Note: The following interview with former Georgia Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney is reprinted from issue No. 268 of the ILC International Newsletter (Jan. 8, 2008), published weekly in multiple languages in Paris. The interview was conducted for the ILC International Newsletter by Alan Benjamin on Jan. 5. To contact the ILC, the Reconstruction Party Organizing Committee, and the Cynthia McKinney for President campaign, see the "Afterword" at end of the interview.]
Question: Sister McKinney, as someone who is running for president of the United States on behalf of the Power to the People electoral coalition, how do you view the recent Iowa caucus?
Cynthia McKinney: I just received a three-page letter from a woman in Tennessee -- a veteran who did three tours of duty in Vietnam. She wrote to say how dissatisfied she is with the level of political discourse in our presidential election, with none of the Democratic or Republican candidates addressing the real issues that she and her family are facing in terms of health care, job offshoring, declining public education, stagnation of wages, and more.
She is looking for real answers and is not getting any from politicians and a media more interested in hype and hot-button issues (such as the "war on terror" or the "war on drugs") than in promoting any serious discussion of policy, much less offering any serious political alternatives.
Angela Davis made an interesting comment on the current presidential campaign. She said all the candidates are talking about "differences" that will not make a difference and "changes" that will not bring about any change. How true.
Take Obama and foreign policy: Independent journalist Allan Nairn spoke to Amy Goodman on her January 3 Democracy Now program about Obama's top policy advisers. I will quote from the transcription of this program, appropriately titled, "Vote for Change? Atrocity-Linked U.S. Officials Advising Democratic, GOP Presidential Frontrunners."
"Obama's top adviser is Zbigniew Brzezinski. Brzezinski gave an interview to the French press a number of years ago where he boasted about the fact that it was he who created the whole Afghan jihadi movement, the movement that produced Osama bin Laden. And he was asked by the interviewer, 'Well, don't you think this might have had some bad consequences?' And Brzezinski replied, 'Absolutely not. It was definitely worth it, because we were going after the Soviets.' ...
"Another key Obama adviser, Anthony Lake, was the main force behind the U.S. invasion of Haiti in the mid-Clinton years during which they brought back Aristide essentially in political chains, pledged to support a World Bank/IMF overhaul of the economy, which resulted in an increase in malnutrition deaths among Haitians and set the stage for the current ongoing political disaster in Haiti.
"Another Obama adviser, General Merrill McPeak, an Air Force man, was the man overseeing the delivery to Indonesia of U.S. fighter planes not long after the Dili massacre in East Timor in '91.
"Another key Obama adviser, Dennis Ross, advised Clinton and both Bushes. He oversaw U.S. policy toward Israel/Palestine. He pushed the principle that the legal rights of the Palestinians, the rights recognized under international law, must be subordinated to the needs of the Israeli government -- in other words, their desire to expand to do whatever they want in the Occupied Territories.
"And Ross was one of the people who, interestingly, led the political assault on former Democratic President Jimmy Carter. Carter is no peacenik -- Carter is the one who bears ultimate responsibility for that Timor terror that Holbrooke was involved in. But Ross led an assault on him, because, regarding Palestine, Carter was so bold as to agree with Bishop Desmond Tutu of South Africa that what Israel was doing in the Occupied Territories was tantamount to apartheid. And so, Ross was one of those who fiercely attacked him.
"Another Obama adviser is Sarah Sewall, who heads a human rights center at Harvard and is a former Defense official. She wrote the introduction to General Petraeus's Marine Corps/Army counterinsurgency handbook, the handbook that is now being used worldwide by U.S. troops in various killing operations."
That's the Obama team. But Nairn demonstrates that the Clinton and Edwards teams are equally loaded with Washington insiders who in one way or other have contributed to our current national predicament.
