Activist Larry Hamm assessed his U.S. Senate campaign on Election Day in a conversation with InsiderNJ. The founder of the People’s Organization for Progress (POP) and a lifelong activist on progressive issues, Hamm was serving in his official capacity as chairman of the Bernie Sanders Presidential Campaign in New Jersey when he announced his U.S. Senate Candidacy.
Win or lose, what did he prove?
“Several things,” said Hamm. “First, the campaign showed that there are people who want new leadership. Second, the campaigned contributed to the effort to build unity among the progressive wing of the Democratic Party. Third, it helped to demonstrate that there is a progressive section of the electorate that wants and is ready for institutional and systemic change. Fourth, it helped to reveal our resilience. We were able to keep gong even after Bernie suspended his campaign.”
But even more, the collision of the COVID-19 crisis and the police killing of George Floyd galvanized populist elder statesman Hamm, who has fought police brutality since the Newark troubles of 1967, and is a tireless, wilderness advocate for singlepayer healthcare and workers’ rights. At a national point of inflection, Hamm led a march in Newark that will stand as a testament to a movement, a movement he has been part of from the beginning, even when the campaign is over, or especially, as the leader considers a world awakened to what he already saw and lived and vitally, consistently labored for, often in lonely dislocation, sometimes when only a few people found the time.
At the epicenter of the aftermath of George Floyd’s death, POP and Hamm staged the state’s first, largest and most important rally to show solidarity with the victim. The result was a peaceful, powerful and enormously well-attended demonstration that grounded protesters within the lived experience of the Newark struggle – the core of Hamm’s politics.
“This is a perennial issue: nonviolent versus violent,” Hamm told InsiderNJ at the time. “I don’t like hurricanes. I don’t like tornadoes. I can’t control a hurricane. I can’t predict when it’s going to come. I’m not going to condemn people in other places who are doing things differently. I’m not going to condemn rioters, but that’s not what I want to do. That’s not where I’m at, because I want to influence events in my area and the direction we think we should go. The conditions are different from place to place.”
In taking on U.S. Senator Cory Booker (D-NJ) in the Democratic Primary, Hamm sought a platform to drive the justice issues where he staked his life, which the Sanders Campaign echoed at the national level: universal healthcare, reparations, a living wage, law enforcement and criminal justice reform, and vastly expanded educational access.
Throughout the cycle, the always in motion, yellow-t-shirted champion of the underdog, an old track man who celebrates his birthday every year by getting on the track, running from protest to protest for George Floyd on the heels of Newark, never in an unrelenting lifetime looked more determined, a man with something to prove.
“The Covid-19 crisis and subsequent lockdown had a profound impact on the campaign,” Hamm said. “One of the main purposes of a political campaign is to bring the candidate into contact with as many people as possible. The coronavirus emergency prevented person to person contact through campaign rallies, meetings, and other activities. We couldn’t have them and this severely limited the campaign. We had to move our campaign activities online. While this was helpful it was no substitute for traditional campaign activities.
“The murder of George Floyd forced us to do double-time,” the candidate added. “We had to run a campaign and organize activities to protest police brutality. It was difficult but we had no choice.”
As for his immediate plans on the other side of the election, he has a march and rally scheduled – to commemorate the 1967 Newark rebellion.