On the electoral road with Rajesh Barnabas

On the electoral road with Rajesh Barnabas

[5/2/21 Rajesh Barnabas greeting Tom Upson on Avalon Drive in the Meadowbrook neighborhood. Always opening their door, Tom and Meg Upson are frequently canvassed by candidates, see The early birds get the worms; Signature gathering in Brighton]

Over the years, we’ve met Rajesh Barnabas many times: in 2013 during a RCSD telephone interview with Tavis Smiley, in 2015 when discussing the Charlotte carousel issue as the Green Party candidate for Monroe County Executive, in 2016 at the Rochester Badminton Open and in 2017 at the Activism Fair organized by Athesia Benjamin.

Most recently, I ran into Rajesh at the Liberty Pole Way. I had not seen Rajesh since he returned from a year teaching in Florida, miraculously surviving man eating alligators, life threatening heat and humidity, and deadly hurricanes.

4/17/21. Democratic primary candidate Rajesh Barnabas for Monroe County Legislator in the 24th LD with supporters (not pictured) at the Liberty Pole preparing to canvas in the neighborhood. [Photo: David Kramer] From Why I voted for Adam Bello and a trip down Talker political memory lane, 2015 – 2021

I learned Rajesh is running in the June 22nd Democratic primary for Monroe County Legislator in the 24th District. Rajesh is also on the Working Families Party line for the November general election. Albert Blankley is the other Democratic primary candidate.

4/30/21 Roby Drive in Brighton

Last Sunday, I joined Rajesh as he met voters in my Meadowbrook neighborhood.  I was struck by Rajesh’s easy engagement with canvasees and passersbys. [See our interview below as well as other electoral roads at end.]

Rajesh chatted with a mother and daughter who were taking free curbside glass vases and carafes. Rajesh thought the vases perfect for flowers, chiming in with his own story of successful “curbside shopping.” Of half-Indian descent himself, Rajesh spoke with an older Indian gentleman out for his evening walk. Mentioning his own ancestry, Rajesh asked the man’s name. The man warmly responded, using the Indian term, “Uncle.” Indians commonly refer to elders as uncle or aunty regardless if they are blood-related. Rajesh nodded in friendly recognition, and I could tell the two had bonded. Rajesh bantered with a canvasee wearing a “Chess Is Not A Game” shirt, a reference from the film War Games (1983). Rajesh and the man shared favorite scenes.

5/2/21 (left) Rajesh canvassing Carol Kramer wearing Egyptian hieroglyph t-shirt representing her name (C. Folded Cloth, A.Vulture, R. Mouth, O. Lasso, L. Lion). Rajesh recalled memories of playing badminton with Carol’s husband Eugene on the 9th floor of the Kodak Building, see The Game Sublime has a following in Rochester, including Rajesh Barnabas and New York State Assemblyman Mark Johns; (right) When prospective voters are not home, Rajesh leaves campaign literature with a personalized note. The Cardinal Rule of the personalized note: SPELL NAMES CORRECTLY (even if hieroglyphically). [Photos: David Kramer]

More significantly, I saw how Rajesh especially connected with parents with children in the Brighton Central School District.  With a background in education and with three children himself in the BSCD, Rajesh is very much a forward looking, multi-generational thinker.

Rajesh likes to invoke the Seventh Generation Principle based on an ancient Haudenosaunee (Iroquois) philosophy that decisions we make today should result in a sustainable world seven generations into the future.

Haudenosaune Trail in Brighton Town Park. The Haudenosaunee’s ancient forest road was partly located on what is now the NYS Erie Canal Path adjacent to Brighton Town Park. [Photos: David Kramer 5/4/21]

For Rajesh, this means imagining and creating an environmentally sustainable future where the excesses of corporatist capitalism are curbed and its fruits more broadly shared.