There is another message coming out of Iowa that is aimed directly at Black people. Former Clinton presidential adviser and columnist Dick Morris wrote that with Obama's victory in Iowa, "race is no longer a factor in American politics." Tell that to the Black folks living in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in the aftermath of Hurricanes Katrina and Rita, or who are facing "Hurricane America" in cities and communities all across the country.
Bill Bennett on CNN said that Barack Obama is the kind of Black person Blacks should be -- not like Al Sharpton or Jesse Jackson. This is the way to go if you want to get somewhere in this country, Bennett said.
Question: You recently issued a statement announcing that as a presidential candidate you would use your campaign to promote the building of a Reconstruction Party in the United States. You are now serving on the newly formed National Organizing Committee for a Reconstruction Party. Why is this important to you?
McKinney: More than two years ago, the world got to see what many of us live on a daily basis in this country. They saw the Black community in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast decimated by government neglect. They saw a community targeted by ethnic-cleansing. Throughout this country there are still communities that are desperate because of generations of poverty and neglect.
The world now knows this terrible situation exists in the very heart of a country that is touted as the most "prosperous" and "democratic" in the world.
This situation has gone on way too long. The mainstream politicians want it simply to go away. They want to erase the color line. But while they and their media change the subject -- preferring to give us every detail about what Brittany Spears wore when she was arrested, for example -- and while no one deals seriously with growing poverty and racism in this country, things only get worse.
It was only after Hurricanes Katrina and Rita that some folks in the Gulf Coast realized there is a desperate need to build a Reconstruction Movement because all the palliatives offered by the politicians haven't worked and because there are pockets of neglect all over the country -- not just in the Gulf states.
The Reconstruction Movement was born in the aftermath of Katrina and Rita, but the conditions of poverty, racism, and neglect have existed since America's first Reconstruction Period after the Civil War.
A 2003 Harvard University study found that Black infant and maternal mortality rates are 2 and 3.5 times higher than for whites. Dr. David Satcher found in 2005 that 83,750 Black people died from premature deaths for no other reason than that they were Black.
The New York Times wrote that by 2003 nearly one half of all Black men between the ages of 16 and 64, living in New York City, were unemployed.
And in its 2005 report, United for a Fair Economy told us that it would take 1,664 years to close the home-ownership gap and that on some indices the racial disparities are worse now than at the time of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In their 2006 report, United for a Fair Economy told us that Blacks and Latinos lost ground, and that in order to close the racial wealth divide in our country, it would take the equivalent of a "G.I. Bill for Everyone" that would include comprehensive federal investment in low-income families and communities, with an emphasis on people of color.
The Reconstruction Movement is needed to bring attention to the state of Black America today. But once people acknowledge this deplorable situation, an agenda and strategy for real change are needed to address the problem. That hasn't come from either major political party. Therefore, redress requires something else: a political party with reversal of these statistics as its primary mission. The Reconstruction Party is therefore the political expression of this Reconstruction Movement.
Question: You say the woman who wrote you from Tennessee -- like the millions of African Americans and others who have been left out of the political process -- is dissatisfied with the politics-as-usual she is hearing from the spokespersons of the twin parties of the bosses. What are the programmatic planks you feel need to be raised this election year?
McKinney: There are specific planks aimed at addressing the needs of Black people and the Reconstruction Movement, and there are planks needed to address the needs of all working people in this country, including Blacks and all communities of color.
In relation to the Reconstruction Movement, the International Tribunal on Katrina held in New Orleans last August highlighted four central demands:
1) Recognition of dispersed hurricane survivors as Internally Displaced Persons (IDPs);
2) Support for the rights of return for IDPs, including their right to vote in their home states;
3) Reparations for IDPs for the losses they incurred due to government abandonment and negligence;
4) Support for a massive federal public works project in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast.
These are questions that need to be addressed immediately.
The issue of land is at the center of the struggle in New Orleans and the Gulf Coast. The wealthy and powerful want to want to eliminate Black control over, and access to, the land. We have watched Black land loss accelerate in the South. We have seen systematic expropriation of Black-owned land in the South as a result of government policy.
