Linda Sarsour and Winnie Wong say that to fight the Trump administration, Democrats need to be accountable to the organized Left – not the other way around
NINA TURNER: My God, do we have a show for you today. I have two of the baddest women in the world joining me on The Real News Network, Linda Sarsour, National Co-Chair of the Women’s March and Winnie Wong, the founder of People for Bernie. How are my sisters doing today? LINDA SARSOUR: Fabulous. WINNIE WONG: Doing good. NINA TURNER: Damn, it’s good to have y’all here. We met on the campaign of Senator Bernard Sanders from Vermont. LINDA SARSOUR: That’s right, born in Brooklyn. NINA TURNER: Born in Brooklyn, the 74-year-old, now 75, but 74 when he was running, Democratic Socialist that led the largest insurgency campaign in Presidential politics in modern history in this country. WINNIE WONG: That’s right. NINA TURNER: My God, can we just talk about… Can we just marinate on that moment together for a minute? WINNIE WONG: We’re in it man. This is the political revolution, right? Like, we’re in the political revolution. Bernie called for a political revolution and here we are. We’re having one. NINA TURNER: Yeah. WINNIE WONG: They’re not giving us really a choice — NINA TURNER: — No. WINNIE WONG: — but to make it happen, so … NINA TURNER: Agreed. Yeah. LINDA SARSOUR: I mean, it was probably the highlight of my life up until this moment. It was a campaign where I met some of the most extraordinary people across this country and every corner of this country. I felt heard. I felt, for the first time ever, that a political campaign said, “I see you. I see your community. I see the complexity that you bring to the table. Bernie Sanders brought people to tears, just for the very simple fact of saying, you matter. I will go to a mosque. I will come to your community. I will take my shoes off and walk into your place of worship. NINA TURNER: Well, authenticity was the foundation of the campaign. Do you feel like that word and the emotions that permeate with that word, are we still in an authentic moment? And is authenticity, is that what it’s going to take for conscious-minded people, not just Democrats, because I know we’re going to talk about the Democrats, so I want to say conscious-minded people, to regain prominence in the political sphere? WINNIE WONG: More than authenticity, I think solidarity. I think Bernie is a great example of solidarity in action and solidarity in practice. And so that is what it’s going to take in order for us to win. We have to really show up for each other. And so that, I think, is the thing that is the common thread that is running through all the progressive groups that are fighting this garbage fire of a government right now. LINDA SARSOUR: This campaign allowed me to move into a much bolder place. NINA TURNER: Yeah. LINDA SARSOUR: And I watched Bernie Sanders talk about Palestine on a stage where no-one has ever on a presidential stage ever invoked Palestinian human rights and he doubled down, and he just was unapologetic about it. Talking about single-payer healthcare and free college education and people said, “Are you crazy? This is political suicide.” NINA TURNER: Uh huh. LINDA SARSOUR: And Bernie Sanders continued to win state after state and bring millions of people out into these streets, and millions of dollars into his campaign. Which led me into a place, you know what, I’m not going to make these political, you know, decisions. I’m going to make the right decisions. NINA TURNER: Come on. LINDA SARSOUR: I’m going to say the truth and wherever it lands, it lands. And if you don’t want to be my friend after that, well, then don’t be my friend. And Bernie Sanders really taught me how to do true authenticity and speaking truth to power in a way that I was struggling with for a really long time. NINA TURNER: Uh huh. So, let’s fast-forward to the Convention. The moment that Berniecrats really realized that Senator Sanders was not going to be the nominee. Many Berniecrats did not let go of the fact … I mean, they wanted to take it to the Convention. Let’s fight it all the way through. But what was the atmosphere like at the Convention in Philadelphia, both pro and con? I don’t know if there are any pros to it. Lots of con, but let’s talk about that moment in Philly. WINNIE WONG: So I think that it’s been well documented that the Party itself worked to effectively rig the primary against the Senator. So, this is not a conspiracy, this is not anything new that people don’t know about. I think that at the Convention the thing that I noticed the most, which was