On July 12, the Green Party nominated former U.S. Congressperson Cynthia McKinney and hip hop activist and journalist Rosa Clemente as presidential and vice presidential contenders on the Green Party ballot line. By doing so the Green Party nominated the first all women-of-color slate to run a national ticket in U.S. history. What follows are excerpts from McKinney’s acceptance speech.
In 1851, in Akron, Ohio a former slave woman, abolitionist, and woman’s rights activist by the name of Sojourner Truth gave a speech now known as "Ain’t I a Woman." Sojourner Truth began her remarks, "Well children, where there is so much racket, there must be something out of kilter." She then went on to say that even though she was a woman, no one had ever helped her out of carriages or lifted her over ditches or given her a seat of honor in any place. Instead, she acknowledged that as a former slave and as a black woman she had to bear the lash as well as any man and that she had "13 children and seen most all sold off to slavery and when I cried out with my mother’s grief, none but Jesus heard me. And ain’t I a woman?…. If the first woman God ever made was strong enough to turn the world upside down all alone, these women together ought to be able to turn it back, and get it right side up again." As it was in 1851, so it is in 2008. There is so much racket that we, too, know something is out of kilter.
In 1851 the racket was about a woman’s right to vote. In 1848, just a few years before Sojourner uttered those now famous words, suffragists met in Seneca Falls, New York. Two hundred sixty women and forty men gathered in Seneca Falls and declared their independence from the politics of their present and the Seneca Falls Declaration inaugurated 72 years of struggle that ended with the passage of the 19th Amendment in August 1920, granting women the right to vote. And 88 years later, the Green Party is also making history. According to one source, 45 women have run for president in primary elections in the United States in the 20th century; 22 have made it on the ballot in at least one state in November.
In 2008, after two stolen presidential elections, eight years of George W. Bush, and at least two years of Democratic Party complicity, the racket is about war crimes, torture, and crimes against the peace. The racket is about crimes against the Constitution, crimes against the American people, and crimes against the global community. The racket is even about values that we thought were long settled as reasonable to pursue, like liberty and justice and economic opportunity for all. Yes, Sojourner, there’s a lot out of kilter now, but Rosa Clemente and I are going to do our best to turn this country right side up again.
Just like the women and men at the Seneca Falls Convention, I have declared my independence from every bomb dropped, every threat leveled, every civil liberties rollback, every child killed, every veteran maimed, every person tortured, and the national leadership that let this happen. At a pro-peace rally at the Pentagon, I noted that nowhere on the Democratic Party’s Congressional Agenda for their first 100 days in the majority was there any mention at all of a livable wage, the right of return for Katrina survivors, repeal of the PATRIOT Acts, the Secret Evidence Act, the Military Commissions Act, or bringing our troops home now. Nowhere on the Congressional Democrats’ agenda was an investigation into the Pentagon’s "loss" of $2.3 trillion that Rumsfeld admitted to just before September 11, 2001. Nowhere was there any plan to get that money back for jobs, health care, education, and for veterans—not even a repeal of the Bush tax cuts that have helped to usher in levels of income inequality not experienced in this country since the Great Depression. And instead of Articles of Impeachment to hold the criminals accountable, impeachment was taken "off the table."
There is no doubt that the people of this country and in the global community are suffering from Washington, DC’s policies. Even as the ice in the Arctic Ocean was melting, the United States was obstructing an international discussion of climate change goals at the recent G-8 Summit. Even while Bush Senior made himself an international climate change villain by not signing the Kyoto Protocol, his own scientists at the U.S. Climate Change Science Program predicted more heat waves, intense rains, increased drought, and stronger hurricanes to affect the U.S.
Public policy can be our friend or it can be our foe in understanding and working through the immense changes our planet is undergoing. Politics is about values being reflected in public policy. It is about having power over public policy. Had the Green Party’s values been reflected in public policy in this country, the United States would have long ago implemented a livable wage; there would be no civil liberties erosion; diversity would be respected, appreciated and welcomed; education would be interesting and relevant to students’ lives and no student would graduate from college $100,000 in debt, as education, not incarceration and militarization, would be subsidized by the state.
In a Green Party health care would be provided for everyone through a single payer, Medicare-for-all health care system. We would have no homeless men and women sleeping on our streets and everyone who could work would have work rebuilding our infrastructure, manufacturing green technology, retooling our economy. We would forego imperial designs on our neighbors to the north and south, never building any wall of division, not ever encroaching on their geographic or cultural sovereignty.