5/1/21. Rajesh is hand stenciling his yard signs. Rajesh’s children will help paint the signs in gaudy colors. [In Rajesh’s backyard; he’s all about grassroots. Photo: David Kramer] See Electrajesh.com

Rajesh explained the fundamentals of his canvassing strategy:

The plan is for 1000 door knocks a week for the next 6 weeks, I might not have monetary advantages, but creativity and old school pavement pounding may thwart the machine.

I can’t reveal all my tactics, of course. The activist in me does not tip his/her/they’re hand.

5/2/21 Rajesh Barnabas and David Kramer [Photo: Carol Kramer] Good Luck in your campaign

INTERVIEW

Talker: Tell us about your personal and professional lives.

Erica Bryant, then a Rochester Democrat and Chronicle journalist, and my path crossed in NYC during a protest in the summer of 2004. I was there with the Poor People’s March, part of a broader multi-week protest against the Republican National Convention and the re-election of George W. Bush. Erica was trying to catch up with the Rochester protesters and she asked me what the numbers written on my arm were. They for those who had  volunteered to stand in front and be arrested. I ended up not going up front and never got arrested because I was talking to her.

I knew of Erica’s work at the D & C, and always admired her writing style, opinions and topics she chose to cover. She also played a pretty good game of tennis so was automatically accepted by my family on that skill alone. We got engaged in Miami on the night after attending a Prince concert.

Democrat and Chronicle, May 28, 2008 Jackie and Eddie Bryant of Pittsford, NY, are pleased to announce the engagement of their daughter, Erica Bryant to Rajesh Barnabas, the son of Carole and Sampat Barnabas of Webster, NY. Erica, a 1999 graduate of Our Lady of Mercy High School, earned a bachelor’s degree from Boston University and is currently a reporter for the Rochester Democrat and Chronicle. Rajesh is a 1994 graduate of Webster High School and received a bachelor’s degree from SUNY Geneseo. He is currently employed by Element K. The couple will marry at Immaculate Conception Church in Rochester in June.

On June 7, 2008, we married, which we learned later happened to be Prince’s birthday. Ironically, our final song that night was Purple Rain. In recent years, we started an “Anniversary Cup,” playing a set of tennis on June 7th at our old courting courts at Genesee Valley Park. We have 3 kids: Seneca (4 years), Naomi (7 years) and Noah (12 years), students in the Brighton Central School District.

Rajesh (right) and Erica Bryant at a 2017 presentation they gave at the Harley School. [Provided by Rajesh]

I have been more the career hopper, working as a journalist early on, an instructional designer at Element K (now Skillsoft), then a teacher in the RCSD, then a media producer at Rochester Community TV, before spending a year teaching film at Tampa Prep in Florida last year. Erica was a steady journalist for the D & C but this past year started writing for Vera Institute of Justice. Many of the facts in my platform and speaking engagements come from her research. So in some ways, I would argue the voter will get two for one, if they elect me.

The completed sign was inspired by Rajesh’s daughter Seneca who loves pink, pink and more pink. That’s her pink Corvette convertible toy car. [Photo: David Kramer, 5/6/21] See Electrajesh.com

Talker:  We first met at the Frederick Douglass Campus in 2013, Tavis Smiley joins the conversation with Northeast Prep media students, where we collaborated on a call-in radio interview with Tavis Smiley.

On January 30th, 2014, Smiley hosted a panel discussion on the Rochester Race Riots of 1964 at East High School, signing a copy of the article. From Tavis Smiley joins the conversation with Northeast Prep media students

In 2016 Rochester Open a smash hit., we played badminton at the 2016 Rochester Open. Are you still playing? How are the knees holding up?

Rajesh: My knees are good (knock on wood). I am not playing badminton because I have avoided indoor sports during Covid. I have been playing tennis outside once a week at least with my dad, who is a tennis fanatic. I am also training on the track, almost daily, to get in shape for the soccer season in which I will be joining the 40 and over Premier League team the Melchester Rovers. Playing soccer has mentally and physically gotten me through the pandemic; it is my first love outside of politics.

