By Michael Derek Roberts
Dread-locked Maurice Mitchell is a sharp departure from his predecessor. As the newly minted National Director of the Working Families Party (WFP) he brings more than twenty years of experience in community organizing, electoral politics, and social movements to his new role.
Born and raised in Long Beach, a diverse, working class community on the south shore of Long Island, Maurice’s grandmother was the first member of the family to come to the United States, from the Caribbean. Like most new immigrants with a strong, honest work ethics she worked cleaning houses on Long Island. Later on, Maurice’s parents joined her in New York. His mother was a nurse and his father an electrician. Both were union members and both were politically-minded.
Two tragedies changed the course of Maurice’s life. First, Hurricane Sandy destroyed his home in Long Beach, and left him living in hotels for months on end. Eighteen months later, Mike Brown was killed by police in Ferguson, Missouri. Maurice traveled to Ferguson to be of service to organizations on the ground that were responding to the police violence in Ferguson and St. Louis. Out of that and other experiences, Maurice co-founded and managed Blackbird, which is an anchor organization within the Movement for Black Lives, providing strategic support and guidance to activists and groups around the country. In that role, he helped to organize the Movement for Black Lives convention in Cleveland, Ohio, in July, 2015.
Maurice joins the Working Families Party at a time of rapid growth for the organization. His expertise and passion will be valuable assets as the party seeks to deepen and broaden its membership base, providing a political home for a newly energized generation of voters and activists. CARIBBEAN TIMES NEWS caught up with the articulate 39-year old and in an exclusive wide-ranging interview he outlined his plans for the Working Families Party, his passion for community activism, and his principled positions on a number of key social and political issues.
CARIBBEAN TIMES NEWS: Maurice, thank you for agreeing to speak with us today.
MAURICE MITCHELL: It’s my pleasure.
CTN: I’ve read your bio and it’s impressive. But who exactly is Maurice Mitchell?
MM: My father is from Grenada and my mother from Trinidad and they came to the United States around 1970. So I grew up in a typical Caribbean household. I learned a lot from both my grandmother and my parents. They were always involved with social issues at the neighborhood level. I learned to fight for those who could not fight for themselves and to organize against any form of oppression. I brought that passion and sense of rightness to Howard University where I studied. While in my third year there one of my classmates was killed by Prince George’s County police. The killing led me into a formative experience as a student organizer against police violence.
CTN: Ok, how did that experience play out after you left Howard University?
MM: After college, I worked at the Long Island Progressive Coalition, leading advocacy and electoral campaigns. I organized multiracial coalitions and learned to build power in all kinds of communities — working-class and affluent, Black, immigrant, and white. Later I served as Organizing Director for Citizen Action of New York, and then ran the New York State Civic Engagement Table, a coalition of community and civic engagement groups working on issue and electoral campaigns to build progressive power.
CTN: So would you say that all this prepared you to take on this very challenging role as National Director for the WFP?
MM: Without a doubt.
CTN: Tell our readers three priorities that you intend to bring to your new job as head of the WFP?
MM: First, besides my social activism and organizing experience, I think that I bring an immigrant’s story and perspective to the job. Especially, the Caribbean immigrant’s perspective that I learned from my parents. Second, I intend to bring those experiences to strengthen the working class outlook of the WFP and so attract more Caribbean-Americans to become members. And too, those experiences will help inform our political actions and our fight to address racial and economic injustice. Thirdly, I’ll bring my 20 years of organizing experience to add to that of the WFP. That will help and shape our movement building efforts.
CTN: What other items are on your agenda?
MM: I have a deep desire to build a strong membership base in the party. With a strong, committed membership we can then focus and work towards a bold vision of resolving racial and economic injustice. As hard as that is, it’s my vision and I think that with hard work we can achieve it.
CTN: Let’s switch gears. Immigration is a hot-button issue, especially since the election of President Donald Trump. Do you support New York City as a sanctuary city?
MM: Absolutely. I understand the struggles that all immigrants face every day – both legal and undocumented ones. I think that New York City’s stance is first a moral one and defending the rights of immigrants from the illegal and punitive actions of the federal government is the right thing to do. It’s also a courageous and principled position. The Trump attacks against immigrants is racially motivated and a hostile policy driven by a white supremacist ideology that has become emboldened by his presidency.
CTN: In this context and the present political situation, is there a new direction for the WFP?
MM: For me, today the WFP is at a crossroads in this new political dispensation. It’s imperative and crucial that we adapt to the present circumstances. The American two-party system is dysfunctional and people are checking out of both the Republican and Democratic Parties. The Republican Party has gone off the rails and people are not satisfied the Democratic Party’s solutions. The WFP has an ideal opportunity to be a home for people who feel dissatisfied with the Democrats and the Republicans. The WFP can be a real organization that speaks to a vision of support for each other and not know-tow to corporations. The WFP can fill that void and need, especially for millenials, where people can freely express their opinions. This is a generational fight.
CTN: On that note, how do view the US Supreme Court’s Citizens United decision?
MM: It flies in the face of campaign justice. Money is not speech. That was also a salvo in a broader war against our democracy in the context of changing demographics. White supremacy will do all in its power to engineer and change policies to preserve power. Disenfranching people by unjust and unfair voter ID laws, gerrymandering, and other actions, the network of legislations across the country led by Republican lawmakers are designed to reduce and undermine democracy and are all about a rapidly changing demographics that does not favor the white power structure.
CTN: Finally, do you support Green Card holders being allowed to vote in local, non-federal elections?
MM: Yes. Locally expanding voter participation is a good thing. I applaud the progressive approach to empowering voters. These are disenfranchised tax paying New Yorkers and stakeholders in many city services, like public education for example. It’s totally appropriate for people to be involved in local decision making processes through the ballot box participation.
CTN: Thank you.
ABOUT THE WORKING FAMILIES PARTY (WFP)
Working Families is a growing progressive political organization that fights for an economy that works for all of Americans, and a democracy in which every voice matters. The WFP believes that our children’s life chances must not be determined at birth, and that America must be a nation that allows all its people to thrive. [www.workingfamilies.org].