I was responsible for the amendment that led the U.S. Department of Agriculture to admit that it had long discriminated against Black farmers. I recently learned that this "taking" of Black land even includes my own family. But in addition to these land takings in the South, we have gentrification which takes Black land and Black neighborhoods in desirable urban and suburban areas. Across the American landscape, gentrification is changing Black political power, too. Hence, we can only expect the statistics to worsen in the years ahead if we are not able to address the deteriorating situation occurring in too many neighborhoods across the United States.
I support reparations; reparations is an accepted aspect of jurisprudence in this country. The Black community has yet to be repaired for the damage it has suffered. Reparations means addressing the racial disparities that exist in our country and that are only getting wider.
Other central demands are self-determination and a new way of electing our representatives so that everyone with a stake in our government has representation and a voice in the decision-making. We need a new economic paradigm that includes empowerment of local businesses and local farmers. No community should be asked to pay the health tax that is the result of environmental injustice.
Unfortunately, too many police officers take communities of color as a rampaging ground. The numbers of unarmed Blacks and Latino men murdered at the hands of rogue police is unacceptable. The police are once again becoming an occupying force rather than protection for the community. We must also rethink prisons. The U.S. justice system is criminal for its injustice. Young men and women exiting such an unjust system should not be punished for the rest of their lives. They must be integrated into the productive aspects of society.
That won't happen as long as prisons are a source of wealth for stockholders who have separated themselves from the society and bear no repercussions for their "investments." We cannot accept the continued astronomical incarceration rates for our children and their continued criminalization even in schools where administrative remedies exist -- like in the Jena 6 and the Palmdale 4 cases.
And there is the fundamental democratic right of Black people to vote and have their votes counted.
In 2000, an estimated 1 million Black people went to the polls and voted their dreams, their hopes, and their aspirations -- and the votes of those 1 million Black people were not even counted. Who fought for them?
In 2004, it was the Black vote again that was targeted for nullification in an election drive-by shooting. It is clear that the Black vote will again be pivotal in the 2008 election.
Election protection, then, must also be one of our central demands. Two presidential elections were stolen and no one was held accountable. Growing numbers of people are concerned that their vote might not be counted in November and that the will of the voters will be thwarted yet again with election fraud or outright theft. U.S. electronic voting machines are a clear-and-present danger to our Republic.
Waging the political fight to win all these demands requires a Reconstruction Party. If Black people fail to demand a discussion, an agenda, and solid policy proposals that redress these circumstances, in my opinion, the Black body politic could go the way of the polar bear.
Question: How about your views on the broader programmatic points of unity of the Reconstruction Party?
McKinney: Regarding the more general programmatic planks, we just heard the announcement that unemployment is at two-year high. There is a need for a real jobs program. We need to make resources available to provide jobs to Americans who need them. A massive public works program would rebuild our crumbling infrastructure, with union jobs at a living wage. The funding exists for such a program. It would be provided by slashing the war budget and making the rich pay their fair share of taxes.
Labor unions are faced with shrinking numbers; they need a boost in membership. Workers need unions. The construction trades could partner up with universities in the field of construction science, and construction academies run by the unions could provide job training.
An extra component would come from Green jobs. We need to manufacture technologies that diminish our carbon footprint. This makes good economic and global-warming sense. We need a new economic and foreign policy that promotes alternative energy technologies for heating and cooling -- like solar and wind power.
Then there is the issue of "free trade." We have to put a stop to these "free trade" agreements, and quickly.
After 14 years of NAFTA it is absolutely clear that unemployment in the United States has risen as a result of this treaty. We are losing jobs -- especially jobs with living wages and benefits -- to all these "free trade" agreements, be it NAFTA, CAFTA, the Caribbean FTA, the U.S.-Peru FTA, you name it.