(top left) 2016 Rajesh Barnabas, RCTV Media Center, 21 Gorham St from The Game Sublime has a following in Rochester, including Rajesh Barnabas and New York State Assemblyman Mark Johns (top right) 2017 Rajesh Barnabas, Visual Studies Workshop, 31 Prince St. from Activism Fair draws largest crowd of its kind in recent memory; (bottom) 2016 Rajesh Barnabas and David Kramer, UR’s Robert B. Goergen Athletic Center from 2016 Rochester Open a smash hit at the Robert B. Goergen Athletic Center 

Talker: Were you an activist in high school and/or college? What schools of thought/writers have influenced you?

Rajesh: I took interest in history classes and politics from a very early age. My parents encouraged us kids to throw objects at the television when Ronald Reagan came on. I attribute most of my passion for politics to my Irish-American mother Carole Barnabas, who was bold enough to date and marry my dad in the 1960s when interracial marriage was outlawed in 31 US states at the time, and only became legal in the US in 1967. That is why you don’t see many bi-racial people older than 40. It just didn’t happen much. Bruce Lee was the other Asian in that era who broke barriers in this regard, and a hero of mine – like my dad.

My parents were always advocating for the underdog, or as some of my socialist friends expand the concept, “third-world justice.” Visiting India, essentially my “fatherland,” in my senior of high school completely changed my trajectory. I had no interest then of attending college or following the formal beaten path. I wanted to start a rock band, I wanted to go into the military and had no interest in studying more after 12 years of it. But seeing the level of poverty in my father’s home country, in his neighborhood, and yet the humble gratitude people exhibited even with what little they had, shook my soul. It was a formative time to go, but I do believe that once you go to India, the place never leaves you.

I came back more aware of my hyper privilege and that I had to do something to give back to India at some point in my life. It’s ironic that as I write this, India probably needs more help than ever, suffering the worst of any area on the planet from the pandemic. The promise that I made to myself back in 1994, still remains unfulfilled. I have not done Jack for India.

I became a political science major at Geneseo University where I thought the skills I gained could directly shape-shift reality, via politics. I worked on several political campaigns, including Geneseo history professor 1998 Bill Cook’s run for US Congress and my mother’s 2001 run for Webster Town Board.

(left) Democrat and Chronicle, Nov 04, 1998 Happy days SUNY Geneseo students, from left, Vincenzo LaRuina, Rajesh Barnabas and Selim Tlili celebrate as they see polls on TV. State Senator Richard Dollinger was one of the winners; (right) Mar 08, 2004 Rajesh Barnabas of Rochester talks to activists preparing Sunday to rally for Ansar Mahmood. Keith Mancuso of Rochester is at left.

When the Iraq War broke out in 2003 I became active in the anti-war movement, organizing rallies outside the INS Detention Center in Batavia to protest wrongfully accused “terrorists.” In this War on Terrorism era of paranoid and expansive racist policing, I was wrongfully detained, questioned, harassed by law enforcement on every level, wherever I went.

Democrat and Chronicle SPEAKING OUT 12 Jul 2004

All of this backdrop sets up for why I took the over policing of Black and brown people more seriously. Seeing the indifference among legislators to address the matter substantively, I decided to run for office.

From an intellectual standpoint, I am inspired by Revolutionaries, mostly because they didn’t just theorize and talk about changing the world, they put their bodies into motion and acted upon their ideas in a material way: mostly Marxists, including Karl Marx, Lenin, Mao, Ho Chi Minh, Che, Castro, Malcolm X, MLK Jr., the Black Panthers, Stokely Carmichael, Frederick Douglass (although not explicitly a socialist, Douglass was a contemporary of Karl Marx). These revolutionaries were able to move the masses, to wake up the potential of the the underclass to fight for their freedom and presented a direct threat to capitalism — with capitalism being the greatest lie of the past 200 years, the ruling elite’s philosophy and practice of expanding greed in plain sight.

Talker: When we met at the Liberty Pole, you said that your current candidacy is part of a  “lifelong effort to unite the progressive activist tribes of Rochester.” How so? You mentioned that you feel comfortable running as a Democrat after Bernie Sanders moved the party closer to your views. Can you elaborate? Specifically, how can that program be implemented at the local and state level?