most heartbreaking for me as a participant, and an observer, and an organizer, was that large numbers of working class people who could not really afford to be there, they couldn’t afford the cost, the staggering cost of what it takes to actually attend the Convention, from the cost of the hotel room to the cost of the plane ticket, to be there for six days and to spend $3,000 or $4,000, which in some cases is like, a quarter of their annual salary. To, like, talk to them and to have them come up to me and say, “Oh, you know, I know you from People for Bernie, can I take a selfie with you? You created the hashtag, #feelthebern. And then I would take a selfie with them and they would tell me these stories about how they had to like, you know, borrow money or they had to like take out an extra line of credit on their credit card. They had to work a second job. It was heart-breaking. NINA TURNER: Yeah. WINNIE WONG: And then they would, you know, dissolve into tears and then I would dissolve into tears. NINA TURNER: Yes. LINDA SARSOUR: Uh huh. WINNIE WONG: And then I would be enraged. You know, I would go from like… I would feel enraged and then exhausted, and then sad, and then back to enraged. But then I emerged from that process emboldened. NINA TURNER: Uh huh. LINDA SARSOUR: Uh huh. WINNIE WONG: And more committed than ever to fight with and for these people who took a chance, right, and who believed in Bernie. So, that’s my experience. NINA TURNER: Yeah. I mean, I shared many a tear at that convention. WINNIE WONG: Yes. NINA TURNER: Not just for myself, but for some of the very people that you’re talking about. LINDA SARSOUR: Well, they didn’t show our faces on those cameras, with a bunch of young white girls, college girls crying. But we were crying. NINA TURNER: We were crying too, weren’t we? LINDA SARSOUR: I was an organizer there. Like, I had that mind that I went to a lot of states and when I … you could tell who the Bernie people were. We were unapologetically Bernie supporters. NINA TURNER: Yeah. LINDA SARSOUR: And being able to remind people what we did. Like, we were devastated. We were heartbroken but we won states where people didn’t think we could win. WINNIE WONG: That’s right. LINDA SARSOUR: Muslim communities gave — NINA TURNER: — Absolutely. LINDA SARSOUR: — Bernie Sanders the biggest political — NINA TURNER: — Dearborn, right? LINDA SARSOUR: — the biggest political upset in U.S. history. NINA TURNER: Yes. LINDA SARSOUR: Places like Wisconsin, people didn’t believe in us. And we, throughout the campaign, won after a time, we left people with their mouths wide open. And it was young people and it was young people of color and it was people who never engaged in a political process, who went all in because, you know, it was a future that we believed in. And we believed in the vision of Bernie Sanders. So, for me I used the DNC as an opportunity to remind people, like, keep doing what you’re doing. And go back out on those streets and do whatever you did for Bernie, for the work and the communities on the local level. And I think that people left there upset, but also reenergized to go out and keep doing the work. NINA TURNER: Well, you hit on something that I … I mean, where do we go from here as sisters, as leaders, as women of color? But where do we collectively go from here? And what do you … what opportunities do you both think that this moment provides for women, women in general, but women of color in particular? LINDA SARSOUR: I mean, women are leading the resistance right now. No question about it. Very clear to me who is going to lead our communities towards justice and the protection defense of our communities right now — it is going to be women of all backgrounds and of all faith backgrounds. But also, I will say that the — where do we go from here? We go and we’ve got to flip that script. And the way you do that is that we don’t go to the Democratic Party. The Democratic Party has got to come to us and come to us in the streets. They’ve got to integrate into the work that I’m doing. I’m not coming and bringing my work into the Democratic Party. NINA TURNER: Yeah. LINDA SARSOUR: If you want to be a grassroots party, if you want to actually win elections versus the thousands of seats that you’ve lost for us over the past six years. NINA TURNER: Since 2009, uh huh. LINDA SARSOUR: I’m saying to you right now that in order for any politics to work in this country, you’ve got to go to the people. You’ve got to listen to the people and you’ve got to meet the people where they’re at. And where– NINA TURNER: — But