- Cornel West
professor at Union Theological Seminary. He endorsed Bernie Sanders for president last summer. He is author of numerous books, most recently, Black Prophetic Fire.
- Dolores Huerta
civil rights activist and co-founder of the United Farm Workers of America with Cesar Chavez. She is president of the Dolores Huerta Foundation for community organizing. Huerta has endorsed Hillary Clinton for president.
- Melina Abdullah
organizer with Black Lives Matter, which has not endorsed any presidential candidate. She is also a professor and chair of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles.
We continue our conversation on the 2016 race with a discussion between Dolores Huerta (a backer of Hillary Clinton), Cornel West (a backer of Bernie Sanders) and Melina Abdullah of Black Lives Matter. We talk about the candidates’ stances on Israel, campaign finance, “superpredators,” trade policy and more.
CORNEL WEST: So the class issue is fundamental, but it doesn’t fully grasp not just race, not just gender, not just sexual orientation, but also empire. You see, when I hear Hillary Clinton say that she—she loves children, and you’ve got 550 Palestinian children killed in 51 years, and she—51 days, and she can’t say a mumbling word. Bernie Sanders gave a speech. He said, "The Israeli Defense Forces went too far. I stand on this, and I’m not going to meet with the Israeli prime minister." Now, he’s saying this as a Jewish brother. That takes courage in the face of the powerful forces coming at him. Hillary Clinton, she’s hawkish, she’s right-wing, she’s imperial in her orientation. That’s very important.
AMY GOODMAN: Dolores Huerta, your response?
DOLORES HUERTA: Well, I have to say that Hillary Clinton stood up to Netanyahu when they were going to be extending some of the housing in the West Bank. So, I believe that Hillary is very strong. And I really don’t believe she’s all those things that Cornel just that. Excuse me to differ with you on that, brother.
CORNEL WEST: No, that’s fine, my sister.
DOLORES HUERTA: But the other thing, too, about Hillary, you know, Hillary came down into the Rio Grande Valley of Texas when she got out of law school. She could have gone to some corporation. She went down there into South Texas, with the poorest people of Mexican descent down there, to register voters door to door. I first met Hillary Clinton when she invited me to the White House when she was the first lady—myself and a group of women of color. And she said, "I want to know what the issues are in your community." She has been down there. This is why we’ve got so much respect for her. And Bernie hasn’t been there. He hasn’t been there. Hillary has—
CORNEL WEST: But so, Dolores—but, you know, at the same time—at the same time—
DOLORES HUERTA: But as—well, let me finish. Let me finish. Let me finish.
CORNEL WEST: Yes, yes, yes. Yes, yes. Yes, yes.
DOLORES HUERTA: OK, let me finish. So, I think that the one thing that we’re kind of leaving out of this conversation is: How did we get here? You know, when we have a system right now where the corporations have unlimited amounts of money to put into election campaigns—
CORNEL WEST: That’s right.
DOLORES HUERTA: —my own son has just—my own son is going to run for Congress. He has been recruited to run for Congress. He is a public interest attorney. We have no money; we’re not wealthy. He worked with the Cesar Chavez Foundation for 17 years before he became his own—it’s his own private practice. How do we raise the money to help get him elected, when you’ve got a limit of $5,400 that anybody can give, any one individual can give, but the super PACs have unlimited amounts of money? So when we’re talking about changing the system, we’ve got to start with public campaign financing. In order to do that, we’ve got to have a good Congress. And please, Black Lives Matter, please vote, because we’ve got to get good—we’ve got to get people like Karen Bass, you know, who represents Los Angeles, people like her. We’ve got to get people like her in the Congress, people like Raúl Grijalva, Ruben Gallego and, hopefully, my son, Emilio Huerta. You know? We’ve got to get good people in the Congress who can change the system.
AMY GOODMAN: Well, Dolores Huerta, you mentioned Black Lives Matter. I wanted to go to that fundraiser in Charleston, South Carolina, where a Black Lives Matter activist named Ashley Williams held a banner up. She had gotten into the meeting. And the banner quoted Hillary Clinton; it said, "We have to bring them to heel." That was the controversial statements that Clinton made in 1996 about some youth whom she called, quote, "superpredators." Williams then confronted Clinton, saying, quote, "I am not a superpredator."
ASHLEY WILLIAMS: I’m not a superpredator, Hillary Clinton.
HILLARY CLINTON: OK, fine. We’ll talk about it.
ASHLEY WILLIAMS: Can you apologize to black people for mass incarceration?
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, can I talk? OK, and then maybe you can listen to what I say.
ASHLEY WILLIAMS: Yes, yes, absolutely.
