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Cynthia McKinney: Kwanzaa 2007 message

Cynthia McKinney
Chicago Pre-Kwanzaa Celebration
December 16, 2007

I want to thank Chicagoans for the continuous outpouring of love and understanding that I’ve been shown throughout my political career. In 1991, when George Herbert Walker Bush decided to rain bombs down on Baghdad, I came under severe attack because, from the well of the Georgia House of Representatives, I said, among other things, that George Bush ought to be ashamed of himself. My colleagues got up and walked out on me and I was repudiated in the most vicious ways imaginable. It was the viciousness that catapulted me into some national notoriety, including here in Chicago. As I ran for Congress and added my voice to others clamoring for justice, peace, truth, and accountability, I began to experience the same type of vilification as had happened while I was in the Georgia Legislature.

But what I began to realize was that it was the very fact of such treatment that caused people around-at first the state of Georgia, and then later our country-to begin to pay attention. Because the question soon arose, What’s wrong with a message of justice, peace, truth, and accountability being delivered by the Representative from Georgia? And just as Dr. King said, “There can be no great disappointment where there is no great love,” more and more people became disappointed at the public flagellation I was continuously subjected to.

You recognized the spirit of Kunte in me. You showered me with the love and the nurturing I needed for political survival. You traveled to Georgia to prevent the retrenchment of my message and save my presence in the United States Congress. You sent dollars to my campaigns and fought for the restoration of my seniority because you knew that I could be counted on to remain a consistent voice of empowerment.

My voice for the voiceless, my speaking truth to power, has attracted support from all sectors of the American community. Blacks, whites, Latinos, Native Americans, and Asians; every faith within our human rainbow are all represented in my support base. Thank you. And as I contemplated the breadth of such support, I also wondered why, since the Civil Rights Movement, black participation rarely seemed to translate into broad policy strokes needed to transform our community-indeed, our entire country.

I do believe that it is still within our power today to transform public policy to benefit forgotten communities and restore the lost soul of our country.

I’ve decided to do something different in an attempt to have something different.

I do this because I know that part of the story of human survival resides in the success of humankind’s ability to adapt to its changing environment. Indeed, the story of evolution is marked by such changes, passed on from generation to generation, in every form of life from single cells, to plants, to very complex animals.

It is clear from life’s model that a failure to recognize environmental changes and adapt to them rapidly can mean even the end of life.

Life is the overall purpose of any organism. And so, there are various functions within an organism that help it to survive. For each of us, our eyes, our ears, our skin, our hearts are all differentiated organs that sustain our lives.

Whole fields of science have been constructed to understand the role of differentiation and evolution. To ensure its survival, the polar bear evolved into an animal that thrives in cold and ice-an endangered environment in a global warming world. And therefore, the polar bear’s existence is threatened if it is unable to adapt to the climatic changes sweeping our planet.

And finally, for longevity, life must be reproduced. Life without reproduction is death.

Because on the other side of the equation, there is the threat to life that can come from the environment. In order to survive, an organism, a species, a specific community, humankind, must understand its environment and adapt so that it can withstand potentially hostile environmental changes.

Because Africa is so rich in resources upon which civilization as we know it has grown to depend, because Africans were so resilient in what might have been harsh environments for others, because black people could be used to satisfy the needs and wants of others, our very survival has had to overcome internal and external threats to our very existence. Our survival as a distinct group worthy of self-determination and not just as the source of other people’s gratification depends on our ability to understand our environment, test it for its hostility, fashion strategies to survive in the face of such hostility, and when that environment changes, adapt our strategy to the new circumstances.

And it is to the political environment of African Americans that I must now turn.

Those of you accustomed to hearing my messages know that I will recite the statistics that inform us of the state of black America. You know that I will remind us all of the dire conditions facing our country as well as our community: A 2003 Harvard University study found that even when minorities have health insurance, they tend to receive less than adequate care. Black infant and maternal mortality rates are 2 and 3.5 times higher than for whites. Dr. David Satcher found in 2005 that 83,750 black people died premature deaths for no other reason than that they were black.

The New York Times wrote that by 2003 nearly one half of all black men between the ages of 16 and 64, living in New York City, were unemployed.

The 2006 National Urban League Report informed us that the overall quality of life in the U.S. enjoyed by black people is only 73% that of white Americans and that the economic conditions faced by blacks in the United States is 56% that of whites in this country.

I read the Hull House-Loyola University Report, “Minding the Gap,” which stated that were there to be no changes whatsoever in policy, that it would take black Chicagoans 200 years to catch up to the quality of life enjoyed by those who are white and live in Chicago. Referencing the report, the Chicago Sun-Times wrote, “Page by page, paragraph by paragraph, and line by line the report describes two completely different cities, documenting disparities in income, education, housing transportation, health care, and safety.”

The Report itself points out: “Whites are 125 percent more likely to use marijuana than blacks; 181 percent more likely to use cocaine; 431 percent more likely to use inhalants; 516 percent more likely to use LSD. And yet blacks account for 79 percent of all drug arrests.” Even in reading about Chicago politics, it became perfectly clear that before there was a Colonel Karpinski and Abu Ghraib, there was a Burge and a Daley responsible for the Chicago Police Department’s Area 2.

