Race, poverty and Obama
Panel discussion with Danny Glover, Tom Morris, Joanne St. Lewis, Bill Fletcher and Dwight Hopkins
PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR: Welcome to The Real News Network’s first roundtable on the DNC and the Obama candidacy. Tonight we focus on race and poverty in America. Just what can poor black people expect from an Obama or a McCain presidency? The statistics are well known. The average total net worth of white families is $70,000, compared to $6,000 for African-American families. African-Americans are twice as likely to be unemployed. One in three African-American males will go to prison during their lifetime, while only one in seventeen white males will share that fate. Schools with minority populations will receive an average of $1,400 less in state and local funding. So, to discuss race and poverty in the 2008 elections, I’m joined by, in the studio, Joanne St. Lewis, director of Human Rights Research and Education Centre at the University of Ottawa. Tom Morris is Washington. He’s a Washington-based journalist and host of Capitol Hill Blues on XM Satellite Radio. Dwight Hopkins is a professor of theology at the University of Chicago Divinity School. Bill Fletcher is the executive director of TransAfrica and the senior scholar [at the] Institute for Policy Studies in Washington, DC. And in Denver we’re joined by Danny Glover, actor and social activist, who’s joining us live from the Democratic convention in Denver. Hello, everybody.
JAY: We’re going to start with Danny. And let me just let our audience know now, Danny actually has to leave in just a few minutes, so we’re going to start with Danny. And to begin, I thought that a very interesting thing happened on Sunday morning on the George Stephanopoulos show. There was a conversation about McCain and all his seven houses, and there was a kind of back-and-forth between Donna Brazile and George Will, Will saying, starting to get increasingly angry at people making an issue out of John McCain’s number of houses, and then finally George Will says this. So let’s roll the clip from George Will.
Courtesy: ABC News
GEORGE WILL, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: Donna, does the name Springwood ring a bell? No. That is the ancestral home, high on a bluff over the Hudson River, of Franklin Roosevelt, who was born there and is buried there, a man of deeply aristocratic background [inaudible] who sympathized as much as anyone, surely in the mythology of your party, with the common man. Where did we get the idea that owning homes is a disqualification?
GEORGE STEPHANOPOULOS, HOST, THIS WEEK: I know. It started—I think it was in the last presidential election; it was used against John Kerry.
WILL: Exactly. But surely in a democracy it’s time for us to quit being sentimental and say the question we settle in an election is not whether elites shall rule, but which elite shall rule.
JAY: So, Danny, George Will says that’s the choice in the 2008 elections—which elite shall rule. What do you make of what George Will said?
DANNY GLOVER, ACTOR AND SOCIAL ACTIVIST: George was pretty accurate about that statement. Often we don’t discuss it, that they used that terminology. We don’t come out, as in most cases, and approach people from that standpoint, "Which elite shall rule?" But this is George Will, who believes that the greatest African-American of the 20th century was Jackie Robinson. So I don’t know what you would expect from that. But clearly the whole idea that elite rule this democracy, and it’s the question has always been and the situation has always been that from the outset. These men, the first people, the first elite who ruled, were men who were slave-owners and landowners. They were the elite of their particular time. Now we have the elite being industrialists and those who have great wealth and have both new wealth and historic wealth. So that’s the one thing. What’s made this illusion of this democracy what it is is simply the aspect of consumption, the idea that people can consume. That is the [inaudible] to the masses. Now they’re in a very strange, a very unusual situation, that the level of consumption that people were able to retain or maintain has certainly vanished because of various—the mortgage crisis, etcetera, etcetera.
JAY: Danny, if George Will is right that the choice here is between one section of the elite or the other, if one accepts that premise, does Barack Obama represent a break with that, or does he represent one section of this competing elite?
GLOVER: Well, of course, you’re anointed in this elite; I mean, at some point, those who are a part of this elite, or become part of this elite, become this elite and allow him to sit at the table and allow him to protect the interests of this elite. Most undoubtedly the president, whoever it is, protects the interests of this elite, and whether he comes from the elite itself or they become spokesperson for the elite in the policies that they make, and the decisions that they make, and the way in which they run the country.
JAY: So for poorer African-Americans and all African-Americans, and I guess you could extend that to all ordinary working people, what do they do in this situation, if I guess a lot of people consider the McCain section of the elite an unacceptable choice? Certainly people at the DNC think that. But what do people do in this situation?
