Nina Turner: ‘MLK Was on a Mission of Non-Violence, Even Against Segregationists
Nina Turner, president of Our Revolution, at The Real News Network on the 50th Anniversary of MLK’s assassination
EDDIE CONWAY: As I got into Philadelphia I saw thousands and thousands of people with signs on them saying “I’m Nina Turner,” and “I’m Nina Turner,” “I’m Nina Turner.” And I’m like, who the devil is this? You know, I’m saying, this was like news to me, right. So I went back and I looked and I see that, well, OK. This was the sister that took a position that Bernie Sanders had the right philosophy and the right direction in terms of doing something to help America move forward. So I said, OK. Several months later I was in Chicago at the People’s Summit and I heard Nina Turner. I heard the fire. I heard the energy. I heard the insight. And I had to go over, I had to meet her and talk to her, and so on.
But the fact that in our history, and now I’m speaking about blacks, African-Americans, et cetera, but actually America, too, black women have led the struggle. Have organized the struggle throughout our history. And we we hear names like Harriet Tubman, and we don’t necessarily give them the kind of recognition that they need. We hear names like Fannie Lou Hamer. We hear names like Ella Baker. We hear names like Rosa Parks. Some names we don’t hear, like Gloria Richardson, that was right here in Maryland. All right. But in the vein of those sisters that took a stand, that did some organizing, that moved our struggle forward, I want you to join me in welcoming former state Ohio Senator Nina Turner.
SEN. NINA TURNER: Thank you. Thank you, Mr. Conway, for that wonderful introduction.
A shout out to the sisters. Sisters know how to make it happen. And I’m talking about the sisters from the mosaic of humanity. You know, I often say on a Sunday morning, because I very much am in the same Christian tradition of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., and oftentimes we forget to put Reverend there, but there is a moral connection to the ministry that he had here on this earth. But to the ladies in the room if I was on a Women’s Day morning service I would say the following: That if God made any little thing better than a woman he must have kept to himself. Sisters, can I get an amen on that one. Kept it to himself.
Wow. It is such an honor to be here with Mr. Conway and Mr. Lethal Weapon Danny Glover. Lethal Weapon for good. and it’s such a pleasure. I want to thank the Real News. And you know, what Paul’s leadership and all the great work that they are doing. The speech that they showed for the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King did not have video to it. And him and his team took the time to overlay that video. We need to give them for those images and the idea to put something like this together. So I think the most important part of this night will be our dialogue, but the fact that we have gathered together, that people are gathering together all over this country to recognize the sacrifices of not just Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King but also of Mrs. Coretta Scott King and their children, their entire family’s sacrifice for this justice journey and sometimes we just can’t.
I just, I just want us to wrap our mind around that. That they gave so much to fight for justice in this country. Wrap our mind around that. Because today in this country for the most part we can speak out against injustice without worrying about somebody coming to kill us. For the most part. For the most part. And so we owe a debt of gratitude to that family and to all of the freedom fighters whose names we know and those whose names we do not know. We owe them a debt that we will never ever ever ever ever be able to repay. But sisters and brothers from all walks of life. We ought to put a down payment on the debt. We can’t repay it, but we need to put five on it. We need to put 10 on it, 20 on it, and we need to put some time, some treasure, and some talent on the debt.
And that is all of us. Because what the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was fighting for was for decency and dignity and liberation of the people who Zora Neale Hurston said whose skin has been kissed by the sun. And what the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King understood is that African-American liberation, that black liberation, was the liberation of humanity. And he did not equivocate on that. He was radical because he was fighting against the status quo of his day.
I don’t know how many of you had the opportunity to read what Reverend Jesse Jackson wrote today in The New York Times, but I encourage you to read that because he told the absolute truth and sometimes we don’t want to deal with the truth. And the truth of the matter is is that at the time that the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. lived, wrap your mind around this, a man that was a champion for justice and peace and love when the Gallup Poll polled his favorability, that he was in the 30s. I think it’s about 36 percent. Wrap your mind around that. That is hard for us to understand in the 21st century. Because as Reverend Jackson pointed out in his article today that when the man was on the mission, and even Dr. King pointed it out in his speech when he made comparisons that it was OK for them to be nonviolent against racists and segregationists in the south but it is not OK to talk about what we were doing to our brown sisters and brothers across the seas. That was not all right. Even Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King alluded to that.
