Meet the Real Social Justice Candidates: A Chat with the Green Party Ticket
By Alex Kane
DENVER, CO—Although the corporate media is transfixed on the spectacle of a convention centered on a candidate that promises “hope” and “change,” a real agenda for social justice was being pushed forward Aug. 25 just blocks away from Pepsi Center at the Mercury Café on California Street.
Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney was joined by her vice-presidential running mate Rosa Clemente, along with antiwar activist and now congressional candidate Cindy Sheehan, in speeches centering on the candidates’ personal journeys to this point and the radical changes the Green Party is pushing for this election season.
Around 65 supporters of the McKinney ticket gathered in the upstairs room at the Mercury Café, with local Green Party candidates from Colorado, like U.S. Senate candidate Bob Kinsey, who was on hand to briefly speak and introduce the national ticket for the presidency.
McKinney captured the Green Party presidential nomination in July at their convention in Chicago, by securing 313 delegate votes out of a total 541. McKinney and Clemente are making history as the first all women-of-color presidential ticket.
“I endorse Cynthia and I will vote for Cynthia because she is into party building,” says Sheehan, who is currently running against Speaker of the U.S. House Nancy Pelosi in California. “She is into making this party a party that looks like America, and talks like America, and represents America.”
Sheehan, who became a symbol of the antiwar movement in 2005 when she camped outside of President Bush’s Crawford, Tex., ranch, is running against a candidate who has taken the impeachment of the president “off the table.”
After McKinney concluded her remarks, I got a chance to sit down with her and Rosa Clemente, in two separate interviews. We talked about their domestic and foreign policy plans, what they would do if they got into office, the Democrats and Obama, and the idea of a so-called “post-racial” society.
INTERVIEW WITH CYNTHIA MCKINNEY
Alex Kane: Talk about the main issues your campaign is focusing on.
Cynthia McKinney: Well, of course, war is a big issue. War and occupation, the budget priorities of our country, the drug war, the prison-industrial complex, prisons-for-profit, U.S. militarism, lack of true democracy, a tainted democracy in this country. We don’t even have election integrity. And so we’ve got such a huge multiplicity of issues because there are so many great failings of the system at this present time.
AK: Have you had ballot access issues?
CM: We have ballot access issues all over the country because the system is rigged. But that doesn’t stop us. So in some states we have full access, and in other states we have no access at all. But we’ve got to continue with this, to kick-start a movement, and to create an opposition party for this country, because right now, this country doesn’t have one. The Green Party is that opposition party.
AK: You talked about war being one of the most important issues that your campaign is talking about. Talk about, if you were President, what you would about Iraq, Afghanistan, all of the foreign policy messes we’ve gotten in.
CM: That’s easy. I would bring our young men and women home. Not just from Iraq and Afghanistan, but the over 100 countries in which U.S. troops are stationed. We would rename the State Dept. the Dept. of Peace, and we would embark upon a whole new United States, creating that new United States that we know is possible. When they voted in 1960 for John Kennedy, and ushered in Camelot. When they listened to Bobby Kennedy, and they saw him go to Appalachia, and they saw him go to the Mississippi Delta, they saw him even go to apartheid South Africa, and said, “we’ve got to change the way we do things in this country.” That was taken away from us … But we could kick-start this movement.
AK: And what do you think are the most important domestic priorities? If you got elected, what would you do?
CM: Domestic priorities. Of course, the way we spend our money, what our budget priorities are. [Our priorities] ought to be a single-payer healthcare system, repeal of the Patriot Act, protecting civil liberties of our Constitution, roll back the Patriot Act … all of that. The funding for the war on terror, that also had some losses for civil liberties.
INTERVIEW WITH ROSA CLEMENTE
AK: How does it feel, at 36, to be part of a historic ticket for the Green Party?
Rosa Clemente: It feels phenomenal, you know. It felt great the first day, it felt great during the nomination, and it’s a good thing, it’s amazing. It’s history. Like how many people are ever on the ballot in the United States of America for any type of office? The support from my generation, and documentary filmmakers, and obviously independent media. You know, I was in the Battle of Seattle for the World Trade Organization. I was there when I saw the first Indymedia go up. I’ve reported for Indymedia. I’m part of the Pacifica family. I know Jeremy Scahill, and it’s amazing to see Indymedia everywhere I go. And that’s testament to that struggle too, so it’s beautiful.
AK: What do you think your and Cynthia’s candidacy means to the hip-hop community, and communities of color in general?
