Friday, August 29, 2008

Your Black Politics: Did Barack Obama Betray Dr. King?

Princeton professor and Bennett College president debate the Democratic Party acceptance speech of Sen. Barack Obama. Drs. Julianne Malveaux and Cornel West seem to agree on Barack Obama's indubitable avoidance of race-related issues, even with the memory of Dr. King's infamous "I Have A Dream Speech" lurking in the background:

Tavis: We are live here once again in Denver following Barack Obama's acceptance speech before a crowd of more than 70,000 people. I'm pleased to be joined tonight by Princeton Professor Cornel West, whose forthcoming book is called "Hope on a Tightrope," and Dr. Julianne Malveaux, president of Bennett College for Women - get that right - and a syndicated columnist. Glad to have you both on the program.

Dr. Julianne Malveaux: Good to be here, Tavis.

Dr. Cornel West: It's a blessing.

Tavis: Doc, let me start with you. Two docs - Dr. Malveaux, let me start with you. So much hype; so much build-up on this clearly historic night, historic moment. Did he deliver?

Malveaux: Not at all. My heart's broken, actually. I hoped to hear more about Dr. King. As we've talked about before we came on, I hoped to hear more about the poverty numbers, about the third anniversary of Katrina, but also hoped to have this brother hit one out of the park. We have been treated this week to phenomenal speeches.

Hillary Clinton was incandescent. I think she did everything she was supposed to do. Bill Clinton, we all went into Bill's speech, President Clinton's speech with apprehension, knowing of all the rumors of tension, and yet he did exactly what he had to do. He said have you ever heard about inexperience, he's too young? That was me. He made the connect that everybody wanted him to make.

And so you know the tableaux being set up, and it's almost as if this great master rhetoritician who had us spellbound in 2004 stumbled. But beyond stumbling, that he could not mention the name of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., that Dr. King was reduced to some preacher from Georgia, is just a disappointment.

Tavis: Dr. West, did he try too hard?

West: Well, I think part of the problem is is that it's hard to ignore history in memory, and when you do, you're not empowered as you should. Because we do want to acknowledge the degree to which this is a historic moment, unprecedented - Black man, nominated to be presidential candidate of the Democratic Party. We salute Brother Barack, we salute the Democratic Party, all of those who've struggled.

Myself, I spent a whole lot of time trying to make sure the brother gained the nomination, and I will continue to fight to gain the election. But at the same time, it's clear that when you run from history, you run from memory, it's hard to be empowered to change history to create a better future and to build on memory so that this becomes a great memory itself in the future.

Tavis: Unpack what you mean by that for a moment. You say run from history, run from memory. You mean what?

West: Well, I mean no mention of Martin, no mention of the Black freedom movement. It made Sister Hillary to talk about Harriet Tubman.

Malveaux: Come on.

West: Feeling it, you see? But it's not just mention of Martin, but it's a mention of all of those who struggled so much and sacrificed so much, understanding the weight of the legacy of White supremacy in America, and seeing this Black man, now a nominee of the Democratic Party? That's a beautiful thing.

Tavis: But Dr. Malveaux -

West: It needs to be at least acknowledged.

Malveaux: But he couldn't use the terms White supremacy.

West: No, he don't have to do - I can use that. He doesn't need to use that.

Malveaux: No, but he -

West: But he should be able to acknowledge and affirm all of the sacrifice that has gone in for him to be where he is.

Malveaux: What I'm saying is while he didn't have to use the terms White supremacy, he could have said Fannie Lou Hamer. He could have said Fanny - you can invoke, you can throw a card on the table. Tavis, one of the things that he did do - let's look at what he did do. He did lay out his policy agenda.

West: Right.

Malveaux: He did make it clear what he was about. He did talk about what he was going to do, and so we'll give him credit for that. I think he also was very noble in what he said he would not do with McCain, in terms of talking about not going around with politics of personal destruction, he would not make patriotism a partisan issue. I think those were very important lines to have.

But we have memorable lines that came out of Michelle's speech, that came out of Hillary Clinton's speech, they came out - what do we have from that? Not a whole lot; and it's almost as if what Reverend Jackson has said, as if there's a baton that had been passed from Dr. King, Reverend Jackson, to Barack Obama. I think Reverend Jackson has been very gracious in talking about the passing of the baton. But I think the brother dropped the historical baton, if he carried the policy (unintelligible).

