Wali "Diop" Rahman: Radical, Resolute & Running for Mayor

By Michael Alan Goldberg
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 20 | Posted Oct. 26, 2011

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There have been some roadblocks. Last month, a Philadelphia judge ruled that the name Wali Rahman must appear on the ballot, not Diop Olugbala, since Olugbala never legally changed his name. Olugbala appealed the decision, arguing that voters on the streets know him as Diop via his activism as president of the Philly chapter of the International People’s Democratic Uhuru Movement (InPDUM). But it didn’t work. The campaign scrambled to change its literature to read “Wali ‘Diop’ Rahman,” while Olugbala blasted the decision in a hastily assembled news conference in front of City Hall, flanked by two supporters with duct tape bearing the words “Free” and “Speech” over their mouths.

And earlier this month, Fox29 barred Olugbala from participating in the Oct. 7 televised mayoral debate between Nutter and Brown (taped on Oct. 4). A few days before the taping, Olugbala and a half-dozen supporters went to the station’s Market Street studios to protest and unsuccessfully deliver a letter demanding inclusion.

In the bigger picture, though, the odds of Olugbala actually taking Nutter down appear slim. He’s unknown to much of the electorate. He’s never held elected office before; he’s never even run for anything. His campaign has virtually no money. He won’t tone down his fiery message, or play the glad-handing game expected of most campaigning politicians.

Still, Olugbala likes his chances. To him, Nutter’s a vulnerable mayor with failed policies and an angry constituency—a Pew public-opinion poll issued earlier this year found, for example, that 47 percent of the city’s black population disapprove of the mayor’s job performance, compared with 42 percent who approve. Olugbala sees a mayor who barely seems to be campaigning. He thinks Nutter assumes re-election is a mere formality.

“It’s arrogant,” says Olugbala. “The people of Philadelphia want a change. They hate Nutter, and they don’t know Karen Brown from a can of paint.”

Olugbala insists the people on the street know who he is, though, and that they take him seriously. “I can win this [election],” says Olugbala. “Don’t get it twisted. This is not symbolic. There’s a lot of people out there who support me.”

Tall, athletic and self-assured, he’s certainly a compelling presence. Though prone to the occasional grin, Olugbala mostly comes across solemn, contemplative and highly focused. When he gets on a roll, his resonant voice takes on the cadence and inflection of a practiced orator. It’s Malcolm X-like, although he says he’s his own man and that he’s trying to put policies before personality.

“I want to win the people not by dressing or talking a certain way or shooting a jump shot, as Obama has done, or as Michael Nutter has attempted to do by rapping ‘Rapper’s Delight’ in certain nightclubs,” says Olugbala. “It’s not about me; I want the working people to recognize that their interests are in my program.”

He’s confident they will.

“I would not run if I didn’t think I had a legitimate chance at becoming mayor of Philadelphia,” Olugbala says.

As determined as he is to lead the city, Olugbala’s lived here only since 2007. But he insists he understands the dynamics of Philadelphia, and says his whole life has led him to this moment.

Born in Brooklyn, Olugbala lived a nomadic childhood. His father was in the Army and the family moved from state to state and base to base before finally settling down in El Paso, Texas. Numerous forces shaped his politics and worldview: His parents, both one-time members of the Nation of Islam, taught him about Malcolm X and the Black Panthers; so did the lyrics of rap groups Public Enemy and Boogie Down Productions.

Watching news of the 1985 MOVE bombing in West Philly, which infuriated Olugbala’s parents, and the Rodney King beating and subsequent L.A. riots had a major impact, too.

“Black youth, no matter where we were in the country, could identify with what we saw in Rodney King—the hostile relationship the system has with us,” he says.

The family was living a fairly comfortable, middle-class existence. But when Olugbala was in his mid-teens, his father was arrested and jailed for theft—Olugbala insists he was innocent—and dishonorably discharged from the Army. When he got out of jail a few months later, he split, plunging Olugbala, his mother and two sisters into a life of poverty. Realizing his family’s struggle to obtain social services, as well as the same hardships going on in the local Mexican community, Olugbala says he “really started to understand what it means to be a black or Latino man in society. The ... problems in the black community come from a separation from resources.”

