Toward a Real Racial Justice Platform for the Political Revolution

A conversation with Nina Turner, president of Our Revolution.

Sarah Jaffe August 22, 2017

On Saturday, January 14, 2017, in Washington, DC, Nina Turner, then-State Senator for Ohio, addresses the crowd at the We Shall Not Be Moved march, organized by Rev. Al Sharptons organization, National Action Network. (Photo by Cheriss May/NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Wel­come to Inter­views for Resis­tance. Since elec­tion night 2016, the streets of the Unit­ed States have rung with resis­tance. Peo­ple all over the coun­try have wok­en up with the con­vic­tion that they must do some­thing to fight inequal­i­ty in all its forms. But many are won­der­ing what it is they can do. In this series, we’ll be talk­ing with expe­ri­enced orga­niz­ers, trou­ble­mak­er, and thinkers who have been doing the hard work of fight­ing for a long time. They’ll be shar­ing their insights on what works, what does­n’t, what has changed and what is still the same.

It is very much a part of Our Revolution’s work to change systems that promote discrimination and bigotry in ways that hurt communities of color, particularly African American communities.

Nina Turn­er: I am Nina Turn­er. I am a for­mer state sen­a­tor in the great state of Ohio and Pres­i­dent of Our Rev­o­lu­tion.

Sarah Jaffe: We are talk­ing on a Fri­day. Near­ly a week ago, a whole bunch of var­i­ous white suprema­cist groups descend­ed on Char­lottesville, Va. What are your thoughts about what is going on? Can you weigh in on the nation­al con­ver­sa­tion about hwat has been hap­pen­ing since Charlottesville?

Nina: It is heavy. Lots of peo­ple are still very raw — and right­ful­ly so. We saw white suprema­cists and neo-Nazis descend on Char­lottesville, Va. First there was Fri­day night with the tiki torch­es. It just brought back all the ugli­ness in terms of the his­to­ry of what the KKK-inspired type groups did in the late 1800s. The KKK was found­ed in 1865, right after the 13th Amend­ment to the Con­sti­tu­tion, which set black folks free from slav­ery. These types of groups ter­ror­ized African Amer­i­cans through­out the south. So, to come face to face with that kind of lega­cy in the 21st Cen­tu­ry is haunt­ing and dis­turb­ing. This is a heavy time for our country.

Sarah: I want to talk about build­ing a real­ly strong anti-racist left move­ment now, because it is obvi­ous­ly more impor­tant than ever when the pres­i­dent can’t bring him­self to denounce neo-Nazis. I would like to hear your thoughts about the work that Our Rev­o­lu­tion is doing, the work that oth­er folks are doing, to actu­al­ly build an anti-racist left.

Nina: Yes, that is so impor­tant. In Our Rev­o­lu­tion, we have always had a social, polit­i­cal, eco­nom­ic and envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice frame­work for our work. In all of the work that we do, we are look­ing towards form­ing that more per­fect union, but it is even more nec­es­sary now in the face of such overt racism. And it is impor­tant for oth­er groups, like Democ­ra­cy for Amer­i­ca, Demo­c­ra­t­ic Social­ists of Amer­i­ca, Nation­al Nurs­es Unit­ed, you name it. There are so many for­mal groups out there doing this work: Black Lives Mat­ter, the Bren­nan Insti­tute. But, there are every­day peo­ple out there, too, who are dis­mayed, dis­ap­point­ed and just as hor­ri­fied that we would come face to face with this.

We are going to con­tin­ue to do the things that we have always done, whether it is fight­ing for Medicare for All, stand­ing up to increase the min­i­mum wage in this coun­try to $15 an hour or talk­ing about the pri­vate prison indus­tri­al com­plex that makes a prof­it off of keep­ing folks in prison. We know that those peo­ple are dis­pro­por­tion­ate­ly black, brown and poor.

But we are also going to have a deep­er con­ver­sa­tion about insti­tu­tion­al racism in this coun­try, prob­a­bly in ways that we might not have touched upon so deeply. We have to talk about that, because we still have sys­temic racism in this coun­try. It is very much a part of Our Revolution’s work to change sys­tems that pro­mote dis­crim­i­na­tion and big­otry in ways that hurt com­mu­ni­ties of col­or, par­tic­u­lar­ly African Amer­i­can communities.

