Last Hope For Change: An Interview with Cynthia McKinney
by Adam Engel
Writer Adam Engel describes former Georgia congresswoman Cynthia McKinney as a person who doesn’t merely speak truth to power, but acts in accordance with such truths. In this extended conversation, the former Green Party presidential candidate explores “how we end the lived nightmares of the world’s billions.”
Last Hope For Change: An Interview with Cynthia McKinney
by Adam Engel
Question One – Gender
ENGEL: Men and women will always experience life differently, if only because of the way they experience the world in their bodies. If it were in Power's interest to divide people by hair-color or eye color or height, as opposed to race, it would do so, and historical events would follow, but men and women will always be divided in certain fundamental ways. Could you comment on this, in terms of the what and why of racism/class-ism, as well as the one distinction that will always be felt, regardless of how individuals are treated, i.e. gender?
MCKINNEY: I have traveled around the world and there is one thing that I have discovered about the company I have kept: we women can always find one point on which we may commiserate: men. If it's women in the White House or women in a refugee camp, and believe me, I've been in the company of both. We women can always amuse ourselves with the incredible things that men are prone to do!
At one point in the discourse, we would say how different the world would be if women were in charge. (sigh) "If only there were more women in policy-making positions . . ."
For we all agreed on one thing: Yes, we women were a different breed. We were the nurturers of the family and the community. We were the ones who could see across all manner of divides and try to bring family members or community members together. We understood the necessity of climbing atop the petty divides – even if we didn't eliminate them – just to produce some semblance of family or community togetherness. If it were going to be done, it would be the women who would do it. That's what our smug self-assuredness about the values and the valor of women told us.
Until we encountered that new breed of woman, carved not from Adam's rib, but from some of man's lower depths.
Dr. June Terpstra calls these the "Hollow Women of the Hegemon." That is, women who have proven themselves capable of formulating and implementing policies as horrid as those of men. Dr. June Terpstra used the term first in her eponymous piece. She uses the term to describe women who carry out policies of war and killing just as men do. Women, unlike the women we used to idealize in our sitting room conversations, who were so different and who could turn the world back right-side up again if only they were given a chance to do so. These Hollow Women were proliferating, even as we sipped tea from our bone china cups; women like Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, and Susan Rice can now be added to that list. These are women who have implemented and justified wars of aggression, targeted assassination, torture, and crimes against humanity. These are women unlike any women that we "sort-of" feminists could ever have imagined.
Which leads me to ask the question: Is this what feminists dreamed of as a strong woman in charge? Being more "masculine" while killing?
Dr. King said that he wanted his children to be judged by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. Because of the prevalence now of hollow women of the hegemon in public policy, it has become clear at least to me, that I can no longer assume that just because it is a woman's name that appears on the ballot that, as a policy maker, she will be a woman of justice and peace--a woman with values similar to mine. Maybe that prejudice in the favorable way was never justified, maybe it was our folly to think that somehow women would be immune to the corruptions of power.
“Women like Madeleine Albright, Condoleezza Rice, Hillary Clinton, and Susan Rice…have implemented and justified wars of aggression, targeted assassination, torture, and crimes against humanity.”
Unfortunately, we have now learned our lesson the hard way; it is not just in the area of skin color--it is true that for all of us, the ultimate measure of a person in public or in private still must be the content of their character. Therefore, when we cast our vote, it cannot be based on a person's skin color and the citationality of what race means in the United States; it cannot be based on a person's gender and the citationality of what being a woman used to mean in the world of politics; as always, those who win our votes must do so because of the content of their character. It is only then, when we align our values and our votes with the candidates and parties that share our values and deserve our votes, and those candidates actually win and are sworn into office, will we be able to say that our Republic is truly representative of the people it is supposed to serve. Until that time, all that we can truly say is that we in the United States enjoy mere electoralism without the substance of democracy.
Question Two - Day Four
ENGEL: Bill Blum wrote, “If I were the president, I could stop terrorist attacks against the United States in a few days. Permanently. I would first apologize – very publicly and very sincerely – to all the widows and the orphans, the impoverished and the tortured, and all the many millions of other victims of American imperialism. I would then announce that America's global interventions – including the awful bombings – have come to an end. And I would inform Israel that it is no longer the 51st state of the union but – oddly enough – a foreign country. I would then reduce the military budget by at least 90% and use the savings to pay reparations to the victims and repair the damage from the many American bombings and invasions. There would be more than enough money. Do you know what one year of the US military budget is equal to? One year. It's equal to more than $20,000 per hour for every hour since Jesus Christ was born. That's what I'd do on my first three days in the White House. On the fourth day, I'd be assassinated.”
Could you comment on how a McKinney presidency might create a more propitious “fourth day” scenario and continue on its course of change?
