There are very few activists today who can boast the experience and accomplishments of Mariame Kaba. The New York native, whose work brought her to Chicago for over 20 years, is an educator, organizer, and curator whose work “focuses on ending violence, dismantling the prison industrial complex, transformative justice and supporting youth leadership development.” She has worked tirelessly to create a more just world for marginalized communities. And now, Kaba has created a video about the Chicago effort to successfully oust Anita Alvarez, the ex-State’s Attorney for Cook County, Illinois who lost her Democratic primary to Kim Foxx in March 2016.
We had the chance to ask Kaba about her work on this campaign, her reasons for creating the video, and what the implications are for social organizing today.
BYP:Can you give us background as to why you felt this video needed to be created right now? What was the goal?
Kaba: The general election campaign was particularly depressing and demobilizing for me this year. I noticed that the same was true for many of my comrades. Yet just a few months earlier, many of us in Cook County had been part of an inspirational intergenerational campaign to oust our State’s Attorney Anita Alvarez from office. Alvarez was a two-term prosecutor who up until the last couple of weeks of her primary campaign was still leading in the polls. There were many reasons to organize for her defeat and the challenge was to make sure that people were aware of those reasons and then took action to vote her out. The #ByeAnita campaign was successful in that Alvarez was defeated in the March 2016 Democratic primary by Kim Foxx. Foxx went on to win in the November general election.
The video which I co-created with my friend Tom Callahan was an attempt to remind our comrades about what we were able to accomplish together. It was a project meant to document some of the direct actions that were organized and led by Black women and femmes (with the support of many allies) in Chicago as part of the #ByeAnita campaign. The video was intended to show that there is a different way to engage in electoral politics that is focused on local offices and that pushes issues over a candidate.
During times when people’s spirits are low, it helps to remember that organizing does get the goods and that sometimes we do win.
BYP: Given this present political moment, how do you think grassroots movements and actions like the #ByeAnita campaign can help push forward the political concerns of marginalized people?
Kaba: Given Trump’s win, I think that it is more imperative, for those interested in electoral politics, to learn from what worked in the #ByeAnita campaign. There will be no inside strategy for progressives and leftists during a Trump presidency. People have to come to terms with this quickly and begin to focus on what is within our control. We still have an ability to decide which prosecutors, judges, state. county and city officials will represent our interests. Those are the politicians who have the biggest impacts on our daily lives anyway. It takes less money to impact politics at the local level. People power can make a major difference.
The #ByeAnita campaign was one arm of a larger electoral organizing effort to defeat Alvarez. But it energized particular populations that do not usually focus on local races and especially prosecutor elections. Our use of social media is something that should be a case study for others who want to similarly oust local officials. Turnout was higher than usual for primaries in Cook County and this was attributed in part to the State’s Attorney race.
The Tribune created a helpful map that illustrated how various racial groups voted in the election and it shows the breadth of support that Foxx received across race. That’s instructive. We can learn from this for future organizing efforts.
BYP:What do you hope people will take away after watching the video?
Kaba: First and foremost, I hope that people feel inspired and motivated to continue to take action in their own communities. We can accomplish a lot through collective and strategic organizing. The actions that are represented in the video are only one part of what became the #ByeAnita campaign. Along with those taking direct action were people who canvassed their communities, led political education sessions, created art, led a digital organizing effort, and more. The lesson is even against long odds we can work collectively using our various skills and talents to make a positive change in our communities.
Watch the video below:
Here’s the video directly on FB…
NEW VIDEO: #ByeAnita: A Campaign to Defeat Anita Alvarez
Featuring “Real Talk” by Tweak the RBG
Produced by Mariame Kaba
Directed and Edited by TomCallahanVisuals.com
Jenn M. Jackson was born and raised in East Oakland, California, a fact which motivates her writing and academic ambitions. She is a scholar, educator, and writer whose writing addresses Black Politics and civil and public life for young Black people with a focus on policing and surveillance. She is also the Editor-in-Chief of Water Cooler Convos, a culture platform for Black millennials. Her writing has been featured in Washington Post, BITCH Magazine, Marie Claire, EBONY, The Root, Daily Dot, The Independent, and many others.
Jackson is a doctoral candidate at the University of Chicago studying American Politics with a focus on political participation and engagement, public opinion and social movements. For more about her, tweet her at @JennMJack or visit her website at jennmjackson.com.