by The People’s Minister of Information JR
Six term congresswoman, ‘08 Green Party presidential candidate and international peace activist Cynthia McKinney has been that rare voice in the halls of the U.S. Congress and wherever the people need her who is willing to risk her life to represent for Black people, fearlessly investigating such hot issues as Katrina, Haiti, the Congo, the opening of the FBI files on Tupac’s assassination, the invasion of Libya and more. Currently pursuing a doctoral degree, she is writing her dissertation on the life of the late President Hugo Chavez of Venezuela and attended his recent funeral in Caracas.
Hear Cynthia McKinney in person during her April 21-25 California speaking tour, which begins in San Diego and Los Angeles and concludes in the Bay Area.* On Wednesday, April 24, she’ll speak on the campus of Laney College in the Forum, 900 Fallon St., Oakland, at 6:30 p.m., and on Thursday, April 25, at the Arlene Francis Center, 99 Sixth St., Santa Rosa, at 7 p.m. The tour is a fundraiser for the SF Bay View newspaper and Block Report Radio.
Come meet this great leader of our time, a woman as warm as she is courageous, and exchange a word with her as she signs your copy of her new books, the autobiographical “Ain’t Nothing Like Freedom,” just released in time for this tour, and “The Illegal War on Libya,” released last fall. Hear Cynthia McKinney in her own words in this interview for Block Report Radio.
MOI JR: Our next guest is six time congresswoman and 2008 Green Party candidate and international peace activist, the one and only Honorable Cynthia McKinney. How are you?
CM: I’m doing great, JR. How are you doing?
MOI JR: I’m good. I know we are only days away from your upcoming California tour, where you’ll be helping the San Francisco Bay View newspaper to raise money for its very much needed services to the community. But you will also be profiling your new book, “Ain’t Nothing Like Freedom.” Can you tell the people a little bit about what’s going on at this tour that will stop on April 24 at Laney College and will also go to the Arlene Francis Center in Santa Rosa on April 25. Can you tell the people a little about what you’ll be talking about?
CM: Well, of course. I’ll be talking about the contents of both of the books, the Libya book, which came out while the bombing was still going on in Libya. I took a group of journalists there so that we could tell the truth about what was happening on the ground rather than what the propagandizing media were saying to the world about what was being done in Libya.
And then the other book, the newest book, is “Ain’t Nothing Like Freedom,” and that book basically is about my time in Congress and what I felt as I was doing certain things on certain issues. And so I talk a lot about the World Conference Against Racism and the difference that we were able to make because we cared enough to challenge the Bush administration’s decision to boycott the conference. And we contrasted that to what happened recently under the Obama administration, where a similar decision was made, but the members of Congress chose to go along with the Obama administration.
So I guess you could say that “Ain’t Nothing Like Freedom” is a recounting of my experiences inside Congress and things I think could make the Congress more responsive to the issues of the people – and how I felt just as a human being, as a person going through a smear campaign, multiple redistricting, the things that people said about me, the “soft repression,” I call it now: the stigmatizing, the ridiculing and ultimately now the silencing that I’m experiencing because I dare to speak out. And that’s interesting phraseology in and of itself: You speak out and so you get silenced, you know.
And I’ll be talking not only about my experiences but how I felt, because at the end of the day I have feelings just like everybody else. And so even though maybe I am a public person, I’m not supposed to have feelings? But my mother and my father’s hearts were broken by the treatment that I received. My mom still shudders at the idea of me going out in public and having to be viewed through the prism of the local news, because she knows they have a special interest and they are just not going to get it right; and I’ll end up looking like a caricature of myself.
I would like people to come out so they can experience me as a person – not as a product, not as a politician, not as a public persona – but me as an average American person just trying to make a difference.
“Ain’t Nothing Like Freedom” is a recounting of my experiences inside Congress and how I felt just as a human being, as a person going through a smear campaign, multiple redistricting, the things that people said about me, the “soft repression,” I call it now: the stigmatizing, the ridiculing and ultimately now the silencing that I’m experiencing because I dare to speak out.
MOI JR: No doubt about that, and we support you. Can you tell the people a little about the content of your NATO book, or your book that deals with Libya?