MCKINNEY: Concomitant with the base closures on Day One, including giving Guantanamo back to Cuba, I would declare that the new name for the Department of State would be the Department of Peace and that the forward deployments of U.S. personnel around the world would be for the purpose of peace promotion. All mercenaries on the U.S. State Department and Pentagon payrolls would be terminated immediately. The Army Corps of Engineers would be deployed in the U.S. for infrastructure upgrade and repair. The full-time work week would be slashed to 30 hours and reparations would first be paid to those U.S. citizens who have been aggrieved without redress.
On Day Two, in addition to eliminating corporate person-hood, I would eliminate the entire crop of electronic voting machines and return the country to paper ballots counted in public until the Athan Gibbs machines with built in redundancy for transparency and accuracy could be deployed—if something of that type is desired. Instead of fast results, the emphasis would be on accurate and trustworthy results in elections run by public personnel on machines owned by the public using software that is owned by the public. Recounts would not be of bits and bytes, but of a verifiable paper trail that accompanied each vote. Day Two would also see the adoption of the idea of environmental rights—the right of human beings to a clean and healthy environment and the right of nature to an unburdened existence incorporated into policy.!
In addition to free education and health care, Day Three would see foreclosed homes owned by Fannie Mae or any other government entity unboarded and returned to their owners where possible and to displaced and homeless families where the owner is not available for return to that home. A project of allowing displaced Hurricane Katrina survivors to return to New Orleans would be initiated in earnest for the rebuilding of the Lower Fourth Ward with housing that is hurricane and flood resistant. Day Three ends with a public address to the people of the United States in a widely broadcast radio, television, and internet event. In this public address I would recap Days One, Two, and Three; ask for the people’s vigilance and support; announce that we are about to embark upon a new way of being and that our language will change from divisiveness and what ails us, to what we can do to inaugurate the change that we want to be and see for our country. Of course, given the Blum premonition, I would warn of possible assassination; and state to the people my expectations for their reactions in the case of my assassination.
Day Four begins with the phased shut down of all nuclear power plants and the manufacture and distribution of solar panels for all homes and businesses. The morning is spent on Capitol Hill with Members of Congress and the afternoon is spent at the White House with governors of the States and territories. The major question would be for each group to inform me of its definition of what a “Best-Self United States of America” would look like and what in their opinion is the best route to get us there. Each of the territories would be polled to obtain their number one priority action request to be fulfilled, including a free and fair referendum for independence with international observers. Day Four ends with me taking phone calls directly from the people in the style of C-Span in the morning or Hugo Chavez’s “Alo Presidente” weekly television show. The purpose of this effort is to demonstrate a new openness and a new way of being a responsible citizen and elected official of the United States of America!
Question Three - The Nightmare
ENGEL: Even if the wealthy, predator/corporate class were diffused, all swords turned to plowshares, and universal health care, education, food and shelter turned the planet into a veritable Utopia, humanity (and most other species) would still be facing extinction, according to numerous scientists who estimate that we have 30-50 years at most (though I’ve heard twenty, fifteen, as little as ten) to drastically reduce fossil fuel consumption before the “tipping point” is reached and the climate spins out of control with no point of return. Also, according to many geologists, oil has peaked. Perhaps if we’d begun to wean off oil 50 years ago with the goal of complete elimination of fossil fuels within the next ten years, we’d be able to avoid the “tipping point.” But next to nothing has been done world-wide in this regard, particularly not in the U.S. where a panoply of new cars and gadgets come out each year. What is your position on this? I assume you believe it’s possible to avoid a nightmare of unfathomable proportions, but how?
MCKINNEY: Chernoblyl, Fukushima, and Stuxnet (an electronic weapon of mass destruction) are not the only nightmare scenarios that we live with and struggle to overcome. Every day inside the United States and around the world people of immense promise don’t have time for sweet dreams because their waking hours are a nightmare: the nightmares of war, disease, poverty, homelessness, unequal access to opportunity. These nightmares constitute a clear and present danger for tens of millions of unnamed faces in the multitude. And perhaps the greatest nightmare of all for people like me is the knowledge that this way of life is not necessary; Mother Nature is not zero sum. Right now, the U.S. energy policy is war; the U.S. labor policy is undocumented immigration; the U.S. economic policy is a closed game of musical chairs where winners who cheated and already won are the only ones allowed to play and everyone else is either a bystander or a loser. Those who wrote the rules and orchestrate this game have a tenuous grip on power. With the stroke of a pen by the right leadership, this could all be changed. Game as written by them—over. So how do we end the lived nightmares of the world’s billions? My answer is by rejecting the current game and its rules. Every morning, I awake with one word on my mind: resistance. And I ask myself, “What can I do to resist today?”