HILLARY CLINTON: OK, fine. Thank you very much. There’s a lot of issues, a lot of issues in this campaign. [...]
ASHLEY WILLIAMS: I know that you called black youth superpredators in 1994. Please explain your record. Explain it to us. You owe black people an apology.
HILLARY CLINTON: Well, I’ll tell you what, if you will give me a chance to talk, I’ll—I’ll tell you something. You know what? Nobody’s ever asked me before. You’re the first person to ask me, and I’m happy to address it, but you are the first person to ask me, dear. Um, OK, back to the issues.
AMY GOODMAN: That’s Hillary Clinton saying to Black Lives Matter activist Ashley Williams, "You’re the first one to ask me about this," Williams confronting Hillary Clinton at this private fundraiser right before the South Carolina primary. Ashley was then escorted away. Williams says a friend contributed $500 so she could attend the private event. The protest was in response to these comments that Hillary Clinton made while speaking at Keene College in New Hampshire in 1996.
HILLARY CLINTON: They are often the kinds of kids that are called superpredators—no conscience, no empathy. We can talk about why they ended up that way, but first we have to bring them to heel.
AMY GOODMAN: That was—that was Hillary Clinton in 1996. Dolores Huerta, your response?
DOLORES HUERTA: Well, I can say this, that we—when we see how African Americans are voting for Hillary Clinton in overwhelming numbers—we saw that in Mississippi, we saw this in South Carolina, so obviously there are people in the African-American community that respect Hillary Clinton and, like myself, have a lot of faith in what she will be able to accomplish. I think she is a doer. She’s not just a talker; she’s a doer.
And I do believe that she has compassion. I mean, you know, she showed that—she had the first conference for children of color in the United States of America, worried about their health, when she passed the program that got over 8 million children covered under a health program. And this is before Obamacare. So, Hillary is a person that does care about people and about children.
You know, I can say, with my own life, I was a—came up very middle-class, but I went down to Delano to work with farmworkers, you know, went to jail, got beaten up by the police. And you have to kind of sometimes get into people’s shoes to understand what they’re doing. I am with Cornel—you know, five of my grandchildren are Mexican-Afro-American children.
CORNEL WEST: Yeah.
DOLORES HUERTA: And I know what my grandchildren have also had the same experiences of harassment by police, etc.
CORNEL WEST: Absolutely.
DOLORES HUERTA: And so, I know what we’re all living through. And it’s got to change, but it’s going to take all of us to change it.
CORNEL WEST: But, Sister Dolores—
DOLORES HUERTA: And we have to—we have to look at the record of accomplishment. Bernie’s been in Congress for 26 years. And really, we have to think about, during that period of time, I know he passed one bill on veterans, which is kind of like motherhood. But, you know, compare his accomplishments with Hillary Clinton’s.
CORNEL WEST: Number one—
DOLORES HUERTA: Bernie has a really good line, and Hillary is the one that can make it happen.
CORNEL WEST: But, Sister Dolores, Dolores—but, Sister Dolores, you know that that kind of language against precious black youth is not just vicious, it justified the expansion of an ugly prison system, those families that were broken, those folk who they brought in, incarcerated, their lives often destroyed. So it is not just a matter of speech and having a conference; we’re talking about a language tied to actual policy. Same is true with welfare in 1996. We were there together. They pulled the rug from under poor people. That was Hillary giving speeches for that, too. And they had what? A black woman, when Clinton’s signing the bill, doing what? Falling right into the demonizing and vilification of black women. And you say, "Well, black people are voting for them." But black people often vote against their interests following a "misleadership class"—the wonderful language of Glen Ford and the others.
So we have to be honest, just at the level of morality and spirituality, since we’re both—we’re both religious, too. And that’s why I can’t see Hillary having the kind of integrity and conviction Bernie Sanders, one of the reasons why he has trouble in Congress is, Congress is site of legalized bribery and normalized corruption. So you don’t have integrity in Congress. That’s why you’ve got 8 percent of Americans who approve of Congress. They don’t have the truth telling. They don’t have the justice witnessing that one would want. Bernie Sanders does. He cuts against that grain.
And now that we’ve won in Michigan, we’re going to turn this corner. We’re going to bring the neoliberal era to a close, my sister. We’re going to fight the neofascism of Trump in the name of neopopulism. And we’re going to invite you to get on the Bernie Sanders love train.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, but before we get on the love train, I have to say that if Bernie—if Bernie gets nominated, we’ll get to see the real attacks that will come—
CORNEL WEST: And we are ready. We are ready, I’m telling you.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: —that will come against him. At this point—at this point, the attacks have concentrated mostly on Trump right now.