A good student before the family upheaval, Olugbala says he developed a rebel streak and struggled to finish high school. “When you’re stressing about how you’re gonna eat, school doesn’t seem that important,” he says. He considered following some of his friends into the Army, but at his mother’s urging he enrolled at the University of Texas in Austin under an affirmative action program. A couple years prior, four white students who had been denied admission to the University of Texas law school sued the college for reverse discrimination. In 1996, Olugbala’s freshman year, a federal judge ruled in the students’ favor, banning the school from using race as a factor in admissions.

Incensed, Olugbala joined the campus Anti-Racist Organizing Committee and participated in marches and demonstrations—at one point joining in an occupation of the Tower administration building for a few days—but to no avail (the decision was eventually overturned by the U.S. Supreme Court in 2003).

“That was more or less my introduction to activism,” Olugbala says while sitting at a table outside Atiya Ola’s Spirit First Foods in West Philly. “It was a real teaching moment for me. It told me that the government works in the interest of the white community at the expense of the black community.”

After graduating with a degree in linguistics (and African-American Studies), Olugbala moved back to Brooklyn and got a job as a union organizer with the Union of Needletrades, Industrial, and Textile Workers (U.N.I.T.E.). “Reading about socialism and Marxism, I wanted to contribute to putting power in the hands of working people,” he says. For two years, he traveled around the country organizing union shops. And then he came in contact with the Uhuru movement, which is headquartered in St. Petersburg, Fla.

Uhuru effectively launched in 1972 when black radical activist Omali Yeshitela founded the African People’s Socialist Party. Over the past four decades, Uhuru has denounced capitalism, white imperialism, widespread police brutality against the black community, and the exploitation of black workers. They’ve railed against “neo-colonialist” leaders like Barack Obama and, yes, Michael Nutter, who they accuse of confusing people of color into voting for them when they actually serve white interests. They’ve demanded slavery reparations and the right to community controlled schools and social services in the name of black self-determination. They’ve called for the immediate release of Mumia Abu-Jamal. And they’ve made headlines around the country for leading demonstrations against police shootings of black men by white cops, calling the incidents “murders” or “assassinations.” To their followers, the cause is nothing but righteous. To their critics, they’re little more than a hate group. “That’s how [critics] try to pigeonhole you when your views challenge the status quo and the interests of those in power,” says Olugbala.

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Comments 1 - 20 of 20
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1. cn2004 said... on Oct 26, 2011 at 12:29PM

“If making excuses was a profession, this idiot would be Bill Gates.”

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2. LimpWristedLiberal215 said... on Oct 26, 2011 at 12:52PM

“Pathetic. This lame-o needs to grow up and stop making excuses and stop acting like a thug. He complains about me me me, us us us. totally self-concerned phoney. 4 kids and he's on welfare and gets food stamps. GET A JOB, YA' BUM!”

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3. Elisha Lowe said... on Oct 26, 2011 at 02:00PM

“Geez Mr. Rahman/Olugbala please take it down a notch. You need to be relatable to all Philadelphians or at least a majority to win an election. That whole angry/ mean mugging thing will definitely take away from your message (which sounds like it needs fine tuning).”

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4. Anonymous said... on Oct 26, 2011 at 02:30PM

“Nutter isn't anti-black or anti-Latino. He is anti-bum. Get jobs, speak like intelligent beings, stop getting together in groups and beating up innocent people, etc. The youth shouldn't be roaming the streets at all hours of the night. When I was growing up my parents knew where I was and what I was doing and sure never included mobs of any kind. Today, I am a respectable adult and productive member of society. This isn't a race issue and it's a bit tiring to hear the race card pulled constantly. Get over it. Act respectable and you'll be respected.”

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5. jake said... on Oct 26, 2011 at 05:50PM

“hahaha! the drug dealers and violent criminals can't wait to vote for this clown!”

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6. antoine said... on Oct 26, 2011 at 06:06PM

“he wasn't arrested for holding up a sign. he was arrested because he was asked to sit down and when they tried to remove him, he resisted. You can't go into city hall and disrupt the court rooms and stand up and block other people's views. you have to be civil or you won't be treated with civility or respect. here is the full clip.

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7. Anonymous said... on Oct 27, 2011 at 10:27AM

“Why do I feel like this guy is going to try to run up to my car and sell me a pie?”