CM: Well, we were fortunate enough to have people who contributed to the book who were there in Libya as the bombing took place, so we have that perspective. We also had the perspective of people who either lived in Libya or visited Libya prior to the bombing, and they gave that perspective. And then we had people who had an interest in Libya, had never been there but recognized the importance of this move by NATO, representing the White world supported by segments of people of color, so they had a particular view to present as well, and that was all there.
And I talk about what NATO represents. I just finished doing an interview where I was asked about apartheid in Israel, and it brings to mind the nature of global apartheid that continues to exist. I’ve had the opportunity to travel all over Europe, and I’ve seen Africans in Europe. Now the Europeans have gone into Africa and they have just completely decimated the continent to the best of their ability by stripping it of its resources, beginning with the stripping of its human resources during the transatlantic slave trade.
The numbers are staggering when you think about 100 million people being stripped out of a continent. It’s staggering to think about, to see this kind of destruction. So when Africans say, OK, you’ve made my home an intolerable place to live so I’m going to go to your home and live. Then that’s when you can see the apartheid inside the European countries. Through my travels, I have come to view this global apartheid.
And then what is the function of NATO? NATO, the North Atlantic Treaty Organization, was created as an outgrowth of World War II, which saw as its purview the preservation of “democracy” as opposed to communism or socialism in the Western European countries. While I was in Congress, I was one of the persons who voiced my opposition to the extension of NATO into areas in Eastern Europe.
Actually, NATO is an anachronism now. It was created to thwart the drive of the Soviet Union into Western Europe, and now we see NATO all over the world. It’s in Afghanistan, it was in Libya; it’s gone from Western Europe to Africa and Asia. And why is that?
What are the policies that are being protected by this military onslaught against people of color? Clearly the interests that are being protected are not the interests of the people in Afghanistan, Pakistan, Libya and other interests. We have to look at this, and I kind of just stumbled on this as a result of my travels and the glaring inequalities – glaring apartheid-like status of people of color in European countries – and then the sort of obverse of that in the countries that are populated by people of color. So I’m just putting voice to that now.
MOI JR: You recently traveled to Caracas, Venezuela, and attended the funeral of the late great freedom fighter and president of Venezuela, Hugo Chavez. Can you tell the people a little about that experience as well as the counter-revolution that the United States has been trying to implement? You know, what’s going on on the ground in Caracas and in Venezuela?
CM: Well, first of all I have to state that I have always had a sense of solidarity with the peoples of Latin America, but that sense of solidarity was never really fully expressed. I have to say a word of thanks to my professor – I’m doing work on my Ph.D. and I am making great progress and great strides, and at the proper time I intend to invite everybody to come to my graduation – but it was one of my professors who suggested that I spread my wings and expand my territory beyond that which I knew. I do not speak Spanish; I do speak French, and so as a result of the similarities of the romance languages I am able to understand a bit of Spanish although I can’t speak it.
So I decided to get into some research on the U.S. policies, for example, with the Puerto Rican independence movement and the counter-intelligence program that operated against the Puerto Rican independentistas. From there my interest and my solidarity has grown such that I am now doing papers on Venezuela and Hugo Chavez.
Venezuela is in the midst of having elections after having lost its charismatic and transformative leader, so there is a lot of public sentiment that Nicolas Maduro will win the election. Now there’s some – I think a replay of what happened in Iran is under consideration – because of course the efforts of the United States government, which is against the values and the policies of the Bolivarian Revolution, are to thwart the victory of Nicholas Maduro and to taint the election process.
But, given that my very last election that I was in for Congress had people all over the state of Georgia voting in my single congressional district race, it’s unfathomable to me that anyone could suggest that elections abroad are tainted when it is clear that elections here at home are tainted, and we haven’t taken care of that business yet.
MOI JR: Right. How do you feel about what was going on in the streets? Did you see the people calling Hugo Chavez a dictator like you do on mainstream news in the United States, or did you see the people supporting the Bolivarian Revolution as I saw in a lot of the alternative press that was also covering his passing?
