First All-Women-of-Color Presidential Ticket in US History: Green Party Nominee Cynthia McKinney and Running Mate Rosa Clemente on War, Democracy and Hip Hop
Democracy Now!, July 21, 2008
The Green Party made history last week when it nominated the first all-women-of-color presidential ticket in US history. Former Democratic Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, who was the first African American woman elected to Congress in Georgia, won the Green Party’s nomination last Monday. She named longtime community organizer, journalist and former director of the Hip Hop Caucus, Rosa Clemente, as her running mate earlier this month. They both join us for a wide-ranging discussion on the 2008 race, the media, the impact of the hip hop generation and more. [includes rush transcript]
Cynthia McKinney, Green Party presidential nominee. Former Democratic Congresswoman from Georgia.
Rosa Clemente, Green Party vice-presidential nominee. Former director of Hip Hop Caucus and longtime activist and journalist.
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: Because the corporate lobbyists can come and go at will, our values get overridden and our representatives give us something else. That’s how we end up with everyone saying they’re against the war and occupation, but war and occupation still gets funding. That’s how we end up with everyone saying they’re against illegal spying on innocent people, yet end up with a telecom immunity bill being signed into law.
AMY GOODMAN: The Green Party made history last week when it nominated the first all-women-of-color presidential ticket in US history. Former Democratic Congress member Cynthia McKinney, the first African American woman elected to Congress in Georgia, won the Green Party’s nomination last Monday. She named longtime community organizer, journalist and former director of the Hip Hop Caucus, Rosa Clemente, as her running mate.
McKinney is among the most outspoken critics of the Bush administration, and one of her last measures as a Democratic Congress member was to introduce a bill calling for the impeachment of President Bush and Vice President Dick Cheney. But McKinney left the Democratic Party late last year, after serving six terms in Congress under both the Clinton and present Bush administrations. She said the Democrats had become “no different than their Republican counterparts.” She announced her bid for the presidency as a Green candidate earlier this year.
We’re joined now by Green Party presidential and vice-presidential candidates. Cynthia McKinney joins us from Washington, D.C. Rosa Clemente joins us from Charlotte, North Carolina. We welcome you both to Democracy Now!
Cynthia McKinney, let’s begin with you in Washington, D.C. If you were elected president, what would be your first act?
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: Of course, the first act would be to assemble a team in the Pentagon that believed in peace and the efficacy of diplomacy. And therefore, we would make sure that we put together an orderly withdrawal, but immediate withdrawal, of all of our young men and women, not just from Iraq and Afghanistan, but from the more than 100 countries around the world in which our soldiers are stationed.
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you make of Senator Obama’s trip right now to Iraq and to Afghanistan, where he said the real war on terror was diverted?
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: I think it’s important that any presidential candidate have the opportunity to do these kinds of fact-finding missions. But, of course, one’s lifelong activities ought to be preparation for running the most powerful country on the planet.
I would just like to say something about your headlines, your opening headlines. Amy, I came into this room this morning full of hope and enthusiasm for the fact that the Green Party have provided an opportunity for Rosa and me to kickstart the kind of movement that this country needs. And yet, these headlines from this morning—torture, war, violence, murder, hate crimes—I think it’s clear that not only does our country need a new set of values at the helm, our country needs an opposition party like the Green Party, that has the values of the Green Party, so that we can finally see the values that I believe are the majority values of the American people implemented in our public policy.
AMY GOODMAN: Cynthia McKinney, right now there’s a lot of talk about who the Democratic and Republican presidential candidates will choose as their vice-presidential candidates. Can you talk about your criteria on why you chose Rosa Clemente?
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: I’ve known Rosa for a very long time. Rosa has participated in many of the congressional briefings and brain trusts that we held with respect to the counterintelligence program COINTELPRO. And the impact of the kind of disclosures that we saw from the ACLU with respect to Maryland’s surveillance of people who dared to dissent, she has done that really as a lifelong activist with the hip hop generation and understands the potentialities associated with being active and dissenting from the status quo powers and the policies of them.
