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The Politics of Race in the Granite State

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A conversation with co-host Salim Muwakkil from Chicago and New Hampshire community activists Nury Marquez and Rev. Bertha Perkins about the experience of people of color in New Hampshire — a state that’s 97 percent white — and the alliances that are built among communities of color amidst the troubling influence of U.S. politics by political events like the Iowa caucuses and the New Hampshire primary — events held in overwhelmingly white states. Race issues in the this year’s presidential election are preempted by a misleading focus on immigration using so-called drug war programs like Operation Street Sweeper that allows local police to question (mostly Latino) residents about alleged suspicious behavior after which INS agents arrive and use their purview to question immigration status. This and similar incidents as when African-American motorists are stopped for “driving while black” feed a kind of xenophobia as those who are different or act different from the majority are rejected for that difference. And in the only state in the U.S. that doesn’t honor Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a holiday, Arnie Alpert discusses the more subtle degrees of racism in political rhetoric as some Republican and conservative leaders in New Hampshire characterize Dr. King as important to the civil rights movement, “a folk hero for underprivileged minorities,” a person opposed to the Vietnam War and thus not worthy of honor, but in any case a person who may be important to “other people” but not to “the people of New Hampshire.”

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This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, Pacifica’s national daily grassroots election show. I’m Amy Goodman.

Race in New Hampshire. What is it like to be a person of color in a state that’s 97 percent white, the only state that doesn’t recognize Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday, a state where anti-immigrant sentiment is high, as English-only has become law and as police crack down on Latino residents?

Joining us to talk about these issues are my co-host in Chicago at station WFMT, Salim Muwakkil. Salim will be joining us for the entire run of this show, of Democracy Now! He’ll be co-hosting segments from Chicago, talking about all sorts of issues, including race, including labor, including Midwestern politics. And Salim is the senior editor at In These Times and a columnist with the Chicago Sun-Times.

Also joining us on the telephone from New Hampshire, Nury Marquez. She’s executive director of ALPHA, the Alliance for the Progress of Hispanic Americans. It’s based in Manchester, where the INS crackdown is currently taking place.

And we’re also joined by Reverend Bertha Perkins. She’s pastor of the New Fellowship Baptist Church in Hudson, New Hampshire, and executive board member of the Southern New Hampshire Outreach for Black Unity.

Joining us a little later in this segment, we’ll be talking to the head of the American Friends Service Committee who’s been chronicling the Martin Luther King debate.

Salim, welcome to Democracy Now!

SALIM MUWAKKIL: Good morning, Amy. It’s good to be here.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s great to have you. Now, what’s it been like for you, going from the Iowa caucuses to the New Hampshire primary, watching these two states that are overwhelmingly white, among the whitest in the nation, really define the political discourse, because they are the first ones that the national media is really focusing on?

SALIM MUWAKKIL: Yeah, it’s always troubling, because they’re so atypical demographically. But, you know, in one sense, they may be more typical than we think, in that they represent states that a lot of people run to to get away from African Americans. So, in many ways, just as the states exemplifies the post-contract state of existence that was talked about in the previous segment, it may also represent the kind of post-integration mindset of many white Americans.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s bring Nury Marquez into this discussion. We have certainly not heard about the plight of Latinos in New Hampshire. We hear about who’s moving up and who’s moving back and who’s coming up the right, who’s going back the left. But we’re not hearing about real issues, and you’re certainly immersed in them. Can you talk a little about Operation Street Sweep?

NURY MARQUEZ: Well, Operation Street Sweeper is, in fact, not unique to New Hampshire. My understanding is that it’s part of a national strategy, and I believe even in Chicago there were incidents that were very similar, like New—

SALIM MUWAKKIL: Very much so.

NURY MARQUEZ: Like Manchester. And basically, it’s the targeting of a community for the purpose of illustrating the power and the might of law enforcement and city government officials who are taking—who are fighting the drug war, and so that it’s basically a very selective way of saying, “This problem is because of these people, who don’t belong here, who shouldn’t be here, and it’s their fault that we have this big problem.”

AMY GOODMAN: How many Latinos are in New Hampshire?

NURY MARQUEZ: I would say probably about 5,000 people, four to five thousand. And that’s based on our experience with community people and not based on the census. The census in 1990 counted only 2,121 Hispanics.