Rajesh: I was in the trenches in my twenties, organizing activists on many fronts. This often meant attempting to put out fires between activist leaders that often distracted from coalition building. As a writer and videographer for Rochester Indy Media, I was part of a collective that brought attention to issues and organizations on the left that were ignored by the mainstream press. In my work at Rochester Community TV, this space again became a meeting ground for activists and also a place to get media assistance in producing alternative and anti-corporate/capitalist content. Through this work I gained a broad birds-eye view of the activist community in Rochester and spent countless hours and great emotion trying to amplify and unite our shared goals.

I joined the Green Party in 2015, after being disillusioned by the Obama Administration and the capitalist nature of the Democratic Party. Obama advertised himself as a revolutionary candidate back in 2008, and I ignored all my socialist and activists friend’s warnings about him, supporting him wholeheartedly. Then to realize — in his orchestrated destruction of the Occupy Movement, in his acceleration of the War on Terrorism in Afghanistan, in his stepped up Drone Wars, of his invasion of Africa (Libya), in his complete ignorance of the lynching of Black people by cops — Obama proved to be a counterrevolutionary force.

In 2015, Rajesh was the Green Party candidate for Monroe County Executive. Democrat and Chronicle, Oct 25, 2015 “Barnabas challenges the status quo”

Democrat and Chronicle 28 Oct 2015 (left) Green Party candidate Rajesh Barnabas speaks during the debate. (right) 23 Nov 2015 THE PHOTO: When the debate for the Monroe County executive election took a swing back to traditional politics between Democratic candidate Sandra Frankel, left, and Republican Cheryl Dinolfo, Green Party candidate Rajesh Barnabas could only bury his head.

Only with the rise of Bernie Sanders and AOC within the Democratic Party did I see the potential for the party to evolve into an opposing force to greed and imperialism. In so far as the Democratic Party is loyal to the principles of empowering the underclass and not conducting wars against them, I will be loyal to the Democratic Party.

Defunding the police is close to my heart. The language is necessary to use because it is not some abstraction like “Black Lives Matter.” Anyone can say “Black Lives Matter,” but there is no material measurement of whether they do or they don’t. But defunding the police is a very specific policy change, hence the great resistance to the expression.

Note the Defund the Police sign at the 5/30/20 protest rally at Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial Park in Manhattan Square. [Photos: David Kramer from A Black Lives Matter solidarity rally with commentary from Kholaa and a walk down Joseph Avenue]

The third rail of politics is opposing the police or the military. Both are the last layer of defense between the masses and the minority population, the 1% ruling class, making the masses life miserable. The police and the military serve essentially as personal bodyguards to the 1%. So it is very important that this layer of offense (not defense) be defunded — part of a larger abolitionist movement against the police in so far as they are the direct producers of mass incarceration.

This is a county problem. For example, while the jail population has decreased over the last few years by 25%, the budget for Monroe County Jail has actually increased. This could be justified if the money was spent on rehabilitation programs and education for inmates, but this is not happening. It is essential that we remove those funds from the Sheriff and jail’s budget and divert those monies to mental health response teams and rehabilitation programs for current and former prisoners.

5/7/21 Another completed sign of which Rajesh writes: “Very happy about this currently. Although, it takes more spray paint than I anticipated, making me question the environmental impact of this endeavor. I wanted everything to pop about my run for office, be explosive, inspire and be a catalyst for change. Hence the wild colors!” See Electrajesh.com

The other three issues I am prioritizing are ending education apartheid, fully funding the arts, and implementing a green new deal for Monroe County with sooner target goals for lowering emissions and becoming Carbon Zero by 2030. For more information on how this can happen go to electrajesh.com

Talker: You have long advocated for community and citizen journalism. What advice would you give such journalists? Is there a role for government to play in supporting their efforts?

