YouTube video

Kathy Kelly, coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, talks about
race, poverty and the social, political, and economic conditions that
persist in African-American communities across the US. This poverty and
its effect on children should be a major campaign issue, says Kelly.

Story Transcript

PEPE ESCOBAR, ANALYST, THE REAL NEWS NETWORK: We’re in Woodlawn, close to the heart of the south side of Chicago. To learn more about the politics of race and how race is being used by politics to derail the US presidential campaign, I went across town, across the dividing line, an invisible barrier, to talk to Kathy Kelly. Kathy is the director of Voices for Creative Nonviolence, former Voices in the Wilderness. She’s a militant. She’s been to Iraq. She’s been arrested. She knows everything about US foreign policy and its effects, and she knows also about the deprivation of Blacks in the United States, in ghettos like the south side.


ESCOBAR: Kathy Kelly, welcome to The Real News.


ESCOBAR: Let’s talk about patriotism and race. In your opinion, as a Chicago resident who probably have known Obama for a long time—even if you live in north side and Obama lives in the south side—is this race being manipulated by the Hillary Clinton campaign and by the Republicans as race-based?

KELLY: I think that most people, if they think about it, in Chicago and elsewhere, would agree that democracy is based on education. And in Chicago, I know as a Chicago resident for a long time that there’s a terrible lack of education about the conditions that prevail in the south side of Chicago in the neighborhoods where impoverished people have never been able to get out of the trap of terrible, terrible poverty. And it seems to me that it’s incumbent on people who want to assume a leadership position in this country as an aspiring political candidate, it’s incumbent on those people to assist with these education issues, to really try to help people better understand what are the cares and concerns of people who’ve been eclipsed from any kind of consideration in terms of fairness. The people who haven’t been able to get an economic stake in the community most often are people who are the wrong color in terms of the economic and the profit-sharing in this country, people whose cares and concerns were completely overlooked to the extent that now one out of every nine African-Americans between the ages of 25 to 34 are incarcerated, in prison. And all of the effects, the war against the family that comes with these spiraling rates of imprisonment, the ways in which people are shut out of education, shut out of getting any kind of decent jobs that could help them to overcome the terrible problems with regard to lack of housing, lack of health care delivery, lack of ways to help their kids get beyond the point where one out of three African-American teenagers are expected, predicted to either be addicted, in prison, or dead. Now, that should be a major, major campaign issue. And if it is raised, instead of everything hinging and focusing on whether or not Hillary is ahead of Obama or Obama is ahead of Clinton, why can’t we focus on the issues? And then we can have some democracy in this country, because we’ll learn how to expect education. It seems to me, when I think about how our elections might be viewed by other people in other parts of the world, I would imagine they’re kind of appalled. Like, how much of a diet for consumption of fluff, gossip, something like entertainment can these people put up with? And yet it’s become the norm. I think there’s, I suppose, a market for it, and there are many reasons for that. You know, I think that distracting people away from fundamental issues about our economy, and why it is that we’re not able to deal with the impoverishment of so many people in our country [inaudible] lack of health care, and with their spiraling prison rates, well, in large part it’s because we’ve poured our wealth and our productivity into the defense establishment, which is only too happy to present us with yet another war after war after war; and of course who often can be the cannon fodder for those wars, the poorest of people, are the ones that I think the United States military preys on constantly.

ESCOBAR: But it’s very frightening that the Hillary Clinton campaign—that means a significant portion of the Democratic Party—seems to have embraced this divisive rhetoric. And they seem to have launched a conversation: what’s the meaning of being a true American? And if Obama is too black or too different or maybe too foreign, he would not be a true American. Maybe they would like to have this implied in their rhetoric. Would you agree with that?

KELLY: I think that many people in the United States have grown accustomed to being easily goaded by fears. Sometimes they’re trumped-up fears; sometimes they’re fears that maybe have a slight basis in truth but then are blown up and inflated. And it’s, I think, relatively easy to frighten the United States public, especially if you make them believe that their children might be at risk because of decisions that they’re making now. Well, this, of course, is very, very ironic, because the greatest inevitable terrors that we face are the terrors of what we’re doing to our own environment—what we’re doing to the air, to the water, water scarcity, depletion of fossil fuels, inability to develop alternative forms of energy. But instead, you can get US people all riled up thinking, “There might be somebody who’s a different skin color than me, who’s had a different background than me, who may not like me very much because of what me and my family and my lookalikes have done in this society. And therefore I have to make sure that there’s somebody who’s really going to be tough on crime or really going to be tough on those other alien outsiders in the Oval Office.” And meanwhile the outside forces are those of a ravaged planet, where the biodiversity of the species has been under kind of a low-intensity war for year after year after year. So I think there’s a need for people not only to overcome the terrible racism that does exist in our society, but also to start to shoulder adult responsibilities, to think rationally.

ESCOBAR: How would you define a true American in non-racial or post-racial terms?

KELLY: The one thing that’s been very encouraging to me is that I get invited fairly often to go into high schools. And the diversity that I’m seeing is just taken for granted. The kids kind of giggle in some of the schools about there might be a big deal to their teachers, but it’s, you know, “whatever” to the students. That to me seems to be a good thing. I think we are moving toward being a society that has more diversification, even in some of the wealthier suburban neighborhoods. But what concerns me is that people who are—may I put it this way?—people who are descendants, second, third, fourth generation of some of the hardest working people in the history of this country—and I’m talking about the grandchildren of slaves and sons and daughters of slaves—very often, they have not been part of what you might call diversification, because they have been stuck into ghettoized areas and had some of the most striking impoverishment that could ever be imagined in a modern society. And yet, when you think about the people who, in spite of being amongst the most dispossessed and humiliated people in our history, who undertook some of the greatest risks to achieve the gains of the civil rights movement, and who achieved for the United States the high regard of people all over the world for that movement, which has in fact inspired countless other movements, these are people whom I believe were the ones who harbored some of the best of what the United States could offer and then made that, mediated that, made it available. But I think so much of what happened in the civil rights movement has been pushed back, in part because of the rise of the prison-industrial complex, and in part because of just selfishness and greed and thoughtlessness on the part of people that were frightened into thinking that their racism had to be maintained, but maybe transformed a little bit by excluding people on the basis of whether or not they were sufficiently educated, or finding other ways to filter out other people that wouldn’t be allowed to make it into mainstream, middle class, sharing the wealth and productivity.


Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.

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Kathy Kelly ( is a co-coordinator of Voices for Creative Nonviolence (  She has been living in Kabul for the past three weeks as a guest of the Afghan Peace Volunteers (