Thursday, August 14, 2008

Your Black World: Green Party Presidential Nominee, Cynthia McKinney Speaks To YBW

Interview with Green Party Presidential Nominee, Cynthia McKinney, by Tolu Olorunda.

For many, the name "Cynthia McKinney" is synonymous with loaded-descriptions such as "progressive," "activist," "relentless," "fighter," "frank," and "courageous."Cynthia McKinney has been described by political-prisoner and internationally-renowned journalist, Mumia Abu Jamal, as "bold," "outspoken," and a "woman of substance." Earlier this year, Black Agenda Report Executive Editor, Glen Ford, remarked on how Cynthia McKinney is - as perceived by him - "the only vehicle through which progressives can... begin the process of rebuilding a mass, Black-led movement for real social change." The once 6-term Georgian Congresswoman has since become a leading voice in the anti-war movement, anti-death penalty movement and human-rights movement. She is, without a doubt, a monumental structure in the landscape of Black activism. While in Congress, she fought aggressively for the rights of the financially-disempowered. In 2007, she decided to leave the Democratic Party, and become a member of The Green Party. It was also in 2007, when she decided to attempt a run at the presidency. On July 12 this year, Cynthia McKinney, alongside Rosa Clemente, was nominated as the Green Party's choice for President and Vice-President respectively. She has ever since, embarked on a journey to enlighten, inform and educate everyday citizens around the country, on what their alternatives - in this electoral cycle - are, and the essentiality of election-integrity. I had the distinguished opportunity to speak with Cynthia McKinney on her political-background, the role of Third Parties, and her "Power to the People" platform which has recently caught the attention of disgruntled electorates:

For those who don't know, when did your political journey effectively take-off, and what prompted it?

I started out at the Georgia House of Representatives in 1989, and was sworn in after the 1988 campaign -- but nobody thought I would win (the political pundits and the corporate press especially). And we were able to prove them wrong. From there, I participated in the efforts of the State of Georgia to make sure that every Georgian was counted in the census, because that meant more money would come to Georgia from the federal government. It also meant that we could expand the abilities to elect candidates of our choice -- for those of us who are underrepresented in the political process. So I participated in making sure that everybody in the state of Georgia was counted -- particularly in the Black communities, where the participation rate is lower. Through that, we could then seek the full application of the voting rights act, in making sure that the districts drawn on every level of government was one that included opportunities for Black voters to elect their candidate of choice. We then went, deliberately and methodically, through the process for City Council, County Commission, the State Legislature, and then the United States Congress. And of course, there was a lot of turmoil that was created at my insistence that we have what was put forward as the "Black Max Plan." That plan actually ended up helping more blacks get elected to office in the State of Georgia. From there, the issue was the war. I went to the floor of the House and spoke out against George H.W. Bush's War - with the bombing of Baghdad - and all of my colleagues got out and walked out on me. And they compared me to Julian Bond, who a generation earlier, had been punished because of his views against the Vietnam War. So I decided to run for Congress, because I saw the 'good ol' boys' of Georgia, trying to pick who the next Congressional member would be. So the governor and speaker of the House both had 'their candidates,' and I figured that the people should have their candidate and I decided to run. When I ran - because of my advocacy of the Black Max plan - I was likened to Angela Davis, and so the Julian Bond and Angela Davis characterizations (done by the corporate press) were supposed to be insulting to me, but they didn't know that Julian Bond and Angela Davis were heroes of mine. And that began my political career.

How did you make the transition from the Georgia House of Representatives to the United States Congress?

Well, it was an easy transition, because I learned the legislative process and parliamentary procedure in the Georgia Legislature. I also learned that inauthentic leadership can be easily co-opted, and that the elected leadership we had in the State of Georgia was ineffective in terms of changing the policy-outcomes and quality of life for the people of Georgia. At one time, we (Georgia) had the largest legislative Black Caucus in the country, but increasingly, the personalities that got elected were more interested in the positions, rather than wielding the powers on behalf of the community. So, we went from authentic to inauthentic leadership, and the challenge of our community is to ensure that our leadership is always authentic, and speaking to our hopes, dreams and aspirations; and pushing a policy-line that should increase our quality of life. If you don't see that in the campaign of a candidate, you won't see it in the administration of a candidate. And therefore, that candidate represents somebody else's interest; not our own. But we have not been easily capable of identifying authentic vs. inauthentic leadership.

Throughout your career, you've been an outspoken and vehement defender of human-rights. What is the state of human-rights in the world today?

