Carlos Ramirez-Rosa tells Paul Jay if Clinton doesn’t ‘move left’ at the convention, ‘protests and civil disobedience are not off the table’
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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to The Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Chicago. We’re in the final morning of the People’s Summit. And there’s been a lot of talk here at the summit about running in down-ticket races, anywhere from Congress to state legislature, and also city councils, which I think are becoming more significant battlegrounds for people waging politics that are the type of politics talked about here at the summit. One of those people who’s done this and actually gotten elected is here in Chicago. Carlos Ramirez-Rosa is the alderman for Chicago’s 35th Ward. Prior to his election to Chicago City Council he worked as a community organizer with the Illinois Coalition for Immigrant and Refugee Rights and he was a congressional aide in U.S. Representative Luis Gutiérrez’s office. He’s also going to be a delegate for Bernie Sanders at the convention. Thanks for joining us. CARLOS RAMIREZ-ROSA, ALDERMAN, CHICAGO’S 35TH WARD: Thank you, Paul. JAY: So a lot of what is happening here at the summit and what’s going to be going on over the next few months in the election campaign is people discussing, debating their attitude towards the Democratic Party. You ran as an independent for City Council, but you’re in a city that’s controlled by the Democratic Party machine–frankly, much like in Baltimore, where we’re based. And when you are fighting against the billionaire class, you are generally having to fight against the Democratic Party who represents them in Chicago. So talk a bit about getting elected and what that fight looks like. RAMIREZ-ROSA: Sure. So the city of Chicago is ruled by corporate Democrats. We have a mayor, Rahm Emanuel, the mayor of the 1 percent, who in many ways is just like our governor, Bruce Rauner. Actually, our billionaire governor, a right-wing nut job, used to go golfing and drink wine with our mayor. And so I think that that really shows the collusion of the elites. It shows how we have a system that’s rigged in favor of billionaires. JAY: But let me just say, people can golf and drink wine together without necessarily colluding politically. But go on. RAMIREZ-ROSA: But unfortunately that’s been the sad reality, right, is that while our governor has been pushing an agenda that has defunded our public schools, Rahm Emanuel has done nothing to fund our public schools, and they each point to each other and say, well, it’s your fault and it’s that fault. So we really need to break out of this two-party system where corporations and the billionaires win every single time. And I think that we need to find ways to do that, whether it’s running as independents, whether it’s running as a third party, or running within the Democratic Party and moving it to the left like Senator Sanders. JAY: This Chicago machine, Democratic Party machine, and now when the Democrats hold office in Washington, they are an extension of the arm of a section of the billionaire class. Some people suggest that this fight to sort of transform the Democratic Party, fight for the soul of the Democratic Party, that that’s not a winnable fight in the long run, ’cause the Democratic Party machinery is too much a part of these ruling elites and such. So then why wage that fight in the Democratic Party? RAMIREZ-ROSA: You know, we’ve already won so much because Senator Sanders ran as a Democrat. He has done more to build class consciousness, to build a movement of working people that are fighting back in such a short period of time. And he accomplished that because he ran within the Democratic Party. So we are under attack, right? Queer people, people of color, working people are under attack. And we have to be effective in how we fight back. And that means that we need to figure out the strategy that works in each situation. In some cases it’s running as an independent. Senator Sanders was first elected as an independent in Vermont. Other times it’s running as a Democrat. It’s going to differ from place to place, but we can elect progressives, we can elect our movement. And I think that’s been the message of this conference, and I think that that’s something that we all resolve collectively to do as a movement. JAY: Yeah. I think it was interesting when Sanders made that Thursday night speech, online speech, and he asked for people to run even for school boards, he actually never said run as a Democrat. That was quite, I think, deliberately unsaid. RAMIREZ-ROSA: Mhm. JAY: What can be accomplished at the fight in the coming convention? You’re going to be a delegate, a Sanders delegate. My understanding is that there actually wasn’t a meeting over the weekend of all the delegates that are at this conference, which I was kind of expecting there would be, to have a somewhat more coordinated strategy going to the convention. Why wasn’t there a meeting? And how will there be? And what will be the plan? And does it not need to be a little more coordinated than it seems to be right now? RAMIREZ-ROSA: So the great thing about the summit is that I had an opportunity to meet with top Bernie staff and I also had an opportunity to meet with my fellow Illinois delegates. And from both sides I heard this is going to be a convention where we push for a progressive vision for our country, where we continue to move Hillary Clinton to the left. The delegates from Illinois, we have resolved to not go down quietly. We want to make sure that the platform and that the Democratic Party understands the transformational politics of Senator Sanders that galvanized millions of people. You know, it is actually in Hillary’s best interest, as