AMY GOODMAN: How does the—


AMY GOODMAN: Go ahead, Salim.

SALIM MUWAKKIL: Are you saying that the pretext for this crackdown is the drug wars?

NURY MARQUEZ: Oh, yeah. Yes, very much.


NURY MARQUEZ: It was—it was billed as a—you know, fighting the drug war, New Hampshire, the model for the nation. In fact, there was a congressional hearing that was held in Manchester where various congressmen and senators from other states, from Florida and I forget where the others came from. And people had an opportunity to testify to the great effort and wonderful results of the operation. Of course, not all of us agree with that.

AMY GOODMAN: What does the INS actually do and the police actually do in Manchester?

NURY MARQUEZ: Well, basically, people are—people who are suspected, people who seem suspicious, are stopped by the police, and they may be asked a question or two. And subsequently, an INS agent will arrive who then will pose other questions, which, under INS purview, they have the discretion to do so, where the police cannot. The police cannot simply go up to an individual and say, “Show me your legal status in this country.” But an INS agent has the ability to do that, has a lot more discretion. So—and they also have more discretion in searching, apparently, in searching people’s homes and property, personal property.

AMY GOODMAN: Does the primary that’s taking place in New Hampshire right now feed the kind of xenophobia that you’re talking about? I mean, you have someone like Pat Buchanan, who could possibly win the New Hampshire primary.


AMY GOODMAN: And he’s talking about putting up a wall on the border.

NURY MARQUEZ: Right, yeah. Oh, yeah, very much so. I think it’s the national sentiment, and again, New Hampshire is not any different. It’s an opportunity to point fingers and to blame, again, certain people who are different, who look different, who act different, who speak different, and who apparently are presented as people who are abusing the system, people who are taking advantage, people who are taking away from others, unrightly. I don’t hear the business community complaining about the fact that they have inexpensive labor, they have indispensable labor. I don’t hear them complaining. In fact, if the INS—in fact, members of the local police department admitted to me personally that they were very selective with their targeting, and they chose not to bother the businesses. They were not going to raid any factories or any business operations, because—because obviously it’s not in the best interest of the local economy to do that. So, it’s a very selective process. And it’s an opportunity for people to say, yeah, they are the—you know, “It’s their fault. That’s why we’re in the jam that we’re in.”

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s bring Reverend Bertha Perkins into this discussion, pastor of the New Fellowship Baptist Church in Hudson, New Hampshire, and on the board of Southern New Hampshire Outreach for Black Unity. Welcome to Democracy Now!, Reverend Perkins.

REV. BERTHA PERKINS: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: And can you tell us how many African Americans are in New Hampshire?

REV. BERTHA PERKINS: Our numbers are pretty much the same as the Hispanic. We run about three to four thousand, closer to 4,000 total in the state.

AMY GOODMAN: How do you keep your community together? Do you feel like a community?

REV. BERTHA PERKINS: Definitely. We are a community, not geographically or demographically. It would be different in most other states. Ours is a statewide thing. Southern New Hampshire Outreach for Black Unity covers all of southern New Hampshire, but it extends throughout the entire state. We do things like write newsletters and different events. And we collaborate a lot because we do a lot of things with—what one community is doing, we try to be a part of that. Whatever the Hispanic community is doing and Latino is doing, we try to do the same thing or collaborate with them. We work together on a lot of different things—we have to—in this state in order to keep the issues alive. And we can’t afford to be separated. So, in that sense, we’re more together and more of a sense of community, because we need each other in order to survive in this state.

SALIM MUWAKKIL: Yeah, I was going to ask you that, because Ms. Marquez pointed out the fact that Latinos were being stopped selectively by police.


SALIM MUWAKKIL: And I understand in New Hampshire similar incidents have occurred with young African Americans, as well.

REV. BERTHA PERKINS: Yeah, definitely. As a matter of fact, it started with African Americans early on. I’ve lived in the state for quite a few years, and I think the very—the most disheartening thing is that 35 years later I see some of the same thing happening, and it’s getting worse. Of course, that’s—I guess that holds true for the nation; it’s not just New Hampshire. But—

SALIM MUWAKKIL: But you see it getting worse?