Tavis: If he had done what Drs. Malveaux and West suggest that he should have done, might he have been accused of being too Black? I can hear some Black folk watching right now, say, "But Dr. Malveaux, Dr. West, you don't get it. He can't be the Black president. We know what this day is all about, but he can't put that out there like that on this night."

Malveaux: If Joe Biden can mention Martin Luther King, how come he couldn't?

West: But the probably is this, too, Tavis, that the Black freedom movement is at the core of American democracy. It has been the major means by which democratic possibilities have expanded for every citizen. So you can't think that somehow you're being American by holding blackness somehow invisible or subordinate.

You see, Louis Armstrong is as American as Frank Sinatra. We love both of them. So why is it that we have to engage in a disappearing act when you talk about America? What's wrong with mentioning Brother Martin as well as Abraham Joshua Heschel or mentioning a Dorothy Day? It's America across the board. It's just not what we looked like. Our contributions is so fundamental in terms of what we sacrificed.

Malveaux: Yeah, I agree with Cornel completely. The fact is that he basically perpetrated a whitewash of our history, and I will use those terms - a whitewash.

Tavis: That's a strong statement, that he perpetrated a whitewash of our history.

Malveaux: It's a strong statement that I stand by, Tavis, and I'm a Democrat - a loyal Democrat. We've all spent time being very, very enthralled by the possibilities. And what I've been intrigued by with Barack Obama as a possibility, when we saw the cameras pan on the brothers and sisters and the White folks in the audience, and what I saw was a yearning.

People wanted him to bring it. People wanted him to bring it. Nobody wanted him to come as less than. We have seen every commentator in the books, from the Republicans to the Democrats, CNN, MSNBC, to PBS, everyone else, talk about this historic day, and yet the nominee cannot?

We have seen people talk about this policy. Hillary Rodham Clinton. You've seen everybody talk about the meaning. There is such meaning here, and the meaning has been squandered. It's like ashes on the ground.

Tavis: Let me ask you, Dr. West, whether or not you think that Black people - they obviously heard the speech - ain't nobody deaf; we heard the speech.

West: Oh, yes.

Tavis: Do you think Black folk felt the speech? And I ask that because I was expecting that camera to pan that audience of 70,000 folk tonight, and I all week had been preparing for Black folk to be in tears, feeling that moment, emoting about what this meant, and especially on this day. Those cameras panned throughout, and I didn't see the tears.

Malveaux: No, they cried - wait, they cried for Hillary and they cried yesterday when the nomination (unintelligible). And that's the contrast.

Tavis: They cried at the acclimation.

Malveaux: They cried then and the tears were coming from Hillary's supporters and Obama's supporters. They cried at the moment. There was nothing to cry about here.

West: I cried when they showed Michelle Obama's mama.

Malveaux: Mm-hmm.

West: I cried when Ted Kennedy came out.

Malveaux: Yes.

West: Now, I didn't cry with the brother from Montana, but I was moved by him. (Laughter) You see what I mean?

Malveaux: The brother from Montana didn't want you to cry.

West: And I was deeply moved by Joseph Biden's mama.

Malveaux: Yes.

West: But I think that the Obama people self-consciously said, "We don't want that kind of speech. We know Brother Barack can do it. We know he can do it." They're trying to escape from history, appeal to the White center, and in doing that, I hope they don't lose the wind at their back. You can't change the world without acknowledging a tradition (unintelligible) memory and history.


Tavis: But to Doc's point though, where are these Black folk going to go? Even if they didn't feel it and he didn't hit a home run tonight for Black people, where they going to go?

Malveaux: Well, they're going to go either to the polls or they're going to stay home.

West: But we're still going to support the brother. (Unintelligible)

Malveaux: But Cornel, here's the issue about supporting. What you've seen with a number of people, people want this brother to succeed. However, you've got to get the enthusiasm; you've got to engage people. And unless some things are done to engage the base, I mean the African-American base, I mean the progressive base, I mean the youth base, what you're going to have is the sisters who would have walked 10 precincts who are now going to walk two. You're going to have the person who would have given $2,300 and now might give $23 or $100, $150, or something like that. The student who would have been spending the two weeks before November canvassing who's now going to spend a couple of days. And so what that speech did was it tamped down and muted enthusiasm.

