Marc Lamont Hill: DNC Marginalized, Silenced, and Exploited the Bernie Sanders Movement
Marc Lamont Hill says that it is more important to address the interests of the exploited and the vulnerable than it is to elect a black or female president
KWAME ROSE, TRNN: Kwame Rose for the Real News Network here live in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on the final day of the Democratic National Convention. I’m here now joined by the distinguished, the honorable Dr. Marc Hill. How are you doing, professor?
MARC LAMONT HILL: I’m good, man, it’s good to be here with you. Not necessarily at the convention. But good to be here with you.
ROSE: I’m just trying to be like you. Dr. Hill, in your opinion, what has this convention meant for black America?
HILL: I think it’s been a powerful reminder of the limits of the Democratic Party. As we sit here all week, we’ve heard a Democratic agenda which sounded a lot like a Republican agenda. We heard people talk about American exceptionalism. And you know, 21st century being the year of America. We heard about military troops. And we’ve heard about so many things–market-based solutions–I mean, we’ve heard about so many things that really could have been said at the Republican Convention. And it’s easy for Melania Trump to steal Michelle Obama’s speech, because both sides are saying the same thing.
So if the agenda is to liberate oppressed people, if the agenda is to shrink the prison in a real way, to no longer obsess and rely and fetishize the market, if the idea is to restore the public good instead of private interest, to dismantle corporate greed and to stop fighting wars and proxy wars around the globe, then I don’t think this convention has meant much. And so as black people we can watch this convention and say, okay, maybe on some level there is a better alternative to watch this and say the Democratic Party has an agenda, a plan, or a priority that puts black people first.
And so I walk away from this saying when I came in, completely disenchanted and really uninvested in hearing what the Democratic Party has to offer.
ROSE: That’s very contradictory to what Michelle Obama said on Monday night, when she said that her two little black daughters now get to see a woman become president. That woman Hillary Clinton. We also saw an interesting moment when Mothers of the Movement, of the Black Lives Matter movement, the mothers of several victims of police brutality. The reason why so many people took to the streets, they were joined, they joined onstage at the Democratic National Convention. Do you think the Black Lives Matter movement, in that sense, is being co-opted by the Democratic Party?
HILL: It’s a complicated question. I think we have to ask a more fundamental question about what the political ideology and structure is of the Black Lives Matter movement from the onset. And we have to say, where are we oriented politically? Who are we aligning ourselves with, what are our values? And is there a single political vision there, or are there competing visions? Right? Are some more liberal-democratic, are some radical, are some revolutionary? Because if the latter is the answer, then I don’t know if I would say, go so far as to say it’s co-opted. I think there are people who continue to move in that direction. There are a whole bunch of people in the Black Lives Matter movement and movement for black lives that are still, like, we’re not messing with the Democratic Party. We’re still staying outside of the machine. We’re still out on the streets protesting. We’re still working with the Green Party, as I am.
You know, there are a lot of approaches to this thing. I do worry, though, that the phrase Black Lives Matter and the movement itself can become very comfortable to say onstage, but very, almost impossible, to really [inaud.] through policy, through practice, through legislation, et cetera. That scares me a little bit.
So on some level–the idea of co-optation on some level is true. I just don’t want to romanticize the origin point as if we weren’t already there in some level. Some of the people who have been assigned to our various movements have already been in that space. And then there are others who have not been, who have been radical from the beginning.
When I hear Michelle Obama say, you know, that her little girls can grow up and see, and know that a woman can be president, I think that’s extraordinary. Just like I think it’s extraordinary for black people to be able to see a black person and a black family in the White House, in terms of its symbolic and psychological–I do think there’s some value in that. I just worry–in fact, I am sure that that is trumped by the extraordinary damage that the last eight years have done to vulnerable people around the world. And to see Hillary Clinton come into office, it certainly satisfies the fantasy and the political aspiration of white, bourgeois, liberal, capitalist feminism. To which many black folk are attached, too. A whole bunch of black folk, well, I can do that, too.
HILL: But if you’re continuing to fight wars around the globe, if you’re continuing to drone people in Afghanistan or Yemen, there are women there, too. You continue to support corrupt regimes around the globe, there are women there, too. If you support the occupation of Palestine, as she unequivocally and unabashedly does, there’s women there, too.
So when you exploit the vulnerable, of which 54 percent are women, to me that is far more damaging than the symbolic value that some middle-class folk can have about being president. Or that some poor folk can have, against all material evidence to the contrary. So I’m less invested in these sort of dreams of black presidents and female presidents and, you know, what other sort of firsts that we concoct last time. And I’m more interested in figuring out how we can change the material conditions of vulnerable people all around the globe.
ROSE: Okay. It’s interesting because Donald Trump is polling as almost zero percent for the black vote. Bernie Sanders, who many in the Black Lives Matter movement, including myself, supported Bernie Sanders. But yeah, he still wasn’t able to gain a significant portion of the black vote. And yet, most black people are voting for Hillary Clinton, have been dedicated for Hillary Clinton. Why is that? There’s obviously a contradiction between her politics and what would improve the living conditions of black people in this country. Yet so many black people are supporting her.
HILL: Well, I think the Trump question is a little different. I think black people generally aren’t voting Republican in presidential elections. I mean, we’re in the 90s voting Democrat. I think Trump’s unique persona, his statements, his comments, his proposed policies with Mexicans, make black people say well, wait, man. If you’re saying that about Arabs, you’re saying that about Muslims, you’re saying that about Mexicans, what are you going to say about me?
So I think that explains that. I think that Bernie Sanders, it was a practical judgment. Black folk felt like Hillary was electable. And similarly, they put, they were on the fence about Obama. Till he won Iowa. Then it was like, oh wait, he can win? Oh shit, we’re good. But before that moment in Iowa there were a whole bunch of black folk that were on the fence, too.
I think we decided, because of the Clintons’ history, particularly Bill Clinton’s history, that she’s a friend of our community. And some of it is, the symbolism and the kind of rituals and practices that the Clintons co-opted, they know how to go on Arsenio Hall, they know how to go into church and sing the songs, and they know the words to the black national anthem. They know how to play the black tropes. But also, it’s not a story of the Clintons. It’s the story of a Democratic Party that views black people as a captured electorate. That is to say, they don’t–they know that we ain’t going nowhere. And that no matter who’s on the ticket, we’re going to vote for them.
ROSE: Lastly, there was some controversy the other night, controversy on Tuesday night, when Nina Turner, one of Bernie Sanders’ most powerful delegates and surrogates, wasn’t allowed to nominate him from the floor as a presidential candidate. Do you think the Democratic Party attacked Nina Turner–or not necessarily attacked, but limited her voice, tried to silence her voice, because she is such an outspoken black woman, that speaks against the establishment?
HILL: I think the Democratic Party in general has marginalized, silenced, and really exploited, to some extent, Bernie Sanders in this whole campaign. Nina Turner being one of those folk who really, as we see with the leaks and we see with the story, I mean, it’s a commitment to isolating and marginalizing all these voices surrounding Bernie Sanders’ campaign. Nina Turner should have been the one speaking, or announcing, during the roll call. She should have been the one whose voice was amplified. But there’s a real fear around that around these parts.
And when I look at Bernie being chosen to speak so early in the week, when I look at his agenda not being, to me, sufficiently incorporated, although there’s some major progress, not being sufficiently incorporated into the platform, I become frustrated and saddened. And the entire thing is just one big example of how the Democratic Party is not committed to really moving to the left.
ROSE: All right. In Philadelphia, Kwame Rose with the Real News Network. We just talked to Dr. Lamont Hill. Thank you so much for tuning in.
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