Rosa represents everything that is good and right about young people in this country. I’m reminded of the fact that it was high school students, university students, that changed my life in the civil rights movement. They were unafraid to challenge the status quo. Rosa comes from that very same kind of commitment and tradition.
AMY GOODMAN: Rosa Clemente, it’s great to have you with us. Can you talk about what it means to be the Green Party’s vice-presidential candidate, to be a vice-presidential candidate here in the United States?
ROSA CLEMENTE: I mean, thank you for having me, Amy. It’s a humbling experience, first and foremost. But, I mean, I’m a South Bronx Puerto Rican-born girl, 1972. I was in the South Bronx when hip hop, which is still now the voice of multi-racial young people all over the world, began. So I’m humbled, but I’m ready for the work. I’ve been in a great tradition of student activists coming from the State University of New York at Albany in the early ’90s to getting my Master’s at Cornell University under the mentorship of Dr. James Turner and being a community organizer with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, but again under mentorship of the great late Richie Perez.
So I’m humbled, but I’m also excited, because I feel that many African American, indigenous, Asian, Latino youth in this country, mostly working class, are completely disenfranchised and marginalized from a two-party system. There’s over 40 percent of young people that still have not registered to vote, which shows their dissatisfaction with both the Republicans and Democrats. And I really want to bring the face of what hip hop has always been for me, a voice of the voiceless, the mic that speaks truth to power but also uses these elements to act against the status quo or the powers that be.
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: Amy, the situation—
AMY GOODMAN: And what do you think, Rosa Clemente, are the most important issues right now? What are you going to be campaigning on around the country?
ROSA CLEMENTE: For young people right now, the most important issues is a dismantling of the prison-industrial complex; a livable wage; dealing with the AIDS pandemic that is affecting disproportionately African American and Latina young women; a real gender equity movement; a real movement where women, particularly women of color, are not marginalized in the media or at work; and really dealing with no healthcare and a lack of good public education, but also a lack of now higher education. No young person in America who can go to college should be in $100,000 debt. We are supposed to be competing with the best of the best, and we have over a 60 percent, in some cities, dropout rate of African American and Latina/Latino youth. So those are, I think, the most important pressing issues. And, of course, an immediate withdrawal from Iran. And we must not be duped that a troop withdrawal in Iran could also mean a troop transfer in Afghanistan and more young
people, particularly white working-class youth, being used as cannon fodder.
AMY GOODMAN: Cynthia McKinney, the other issues that you feel are critical right now, that you’re campaigning on? And what is your plan in these next few months leading up to November? How are you campaigning? I know you were here in New York this weekend. Now you’re in Washington. And Rosa Clemente is in Charlotte, North Carolina.
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: I’ll be back in New York on September 11th with the wonderful organization wearechange.org, who are planning a candlelight vigil for—at Ground Zero on September 11th, and after that, a benefit—a series of benefits, actually, for the first responders, who of course have been neglected and who have health effects now stemming from their activities in recovery and cleanup of the site.
Now, I think it’s important for us to note that our national leaders have decided that it’s OK to spend $720 million every day for war and occupation. That number is according to the American Friends Service Committee. $720 million a day at the expense of a single-payer healthcare system in this country, like, for example, Medicare for all; like, for example, subsidizing education so that, as Rosa said, no university student graduates $100,000 in debt, as is the case with my cousin. We need to make sure that our young people are actually graduating from high school. We need to make sure that we are investing in our infrastructure and greening our economy, making sure that we are providing jobs and that there’s job training and that those jobs are at a livable wage.
These are not the things that the Democratic majority in Congress has ensured for all of us in public policy. Yet they have continued to vote to fund war and occupation. And so, on my birthday, in front of the Pentagon March 17 of last year, I declared my independence. And I would just like to say that it’s interesting that I declared my independence from the national leadership that gave us these kinds of policies and a failure to roll back the PATRIOT Acts, the Secret Evidence Act, the Military Commissions Act, a failure even to provide election integrity for us in face of the fact that we understand that we’ve got voter caging that’s going on literally right now that would deny people the opportunity to cast a vote.