Linda, when they say, and Winnie you can jump in on this — but when they, being the DNC, the establishment Democrats, they say, “Linda, Winnie, no, but if you guys fight us, then those big bad mean Republicans are going to win. You’re going to put us in peril.” What do you say to people who say, “You’ve got to choose the lesser of two evils?” WINNIE WONG: Who’s fighting them? We’re not fighting them? We’re organizing our communities. We’re organizing. Like, Linda has the constituency of millions of people, now, from the Women’s March. I have a constituency of millions of people who felt the Bern, right? But to her point, if they want help, they need to come to us because we do have solutions and we can help them. You know, our constituents are voters, potential voters, right, so, they need to hear us. And there’s many things the Democratic Party needs to do and they need to start by listening to what’s happening in the grassroots. NINA TURNER: Uh huh. LINDA SARSOUR: We’ve got to refrain, right, because they say that all the time. Don’t fight us. And don’t make this public. NINA TURNER: Yes. LINDA SARSOUR: And I say to them, I’m not fighting you. I’m holding you accountable. NINA TURNER: Come on. LINDA SARSOUR: You are accountable to the people. So, if me saying to you, “I need you to stand up for these issues,” if I need you to hold positions that my constituencies hold and that’s fighting, then that’s the problem that we have — which is why you keep losing these seats. So, they have to understand that you will not win without the people. NINA TURNER: Uh huh. LINDA SARSOUR: And that the Democratic Party, if they’re not shifting with the demographics of this country, if you’re looking around the table at the DNC and there aren’t black women at that table, if there aren’t Latina women at that table, if there aren’t indigenous and Muslim women at that table, then that’s already the first problem. That’s not my problem. You’re the one… that’s not my table. That’s your table. So, then you need to look at the table and make sure that we’re there. And when we’re not at the table, you know where we’re at? We’re in the streets. So, you either come down to the streets and get out of those corporate boardrooms, or we’re going to keep losing in these elections. So, this blaming of us — NINA TURNER: — Yes. LINDA SARSOUR: — which as you know, happened. NINA TURNER: Yes. LINDA SARSOUR: That we’re the ones. No, it wasn’t me that gave this election to Trump. I did everything that I could to make sure that Trump was not the President. NINA TURNER: Yes. LINDA SARSOUR: The question is what did the Democratic Party do or not do? That conversation is something they have not had. WINNIE WONG: That’s right. NINA TURNER: Since 2009, because it’s easy to point the finger at the elephant in the room — the big elephant in the room, the straw so to speak that broke the camel’s back. But what happened in 2009 and 2010 and 2011 and then 2012, we got President Obama re-elected. And then 2013, we went back to collective do nothing, business as usual. What do you say to people to remind them that this moment that we are in, did not just happen overnight. You know, it reminds me of an African proverb that says that one should never build their shield on the battle field. I mean, what were we doing as a party all that time until this moment right here? LINDA SARSOUR: We were too busy focusing on money and not mass organizing and people-building. Like, you’ve got to build those communities; that the donors are not more important than the working class woman who has a job at Target. That’s the problem here. That there’s always profits over people. And we saw recently in the DNC, and the election for the DNC Chair — NINA TURNER: — Yes. LINDA SARSOUR: — that when our man, Keith Ellison who is a, one of the most amazing movement leaders, grassroots organizer, a man that is good on the issues. He has a clear track record. I don’t even agree with him all the time, but you know what, the man is authentic. He’s sticks with his principles and he was everything that we needed to bring that party together, to bring on the “Bernie Bros” or the Bernie supporters. And once again, we failed it and we dropped the ball one more time. Why — because there were some donors that didn’t like Keith Ellison. NINA TURNER: They smeared him. LINDA SARSOUR: They basically did a smear campaign on a black Muslim guy. Imagine in this movement — NINA TURNER: — The Republicans didn’t smear him. LINDA SARSOUR: No. No. NINA TURNER: Let’s be clear. LINDA SARSOUR: No, it wasn’t the Republicans. NINA TURNER: The