In fact, if Green Party values were now reflected in U.S. public policy, our country would not be engaged in war and occupation and there would be peace in the Middle East based on self-determination, respect for human rights, and justice. We would strive to perfect our democracy at home through election integrity and no one would be denied their rightful place in our union due to discrimination. We would have apologized for genocide against the indigenous peoples of this land and the abomination of chattel slavery.
Today’s reality is harsh. But what’s even harder for many to accept is that our quality of life is the making of the Democratic and Republican Parties. What our country has become through their public policies is reflective of their values. We will never get a United States that is reflective of different values if we continue to do the same thing. Those who delivered us into this mess cannot be trusted to get us out of it. That’s why I signed up to do something I’ve never done before so I can have something I’ve never had before: my country, made in the likeness of the values of the Green Party.
I know we need an opposition party in this country. With 200 elected officials already, the Green Party can become this country’s premier opposition party. One thing is clear, Democratic and Republican values are not Green Party values. And, I believe, Green Party values are the values held by the majority in this country. We are needed now more than ever, and here’s an example of why.
The Republicans launched this war economy and their presumptive nominee said that we could stay in Iraq for the next 100 years. The Democratic majority in Congress just voted to fund the war into 2009 and has 200 sponsors on a bill that declares war on Iran by calling for a naval blockade. A naval blockade is a declaration of war. The Democratic presumptive nominee wants to increase the size of the military and the budget for an already-bloated and wasteful Pentagon. The Green Party was against the war when it started, is against the war now, and is against any military action against Iran that might take place tomorrow.
Not a word has been mentioned in this political season about the disparities that exist within our country with the recognition that public policy can erase them. Even though for the first time a woman and an African American were being taken seriously in national primaries, a real discussion of race and gender is needed now more than ever. On some indices, according to United for a Fair Economy, the racial disparities that exist today are worse than at the time of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. Here in Chicago, Hull House reported that it would take 200 years, without a public policy intervention from elected leadership, for the quality of life experienced by black Chicagoans to equal that of whites.
Women are still the overwhelming profile of the minimum wage worker in this country: 65 percent of all minimum wage workers are women, according to 2005 statistics. Despite the law, women still go to work every day, performing the same tasks as men, yet bring home less pay than their male counterparts. Asian-American and Pacific Island women make 88 cents for every dollar earned by men, but African American women earn only 72 cents and my Latina sisters earn only 60 cents for every dollar earned by men. Overall, according to 2007 statistics, women with similar education, skills, and experience are paid 77 cents for every dollar a man makes. Equal pay for equal work is not yet a reality for working women in this country.
When I was first running for Congress and it was the year of the woman, women all over the country were saying, "We want our seat at the table." When I got to Washington, I saw that policy was really made in a room, at a table…and there’s two seats at the table—one seat is for the Democrats and one seat is for the Republicans. Now, we don’t know who did it, but one of them put a lock on the door and slipped a key to the corporate lobbyists who can come and go at will and whisper what they want to the Democrats and then whisper what they want to the Republicans. The result is that the people who pay for those seats and determine who sits in them want one thing, but because 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 we end up with a telecom immunity bill being signed into law. That’s how we end up with everyone saying they’re in favor of universal access to health care and no one implementing what physicians, nurses, and health care providers support—and that’s a single payer health care system in this country. That’s why so many other students in this country face staggering personal debt just to get an education, yet our elected representatives keep voting to spend 720 million dollars a day on war and occupation, war crimes, and crimes against the peace.
Don’t expect me to keep a count of the major party flip flops from now to November. I’m sure there will be many. But, in the end, that’s not the important issue to understand. What is more fundamental to understand is this: the other political parties find themselves in this flip-flop predicament because they have to appear to share our values while they serve someone else’s.
We are in this to build a movement. We are willing to struggle for as long as it takes to have our values prevail in a public policy that will turn this country right side up again.
Cynthia McKinney began her political career in 1986 when her father, a representative in the Georgia House of Representatives, submitted her name as a write-in candidate for the Georgia state house. She got about 40 percent of the popular vote, despite the fact that she lived in Jamaica at the time. McKinney immediately challenged House rules requiring women to wear dresses by wearing slacks. In 1991 she spoke against the Gulf War, causing many legislators to walk out in protest of her remarks. McKinney served as a Democrat in the U.S. House of Representatives from 1993 to 2003, and from 2005 to 2007, representing Georgia’s 4th Congressional District. She left the Democratic Party in September 2007.