Excerpts from an interview with the Green Party’s VP candidate
Green Pages: Fall 2008
Interview by Deyva Arthur, Green Party of New York State
Green Party vice presidential candidate Rosa Clemente has been a journalist, organizer, teacher, and Hip Hop activist for more than a decade. She was raised in the South Bronx of New York and is a graduate of Cornell University and the University of Albany. She took a moment while campaigning to share her thoughts with Green Pages. Instead of attending high-end gatherings with corporate sponsors, she talked with me amid the street noise of Brooklyn where she had been sitting on the stoop of a high-traffic street all day to meet residents.
Green Pages: Tell us about your activism and what you have been involved in, such as in Vieques, Puerto Rico.
I’ve been organizing for a long time, since college in the early nineties. A lot of my work has revolved around political prisoners in the United States, overall prisoners of conflicts, and issues of Puerto Rican independence. I did my thesis on the Young Lords Party (a Puerto Rican nationalist organization) at Cornell University. So I have organized and studied a lot of different types of activist groups and been in the groups as well.
Regarding Vieques, I am Puerto Rican and the issues of Puerto Rico are important to me. I became a freelance journalist and hosted a radio show on WBAI in New York City which is a Pacifica station doing a show called “Where We Live” with Sally O’Brian, which specifically monitored issues around police brutality, civil liberties, and any issues that fell under the state police apparatus. I was organizing around Vieques with a coalition in New York. We had done some actions and some of us had gotten arrested. The struggle in Vieques was 67 years long, but after David Sanders was murdered it really intensified after 1999, and I became part of a larger movement. In 2003, I was on the island of Vieques when the navy officially pulled out and I was there reporting. It was probably the most victorious role I had been a part of as an organizer. I was there with all the former political prisoners—it was pretty amazing.
And you are a musician as well?
No, I don’t rap.
But you are involved in the Hip Hop movement?
I consider myself a Hip Hop activist and a journalist. People see Hip Hop as rap music. Rap is one of the components of Hip Hop culture, but Hip Hop was founded in 1974 in the South Bronx, mainly by two DJ’s— Afrika Bambaataa and DJ Charlie Chase. … There was a lot of poverty in the South Bronx at the time: people were losing jobs, programs were being cut, gangs were warring a lot. It’s not one particular moment, but a series of moments that brought Bambaataa to lead the gangs and bring the movement out there through peace, love and culture. That is what the Hip Hop movement is—it’s the rap music, the graffiti movement, people call it break dancers but it’s b boys and b girls, it was a way for black and brown young people to come together culturally across even ethnic lines. … There is a fifth element to the culture which Bambaataa called Knowledge. For black and brown young people born after the civil rights black power movement, the questions are: how do we define life; what was it like growing up under Reagan; what kind of forces brought us together around a political agenda.
That’s where I come out of it—the culture, the generational thing, the unity among black and brown people. Hip Hop is multi-racial, it’s global, it is all over the world, it is definitely the voice of young people—it speaks to issues and organizes around issues. There is a group of us who are performers, but we also engage in inter-generational politics and that is were we bring forth an agenda.
When did you get involved in the Green Party?
I knew about the Green Party when I was going to school at the State University of New York in Albany; the Greens are big up there. I did a lot of organizing with the Green Party during that time. And when I lived in Brooklyn, I registered as a Green.
How do you know Cynthia Mckinney?
I have known her since 2000. She was holding a series of congressional hearings on political prisoners and, of course, after 9/11 she brought out the truth about all that. I follow everything and take it really seriously and have always followed Cynthia Mckinney. Ten days after hurricane Katrina, I went to Mississippi and New Orleans myself. So after she marched on the Gretna Bridge (where New Orleans evacuees were blocked.) that was really telling. Plus she has had involvement with the investigation of what went down with Tupac Shakur. After his murder as a Black Panther, McKinney got his files opened. Her stance on pretty much everything has been pretty much right.
What are the shortcomings of the government and other leaders of today?
Well, that is interesting. I don’t call them leaders. Certain people that see themselves as leaders—I don’t think they are. They are following an agenda that benefits them and their interests and those interests have always been opposed to us as black and brown people. But right now it is just opposed to everybody, every working class person in the country. What I think about the people in power—the authorities—I think they are corrupt, liars, thieves, and murderers. I believe they are responsible for so many murders in this world through this illegal war.
What do you see are the emergency issues for the country? What do you think are the most important issues to address?
The issues of the country right now, are to pull out of the war, and most importantly I think, impeachment, because people cannot get away without being held accountable. They have already messed up the electorate and stolen the elections twice. Accountability is a serious thing; people have to realize that this administration can never happen again
… When I think beyond the priorities of impeachment and pulling out of the war and all the wars, I think of living wages and free health care. I don’t think we should be waiting any longer for that. It has been long enough. Those are priorities that will beat down so quick it will change the nature of how people are living. Then I think of more things that are affecting young people. Police brutality or anything with prison or policing is the number one thing for black and Latino men. For black and Latina women it is HIV infection and AIDS. It is the number one killer for African American women between the ages of 25 and 34. No one would think that in America. We are losing a whole generation of women to AIDS and a whole generation of men to the prisons.
You have a broad appeal with young people—getting many to vote for the first time. Why is this? What do you have to offer other generations?
That is the first time somebody has said that. I think I appeal to my generation and those younger than me as I always advocate for young people. The Green Party is predominantly young white people. I identify as a black Puerto Rican woman so that right there has made me an outsider to each group. I get all these definitions labeled to me that I refuse to subscribe to, so I feel like I know so many people, and I can bridge them together.
The older generation doesn’t understand the Hip Hop activism and culture. They have the stereotype and don’t know what the movement means. The only way to overcome that is to talk to them. I have to show them it is a serious way of life; there are books, Hip Hop professors, documentaries—it is out there and that is how I can reach to folks who are older.
What can the Green Party do to reach out and be more inclusive of people of color?
People may not want to be included. They are organizing on their own. They might not have the same type of structure…. What I am saying is [that we should be] meeting people where they are at. Inclusivity means “we are going to open the doors and include you in this party,” as opposed to “we are going to walk down the street and go to the party next door and get invited in.” It is meeting people at the grassroots level, respecting that even if that leadership structure doesn’t work, as long as it doesn’t contradict the principles and values that you are working for, it shouldn’t hinder how the group organizes.
The Green Party at every level in every state needs to be going to youth organizations. Some people have to get engaged, go out there doing the work and meet people where they are at and bring people together around the umbrella of the Green Party principles and values.
There is such a dissatisfaction with Barak Obama, that right now if the Greens go in there and explain everything it would give us more than five percent of the electorate, especially with young people. But we have three months to do it. If we don’t it now, we are going to do it in 2012 for sure.