RC: You know, I go by what people tell me. And pretty much, you know, the support is overwhelmingly good. Obviously there are people who are angry, people who are more emotional around Obama and wonder why. Why now? It’s not because he’s running, it’s because it’s the right thing to do. So, you know, I try to like take in all the positive stuff. There’s a lot of negativity too. In hip-hop, we would say that’s hating. But I also think it’s not hating as much as it is people who are so distraught in this country. They can’t imagine McCain. [They say] Obama is a thousand-times better. It’s almost like when a woman gets beat, and then her husband doesn’t beat her every day. He only beats her once a month. And she sustains that for so many years, and it still breaks her down. I think that’s what is happening now — people think the Democrats will be less of a beat-down. But it’s still a beat-down. Especially for young people, for poor people, for people of color.
AK: What are the main issues that your campaign is trying to focus on?
RC: The Green Party is the first party that is going to take care of the environment. But obviously ending the war in Iraq, and holding George Bush and company accountable after they get out of office. And for me, a livable wage is necessary, the green jobs movement. It’s single payer healthcare system, an end to police brutality, an end to the death penalty. Dealing with the AIDS pandemic in the African-American and Latina heterosexual communities, the prison-industrial complex. I mean, that’s a lot of shit, man.
Outside of the race, our generation, anybody 40 and under, is going to be inheriting all these older white men and white women in power’s problems and issues. And it’s not going to be their kids suffering, it’s going to be us. It’s going to be us with no jobs, no access to higher education, going to school with no books. The police aren’t only beating up black protesters. They’re going to white protesters every day, infiltrating the peace movement, infiltrating Indy-fucking-media. You know, and it has to try to infiltrate Indymedia. Probably, [the police] have some agents working to try to destroy Indymedia. That’s all the things I would deal with. And it’s not even an exhaustive list, you know. It’s something that I know if our generation is given the opportunity to have real social justice, and the real leaders and activists were put up, our whole world would be better in less than a day.
AK: Talk about your view of the Democrats, their role within corporate-dominated politics, and more specifically, the Obama-Biden campaign.
RC: Well, I mean right there, corporate control. That’s the Democrats. On the Biden choice, look, Biden is an East Coast senator, and he’s been in the Senate for, what, thirty-something years. The only thing I can say about that is Obama had to pick someone who knows how to still continue a war. Obama has to pick someone who is more right [wing] on when it comes to Israel. You know, Obama has to pick someone that is still the white man in charge, of the military at the end of the day. So that’s what I think about that choice.
AK: Do you think Obama speaks to issues important to communities of color?
RC: I think he speaks to some issues. I think he’s pretty clear on the prison-industrial complex. He’s clear about the war on drugs. He’s from the South Side of Chicago. But I also think he’s clear that he wants to continue to run the American Empire. And for people around the world, Obama is the new face of imperialism, and just has a black face. I was at the National Conference on Media Reform last year in Tennessee, and Jane Fonda spoke. And this is when Hillary had already declared she was going to run. And she said, “I’m not going to be voting for Hillary Clinton. I won’t vote for a woman who would be the extension of patriarchy.” And I said, that’s deep, right. How could a woman be patriarchal? If you decide to obtain, and then uphold, that system.
So, Obama is still representing American imperialism. He just happens to be in a black face, which is more [acceptable] to the majority of colored people all over the world. And I mean colored in the sense of people of color all over the world. So, I think that’s what he represents to me. And that’s not a personal attack … If he represents the Democratic Party, then he’s representing the American Empire.
AK: As a woman of color, you have a unique perspective on the discourse of the so-called “post-racial” society. What are your feelings on that, and what are the effects of talking like that? Is it a dangerous idea?
RC: There’s no such thing as a “post-racial” society in a country that’s founded on slave labor. It’s founded on the killing of indigenous people, and the importation of Africans, and enslaving them for 400 years. Until American can repair by reparations — and not just an apology — to people of African descent there is no “post-racial” anything. And that’s a problem. If people think the minute Obama gets into office that racism is over, that’s some fucking stupid shit. Like, what the hell? The day Obama’s in office all the police are going to stop killing black people? The day Obama’s in office, will black people still not have the highest infant mortality rate in the country?
Of course, Obama can make some choices that people deem as better choices or more progressive, but just because you’re a black man in power doesn’t mean racism ends. I mean, that whole “post-racial” thing, I think that’s an insult to the hip-hop generation. ‘Cuz hip-hop is not “post-racial” nothing. Hip-hop is a space where people can meet, and be multi-racial, but it’s still a space of black and brown voices. It’s a space that white people step into and choose to follow that leadership. There’s nothing post racial about that. That’s a concentrated choice.
AK: Can you tell the story of your DNC experience?
RC: Yeah. I got invited to an event put on by a part of the DNC called, “A New Voice…” And the leader is an actor by the name of Hill Harper. But he’s also written a really good book called, “Letters to My African-American Brothers,” and now, “Letters to my African-American sisters.” And the books are really inspirational, you know, and I think he’s done a lot of good work. I think the thing that happened is that I was definitely in a group that was [pro] Obama, and it’s a Democratic event. The person that put me on the panel probably had some issues that they didn’t want me on. But, what happened was that Hill Harper said he wanted a “new voice” in the Democratic Party. That means listening to other people’s ideas. And I was with M1 of Dead Prez, and everyone knows M1’s not a Democrat or an Obama supporter. But I think that once I began to talk about the platform of the Green Party, in comparison, as I said, there’s no party in America that says social justice except the Green Party. And somebody went up to him and told him to shut me down, and that’s what they did.