Tavis: But maybe the history -

Malveaux: But not just Black enthusiasm, Tavis.

Tavis: I got it. But maybe the history of the moment can override all of that.

Malveaux: Perhaps. Perhaps. But at the same time, I don't think that we can afford - what we see right now is that McCain has been defining Obama. This was Obama's moment to define McCain. What we typically look for at the end of a convention is some post-convention bounce. McCain has already cut that significantly by saying he'll announce his vice president tomorrow. So given that, we have no bounce. This is a very close election.

West: He could have said McCain opposed the civil rights bill; McCain looks as if he was even supporting Jim Crow. Jim Crow's terrorism. McCain - why you didn't say nothing in 1963, when people were struggling that way?

Malveaux: He didn't -

Tavis: Let me jump in. I'm sorry; I hate to cut this off. This conversation, as you can see, just getting started. There'll be all kinds of analysis inside Black America and all across the country, as I can imagine, over the next few hours and the next few days.

Dr. Malveaux, thank you for being here.

Malveaux: Pleasure, always.

Tavis: I know you've got to get back to Bennett and take care of the sisters.

Malveaux: Absolutely.

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Monday, August 25, 2008

Your Black Power: What About the Black Community America?

By Peniel E. Joseph,

What About the Black Community America?

A front page story in today's New York Times explores the way in which Barack Obama's presidential candidacy has precipitated excitement and anxiety among African Americans underscores the way in which race continues
to contour the dynamics of this historic election. Obama's march to the Democratic Party's presidential nomination has produced what I call "racial vertigo" in the United States and beyond. Racial vertigo is characterized by a profound inability to comprehend historic events and phenomena due to the way in which they upend pre-conceived notions of America's color-line. This is to say that the prospect and promise of Barack Obama being elected America's first black president has dramatically transformed the national political landscape in ways that continue to defy analysis. In America, what the pre-eminent black intellectual of the twentieth century--W.E.B. Du Bois--called "double-consciousness" cuts both ways. Du Bois defined "double-consciousness" as the tightrope between American citizenship and black marginalization that African Americans faced. Famously, Du Bois wrote of a "veil" or wall that separated blacks and whites in a world where skin color shaped social, political, and economic reality. The color-line imposed its will on white folk as well, allowing them to embrace an identity that, in large measure, defined itself as anti-black. This fiction was backed by an elaborate mythology that used popular culture, public policy, and, as a last resort, racial terror to rationalize black oppression. Racial vertigo distorts these deeply ingrained assumptions that shape the hopes, dreams, ambitions, potential, and imagination of all Americans.

Obama's dramatic primary battle against Hilary Clinton revealed stark racial and gender cleavages within the Democratic Party and the nation as a whole. In his two best-selling books, Dream From My Father and The Audacity of Hope, Obama expressed a romantic admiration for 1960s era civil rights heroes and a generational fatigue with the cultural wars that continue to
remain one of that decade's most enduring legacies. Many of Clinton's most ardent supporters participated in these culture wars and are openly skeptical of Obama's candidacy. Although couched in terms of Obama's perceived lack of political experience, such women offer up telling examples of the effects of racial vertigo. Many of these women view Obama as the
worse kind of example of Affirmative Action, where America's vicious legacy of racism trumps what they view as an even more pernicious and enduring gender inequality. Feminist icon Gloria Steinem lobbed the first salvo in this discourse, arguing that Obama's gender made his candidacy possible in a provocative New York Times op-ed that distorted the nation's tragic legacy of racism and sexism by arguing that blacks received the right to vote fifty years before women, while conveniently forgetting that most African Americans could not vote until 1965. Geraldine Ferraro, former congresswoman and the 1984 Democratic vice-presidential nominee, ratcheted up this line of attack further by suggesting that Obama's race proved to be his major asset among a media and public enthralled by the voguish notion of racial identity. When critics objected, Ferraro hurled allegations of reverse racism and displayed a spirit of entitlement and seething anger at black advancement that echoed the passionate white response to Boston's busing crisis of the early 1970s.