The American workers are not benefiting from these agreements. Their jobs and communities are being destroyed. Nor are working people in the rest of the world benefiting from these agreements. Quite the contrary: Their working conditions and living standards, which were already bad, are deteriorating exponentially. Only the transnational corporations are benefiting. They are reaping super-profits.
This new "globalization" has become a race to the bottom. And now the American workers have joined in this race.
Question: Brother Lybon Mabasa, co-founder with Steve Biko of the Black Consciousness Movement in South Africa, wrote an Open Letter to Black activists and organizations in the United States urging the formation of a Reconstruction Party. He described Africa as a "continent, first ravaged by the slave trade and then by colonial occupation, that found the promise of national liberation confiscated and betrayed by horrific so-called 'ethnic' wars and structural adjustment/debt-repayment programs -- all of which were imposed by the U.S. government and by the international institutions of finance capital (IMF, World Bank, WTO, European Union, AGOA, NEPAD)."
Mabasa went on to explain that "racism against people of African origin on all continents is a scourge that has not been erased. On the contrary, Black people -- from Brazil, to the Caribbean, to the United States -- are being driven into sub-human conditions, rounded up in prisons, placed on chain gangs, subjected to indiscriminate police violence, and/or heaved onto the scrap-heap of unemployment and homelessness."
He then stated that "the children of Africa are looking for a ray of hope" coming from their African American sisters and brothers, particularly in this election year 2008, when the attention of the American people is drawn to the elections and the political process.
What can be done to respond to this dire appeal from Africa?
McKinney: Africa is a continent rich in resources, a continent upon which civilization as we know it has grown to depend. Because Africans were so resilient in what might have been harsh environments for others, because Black people could be used to satisfy the needs and wants of others, our very survival has had to overcome internal and external threats to our very existence. Our survival as a distinct group worthy of self-determination and not just as the source of other people's gratification depends on our ability to fashion strategies to survive in the face of such hostility.
Africa, as Brother Mabasa, has pointed out, is now a devastated continent. Millions of people are dying in the killing fields, or in villages and city streets from HIV/AIDS and pandemics thought to be eradicated long ago. Africa is on the edge of an abyss.
I am heartened by election results that have put the people in power in Argentina, Bolivia, Chile, Cote d'Ivoire, Ecuador, Haiti, Nicaragua, Spain, and Venezuela. Africans must withstand the outsider meddling, and we have a role to play there to pressure our government to refrain from its interference. Africom is the latest example of such interference that must be resisted at all costs.
Ownership of the land in Africa is also something that must be addressed. I ask, how did the people who claim ownership of the land get title to the land? When the white landowners in Zimbabwe, Namibia, South Africa, and across the Continent are able to answer that question honestly, then we can have a discussion about how they will correct their fundamental injustice that endures to this date.
Then we want to talk about resource ownership. There is no such thing as a non-blood diamond on the Continent unless the diamond was mined, cut, polished, made into jewelry with other precious metals and gems that were also produced by Africans. Intermediate stops in Tel Aviv, Antwerp, London, New York, or Amsterdam are really not necessary. Africans can do that work and only when they do that work can we say that we've eliminated blood diamonds. And blood oil, and blood coltan, and blood uranium.
Let's talk about debt. By the time we add up the military interference, the theft of resources, the murders of authentic leadership, and finally the theft of its human resources and all that intellectual capacity, there is no such thing as African debt to any Western government or multilateral economic institution like the IMF. Hands off African resources!
This must be part of the platform of a Reconstruction Party.
Question: On the subject of immigration, what proposals are you putting forward to address this question?
McKinney: The corporations, the mainstream politicians and their mouthpieces in the media have found scapegoats for their failed policies. They tell us the "illegal immigrants" are responsible for the massive loss of jobs in this country. This is a bold-faced lie. What is illegal is the way that U.S. economic policies treat workers in this country and throughout the world.
