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“Democratic Womanism”: Poet and Activist Alice Walker on Women Rising, Obama and the 2012 Election

StorySeptember 28, 2012
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With less than 40 days to go before the 2012 presidential election, poet and activist Alice Walker reads her new poem, “Democratic Womanism,” and discusses her thoughts on President Obama’s legacy, including his use of drone strikes. “You ask me why I smile when you tell me you intend in the coming national elections to hold your nose and vote for the lesser of two evils,” reads Walker. “There are more than two evils out there, is one reason I smile.” [includes rush transcript]

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now! We are on the road in Washington, D.C. We then head to Charlottesville, and we’ll be back in Washington, D.C., then we’ll be traveling through Virginia, then on to Colorado for the presidential debate, and through the Western Slope. I’ll talk about it in a minute, the 100-city Election 2012 tour. I’m Amy Goodman.

We’re joined for the hour here in Washington by Alice Walker, the Pulitzer Prize-winning author. This year is the 30th anniversary of her momentous work, The Color Purple. And she was here in Arlington at George Mason University reading from the book, speaking to the audience.

But we are also in the nation’s capital. The president lives not far from here, Alice Walker. And, in fact, I remember sitting with you at the inauguration of President Obama in Washington, D.C., in 2008, the first African-American president. You have now written a poem in this election year, and I was wondering if you would share it with us.

ALICE WALKER: Yes, I’d like to. It’s dedicated to Wangari Maathai, who remembered the beautiful bountifulness of her land before the colonial invaders laid waste to it, and she resolved to bring it back to health by planting trees. And as you know, she died last year. Rest in Well Done; beloved sister of our clan.

“Democratic Womanism”

You ask me why I smile
when you tell me you intend
in the coming national elections
to hold your nose
and vote for the lesser of two evils.
There are more than two evils out there,
is one reason I smile.
Another is that our old buddy Nostradamus
comes to mind, with his fearful
400 year old prophecy: that our world
and theirs too
(our “enemies” – lots of kids included there)
will end (by nuclear nakba or holocaust)
in our lifetime. Which makes the idea of elections
and the billions of dollars wasted on them
somewhat fatuous.
A Southerner of Color,
my people held the vote
very dear
while others, for centuries,
merely appeared to play
with it.
One thing I can assure
you of is this:
I will never betray such pure hearts
by voting for evil
even if it were microscopic
which, as you can see in any newscast
no matter the slant,
it is not.
I want something else;
a different system
One not seen
on this earth
for thousands of years. If ever.
Democratic Womanism.
Notice how this word has “man” right in the middle of it?
That’s one reason I like it. He is right there, front and center. But he is surrounded.
I want to vote and work for a way of life
that honors the feminine;
a way that acknowledges
the theft of the wisdom
female and dark Mother leadership
might have provided our spaceship
all along.
I am not thinking
of a talking head
kind of gal:
happy to be mixing
it up
with the baddest
bad boys
on the planet
her eyes a slit
her mouth a zipper.
No, I am speaking of true
regime change.
Where women rise
to take their place
en masse
at the helm
of earth’s frail and failing ship;
where each thousand years
of our silence
is examined
with regret,
and the cruel manner in which our values
of compassion and kindness
have been ridiculed
and suppressed
brought to bear on the disaster
of the present time.
The past must be examined closely, I believe, before we can leave
it there.
I am thinking of Democratic, and, perhaps
Socialist, Womanism.
For who else knows so deeply
how to share but Mothers
and Grandmothers? Big sisters
and Aunts?
To love
and adore
both female and male?
Not to mention those in between.
To work at keeping
the entire community
fed, educated
and safe?
Democratic womanism,
Democratic Socialist
would have as its icons
such fierce warriors
for good as
Vandana Shiva
Aung San Suu Kyi,
Wangari Maathai
Harriet Tubman
Yoko Ono
Frida Kahlo
Angela Davis
& Barbara Lee:
With new ones always rising, wherever you look.

You are also on this list, but it is so long (Isis would appear midway) that I must stop or be unable to finish the poem! So just know I’ve stood you in a circle that includes Marian Wright Edelman, Amy Goodman, Sojourner Truth, Gloria Steinem and Mary McLeod Bethune. John Brown, Frederick Douglass, John Lennon and Howard Zinn are there. Happy to be surrounded!