We don’t need everyone, by the way. We only need a critical mass of people in the United States to say that this country is on the wrong track and the politicians responsible for the mess that we’ve become and are making around the world must not be entrusted with the solution. “We the people critical mass” must engage the process and overcome those who have constructed the current edifices of “civilization.” Mario Savio said it best when he spoke these words on December 2, 1964 on the University of California Berkeley campus: There’s a time when the operation of the machine becomes so odious, makes you so sick at heart, that you can’t take part; you can’t even passively take part. And you’ve got to put your bodies upon the gears and upon the wheels, upon the levers, upon all the apparatus and you’ve got to make it stop and you’ve got to indicate to the people who run it, to the people who own it that unless you’re free, the machine will be prevented from working at all!
“Every morning, I awake with one word on my mind: resistance.”
I spend every waking hour trying to live up to what Mario Savio said we must do when the operation of the machine becomes so odious that you can’t even passively take part. Imagine if our scientific endeavor were devoted to eliminating the plastic island that exists in the middle of the Pacific Ocean? Or if we had a government that was committed to cleaning up every military base and weapons lab in the United States? Imagine the power of human connection that could be unleashed if we tackled the problem of alienation in our culture and paired senior citizens in nursing homes with teen students in a renewed VISTA program of each one teaching one and the village concept Will you join me in this creative brainstorming on what each and every one of us to do to liberate ourselves from this heavy repression that robs us of our dignity and steals promise from everyone but a few.
Question Four – Solutions
ENGEL: All things considered – racism, sexism, corporatism, peak-oil, climate change – we're in a lot of trouble. Worse trouble, possibly, than civilization, with its history of wars, injustices, plagues, disasters – natural and man-made – and plain old bad-luck has ever faced. Many people have grown to “accept” some a future of impending doom of unspeakable magnitude. How would you answer such “doomers” (myself among them) who, considering the range of indifference to downright sinister intent displayed by Power, see no way out but mass death, perhaps even extinction?
MCKINNEY: (What I believe: Many People, One Goal)
A solution, I believe, is all of us working toward the same goal at the same time with solutions that we each have fashioned from our own unique experiences. There is a role for everyone to play. And for those who would rather join in on something that is already built or being formed, rather than create something, the motto should be, “Get in where you fit in!”
Critical mass with unity of purpose is power and so that is what we should be building for. I join with everyone whose purpose is ending U.S. wars; I join with everyone whose purpose is fending off tyranny. I am a firm believer in the power of one acting with purpose. From my dog-eared, yellowed hardback book by Maxwell Taylor Kennedy, “Make Gentle the Life of This World: The Vision of Robert F. Kennedy,” come these three of my most favorite of Bobby’s quotes:
“Over the years, an understanding of what America really stands for is going to count far more than missiles, aircraft carriers, and supersonic bombers.
“There are millions of Americans living in hidden places, whose faces and names we never know. But I have seen children starving in Mississippi, idling their lives away in the ghetto living without hope or future amid the despair on Indian reservations with no jobs and little hope. I have seen proud men in the hills of Appalachia, who wish only to work in dignity—but the mines are closed and the jobs are gone and no one, neither industry or labor oar government, has cared enough to help. Those conditions will change, those children will live, only if we dissent. So I dissent, and I know you do, too.
“It is from numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a an stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends forth a tiny ripple of hope; and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”
I am fond of quoting President John F. Kennedy, Malcolm X, Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., Bobby Kennedy, and Fred Hampton (Chairman of the Chicago Chapter of the Black Panther Party). But the one thing that they all share in common is that they were killed by assassin’s bullets. As Steve Cokely, noted MLK assassination researcher reminded us, "The Bush family has a political dynasty that the Kennedy family was not allowed to have." Therefore, it is important for us to realize that when the soft repression fails to work, the machine will resort to hard repression that includes assassination and murder. The assassinations of the 1960s occurred because the forces for good in this country were about to win. We must read Ward Churchill and Guy Vander Wall’s The COINTELPRO Papers and go online and read the Church Committee Reports so that we are fully armed with the knowledge of the extent that the machine or Empire will go to control us and keep us from winning. Those who have read these Reports and are aware of the true nature of the people who have had positional authority in the past to act on behalf of the United States government are not fooled by the massive propaganda on behalf of Empire that seeks to control our thinking and hence our political behavior. Dissent and informed resistance are imperative if we are to overcome and not have our movement misdirected as was done to the Civil Rights Movement. But, I suppose the fundamental understanding must be that we must protect our leaders and multiply ourselves if our movement is to be sustained. “How long shall they kill our prophets while we stand aside and look?”
Adam Engel can be contacted at bartlebysamsa65(at)gmail.com.