Such attacks, of course, proved to be a double-edged sword. As noted scholar and public intellectual Boyce Watkins has observed, Bill Clinton helped make Obama a political "king" through his ill-advised comparison of the Illinois junior senator to civil rights activist Jesse Jackson. Billionaire entrepreneur Bob Johnson and Harlem Congressman Charlie Rangle inadvertently contributed to Obama's ascent through equally impolitic assertions that brought up Obama's admitted past drug abuse. Cumulatively, explicit and implicit racial attacks against Obama galvanized unprecedented black support. The candidate who, at the beginning of 2007, faced blunt questions about his racial authenticity has evolved into the most popular and
universally beloved black public figure since Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr.

Obama's soaring popularity has stoked hopes, dreams, and fears about the transformative power of his candidacy. Liberals, neo-liberals, and conservative magazines, newspapers, and journals (ranging from the New York Times to Time, Newsweek, and U.S. News and World Report) have openly wondered whether Obama's extraordinary ability to attract white voters in the Democratic primaries illustrated America's evolution into a "post-racial" phase of national politics. From this perspective, white voters' embrace of Obama during the January 2008 Iowa caucuses signaled a watershed moment in America's racial history.

More provocatively, some have suggested that Obama's election as president could signal the "end of black politics." In this narrative Obama's ability to situate himself as a candidate who happened to be black, rather than the black candidate, is evidence of the decline of identity politics among black elected officials. Fresh political faces, including Massachusetts Governor
Deval Patrick, Newark Mayor Cory Booker, and Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter, are touted as post-racial elected officials whose appeal transcends the explicitly racial identifications of the civil rights-Black Power era.

Contemporary events have complicated both of these arguments. Obama's difficulty in attracting white working-class voters in Ohio and Pennysylvania, coupled with the explicitly racial tint of Clinton's victories in Kentucky and West Virginia belied notions of a post-racial American political landscape. The raging controversy over Obama's former pastor, Reverend Jeremiah Wright, dominated media attention and threatened to undermine the candidate's universal appeal. Ironically, faced with the toughest political test of his career, Obama responded with his most forceful, eloquent, and thoughtful statement on race. Obama's speech, "Toward a More Perfect Union," came closest to outlining the litany of historical ills and contemporary burdens that plague the African American community. At the same time, he leavened this criticism by empathizing with the fears and concerns white Americans have about black people in general
and, by proxy, his own groundbreaking candidacy. In the aftermath of this widely discussed speech journalists and commentators predicted a renewed national conversation about race on a level unseen since the 1960s. Obama's campaign however, quickly dropped this controversial subject in favor of more unifying themes focused on the bread and butter economic issues facing the vast majority of the electorate.

The black community's overwhelming support for Obama has been tempered by this complex political landscape. Nationally, media pundits and journalist have interpreted Obama's individual political success as a litmus test for America's racial progress. Such a formula confuses Obama's iconic run for the presidency as positive proof of the end of institutional racism. In effect it substitutes individual achievement for collective racial progress. Certainly African Americans have embraced Obama's candidacy with a mixture of pride, admiration, and anxiety at witnessing history unfurling before their eyes. Obama's candidacy may in fact be one of the few points of unity between the civil rights and Hip Hop generation. Both groups, for different reasons, admire Obama's confidence, self-determination, and sense of style. Obama's candidacy also reflects a watershed of sorts, in terms of individual achievement in American society, one built on barriers broken during the civil rights era and by a host of entrepreneurial, sports, and entertainment figures. Yet the myth that Obama's ascent means the end of racism remains a
powerful allure of his candidacy. A host of social-economic indicators--from dramatic rates of AIDS/HIV, incarceration and poverty rates to income, wealth, educational and health care disparities--contradict this myth. Nonetheless, Obama's campaign continues to be interpreted by mainstream opinion makers as empirical proof of the declining significance of race.

