In this history-making election season, there is definitely a lot to serve as inspiration. Not only the prospect of change after eight years of George W. Bush in the White House, but it is also quite exciting and encouraging that in 2008, forty years after the death of Martin Luther King, Jr, we have two women of color vying for the presidency on a major party ticket-a ticket that just eight years ago played a vital role in the outcome of the U.S. presidential election. Never before in history have there been a Black man and a Black woman as serious contenders for the presidency of the United States. Never before have two women of color occupied a major party ticket as presidential and vice presidential candidates. Former congresswoman Cynthia McKinney and her running mate, Hip-Hop activist, Rosa Clemente are pioneers in their presidential bid. Ms. McKinney, having served twelve years as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives from the state of Georgia, has one of the most progressive records in Congress. An opponent to the war in Iraq from the start, she was also one of the few members of Congress to call for an investigation of the tragic events of September 11, 2001. She was also one of the first members of Congress to call for the impeachment of George W. Bush.
Ms. McKinney's running mate, Rosa Clemente,is a community organizer and Hip-Hop activist. She is also one of the cofounders of the National Hip-Hop Political Convention. Inaugurated in 2004, the National Hip-Hop Political Convention has helped to bring the Hip-Hop generation into political movement, building progressive grassroots coalitions among American youth around issues of social justice. In the spirit of solidarity, and in an effort to understand the issues behind this historic run, I sought an interview with the Green Party Vice Presidential candidate. After securing a phone interview with Ms. Clemente, this is what transpired.
1. It is quite an exciting time—we have two African-Americans running for the office of the president at the same time-a Black man and a Black woman. We have three women running on important party tickets. What were your reasons for accepting the Green Party nomination for vice president?
I have been a member of the Green Party since 2000. I voted for Ralph Nader and David Cobb in their bids for the presidency. I have also been an organizer for fifteen years. In 2004, I was one of the founders of the National Hip-Hop political Convention, the aims of which was to bring about grassroots organizing around public policy issues and holding elected officials responsible to the people. I have been one of the few women who have been able to bring the Green Party platform into grassroots movement. I was very honored when I was asked to be Cynthia McKinney’s running mate.
2. Considering the historic precedents established in this election season- two serious female candidates for the highest elected office in the land as well as two people of African descent, and two female vice presidential candidates- what would you say is the debt that you, Hillary Clinton, Sarah Palin, and Barack Obama owe to the legacy of Shirley Chisolm and her 1972 bid for the presidency?
She’s the only reason any of us are running for the presidency. I am from Shirley Chisholm’s district in New York and I know her legacy. It is shameful that Hillary Clinton and Barack Obama have not done more to pay homage to that legacy. If it weren’t for her, none of us would be here. Cynthia McKinney mirrors Shirley Chisolm. Mrs. Chisholm was hated during her time. At first she was hated and now she is seen as a historic figure. Cynthia McKinney and I have always invoked the name of Shirley Chisholm in our campaign. We owe a lot not only to her legacy, but also to the movements of the 1960s and 70s— the Black and Brown Power movements, the anti-war movement, and the women’s movement.
3. What are some of the most pressing issues that you will champion in your campaign?
We are calling for an end to the war. Pulling occupying troops out of other countries is a major priority. We are also calling for a guaranteed living wage, free higher education, an end to the death penalty, and an establishment of a Department of Peace. We want to put an end to NAFTA, CAFTA, and the Bush taxcuts. In terms of immigration, we are calling for nothing short of amnesty for all immigrants. Human Rights are a very big part of our agenda. We believe that people have, as basic human rights, a right to affordable housing, food, healthcare, and work. We spend $10 billion a month in Iraq. That money could fund healthcare for all Americans, free education, and building the public infrastructure. The environment is also one of our major priorities. We are definitely interested in building around the movements championed by people like Marjorie Harris Carr and Van Jones.
4. What are your thoughts on the 700 billion dollar bailout that has been passed by congress and signed into law?
Congress just basically spent $750 billion—soon it will be $2 trillion to bail out Wall Street and none of it will go to average Americans in terms of cash or something that will help them stay in their homes or put food on the table. It has nothing to do with bailing out people.
5. In light of the arrests of hundreds of journalists at the Republican National Convention in St. Paul and other recent incidents, how far do you think the United States has moved in the direction of becoming a police state?
Yes, we have become a police state. I was there when Amy Goodman got arrested. I was involved in a separate incident in which officers used tear gas and chemical agents against us. For people of color, of course, we have always lived in a police state. Children of color learn by the time they are five years old to fear the police. So, we people of color have historically lived in a police state in this country. The police in this country are becoming more militarized though. In Minneapolis we had not just the police, but the Secret Service, the National Guard and the CIA. This country is becoming more militarized as well. It was reported in the Army Times that the army has deployed internal troops within U.S. borders to prepare for possible domestic disturbances before or after the election. With the government spending $50 and $80 million dollars on security at the Democratic and Republican conventions, it is clear that we live in a police state.
6. In terms of domestic policy and civil liberties, would you agree that the Patriot Act is virtually a legalization of COINTELPRO?
Absolutely. I worked with the ACLU and got a chance to review a lot of material concerning the Patriot Act and COINTELPRO. In the sense that we now have open spying and infiltration of organizations, it is definitely a legalization of COINTELPRO and very much a change from the 1970s. In the 70s, we fought back. Now, it is accepted. Another major difference between now and the 1960s and 70s is that they haven’t used such tactics as assassinations as they did against the Black Panther Party and other progressive groups.
7. As vice president, what policies would you help implement towards the island of Puerto Rico?
As Vice President, I would absolutely champion Puerto Rico’s right to self determination. I believe in independence for the island. Under the U.N. Charter, colonization is illegal and Puerto Rico remains a colony of the U.S. There has been massive FBI infiltration of the independence movement in Puerto Rico and some of the leaders have been assassinated. Puerto Rico deserves to be decolonized.
Thanks Ms. Clemente, it was a pleasure speaking to you.