When you look at wages, for exam­ple, peo­ple might not see the $15 min­i­mum wage as a racial jus­tice issue. But when you look at wages in this coun­try, there is the fact that African-Amer­i­can women make about 63 cents on every dol­lar that a white man makes. Most African-Amer­i­can house­holds are led by women. Then there is an eco­nom­ic, racial and social jus­tice com­po­nent to want­i­ng to raise the wage.

Sarah: I want­ed to talk a lit­tle bit about the idea of putting togeth­er a plat­form, a list of poli­cies that we are going to push for.

Nina: It is impor­tant, because peo­ple need to see it. They need to be able to hold it in their hands if they want to, whether it is on a tablet or a piece of paper. It is the affir­ma­tion that we stand for this, that our val­ue propo­si­tions will be expressed through pub­lic pol­i­cy. That is real­ly what the People’s Plat­form is.

The beau­ti­ful thing about the People’s Plat­form, and the coali­tion sup­port­ing the People’s Plat­form, is that it is tan­gi­ble — it is real. The Edu­ca­tion for All” bill has been intro­duced that will require the fed­er­al gov­ern­ment to pay two-thirds of col­lege. We know how impor­tant that is to make sure that we have a work­force that is high­ly edu­cat­ed and high­ly skilled. That is what this is about. It is about mak­ing that kind of investment.

Medicare for All” was the sig­na­ture of Sen­a­tor Sanders cam­paign. It is the foun­da­tion of what we do, which is affirm­ing that we, as a coun­try, can have Medicare for All, we can cre­ate an envi­ron­ment that doesn’t leave any­body behind, that is not attached to a job.

And what we are say­ing to the Con­gress, par­tic­u­lar­ly to the Demo­c­ra­t­ic Par­ty, is: Here it is. Your mem­bers intro­duced these pieces of leg­is­la­tion. Sign onto them and let us show the peo­ple of this coun­try, the folks of this coun­try that this is what we stand for, this is what we are fight­ing for.” It is impor­tant to have all of these options, because for some peo­ple the envi­ron­ment might be the most impor­tant thing, to oth­er peo­ple eco­nom­ic jus­tice might be the thing, for oth­er peo­ple racial jus­tice. So we have some­thing in the People’s Plat­form for everybody.

Sarah: Let’s talk about a cou­ple of the oth­er things on this plat­form. The EACH Woman Act, because this has been an issue of ten­sion for a while, with Democ­rats say­ing that abor­tion is not a lit­mus test for the par­ty. I would love for you to talk about that par­tic­u­lar one and the impor­tance of say­ing that this is, in fact, a foun­da­tion­al issue.

Nina: It is impor­tant. Peo­ple want to call it a lit­mus test. It is real­ly just a val­ue state­ment that women in this coun­try should have equal access to abor­tion cov­er­age with­in their health insur­ance. It is some­thing that we set­tled in this coun­try and this should not be up for debate. It is a med­ical pro­ce­dure — we want peo­ple to see it through that lens. Women should have the right to have an abor­tion. It should be safe, it should be legal, and they should be rare. I don’t know many peo­ple jump­ing up and down say­ing, Abor­tions for all!”

Some­how, we have lost ground on this debate, because we talk about it in ways that don’t allow peo­ple on the oth­er side to bend a lit­tle to ful­ly under­stand this. It is a med­ical pro­ce­dure and we have to pro­tect women’s access to that.

Sarah: The next thing on this list brings us back to issues relat­ed to Char­lottesville. Let’s talk about vot­ing rights and the dec­i­ma­tion of the Vot­ing Rights Act. The attacks on the right to vote on all sorts of lev­els over the last sev­er­al years helped put Don­ald Trump in the White House.

Nina: Oh my god, if peo­ple only knew. We should real­ly use this as a teach­able moment to go back through his­to­ry — and not revi­sion­ist his­to­ry. Let’s tell the truth that African Amer­i­cans were ter­ror­ized just because they want­ed to vote, just because they were fight­ing for lib­er­a­tion and equal rights in this coun­try. It is just as sim­ple as that. That is the stain on Amer­i­ca. It is not the We hold these truths to be self-evi­dent that all men are cre­at­ed equal.” The founders were bril­liant, but they didn’t mean all” when they wrote those words. But the fact that they wrote those words gives us lever­age and gives us the oppor­tu­ni­ty in the 21st Cen­tu­ry and every gen­er­a­tion there­after to lever­age those words. That is what we do.