Rajesh: Once you are paid to write, you are somewhat compromised. The holy grail of modern journalism as objective is a myth, not existing now and never did. Just the other day, a journalist from the local mainstream press derided and looked down his nose at citizen reporting, calling it “unprofessional.”

When Angela Davis spoke at the University of Rochester in 2016, she discussed about the need for “alternative citations and sources” to what’s considered scholarly work in academia.By this she meant alternative black newspapers and journalists are as relevant and valuable to knowledge creation as the professor’s peer-reviewed paper. [See Rajesh’s radio show episode for WXIR on Davis’s talk.]

[On November 9th, 2016, political activist and author Angela Davis addressed a crowd of over 1,200 people during an event titled “An Evening of Empowerment” at East High School, also attended by Rajesh. Video taken by local photographer Erica Jae from Remembering April 4th, 1968 and the Civil Rights Movement at the Vietnam Veterans Memorial in Highland Park]

If any town should understand the importance of citizen journalism, it should be the home of Frederick Douglass and the North Star.

Just as there should be publicly funded elections, there is a role for government to provide funds for alternative media. Leaving democracy up to whoever can afford to run for office, and the chroniclers of democracy only to those who can afford to publish, is not a democracy at all but an oligarchy – a dictatorship of the 1%.

On Thursday, 5/6, Rajesh and I biked to the original Council Rock glacial boulder at the Stone Tolan House on 2351 East Avenue. The site reminded Rajesh of the Haudenosaunee creed that communities should look seven generations into the future. [Photos: Barnabas and Kramer] Inscription on Council Rock: To the memory of the Nun·da-wa-o-no, the great Senecas, Keepers of the Western Door, this rock around which according to tradition they gathered for councils is dedicated by the Seneca Indian Council Rock Commission of Brighton, N. Y., and the Rochester Historical Society. Oct. 9, 1919. At the coming of the first white settlers to the Town of Brighton the rock stood under a great elm tree beside the old Indian trail leading from Canandaigua Lake to the present site of Rochester. Fifty yards to the northeast stands the Orringh Stone tavern, frequented by visitors to view the Falls of the Genesee.

OTHER ELECTORAL ROADS 

On the electoral road with Albert Blankley

City Council candidate Alex White (D) on the primary process and gathering petition signatures

The early birds get the worms; Signature gathering in Brighton

The First Presidential Yard Sign in Brighton in this Winter Snow

On the electoral road with Rachel

On the electoral road with Harry Bronson

What Maritza Buitrago can and cannot say on the electoral road.

On the electoral road with Melissa Barrett

About The Author

dkramer3@naz.edu

Welcome to Talker of the Town! My name is David Kramer. I have a Ph.D in English and teach at Keuka College. I am a former and still active Fellow at the Nazareth College Center for Public History. Over the years, I have taught at Monroe Community College, the Rochester Institute of Technology and St. John Fisher College. I have published numerous Guest Essays, Letters, Book Reviews and Opinion pieces in The New York Times, Rochester Democrat and Chronicle, the Buffalo News, the Rochester Patriot, the Providence Journal, the Providence Business News, the Brown Alumni Magazine, the New London Day, the Boston Herald, the Messenger Post Newspapers, the Wedge, the Empty Closet, and the CITY.  My poetry appears in The Criterion: An International Journal in English and Rundenalia and my academic writing in War, Literature and the Arts and Twentieth Century Literary Criticism. Starting in February 2013, I wrote for three Democratic and Chronicle  blogs, "Make City Schools Better," "Unite Rochester," and the "Editorial Board." When my tenure at the D & C  ended, I wanted to continue conversations first begun there. And start new ones.  So we created this new space, Talker of the Town, where all are invited to join. I don’t like to say these posts are “mine.” Very few of them are the sole product of my sometimes overheated imagination. Instead, I call them partnerships and collaborations. Or as they say in education, “peer group work.” Talker of the Town might better be Talkers of the Town. The blog won’t thrive without your leads, text, pictures, ideas, facebook shares, tweets, comments and criticisms.

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