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An Interview with Aaron Dixon

From the Black Panthers to the Green Party

by JESSE HAGOPIAN

Aaron Dixon is the Green Party candidate for the US senate seat in Washington state. He is challenging Democratic Party incumbent Maria Cantwell.

YOU’VE NEVER run for any political office before. What made you decide to run for the Senate?

WHAT MADE me decide that this was a good time to run for office was my experience traveling in Latin America, and meeting with and talking to a lot of people from Argentina, Venezuela, Ecuador, Brazil–and seeing the democratic changes that have taken place in those countries where grassroots leaders have been elected to office.

In effect, the poor are now in power in places like Bolivia and Venezuela. It’s the same way in Brazil and Argentina. Also, Spain elected a socialist president, and the Palestinian territories elected Hamas, which is a big departure.

There is a movement going on around the world, where the grassroots are electing representatives from the ranks of the people. I have seen the expression of some of those movements at the World Social Forums, both in Brazil and Venezuela.

I marched with 300,000 people in Brazil, demanding an end to neoliberalism and so-called "free trade." I experienced the power of people–many of whom were inspired by the Black Panther Party that I helped to build years ago–at the World Social Forum in Venezuela this past year.

It’s time for that movement to take place in this country again. As a matter of fact, it’s already begun. There are a number of other campaigns across the country that are the results of grassroots organizing efforts. The timing was perfect for the Green Party to ask me to run, because I knew it was time for us to start to build a movement right here in Washington state.

WHY ARE you running against the Democratic incumbent Maria Cantwell, and as a Green?

MY RUNNING against Maria Cantwell is an opportunity to draw attention to the war in Iraq, NAFTA, CAFTA and the rest of the right-wing agenda pushed by the Bush administration that Maria Cantwell has supported. She has gone back on many of the things she promised to deliver to voters. My running was an opportunity to bring a lot of those issues to the forefront.

Just as important, I wanted to help people understand that there is really very little difference between Republicans and Democrats.

If you look at history, the Democratic Party started most major wars that we have been in. So we will never escape war and poverty with this same two-party system. We need a multi-party system–that’s why I am running as a Green.

MARIA CANTWELL says that she wants to make 2006 a year of transition, where the U.S. begins to redeploy troops and hand over security to the Iraqis. What do you think of her position?

BUSH HAS said that he doesn’t want to keep the troops in Iraq forever as well, but that isn’t an antiwar position.

Everything Maria says, Bush has already said it. She says that the U.S. can leave when Iraqi forces can maintain security, but the truth is they will never be able to maintain security as long as the target of U.S. troops remains in Iraq. There is already a civil war in Iraq–a U.S. general recently admitted that.

What is really amazing about Cantwell’s position is that for months during the campaign, she said she had "no regrets" about voting to authorize the war on Iraq. It wasn’t until a couple of months ago, when her Republican challenger, Mike McGavick, came out to her left and stated that he wouldn’t have authorized the war in Iraq, that Cantwell changed her position.

She has now gone back on her original decision to authorize the war, but just two weeks ago, she voted for another $70 billion to be spent on the war. So we can see her position is still for the war.

HOW DID you develop your political understanding of the world?

A LOT of it had to do with my family and the upbringing my parents gave me. I grew up with my great-great-grandmother in the house. She had been a slave. I grew up on stories of slavery at home, and you could be sure that I wasn’t going to ever let us go back to those days.

WASN’T YOUR father a radical?

YES, HE was. But it was a process. He became a radical through his experiences in the military.

He had joined his high school ROTC, and he went off to fight in the Second World War. At one point, his company was stationed at a military base in Mississippi. There came a time when he and the other Black soldiers were supposed to be able to go on furlough, but the commanding officer ordered the Black soldiers to stay on the base and clean the white soldier’s latrines. My father wasn’t going to take this, and he led a rebellion of the troops to demand justice.

