On Monday, July 10th the voice of the black working class shattered the stifling “decorum” set by the St. Petersburg, FL League of Women Voters and the Downtown Neighborhood Association.
The League hosted this forum in the posh Hilton Hotel in downtown St. Petersburg, itself a statement by the organizers that the future of the largely black District 6 should be decided in the corridors of power and affluence inaccessible to most black working class people.
What changed all of that was the unmistakable presence of District 6 candidate Eritha “Akilé” Cainion and mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel along with scores of bold and vocal African workers and supporters who raised their voices in cheers punctuating the brilliant answers of the candidates to the questions from the status quo.
Running on platforms of “Unity through Reparations” and “Radical Times; Radical Solutions” fighting for reparations and economic development for the African community and against the big money interests of the city, the dynamic young candidates are challenging the political establishment resting upon a foundation of oppression and exploitation.
The format of the debate was rigged from the onset, designed by the League of Women Voters to control the discussion and rig the debate in favor of big money candidates with access to television advertisements and purchased name recognition.
The candidates were denied the right to introduce themselves.
Eritha “Akilé” Cainion, the 20-year-old African woman widely respected for her work as the chair of the Committee for Justice for the Three Drowned Black Girls murdered by the Pinellas County Sheriff’s department, delivered a powerful, resonant message of reparations and black community control of the police that starkly contrasted the dull, robotic statements of the other candidates, all proponents of gentrification and a vicious public policy of police containment of the black community.
The distinction between the revolutionary platform of Akilé and the status quo agenda of her opponents, as well as the disrespect immediately directed against her by the forum organizers, was apparent the moment she entered the stage and sat at the platform with a name placard hand-written, unlike the printed, professional name placards provided to the other candidates by the League of Women Voters.
Akilé later reported that her name was misspelled on the name placard printed for her by the Women’s League, so she made her own.
During her opening remarks, Akilé repeated the themes which have won broad-based support for her candidacy over the past three months of her campaign, which emphasizes that empowerment of the black community will uplift the entire city and create a progressive agenda that will benefit all in St. Petersburg.
The moderator asked, “How will you stop the shrinking of the middle class?”
Akile responded: “How do we address the question of the middle class when we can’t even talk about the poor and oppressed black working class? Every contradiction you see in this city, you being pushed out of your home, comes on the pedestal of the oppression of the black community. So the only way to move forward for everyone in the city is unity through reparations. It would take the average black family 228 years to catch up with the average white family. We don’t have 228 years.”
The audience burst into applause. The moderator admonished, “Every time you applaud, we are going to detract the amount of time you applaud from that candidate’s next statement.”
The audience erupted into boos. Clearly, the majority of the audience was on Akilé’s side, not only against the other candidates but against the forum moderators themselves who wanted to rig the entire discussion against the interests of the black working class.
Akilé continued, “The Tropicana Field must go back to the black community. That is not a question, that is a demand from the black community.”
Later in the debate, the candidates were asked about their opinions on stopping noise pollution in District 6. Akilé replied, “We’re at war and you want to talk about noise?”
“The entire debate is rigged against the people,” said Akilé.
Joining Akilé on the stage were the seven opponents, all representatives of the status quo, including several white real estate developers involved in gentrification.
One of Akilé’s opponents, a notorious, neocolonial sell-out named Maria Scruggs who has conspired with the ruling class against the black community for the past 30 years in her capacity as the president of the NAACP, was also present at a forum the previous night, hosted by the Uhuru Movement, where she appalled the audience by openly blaming and berating Kunde Mwamvita, the mother of Dominque Battle, for the death of her daughter at the hands of murderous sheriff’s deputies. Scruggs grabbed the podium, leaned forward and bellowed at Mwamvita: “Your hooting and hollering is not going to bring your child back,” as the audience vocally reacted in sheer disgust.
Following the District 6 debate, mayoral candidate Jesse Nevel, the 27-year-old white activist who is the chair of the Uhuru Solidarity Movement, joined the stage to debate his two main opponents, Rick Kriseman, the current mayor, and Rick Baker, the former mayor, for the first time.