Black leaders have reacted cautiously to the bold new racial and political landscape Obama's candidacy has seemingly ushered. Old guard civil rights leaders, unable to believe that the same nation that terrorized civil rights workers could actually elect a black man in their lifetime, enthusiastically supported Clinton's candidacy only to be chastened by history's spectacularly dramatic tide. Jesse Jackson, whose important 1984 and 1988 presidential campaigns paved the way for a black president, publicly supported Obama but privately grumbled and inadvertently went on record castigating the presumptive Democratic presidential nominee as "talking down
to black folks." Veteran civil rights activist, former Student Non-Violent Coordinating Committee Chairman, and Georgia Congressman changed his support from Clinton to Obama after agonizing months of deliberation. Meanwhile, a new generation of black elected officials embraced Obama's themes of change. For this new cadre of black elected officials, claiming national political power in states, cities, and a nation dominated by a white electorate required a new political paradigm. Whereas racial solidarity led to the election of the first wave of African American officials ushered into office after the 1965 Voting Rights Act, this new guard touts individual achievement, intellectual ability, and political effectiveness in an effort to convey to white voters their ability to judiciously utilize political power. Finally, despite rumors of their demise, grassroots activists related to the Black Power era have offered perhaps the most stinging denunciations of Obama's candidacy. On August 1, 2008 an Obama rally in St. Petersburg, Florida, was disrupted by local black militants who held up a sign, "What About the Black Community, Obama?" Obama's reluctance to embrace a robust agenda for racial justice, urban renewal, and anti-poverty has left such activists fuming and embittered. Along with former representative Cynthia McKinney's third-party candidacy and the intellectual dissent of a small group of black scholars and activists, the St. Petersburg militants have expressed the most vocal opposition to Obama's candidacy.

The inability of such dissenting voices to be heard is unfortunate inasmuch as it reflects a lack of political maturity within national and African American politics. Obama's pursuit of political power has struck his radical critics as ruthless, even as they attempt, through their own more limited means, to gain political strength through organizing at the local level. The extraordinary numbers of African American willing to follow Obama rather than grassroots black militants illustrates the profound gulf that currently exists between radical rhetoric and reality. Ultimately, Obama's impact on black politics remains an unfolding historical process, one whose
reverberations continue to be felt at the local, national, and international level. Since only a future Obama administration can effectively answer the blunt question posed by young militants in St. Petersburg, perhaps the question should be rephrased as part of a national dialogue about race that instead asks: "What about the black community America?"

Peniel E. Joseph is associate professor of African and Afro-American Studies at Brandeis University. During the 2008-2009 academic year he will be a fellow at Harvard University's Charles Warren Center. Dr. Joseph is the award-winning author of Waiting 'Til the Midnight Hour: A Narrative History of Black Power in America. His forthcoming book is entitled, From Black Power to Barack Obama. He is a frequent national commentator on issues related race, civil rights, and democracy and is providing historical analysis for both the Democratic and Republican Conventions as part of PBS NewsHour.

Monday, August 18, 2008

Your Black Politics: Green Party V.P. Nominee, Rosa Clemente Interview With YBW

Interview with Green Party Vice-Presidential Nominee, Rosa Clemente, by Tolu Olorunda.

"Rosa Clemente is a freedom fighter... When she speaks with such command, you know that her words are not only sincere, but they penetrate, they shatter people's complacency. Every movement needs a Rosa Clemente; not only to wake them up, shake them up, but to encourage them to stand up. Rosa Clemente makes you uncomfortable with tolerating injustice," says former NAACP Executive Director and CEO, Dr. Benjamin Chavis Muhammad. Rosa Clemente is a community-organizer, journalist and tireless activist. She has been at the forefront of youth-activism for over a decade, and vows to only keep moving forward. Like the Hip-Hop anthem, "Can't Stop Won't Stop," Rosa Clemente is fully-dedicated to the liberation of Black and Brown minds. As the co-founder of the National Hip Hop Political Convention, Rosa Clemente has galvanized millions of young men and women to register to vote within the last 4 years. With a portfolio of that magnitude, it came as no surprise, when on July 9 this year, former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, selected Rosa Clemente as her running mate for the presidential race. Rosa Clemente views this role as only an extension of her lifelong calling and vocation. I had the pleasure of speaking with Rosa Clemente on her background, the role of a Vice-President, her assessment of Sen. Obama's candidacy, and much more:

Thanks for joining us, Rosa. What kicked off your journalism/activism career?

Well, my activism career started in college, while I was going to school in Upstate New York, during the early '90s. It was a very political period for Black and Latino students, and I became involved with different student groups. My journalism career began when I started volunteering for a radio show at a local community station in New York, called WBAI, and that was in 2002. I then started writing editorials and op-eds for different websites, and from there, I ended up covering major events, such as The United States Navy leaving Vieques, Puerto Rico (2003), and the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina (2005).