It is impossible to discuss the issue of so-called "illegal immigration" without addressing the reasons millions of people are forced to flee their countries to come to the United States. It's our economic "free trade" policies and our military interventionist policies that destabilize countries the world over and create the massive movements of people escaping their plight in the hope of supporting their families.
You have to address the underlying problems behind the immigration boom by implementing policies internationally based on the respect for the sovereignty of the peoples and nations of the world, based on respect for the principles of self-determination and human rights -- that is, policies aimed at promoting genuine cooperation -- not oppression and exploitation.
And as you do this, you have to put a halt to policies at home that criminalize the victims or treat them as second-class citizens. These are all union-busting and wage-depressing tactics couched in terms of making the victim appear to be the perpetrator.
An amnesty program, such as was instituted in the 1980s, would be a way to deal with this question equitably while the economic conditions producing the massive flight of people from their countries is addressed.
Question: What are some of the other questions that need to be tackled?
McKinney: There is, of course the question of this "war without end." We need the immediate withdrawal of all U.S. troops from Iraq and from the rest of the Middle East. This includes all military advisers. It also includes closing all military bases in the region.
We must reject this "war on terror," which is only aimed at promoting a failed foreign policy. It's past time to repeal the Patriot Acts, the Secret Evidence Act, and the Military Tribunals Act.
But this is not all. We need to bring all of our troops home from Europe, Asia and Africa. We don't need our young women and men in harm's way. We need a Department of Peace instead of a Department of State. This Department would put forward projects for peace all over the world. In the meantime, the Pentagon must oversee the withdrawal of U.S. troops from about 100 countries around the world. Our presence in those countries, through our foreign and military policies, only stokes wars and conflicts.
We must pay very close attention now to Pakistan. I recently issued a statement saying, No U.S. Troops in Pakistan!
In fact, we need to retool our military to ensure the adequate protection of people's interests at home. We could deploy our Army Corps of Engineers to rebuild infrastructures and communities here and abroad. We could deploy our diplomats to help resolve conflicts through peaceful means.
We need to redefine what is meant by national security. We need to put in place a social index so that national security exists when our people feel safe in their communities, when they are free from hunger and poverty, when they are fully literate, when there is health care for all, when they are making a living wage, when they are free from drugs and incarceration.
Health care is another major issue. All too often patients cannot receive the treatment they require because the treatment is blocked by the profit motive of the insurance companies. You have to take the insurance companies out of the health-care equation.
We in the United States spend far more money than any other country in the world and we get less. Close to 50 million people are uninsured. Countries that have what others pejoratively call "socialized medicine" are better performing. We need a universal, single-payer health-care system in this country.
The message I would give to nascent democracies is, Don't follow the U. S. example on many issues! There is a growing divergence between our rhetoric and our practice. And in practice, too many Americans are hurting. For them, the American model has failed in terms of health care, education, and political integrity. We can't even be sure the election results reflect the will of our voters. This started in 2000 and has only gotten worse.
The U.S. government cannot put itself in judgment of other countries' elections until it gets its own house in order, and its house is in complete disorder when it comes to election integrity. Those who own and run the new electronic voting machines get the exact results they want.
And we need to focus on education, but not with "reforms" like No Child Left Behind that are basically aimed at dismantling public education. We need to instill pride and a desire to learn. We need free higher education for all. India's socialized economy provided free higher education. Now our jobs are being shipped to India.
And we need child care for working families who need it. Parents should have the opportunity to have their children taken care of, either through a family subsidy or through public child-care centers in schools. This could also free parents up to go back to school to get retrained.
Then we need to address some difficult questions that face our youth in particular.
Drugs are more and more prevalent. They are used to block out the harsh realities. Removing those harsh realities and giving youth hope -- with real jobs and a real future -- would go a long way to addressing this scourge in our communities.
But here again it is impossible to address the issue of drugs without understanding who is responsible for bringing drugs into this country. The CIA has admitted it was involved in drug-dealing, but no one involved at the highest level of government has been punished. The wealthy and powerful bring in the drugs. Afghanistan today is the leading poppy producer in the world. This is a regime protected by the Bush administration. Congressman Henry Gonzalez's investigations, as well as other research, shows us that the banking system would crumble if all the money laundered through drugs were taken out of the banks.