Democrats smeared him. Is it third party time, ladies? WINNIE WONG: Okay, so listen, I think that it’s important for people to build independent political power. I believe in that as being a thing, you know, a force that will help us to win back some of these seats. I think it’s time for a real movement, of a real Tea Party of the Left — that is an actual third party. I’m not sure if we’re ready for that right now. NINA TURNER: Okay. WINNIE WONG: Because it’s complicated to build a third party in this country. It’s not as easy as… A lot of, you know, radicals would say, “Let’s just build a third party today.” NINA TURNER: Uh huh. WINNIE WONG: It’s not easy to get on all the ballot lines, you know? LINDA SARSOUR: Uh huh. NINA TURNER: Yes. WINNIE WONG: The Working Families Party has been in this for a decade now and they’ve managed… LINDA SARSOUR: More than, yeah. WINNIE WONG: Yeah, more than a decade and they’re a federal fusion party and they’ve managed to only get on like, less than 15 ballot lines. It’s very difficult. I think that it’s important to take over the DNC. NINA TURNER: Yes. WINNIE WONG: It’s something that I’m trying to work on right now. NINA TURNER: I’m salivating over the thought. WINNIE WONG: I’m not sure if it’ll work, but I’m going to keep trying, as I don’t really want to abandon some of these people. NINA TURNER: Yes. WINNIE WONG: I don’t care about the consultants. Like, they need to go away. I mean, they do actually need to go away because they have no idea how much of an obstruction they are. NINA TURNER: Yes. WINNIE WONG: And how much of a threat they are to, like, the wellbeing of working class Americans. How their sort of self-involvement and sort of craven decisions are actually impacting millions of people across this country, who are now set to lose, you know, their healthcare. NINA TURNER: Yes. WINNIE WONG: Who are now set to see their pensions, which were already slashed, you know, eight years ago, further destroyed. So, yeah I mean, the party leadership is very out of touch because they are used to, you know, cavorting with the wealthy, the very wealthy in this country. And so they’re very disconnected from the actual conditions of people living in America. NINA TURNER: Uh huh, agreed. WINNIE WONG: They’re not good conditions. I mean, we have 40% of people in this country, like, living in near poverty. NINA TURNER: Yeah. And another 50 million almost who are one or two pay checks away from, you know, they’re on the verge — they’re teetering. Most of those are women and children. So, my sisters, because I’m all about girl power; you know, I believe that fierce women shake the world, baby, shake it. And shape it. But we shake it. What would you say to our daughters and our sons, about what the future, what the possibilities are for them? Even though we are in a moment of uncertainty, what would you say to our daughters and sons about the promise of tomorrow? LINDA SARSOUR: I wake up every morning telling my kids that I love them; that I’m proud of them; and that I am building a world where they will be loved and embraced. And I tell them that they have to help me build that; that they too have a role to play here. And I say to my … and my kids do this all the time. NINA TURNER: True that. Sister Winnie? WINNIE WONG: I have a lot of love for the kids, you know? I’m like the permission machine, right. Like, I think that the kids need to be in charge of everything. Like, I’m just here to give them, you know, some advice if they need it. And so, I really, during the course of the primary campaign, got a chance to work with a lot of really brilliant millennials across the country and what I’m seeing is that they are interested in the things that we need to do in order to rebuild this democracy. And so, I think that we need to empower them, those of us that are in positions of, like, leadership. We need to really empower young people and we need to inspire them to get involved in all of the things. Not just, you know, participating in a protest, right. Protest is defense. NINA TURNER: Uh huh. WINNIE WONG: Right, like, elections are the offense. NINA TURNER: Say that. WINNIE WONG: We need to do that and we need to do that now and so I have a lot of faith in the millennials. I think that they all look at Bernie Sanders as like the oldest millennial that ever … NINA TURNER: Amen. He’s the coolest too. WINNIE WONG: Even, like, the eleven-year-olds love him. NINA TURNER: Yes. WINNIE WONG: Like, they find him on Instagram. They find him on SnapChat. You know they’re like, “Who is this guy? And so, we need to really inspire