GLOVER: Well, as I said and many others have said before, you know, a campaign is not a movement. I mean, if we’re going to really change, qualitatively change, what is happening in this country, then certainly we have to build a movement around that. We are, in terms of African-Americans and people of color—and I’m sure poor people are amazed and enamored with the idea of a president who doesn’t noticeably come from the elite. We’re all enamored with that. But does he represent a movement? I doubt that he’s representing a movement. He represents a very charismatic individual who people become excited about, but [inaudible] going to happen in this particular. It’s interesting that he, Barack Obama, comes into his own [inaudible] particular moment, when over the last 35 years in this country mean income for the average worker—the average worker, not just African-American workers, but white workers and all workers—has remained stagnant fort the last 35 years [inaudible] the average worker works 250 hours more than the average European worker. The number of people who are middle class, who work every day, who assume to be middle class, who work every day, the numbers [inaudible] without health care are astonishing. What are the numbers? Somewhere in the neighborhood of 44 million people. Those are real issues that are going to have to be confronted, you know, and they confront it at this particular time. I remember as a child, as a child living in the projects, and with parents who were union workers who worked at the post office, we had health care. I went to Kaiser. Kaiser plan was the plan that we used. It was affordable, it took care of all our needs, etcetera, etcetera. Are those available to the poorest of the poor in society, whether they’re black, whether they’re Hispanic, whether they’re women, or whether they’re white?
JAY: So, Danny, in this situation, if you accept this premise that one is going to choose one section of the elite or the other, if you accept the premise that, one way or the other, Obama is connected with one section of this elite, do people make that choice? I mean, you have people like Nader saying, "No, don’t make that choice. You should step outside the process." Other people are saying a Nader candidacy just hands everything to—if you follow that road, you actually wind up handing power to a much more dangerous section of the elite. What’s your take on this?
GLOVER: The question, Paul, is: What do we do with this moment? What do we do with this historic moment? And I’m not talking about the historic moment from the vantage point it’s the first person of color to be nominated by a major party to become, possibly, president. But this moment where the level of desperation that people face in their lives, this moment where the level of the possibility of people moving in another direction in the body politics, what do we do with this moment beyond the election? That becomes the question. And I think no one talks about that, certainly the part of the African-American elite and the part of the elite that represents people of color are not talking about those issues. But how do we begin to mobilize in some way for working people and for those people who are unemployed, underemployed, or poor working people?
JAY: But do people—I mean, do you advocate the first step is get Obama elected?
GLOVER: Well, I certainly believe that the first step is get Obama elected. I think that people have to be validated. If we put together this enormous campaign, or people have come out who before have not voted and not registered to vote, if these people come out and these people begin to extend themselves, how do we reengage them or engage them in another way in the body politics and what is happening? How do we become citizens in another way? How to begin to ask the questions that are essential to making real change, [inaudible] change, in this society? Now, look here, certain things are going to happen. You’re going to have to address the mortgage crisis. You’re going to have to address some other aspects in terms of whether it’s a public work plan or rebuilding infrastructure. You’re going to have to have something or give something, give some leeway—the elite is going to have to give some leeway to the crisis at hand. This is the crisis of capital at hand right now, and they’re going to have to give some leeway to that. How much rope they give him or how much leeway they give Obama, or even McCain, is going to depend upon, I think, how active we are and how active we push for real change.
JAY: Danny, I know you have to go. Thank you very much for giving us this time.
GLOVER: Thank you. Alright, then.
JAY: Good. Joanne, what do you make of George Will, and what do you make of Danny Glover?
JOANNE ST. LEWIS, UNIVERSITY OF OTTAWA: Well, where I’d like to start is when he was talking about the crisis of capital. I think one of the ways—I agreed with everything that he said. And I’d also add that what we’re looking at is a crisis of capitalism. In many ways, I do think that the Obama campaign and his success is critical, but I do see it as limited. At the end of the day, when you’re talking about poor people—poor African-Americans, but poor people generally—the structural changes we need are going to be beyond simply bringing Medicare programs online, etcetera, etcetera. These elites, no matter how you construct them, are actually not engaged in deconstructing the sites of their power. They are not engaged in rethinking that. And I personally think that there’s a limited way and direction in which Obama will go. That being said, I don’t think you throw away the vote. I mean, I’m speaking as a Canadian, but I really don’t think you throw away the vote. I think you focus on the best of all possible worlds, you harness to get a much more critically engaged citizenry, and you actually have people be realistic about how far that presidency could possibly go, because they’re going to need another space that operates quite akin to when we were building the movement around the World Social Forum, that we need our engaged citizens, thoughtful citizens, with the sense that they must push whoever the leaders are, even if it’s Obama, and that some of what needs to happen and the accountability will have to flow from them directly and not through the expectations they have of any charismatic leader.