In your accomplished career of fighting for Black/Brown human rights, what has been the most challenging event or factor?

I think the most challenging factor, outside of the criminal surveillance, is the problem of sexism -- as many people still have a problem with accepting leadership from Women of color. Lately, I've seen that sentiment more pronounced, and that's very strange to me, because I come out of a college-campus experience, and when I got my Masters at Cornell University, I was surrounded by men and women who were very equal, in terms of how they respected each other's leadership -- and that's coming out of a nationalist perspective. A lot of people tend to say nationalists particularly in the 60s and 70s were sexist and misogynistic, and I tend to say that there were other forces that were more sexist. And with the previous positions that I've held, I think it is still a factor that we don't like to talk about a lot. Because it is easy to talk about outside forces that would destroy a movement, and I pretty much think one can figure out the outside forces quicker, than men of my generation to literally own up to their sexism. I think that is the case because, for instance, 95% of the Hip-Hop leadership in this country is male, and the media will only promote men. We have a generation of men who know what is wrong, but still continue to perpetuate sexism through leadership.

In your assessment, what is the prime-difference between the political culture of the 21st century, and that which dominated the 20th century?

That's such a broad question, and I'm not sure I know the answer.

In 2005, you had an incident with the New Orleans Police Department. Can you describe what took place and the state of New Orleans today?

It was after I went along with two other journalists to New Orleans, and we went to the Baton Rouge shelter where people were being housed. We had press-passes, and during the day, it was pretty accessible if you had a press-pass, but the later it got at night, people began settling down, and we started witnessing incidents, such as the Baton Rouge police-force harassing some of the young men, and some young men who had no shoes, but only flip-flops to wear. So we wanted to interview some of the young men, because they had a curfew, and if they missed the curfew time, they had to sleep outside. We began interview some people, and then the police asked us to stop interviewing them because it was 8:00 PM and the babies were beginning to fall asleep. CNN was there reporting, alongside another station, and the police came up to me, and asked for my press credentials. I showed it to them, and they said it wasn't good enough, and that I would have to leave. I refused to leave, because other journalists were still filing reports. The situation escalated, and I was asked to turn over my Minidisc and my tape. I refused to do that, so they put me under arrest and were going to call other police officers from downtown to come and get me. But one of the brothers I was with also worked with the ACLU, and once we told them that, the police chief came and apologized; I guess they didn't like the questions I was asking. So it seems the other reporters were fine, because they were conducting fluff pieces about how nice the shelters were. New Orleans today is almost a ghost down. A lot of people live under bridges, and all the public housing projects have been destroyed. I've been to the 9th ward 5 times since Hurricane Katrina blew by, and I haven't been there since august 2007, but I know that 75%-80% of the people would never come back. I think they're doing what they always wanted to do in New Orleans, and someone told us when we were there, that there were people who were literally praying, that someday, something would come down and wash away all the Black people -- certain white people were willing to tell us that on camera. The city of New Orleans did what it always wanted to do, and that was to purge the town of Black folks; and I think it is the most devastating thing we've seen in this century as it relates to Black people in America.

As a Hip-Hop Historian and lecturer, what is Hip-Hop in your definition?

For me, Hip-Hop is exactly the five elements which Afrika Bambaataa (Zulu Nation) gave: The MC, The Graff Artist, The B-girl/B-boy, The DJ, Element Knowledge and Culture. So for me, Hip-Hop should be producing knowledge and culture. It should be a way to organize people, and promote multi-racial coalitions -- with people of color leading it. I think Hip-hop is so defined now by everyone; whether it is FOX News, Harvard University, BET, "We the people of Hip-Hop," or the streets. A friend of mine, Khalil Almustafa has a poem called, "We The People Of Hip-Hop Declare Our Independence," where he talks about reclaiming or reaffirming to himself what Hip-Hop is and means: The politics, the knowledge, the culture, the "in your face." It's not the 'Republican Hip-Hop,' and not the 'P. Diddy Hip-Hop.' I define Hip-Hop as a space for radical thinking and radical action, and that's the only form of Hip-Hop I'm willing to engage in at this point. There are other forms of Hip-Hop that can be fun and glamorous, but I’m personally not interested in it, because the majority of our people don't live that way. So I think it’s very different for everybody, and I hope we can maintain a radical and political movement within the culture.