And finally, in its 2005 report, among other things, United for a Fair Economy told us that it would take 1,664 years to close the home ownership gap and that on some indices the racial disparities are worse now than at the time of the murder of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. In their 2006 Report, United for a Fair Economy told us that blacks and Latinos lost ground, and in order to close the racial wealth divide in our country, it would take the equivalent of a “G.I. Bill for Everyone” that would include comprehensive federal investment in low-income families and communities, with an emphasis on people of color. They recommended, I believe, what very few in this room would disagree with: progressive taxes on wealthy individuals and profitable corporations to fund a real Ownership Society, not the phony proposals being put forward by the Bush Administration.

And unfortunately, in their 2007 State of the Dream Report, United for a Fair Economy wrote that people of color support Democrats in the voting booth, but are still waiting for policies and programs that close the economic gap between them and whites. They wrote that African Americans should expect more from Democrats than what was received in the Congressional Democratic majority’s first 100 hours. They wrote that people of color vote blue, but stay in the red.

So where’s the outrage? And where’s the agenda for change?

According to the statistics, staying in the red means that our college graduates will continue to earn on the average half as much as the overall population of college graduates over their lifetimes;

Staying in the red means continued astronomical incarceration rates for our children and their continued criminalization even in schools where administrative remedies exist-like in the Jena 6 and the Palmdale 4 cases;

Staying in the red means that more and more of our families will be displaced in what some have called “Hurricane America” wherein gentrification is displacing millions of families of color-not nearly as violently-but the result is practically the same as has happened with Hurricanes Katrina and Rita;

Staying in the red means that merely increasing the minimum wage is insufficient because even if the minimum wage were to be increased every year at 70 cents per year, a minimum wage worker supporting a family of three still would not rise above the poverty level until 2013.

Without specific funds for affirmative action programs that close the gaps in health, education, employment, incarceration, and other indices on which our country fails to perform, staying in the red means continuing to put up with the same inequalities that in some cases are worsening and hoping somehow to escape from the consequences of the numbers.

If we continue to do what we’ve always done, we’ll continue to get what we’ve always been given. That means staying in the red.

And clearly, if black people fail to demand a discussion, an agenda, solid policy proposals that redress these circumstances, in my opinion, the black body politic could go the way of the polar bear.

I refuse to have my community-or any community in this country–stay in the red and I refuse to see those statistics go one more day without being addressed.

Earlier this year, on my birthday, I declared my independence from the leadership that voted its complicity in war crimes, crimes against humanity, torture, and crimes against the peace. I set as a marker repeal of the Patriot Acts, the Secret Evidence Act, the Military Tribunals Act. I asked for enactment of a national living wage, not just an increase in the minimum wage. And I asked why is impeachment off the table. I decried the Pentagon’s missing 2.3 trillion dollars and asked for that money back-for jobs, for health care, for education, and for our veterans. I asked for repeal of the Bush tax cuts.

And so, today on my mother’s birthday, and in the spirit of Umoja and of Kujichagulia, I have decided to do something I’ve never done before so that we all can have something we’ve never had before.

In celebration of dedicated service to my community instilled in me by my parents, and in the spirit of Ujima, Ujamaa, and Nia, I am ready to assert that the black community cannot and should not be forced to live in the red not one day longer without an action plan for remedy. I am ready to put my entire body against the gears and the levers and the wheels of the machine and I’m willing to do whatever it is that I can to stop it.

And finally, in the spirit of service without expectation of reward, and in the spirit of Kuumba and Imani, I will rely on our ancestors and our culture to see us through this journey. My very first campaign theme was “warriors don’t wear medals, they wear scars.” I have felt the scars, you have seen my scars; but I also have weathered the storm.

But there are some principles that must be addressed and they are more important than me.

How will we engage the political process and reverse those statistics revealing an unacceptable level of pain inside our community?

How do we inject a dose of radical common sense into the political process and resolve our problems?

Just this past week, reflecting a political impotence heretofore unknown since we acquired the right to vote, public housing in New Orleans was demolished despite being habitable enough for displaced residents to return.

I was awakened yesterday morning by the melodic voice of William Bell singing Trying to Love Two. At the time, that song seemed to me a revelation because perhaps our failure to negotiate an agenda that addresses those statistics could simply be that in the course of
trying to satisfy others, we lost sight of our own needs, our own agenda, our own solutions. Bell concluded that loving two women wasn’t easy to do. He said it started out just for fun, but now he’s the one that’s on the run. Now, he’s trapped, not getting anywhere. And it’s messing with his head. Also sounds like what can happen to a community that fails to respond to severe threats lurking within its environment.

Finally, and this is a big one. Electioneering this season will be a billion-dollar business. How much of that money is going to minority printers, minority banks, minority pollsters, minority media and political consultants; minority newspapers, radio and internet outlets?

Malcolm X said, the black vote can determine who goes to the White House and who stays in the doghouse. In 2000, an estimated one million black people went to the polls and voted their dreams, their hopes, and their aspirations and the votes of those one million black people were not even counted. Who fought for them?

In 2004, it was the black vote again that was targeted for nullification in an election drive-by shooting.

How much more will we take?

And yet, we still wait. For justice. For peace. And for truth.

I shudder to think what our country might become if we fail to turn these numbers around. Join me. Dare to be different. Dare to demand. Our survival could very well depend on it.

Thank you.

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