CM: Well, there were millions of people in the streets; in fact, there were so many people who were at the military academy where he lay in state that I couldn’t even get close. The second time I went – I just came back maybe a week and a half to two weeks ago – I was there with an international delegation and they had to close the place off. We originally were scheduled to go in the morning, and we couldn’t go because there was still a crush of people there.
I saw people wailing in the streets. People were crying, people were angry, people were defiant, people were accusatory. I saw a full range of emotions there. And the interesting thing is I really have to question a person who puts the values and interests of another country ahead of their own country. We see that happening here in the United States as well. Those of us who hold fast say that there ought to be primacy of the rule of law and the protection of the Bill of Rights ought to be extended to every U.S. citizen. Yet we have people who stake their loyalty out for other countries and then follow what’s determined to be the interests of the other countries.
That is what the case is in Venezuela: You have a very small population of people who look to the United States for leadership and guidance. If this means that their fellow Venezuelan citizen has to suffer, then so be it, because they tie their identity so closely to that of the United States that they forget about the interests of their fellow Venezuelans, and I find that peculiar and sad.
MOI JR: For those who are just tuning in, you are listening to the voice of international peace activist Cynthia McKinney right here on the Block Report. Ms. Cynthia McKinney, can you compare Hugo Chavez – Venezuela under Hugo Chavez – to Qaddafi’s Libya? What exactly were the two leaders about and what were their countries about under their leadership, as well as what is the similarity in how they were attacked and removed? Some say that Hugo Chavez was assassinated; we know that Qaddafi definitely was assassinated. Can you talk a little bit about the attacks on them and their countries by the United States as well as the similarity of their accomplishments?
CM: That’s a very interesting point that you bring out. I remember it was in 2002 when the world learned about the kidnapping of Chavez because the Irish journalists just happened to be there and produced the documentary, “The Revolution Will Not Be Televised.” What was it that Chavez was doing that was similar to what Qaddafi was doing?
Another president comes to mind in that region who was very close to Hugo Chavez and that’s President Aristide. After the Haitians defeated the French empire and declared a republic in 1804, Haiti was forced to pay reparations for their freedom to France. And President Aristide said it’s time for us to get our money back. We need to get our money back. France needs to pay us reparations.
And so Aristide began to turn the Haitian state around to invest in the Haitian people. When I was there, there was an effort to address the abysmal statistics on adult literacy, on sanitation – just the things we take for granted. I was there not too long ago where people were celebrating the fact that they had their first road coming into the town. For these kinds of investments, the administration in Haiti was derided. It accepted thousands of doctors from Cuba and petrodollars from Venezuela to build those roads and to uplift the people.
We saw what happened with President Aristide: He was kidnapped and kicked out. And the same thing happened to Hugo Chavez. Now what is it that he was doing? He was investing in the Venezuelan people for literacy. In fact, it’s so amazing: I just got back, as I said, and the people brag about reading. Can you imagine people bragging in the United States about reading? It doesn’t happen.
People brag in Venezuela about reading. They love their Constitution, they vote the Constitution, and so they love their Constitution. And they read and they read and they read because Hugo Chavez told them to read – to become a reading society. There are tens of thousands of Cuban doctors there. The petrodollars are being used to build schools and provide health care. Every neighborhood has a community garden where they have organic food. So their quality of life was being raised for the average Venezuelan in the Bolivarian Revolution.
And now remember that Dick Cheney said that it was the American quality of life that justified the United States going across the world to 60 countries and declaring war on 60 countries. Dick Cheney said that this was a fight that was worth it because it was about the American quality of life. So is your quality of life better today than it was before the war on terror? For the average American citizen, it’s not.
The quality of life was measurably better for the average Venezuelan, the average Haitian, the average Libyan. The statistics from the United Nations indicate that Libya had the highest standard of living on the entire African continent. Not any longer. The subsidized education, subsidized housing, actually free education, free health care, subsidized food, free farming utensils if you wanted to start a farm.
Every so often there was a debt jubilee: People would charge up their credit cards buying Western things, and so there was a jubilee on that and people would be relieved of that debt. When was the last time that happened here?