JAY: Tom Morris in Washington, first of all, what do you make of George Will, "This election’s about choosing between two sections of the elite"? And then what do you make of Danny Glover’s ideas?
TOM MORRIS, HOST, CAPITOL HILL BLUES: Well, I think Danny’s dead-on. Danny’s dead right in what he said about [inaudible]. The fact that Barack Obama [inaudible] does not make him necessarily elitist. He is someone who pulled himself up from his bootstraps. And John McCain has had a long head start on Barack Obama with accumulating wealth, even before he married Cindy McCain. There are no poor senators. But I think it’s important to note that Barack Obama is genuinely about the things he believes he can change. I think he’s not just saying these things because he thinks America wants to hear them so he’ll be elected president. I mean, it’s important to note that when he came into the Illinois House, he didn’t come into politics like Jesus, running into the Temple, flipping over the table; he didn’t come into the Senate the same way. He’s a man who comes in and builds coalitions. And as Joanne said, there will be realistic [inaudible] on what he will not be able to accomplish as president should he become president. However, the things that I believe he wants to do for all Americans, as well as for African-Americans, [inaudible] can’t really get [inaudible] talking specifically about black people and helping black people if he’s trying to get the majority of American voters to put him in the White House.
JAY: Bill Fletcher in Washington, who’s on the phone with us. Don’t have a picture of Bill. Bill, again, what do you think of George Will, "We’re choosing between elites"? And then what are realistic expectations of an Obama presidency?
BILL FLETCHER, JOURNALIST AND AUTHOR: I think what George said was wonderful, and if I had said it, they would have run me out of town on a rail, you know, for inciting class struggle. I mean, I think that what he said was absolutely—.
JAY: I think he was getting angry, although I don’t think he would have said it if he hadn’t lost his temper.
FLETCHER: That may be right. So we’re going to have to get George angry a little bit more. I think that what’s absolutely true is that there’s competing elements within the ruling circle, and that there is one section that is absolutely supporting Barack Obama. And I agree very much with what Danny was raising. I think that there’s a couple of different ways of looking at this. One is that this is not just a battle taking place on Mount Olympus: there are masses of people that are interested in the outcome for a whole host of reasons. And I think that progressive people need to be thinking about this as to how to move, how to move these masses of folks, how to move toward substantial change. The big difficulty that we have in the United States—and it’s not just a difficulty among African-Americans—is a lack of organization that really can tie this together and can force any degree of accountability. So we can have our demonstrations, we can have our protest candidacies, but what we don’t have is the kind of grassroots electoral challenges that I think are very necessary in order to, you know, really shake things up.
JAY: Bill, what do you say to people like Sean Penn and Ralph Nader (there’s going to be a big Nader rally on Wednesday night) who have said that because this is all just as George Will says, just two sections of the elites, that people will never build this sort of independent position without getting outside the process, and they want people to vote for Nader?
FLETCHER: What I say is that politics is not mainly or simply the expression of anger and disgust; it’s about the struggle for power. And so while there’s much that I agree with that Ralph Nader raises and Senator McCain raises, I don’t see them actually building a movement; I don’t see them trying to put in place something that’s grassroots-based that really is aiming towards power. There is no strategy there; there is simply expressions of anger. And that’s not sufficient. We’ve got to have a longer-term strategy that’s aimed at progressive power. And, unfortunately, I don’t see Ralph Nader or Cynthia McKinney articulating that. And I think that’s one of the real struggles here. We’re so frustrated, because admittedly we have one of the most undemocratic electoral systems on the planet, and it’s very frustrating, because we feel trapped. The difficulty, then, has to be addressed by a longer-term strategy where there are no silver bullets, where we really are talking about building up electoral bases around the country and mounting a challenge. But it’s going to take much more time than many people are prepared to invest.
