You turn to us for voices you won't hear anywhere else.

Sign up for Democracy Now!'s Daily Digest to get our latest headlines and stories delivered to your inbox every day.

Cornel West on Third-Party Presidential Run, the Roots of His Political Activism & More

Web ExclusiveJune 07, 2023
Listen
Media Options
Listen

Part 2 of our conversation with Cornel West, who announced Monday he is running for president as a candidate with the People’s Party, challenging both the Democratic and Republican parties.

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, as we continue with Part 2 of our interview with the public intellectual, civil rights activist Cornel West, who is now a presidential candidate. Yes, he just announced Monday he’s running for president as a candidate with the People’s Party, challenging both the Democratic and Republican parties.

CORNEL WEST: We’re not talking about hating anybody. We’re talking about loving. We’re talking about affirming. We’re talking about empowering those who have been pushed to the margins. Because neither political party wants to tell the truth about Wall Street, about Ukraine, about the Pentagon, about Big Tech.

AMY GOODMAN: Professor Cornel West teaches philosophy and Christian practice at Union Theological Seminary. He’s the author of numerous books, including Race Matters and Black Prophetic Fire.

Professor West, thank you so much for staying with us for Part 2 of this conversation. In Part 1, we talked about the war in Ukraine. We talked about racial justice here at home. We talked about the People’s Party. Here, we want to start by you giving us a bit of a bio, your life story — where you were born, where you grew up, how you became a leading theologian in this country, and now has decided to run for president. Start with where you were born.

CORNEL WEST: Oh, I was born on the chocolate side of Tulsa, Oklahoma, in the same hospital as the Wilson brothers of The Gap Band. You know, that “Gap” stands for Greenwood, Archer and Pine, which is Black Wall Street, which was viciously attacked and burned down by white supremacists in 1921. My grandfather was pastor, Metropolitan Baptist Church. It’s the largest Black Baptist church today in the northeast chocolate side of Tulsa.

I then moved to Topeka, Kansas, where my brother was part of Brown v. Board of Education, with Linda, my sister, born there. And then we moved to Sacramento, California. And that’s where I was really shaped and molded. I was shaped and molded in my beloved Sacramento, California, again on the chocolate side of Glen Elder, deeply shaped by both Shiloh Baptist Church and the Black Panther Party. And the deaths of Bobby Hutton and Fred Hampton are something that I carry with me to this very, very day, in terms of their heroic struggles and them being shot down by the state-sponsored police.

And then I went on to the same place you graduated from, my dear sister, Harvard, many years before you. But there at Harvard, had a great time with Stanley Cavell and Robert Nozick and Hilary Putnam and John Rawls and Preston Williams and Martin Kilson and so many others. Then went to Princeton with the great Sheldon Wolin as thesis adviser, but also Richard Rorty and Walter Kaufmann and Thomas Nagel and Thomas Scanlon and so many other wonderful teachers. And I’ve been teaching now for almost 50 years.

And I was part of the breakfast program of the Black Panther Party when I was in college. I was part of the prison program when I was in college. I’ve been blessed to teach in prisons for almost 47 years now with my dear Brother Chris Hedges, who’s one of the great progressive public intellectuals in his own right.

And I just figure at this point, you know: How does one attempt to bear witness, on the one hand, and try to create a breakthrough, on the other, in the face of this corporate duopoly, and yet, at the same time, try to generate and exemplify some hope? You know, we’re living in very, very — as Wendy Brown says in her wonderful book, Nihilistic Times, we live in nihilistic times.

AMY GOODMAN: Cornel West —

CORNEL WEST: Very much so.

AMY GOODMAN: What made you decide, or was it your father, following in his footsteps, but to become a theologian? I mean, you clearly have been a social justice activist all of your life, but to channel that through theology?