We still have the electronic voting machine problem. We also have the voter ID situation, with laws being passed in various states around the country, making it a requirement that people provide a certain type of identification, but only if they show up on Election Day to vote, not if they mail in their ballot. So we’re establishing a two-tiered voting system by law in this country. At one point, that was thought to be illegal, and now it has become the practice. Who is going to be there on the day after election to make sure that we have ensured election integrity? As it was in 2004, it was the Green Party that put feet on the ground in Ohio, and that’s how we know what happened in Ohio. John Kerry made a commitment that one million black people would not go to the polls in 2004, as was the case in 2000, and not have their votes counted.
AMY GOODMAN: Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente, we have to go to break. We’re going to come back to this discussion. Cynthia McKinney, Green Party presidential candidate, Rosa Clemente, the Green Party vice-presidential candidate, the first all-women-of-color presidential ticket in history. This is Democracy Now! We’ll be back with them in a minute.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re talking to the Green Party presidential and vice-presidential candidates, Cynthia McKinney, joining us from Washington, D.C., Rosa Clemente, from Charlotte, North Carolina. Rosa Clemente, Wyclef Jean, Kanye West, they’re going to be performing at the Democratic Convention. Your response?
ROSA CLEMENTE: They’re on the wrong side. You know, I respect many other rappers in the hip hop community, but hip hop is bigger than rappers. It’s bigger than recorded artists who perform and make millions of dollars. I understand the historical nature of a Barack Obama, but I also understand the historical nature of a Cynthia McKinney or Rosa Clemente, especially being Puerto Rican and understanding the colonial relationship that my island and my people have with this country and remembering being at Vieques on May 1, 2005, when we kicked the US Navy out.
If Barack Obama is not going to talk about the issues that are affecting the people that look like him, if he’s not going to talk about the freedom of political prisoners in this country, and if he’s not going to acknowledge the hip hop generation, which he really hasn’t, then we as a generation must be very clear. Are we picking someone based on emotion or what symbolism looks like, or are we picking the Green Party? You know, and I encourage everyone to pick up the platform. This platform includes social justice, an end to police brutality, and the list goes on and on.
So I’m encouraged by a lot of young people who have not registered to vote who have been emailing me, over 4,000 hits on my website in less than a week, saying that they’re going to join the Green Party. So that’s my response. We’ll be at the DNC; we just won’t be inside. We’ll be recruiting those people that are still disaffected. And we’ll be at the RNC also. So look out for us.
AMY GOODMAN: Cynthia McKinney, I wanted to ask you about that New Yorker magazine cover, the one that showed Barack Obama in Muslim garb and that showed his wife, Michelle Obama, carrying a machine gun, with a flag burning in the fireplace. Your thoughts?
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: Well, I’m not surprised at anything that we see. I understand that perhaps the article might have been satire. I haven’t read the article. I’ve seen a lot of political commentary about the cover. But, you know, if you look at the depiction of black women in the history of this country, I’m not surprised at all at what they or any journalist might portray for black women. And then, if we look at the targeted group that is—that consists of Muslims in this country, I’m not surprised, basically, at any depiction that someone could dream up and think up.
But what we really have to remain focused on is the fact that this country is in dire need of an opposition party. People who have values of economic opportunity, social justice, ecological wisdom need to have—and peace, of course, need to have a place to rest their vote in so that their vote reflects their values. Right now, that is the Green Party. The Green Party is the opposition party. With over 200 elected officials, we know that the Green Party can only grow, particularly in this environment where we see positions change from issue to issue, from month to month, from week to week. We understand that there is very little that is consistent and static with the corporate parties. However, with the Green Party, the Green Party is grounded in its values.