CORNEL WEST: Yeah, well, that’s true.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: But there will be a whole different situation starting in September. But I’d like to bring Melina Abdullah into this conversation.
CORNEL WEST: Yes.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: In terms of the appeal that Dolores Huerta has made to Black Lives Matter to please get involved in voting, if not—even if not at the presidential level, there’s also all of this congressional and Senate races that are up and coming, that will really determine what any president will be able to do. Your response to Dolores Huerta?
MELINA ABDULLAH: So, I think we have a great deal of respect, of course, for Dolores Huerta, as well as Dr. West. It’s really important that we understand what Black Lives Matter is saying. We’re saying that no candidate deserves our endorsement. That does not mean that we’re telling people to stay home. And so, it’s really kind of a personal decision. Some people will go to the polls and vote for something else. Maybe they won’t vote for the president. Maybe they won’t vote for a Democrat or a Republican for president.
The most important thing for us, though, is not to overinvest in the electoral system. And I think that the dismissal at the end of that engagement that Hillary Clinton had for Ashley Williams, when she said, "Go run for something," I think is indicative of an overinvestment in an electoral system that simply does not work for us. Real change, transformative change, the kind of fundamental change that will undo a prison-industrial complex, that will undo an educational system that keeps us miseducated and undereducated, that will undo a system of policing that brutalizes and occupies black and brown neighborhoods, will come from people engaging on a street level.
And so, yes, we have to push elected officials. We have to absolutely engage the system that is. We have to disrupt the system that is. And then we have to fiercely love our own communities and understand our own power, understand that the kind of change that freed us from slavery, that brought about civil rights, that brought black power, that brought ethnic studies, which is now under attack, came from people organizing themselves. The kind of change that Dolores Huerta was involved in with the farmworkers movement—right?—was about getting farmworkers to understand their own power. So we’re not telling people to stay home. And much more so, we’re telling people to do more than vote, to get out into the streets, to join us, to do what Kwame Ture said: "Organize! Organize! Organize!" And remember that you can’t just go to the polls. We have to be out in the streets.
AMY GOODMAN: Interestingly, most people are staying home. Now, I hate to rain on anyone’s parade, but even with all of the attention, looking at Pew Research on who’s coming out to vote, through the first 12 primaries of 2016, combined Republican turnout has been 17.3 percent of eligible voters, and that’s the highest number since any—of any year since 1980. Only 17.3 percent of the eligible voters. Democratic turnout so far is 11.7 percent. That means, you know, close to 90 percent are not participating, the highest since 1992 with the notable exception of the extraordinarily high turnout in 2008. Now, in Michigan, Democratic vote was up, and certainly Republican vote was up. But that shows you how low it has been. Most countries, vast majority of people vote in the industrialized world. In the United States, if we have half the people voting—and these numbers are 17 percent of Republicans, 11 percent of Democrats.
CORNEL WEST: No, it’s a sign of the democracy that’s anemic. It’s a sign that people just know the system is rigged. It’s a sign that they know big money dictates and shapes the destiny of the government and the society. Unfortunately, the dominant response is one of staying away rather than trying to participate and reshape it. So we can understand, in a certain sense, the apathy, but the apathy is in no way justified. We’ve got to participate, not just in the ballot box, but, as Sister Melina says, we’ve got to hit the streets. We’ve got—we have to have organizing and mobilizing and have to be willing to go to jail. And some of us, actually, have to be willing to die.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: I want to go back to Sunday evening’s presidential debate in Flint, Michigan.
HILLARY CLINTON: We’re going to stop this kind of job exporting, and we’re going to start importing and growing jobs again in our country.
ANDERSON COOPER: Senator—Senator Sanders, I’ll let you—
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: Well, I’ll—let me answer that question.
ANDERSON COOPER: I’ll let you—yeah.
SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: I am very glad, Anderson, that Secretary Clinton has discovered religion on this issue. But it’s a little bit too late. Secretary Clinton supported virtually every one of these disastrous trade agreements written by corporate America.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: That was an exchange over trade policy. Dolores Huerta, what about this issue of NAFTA and many of the other trade bills, free trade bills, that not only Secretary Clinton, but obviously her husband, Bill Clinton, was very much instrumental with?
DOLORES HUERTA: Yeah, I think, again, that they’re putting a lot of Bill’s, you know, the things that he did, on Hillary. And actually, she did oppose the other trade agreement that came after NAFTA. And I don’t think that she was in Congress when NAFTA was passed originally. That was Bill Clinton that did that. And she’s come out against the TPP.