U.S. prosecution of "the drug war" is pitiful. The victims are thrown into prisons, while the wealthy users and the big drug dealers get off scot-free. The rich who own stock in the prison-industrial complex, or the corporations that hire prison labor, are reaping hefty sums while everyone else is impoverished or families are ripped apart by imprisonment.
This situation is intolerable and must be turned around! We need money for detoxification, rehabilitation, education -- not incarceration.
These are just some platform proposals. The National Organizing Committee for a Reconstruction Party will be discussing these issues in the coming weeks to define more clearly the main demands of our Reconstruction Party organizing campaign. We will then submit these for broader discussion, expansion and improvement to the activists in the Local Organizing Committees for the Reconstruction Party. Building a platform is a process.
Question: You are seeking the Green Party's presidential nomination? How do you see the relationship between the Greens and the Reconstruction Party?
McKinney: This is a time for coalition politics. I believe we need a coalition -- a peace and justice coalition, a Power to the People coalition -- that can put another voice at the table of American political discussion. We now only have two voices -- which are more and more the same voice. And with 5% of the vote we can get three.
The Reconstruction Party is a necessary and central component of this coalition. Winning the 5% of the vote, which we can do through the Green Party ballot, will translate into increased visibility on the issues of concern to the Reconstruction Party activists.
Question: How do you answer those who say you might be a spoiler on behalf of the Republicans if you get 5% of the presidential vote in 2008?
McKinney: I tell them that more than 40% of the potential voters in this country don't vote because they don't hear a message that motivates them to go out and vote. I want to give them a reason to vote.
I also tell them that the real spoilers are the ones who stole the vote in 2000 and 2004 -- or who didn't fight to defend the vote.
Question: Is there anything you would like to add?
McKinney: I just want to underscore the urgent need to build the Reconstruction Party. There are a whole lot of people waiting for us to do something. The international community also needs us. They are waiting for us to do something. We must move today with deliberate speed to build this Reconstruction Party.
Supporters of the International Liaison Committee (ILC) in the United States, who are actively engaged in the struggle to build an independent Labor Party, support the fight to build a Black-led Reconstruction Party, viewing it both as the expression of Black people for self-determination and the first step by a sector of the U.S. working class, Black workers, on the road to building an independent political party for all working people.
The formation of the Reconstruction Party Organizing Committee and the Cynthia McKinney presidential bid are of extraordinary significance for workers and peoples the world over who have been hoping to see someone come forward in this 2008 presidential election to represent and defend their interests.
Consistent with its mission of providing an open forum to all individuals and currents in the movements of workers and peoples seeking to advance the struggle against the onslaught by the transnational corporations and governments in their service, the ILC International Newsletter has opened its columns to present the full range of Sister McKinney's political views, some of which may not necessarily represent the views of all ILC supporters.
To subscribe to the English-language ILC International Newsletter, contact us at email@example.com. To contact the Reconstruction Party Organizing Committee, write to Kali Akuno at firstname.lastname@example.org.
To learn more about Cynthia McKinney's record, visit www.allthingscynthiamckinney.com. To make a donation to her campaign fund, visit www.runcynthiarun.org. You can also send a check or money order to Power to the People Committee, P.O. Box 311759, Atlanta, GA 31153.
The ILC International Newsletter is published weekly in Paris by the International Liaison Committee of Workers and Peoples (Entente internationale des travailleurs et des peuples) -- 87, rue du Faubourg-Saint-Denis 75010 - Paris - France. Tél : (33 1) 48 01 88 28 Fax : (33 1) 48 01 88 36. E.mail email@example.com; website : www.eit-ilc.org.
-- Alan Benjamin
Editor, The Organizer Newspaper
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