CORNEL WEST: Yeah, I would say that I’ve been suspicious of theology, because I don’t think that the Christian faith or any religious faith can be rendered logically consistent or rationally coherent. And that’s the aim of theology. So I’ve got a kind of a anti-theological faith. I think Kierkegaard and Pascal are the people who deeply shaped me. And you make a leap of faith that has little to do with rationale, and then it goes far, far, far beyond the evidence, far beyond the evidence. The great Rabbi Heschel, again, who I often invoke, talks about this in God’s search for man, so that, in that sense, I’m certainly a part of the — what I’d call a revolutionary or prophetic Christian tradition. But I would never call myself a theologian. I think that it’s really — it’s an existential choice, rather than a logically consistent choice.

AMY GOODMAN: You’ve often been described as a public intellectual, to say the least, especially in the context of American anti-intellectualism. Does it inform why you want to run for president and how you will reach out to people around the country?

CORNEL WEST: Oh, there’s no doubt, that, for me. You know, the legacy of Socrates, “An unexamined life is not worth living,” mustering the courage to think critically for yourself. I think we live in a culture that is just so polarized and gangsterized that we have echoes for — echoes flowing out of silos. We have people who don’t think critically for themselves, but just follow some group, you know, on TV or on the internet, and so forth, who does too much of the thinking for them. And so, I think that, for me, the calling of the intellectual is to think for yourself, be serious in your quest for truth and beauty and goodness, and land where you land, which is to say, be unique and singular, be — have the courage to be yourself, whereas Emerson would say, trust yourself, even as you know that self is dynamic and changing over time and space.

And you’re right, America is one of the most anti-intellectual cultures in the history of the modern world. We’re obsessed with markets. We’re obsessed with business. Americans love intelligence that generates profits, but they don’t appreciate intellect that evaluates the context under which the profits are made and the ways in which that greed can generate unbelievable social misery in terms of how the workplace is structured, in terms of how society as a whole is structured, with patriarchy and white supremacy and xenophobia and transphobia, and so on.

But it’s also a matter of joy, though, Sister Amy, that I find great joy in being tied to the life of the mind and the world of ideas. But I don’t stop there. I think, in the end, I’m with Brother Martin King. A committed life is the most thing to live by — to leave behind. And that committed life has to do with courageous engagement, taking a risk, cutting against the grain and bearing any cost. You can get character — you can have character assassination come at you, literal assassination. You have to be willing to bear that cost, even as you find joy in struggling for freedom.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, you’re the Dietrich Bonhoeffer professor at Union Theological Seminary. You also teach Bonhoeffer’s teachings, who is a German Lutheran pastor, theologian, anti-Nazi dissident. Why is he so important to you? What does he have to teach what we face today?

CORNEL WEST: He’s one of the great prophetic figures. He’s one of the great freedom fighters in the midst of a Jew-hating Germany. He used to start off his seminary classes saying, “We have no right to sing Gregorian chants if we do not hear the cries of our fellow Jews being viciously attacked.” And as you know, he was part of the group to try to kill Hitler. He tried to assassinate Hitler. He was not a pacifist like Desmond Tutu or Martin King. I’m not a pacifist, either. I pursue all nonviolent and peaceful alternatives, but I’m not a pacifist. In the end, there are certain conditions under which a just war can be justified. And Bonhoeffer, at the age of 39, was executed just a few days before the liberation of Nazi Germany, with the Soviet Union and the American soldiers in alliance together. It’s always important to remember that. So, Bonhoeffer is — he means a lot.

And Bonhoeffer also discovered his sense of engagement very much in the context of the Black church, the Abyssinian Baptist Church. Adam Clayton Powell Sr., who was the father of Adam Clayton Powell Jr., was pastor, and Bonhoeffer was a student right there at Union Theological Seminary, where I’m blessed to teach, and became a teacher, would preach in the Black church. He was the only vanilla brother, the only white brother, in that church the whole year he was there. And he loved it. And in his underground seminary, he would always sing Negro spirituals. He was a classical pianist, like Edward Said. And so he also played some wonderful Schubert and Brahms and Beethoven. But he’d always have those seminarians struggling against a gangster, not just Hitler, but the gangster ideology of Nazism. He would have them listening to the Negro spirituals. So, there’s a wonderful connection between Dietrich Bonhoeffer and the Black tradition, the Black prophetic tradition, of which I’m just a very, very small part.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, you just mentioned Heschel, Abraham Joshua Heschel, and I have heard you speak for decades, and you often invoke him, the Polish American rabbi. I’m wondering if you can talk — take us on a trajectory, from Heschel, Bonhoeffer — you talk about the influence of the late professor Edward Said, and how you see the Israel-Palestine conflict, because if you were to win the presidency, it’s certainly one of the issues you would have to take on.