REV. BERTHA PERKINS: Yes, it’s still getting worse. There are some areas that’s trying to make an improvement. But as Nury said, we’ve had the experience, too, African Americans, of being targeted and stopped. And it made no difference. For instance, during the middle—mid-'70s, when the influx of young professionals came in with the major corporations into the state, they found themselves being stopped just as they were just riding down the street on their way to their jobs or on their way to their homes. We don't have—with the exception of a few occasions, we don’t really have a community where African Americans live and you go in there and you say, “OK, that’s where they’re found; they live in this area.” We don’t have—for the most part, we don’t have that. In some areas, there might be a higher percentage of African Americans, but very, very few throughout the state. But still, they would be stopped, for no reason. I mean, you could always get a probable cause for a moving violation, and that seems to be the thing that—

SALIM MUWAKKIL: Driving while black, that’s what we call it in Chicago.

REV. BERTHA PERKINS: Absolutely, absolutely. And that’s what would—was happening a lot, particularly—well, we found that it was across the state, because I know that it happened in Manchester a lot, it happened in Nashua, and it was also happening in Portsmouth. Now, those were the states where—the cities, rather, where the majority of African Americans—that’s where your largest population is, and it was happening there.

SALIM MUWAKKIL: But, Reverend—Reverend Perkins, the incident in the Pat Buchanan campaign where Larry Pratt was released or voluntarily left the campaign was really the only mention of race relations in this entire campaign.

REV. BERTHA PERKINS: Well, yeah, see, that’s it. And one of the things here—and when you talk about racism in New Hampshire, they have a very unique way of doing it. And they do it by—basically, just exclude us, a denial that we exist. As Nury said before, we have difficulties in getting what the census really is, so we can’t really go by that. There are a lot more African Americans and a lot more Latinos that live in the state than what’s reflected by the Census Bureau.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m curious, Reverend Perkins, were you asked for comment or any members of the African-American community asked for comment when Larry Pratt was let go as co-chair of Pat Buchanan’s campaign because of his connection to white Aryan parties, or when this weekend it was also discovered that some temporary county chair of Pat Buchanan’s campaign in Florida was a member of the National Association for the Advancement of White People?

REV. BERTHA PERKINS: No, only by stations like yourself, people who are outside the state of New Hampshire. The media—I find, for the most part, the media contacts us when they need something. I’m talking about our local media. Maybe around Martin Luther King Day, they may call for comment, or something else happened. But other than that, we, for the most part, go unnoticed. And I think that’s part of—I think about exclusion. They feel, because we’re low and small in numbers, that we really—we really do not make a difference. Politically, that may be—you know, politically, that may be correct, because if you took away our votes, with the exception of liberals and Democrats, for the most part it won’t make a—it would not make a difference.

AMY GOODMAN: Let’s talk about Martin Luther King’s birthday, if you will. We’ve got Reverend Bertha Perkins on the phone, who’s with the New Hampshire Outreach for Black Unity. We’re also joined by Nury Marquez with ALPHA, the Alliance for the Progress of Hispanic Americans. And my co-host, Salim Muwakkil, is with us from Chicago. And joining us in this part of the conversation is Arnie Alpert, who’s with the American Friends Service Committee, and he has been documenting the years of struggle around recognizing Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday as a state holiday.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Arnie Alpert.

ARNIE ALPERT: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Morning. Can you tell us—

SALIM MUWAKKIL: Good morning.

AMY GOODMAN: Can you give us a thumbnail sketch of this debate and why it has been a debate in the New Hampshire Legislature and how it’s possible that we’ve heard so little about the fact New Hampshire is the only state in the union that doesn’t honor Martin Luther King’s birthday?

ARNIE ALPERT: Well, I know Pacifica Radio has been covering this, actually, over the years, so it’s not your fault. But the struggle goes back to 1979, when the first bill was introduced. And I think a lot of it has to do with the invisibility that Bertha referred to. There’s a sense that New Hampshire is a state of white houses and white churches and white mountains and white people, and that anything that sort of disturbs that myth basically gets denied or rejected or ignored, so that even while some of the Republican leaders and conservative leaders in the state have come out and said that they believe that Martin Luther King’s leadership in the civil rights movement was important, there’s a sense reflected at the Legislature in particular that it doesn’t really have anything to do with us, doesn’t have anything to do with our constituents, the white folks who live in the small towns and small cities that are scattered across New Hampshire.

