07 September 2008

The Presidential Candidates: Cynthia McKinney

If John McCain is a Navy brat, then McKinney is a political brat. Her father served in the Georgia legislature and initially promoted Cynthia's own career. Like Bob Barr on the Libertarian side, McKinney's congressional experience should entitle her to instant credibility, but both candidates are dismissed as cranks because they've tried to buck the Bipolarchy.

McKinney's campaign website ranks as her most significant congressional achievement a 1997 bill, the Arms Transfer Code of Conduct, which was "aimed at preventing the sale of US weapons to dictators." Later in her career, besides advocating for survivors of Hurricane Katrina, she seemed most interested in investigating conspiracy theories about the September 11, 2001 terrorist attacks and the murder of Tupac Shakur. Her running mate, Rosa Clemente, is a "hip hop activist" who has written for The Final Call, the Nation of Islam weekly, and other publications. McKinney boasts Roseanne Barr and members of the rap group Public Enemy among her celebrity endorsers.

The Green Party, less a national movement than an alliance of state parties affiliated with the established Green parties of Europe, hasn't come up with a definitive platform for the 2008 campaign. McKinney herself has contributed to an alternate platform, the "Draft Manifesto for a Reconstruction Party." Taking its epigraph from the Declaration of Independence (the part about the people's right to "alter or abolish" oppressive governments), the platform demands that power over elections be taken from the major parties and private voting machine manufacturers. It demands "comprehensive federal investment in low-income families and communities, with an emphasis on people of color" and a further emphasis on relief for Katrina victims.

Declaring, "We Want Freedom Now!" the platform elaborates on what it means by freedom:

Freedom also includes the rights to education, health care, housing, living wages, and freedom from racism, sexism, homophobia, Islamophobia, gentrification, and police terror. Therefore, elimination of all health, education, home ownership, and social justice disparities must form the foundation of every plank of any acceptable political and economic platform that seeks to address the real concerns of the peoples of the Americas.

The platform also demands full employment and a living wage, both to be achieved through infrastructure investment and "green rebuilding." It calls for the abolition of any free-trade agreement that tends to depress labor standards both here and abroad. To bolster the labor movement domestically, the platform demands the repeal of the Taft-Hartley laws and any others that make it more difficulty for unions to take root in workplaces. In effect, the platform wants to tip the balance in unions' favor by a "ban [on] scabbing" and other measures.

"We believe the United States has a responsibility to alleviate human suffering at home and abroad," the platform asserts. This includes universal, single-payer health care, subsidized higher education, and an effort to equalize racial percentages of home ownership. It calls for an end to the "Drug War" and the "Prisons for Profit" system, also known as the "prison-industrial complex."

For many curious readers, the deal-breaker for the McKinney campaign will be its emphasis on "emphasis on people of color" on many issues. McKinney is concerned with eliminating racial disparities and the "Reconstruction" platform openly calls for "reparations," on the ground that the government reneged on its alleged promise to compensate all ex-slaves with "forty acres and two mules." The platform expresses alarm that Senator Obama's candidacy might encourage people to think that a "post-racial" political era is upon us.

Already, calls are being made that the end of race in American politics has arrived due to the phenomenal success at the polls of Democratic Presidential candidate Barrack Obama. None other than Dick Morris, former Clinton Presidential advisor, noted, "Obama -- by winning in a totally white state -- shows that racism is gone as a factor in American politics." On CNN, Bill
Bennett commented, "[Obama] never brings race into it. He never plays the race card. Talk about the Black community -- he has taught the Black community you don't have to act like Jesse Jackson; you don't have to act like Al Sharpton. You can talk about the issues." It is clear from the statistics that all working families without regard to race or ethnicity are hurting. But families of color are hurting the most. Let us not fail to speak out in our own name and to organize around these fundamental programmatic planks so that we can forge and win solutions to the problems facing our communities, our country, and our world.

McKinney is getting a very modest amount of coverage, including an appearance this weekend on C-SPAN's "Race to the White House" series. Unfortunately, the network's coverage of her this week looks exceptional, when it should be showing her and Barr and Nader, at least, every week alongside McCain and Obama. For our purposes, here she is in Denver, participating in the "Recreate 68" protests during the late Democratic convention.

We can disagree with many of her positions, but we echo McKinney's ultimate question. If grass-root movements can take power in all or many of the countries she cites in her speech, why can't it be done in this country? Reasons will obviously come to mind, but that only begs the next question: what do we do about the reasons?


crhymethinc said...

Seems to me that people like her hinder more than help any grassroots movement by making race an issue. I think the main reason that grassroots movements work better in Europe is that the people there are far more unified and don't think in terms of "minorities" or "colored folk", they see themselves as just "folk".

These people will NEVER get anywhere until they forget that they are black or hispanic or white and think of themselves ONLY as Americans.

Samuel Wilson said...

I ought to add that no grass-roots movement will get anywhere in America until each sub-group learns to regard the other sub-groups "ONLY as Americans."

In some of the South American countries McKinney cites as examples of grass-roots success there are, in fact, similar ethnic-cultural divides, most notably between indigenous peoples and descendants of Spanish settlers. It may be that the divide is more thorough in those places, so that you can identify the poor with a particular ethnicity. On the other hand, in places like Brazil there are large "black" populations descended from slaves. A grass roots movement did succeed in Brazil, so blacks, natives, and poor "whites" must have found a way to work together. Maybe McKinney should pay closer attention to the success stories she wants to emulate and get back to us on what she learns.