Now, why is it that we participate in the political process, to start with? It’s not about a horse race. It’s not about a fashion show. It’s not about a beauty contest. It’s not about popularity. It’s about making sure that our values are reflected in public policy. And that’s why I’ve decided that it is now time—past time, it was—past time for me not only to declare my independence, as the women who were the suffragists declared their independence from the current political order in order to create something new, it was time for me to leave the Democratic Party, which no longer reflected my values. And I think that the contradictions between what the Democratic Party says and what it does are very clear now before the American people.
AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about a quote of Amiri Baraka, who was very critical of your run. He said the people who are supporting McKinney must know that this is an empty gesture, but too often such people are so pocked with self-congratulatory idealism that they care little or understand little about politics, i.e. the gaining momentum and use of power, but want only to pronounce to themselves mostly how progressive or radical or even revolutionary they are. Your response, Cynthia McKinney?
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: Well, of course, I know Amiri Baraka well, have been to New Jersey to campaign for his son, campaign with him. And so, you know, of course, he is entitled to his opinion, and I respect him greatly. However, I do differ.
As I just discussed, the definition of politics is the authoritative allocation of values in a society. And if a political party no longer or fails to represent my values, then what am I supposed to do? The people of Venezuela voted their values, and they got real substantive exchange. They got their values being implemented in public policy. People in Chile and Argentina, people in Ecuador and Bolivia, people in Haiti, people in Cote d’Ivoire vote their values. People in Mexico voted their values. They had an election that was stolen, but then they shut down Mexico City for five months.
Now, what are we supposed to do? Give up on our values? No. We press our values in the political system through the process that is made available to us. The Green Party has made it possible for us to press our values. In very much the same way that the Democratic presumptive nominee went before the Cuban American National Foundation and enunciated a certain set of values, in very much the same way that the Democratic presumptive nominee went before AIPAC, the American Israel Public Affairs Committee, and enunciated certain values that will be reflected in public policy, it is incumbent upon those of us who share these values, rooted in the founding principles of the Green Party, to press our values in the political system. And that’s what we’re doing.
AMY GOODMAN: What do you make of Senator Obama’s trip to Iraq and Afghanistan to talking about a timetable for pullout, Nouri al-Maliki saying he shares his view, though he was castigated, it looks like, by the President, and Senator McCain saying Barack Obama has the most extreme record in the Senate, suggesting perhaps he’s a socialist?
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: Well, of course, we understand bombast. And that’s what we’re going to be subjected with throughout the remaining period of this election, is a lot of bombast. At the end of the day, though, I think that what Maliki was saying is that nobody wants to see their country occupied. And so, the withdrawal as quickly as possible from Iraq, also withdrawal from Afghanistan—as Rosa has pointed out, this withdrawal is not really a withdrawal, it’s just a shift over to Afghanistan.
Let us remember what the late foreign minister of the UK reminded us all of about al-Qaeda. He reminded us that al-Qaeda was the CIA’s rolodex. So, let’s understand exactly what we are dealing with. We need a different foreign policy. We need a foreign policy that is grounded in the respect for human rights, that respects self-determination, that respects democracy and the will of the people. That is the foundation for a peaceful, forward deployment of US assets and resources around the world in such a way that we are actually helping people, lifting people up. We do not have to deliver bombs and missiles and military technology and nuclear technology to countries in order to submit—make them submit to US will in fear. We can make friends with peace.
AMY GOODMAN: Will you be campaigning in swing states like Ohio and in Florida that could perhaps have a one or two percentage point difference between the candidates?
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: As I mentioned earlier, we are in a situation where people can go to the polls today and their votes not be counted. We do not have the assurance of election integrity. In a situation where we do not have election integrity, I don’t think it’s possible for anybody to talk about a one or two percentage point difference, when we’ve got the electronic voting machines, we’ve got central tabulation manipulation, we’ve got problems with people even being able to cast their vote. I will go wherever—
AMY GOODMAN: Are you concerned about—
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: I will go wherever there are marginalized, alienated and disenfranchised people who need the voice and the message of the Green Party.
AMY GOODMAN: Are you concerned about helping McCain beat Obama?