But I just—I want to say one more thing about the voting, because I think it is so crucial. I mean, in the farmworkers movement, the only way that we were able to change things was by people voting. And, you know, we were able to pass laws to protect farmworkers, like unemployment insurance, the right to organize, the amnesty bill of 1986, because we were able to elect people to Congress that supported us. And we’ve got to take the power. And my organization, the Dolores Huerta Foundation, this is what we do. Eleven of our people—these are ordinary construction workers, farmworkers, people that work in hotels—have gotten themselves elected to office. Kamala Harris is running in California for the—
AMY GOODMAN: We just lost Dolores Huerta. But you were saying?
CORNEL WEST: No, the problem is that Hillary Clinton, on 30 occasions, has said positive things about the TPP. She said it was the gold standard for trade. When she started to run, she flip-flopped. That’s what happens when you have a Wall Street Democrat that has strong flip-flop proclivities. That’s not integrity.
JUAN GONZÁLEZ: Well, in the debate, her claim was that she had not seen the final version of it. It was only then that she decided to oppose it, after seeing the final version. Your—
CORNEL WEST: Brother, I was born at night, but not last night.
AMY GOODMAN: Melina Abdullah, where do you plan to go, I mean, with the Black Lives Matter movement, the whole group? And, of course, it’s not just you, a professor at California State. Clearly, the Black Lives Matter movement has massively shaped this campaign. I mean, when you look at the interruptions of—well, back with Martin O’Malley and with Bernie Sanders and now with Hillary Clinton, and the pressure on Bernie Sanders and the pressure then he puts on Hillary Clinton, can you—did you ever dream you would have this level of success?
MELINA ABDULLAH: I mean, I think that what we did do when we birthed Black Lives Matter two-and-a-half years ago is recognize that transformative change comes when we adopt what Ella Baker calls a group-centered leadership model. And so, the reason that we’ve been successful in kind of lifting up the issues, the reason that we’ve been successful in illuminating—I think that what Dolores Huerta was saying about some black elected officials and the black middle class, especially, kind of supporting Hillary Clinton, kind of the entrenched black leadership supporting Hillary Clinton, I think even for some of them, many of them didn’t know about the "superpredator" comments, about where she stood on the prison-industrial complex, where she stood on questions around black young people. And I think that the reason that those have been lifted up is because we have many, many voices.
And so, what we started two-and-a-half years ago in kind of engaging in Black Lives Matter has turned into a mass movement that includes tens of thousands of leaders. And so, we have Ashley Williams, we have Tia Oso, we have so many—Daunasia Yancey—so many other folks who are engaging in ways that are disrupting the existing system and forcing the system to actually hear us and engage us, or suffer continuous disruptions. And so, I think that as a student of history, as a student of political history, we’re remembering that that is really our power. Our power comes with not simply investing in the systems and the mechanisms that they tell us we must invest in, but saying, no, there’s ways in which we have to disrupt, because this system wasn’t created for us.
AMY GOODMAN: Professor Abdullah—
MELINA ABDULLAH: And so, we have to shift narratives—
AMY GOODMAN: —what is your take on Black Lives Matter activists now running for office, like DeRay Mckesson in Baltimore running for mayor?
MELINA ABDULLAH: Well, I think it’s important that we understand the distinction between the Black Lives Matter network and the Movement for Black Lives. So, DeRay Mckesson has absolutely been vocal on issues of police brutality and engaged. He, I think, launched Campaign Zero. But he’s a different organizer than the organizers through the Black Lives Matter network. So, we’re, again, saying that we’re not telling anybody not to engage in electoral politics. And, in fact, you know, some electoral politics and some elected officials have been friends of the Black Lives Matter network especially. So, if we think about like Mayor Ras Baraka in Newark, New Jersey, having the courage and vision to say, "Let’s redefine what public safety means," and inviting Black Lives Matter and other visionary leaders like Aqeela Sherrills in to say, you know, "Maybe we don’t invest so heavily in policing; let’s invest in things that actually work, like prevention and intervention programs"—
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have—
MELINA ABDULLAH: —"like education, like after-school programs."I think those are the kinds of engagements with electoral politics that we’re most willing to have.
AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there. I want to thank you, Professor Melina Abdullah, for joining us, organizer with Black Lives Matter, hasn’t endorsed any presidential candidate—again, as she said, doesn’t mean she’s not going out to vote—also professor and chair of Pan-African Studies at California State University, Los Angeles; and Dolores Huerta, legendary civil rights activist, farmworker organizer. Cornel West, we’d like to ask you to stay with us in this last segment. Professor Cornel West, author of many books, a professor now at Union Theological Seminary, endorsed Bernie Sanders for president. Dolores Huerta endorsed Hillary Rodham Clinton.
When we come back, what happened at Sea Island? What was this summit that took place? Stay with us.