AMY GOODMAN: You want to give us some quotes of New Hampshire legislators and what they have to say about Martin Luther King, how they defend against having his birthday recognized?

ARNIE ALPERT: Well, you get—you know, and I think one of the most revealing quotes came from a representative during the debate in 1989, I believe it was, who said that while he previously had opposed the holiday, he now was going to say he was going to be in support and was going to vote for it because Martin Luther King represents a folk hero for underprivileged minorities. In that sense, that Martin Luther King is somebody who’s important to somebody else, but not important to us, I think, typifies the kind of denial and the kind of more subtle degree of racism that is pervasive in the state of New Hampshire. You also have had a lot of statements over the years suggesting that King is not worthy of honor because of his opposition to the war in Vietnam. I’d say that really has been the prevailing outspoken sentiment that has been found from the editors of the Manchester Union Leader and some of the leaders of the opposition movement at the local and state level.

SALIM MUWAKKIL: Well, you know, it’s curious because many of the Republicans, especially on the national scene, are using Dr. King to promote their notion of a color blind society.


SALIM MUWAKKIL: So, it would seem that there was an opening to kind of use their own rhetoric against them in this particular case. Has any attempt been made to do that?

ARNIE ALPERT: Well, you know, there was a—you said earlier—someone said that race has not come into the debate at all. I would actually say that that’s not true at all, that there’s been a lot of race in the debate, but it’s focused on opposition to immigration, and it’s focused on an attempt to overturn affirmative action. And in that sense, race is a vital part of the presidential debate this year. One of the things that we’ve been doing is to try to shed some light on what Dr. King actually stood for, which was something other than color blindness and which had to do with, I would call, an extremely affirmative action program, and not just affirmative words, but an affirmative activist commitment to overturning white supremacy and the institutions of racism throughout the country and all over the world. So we try to do that with Martin Luther King Day every year with the—at the grassroots level, where the holiday is observed widely.

AMY GOODMAN: I think it’s quite something that Governor Steve Merrill has never introduced legislation or supported the legislation to make January 15th a state holiday in New Hampshire. He’s the chair of Bob Dole’s election campaign, and yet no journalist has asked Bob Dole what does this say about the message he’s sending out that the chair of his campaign represents the only state that doesn’t honor the slain civil rights leader. Let me ask Reverend Bertha Perkins how you feel, as an African American who has fought for this for so many years, to be in this unique state?

REV. BERTHA PERKINS: Around the fact that—the reflection on Senator Dole or the reflection of being unique to be in this state? However, around Senator Dole, I would not cast a vote for any of the Republicans who are running, and it really has nothing to do with being partisan to a party, but it’s just their political views and the fact of the mean spirit that they carry, and because in their disguise—and I do see it as a disguise—of so-called affirming the middle class—which they do not—in essence, they use that term because we—most people identify themselves as middle—middle American, so it’s convenient for them to do so. But they have deliberately left out—we are still left with a lot of people who are lower-income. And in that case, in New Hampshire, it doesn’t have anything to do with race or color; it has to do with—that we are basically a poor state. Despite what Governor Merrill says, that’s not the case. So—

AMY GOODMAN: And we’re going to be talking about a living wage campaign tomorrow. We just have 15 seconds, and I wanted to end with Nury Marquez. While Martin Luther King’s birthday has not been passed in New Hampshire, the English-only law has been. What’s your feeling about that?

NURY MARQUEZ: Well, I think it’s further evidence of a rejection of people for their difference of the majority, which is, in other words, a racist action.

AMY GOODMAN: Nury Marquez, thank you very much for joining us. Again, Nury Marquez, with the Alliance for the Progress of Hispanic Americans based in Manchester, called ALPHA. Arnie Alpert of the American Friends Service Committee. Reverend Bertha Perkins, pastor of the New Fellowship Baptist Church in Hudson, New Hampshire. And thank you very much, Salim Muwakkil, from Chicago, with In These Times and the Chicago Sun-Times, for joining us in this segment. And we’ll be talking to you later in the week.

SALIM MUWAKKIL: It’s been a pleasure, Amy. I look forward to it.

AMY GOODMAN: Me, too. You’re listening to Democracy Now! Up ahead, Pacifica’s Larry Bensky speaks with Jeffrey Klein, editor of Mother Jones magazine on how big money is polluting politics, coming up after this.

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