How the Barrons have been shattering narratives for two decades
“The socialist left is on the rise, particularly in neighborhoods where Black and Latino residents are being gentrified out of existence” declared Congressman Hakeem Jeffries. Jeffries, the fourth ranking House Democrat (and potential future speaker of the house), represents New York’s 8th Congressional District, which includes predominantly black neighborhoods like Bedford-Stuyvesant, Brownsville, and East New York. He is a fervent critic of New York City’s ascendant socialist left, frequently taking aim at Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, Justice Democrats, and the Democratic Socialists of America, as they continue to amass power and influence. Jeffries, future Mayor Eric Adams, and their political allies contend that socialism is only appealing to white gentrifiers, and that politicians who champion policies like defunding the police are out of touch with the city’s working class voters. These talking points are echoed by the New York Times and other national news outlets, especially in their post-mortem analysis of the 2021 Democratic Mayoral Primary. Much of this analysis lacks nuance and is overly simplistic.
Overlooked in these narratives are both Charles and Inez Barron, who have formed a socialist dynasty in the working class, predominantly black Brooklyn neighborhoods of East New York, with parts of Brownsville and Canarsie.
For this piece, I will profile one-half of this powerful couple: the self-proclaimed radical and “elected activist”, Charles Barron. I will examine his rise to power, detail his commitment to socialism and Black Power, and describe his appeal while considering his limitations. Lastly, I will look ahead at Barron’s future, while exploring how both Charles and Inez have shattered pervasive narratives around socialism, gentrification, and policing in New York City.
I give you Charles Barron of East New York, Brooklyn
“I will always be: Black. Radical. Revolutionary. I will always be a Socialist. Anti-Capitalist. Anti-Imperialist. I have been to Cuba, Venezuela, and Zimbabwe. Robert Mugabe, Evo Morales, Che Guevara, Fidel Castro, the Black Panther Party – those are my heroes. I wanted to come to you to say ‘that’s who and what I am, and that’s what I will always be.”
Charles Barron stands tall with his commanding personality. He is always clean shaven, with thin white hair at the top of his head. He is charismatic, yet strong. Warm to his opponents, while still firm in his convictions. He leads with a smile, no matter the subject matter. Barron eagerly tells jokes, often poking fun at his colleagues, but not exempting himself from self-deprecation. His charisma and humor are used deftly to disarm folks. When disagreeing or criticizing a colleague, he assures them it is nothing personal, nor a lack of respect. Rather, his outspokenness is a product of his commitment to his values.
Despite his polarizing nature and seniority within New York politics, Barron is often defined to outsiders through cherry picked quotes by media and political adversaries, in an attempt to discredit the appeal and popularity shared by both him and Inez. His statements and policy positions are worth understanding, because they paint an image of the complex, unique individual who has often been a lonely voice at City Hall and in Albany.