CORNEL WEST: Oh, very, very much so. You know, I can see the great Heschel going to his class after he heard of the vicious attack on — then called Arabs, but Palestinians, by Irgun, which is a Jewish terrorist group. And he walked in class. He had tears coming down from his eyes. And he said, “I cannot lecture, I cannot teach, because of this” — this is not his language, but it was really a crime against humanity, this kind of criminal activity.

Now, to say that in Jewish Theological Seminary, in the name of Jewish values, of Hasid, of love, loving kindness, and steadfast love to the orphan and widow and the fatherless and the motherless — and I know, you know, you’ve had a magnificent grandfather who was a Orthodox rabbi, that very, very rich tradition that talks about the centrality of subjugated enslaved peoples who make a covenant with a higher power that says, “Justice, justice, thou shall pursue. Let justice roll down like waters, and righteousness like a mighty stream.” You see, that’s Hebrew scripture. And the great book on The Prophets that Heschel wrote, which is his dissertation, University of Berlin, written just before his own family, he himself, tried to get out. Most of his family did not get out. He didn’t get to the States until March of 1940 — that he carries this with him.

And when he is invited to the White House and writes his telegram to JFK, what does he say? He says that racism is a form of Satanism. He says, “We should cancel — we forfeit our right to worship, if we do not treat our fellow citizens who are Negros with dignity.” You see, this is a Jewish brother who has a hatred of white supremacy. So you could imagine, you know, the kind of xenophobia that is too often at work in right-wing and centrist circles, and oftentimes even progressive circles, in Israel. He would radically call that into question.

Now, he was a Zionist. And I’m not a Zionist, but he was a Zionist. And so, I don’t have a full agreement with even the great Heschel in this regard. But he was a Zionist who, like Martin Buber and like Judah Magnes and others, believed in coexistence and believed in mutual humanistic interaction between Jews and Palestinians or Arabs or Muslims and so forth. And that has not been the case, really, beginning in 1948. And, of course, Said, very secular himself, a Palestinian brother, that he has a kind of secular humanism that overlaps with Heschel’s, a great Jewish humanism, because they both are looking at the world through the lens of those who suffer.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, we’ve been talking about theology. You were born in Oklahoma. I wanted to get your response to the decision this week, Oklahoma officials approving an application by the state’s Catholic Archdiocese to establish the first publicly funded religious charter school in the United States. It was a 3-to-2 vote by the Oklahoma Statewide Virtual Charter School Board, coming over the objections of Oklahoma’s Republican attorney general, who said it clearly violates the state’s Constitution. Catholic Church officials in Oklahoma are hoping that any legal fight will end up at the Supreme Court, whose conservative 6-to-3 majority was — recently overturned decades of precedent on the separation of church and state. You teach in a seminary. Talk about the importance of the separation of church and state, what’s happening in Oklahoma, and then take it right to, because you’re running for president, what this Supreme Court means and what it’s done.

CORNEL WEST: Yeah, well, the separation of church and state, or synagogue and state, let’s say, in Israel, or the mosque and state, if you see the vicious fascist treatments of our Iranian young brothers and sisters by Iranian mullahs and so on — there’s got to be a strong separation of state from any religious institution. It’s a lethal combination when it takes place. And so, I don’t think there’s any constitutional grounds in my own native state for this kind of policy.

Now, I do want to defend, of course, religious liberty. That’s very, very important, in terms of Catholic schools that are private and Catholic churches that are private, and so forth. And that’s true for Muslims. That’s true for Buddhists. That’s true for Jews and synagogues and so on.