she continued to move to the left, that she uplift that transformational message, because otherwise she becomes the candidate of the broken status quo. You know, so many of Trump’s supporters are disaffected working people, right? And they gravitate to his message of changing Washington. That’s what happened here in Illinois, right? We had a billionaire that ran for governor. He said, I’m going to shake up Springfield. He didn’t tell us how, but he said he was going to shake it up, he was going to change things. That’s what Donald Trump is saying right now, and that’s why so many disaffected working people are gravitating to that message, because they know we have a broken system where they’re losing. Hillary, it behooves her to take up the torch from Senator Sanders and to move to the left with a message of economic and social justice. And we’re going to fight for that at the convention. JAY: I can understand the fight. I can understand waging the fight on the floor. The world will be watching the convention. It’s an excellent platform to keep moving the message further. But what makes you think that moving her to the left is any more than optics for her? If you move her to the left in the campaign or you move her to the left in rhetoric–we saw that even over the course of the campaign on the free trade agreement, and all of a sudden she’s against TPP and other sorts of things. But if it’s just really optics, is it not kind of creating illusions about who she is, who the Democratic Party machine is? I’m not suggesting it’s not worth fighting at the convention, just that formulation, move her to the left, if it’s just optics that move, then maybe you’re kind of just feeding an illusion about her. RAMIREZ-ROSA: You know, we live in a capitalist society, and in a capitalist society we have agreements, we have contracts. And so I think that one way that we can look at this is this is Hillary’s contract with the left, right? If she wants the support of the Bernie Sanders movement, if she wants the support of the millions of young people that supported Senator Sanders, then she needs to adopt a platform that speaks to us. That would be her contract with us, and we would then enforce that contract. JAY: OK, that’s the question: how do you enforce that contract? RAMIREZ-ROSA: You enforce that contract by taking to the streets. I think that the left learned an important lesson in 2008, which is we just can’t elect progressives or so-called progressives and then leave them alone and allow bankers and Wall Street to get their ear. JAY: But she’s not–I mean, if you look at her history, Hillary Clinton’s not a progressive. It doesn’t matter what–I don’t know how you define progressive. She likes to call yourself that. But if you define a progressive the way Bernie Sanders defines a progressive, someone who’s really willing to take on Wall Street and such, she ain’t that. RAMIREZ-ROSA: Exactly. That’s why Bernie Sanders [crosstalk] JAY: Yeah. Otherwise you could just be people for Hillary Clinton. RAMIREZ-ROSA: Yeah. But we absolutely cannot allow Donald Trump to become president. That would be horrendous. And I think that the corporate media, and even the elites at Goldman Sachs and Wall Street, they want Hillary to be their president. JAY: Yeah, I think that’s clear. RAMIREZ-ROSA: So we’re moving in that direction. It looks like she’s going to be our president. We need to make sure that she understands the movement that exists behind Senator Bernie Sanders. But ultimately, look, Hillary isn’t going to solve the crisis that we’re in, right? We need to start at the grassroots level. JAY: Before we go there–and I want to–I want just want to focus on the convention a bit more. So what if you don’t get any significant compromise? You want to negotiate, you want a contract. But what if her negotiations is, sorry, you guys can go on strike if you want to, ’cause that’s–and if you want to use the contract metaphor, that’s the alternative. If you have a set of demands, you don’t get it, well, it’s only meaningful if you’re willing to go on strike,– RAMIREZ-ROSA: Right. JAY: –which some people are suggesting is what might happen. RAMIREZ-ROSA: If Hillary is not going to be a candidate of transformational change, at least her rhetoric, right– JAY: Well, we know that’s not going to happen. RAMIREZ-ROSA: –but if she’s not going to say, I’m going to fight for a $15 living wage, if she’s not going to commit to fight for criminal justice reform to make sure that black and brown people–then she doesn’t have my support. And I think that many delegates at the convention will feel the same way that I do. I’ve been arrested before. I’ve been arrested fighting deportations, blocking a bus filled with people from my community that were going to be deported by our government. I’m not afraid to take arrests. And I think that ultimately we need to take action, we need to take a stand. And the convention gives us that platform. JAY: Some people I’ve heard suggesting here that if there isn’t significant change or some sense that there’s been a real concession, that some people say they’re just going to walk out. Do you see that as a strategy? RAMIREZ-ROSA: Whether it’s walking out or sitting in, I think that protests and civil disobedience is not off the table. JAY: Right in the convention itself. RAMIREZ-ROSA: Right. We’re in a crisis and we need to fight back, and I think that we can’t take any option off the table. So whether it’s direct action, whether it’s walking out, whether it’s protesting, I think that the sense amongst Bernie delegates here is we want to take some type of coordinated action, but we want it to be strategic. JAY: Alright. Thanks for joining us. And thank you for joining us on The Real News Network.
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