JAY: Dwight Hopkins, who is based in Chicago. But poor Dwight is at the moment vacationing in Hawaii, and that’s where he joins us from, also on the telephone. Welcome, Dwight. Are you there?
PROF. DWIGHT HOPKINS, DIVINITY SCHOOL, UNIVERSITY OF CHICAGO: Yes, I’m here.
JAY: Dwight, you’re from Chicago. You’ve been a member of Trinity Church for 12, 13 years, sitting alongside Barack Obama. And I have to say, personally, it seems to me like we’re seeing two different Barack Obamas at least. In the primaries, when he was fighting John Edwards, we heard a fairly progressive Barack Obama. Now, as he fights John McCain, we’re hearing, in my opinion, certainly on foreign policy issues, and even a lot of domestic issues, a very DNC-centrist kind of line, which everybody—seems the conventional wisdom is, if you don’t go there, you don’t get elected. And so a lot of people kind of read into Barack Obama, what they hoped he will be. What is your experience? Who really is Barack Obama? What can we expect from his presidency?
HOPKINS: Well, I think he’s still largely impacted by his community organizing days on the south side of Chicago, and I think that’s really the indicator we have to look at. I think, as far as his whole campaign goes, I think that the primary against Hillary showed that. There was a lot of discussion at the beginning about using the media or using the big [inaudible] and a sort of a superstructure of political process. But Obama was trying to build this campaign from below, and that’s what’s going on right now. So that’s a good thing that he, you know, emphasizes that. But I think there’s different levels of movements. One is the elite that George Will talks about. And, you know, we talk about the figures of something like, you know, [inaudible] 5 percent of the US’s families own 70 percent of the wealth, and they have their own sort of culture and connections. And then we have those who run for these major offices for president who build campaigns which these elites definitely won’t get involved with on the ground, and that too can have its progressive and negative aspects about it. But I think what I hear Bill Fletcher and others talking about on the phone is that there’s a third level, which is this foundational, fundamental level of building a people’s movement with long-term vision and sustained organizational structure with the whole goal of transforming the whole type of process, which, to me, George Will spoke to a process of capitalist democracy. And this third level, this foundational level of people, workers Danny Glover talked about that, unemployed, etcetera, progressive sectors, those who do have some money, it’s that issue that Obama’s campaign cannot speak to, because Obama represents sort of the progressive wing of the ruling elite. And I don’t expect him to talk about that foundational level, because that’s not his background or his program.
JAY: Dwight, we’re going to take a short break, a two-minute break. And when we come back, I’d just like to just pick up with you and with all of you just a little further this: What is the real Obama in terms of what he’s saying now in his candidacy in terms of you look at foreign policy and many domestic issues? It’s not nearly as progressive a position as what was happening before. And I want to talk a bit about that. And is that just realpolitik and that is what it takes to win? And then the question I’m going to ask after the break is: if you build your alliances and your campaign and your mandate based on this kind of positioning, can you change it after you get elected? So please join us after this short break.
JAY: Welcome back to our first round table on the DNC, and we’re on a conversation about race and poverty in America and the Obama candidacy. Tom, I think you would agree that there is certainly a change in the way Obama’s presenting himself since he’s been candidate, and there’s always this conventional wisdom in the Democratic Party that you run the primaries to the progressive base, and then when you actually run against the Republicans you have to move to the center. But there’s been a lot of critique of this strategy, that this in fact was the strategy that John Kerry used, and it helped him lose the election. I know with John Kerry his polling numbers were up in the early spring of ’04, and then he started to shut up about Iraq, and he kind of muted his critique of the Bush administration over the whole summer of ’04 and started to drop in the polls. When he comes back for the first debate, Kerry actually slams Bush on Iraq for the first time in a couple of months and he goes up in the poll, and then he kind of mutes it again. And there’s a lot of dialog taking place in the Democratic Party, in that Obama, by not being more authentic in what people think he believes in—particularly I think this is on foreign policy, but this is on economic issues too—and trying to win over the center rather than the 40, 45 percent or more people who don’t even vote, that he’s getting back into this kind of impotent stand that people say has led to the defeat of the Democratic Party in the past. What do you make of it?