But I do think that the spiritual decay that’s setting in, in terms of distrust of one another, the paranoia of one another, the attempt to move back within one’s own very narrow context and then try to gain access to public resources to fund it, all of these are signs of massive breakdown of public trust and massive breakdown of a healthy public life. And as any leader, a president and so forth, you’ve always got to talk about the centrality of a public life where anyone can enter irregardless of religious or nonreligious dispositions, different sexual orientations, certainly different colors, genders, regional identities and so on. And we’ve seen the erosion of that. And again, you know, I hate to use the word too often, but the neofascism is a consequence of the erosion of these kind of very, very fragile walls of separation between these different spheres.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. West, I wanted to ask you about Florida Governor Ron DeSantis, who, like you, is running for president. You talk about fascism. You’ve called him a fascist and a threat to democracy. DeSantis has faced numerous protests for banning AP Black studies classes in Florida schools and Florida’s Education Department, because he said the course lacks, quote, “educational value.” You recently co-wrote a piece in The Wall Street Journal headlined “DeSantis’s Revolutionary Defense of the Classics.” You wrote, quote, “Mr. DeSantis’s support of classic education has universal merit that transcends partisanship. Education based on values, logic and discipline isn’t Republican—it’s timeless.” Explain.

CORNEL WEST: Yeah, I mean, one is that I’ve worked with my dear Brother Jeremy Tate trying to not just promote classical education, but to have an exam of classical works. And by “classical,” I’m talking as much about Toni Morrison and Dante as I am Virginia Woolf and Dostoevsky. And I’m very much one deeply invested in trying to ensure that people do, in fact, have access to, you know, Rumi or any — Buddha or any great towering figure who’s wrestling with what it means to be human and dealing with death and dogma and domination. And so, I have probably about a 2% agreement with DeSantis, because he was the first one to actually allow that exam to be put in schools.

Now, of course, part of his larger schema is not just right-wing, it’s not just xenophobic, but it’s not committed to any kind of value of truth, which the classical tradition itself, at its best, always promotes, you see. So, you can see the deep contradictions here. You know, he talks about Socrates being wonderful, and yet he’s promoting censorship. He would have been part of the group that would have voted to put Socrates to death. And yet he’s got this 2% that I agree with in terms of his promotion of classical education. So that’s really what I had in mind when I had that piece with Brother Jeremy Tate. We’ve done a number of pieces around the country in that regard.

But I think he’s very, very dangerous. And it’s just he’s dishonest. He’s unprincipled. You know, he’s Ivy League himself. He’s been shaped by these deeper values of robust conversation. And yet he doesn’t want to have robust conversation. He doesn’t want to have the truth about America in regard to its barbaric slavery and its bestial lynching and Jim Crow and Jane Crow and so forth. You see, now he wants to hold off. That’s part of his attack against critical race theory. Critical race theory just wants to tell the truth about the relation of the development of the United States to barbaric slavery and bestial Jim Crow and Jane Crow and lynching, and the afterlife of that. He doesn’t want that. So, again, you know, as a very, very xenophobic politician, it’s just sad that he would want to try to weaponize these crucial issues in such a narrow manner.

AMY GOODMAN: You know, it’s interesting that DeSantis is now critical, to say the least, of Trump, a resident in Florida, where he is governor. He was his biggest advocate for so long. And I’m wondering, with you, back in 2017, being at University of Virginia for the white supremacist march that was there — you weren’t there for that, but you were clearly threatened. We talked about this in Part 1 of the conversation.

CORNEL WEST: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: I was wondering if you can trace the trajectory from what we saw there — and you might want to go back in time, as well — to what President Trump led in January of 2021, the insurrection at the Capitol. And as president, if you were elected, what you would do about what we have seen, and what you feel should happen to President Trump today for what he did?

CORNEL WEST: I see a direct line from George Wallace in 1968, who ran on an explicitly white supremacist platform and got 12% of the vote at that time — that’s the year Brother Martin was killed — but straight from George Wallace to Trump. And it has everything to do with the ways in which the class issues, it completely suffocated, and the powers that be in the ruling classes at the top can continue to divide and conquer the pit, George Wallace’s social base, who were mainly white workers who were catching hell. They were right-wing populists. They had critiques of Wall Street. They had critiques of the greed of corporate elites. But they turned on Black folk, as if somehow we were running things, which is ridiculous and pathological, of course, immoral and criminal. And Trump tries to do the same thing many, many, many years later.

