Article by: Jonah Schweitzer
Ian Schlakman’s focus seems to be local. His approaches to both politics, and to activism are aimed at making substantial changes, on a small scale. Ironically, he’s currently campaigning to be president of the United States.
Ian Schlakman is seeking the Green Party’s nomination to be their presidential candidate. He’s a portly man whose face is frequently covered in stubble. Schlakman is 34 years old now, and won’t be old enough to be eligible for the office until 2020 has nearly begun.
The Green Party is a left-wing third party. Last year, they were removed from the Maryland ballot, because they failed to get enough votes. To continue being recognized, the state requires that third parties win 1% of the vote in key elections. Schlakman attempted, unsuccessfully, to reach this benchmark in 2018 with a gubernatorial campaign.
As Schlakman sat in a coffee shop at Goucher College, he explained that he, “[doesn’t] think anyone that’s running for the Green Party should be telling you that they have a chance of winning the presidency.” Instead of putting energy towards getting Shlakman elected, his campaign is aimed at revitalizing the party itself. He explained that one of his key points of focus is shedding light on Green Party candidates running in local elections.
He says that if these, “down ticket candidates”, can begin to win local elections it will be an essential step in tangibly improving constituent’s lives.
Schlakman began to detail the topics he sees as primary concerns. Chief among them seemed to be public housing in Baltimore. As he talked about the subject, he became animated. He spoke, at length, about the ways in which he feels tenets are being mistreated. Sticking true to his grassroots ideology, when Schlakman saw this, he became personally involved.
Schlakman does extensive work with a public housing project in Southeast Baltimore called Douglass Homes. Recently, at a ceremony held by their Residential Advisory Board, he was presented with an award for helping to, “improve the quality of life of community residents.”
Speaking about the event, Schlakman remarked, “It’s a different world than what you’re used to at an awards dinner.” The ceremony was an informal affair, held at the home, and advertised with a few blue and white balloons hung outside. Next to these, a paper sign was taped precariously to the wall. Printed on the sign were instructions directing prospective attendees upstairs. Everyone present was dressed in casual clothes, except for Schlakman, who wore a suit. As people sat waiting for the event to begin, Schlakman walked around greeting them with handshakes and hugs. He passed around a petition aimed at putting the Green Party back on the ballot for the 2020 elections.
The ceremony was hosted by President of Douglass Homes’ Residential Advisory Board, and Schlakman’s 2018 running mate Reverend Annie Chambers.
Rev. Chambers is an elderly wheelchair-bound woman who, in years past, was a member of the Black Panthers, and staged sit-ins with the National Welfare Rights Organization. She spoke about Schlakman with nothing but glowing praise, referring to him as her godson, and detailing the work he’d done with Douglass Homes.
According to Rev. Chambers, much of Schlakman’s work was focused on fighting to get the housing project a proper representative voice, but he had also done a lot to help people individually. She spoke about times when Schlakman had stepped in to assist tenants who were unable to pay for rent or food, and about how he had personally helped to unload trucks coming in from the Food Pantry.
When Schlakman spoke about Rev. Chambers, it is immediately became clear that the respect she has for him is reciprocated, and multiplied tenfold. Back in the coffeeshop, once he began to talk about her, he had a difficult time stopping. He told story, after story, about her work with various left-wing groups.
The Green Party’s economic platform is decidedly left of center, although the word Socialist rarely appears in their campaigning. So, Schlakman’s wholehearted embrace of the moniker is unusual. If one checks his campaign page, they will immediately be greeted with a map of the United States with a banner running across it. Boldly written on the banner are the words, “Socialist” and “Green Party.” Below this map, text reads, “Proudly Socialist & Anti-Imperialist.”
A self described, “Socialist since middle school.” Schlakman has always, politically, been on the left. One reason he cited for this was religion. Schlakman talked about his catholic upbringing, and explained that his politics are partly based on emulating stories about Jesus’ feeding the poor and helping the disenfranchised.
When Schlakman spoke about growing up, his stories were largely colored by the idea of being cramped. He grew up in Rhode Island in what he described as a, ”very crowded very congested suburb called Smithtown.” He talked about going to highschool, and being, “one in a class of literally a thousand kids.” The pattern persisted as he moved on to. Stony Brook University, which he described saying,”[it was] another really big institution […] frankly too large.”
Schlakman dropped out of Stony Brooks before he could earn a degree in political science. He then began to pursue a career in computer security. Currently, Schlakman owns an I.T. consulting company with his wife. She runs the day to day operations of the business while he’s on the campaign trail.
If Schlakman gets the party nomination he will be campaigning nationally, but his focus remains local. This is evidenced by the work he does person to person at Douglass Homes. It is also apparent in his campaign’s efforts to spread awareness for Green Party candidates campaigning for offices lacking any national reach.
Photo Credit: Walker, Brandon