MORRIS: Well, I think that’s sort of reflected in what we’ve seen so far tonight up to this point with the first night of the convention. There hasn’t been a lot of substance in really hammering away at what’s gone wrong in the last seven years. He’s not really talking about things like torture. He’s not talking about how far trapped we’ve gotten with the invasion of our civil liberties. He is playing it very safe. And he’s up against Mr. Military, Mr. John McCain, Senator McCain, and I think that that’s what his strategists have decided is going to serve him best. By choosing Joe Biden, I think that was another signal that they were setting that they wanted someone who was somewhat hawkish, but also someone that corporate America needs. Joe Biden represents Delaware, the state that has the most credit card companies, many corporations registered there. Joe Biden is a man who business [inaudible] someone they can work with. I think that Barack was really sending a sort of veiled message to the business community out there who are shaking in their boots, ’cause they’re worried that a guy talking about the kind of change and the kind of things that he was talking about during the primary might be bad for their bottom lines.
JAY: If there’s one community in the United States that has real leverage with Barack Obama outside of the elites, who obviously anyone who runs for president is going to have to deal with, but the one community that has real leverage has to be the African-American community. They’re more organized than most other communities. They’re political. They have the system through the churches. And if African-Americans either don’t vote for Barack Obama—I’m sure they will this time, but if Barack gets elected, four years later, if African-Americans were to decide they felt a little betrayed and stay home, this will be a one-term presidency. How do African-Americans respond to the increased positioning of Obama within a very definite section of the elite, à la aka Biden and such?
MORRIS: I think that we’re not a monolithic people, African-Americans. There are some people that are not going to vote for him because they are actually very conservative on the religious and are uncomfortable with his stand on abortion. Not all black people are going to vote for Barack Obama. I believe the majority are. And I think that even those who don’t will feel some sense of pride, even if they don’t vote for him and he ends up being the president. Then I think you’ll see, you know, a bigger conversion rate for those black people who really aren’t for Obama. But we’re not monolithic.
JAY: But certainly he’s polling, like, 80, 82 percent, I think, or even higher amongst African-Americans. And if African-Americans don’t vote for him in any large numbers, he’s not going to win and he’s not going to get reelected.
MORRIS: You know, Paul, I’m worried just as much about how fair the election will actually be. You know, that worries me just as much as what the turnout will be. We really have not fixed the problem that led to Bush becoming president the first time, led to what happened in Ohio in 2004. And, you know, we’re up against people—you know, we have a system here that is not functioning the way that democracy functions, say, in Sweden and a lot of the other Western countries where the elections are done very equitably and fairly. Our system is flawed. So I’m just as worried about how fair the election will be itself as I am about the voter turnout.
JAY: And that certainly has a specific racist feature to it as well, and I think there’s been an accusation of many election irregularities, but certainly one of them is discrimination against African-American voters in terms of polling stations, broken machines. There are even stories in Florida about African-Americans being blocked when they’re driving to polls. So, yeah, it’s a very, very serious issue. Joanne, the whole question of race in this election, and it gets argued in various ways, but one of the arguments that has been interesting is that whatever you make of Barack Obama and whether he represents the elites or doesn’t and whether he can make real change or not, but there’s an interesting argument which goes like this, which is in some ways none of that matters, that just the election of an African-American as president is a kind of breakthrough in a society that has a history of such systemic racism. What do you think of that argument?
ST. LEWIS: I happen to think that’s really true. I think one of the pieces, watching from a distance in Canada, that has disturbed me is how the race argument has played out. It’s almost as if to be well educated, sophisticated, and strategic suddenly disenfranchises you as a black person. So I think people are mistaking what it means, whether you’re in Canada or you’re in the United States, to be excluded from these sites of power directly. I mean, nobody actually took great offense—I remember how I reacted—when they described Clinton as the first black president, but I’m trying to figure out how Clinton can be authentically a black president because he’s speaking for black people, and for some reason people are going through gyrations and twists and turns speaking about Barack Obama’s authenticity. I am not confused: when I see that man, if he becomes president, he is a black man; he is a black man in the way we all are black people, in all of our complexity, in all of our aspirations, and in all of our contradictions. And to me the most disturbing piece throughout this election has been they never put—when you looked at the whole Democratic run-up, they never put the same questions to Hillary Clinton. If you want to know who can actually lead black people, you ask me exactly the same questions of both of those individuals who are actually supposed to lead all Americans and figure out which answer you like best. You don’t say—well, I don’t remember a single question of Hillary Clinton, for example, saying, "What kind of feminist are you? And are you really a feminist? And are you really a woman?" They took it for granted. She was not a white woman—she was a woman, and she was a feminist, and we know feminist politics is very complex, but it never came up. Barack Obama has had to be stick handling continually his legitimacy. They’ve had to call up, "Well, he’s with Michelle." Michelle gives him authenticity—he doesn’t have authenticity in his own right. And he hearkens back to Africa—how much more authentic can you be as a black person? So, yes, I think he’s not just important for the States. The bottom line is having a black president of a superpower in a western government is far more critical than people understand. So that’s why my previous statement of going away to vote. It is not enough to talk to other locations where blacks have been able to lead. It is critical that we take a [inaudible] in Western governments, and he’s our first shot.
