The keynote speaker for the event was Chokwe Lumumba, the Jackson, Mississippi mayor who in September told Al Jazeera: "Nowadays you've got to call yourself a 'change agent' or something, or else you'll make people scared. But I am a revolutionary."
Unlike Charles Barron, Lumumba does wear suits. But his political philosophy grew from the same intellectual root. In fact, the two have known each other for decades. Like Barron, Lumumba first entered the public stage as an activist--he served as vice-president of the Republic of New Afrika, an organization founded in 1968 to promote creating an independent black nation out of several southern states. He eventually channeled his advocacy into law, specializing in criminal defense.
"It's not like a last man standing kind of thing," says Barron. "I see the radical movement picking up a little steam in the electoral arena."
He can rattle off the examples. There's Ras Baraka, the city councilman in Newark and son of poet-activist Amiri Baraka. And then in Detroit, there's JoAnn Watson, the civil rights activist who served on the city council from 2003 to 2013, and Kwame Kenyatta, a councilman from 2005 to 2013. Kenyatta now works on Lumumba's staff.
"I see a resuscitation, a revival of black radicals actually winning seats," says Barron. "Remember in the '60s black radicals didn't win a lot of the electoral seats."
Huey Newton ran for U.S. congress. Bobby Seale ran for mayor of Oakland. Elaine Brown ran for Oakland City Council. Eldridge Cleaver ran for president. Each one lost.
"We maintain that radical spirit," says Barron. "And won elections. I don't know of a time in history that many radicals won seats."