By jeff chang • Oct 17th, 2008 • Category: news

Rosa Clemente

The Haze of Obama-mania

By Jeff Chang

Rosa Clemente emerged this summer as the surprise vice presidential pick of Green Party presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney.

Green party Vice Presidential candidate Rosa Clemente

In a year marked by deep divisions around race and gender, and a historic chain of events that leaves the nation staring into a global crisis brought on by catastrophic political and economic failures, Clemente has been a fresh voice in left circles.

Before coming to the vice presidential campaign, Clemente was best known for her work in hip-hop activism and anti-police brutality campaigns with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement with R.E.A.C.Hip-Hop and Universal Zulu Nation.

This interview occurred in Las Vegas at the National Hip-Hop Political Convention, for which she was a co-founder, in late July and more recently as the 36-year old mother prepared for a third party vice presidential debate in New York City in October.

She spoke candidly about the economy, the wars, and the stakes for the election. What follows are excerpts.

Q: When I heard about you running for vice president, I was excited. Then I was like, damn, is she old enough? I guess it struck me. You hear people say, ‘Our day is coming’. And then it gets here…

R: And you get caught like, ‘How did we get here’?

Q: Exactly.

R: I guess people may question if I’m old enough, probably because I wasn’t born into activism or organizing. I came to it really when I was like 26, and then really, when I wrote the letter about Russell Simmons in 2001, that put me out there.

People always say they want their officials to be held accountable. Here is (Cynthia McKinney), being held accountable, because her party didn’t keep to their promises in ‘06 when they all got in. Pelosi and Conyers and all them finally get these ranks and—no impeachment and no pullout of the war. She actually stood to their principles. She could just have stayed in the DNC. She could have stayed the incumbent and she just didn’t.

People have always said, ‘You gotta tone it down Rosa, you’re too honest. You can’t always say what you say.’ And I think everything I did got me to this position, because I think I am genuine and I think that a lot of cats aren’t. It has come at the expense of a lot of shit. I know that. But I can’t be any other way. And I think Cynthia is just, she’s completely uncompromising. That is the most needed value right now in our movement.

Q: The hip-hop generation has been successful in terms of bringing more folks out to the polls. Every election has shown landmark numbers. But the numbers that, in terms of registration, they’re mostly the college kids. How do you reach the working-class young people, the youths of color who are completely alienated, the overwhelming majority of young people who still aren’t even registed to vote?

That’s what I’m trying to stay focused on. It’s a difficult situation. You can get into the communities because you now have a name, but you might not even have the resources to get a flight there. And that’s how real it is in our campaign. Even though the Green Party has been infrastructured for 25 years, they don’t get matching funds. And the less we’re in the media, the less people know we exist so there’s no money in the coffers to do that type of campaigning which is what I want to do. I want to get to the cats that aren’t even registered to vote. I don’t give a fuck about turning no Barack Obama Democrat around. I’m not even trying to waste my time.

It’s interesting that with the new vote rising, it’s defaulting to the Democrats. Who is gonna vote for John McCain? So what it essentially is, the Democrats in the back of their minds gotta be thinking we ain’t even got to talk about these young people’s issues. There’s this fervor because of all the work we’ve been putting down since 2003—all these hip-hop organizations—there’s the fervor to get out there and to register voters but it’s essentially defaulted Democrat anyway. So what it becomes incumbent upon me to say is: am I doing this for the Green party or am I doing it for my generation? Is that connected? If it is, how does that play out? And I’m trying to stay really focused on getting to the people that are completely dissatisfied and completely marginalized, not necessarily from joining the Green Party, which would be great, but to begin to tell them that this two-party system—that has to stop now. We cannot afford another two-party election.

Q: Talk about the platform. What do you think the Green Party has over the other parties?

This is the only party that even has social justice as its core principle. When we say ending the war, we mean all the wars. We need to get all the military out of every country, we need to begin to deal with issues of what peace can look like, how do you sustain that. Obviously, the Green Party is at the forefront of pushing the environment as a core value. There should be an end to imprisoning young people, an immediate stop to the death penalty, a livable wage, not a minimum wage. Impeachment for George Bush and them is critical. I think if we don’t hold them accountable as a people, then anybody can do the same shit that they did. Words are words, but we can make the words into deeds. If people would even open up the platform, they would see that neither the Democrats and Republicans would even talk about young people having rights and that we should be signing some of these international treaties, like the Universal Declaration of Human Rights. The hardest part is to literally get people to open it up and want to be exposed.

Q: How do you and Cynthia view the mortgage emergency, the $700 million national bailout, and the global crash? What would the Green Party propose to resolve the crisis of the global markets that the two major parties and other third-parties are not?

Just today, European governments pledged two trillion to bail out more banks. Our take is that these are Wall Street billionaires who have stoilen from the people, essentially. The $700 billion bailout then became $840 billion and could become $1 trillion. When you look at that amount of money that they are stealing from taxpayers, we could fund everyone in this country to have health care. The reason this all started was because of the subprime mortgage crisis and predatory lending practices. Those people are still getting kicked out of their houses. I just don’t understand on a really basic level what is going that the majority of people in America are not rising up against it. It’s clearly corporate thievery right in front of our faces.

Cynthia has put out a ten-point economic program that will stop all foreclosures, and repeal the tax cuts. Part of it also is that everything we expect the two major political parties to do, they do the opposite. Both of the political parties are signing off on the bailout and not talking about what’s going on with the majority of people.

Q: Does the economic crisis make resolving the wars in Afghanistan and Iraq more or less urgent?

It should have been happening. This doesn’t make me less want to end the war. It’s all interconnected. Something that’s missing in a lot of discussions this is not just about the stock market and not just about the elites. Whatever goes down with them is gonna economically affect us, it’s gonna change the structure of our neighborhoods, the policing. What happened in Minnesota with the police response (at the RNC) can be indicative of what could potentially happen if the global economic sphere keeps crashing around us…

Q: Let’s unpack that. Are you saying the police state we saw at the RNC will be one fallout from the economic crisis?

I think that the police state is already there. I think it’s been there post-2001. But this economic crisis and class warfare–I’m an activist so I know what’s on the ground—the police state will protect those interests if the people choose to rise up. They were clamping down military-style against people who were speaking and marching for the most part. So we can’t ever think they wouldn’t clamp down on the majority of working people if they take it to the streets. It’s interconnected.

Q: How are you feeling about the Party’s progress toward the 5% threshold you need to reach to receive federal matching funds?

I don’t think we’re going to receive 5%. We’re not polling that.

Now what’s happening to Senator Obama—the racist rhetoric, the lynch-mob mentality—is unacceptable. Clearly we as young people right now need to be writing about it, singing about it, op-eding about it. They’re setting up a lynch-mob mentality. I don’t get it twisted that in best of worlds if Cynthia McKinney was up there this wouldn’t be going on. How I’m feeling about the Green Party is that I think there are a lot of good chapters and this is the best ballot status we’ve ever achieved. Personally, I feel really good about what I’m hearing out there. It’s about people beginning to see through the haze of Obama-mania. No matter what’s gonna happen I’m rolling on the right side of things. For me, the Green Party has been learning a lot of ways of interacting with more different types of people, getting out of my comfort zone, having a little more patience, having a more long-term strategy right after the election. No matter what happens, the next day I really want to be building or rebuilding a solid left of multi-racial of working-class people. That’s what I’m waiting for.



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posted by jeff chang | All posts by jeff chang

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