But in the middle, you got a neoliberal era. And that neoliberal era was one in which poor and working people were completely pushed to the margins. The professional managerial class was in the driver’s seat. And the vanguard were, of course, the oligarchs and the plutocrats on Wall Street and other places. And so, the suffering of poor and working people is an afterthought. And that is the stuff of Trump. That’s this stuff of Wallace. And if we can’t speak to that, then America will always have a neofascist potential, possibility, and become more and more actual.

And that’s part of the challenge. That’s what I meant when I was talking about I’m headed to Trump Country. I’m headed to his people. I’m headed to his constituency, because I think a certain light, and maybe even some love, can convince some of them to go in a left populist direction rather than a right populist direction. I mean, people say, “Oh, you’re naive.” Well, hmm, it’s hard to say. We know a slice of those Trump folk voted for Bernie. Some of them even voted for Obama. That doesn’t mean they might not be tinged with a certain racism and sexism and anti-Jewish and anti-Arab and anti-Muslim sensibility. But it was not strong enough that they would be following wholesale somebody like Trump. But if all you have are arrogant, hypocritical neoliberals, be it Biden, be it Clinton, to be it Obama, then you’re always going to have the possibility of the neofascist expression of populism on the right.

AMY GOODMAN: Let me ask you about what Laurence Tribe said, the Harvard constitutional law professor, a place, Harvard, where you also taught, who was President Obama’s mentor, responding on Twitter to your announcement, writing, quote, ”WTF?! Does @CornelWest really want to help the GOP nominee win — the way Ralph Nader helped GW Bush defeat Al Gore in 2000? Ego trips can come at a heavy price, Cornel. Please stop this foolishness, before you really hurt the things you care to help.” I’m sure Ralph Nader would dispute what he’s saying, as well. And as a colleague at Harvard, I’m sure you knew Laurence Tribe well. Can you respond to him?

CORNEL WEST: Well, I mean, I just think that it’s a knee-jerk reaction of neoliberals to always want to put the blame on progressives or radicals or leftists, when they’re putting out such mediocre, milquetoast candidates who are not speaking to the needs of poor and working people, which constitute the very catalyst for the Trumps. So that if he thinks that somehow I’m going to be helping Trump out or pro-Trump, because all they can do is produce a Joe Biden, then that strikes me as a very, very self-serving perspective and a truncated analysis.

And it doesn’t say anything about the mass incarceration, doesn’t say anything about the low wages, doesn’t say anything about these poor and working people of all colors not having access to healthcare because Obamacare didn’t cover everybody, doesn’t say anything about access to decent housing. All that is pushed out. And all you get is, “Oh, Jill Stein, Ralph Nader, Cornel West, these people who are critical of the two-party system, they are the fundamental causes of the Trumps and the right-wing populists and authoritarian populists and neofascists triumphing.”

And I just think that it’s a — it’s unconvincing. It really is, especially for a professor of law at Harvard. I was blessed to teach with Roberto Unger at Harvard Law for almost 15 years. And it’s very — as I recall, though, Brother Tribe, he was thinking of a third party, too, though, wasn’t he? Just a few years ago. The constitutional convention that he was concerned about, we need a third party. It’s interesting that when left folk, left-wing folk do it, we’re the cause of fascism, and when he does it, it’s an interesting experiment in democracy. Hmm.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, in Part 1 of our discussion, we talked about Ukraine, I want to ask you about immigration. The latest news in Texas, the Bexar County Sheriff’s Office is recommending criminal charges over the migrant flights arranged by Florida Governor Ron DeSantis that carried 49 asylum seekers from Texas to Martha’s Vineyard last year, the case being reviewed by the DA’s Office. This comes as California Governor Gavin Newsom is threatening possible kidnapping charges after Florida arranged for two planes carrying around three dozen migrants to be flown from the U.S.-Mexico border to Sacramento. They were dumped in front of a Sacramento church in recent days. You talk about being shaped by Sacramento. It’s a place that’s very important to you. Can you talk about the issue of immigration and talk about Biden’s policies, how different they are from Trump’s policies — if they are — and what would President West do?

