James Early: We Need to Take on the Electoral College

Story Transcript

MARTIN LUTHER KING JR.: I still have a dream. It is the dream deeply rooted in the American dream. I have a dream that one day this nation will rise up and live out the true meaning of its creed: “We hold these truths to be self-evident that all men are created equal.” I have a dream that one day on the red hills of Georgia the sons of former slaves and sons of former slave owners will be able to sit down together at the table of brotherhood. I have a dream.

JAMES EARLY: I imagine you already know that I’m much more socialistic in my economic theory than capitalistic. Capitalism started out with a noble and high motive, but like most human systems, it fell victim to the very thing it was revolting against. So, today, capitalism has outlived its usefulness.

Are you familiar with that quote? That’s Martin Luther King in 1952.

ESTEVAN BASSETT-NEMBHARD: The Electoral College is a remnant of the old slave society. That’s supposed to be a remnant from the three-fifths of a man compromise. So basically Trump getting in there was a combination of… well, it was voter suppression but it was a combination of illegally denying votes in the states, together with the remnants of this old slave system in the Electoral College.

WOMAN: You spoke about the Electoral College, and the remnants of being based on being three-fifths of a man. My question is, because there is, to me, there’s such a glaring problem with the Electoral College, and it’s so glaring as we saw with this last election, how do we as the people go and change that particular thing? Because, you know, history, they don’t ever want to change or budge on history, and if the Electoral College, as you said, is a remnant of history, so how do we, like…? You know, do you start a petition? Do you, like… what would you propose as the way to get at that problem?

ESTEVAN BASSETT-NEMBHARD: What’s happened is, now the Electoral College is a remnant, but it’s actually still in full effect. It’s still doing the … Because what’s happening is the urban centers are being disempowered, you know? Because social… but the whole point of the three-fifths of a man compromise was that, in the South, all these people didn’t have any democratic rights. All right?

So, when there was an election, though, like a presidential election, what happened? It was a popular vote. In New York, you know, like, think about it, because like where there’s only 20 people in Georgia could actually vote, and in New York all these people could vote, than y’all are going to get swept every time the election, and remember they was actually trying to have a big say because they wanted to keep this plantation economy the way that the country went and all that, right?

So, it’s… so I think building solidarity and a progressive solidarity — urban-rural I think is the way that we’re going to be able to break through all those monkey-wrenches that they try to throw on us organizing this Constitutional Convention and going. The other thing to say that I think that the… like you’re saying, the mood is there.

JAMES EARLY: First of all, we’ve got to educate ourselves — in our churches, in our mosques, in our synagogues, in our civic institutions and our fraternities and our sororities and our senior citizens’ homes, we have to talk about the question of democracy: one person, one vote.

AUDIENCE: (applause)

JAMES EARLY: And how the Electoral College is a prima facie contradiction to that basic concept. Why is not the Democratic Party talking about the Electoral College? Why is not my friend Bernie Sanders talking the Electoral College? Why is my long-time friend and colleague Barbara Lee not talking about the Electoral College? And Karen Bass talking about the Electoral College? And John Conyers talking about the Electoral College? And John Lewis talking about the Electoral College?

We have to put positive pressure, positive critical embrace on them. We can’t take an ultra- left position and call them handkerchief-head negroes, or the misinformers, as some black ultra-leftists and other ultra-leftists do. We have to hold them accountable to see how honest they can be and how much more they have in the tank to step forward.

And I’ll stop on this point: one example. When John Lewis takes up the question of Russian hacking into the electoral system of corrupting American democracy, that may indeed be true. We don’t yet have the empirical data, but let’s assume that it is true — but that is not the principle question of undermining U.S. democracy. The principle question undermining U.S. democracy is the Electoral College, and the tactical expression of that strategy is voter suppression.

Who…? They’re not talking about that. They are bought into an anti-communism — of which the Soviet Union is not — they’re bringing an old perspective that once was to obscure what is, and we’ve got to hold them accountable.

But that starts with us, the citizens, talking about it, getting on the radio, Marc Steiner Show, Real News Network, writing to CNN, MSNBC, whatever you listen to, saying, “These are the questions that you are avoiding,” and see who the honest people are that will step forward.

AUDIENCE: (applause)