It is a trav­es­ty for any­one who is elect­ed to office, who serves in an elec­tive office, to engage in vot­er sup­pres­sion. We need to expand the fran­chise. That is what the Auto­mat­ic Vot­er Reg­is­tra­tion Act is: just a sim­ple, elo­quent piece of leg­is­la­tion that just requires every state to enroll every vot­er when they go get their driver’s license. How­ev­er, I would like to take that fur­ther — when peo­ple are born, let’s go and reg­is­ter them! Let’s get them reg­is­tered there and then. How beau­ti­ful could that be?

Democ­ra­cy is stronger, is bet­ter, is more robust when peo­ple par­tic­i­pate. We should want to encour­age that. In 2016, dur­ing the pres­i­den­tial elec­tion, too many peo­ple opt­ed out. They decid­ed that they weren’t going to do it, for what­ev­er rea­son. I think the vot­er sup­pres­sion bill has some­thing to do with it, ger­ry­man­der­ing has some­thing to do with it. Peo­ple don’t believe that the sys­tem works on their behalf, and they don’t trust politi­cians — whether they are Democ­rats or Repub­li­cans. They feel as though they have got­ten a bad deal. And they are right. They are absolute­ly right.

Sarah: The one piece of the plat­form that is not actu­al­ly an exist­ing bill that has been intro­duced in Con­gress is the cli­mate change bill. I would love for you to talk a lit­tle bit about some of the things you would like to see in such a bill.

Nina: My cli­mate experts have said envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice is a big­ger umbrel­la, but I know that Con­gress­woman Tul­si Gab­bard is work­ing on intro­duc­ing that bill. Hope­ful­ly, it will be intro­duced this week. Glob­al warm­ing is a real threat to our com­mu­ni­ties, to every­body, to every­thing. What is our oblig­a­tion to make sure that we secure Moth­er Earth for our­selves ad future generations?

The bill will address the need to reduce emis­sions and make sure that we have renew­able ener­gy. Over­all, I want to see Our Rev­o­lu­tion con­tin­ue to push for the reduc­tion of glob­al warming.

When the pres­i­dent pulled out of the Paris Accord, what did that say to the world? Many of our Repub­li­can col­leagues are just flat out ignor­ing the sci­ence. When the sci­en­tists get togeth­er and tell you that this is real, we ought to believe them. Just to flat out ignore that sci­ence puts us all in danger.

Water is a part of that, too. Flint, Michi­gan has been the canary in the coal mine for us, excuse the pun, in terms of us not hav­ing the types of infra­struc­ture in this coun­try that ensures that every vil­lage, town­ship and city has access to clean water. We are going to keep push­ing. Envi­ron­men­tal jus­tice is vital­ly impor­tant to the mis­sion of Our Revolution.

Sarah: How can peo­ple find the People’s Plat­form and get involved with this?

Nina: They can go to www​.Our​Rev​o​lu​tion​.com. When they go there, the People’s Plat­form land­ing page pops right up. There is also sum​mer​for​progress​.com. They can find it there, as well. Please, I want every­body to get involved. Take what­ev­er part of the People’s Plat­form that mat­ters most to them and push for that. Col­lec­tive­ly, if we are work­ing towards this end, we are going to see things change in this coun­try. I real­ly do believe it. We can’t do it with­out the peo­ple. Join us. We want them to join us.

Inter­views for Resis­tance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assis­tance from Lau­ra Feuille­bois and sup­port from the Nation Insti­tute. It is also avail­able as a pod­cast on iTunes. Not to be reprint­ed with­out permission. 

Sarah Jaffe is a for­mer staff writer at In These Times and author of Nec­es­sary Trou­ble: Amer­i­cans in Revolt , which Robin D.G. Kel­ley called The most com­pelling social and polit­i­cal por­trait of our age.” You can fol­low her on Twit­ter @sarahljaffe.
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