It's abysmal. The states of human rights is abysmal in the world today, and a large measure of it is because of interference on the part of the United States, in the arsenal of economic and military power that it wields over people. The unwillingness of the American voter to change the leadership in Washington must come to an end.

As a member of Congress, you introduced legislations to unseal the records of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. and Tupac Shakur. Why was that important to you?

I think the public deserves the truth, and we know from the December 1999 trials, that a jury came back with the findings that the United States government was involved in the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. And in just the same way, the interested public hasn't been told the truth about Tupac Shakur, whose mother was a member of the Black Panther Party, and whose father-figure was - I believe - a member of the Black liberation army.

In 2007, you decided to take a public stance against the Democratic Party. What was the last straw for you?

Basically, on my birthday, March 17 of last year, I spoke in front of the pentagon, and my position continues to be vindicated, because now, the Democrats are complicit in the FISA Bill, the continual funding of the war, and the removal of impeachment bills from the table; and all the basic needs of the American people (single payer health-care system, subsidies for education -- so no child graduates with a student loan). Under the rulership of the Democrats and the Republicans, people don't have what they need.

Why did you feel the Green Party was best suited for the brand of activism you're involved in?

The Green Party has put support for reparations in its 2004 platform. They put recognition of the genocide against the indigenous people in this country on their platform. They put a statement against racial-profiling and police brutality on their platform. And this was all before I was ever associated with The Green Party. So I found a party that reflects my values.

You clinched the Green Party Presidential Nomination in July. How is the campaign so far; and how much has the "Power to the People" message resonated?

The campaign could always use more resources; so we ask people to please go to our website, and donate, because we're up against a very powerful and mighty machine. And even the Gladiators, who were put into the arena against each other and certain animals, were giving swords to fight with. So if we are to defend the interests of the people, we at least have to have a mechanism to defend ourselves -- because we are going against the most powerful entities on the planet. So we have a lot of people agreeing with us, but we need them to go the extra step; and one is to vote for us and the other to donate to us -- so we can spread the good news about our plans even more. We want to kick-start a movement to inspire young people to get involved outside the two-party paradigm that boxes us into solutions that don't answer the problems that people confront in their lives.

What is the fundamental bedrock of the "Power to the People" platform?

It's the reconstruction manifesto, and we explain that we are in favor of the elimination of the drug-war, the elimination of prisons for profit, the elimination of U.S. militarism, a repeal of NAFTA and all other so-called free-trade agreements. We want a livable wage; we want a single-payer health-care system, and we want election integrity.

I want to pose two questions to you, which have been formerly directed at Sen. Obama. "In the first 100 days of your presidency, what would you do to close the gaps between Blacks and Whites in America"?

First of all, I would submit to Congress a budget that does exactly that. The disparities that exist in our country are longstanding, and they exist because there is a legacy of slavery that has not yet been addressed. And after slavery - which denied the right to read, education, life, liberty and identity to Africans who had been transported - there was a denial of the right to economic freedom. Then it moved from that to a denial of the right to physical freedom (incarceration). And with that came the convict slave labor program -- which was rampant throughout the country, particularly in the South. All of this came in the aftermath of slavery; and then of course you had the Jim Crow laws that were practiced across the country -- with the statute of Plessy v. Ferguson. So, basically, you have a story of disenfranchisement, down to a denial of identity and culture; and somehow, we survived. What the country now needs to do is to implement a massive program on education, economic enfranchisement and jobs. Instead of focusing the money on those who have, we should focus it on those in need.

Secondly, Cynthia McKinney, "What about the Black Community"?

That is the entire focus of the reconstruction platform, which includes the release of all political-prisoners. We know that we have to change the legal landscape in order for justice to prevail in this country, because the criminal justice system is criminal in its injustice at the moment. We know that the economic structure of this country has to be completely changed, because it is based on rewarding those who don't work, and taxing those who do. The cultural environment of this country has to change, because of the corporate domination and usurpation of Hip-Hop culture and the culture of young people.

What is your assessment of the overwhelming support Sen. Obama is receiving within the Black Community, and how do you plan on winning some of those votes?

Well, we're going to continue to stand on the values that we espouse, and if people are attracted to those values, they would support them, and if they are not, they will support the other side.

Finally, Senator Obama seems so be experiencing some obstacles in reaching Latinos. Do you plan on courting the Brown vote?

Well, my running mate is an Afro-Latina; a Puerto Rican from the Bronx. The circles that she has traveled in are young Black and Brown. So we would like to get as much of that vote as we can; alongside the white-progressives who are willing to support our ticket.

Watch Cynthia McKinney's Green Party Acceptance Speech:

This interview was conducted by Tolu Olorunda, Staff Writer for

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