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: The Republicans have done a pretty fine job of stealing two presidential elections, and I would look—cast my eyes at them and the voter ID laws and the voter caging and the electronic voting machines and the administration of elections, where people can actually get inside the voting booth, cast one million votes, and their votes not be counted. That’s were I would be looking. Don’t look at the Green Party and suspect that the Green Party is doing anything other than exercising its obligation to provide voters choice.
AMY GOODMAN: And the difference between your campaign, your Green Party presidential bid, and Ralph Nader’s Independent presidential bid?
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: I think it’s clear that when you have a political party, we have over 200 elected officials. Of course, I think it’s also important for people to understand that the Green Party is an international entity. The former Nobel Peace Prize winner from Kenya was a member of the Kenyan parliament; Wangari Maathai was a member of the Kenyan parliament, a Green Party member. Ingrid Betancourt, who was recently released in Colombia, ran for president as a member of the Green Party. So the Green Party is making public policy in other parts of the world. The Green Party needs to have the opportunity to make public policy here in this country.
AMY GOODMAN: How many states are you on the ballot, Congress member McKinney, Cynthia McKinney?
CYNTHIA McKINNEY: We hope to be on the ballot in at least forty states around the country. Of course, you know that ballot access laws are very difficult, and therefore, it at this point remains unseen as to whether we will get more than forty or fewer than forty. It won’t be very much fewer than forty. But we would hope to be on as many ballots as possible. For example, in the state of Georgia, we haven’t had the opportunity to vote for a Green Party member, period, because the Green Party has not been on the ballot because the laws are so difficult. However, in California, there are so many political parties, voters have choice.
AMY GOODMAN: Rosa Clemente—
ROSA CLEMENTE: May I just say something?
AMY GOODMAN: —you wanted to weigh in here. Yes.
ROSA CLEMENTE: Just very quick. Well, one thing about Ralph Nader and Matt Gonzalez is, Ralph Nader sent out his congratulations to me and Cynthia last week and made it very clear that we are not competing for votes. We have to end the two-party system.
In 2003, I, along with thirteen other people, helped create the National Hip Hop Political Convention. In 2004, Ana Nogueira, one of your producers, interviewed me, and I remember saying to her, if we, as a hip hop generation don’t make some real power moves by 2008, we’re going to be in a very desperate situation for the next thirty years. I see me being nominated as a power move, not just for me, not for Cynthia, not even just the Green Party, but for an entire people who see the Green Party no longer as the alternative, but the imperative, for us to live a social, justice, freedom, democracy type of life. And that’s what particularly young people are looking for.
AMY GOODMAN: And what kind of response have you gotten, Rosa Clemente, from the hip hop community, now that you’re nominated as a vice-presidential candidate?
ROSA CLEMENTE: I mean, it’s been varied. I mean, from people who are activists and progressives in that movement, the response has been phenomenal. We have people all over every state ready to do some work. And in fact, on July 31st to August 3rd, we will be an Las Vegas, Nevada with the National Hip Hop Political Convention.
There have been some people caught up in Obama-mania, as I call it and other people, that are upset, but they don’t understand, I think, right now the situation that we’re in. They don’t understand that the Democrats and Republicans joined forces to keep the Green Party off the ballot. They don’t understand that we are being whited out of every mainstream and even some progressive media.
And my question to them is always, or my response: if we are not telling the truth, if we are not about empowering the majority of the American people, why are forces that are worth $200 million, $300 million not only keeping us off the ballots, but not even talking about us. And again, in the progressive press, we’ve been whited out, whether it’s the Huffington Post or Air America. It’s only been Pacifica and Democracy Now! and a couple other—I don’t even call you “alternative” anymore. I think we are the mainstream. But why are we not being allowed to even voice our opinions? So it’s been a wonderful response, I think, in general for the hip hop generation right now.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to leave it there. I want to thank you both very much for joining us, Rosa Clemente, Green Party vice-presidential nominee, speaking to us from Charlotte, North Carolina, and Cynthia McKinney, former Congress member from Georgia. She is the Green Party presidential nominee, speaking to us from the nation’s capital, from Washington, D.C.