And I think that it was so blatantly open and disrespectful, that like I said, I had the Democratic lady from Oregon apologizing. Because, see, there’s a thing where you don’t set somebody up … You don’t do that. Now, if you’re going to do it, it’s not that I was unprepared for it. But the attack was so blatant that I had to make a strong decision. I could go back to my old, I could revert to kind of like, my old-school, hip-hop … do what I do. I also have to be aware that I’m representing the Green Party and that the media and Democratic operatives will take any thing and twist it and make it look like [I am] a crazy women, like what they tried to make Cynthia McKinney look [like], when the police stopped her on Capitol Hill when she was a congresswoman. So, I think part of it was couldn’t react the way I normally do on other panels. You know, and that’s just a level of maturity that comes when you’re getting a little bit older. You got to play this game, and I’m not saying play with people’s lives. But, this may not be the spot to blow up. So what you do is then you blow up in your safe space. And you make sure the video you got is put on YouTube. And that it’s clear that he plays himself. I think it was also disrespect to me as a woman. And I think the women of color particularly felt like, that’s not good. You just don’t do that. It’s kind of like interesting and surreal at the same time. And the emotional part comes ‘cuz you’re like, “I kind of thought this might happen, but I kind of got duped, damn, what do we do?” I think that, it is what it is. And you gotta deal with those moments in the best way that you can.
AK: Some of the local Green Party people in Colorado were talking about dissension within the Green Party about your nomination. Can you explain that?
RC: It’s not dissension with the nomination. What happened is that the Green Party of Colorado did not want us to participate in some events put on by a group called ReCreate ’68. And ReCreate ’68 had activities that some people deemed were violent. And they weren’t. ReCreate ’68 has been doing activities for three days, and on the third day, there has not been one arrest of any participant.
Me and Cynthia are not going to be told where we’re going to speak. For the Green Party to grow, to be, like Cindy [Sheehan] said, representative of America, you’re going to have to get ready for some changes in the Green Party. And just because you may want to be white and liberal, that’s not what the Green Party will look like anymore. And, so, the Green Party of Colorado, some of their leaders made a choice to air their dissatisfaction, which they have the right to do. And they unfortunately made a choice to try to get us off the ballot. And I think that if you’re the Green Party of Colorado, and you’re upset at your leadership, you have every right. Like, come at us. But to actively work to get us off the ballot? That doesn’t hurt just me and Cynthia, that hurts the Green Party of Colorado, and anybody who wants to run as a local congressman, senator. That looks crazy. You want to run for office locally, but you’re trying to get the national leaders off the party.
And I really encourage people, to like, do you see the Democrats pulling that shit, or the Republicans? I don’t think so. Look at the Hillary Clinton thing with Florida and Michigan, they spent two days debating. You had Democrats fighting, crying, “We’re going to count the votes of Florida and Michigan, we’re going to dissent within the ranks.” You know what, the DNC is here now united, even though there’s mad dissension in the ranks. But for the majority of the people, they’re going to unite. That’s why Hillary Clinton will speak here on Tuesday [Aug. 26]. And Bill Clinton is going to, watch, he’s going to pop up and speak. At the end of the day they’re going to unite. So for the Green Parties of Colorado, if you can’t even see that, then I can’t help you. Me and Cynthia are going to go where people want us to go. If it’s about political prisoners, antiwar, immigrant rallies. So what I would say is me and Cynthia are grown, intelligent women, and if we were about violence, and whatever they want to say we’re about, we wouldn’t be in this movement this long.
And I have no problems saying I’m all for revolution, and I’m not going to change that. But I’m not stupid enough to believe we’re at a point in this country where we’re going to have a bloody revolution. You know, that’s not going to happen. But what is going to happen is that there is going to be revolution at a level from our generation that these elders didn’t expect. And that’s what is happening with the Green Party thing. It’s a generational thing; it’s a middle class thing. And some party members that have middle-class, bourgeois, white status, if they’re not ready to deal with that on their own — you know, don’t give up your privilege — use your privilege to make sure that we’re on the ballot.
They’re going to do what they’re going to do, and we’re going to keep doing what we’re doing, and I think that the fact that me and Cynthia are on this and come into this space, and [say] “look, let’s work this out.” We’re still going to come here, and we’re still going to support our local candidates, even if some of them don’t support us, because it’s about the party. It’s not about the individual people.
AK: Thank you very much for talking to me.