young people to be more creative and not stifle their creativity. Because in the end, it’s creativity that always thwarts the opposition. WINNIE WONG: We need to encourage people who potentially would run for office, who think it’s too much. There’s too many obstacles. I can’t do this. When we need to let them know that it can be done because look at Bernie. Look how far we’ve come. (crosstalk) — NINA TURNER: — I know, right. A 74-year-old — LINDA SARSOUR: — They said he could not … NINA TURNER: — Democratic Socialist. LINDA SARSOUR: They said that’s crazy. NINA TURNER: They did, but he did it. So, we have many challenges in this country from criminal justice reform, definitely needs to be reformed, voting rights, women’s rights beyond our reproductive health. That’s a whole other conversation but that’s part of it. But climate, do you all remember, it was a debate question that Senator Sanders received and I think the commentator asked, or the moderator asked, you know — what do you think the biggest threat to this country is? And Senator Bernie Sanders said, “Climate change.” And they mocked him. LINDA SARSOUR: I mean, tell people even in the activist world like, we’re fighting for racial justice, economic justice, reproductive rights, immigration rights. But if we don’t have a planet to live on, that justice that we’re fighting for is moot. Like, the basic idea of being able to live on a planet that actually holds us where we can breathe actual air is life. It’s like, literally climate change is life for us. WINNIE WONG: Climate change is imperialism, right? Like, we can talk about that now. The time is now to talk about that and I think the Bernie campaign really opened the Pandora’s Box to really politicize climate around what the endless quest for fossil fuels means, right, to people of color, not just in this country but all around the world. NINA TURNER: Yes. WINNIE WONG: Right, like when we start thinking about, like, extractive capitalism, what does that really mean? NINA TURNER: Uh huh. WINNIE WONG: You’re going and you’re going to, you know, oil-rich countries and you’re starting wars to take oil, to produce petroleum-based goods. We know that we don’t need that any more. We know that, like, we are in; we are entering into an era where we can have renewable energy. We don’t need this endless surplus of petroleum-based goods anymore. And yet, the 1% at the very top of the food chain is absolutely ruthless about maintaining that status quo. We only have to look at who the Secretary of State is. NINA TURNER: Yes. WINNIE WONG: Rex Tillerson was the CEO of Exon Mobil, the largest oil company in the world responsible for devastating most of Africa. LINDA SARSOUR: Uh huh. NINA TURNER: Uh huh. WINNIE WONG: Right? Most of the Middle East, really. NINA TURNER: Uh huh. WINNIE WONG: We’re in these endless wars because of the extraction of petroleum. I mean, this is not, you know … Leftists have been talking about this for a long time. But somehow the sort of like liberal faction of the Democratic Party have managed to sort of stave off this being normalized and decide like — NINA TURNER: Some of them get their money from those very interests. WINNIE WONG: Some of them get their money from it. That’s right. LINDA SARSOUR: That’s right. WINNIE WONG: And now it’s like, we really can’t afford to not talk about it, right, because we’re actually kind of … We’re like past the tipping point. It’s not going to be great, right? Like, we’re not looking at 50 years from now, saying, “Okay, we’re going to like live in this, like, beautiful lush utopia of, like, farmland and green. NINA TURNER: Uh huh. WINNIE WONG: That isn’t the case. I mean, it’s changed. The climate has changed. NINA TURNER: We must do something– WINNIE WONG: — We have to do something about it. NINA TURNER: — right now. WINNIE WONG: Yeah. LINDA SARSOUR: Right now. WINNIE WONG: So, we have to figure out, like, what kind of technologies we need to apply in order for us to be able to adapt. So, it’s about adapting, rather than like saying, Okay, like, you know, a decade ago — in the ’70s when Carter wanted to try to move the needle on this, we stopped it. And so, the 1% they don’t… they are inhumane. NINA TURNER: Uh huh. WINNIE WONG: You know, at the end of the day, they just … it’s a shell game, so to speak. NINA TURNER: Well, to my sisters, you know what? I am going to have to get the crew to rebuild the set, because you have set it on fire. Thank you all so very much. We will be back after we rebuild the set. Thank you for joining us on the Nina Turner show on The Real News Network.