When New York assemblyman Charles Barron endorsed Eritha Akilé Anai (Cainion) for city councilwoman and Jesse Nevel for mayor in the 2017 St. Petersburg, FL elections, it was historic. Assemblyman Barron gave powerful advice, based upon years of successful campaigning and stopping the vicious tide of gentrification in East New York: “Door to door wins the war!”
The Uhuru campaign committee to elect Akilé and Jesse was determined to take this advice to heart, knocking on or dropping fliers at 25,000 doors in this city under the coordination of our tireless and highly motivated field team that organized hundreds of volunteers who were sent out into districts and precincts throughout the city.
With the slogan “Unity through Reparations!” the face of electoral politics has forever been transformed here in St. Petersburg by this powerful campaign. The interests of African workers were forced onto the ballot and into the electoral arena for the first time in history.
Led by African People’s Socialist Party Chairman Omali Yeshitela, who ran for mayor in 2001, the campaign committee waged a ground war that outworked the campaigns of both of the bourgeois political parties and served to organize hundreds of African people and white supporters of the reparations demand.
Key to the door to door organizing was the participation of the candidates Akilé Anai and Jesse Nevel themselves. Knocking on doors and meeting people throughout St. Petersburg’s black community and in the white neighborhoods, people were impressed and excited by the fact that the candidates actually came to their doors.
Some African people were moved to tears, embracing Akilé when they heard her reparations platform summed up in the slogan, “Radical Times! Radical Solutions!” Many Africans told us they had never voted because no candidate had ever represented their interests until now.
Throughout our door to door work in the African communities we saw the ravages of colonialism and the effects of gentrification. We were struck by the numbers of households containing at least one man or woman who could not vote due to the mass imprisonment forced on African people as part of the U.S. colonial policies.
No matter what neighborhood Jesse Nevel canvassed he never changed his message, telling each voter, “The centerpiece of my campaign for mayor of St. Petersburg is Reparations to the Black community and genuine Black community economic development.
“We need unity through Reparations in this city, no one living at the expense of anybody else.”
This message received as much support in the white communities as it did in African neighborhoods.
Field Team out on the street daily
Every Saturday and nearly every day during the week, teams of volunteers headed out to knock on doors, line up yes votes, recruit new campaign volunteers and raise money. Early in the campaign the field team led the successful effort to get the 1,000 signatures on petitions, putting Jesse Nevel on the ballot for mayor.
We handed in more than a thousand signed petitions to the supervisor of elections a week before the deadline. However, since the city rejected hundreds of our petitions as an attack on our truly progressive reparations campaign, our field team went into action mobilizing scores of supporters to go out to parks, breakfast places and grocery stores, pulling in another thousand signatures two days in a row.
This was the determination of our soldiers out in the field.
For six months our Field Team and dedicated volunteers gathered every Saturday and several weeknights in the sweltering heat of the Florida summer with our outreach materials to take our powerful message to the doorsteps of the people. We knocked on over 20,000 doors, distributed over 30,000 propaganda pieces, and gathered pages and pages of new contacts who vowed to vote “Yes!”
The candidates knocked on the doors, introduced themselves and gave out thousands of palm cards, flyers about voting by mail, and invites to the Sunday rallies where people could bring their concerns directly to the candidates themselves. Then volunteers would step up with the clipboard to get the contact info so the Voter Contact Team could follow up with a phone call or a text to make sure they’d get to the Sunday Rally or next Town Hall Meeting.
The Field Team made sure that the candidates’ recognizable maroon and teal yard signs were put into yards of hundreds of supportive voters all over the city, especially in District 6 where Akilé ran for city council. Teams did drops, too, leaving door hangers, palm cards and flyers at virtually every door in dozens of neighborhoods, to get the message out en masse, especially during the last weeks before the August 29 election day.
We salute our magnificent Field Team led by comrade Starr of the African People’s Solidarity Committee and comrades Mouhammadou Daigne and Hekima Ukimbizi of the African People’s Socialist Party.
We will be well-equipped the next time the Uhuru Movement runs candidates to continue making Reparations a reality in the City of African Resistance.
Unity through Reparations!