CORNEL WEST: Yeah, I mean, one is, I just thank god we’ve got people in my beloved town of Sacramento and other places in the country who will embrace these precious immigrant brothers and sisters and treat them with dignity. I think the problem is, is that when you view human beings as pawns on some chessboard, with your own political ends and aims, then all you end up doing is reinforcing the worst in each and every one of us. I don’t think there’s a qualitative difference at all between Republican and Democratic Party or Trump and Biden in terms of the treatment of immigrants.

I start with the historical backdrop, the fact that, of course, you know, the Texas that they’re going through used to be Mexico. The California that I grew up in used to be Mexico. How did that happen? Well, there was a Mexican War, where Mexico lost half of its territory based on a outright militaristic expansion. Even Ulysses S. Grant, who himself was a general in the war, said it was a phony war, it was immoral war. That’s why Thoreau, Henry David Thoreau, went to jail. That’s why Ralph Waldo Emerson opposed it. So that, again, you have to put in the backdrop this imperial expansion that imposes these conditions of social misery on people. And then, when they look about and try to get out from under and try to get back to the Texas or the California, what have you, we we miss out on the larger context.

I would say similar things about Honduras and Guatemala and Central American countries, where U.S. policies have just led toward unbelievable social misery, in terms of the support of the banana republics and the industries there with the lowest possible wages. And try to unionize workers, and you’re viewed as communist and pushed aside and what have you. Those larger contexts need to be taken into consideration.

And then, you move in and say, “OK, now, how do you concretely treat immigrants with respect as they make their entrée into the United States, into the American empire?” And that is something that — you know, that’s a matter of a step-by-step process of making sure that you have some connection with the leaders of the various countries where these folk are coming from. And at the same time, you let your folk know that they will not be in any way treated with less dignity than any other human being.

AMY GOODMAN: Reproductive rights, as a person who teaches in the seminary, it’s often seen as a religious issue. those who are opposed, for example, to abortion. You have certainly taken a very different stance. Can you address those people who feel that abortion is against their religion, and yet, if we live in a country where there’s a separation of church and state, what that means?

CORNEL WEST: Well, I take very seriously the Christian notion of imago Dei, the fact that human beings are made in the image and likeness of God, and therefore each human being has a dignity and a sanctity.

Part of the problem when talking about abortion is twofold. One, I’m thoroughly convinced that if men had babies, it’d be a qualitatively different discourse, that in a patriarchal society, a woman’s body, a woman’s choice is devalued, is degraded. It has very little weight, so that the notion of a woman having control and choosing for herself as to how they will live their lives has very little gravitas in a patriarchal discourse.

The second thing is, is that I find it very, very disturbing that many — not all, but many — of my conservative brothers and sisters, they know that the child poverty rate in the United States, roughly 21% — it’s much higher among Black and Brown. So, if they’re committed to the well-being of the child, you would think they would be on the cutting edge of eliminating child poverty the way in which I’m trying to eliminate poverty and child poverty. So, they’re concerned about the child on the inside, and when the child is born, well, more than one out of five are living in dire poverty in the richest nation in the history of the world. That strikes me as not that concerned about imago Dei, not that concerned about the sanctity and dignity of children.

Why, then, the obsession of when the child is on the inside of a woman’s body? Well, you see, that’s, again, something that needs to be teased out. The contradictions need to be laid bare as to why there’s this preoccupation.

Now, I do think there is a certain moral concern among many conservative thinkers in terms of believing that a baby becomes a person at a particular moment. Some would go as far as conscious — the moment the baby is conceived. And so there is a moral concern there. I don’t want to downplay it. It’s just too narrow. It’s too truncated. And I think it lends itself to overwhelming contradiction that downplays women’s control over their own bodies.