Can you therefore please describe the route which hip-Hop has taken since its inception in the '70s?

Hip-Hop in the early '80s was just, as sometimes, materialistic and misogynistic. But even with those songs, there was a balance on the radio-play. I mean, you could hear from Dana Dane to Public Enemy in 5 minutes, and that's why Hip-hop was incredible: It spoke to so many different people. I think once the powers that be - particularly white men over the age of 50 - found out that they could make money off of it, they began to define it, and define the artists and themselves, and that's how they began to divide Hip-Hop into "West Coast Rap," "East Coast Rap," and "Southern Rap." Also, the disappearance of women as MCs is astounding. We had 100s of more Women Emceeing in the '80s and '90s than we even have now. So I think the corporate-structures of this country are culture-bandits; they would lag unto anything that is culturally ours, and remix it for their purpose -- whether it’s to sell cookies, or to sell a book, or to pass public-policy. In the '80s, Hip-Hop was still within our community, but now it’s worldwide, and you can't control something that big. Its a billion dollar industry that they've been saying would die for 30 yrs, and also a culture that every day, still speaks truth to power -- even with the co-optation. I don't subscribe to the theory of the "Golden Age of Hip-Hop," but at some levels, much of the politics has devolved greatly. I saw more political-hardness in the '80s, especially around the work in South Africa, and how so many of the people within that generation knew who Nelson Mandela was -- not because of the mainstream media, but because of Chuck D and Afrika Bambaataa.

In early 2006 - alongside R.E.A.C.Hip-Hop coalition and the grand Hip-Hop pioneer Afrika Bambaataa - you headlined a protest against Hot 97 for its irresponsible conducts. What exactly provoked that outrage?

Well in January 2005, Hot 97 - owned by Emmis Communications - made fun of the victims of the Tsunami. At the turn of that incident, a DJ by the name of Kuttin Kandi put the coalition of REACH together. It was a coalition of mostly women of color who were fed up with Hot 97, and wanted to hold them accountable. We then went right to the elders of Hip-Hop such as Afrika Bambaataa and Ernie Paniccioli, and that was the year when media justice just came under the radar. So we met with the advertisers, and concretely asked if they wanted to be associated with a station that made fun of dead people and Tsunami Victims. So we had two advertisers pull out, and Hot 97 lost advertising revenue -- which led them to losing their no. 1 status in New York City.

For those unaware, who is Emmis Communications, and what amount of leverage does it have in the Hip-Hop industry?

Emmis is only one of the big-media conglomerates in this country. There's Emmis, Clear Channel and Radio-One in the radio market. But then you have BET, and MTV and VH1 -- all owned by Viacom and General Electric. Emmis is just one of the leading conglomerates that we've seen since the early '90s when Bill Clinton was president, and the deregulation of the FCC took place. Ever since Bush got into office, - but really stretching back to Bill Clinton's presidency - we’ve seen Emmis, Clear Channel and Radio-One go across the country and buy up many local radio stations, and even the takeover of many community stations. Emmis is just one of the three that control probably 85% of what is called 'mainstream radio.' But Emmis is just one of the conglomerates we fight. We fight Viacom, BET, and they're feeling the heat. Now, BET is planning a half-hour weekly political talk-show, and we feel that's not enough. There should be an hour everyday of hardcore news to the Black Community.

How were you informed that former Congresswoman, Cynthia McKinney, wanted you to be her V.P.?

Well, I've known Cynthia for years, and I was supporting her presidential-campaign. So she called and asked me, and I accepted.

What are the issues of critical mass in this election, and how do you gauge the youth's lively response to the call for change?

