SAY WHAT? - Sadly, maddeningly, many of us find the vapid, doleful, allegedly-more-united-than-divided Biden, with his "serene platitudinous" rhetoric on our multiple cataclysms - gun carnage, Roe v. Wade, imperilled voting rights, failing institutions, flailing economy and oh yeah burning planet - not up to meeting the apocalyptic moment; hence the aggrieved plaint, "FIGHT FOR US GODDAMNIT." In fiery contrast to his muted civility, we offer as a role model defiantly unmuted, fire-and-brimstone, no-fucks-left-to-give community activist and Louisiana Senate candidate Gary Chambers, who compellingly wields truth, fact, history, fury and "buck-wild" political messaging to call bullshit at every dark turn. A progressive 36-year-old native son of Baton Rouge - pro-choice, health care, reparations, equity - Chambers is running to unseat ghastly GOP Sen. John Kennedy under the righteous edict of Isaiah 1:17: "Do good. Seek justice." As both advocate and candidate, Chambers knows and repeatedly reels off the hard truths about his state, which ranks in the country's bottom 5% in every facet of life: 46th in health care, 48th in education, 49th in economy and environment, 50th in crime. "I live in the 2nd blackest state in the country," he declares, "and there's an immense amount of suffering here."
Direct, eloquent, armed with the often brutal facts, Chambers follows the money and connects the dots. Asked about black crime, he notes that in the early 2000s, the poorer North Baton Rouge got just $45 million of $800 million in federal funds, with wealthier parts of the city getting the rest: "Then, 10 years later, when crime is higher, everyone pretends they don't understand how we got here." He adds, "I'm running against a guy who believes more cops and jails will solve crime. We live in the 2nd most incarcerated state in the world, and still rank #50 in crime." Asked about homelessness, he cites "tent cities in every major city in America" and nails the white perps who instigated red-lining and created the ghetto: "How did we become so numb to other people?" He calls out the clueless racist nonsense of 'Foghorn Leghorn' Kennedy, who went to Vanderbilt and Oxford but spends his time making fake folksy videos, going on Fox News and "lying to his donors." Coming up on July 4th, he quotes Frederick Douglass' "What to the slave is the 4th of July?" speech, ponders, "What do we have to celebrate about America right now?", offers a forthright litany of our ills and woes, and concludes, "Then they tell us to be excited about it. Nah, I'm not really."
Two years ago, Chambers went viral after an appearance at a school board meeting about removing Robert E. Lee's name from a school where 81% of students are Black. He had a speech planned, but instead lit into a school board member he'd noticed shopping online during a painful discussion of racism, fiercely calling her out by name. Then he suggested several black figures from the past to honor: "You want to name it after somebody, name it after somebody on the right side of history. But we built this joint for free, and we done begging you to do what's right." From one admirer, "Never argue with a man that knows his history." In January, months after announcing his Senate candidacy, Chambers dropped his powerhouse first campaign ad - regal, seated, smoking a blunt in a field. Out of the billowing smoke, more facts: Every 37 seconds, someone's arrested for pot possession, states waste $3.7 billion enforcing pot laws, black people are four times more likely to get busted, most aren't dealers but people with small amounts - "just like me." Millions saw, shared, loved it. He's kept at it; his latest ad plays "Smiling Faces" atop creepy images of Trump and Kennedy canoodling together. "We can wipe that smile off their faces," it intones, "Help us retire Kennedy and his lies."
His most explosive ad appeared in February, as Louisiana's GOP-controlled Senate debated a move to expand majority-black districts. Chambers led a rally; they voted no. As "Scars and Bars" opens, he holds an American flag that morphs into a Confederate flag. "Here in Louisiana and all over the South," he says, "Jim Crow never really left." Citing attacks on black voting rights in gerrymandered districts left over from the Confederacy, he meticulously hangs and pins the flag on a line, pours gasoline on it, lights it on fire. “Our system isn’t broken - it’s designed to do exactly what it’s doing: producing measurable inequity." More stats of black injustices. "It's time to burn what remains of the Confederacy down," he says, thoughtfully watching the flames spread. "I do believe the South will rise again. But this time it'll be on our terms." Again, people were blown away: "Hell yes - this makes me want to run through a wall...This is what it means to be a patriot... Gonna give him ALL my money...This man is standing in the fire and flames and keeps on walking...Never surrender to evil...Holy hell. Mad respect, sir...There's nothing new in politi - Gary Chambers casually lights a Confederate flag on fire just to watch it burn. PUT THIS MAN IN OFFICE." And Joe: Be like Gary.
(Abby Zimet has written CD's Further column since 2008. A longtime, award-winning journalist, involved in women's, labor, anti-war, social justice and refugee rights issues. Email: [email protected].)