Activist Gary Chambers Is Trying To Be Louisiana’s First Black Senator

Gary Chambers Jr says he’s tired of his home state of Louisiana being ranked poorly – when it comes to Health, education, the infrastructure and so economicThe Baton Rouge native knows his home state can and should work better.

“When I look at this state and its people, we are far ahead of our state ratings,” Chambers said. “And it’s partly because of the leaders that we’ve got people making decisions against the people of this state.”

Chambers’ flamboyant style as an activist and now a Democratic challenger for the state’s US Senate seat, has made him viral in his bid to change Louisiana’s status. Chambers, 36, was once known for her viral social media posts calling out local politicians and fighting for communities of color. Now, Chambers is getting attention for smoking marijuana and burning Confederate flags in his campaign ads.

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Chambers told NBC News in March: “We need to burn the remaining remnants of Confederacy from every rule that exists in this country in order for this country to be whole again.” “And we need to build that conversation by talking about the racial inequities that exist.”

If elected, Chambers said he hopes to change this through supportive policies like “Medicare for All,” increasing the national minimum wage to $15 per hour, and the Green New Deal, a Federal bill to reduce dependence on fossil fuels and reduce greenhouse gases. emissions, create jobs in clean energy and curb climate change.

At the end of the most recent quarter ended in March, Chambers’ campaign raised $1.2 million, about $724,000 more than the next closest Democrat in the field, Luke Mixon. Incumbent Republican Senator John Kennedy has raised more than $23 million for the campaign, according to the most recent data available from Federal Election Commission.

However, Chambers said he is optimistic.

Image: Gary Chambers in Baton Rouge, La., April 10, 2022.
Chambers en route through Baton Rouge, La., on April 10.Cedric Angeles for NBC News

“This is a very winnable race,” Chambers said, citing the re-election of Democratic Governor John Bel Edwards in 2019. “If the DNC and… the state party takes this race seriously… we can. can mobilize resources and build infrastructure to win this election”.

Silas Lee, a pollster and sociologist at Louisiana’s Xavier University in New Orleans, describes Chambers as a candidate the public can connect with.

“He’s not afraid to be a counterculture candidate,” Lee said. “People can relate to what he’s saying.”

However, Lee added that Chambers’ main obstacle this election season will be building voter momentum.

“The challenge for Gary Chambers is to see if he can motivate voters and earn their trust,” he said.

‘Burning the Confederacy’

In Chambers’ first commercial, “37 Seconds,” released in January, he wore a blue suit and smoked a cigarette in an empty lot, while highlighting the high arrest and prosecution rates involved. arrive marijuana. In the ad, which has been viewed more than 6 million times, Chambers notes that black Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana, even though their rates of use are comparable to other racial groups.

Although Blacks make up 60% of the population in Louisiana, they account for 86% of all weed arrests and summons in 2020, according to an analysis of NOLA.com.

Louisiana Progress, a progressive group promoting elimination of marijuana and other policy issues, welcomed Chambers for its ad but noted one limitation.

Peter Robins-Brown, executive director of Progress Louisiana. But one downside to the reaction to the video, says Robins-Brown, is that many viewers “get caught up in what he’s doing and they don’t hear what he’s saying.”

However, Chambers is calling for drastic cannabis reform, including statewide disarming of marijuana, clearing records of individuals incarcerated for the drug, and investing in cannabis growers. black. Chambers cites the case of Kevin Allen, a Black Louisiana man who was serving a life sentence for selling $20 marijuana to a childhood friend.

“It’s not fair, and there’s something we can do about it,” Chambers said. “We have the tools and mechanisms to release this man and any other people held in that manner.”

So far, cannabis has only been decriminalized in 27 states and Washington, DC, and is still illegal at the federal level. Chambers said legalizing marijuana at the state and federal levels would reduce these inequalities.

“We will not be content to continue our day… while everyone is having luxury in one part of the country, while others are suffering a penalty for that luxury,” Chambers said. ‘ Chambers said.