Well, most of those young people are middle-class college students. They (Obama and the DNC) made it pretty clear who their target youth audience is. I’ve been saying that since the beginning, that the young people, who are attracted to Obama, are predominantly white and liberal-leaning. There's a difference between young people on college campuses - who have the ability to intellectualize, debate and engage in this process - and those who haven't even graduated from High School, but are being recruited by the military. That clearly is a different demographic, and Obama's campaign seems to be targeting the former. Young people began this sudden interest in voting, around 2004, and I think part of that has to do with the founding of the Hip-Hop Convention, and how particularly the Hip-Hop community brought a political agenda that spoke to the needs and issues that young people care about in this country. But on the flip-side of that, only 1 out of 14 young people who are not in college are registered to vote. That means, essentially, they see no hope in voting. So I even think the issues among the diverse demographics of young people are different. 'Obama's young people' would say they want an end to the War in Iraq, and young people in the hood would say they want an end to the war of the police. 'Obama's young people' would advocate for the impeachment of George Bush, and young people in the hood are looking for livable jobs and second jobs, just to maintain. So the claim that the youth vote is unilaterally swinging toward Obama is not true. You don't see Obama going to the Boys and Girls club in Oakland, California; or the Martin Luther King Recreation Center; or a Black and Brown unity forum -- which is happening everywhere, since the media is attempting to pit Blacks against Browns. I don't see him in those spaces, and therefore, their issues are never reflected. Barack Obama couldn't even articulate a decent statement about the exoneration of Sean Bell's killers. So the youth vote might be the highest it’s ever been, but there's still almost 50% of the youth population who are not registered to vote, and who don't care about this election, because they don't see any politician willing to do something that would benefit them immediately.

In light of that, how does the McKinney/Clemente ticket plan on compelling those despondent would-be-voters to support your candidacy?

Well, what I'm trying to do right now, is not get caught up in this Hip-Hop hype that is supposedly coming out for Barack Obama; but I'm also trying to get into spaces were gang truces are being held. Young people are fighting these taser-deaths that have killed 5 young men within the last 2 weeks. I'm going right into the community. I view my role as the Green Party V.P. as long-term, because come January 20, 2009, we must all be prepared to hold the new office-holders completely accountable, and build a movement from the ground. And I think that requires me being in spaces where people have completely disassociated themselves with any type of political-organizing. The Green Party is scheduled to have lawyers on the ground in the major states, to ensure that every vote is counted. No other party is doing that. It was the Green Party lawsuit in 2004 Ohio, which exposed that over 1 million African-American votes were not counted. So I think it is critical that people understand how serious we are, in guaranteeing election integrity. After that, I'm hoping to - with the help of The Green Party - inspire young people to run for office in local posts. If we had more young people sitting on judicial benches, the amount of young folks of color going to jail would be significantly different. So I'm hoping that young people get the message that we don't have to be - by default - beholden to the Democratic Party anymore. They really need to learn a lesson; and the lesson is that, they've completely - in 4 yrs - let down the African-American, Latino, and working-class people in this country. They've made it clear that they would continue to lie to people of color in this country.

Lastly, as a veteran journalist and ferocious activist; what is the principal motivator that pushes you beyond all odds?

For me, it is being around a lot of Elders that are here today -- some are not. When I was in school, I was really lucky to have a mentor by the name of Dr. Vivian Gordon, who started the "National Council for Black Studies." Through her, I met Dr. John Henrik Clarke. I ate with Dr. Clarke, and I sat with Kwame Ture. I went to Cornell University under Dr. James Turner -- who is very well-known in the Black-Nationalist Community. He's been my mentor for over 15 yrs, and like a second father. I've visited political prisoners such as Jalil Muntaquim. Haki Madhubuti, founder of Third World Press, hosted the founding of the Hip-Hop Convention. So I've been really lucky to know a lot of elders in this movement, and to listen, and to learn from their mistakes. The one thing I know from all these people - including Dhoruba Bin Wahad, who was at the Hip-Hop Convention a couple of weeks ago - is that they never deviated from principle. I've seen these people who could have been presidents of Universities, and presidents of non-profit organizations, and they never compromised their integrity. Haki Madhubuti often says of Third World Press, that "there's no white money up in here," and I think that's the best thing ever. When I think of what he's done with Third World Press, and the fact that he's never taken government money or grants, I'm inspired. For a lot of people in my generation, honor is bought and sold. So if Cynthia McKinney can leave the Democratic Party, I refuse to be dishonest to the people I serve.

Thank you so much for being with us, Rosa Clemente. I wish you all the best in your endeavors.

Watch this powerhouse speech given by Rosa Clemente, in honor of Katrina Victims:

This interview was conducted by Tolu Olorunda, Staff Writer for