AMY GOODMAN: I’m speaking to you from New York, which this week had the worst air quality of any city in the world as a result of the wildfires in Nova Scotia, that’s polluting so much now of the air of the United States, which brings us to the issue of the climate catastrophe and what you would do about this. President Biden hails him — calls himself an environmental president, but has moved forward on the Willow project in Alaska, on the —

CORNEL WEST: That’s right.

AMY GOODMAN: — Mountain Valley Pipeline, caving to what some call the other President Joe, Joe Manchin of West Virginia, demanding that in order to support the debt ceiling deal, he wanted a fast track on approval of not only the Mountain Valley Pipeline, which carries, what, the fracked gas that would release greenhouse gases somewhat equivalent to between 26 and 37 coal-powered plants. What would you do about the climate catastrophe today, as we gasp for air in New York?

CORNEL WEST: Yeah, I’m telling you, you can imagine Mexico City, you can imagine New Delhi having to wrestle with that even more chronically than New York City, or where I am now, in Los Angeles.

But one is that you just got corporate greed just running amok. The fossil fuel industry, we’ve had so many battles with them, the powers that they have, their ability to just buy off politicians, their ability to solicit scholars from universities that will rationalize their greed. I mean, this is something that needs to be pointed out.

And I must say, I mean, as leader and president, I would be right on the cutting edge, in the vanguard, of casting a spotlight on that greed and how that greed is able to buy off so many voices, so many scholars, so many thinkers — even, you know, as you can imagine, spills over into journalism and so on. And that means that, you know, we’re up against a tremendous set of entrenched interests. But that’s what fighting for justice is all about: telling the truth and fighting for justice, regardless of the cost. But we are dealing with the dire consequences. You’re going to reap what you sow.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Cornel West, as we — 

CORNEL WEST: And that’s in part what’s happening right now.

AMY GOODMAN: As we wrap up, what does this presidential run mean? I mean, how are you planning to conduct it? Where are you going around the country? You’ve just announced this week.

CORNEL WEST: Well, the first thing we’ve got to do is get on as many state ballots as we can — in, you know, some states, 3,000, 4,000, 7,000 signatures. And I think we should be able to pull that off. Brother Ralph Nader was able to do it when he began in February. We’re beginning now in June, and this election is not until November of next year. So, that’s going to be one crucial thing.

I must admit that this launching has been really quite, quite amazing. We’ve got almost, what, 19 million people who looked at the video. We had no idea we’d have that many. Even the press coverage, I think, has been far, far more than I thought was even possible. So that’s very, very good. That’s good news.

But then you’ve got to get teams in place. You’ve got to get your people on the ground, grassroots. You’ve got to get your grassroots folk as part of your reflection groups to think, to engage in serious discussion. I don’t come in as pied piper. I come in very much like Mary Lou Williams and Count Basie. I’m just playing one instrument in the band. I’m learning. I’m listening. I’m taking in, and I’m giving out. And we’re all in this together.

So, we’re going to see how it goes, Sister Amy. We’re coming out of the blocks, and we’re going to run to the end. And we’re going to cast some serious, serious limelight, spotlight on poor and working people. And we’re going to constitute a threat to the powers that be. Democracy is about disruption.

AMY GOODMAN: Dr. Cornel West, philosopher, author, critic, actor, civil rights activist, professor of philosophy and Christian practice at Union Theological Seminary, now presidential candidate running in the 2024 presidential race, author of numerous books, including Race Matters and Black Prophetic Fire.

To see Part 1 of our interview, go to democracynow.org. I’m Amy Goodman. Thanks so much for joining us.

The original content of this program is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License. Please attribute legal copies of this work to democracynow.org. Some of the work(s) that this program incorporates, however, may be separately licensed. For further information or additional permissions, contact us.

Up Next

How to Pick Biden’s Replacement? James Zogby & LaTosha Brown Debate Wisdom of an Open Convention

Non-commercial news needs your support

We rely on contributions from our viewers and listeners to do our work.
Please do your part today.
Make a donation
Top