You know, what we are experiencing, particularly in Latin America now, is a different vision for a different way of living and a different way of being, a different way of being human, and it’s about our humanity to each other, it’s how we treat each other, how we live with Mother Earth, how we live with each other. I met a U.S. citizen when I was there this last time in Venezuela, and she chose to leave the U.S. – a Black woman chose to leave the U.S. – and live in Venezuela. She’s been there for seven years now.
She said to me something that I still to this day reflect on and find very interesting. She said to me, “Cynthia technically I’m poor, but I have health care, I’m a teacher – I teach English and so I provide education for people – I have all the food that I need to eat, and so I question how they could call me poor.” And she went on to say that she found the materialism and the focus on consumption in the United States appalling and it just reached the point that she had to leave, so she left.
She said that there were seven other U.S. people who left with her. They were all men, and they all eventually returned to the United States. She said she recently reached out to all of them; to a person, every one of them is sorry that they returned to the U.S., because now they understand that quality of life doesn’t mean how many cars you have parked in your driveway and how big a driveway you have and how many houses you accumulate and what the square footage of your house is. That’s not an indication of your quality of life.
I think back to the King of Bhutan (a kingdom in the Eastern Himalayas), who said that the indicators for success for Bhutan were now going to be an indication of happiness: gross national happiness instead of gross national product. It’s all in the way we look at how we are supposed to relate to each other and to relate to earth. Mother Earth is not a commodity. Mother Earth is what sustains and gives us life.
MOI JR: For those of you just tuning in, you are listening to the voice of the international peace activist Cynthia McKinney, who is on her way to the Bay Area. Wednesday, April 24, she will be speaking at the Laney College Forum at 6 p.m. And the next night, Thursday, April 25, she will be speaking at the Arlene Francis Center in Santa Rosa at 7 p.m. Ms. Cynthia McKinney, how can people stay in touch with you if they would like to hear more about what you’re talking about and they’re not able to make it to the tour?
CM: Well, I hope everyone will come to the tour. At least come see me, give me a hug, give me a high five, because it’s hard really to go on. There’s a friend of mine who says people don’t understand how hard it is to be Cynthia McKinney, so I’m going to unveil myself. I’m just going to be a regular ordinary person and I’d like to experience regular ordinary folks who want to talk about real things.
We can talk about politics, but let’s talk about life and love and living and happiness and wellness. Let’s talk about some other things. But if people can’t come, we can interact now, because I’m learning a little bit more about Facebook – at Cynthia McKinney official. If you go to the regular Cynthia McKinney page – there’s about three or four of them – don’t do that. Go to the one that says “official,” because that’s the one that I operate. I don’t even know who operates the other ones.
MOI JR: As well as they can buy the two new books.
CM: Oh yes, of course; they can buy the books. Clarity Press makes them available on line, or you can send someone to buy them in person and I’ll sign them. (Editor’s note: Both books will be available at every event on the tour. Cynthia will sign them for you on the spot.)
MOI JR: Well, we can’t wait to have you here on the West Coast, and we will talk to you soon.
CM: OK, I can’t wait to get there, JR.
- Sunday, April 21: The World Beat Center, 2100 Park Blvd, San Diego, 6 p.m.
- Monday, April 22: Chuco’s Youth Justice Coalition, 1137 E. Redondo Blvd, Inglewood, 6:30 p.m.
- Tuesday, April 23: The Kaos Network, 4343 Leimert Blvd, Los Angeles, 6:30 p.m.
- Wednesday, April 24: The Laney College Forum, 900 Fallon St., Oakland, 6:30 p.m.
- Thursday, April 25: Arlene Francis Center, 99 Sixth St., Santa Rosa, 6:30 p.m.
The People’s Minister of Information JR is associate editor of the Bay View, author of “Block Reportin’” and filmmaker of “Operation Small Axe” and “Block Reportin’ 101,” available, along with many more interviews, atwww.blockreportradio.com. He also hosts two weekly shows on KPFA 94.1 FM and kpfa.org: The Morning Mix every Wednesday, 8-9 a.m., and The Block Report every other Friday night-Saturday morning, midnight-2 a.m. He can be reached at email@example.com.