Another time, my father and the Black soldiers were marching around the bivouac in Mississippi, some 10 or 15 miles, and they came upon a farm and asked the white farmer if they could cross the field. He told them that, "No niggers are allowed near my property," and he chased them off with his shotgun.

My father was supposedly fighting for democracy against Hitler’s fascism, and he and his Black platoon were called niggers right at home. Black soldiers in Mississippi at that time had to literally fight for their lives in their own country. My father wasn’t going to stand for it, and he and the soldiers went back to that farmer’s barn with torches that night.

After my father got out of the military, he joined the Communist Party and Paul Robeson’s Youth Brigade. These were the stories I grew up on, and they gave me an understanding of some of the fundamental problems with this country.

Besides my upbringing, you have to look at the conditions that existed when I was growing up–being exposed to the civil rights movement and the assassination of political leaders. This all played a part in shaping my political consciousness.

YOU FOUNDED the Seattle chapter of the Black Panther Party. What made you decide to be a Panther?

MY BROTHER and the younger people we ran with were looking for a way to organize against racism and the other issues we felt needed to be addressed.

At first, we thought a Black Student Union (BSU) would satisfy that, and it didn’t. We did have some successes. We were able to pressure the University of Washington to implement a Black Studies Department, but many people in that organization were more into academics and not as much into action.

So then we started a Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee chapter. But that didn’t end up satisfying us either. Remember, Martin Luther King was assassinated in 1968, and we felt it was a time when we had to do more.

So soon after that, we had an opportunity to go down to Oakland for a BSU conference. But I cut out of the conference and went to go see the Black Panther Party give a memorial service for Little Bobby Hutton, who had just been murdered by the police.

I saw Bobby Seale deliver the most dynamic speech I have ever heard. He had just come from the funeral where he had to bury his comrade. He was very emotional about what happened, and that was the first time I heard anyone speak so directly. This was first time I experienced the brashness of the Black Panthers–and I liked it.

We recognized immediately that this was what we wanted to be a part of. We understood that was what this country needed: an organization like the BPP that was putting theory into practice–that was out in the community doing some very important work.

WHAT WAS some of that work?

WE HAD the Free Breakfast Program, the free medical clinics, free legal aid, food banks and more. In fact, the campaign headquarters that we have now was the site of our free medical clinic back in 1972.

All of the programs that we started–we had some 60 different programs–showed that the people had the ability to control their own destiny. They had the ability to address their own issues by uniting and working together. That is the legacy the Black Panther Party left to the world–the people have the power to make the changes to improve their lives.

THE ELECTION is just days away as we speak. What would you say you’ve accomplished with this campaign?

WHETHER WE win or lose on November 7, this campaign has accomplished a lot.

We have given voice to people all over the state who are fed up with the current two-party system that maintains illegal wars, which are sucking out our resources that should be used to strengthen our communities. We brought that message to over a dozen towns across Washington in our "Out of war and into our communities" tour.

We got thousands of people talking about where our money would be better spent. Here in Seattle, for example, they are proposing to close 10 schools in neighborhoods that are predominantly people of color–and the parents have had to file a lawsuit.

Whether we win or lose the election, we have raised issues that would not even have entered the mainstream debate–immediate withdrawal of troops from Iraq, a national health care program for all Americans, a living wage, rebuilding New Orleans.

We exposed the contradictions in the electoral process that claims to be democratic, but is really corrupted by obscene wealth. This point was made for thousands of people last week when they arrested me for trying to participate in the televised Senate debate. It’s hard to even call it a debate when they expressly stated that only millionaires could participate.

Most importantly, we’ve brought together poor and working-000class whites with Latinos, African Americans and Asians to oppose this war and the cost it is having on our communities domestically. This campaign is just the beginning of a new fight for justice.

JESSE HAGOPIAN is the campaign manager for Aaron Dixon for U.S. Senate. Jesse can be reached at: jesse@dixon4senate.com.

For additional information on the Aaron Dixon for U.S. Senate campaign, or for details Aaron Dixon’s "Out of War…and Into Our Communities" tour visit our website.