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8. Anonymous said... on Oct 27, 2011 at 10:52AM

“These stats about stop and frisk are just plain wrong, and the journalists have an obligation to go and find the truth. Stop and frisk has been instrumental in making my neighborhoods possible to live in and raise a family. SWCC was a drug-infested hole with a lot of potential that the black community here never tapped for the most part. There were a few black renovators, but not that many, and they were definitely not the norm.

The norm was drugs, living on welfare, in public housing or subsidized housing, and just living for today. No one expected anything of the black community. Democrats just threw money at the community with "economic development" and "housing" funds that no one really knows where it all went.

If stop and frisk only got guys carrying in 1 in 10 stops because they store the drugs and don't carry, or get kids to hold for them, then that is still a success.

Diop/Rahman types are just drug trade stooges, the largest Philly employer.”

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9. Wendy said... on Oct 27, 2011 at 11:57AM

“Diop Olugbala has the necessary leadership skills to transform Philadelphia into a city of opportunity for all people. As a white person, I understand the power and benefit I receive by virtue of the color of my skin. I understand that there is a wealth gap of 20 to 1 between whites and Blacks. I unite with his plan to dismantle a brutal police force and focus on economic development; we ALL benefit from this!

The ignorant comments in response to article confirm even more deeply the need for REAL leadership and REAL change! My vote is for Diop for mayor!”

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10. Joe said... on Oct 27, 2011 at 01:46PM

“He's got a really nice website, anyway. http://www.diop2011.com/”

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11. Frank Dios said... on Oct 27, 2011 at 02:24PM

“Nice try, Wendy. Why don't you come live in da' hood for a few months and then tell me you want the police force cut. This clown doesn't work, gets free food, free room and board while he has 4 kids and he's crying about not getting justice. He wouldn't have lasted a day in 1950s America. He's soft, ignorant and foolish.”

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12. Natasha said... on Oct 27, 2011 at 06:04PM

“I am proud to see Wali "Diop" Rahman running for Mayor of Philadelphia. He is what is needed for the young and old generations, real solutions and real change. Diop has my vote and many other votes from the North Philadelphia community!!”

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13. Ben Fan said... on Oct 27, 2011 at 06:48PM

“I love articles about men like this. Makes me feel so glad that I, unlike this clown, is a contributing member of society. Wali needs a serious reality check as to what is owed to him and his community.”

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14. Anonymous said... on Oct 28, 2011 at 08:56AM

“Thank you Wendy for speaking the truth! To the vast majority of commentators to this article, you all demonstrate EXACTLY what the Brother is talking about as being problematic with the Nutter camp in his[their] depiction of the Voices in the Margins
"...black, mistreated, misunderstood, mischaracterized."

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15. Jay Gaultieri said... on Nov 1, 2011 at 01:33PM

“This kind of Black rage might mean something if it was about the ghetto becoming an economically self-sustaining area, but at the end of the day Rahman is just fronting the same solutions that the poverty pimps and the squishy liberals have for decades: More taxpayer money meant to sustain an ethnically monochromatic hellhole of poverty, crime, and hopelessness.”

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16. Rosemary Reeves said... on Nov 7, 2011 at 12:21PM

“This is not black rage. This candidate is using logical statements, like if you encourage black-owned businesses, it will improve the economy for all races. Also, putting more police on the streets only makes the jails full, which the tax payer suffers for, because it is expensive to keep people in jail. Fix the economic disparity and there will be less crime. That's all he's saying. Look past the dreadlocks and tattoos and really listen, because few of you seem to be listening.”

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17. Anonymous said... on Nov 8, 2011 at 05:54PM

“Vote for Diop! Diop for Mayor!”

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18. Anonymous said... on Nov 24, 2011 at 11:16AM

“4% of the vote for that con artist is too much. Ask him what he does with the million dollars a year Uhuru reports as income.”

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19. Kali said... on Dec 8, 2011 at 08:55PM

“YES!!!!!!! He actually had some good points...if they're just "stop and frisk"? without arrests, thats just harrassment, plain and simple. C'mon and get real...the police are friggin crazy...thats why crooked cop stories make the best movies. Anyhoo, everyone commenting seemed pretty old so ill make the first 21st century girl vote as a YES, if you can hold your own in an interview like that and not look or sound dumb or ignorant, with sensible policies that apply to everyday people, i admire that.”

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20. sid said... on Aug 19, 2012 at 08:20AM

“Someone's gotta stand up for the oppressed. This young man is a revolutionary and this f...g country needs a revolution, like right now.”


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