JAY: Dwight, as I said earlier, you’ve been in Trinity Church with Barack Obama for some time. And when we go back to the controversy with Reverend Wright and Barack Obama, you and I talked about that several times during that period. And I know there was a lot of debate within the church. People tried not to make it too public. But there really was a difference between what Reverend Wright was saying and what Barack Obama was saying, even from the chickens come home to roost—that’s certainly something probably most people in Trinity Church agreed with Reverend Wright on that statement. I know at the time you said to me, after Obama’s speech on race you said to me, "Finally he’s speaking about the issues of poor African-Americans." There was a feeling you described then that he had yet not articulated that. I guess there’s a fear in the Obama camp that he’s seen too much as—he doesn’t want to be seen as someone catering to African-Americans. Where are people in the church now, as clearly his positions on a lot of issues have gone further and further away from anything Reverend Wright stood for?
HOPKINS: Well, I think that on the side of the church, the church has been through a lot, [inaudible] promoted by, you know, the mainstream media. So that’s one thing, just to put, you know, that the state of the church is it’s in good stead. We have a new pastor, Otis Moss III, who has building the church even more, particularly young African-American men. So that’s positive. So I think the long and the short of the whole mainstream media, you know, deluge on Trinity is that the church has come out stronger and there’s a younger generation. [inaudible] leadership, so that’s good news. But hearkening back to the whole controversy, you know, started by ABC on March 13, I think what it did was it raised to the level of the national consciousness the relationship between race, black church, and power, because a lot of people didn’t have any idea of what, you know, the possibility of progressive politics could be in a church. And I think, you know, Wright’s, you know, condemnation of the invasion of Iraq, Reverend Wright’s attack on structures of white power in the United States, and various other platforms that he laid out, which are literally platforms from the pulpit, a lot of people were shocked that there could even be a relationship between a liberation power agenda and one interpretation of sort of a movement coming out of the progressive wing of the black church. And in the midst of all this Obama is situated, particularly when he announced that he’s going to run for president. And so he is sort of caught between this media storm that kicks off and the politics of the church. And I think, as I follow this development, particularly his development in relationship to the media’s portrayal of those sermons, initially he talked about on March 14, the day after the March 13 ABC portrayal of Wright’s speech, sermons, Obama said that he distanced himself from the speeches. And then, when the news had legs over the weekend, he gave his "More Perfect Union" speech on Tuesday. And there again he said he distanced himself from the speeches that he heard that Wright gave, but he also accepted Wright as he accepted his white grandmother.
JAY: But politically he distanced himself quite significantly from the content of Wright’s speeches. Again people say it had to be done for tactical reasons. But for people in the church, it certainly goes back to the question I asked you earlier: is there kind of just this feeling that this is what you have to do to get elected, but we know Barack, and we know he wants more? I mean, is that the feeling?
HOPKINS: I don’t think that Obama ever would agree with "chickens coming home to roost" or "God damn America." I don’t think that’s his politics or his theology. So to me he didn’t change in relationship to the specific question I heard you ask me about that was Obama’s reaction to some of the soundbites of Wright’s sermon. That’s the specific thing I was responding to. But I don’t see anything in his history or his role in the church that would have suggested he ever would have agreed with that. He said that he wasn’t in the pulpit, so he didn’t hear any of those sermons. So—.
JAY: But certainly the idea of chickens coming home to roost, that US foreign policy had something to do with al-Qaeda’s creation and 9/11, it’s not such an outrageous opinion. Probably most people think it now.
