Originally posted at The Well Versed
If you want a dose of straight talk, count on Rosa Clemente to deliver. In 2008, Clemente was the Green Party’s Vice Presidential nominee, running with former Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney. Armed with a series of lessons learned from that historic year, Clemente sat down with TWV to talk about losing friends because of politics, President Obama and what progressives and people of color can learn from the Tea Party.
TWV: 2008 was a historic year for the country for the obvious reason. One story that wasn’t talked about was you and Cynthia McKinney running—two women of color running together. Can you talk about why you decided to run?
Rosa Clemente: When Cynthia called me, I was already supporting her and I had been a Green Party member. I think people have these fantasies that it was pomp and circumstance. She asked, I said yes. A week later I was in Chicago accepting the nomination.
TWV: What was it like being on the trail? Obama sucked up most of the attention for being the first black man, but what was it like for you all?
RC: What was it like? I was never going to vote for him even though we gave $150 to him. I see things in two different ways: first was the historical importance in terms of our people who needed to see a victory. On the flip side, as a Green Party member I was going to vote for a Jared Ball or a Ralph Nader. The thing I didn’t expect was the backlash from progressives, Black Nationalist, Puerto Rican nationalists, and hip hop groups. Cynthia had always been named one of the most progressive people in Congress.
I don’t care if folks are Democrats or if people in hip hop sold out to the Democratic Party is how purposeful people were in making sure me and Cynthia were silenced. Groups like the Hip Hop Caucus or Campus Progress were not allowing me to be at events I was scheduled at. How many anti-war groups turned their backs on us by only writing about Obama or only mentioning Ralph Nader.
I’m a tough person, but I don’t expect to see people calling me a “bitch” or a “cunt” on a blog. Like “damn homie, I know you’re going to vote for Obama, but what the hell?”
TWV: It’s been two years since then, have any of those relationships been repaired?
RC: There are individual relationships that will never be repaired. Most of those people…the reality is that some things were personal. I didn’t feel like those certain individuals had an understanding of political science. Maybe we were attacked cause cats are getting money or they knew they were on their way to selling out. I don’t have any interests in people who switch their politics based on what’s popular. Losing friends? That hurts. These are people I’ve been in the trenches with. So it’s like not only don’t you believe in me as a friend, you don’t believe in what you’re saying.
TWV: Have there been a lot of people who came back to you a little disappointed and said, “You were right.”
RC: It’s not even you were right, its people thinking about voting for the Green Party or people being happy to say they voted for us. Or people emailing me to say “I really believed in the movement and this man, what do I do now?” I think black and brown people are addicted to the Democratic Party.
TWV: We have an either/or system of politics with the Democrats and Republicans. We know we’re not getting anything with the GOP, so we hope to get a little with the Democrats. How to we break that addiction?
RC: There are Green Party members in other countries that are in office. I think it’s important for young people to look at other electoral systems. It’s my belief that no matter how many third party people we get into Congress, we have an Electoral College system that doesn’t count every vote.
We live in a capitalist society. These two parties are not going to let the Green Party cause a Titanic. This whole idea of going into government to compromise. Politics isn’t all about compromising. There are never permanent enemies or friends. Only permanent interests and you don’t compromise those. The idea of these rich millionaires including Obama sitting at a table compromising on the interests of people being able to work, eat, and get health care is bullshit. As much as I want to be engaged in electoral politics, I recognize that if we’re going to depend on every two or four years and not organize, it doesn’t matter. Progressives and the left are so lost in the wilderness right now.
TWV: Do you attribute that to the election of Obama?
RC: I don’t blame it on Obama; I blame it on progressives because they know better. These are people I admire, from Michael Eric Dyson to Cornel West. I believe they are progressive and have the best interests of people at heart. I don’t think they have any clue of what people in the hood are going through. They’re not all rich, but a lot of them are. As much as I want to be down, if I’m living okay or pretty good, I may have empathy but I have no idea of what people are doing or would be ready to do to have the basics. I also feel that a lot of progressives feel like whatever we do has to be peaceful.
How long do you let people not be peaceful to you before you do something that isn’t peaceful? These cats are not being peaceful in any way towards us. I don’t have an illusion that we have an army ready—I don’t have a fantasy about it. But I know there’s more radical action that we could be taking collectively. Progressives care too much about being liked and what people think.
TWV: Other than just having a person of color in the White House, do you feel that there have been any other victories for people of color or working people?
RC: Other than the student loan stuff reforms, no. Quantitatively, the numbers show there’s been no improvement. If you’re going to be in this game, you have to look at things unemotionally. The numbers are showing us that nothing is working. Automatically if people think you’re blaming Obama, they’ll give you a list of 37 good things he did. I can name you 87 good things Bill Clinton did. President’s do decent things. Are you doing enough for the collective and are you siding with the rich? Most bills side where the rich are concerned. Whether its tax breaks or health care on the side of the pharmaceutical companies. Every indicator of what it is to live a decent life—the numbers are falling.
TWV: Would you consider running again?
RC: I would. But I wouldn’t run to make a statement at this point. I’d run to build a party, to build a movement of electoral politics outside the two party system that engages working class people of color.
TWV: How can people get involved—not necessarily with the two major parties—with progressive third party structures in their areas?
RC: A couple exist, from the Green Party to other third parties. A lot of states have different options. The most important thing is to take a lesson from the Tea Party. The Tea Party did your typical, black town hall meeting. Thousands of us would get together, say “this shit is fucked up” and lay out the plan, localize it and create a movement on the ground. We haven’t done that. We only come together to say what Obama is or isn’t doing. Why are we still having this discussion?
The Tea Party has essentially stolen tactics from us and they get people in Congress? I’m aware they have money. We need people in our movement that have money to give up the money. Freedom isn’t free. Progressives may not have Warren Buffet money, but there are enough people to support young people who want to run as third party candidates. Do what the Tea Party did without the racism. Get people together and create a space where people can be engaged.