Meet George Martinez, Occupy’s Rapping Brooklynite Congressional Candidate

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Photo: Courtesy of The Sparrow Project

With Occupy Wall Street's once ubiquitous physical presence decimated, the movement's attempts to start anew have sputtered. "Burned out, out of money, out of ideas," lamented Adbusters this week. A Harvard social scientist blamed " a failure to engage in tactical innovation," noting, "Eight months in, the Tea Party were beginning to impact primary elections, and by the second year were having a tremendous impact." But while OWS has generally shunned electoral politics, considering the system flush with corporate cash and beyond repair for now, Brooklyn's George Martinez, a cultural ambassador for the State Department, former district leader, and self-described "hip-hop diplomat," is giving it a real go, running under the Occupy banner for a seat in Congress. He promised Daily Intel: "We are absolutely in this to win this."

That's probably a bit of an oversell. But the 38-year-old, who also works as an adjunct political science professor at Pace University, really has been spending every day "street canvasing, flyering, and postering" across the new 7th congressional district around Sunset Park to prep for the June 26 Democratic primary. After at least one would-be candidate's false start, Martinez claims to be the first Occupy-affiliated candidate to make a congressional ballot without third party assistance, on a budget of just $5,000.

He faces an uphill climb, battling two other Democrats in an attempt to unseat Rep. Nydia Velazquez, who has represented the area since 1993. But even if the candidate's optimism isn't justified, he says it could provide a model for Occupy's survival. "The real framework is that we're building a do-it-yourself democracy model, crowd-funded, the best we can," Martinez said on the phone while campaigning on his local streets. "Why should we just stick to mobilizing when, in fact, we can replace the people we're marching against with an organized direct electoral strategy?" He's calling the campaign Bum Rush the Vote.

Martinez said he first visited Zuccotti Park on September 19, the third day of the protests, after returning from a State Department trip to Colombia. He was so inspired that he made a rap video about the movement with his wife (sequels have followed). "Hip-hop started by people getting together in a park — the connection to Occupy is obvious," he explained. "I started off as a b-boy and quickly evolved to an MC 25 years ago. I made the Unsigned Hype column in The Source back in 1996."

Since Zuccotti, Martinez said, "we've organized our campaign in a fundamentally different way. It's volunteers and small donors across the board — we are not taking any corporate money. Like in the park, we're asking people to bring their individual talents to create this tapestry."

Mid-sentence, Martinez was interrupted by a yelling passerby. "Go vote — June 26!" he shouted back. "A young person just said he saw me on TV, and that his family supports me," Martinez explained, returning to our call. "It's awesome."