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Revolutionary In Name Only

svgOctober 26, 2023EditorialBoom Town Press

Malik Evans and the Systemic Process of Failing Up

This past August, Malik Evans gave a fiery speech lecturing the audience on the racist government policies of yesterday.  The occasion was the unveiling to the public of The Clarissa Uprooted Pythodd Tribute Mural. The project was a collaboration between the Center for Teen Empowerment and the Clarissa Street Reunion Committee.

From the project description: 

“The mural symbolically covers a retaining wall of the I-490 highway, built in the 1970s by NYS Dept. of Transportation.  Just blocks behind this wall Clarissa St. was once a central corridor of the diverse and self-sufficient Third Ward (now known as Corn Hill). The majority Black community thrived here–beginning in the 1800s and booming during the 1930s-60s–before the community was torn down in the name of so-called “urban renewal.”

photo by Boom Town Press

Ironically, as Mayor, Evans is pushing ahead in his budget the Business Improvement District (BID) plan, a program that opponents have dubbed “redlining for the 21st Century.” To accomplish this, Evans operationalized a sinister version of logrolling, typically practiced by Republicans on Capitol Hill, in which a small but oppressive piece of legislation is tied to a larger social program that the community is more desperate for. This tactic deters progressives from opposing the smaller yet dubious piece of legislation. Evans’ proposal hides the BID’S hospitality ambassadors (a.k.a. “red vest” security detail) by connecting it to outreach ambassadors because they have a similar name – as if we won’t notice.  One program sees to the needs of marginalized populations, the other erases their presence from downtown.

photo by Boom Town Press

There was a similar christening event in the spring of 2022 for the mural featuring Malcolm X, Minister Florence and Constance Mitchell. This time Mayor Evans told the story about his dad – Lawrence Lee Evans Sr, joining the FIGHT organization and naming Malik after Malik el-Shabazz (Malcolm X). Unfortunately, our Rochester version is proving time and time again a revolutionary in name only.

As school board President, as city council member Malik drifted further and further away from the radical political tree of his esteemed father. To make up for that distance, Malik references his father frequently, as if spraying a top coat of revolutionary paint over his own neoliberal policies.

Neoliberalism is people and policies that traffic in “freedom” and “self-sufficiency” sloganeering while servicing the capitalist and white supremacist status quo.

ne·o·lib·er·al

/ˌnēōˈlibər(ə)l/

adjective: neo-liberal

  1. favoring policies that promote free-market capitalism, deregulation, and reduction in government spending

Evans as city councilman in 2020, amid a national uprising to Defund the Police, voted for no significant changes in the “Public Safety” budget, and then as Mayor in 2021 pushed through additional “emergency spending” of $1.3 million for 30 brand new chargers, despite councilmembers Martin, Smith, Lupien and Gruber asking for a slowdown and more transparency in the purchasing decision process.[i] Evans is now supporting the Business Improvement District, an economic program that has been shown to concentrate power in the hands of powerful developers, exacerbate racial inequality, and hasten gentrification – precisely what the last generation of activists like Malcolm X, Minister Florence, and Constance Mitchell opposed.[ii]

Just this past week, Rochester Downtown Development Corporation – the quasi-government agency promoting the BID, put on display a SWAT bearcat (a military style, tank-like armored vehicle) at Parcel 5. Children were invited to play on the war-machine in effort to endear the public to the expanding police presence that will come with the Business Improvement District.[iii]

SWAT Bearcat at Parcel 5
photo by Martin Hawk

Mayor Evans’ credentials, first as a banker for M&T and ESL, then from his long tenure on the RCSD school board and brief stint on City Council, to his ascension to Mayor of Rochester, have proven anything but radical. We wait with bated breath to see the supposed ‘sleeper cell’ of the revolution, the prodigal/radical son of the actual radical Mr. Evans, emerge.

Why should people believe any politician who spent their political career incubating in electoral politics? This is a germination process spent on second floors or above offices shaking hands with the financial and political elite[iv], rather than down on the streets. This process can only manufacture lackluster lungs for justice.

Just as the older generations find fault with the youth today for not developing themselves in the real world – outside of their social media bubbles, why should we trust “public servants” who spend their entire adult lives within the bubble of establishment politics? In Malik, Rochester elevates a technocrat who sprinkles radical dust and token identity politics on the same-old incremental approach.

Rather than diverting millions from police/incarceration funding to programs of social uplift, this mayor contributes a couple thousand for mural paint to artwash his repressive master plan. This is what Revolutionary branding looks like, a part politics mostly PR profession of diluting the real demands of the people. Evans has transformed himself, or more accurately – the system has transformed him, into the quintessential poster boy for elite capture. Evans’ tenure provides a perfect case study in THE SYSTEMIC PROCESS OF FAILING UP.

From Olúfẹ́mi O. Táíwò author of Elite Capture: How the Powerful Took Over Identity Politics (And Everything Else):

“Elites do often make the environment worse and block solutions, but to blame the problem of elite capture entirely on their moral successes and failures is to confuse effect for cause. The true problem lies in the system itself, the built environment and rules of interaction that produced the elites in the first place.”

The white supremacist and capitalist system is NOT redeemable, and politicians that largely serve to protect the status quo are part of the problem. Shortly before his death, Malcolm X spoke at Corn Hill Methodist Church in Rochester and this is what he said about the landlords, merchants, and politicians:

Instead of the sociologists analyzing it as it actually is, trying to understand it as it actually is, again they cover up the real issue, and they use the press to make it appear that these people are thieves, hoodlums. No! They are the victims of organized thievery, organized landlords who are nothing but thieves, merchants who are nothing but thieves, politicians who sit in the city hall and who are nothing but thieves in cahoots with the landlords and the merchants.

-Malcolm X speech at Corn Hill Methodist Church in Rochester, NY[v]

So look up and actually listen to the political heroes of yesterday Malik, because they are calling you out! The same trifecta of thieves drive your economic program today. Hopefully it is not too late for you to change course and one day be worthy of a wall painted by Ephraim Gebre.


[i] Rochester City Council Meeting, May 10 https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MPeNmUNJQIE&t=2181s

[ii] https://www.nobidroc.com/about-bids/

[iii] https://www.teenvogue.com/story/business-improvement-districts-policing

[iv] https://www.minorityreporter.net/post/how-can-malik-evans-assert-with-a-straight-face-that-the-state-of-the-city-is-healthy-and-strong

[v] https://www.mixcloud.com/boomtownpress/malcolm-x-1965-rochester-speech/

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