevel for Mayor, and Eritha Akilé Cainion for City Council District 6
“For the first time in the history of St. Pete, radical solutions are on the ballot for radical times,” was the message Akilé delivered back to her and Nevel’s supporters. She and Nevel had just handed in their filing papers to the St. Pete city clerk, placing them on the non-partisan August 29 primary ballot. Now the campaign was officially on.
“On this day, our qualification represents a victory for the people of this city. We can win! We will win! We are winning,” Akilé continued. “It is no secret that we live in a divided city. The most glaring example of that is District 6. It’s a district that contains the richest sectors of this city, and its most impoverished, through gentrification and gerrymandering by our current Mayor Rick Kriseman, and the district’s current City Councilman Karl Nurse. It’s a district where downtown experiences rapid development, high-rises, condominiums, and restaurants, a playground for the rich, at the expense of the Black community and the rest of the neighborhoods throughout this city. This is a divided community, where you can just ride straight down into the Black community and see the impoverishment and the despair. That is a crime, but we intend to unite this city with reparations as the foundation.”
The 20-year-old Akilé, born and raised on St. Pete’s South Side, is the former membership coordinator for the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement (InPDUM). She was appointed international chair of the Justice for the Three Drowned Black Girls Campaign, a campaign led by InPDUM to fight for Dominique Battle, Laniya Miller, and Ashaunti Butler, three teenage black girls who were chased, corralled and left to drown by Pinellas County Sheriff’s deputies on March 31, 2016.
She faces a serious challenge in a rigged system that the city uses for its City Council elections. There will be a primary on August 29 in which district residents make their choices. Then the top two candidates in each district will go on to the November General Election. However, at that point, the vote for each district’s Council seat will be tabulated citywide. “I am knowingly and willingly running against a rigged election system that they have painted as a single member district where our democratic rights are insulted,” Akilé states. “Where our community is under the impression that we have the ability to vote in the leadership of our districts in the primary elections until the general elections are opened up to the entire city and the final vote is cast by the white community. This is a farce and strips this community of every ounce of political power.”
Unity through Reparations — the battle cry.
When most people, or at least most white people, think about Reparations, they think about the horrors of slavery, and the historical payback that is demanded to this day. “Enlightened” liberals even concede that the current misery suffered by the Black community is rooted in that terrible past. But this campaign is creating a new understanding of that word. That the horrors of colonialism are continuing to this day. They are quite concrete.
The Tampa Bay Rays baseball stadium, Tropicana Field, built in 1991, looms over downtown, resting on what was once a vibrant Black community, and covers over a Black cemetery where the bodies are still interred. Per Wikipedia, “The destruction of the Gas Plant district and the city’s shortcomings in securing economic and employment opportunities for the displaced African American community have left a jagged relationship between city officials and the aforementioned African American community. The destruction of the Gas Plant district financially crippled and killed many African American-owned small businesses and is often referred to as the main reason that only 10% of St. Petersburg’s small businesses are African American-owned today.” That land has to be returned to the Black community for Black-owned businesses and affordable housing.
Those horrors even permeate the very air. 250 million gallons of raw sewage has lately been dumped onto the mostly Black South Side, and then into Tampa Bay, after the city shut down the Albert Whitted Wastewater Treatment Plant in the midst of the current downtown building boom. During heavy rains (this is Florida), stinking sewage rises up into the streets and washes into people’s very homes. For $11 million, the city could reopen the plant, but a combination of city officials and state bureaucrats have quashed that option. More stench is expected this summer resulting from the heavy rains that come with Florida’s hurricane season.
So amends must be made, both for the past, and for the future.
“Someone needs to go to jail!”
Yet the cry is not white against Black, but “Unity through Reparations.” Up next at the podium, Nevel explained, “For the first time in a St. Pete election, there will be a candidate who speaks for every white person who wants to stand in solidarity with the Black community, so that we can all fight back against what this system is doing.”
Born and raised in Miami, the now 27-year-old Nevel moved to St. Pete in 2008. In 2010 Jesse joined the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, which he describes as “a national organization that mobilizes support from the white community for the black (African) community-led struggle for self-reliance, political and economic power, and reparations under the leadership of the African People’s Socialist Party.” He became its national chair in 2013.