There is no system
There is no system
now in place
that can change
the disastrous course
the Earth is on.
Who can doubt this?
The male leaders
of Earth
appear to have abandoned
their very senses
though most appear
to live now
in their heads.
They murder humans and other
forests and rivers and mountains
every day
they are in office
and never seem
to notice it.
They eat and drink devastation.
Women of the world,
Women of the world,
Is this devastation Us?
Would we kill whole continents for oil
(or anything else)
rather than limit
the number of consumer offspring we produce
and learn how to make our own fire?
Democratic Womanism.
Democratic Socialist Womanism.
A system of governance
we can dream and imagine and build together. One that recognizes
at least six thousand years
of brutally enforced complicity
in the assassination
of Mother Earth, but foresees six thousand years
ahead of us when we will not submit.
What will we need? A hundred years
at least to plan: (five hundred will be handed us
when the planet is scared enough)
in which circles of women meet,
organize ourselves, and,
allied with men
brave enough to stand with women,
men brave enough to stand with women,
nurture our planet to a degree of health.
And without apology —-
(impossible to make
a bigger mess than has been made already) -—
devote ourselves, heedless of opposition,
to tirelessly serving and resuscitating Our Mother ship
and with gratitude
for Her care of us
worshipfully commit
rehabilitating it.

AMY GOODMAN: Alice Walker, “Democratic Womanism,” in this election year. What are your thoughts on what should happen in November?

ALICE WALKER: Well, what should happen in November is that everyone should make the very best choice based on their own values. And that is, you know, recognizing that there is so much evil, you know, everywhere we look. Still, you know, choose what you think is best for our course of action. But have a thought about the long-term survivability of the planet and start to put the health of the planet before everything else and to then have leadership that reflects that.

AMY GOODMAN: What are your thoughts on President Obama today?

ALICE WALKER: Well, you know, I continue to care for President Obama and for his family. I think that in many ways they are very courageous people, and I honor that, because I know what it means to live as a black person in a racist America. But I cannot feel good about drone strikes. I cannot feel good about bombing people. I don’t—I just don’t believe in war. I think it’s stupid. And I think that he is so smart that it’s a waste of his intelligence to pursue peace by making more war. It does not make any sense.

AMY GOODMAN: And on this 30th anniversary of The Color Purple, your final thoughts today, to leave us with?

ALICE WALKER: Well, I think that, you know, life is abundant, and life is beautiful. And it’s a good place that we’re all in, you know, on this earth, if we take care of it. And if we can just turn to our inner guide rather than to the outer guides who seem to always end up fighting somebody, we’d be a lot better off.

AMY GOODMAN: And the books you’re working on now?

ALICE WALKER: Well, I have two new books that will be out in the spring. One is called The Cushion in the Road: Meditation and Wandering as the Whole World Awakens to Being in Harm’s Way, and the other one is a book of poems called The World Will Follow Joy: Turning Madness into Flowers.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you, Alice Walker, for being with us for this hour, as you were four years ago, and as you were not so long ago, after the killing of Trayvon Martin, talking about a woman who didn’t live far from and died not far from where Trayvon was killed, Zora Neale Hurston, whose gravestone you have now refurbished to put her in the eye of this country, to remind us of who this great author was.

ALICE WALKER: Yes, thank you.

AMY GOODMAN: Thank you so much.

And that does it for Democracy Now! I want to encourage people who live in New York and Los Angeles, Harvest of Empire, the film based on Democracy Now! co-host Juan González’s book, is out. It’s opening in New York at the Quad Cinema and in Pasadena, California, at Laemmle’s Playhouse. You can go to for the details and to see my interview this week with Juan and the filmmaker about the book.

Democracy Now! is produced by Mike Burke, Renée Feltz, Aaron Maté, Nermeen Shaikh, Steve Martinez, Sam Alcoff, Hany Massoud, Robby Karran, Deena Guzder, Amy Littlefield.

We’ll be in Charlottesville, Virginia, tonight at the University of Virginia on our 100-city tour; tomorrow—oh, that, tonight, is at Nau Auditorium, South Lawn Commons, University of Virginia; then Saturday at 1:00 at the Green Festival in Washington, D.C.; the Baltimore Book Festival at 7:00 p.m. Saturday night; Sunday at noon in Richmond, Virginia, and at 7:00 p.m. in Norfolk, Virginia; wrapping up our Virginia leg of the tour at Virginia Tech in Blacksburg Monday night, before heading to Denver for the first presidential debate. And then we will be all through the Western Slope and moving on to Arizona and New Mexico, California. Check our website,

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