HOPKINS: Yeah. I think, again, you have Trinity is a particular church, and Reverend Wright has a particular history and grasp of world history. He’s traveled all over the world; he’s a voracious reader of both progressive material, left material, and all kinds of material; so, you know, he has a very insightful and quick wit, a presentation of, you know, a true grasp of the situation. I’m not sure many black preachers around the United would have said, you know, four days after 9/11, "the chickens have come home to roost" and that 9/11 was really a blowback from US violence abroad. People may say that now, but to say that four or five days after September 11 was pretty farsighted.
JAY: Bill Fletcher in Washington. Bill, you’ve been involved in, certainly, politics within the African-American community, but you’ve also worked for many, many years in the trade union movement. It’s kind of interesting that the Democratic Party—I don’t know that Barack Obama had anything to do with this decision—but they’re holding this thing at something called the Pepsi Center, although I’m trying to call it just "the carbonated cola center," because Pepsi didn’t donate any money to The Real News, nor would we accept it. At any rate, they went into a place that was non-unionized. And, in fact, the unionized IATSE local of professional camera people and such are actually refusing to work in the center during the convention, and it kind of sends a pretty weird message that the Democratic Party is supposed to be fighting to create better legislative framework for organizing unorganized workers, and they are apparently supporting some good legislation on that front, yet they go into a place that’s non-unionized, and they had lots of different cities and places to choose from. So could you comment on that, just a little bit, about the Democratic Party and the issue facing ordinary working people? ‘Cause certainly during the Clinton administration I’m not sure when it came to organizing unorganized workers much was done to help that effort.
FLETCHER: Well, I guess there’s a couple of different pieces to this. The Democratic Party went into Denver. There are not many unionized facilities there. They decided to go into Denver, apparently, because they wanted to indicate symbolically that the mountain states are not to be taken for granted by the Republicans, and there are these demographic and political shifts that are taking place there. So none of that surprises me. But I think that the larger problem is that for years there’s been a shift within the Democratic Party away from addressing or giving any level of centrality to the issues of working class people. And in the Clinton years, what I found infuriating—’cause I was working in the unions [inaudible] at that time—was the ability of union leaders to think of Clinton as our friend, while at the same time he was doing precious little to expand the rights of workers to join or form unions. But Clinton was entirely consistent, though, because it flowed from the Democratic Leadership Council’s view of what was necessary. The problem on the union side was an unwillingness, a reluctance to take them on. I think most recently we’ve seen something very interesting begin to happen—I don’t know how far it’s going to go—with AFL-CIO secretary treasurer Rich Trunka, of really raising direct criticisms of what he calls "Rubinomics" and economic neoliberalism.
JAY: Which was essentially Clinton’s economic .
FLETCHER: Precisely. And this is quite interesting. Again, I don’t know whether it’s going to actually pan out into much more, but it is an assault on the dominant economic framework [inaudible]
JAY: Yeah, it’s certainly a critique of Obama’s economic advisory committee, which essentially all fall into this neoliberal camp.
FLETCHER: No, that’s absolutely right. And I think, see, the problem, because something you were saying earlier about the level of organization within the black community and our ability to hold Obama accountable, one of the problems that we’ve got to deal with is that in his sense, from a mainstream political framework, he probably does not feel any great necessity to address the issues facing black America or the issues that organized labor is advancing, because like many Democrats that had preceded him, after the primary it’s basically, "Do you want me or do you want the Republicans?" And the problem is that when we restrict ourselves to just thinking at that level, it’s a trap. That’s why we’ve got to be thinking about the longer term. I keep coming back to this, the ability to build power at the local level that can unsettle the Democratic Party and its leadership. That’s where we can create a certain level of fear within their ranks. But right now they take us for \granted. And why not?
JAY: Thank you very much, all of you, for joining us. And thank you for joining us with our first round table on the DNC. If you enjoyed this panel and would like to see more, over my shoulder here is a button that says "Donate." And if you donate, that will certainly help us to bring you more discussions and debates like this. Thank all of you on the panel for joining us, and thank you again from The Real News Network. Bye-bye.
FLETCHER: Thank you.
ST. LEWIS: Thank you.
HOPKINS: Thank you.
MORRIS: Thank you.
Please note that TRNN transcripts are typed from a recording of the program; The Real News Network cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.