Now running for mayor, Nevel indeed has radical solutions for radical times, starting with a stop to gentrification. “When we win, we will implement at least a five-year moratorium on any more high-rises and skyscrapers being built in the city of St. Petersburg. Sorry, John Catsimatidis [a New York billionaire buying up property in downtown St. Petersburg]. Then we will deal with the sewage crisis in a real way. The two Ricks are going to throw sewage back and forth trying to pin the blame, but the blame is on the system. They work for the system. We want to change the system. The people who work in the Water Resources Department? They knew there would be a sewage crisis if they shut down the Albert Whitted Plant. They warned the city and they were ignored. So obviously the genius of how to run Water Resources and how to prevent sewage in our waters lies not in the mayor’s office. It lies in the workers. So we want to see Workers Councils, Workers Power. Beyond that, someone needs to go to jail!”
Arrayed against him are the major media, led by the Tampa Bay Times, a New York Times wannabe. Nevel quips, “I do have a quick word for you. Where is the coverage of this campaign? All I read about is the Battle of the Ricks, the Two Ricks,” referring to both former Mayor Rick Baker (R), who sadistically ordered the St. Pete police to slash the tents of homeless people while they slept in the cold at night, and current Mayor Rick Kriseman (D), who back in 2013 ran on a promise that he would be like Baker. “He kept that promise, too,” Nevel continued. “This election is about the people vs. the Ricks and people hate these guys. The difference is that one of them has a mustache, and one of them marched in a parade that the other one didn’t. Aside from that, it’s gentrification, it’s big money, and it’s mistreatment and exploitation of workers.”
“We have rescued the word ‘progressive’…”
Also arrayed against Nevel and Akilé are the pseudo-progressives, Sanders leftovers and Hillary hacks trying to “make it” with opioid fantasies of taking over the DNC. To them, Kriseman is the only “progressive” in the race, and they don’t even have to say anything good about Kriseman himself, lest their keyboards explode. So they don’t.
Nevel responds, “We have rescued the word ‘progressive’ from the clutches of cynical, pessimistic politicians who have until now gotten away with cloaking their profit-making schemes in the language of progress. Progress will not be measured by the success of predatory gentrification schemes that enrich real estate speculators like Karl Nurse at the expense of the Black community. Progress will not be measured by the millions of dollars poured into building a new police station or the number of solar panels they put on that police station, while nobody wants to talk about the elephant in the room — one tenth of a billion dollars of the city’s budget spent on policing the Black community.”
Another speaker, Giacomo Liberado, a 17 year old student from St Pete College, spoke movingly about the security of his life as a white student compared to the oppression that Black students face every day.
The Green stripe on that flag.
It is noteworthy that the Pinellas County Green Party was the first organization to endorse Nevel and Akilé‘s campaign, and among the rally’s speakers was Rose Roby, the local’s co-chair.
“It is so exciting to be here on the steps of City Hall. Because we are here to tell the sellout politicians that they cannot sell this City Hall to the highest bidders, they cannot sell it to the gentrifiers, they cannot sell our children’s futures. We will not have it. People have asked why the Green Party is endorsing this historic campaign. Well, it’s a no-brainer. The Green Party is the party of people and planet over profit. So it only makes sense that we’re going to get behind this historic campaign that’s all about putting people and planet over profit.
“And we are the GREEN Party! So how could we be behind anybody but the only two people who are prepared to take on the crisis of millions of gallons sewage being dumped in our water through greed, through corruption. Let me tell you something. I came to Florida six years ago. I had a lot of my family in Brooklyn — people might be able to tell from my voice that I’m from Brooklyn. They’d say, ‘Aren’t you scared of the tropical storms and the hurricanes you’re going to get in Florida?’ So if people in Brooklyn knew about the vulnerability that comes with being in a place like Florida, I don’t think Rick Kriseman has any excuse for saying that he didn’t know. Especially after the workers of this city warned him that we were heading toward disaster, a disaster we aren’t over with. We are in hurricane season again.
“There is something else you need to know. The Green Party of the United States, in our national platform, supports Reparations. Reparations for the Black community 100%. But the problem is that while a lot of people know us as an environmentalist party, fewer people know us as a party of Reparations. And that is something that has to change. We have not made it front and center in the way we need to. So today, I say for the Pinellas Party Green Party, we are leading the way not just in Florida, but in this entire United States. I say the Green Party is the party of unity through Reparations, and we are going to pay our debt!”
The movement now moves back onto the streets, into the neighborhoods, organizing to win.
[chant] “Unity Through …
“Unity Through …
— Jeff Roby
June 10, 2017