In Chambers' viral campaign ad, the candidate bluntly points out that black Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana, despite their use rates. comparable to other racial groups.
In Chambers’ viral campaign ad, the candidate bluntly points out that black Americans are four times more likely to be arrested for marijuana, despite their use rates. comparable to other racial groups.Cedric Angeles for NBC News

‘Call it out’

In another viral advertisement called “Scar and stick,” Released in February, Chambers burned the Confederate flag.

“They say, ‘We take these truths for granted, that all men are created equal.’ But here in Louisiana and throughout the South, Jim Crow never really left,” Chambers said in the ad. “And remnants of the Confederacy remain.”

While the scene where Chambers burned the flag captured the attention of viewers, his message was a summary of the different ways the Confederacy enforced laws to limit or revoke black rights. and communities, from access to voting to enabling high rates of poverty. Fighting racial injustice remains at the core of his campaign.

In the years before launching his campaign, Chambers made headlines for using controversial tactics. Two years ago, this candidate’s social media post went viral after he called a board member for allegedly buying her laptop during a meeting about disqualification. cancel the name of Confederate General Robert E. Lee from a school.

Some things can only be fixed if you call it out,” said Chambers. “Usually we like to pretend things aren’t as bad as they are, and if you just say that people can say, ‘OK, let’s do something about this.’ And that’s what we do. ”

Connie Bernard, a Chambers board member, denied these claims. School has since the name change. Chambers says tactics like these are needed to put pressure on those in power.

“Controversy is often a conduit for change,” says Chambers. “I don’t seek to cause controversy, but I do not run away from controversial issues.”

Carlos A. Pollard, a redistribution member at the Power Coalition for Equity and Justice, an organization that advocates for black voters in Louisiana, said the public is eager for a politician who will. center of community needs.

“Community wants someone who acknowledges community concerns and supports what it means to be, investing in the community year-round,” Pollard said.

Robins-Brown added that the public wants an authentic person.

“There is a general appreciation… for people running for office or in office who can speak a truth that has not been omitted,” said Robins-Brown. “He believes what he is saying. So it’s not just a monumental work of art. “

Image: Gary Chambers in Baton Rouge, La., April 10, 2022.
“The community wants someone who will acknowledge the concerns of the community and support people to invest in the community year-round that makes sense like this,” said Carlos A. Pollard of the Power Coalition for Equality and Justice. how.Cedric Angeles for NBC News

This is Chambers’ third time running for public office. He unsuccessfully bid for a seat in the Louisiana Senate in 2019 and the state’s House of Representatives last year.

Javin Fulson, of the Young Republican Forces Greater Baton Rouge, noted Chambers’ previous losses as an indication of his ability to secure a larger base.

“The fact that I watched him lose a very heavy Democratic race – it shows me that his policies and agenda are so radical for even the the voters he’s trying to appeal to,” Fulson said.

Fulson said he considers Chambers’ ads distracting.

“It takes away the potential to be able to work with the other side,” says Fulson, adding that one challenge a candidate faces is that “he has a lot of priorities… that he wants to push, but really show voters what it’s like. will get the job done and not just make empty promises, as we’ve seen in the past. ”

For Chambers, this election victory was more than a victory for him. He saw it as a victory over the obstacles that had kept the Negroes in their status quo.

Image: Gary Chambers with his daughter Zoey in Baton Rouge, La., April 10, 2022.
Chambers with her daughter, Zoey in Baton Rouge, La., on April 10.Cedric Angeles for NBC News

“There will be some redemption in that moment not just for me, but for all of the thousands, if not millions, of blacks who have lived in this state over the years,” Chambers said. . “Excellent and talented enough to have served in the United States Senate, racism and bigotry have prevented them from having the opportunity they have today.

“I think about what it will mean in that moment for all of those people, rather than what it will mean for myself.”

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