For the past decade, Nevel has worked under the leadership of the African People’s Socialist Party and Chairman Omali Yeshitela, organizing in the white community to build a movement for reparations to African people.
Nevel slayed his opposition in the form of both the big money, status quo candidates, Kriseman and Baker.
The first question asked by the moderator dealt with the issue of how as mayor the candidates would plan to pay for repairing the sewage infrastructure of St. Pete.
In 2016 the Kriseman administration leaked 256 million gallons of sewage into the black community of Gulf Bayou and into the Tampa Bay at large.
Nevel’s response, “I would make Kriseman pay for it. I would open a criminal investigation into the Kriseman administration.”
Later, when asked how to fix the environment, Nevel explained that the protection of the environment requires the displacement of big money corrupt politicians from dominating over city government.
“In 2008 on a consent agenda of City Council, Baker approved running a water transmission line through the dumping ground of a gun range, so you have Baker to thank for the lead in your water and you have Kriseman to thank for the sewage in your water. We need a new beginning,” said Nevel, to overwhelming applause from the audience of over 200.
When asked who their biggest campaign financial contributors are, Kriseman fumbled and refused to answer. “Answer the question!” shouted the audience as he stuttered through an incomprehensible monologue.
Nevel exposed his opponents as pawns of big money and explained that that is why he is being excluded from the July 25th televised debate hosted by Tampa Bay Times, Bay News 9.
When asked about economic development, Nevel said, “My answer to this question is the real reason I am being excluded from the televised debate. This is the message they don’t want you to hear: I believe that the way to unite our city and move our city forward for everyone is through a positive public policy of reparations and economic development for the black community.”
When asked how to address the issue of homelessness, Nevel promised that when elected he would “keep Boxcutter Baker as far away from the homeless people as possible,” referring to Baker’s infamous decision to order St Pete police to slash the tents of homeless people while he was mayor.
The debate ended when the moderator asked how the candidates viewed the issue of police violence.
Both Ricks drooled as they gushed about their love of the police and that the police do such a wonderful job controlling black people.
Nevel responded by acknowledging the presence of Kunde Mwamvita in the room and by promising when elected to remove the Sheriff’s Department from operating in St. Petersburg. He also called upon his fellow white St. Pete residents to stand in solidarity with the movement for black community control of police.
When Teresa Lassiter, a mayoral candidate likely hired by Rick Baker in a pitiful attempt to split the black vote, responded to this question by berating Kunde and other black mothers, in a similarly shameless fashion as she and Scruggs did the night before at the Uhuru House, the moderator shut down the forum without allowing the candidates to give their closing remarks.
As the audience began chanting, Nevel stood up with the microphone and chanted with them: “Dominique Battle! LaNiyah Miller! Ashaunti Butler!”
As the forum closed out, the building was suddenly surrounded by over 20 St. Petersburg police vehicles.
Many people who had never met Akilé and Jesse before approached them afterwards, overwhelmed by emotion, clasped their hands and thanked them for entering this election to finally have candidates who represent the interests of the people.
The candidates and the growing legion of community precinct organizers have knocked on doors for the past four months throughout District 6 and other neighborhoods of the of city including white neighborhoods to overwhelming support for every sector.
Endorsed last month by Chairman Omali Yeshitela, the campaign is building a community-based organization, CURED, characterized by the participation of young African people who have no future under the current government.
Taking place the day after a well-attended candidates forum at the Uhuru House called “What About the Black Community” boycotted by most of the candidates including all other white candidates other than Jesse, this campaign is forcing the agenda of the African working class onto the electoral arena for the first time since the 1960s.
The reactionary Tampa Bay Times newspaper, which has repeatedly slandered and criminalized black children, reported a slanderous, inaccurate report of the event, stating that the forum was disrupted by “Uhuru antics.”
What happened last night was that the voice of the people who are oppressed, exploited, brutalized and murdered was heard, because it was a voice that refused to be silenced.
The people are winning. The black working class is winning. The program of unity through reparations and radical solutions for radical times is winning.
The election is August 29th.