So we do have some of the same problems on our hands 50 years later. And so to wrap our minds around the fact that he and other freedom fighters gave so much, they gave their lives, and those people who did not physically die gave their livelihood. And before he died he was in Memphis to march with black sanitation workers who were treated worse than dogs. Working their skin to the bone in a system that relegated to them to only do that type of work. The Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was there with them along with other folks as they marched with signs. I am a man. I am a woman. I am somebody. I am a human being. I am entitled to love and decency and dignity. I am.
So we need to begin to tell the truth about the history. That a lot of times, as Professor Eddie Glaude wrote about the whitewashing of the legacy of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., how people on the right use him and twist his words about judging people by the content of their character and not by the color of their skin. Forgetting to put the emphasis on the fact that he was talking about how this country would not give African-American folks an equal opportunity to live out their greatest greatness. That’s what he was talking about. And how you got people on the left, these so-called Democrats, who will prop up the memory of the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. but then equivocate about whether or not we deserve Medicare for all or universal health care in the United States of America. We’re done with that.
So we got to call out some folks. And in his speech Dr. King made it clear that time has passed for superficial patriotism. Sisters and brothers, can I say the time has passed to be loyal to parties who are not loyal to our people. The time has passed. The time has passed. And the reason why somebody like Mr. Trump was able just to walk on up into the White House is because of the failing of one political party in particular not answering the cries of the people, being superficial about this thing. And folks just flat out said, if it’s a difference between the lesser of two evils, we might just go with straight up evil. And that’s what we have today.
So this is not about who is in the White House. This is not about the state of the union. This is about the state of the streets. And that’s where Reverend Dr. King was talking about. And half of these folks that stand up on MLK day and these other days and talk and wax poetic about how great the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was, if he were standing here today they would be the very people against him because he went against the status quo. So the time has passed for superficial patriotism. The time has passed for us to just give away our votes and allow people to whisper sweet nothings in our ear and absolutely get nothing for it generation after generation after generation.
So the question becomes what are we going to do, and how much more of this are we going to take? Dr. King talked very clearly about revolution in that speech that we heard. A revolution of values. And he said the reason why he was against the Vietnam War is because he understood that the investments in that war from our tax dollars, for every dollar that we spent in that war, were less money that we would have to help the poor in this country. That is why he was against that war. And we have the same thing going on right now in the 21st century in terms of how much money we spend on the military, compared to how much money we are willing to invest in our children. Something is wrong with that. We must call the moral question. The time has passed for superficial patriotism. Dr. King went on to say that the time when silence there is a time when silence is betrayal.
So sisters and brothers, what are we going to do? Because Dr. King did what he needed to do. What are we going to do? what do we stand for? You know, Mr. Glover talked about how Dr. King said that we all can be great because we all can serve. I want to put a little Turnerism on that if I might, if I may, sisters and brothers. I just came by to share a word with you tonight. That I often say that titles are good. They get your phone calls returned, they get you in the room. Titles are really good. But purpose is better. And we need more purpose-driven people. That is what this moment is all about. And he laid it out for us in many speeches. But as Mr. Conway believes, as Paul was sharing with me, that this speech about Vietnam was one of the greatest, was the greatest speech. Dr. King was laying it out for us about what needs to be done and the sacrifices that we have to make as a people for the greater struggle of liberation. In the words of brother Frederick Douglass, power concedes nothing without a demand. It never has and it never will. What are we willing to lay down that we must not allow this moment to pass us by? This is our moment to seize.
And sisters and brothers, again, this is not just, see, folks want us to fixate so much, overly so, on the man in the White House. He makes it hard for us not to pay attention to what he’s doing. I’m not saying ignore what he’s doing. I’m not saying we shouldn’t bump up against and resist and fight what he’s doing. But what are we going to do once we’re done resisting? What are we going to replace him with in 2020? Because I say that any old blue just won’t do.
So while we are resisting we must continue to persist. What are we going to fill that void with? Because the last time I checked, our sisters and brothers in Flint, Michigan have been without clean water for almost four years. Last time I checked, the last time I checked, racism and sexism and all of the isms that plague this nation were here before that man got into office. And unless we do something about it they will be there after. The only thing, the only difference, is that now it’s bubbled back up to the surface, making us come face to face with the fact that this is in the DNA of America. How many of you knew that the beloved President Nelson Mandela was on the terrorist watch list in this country up until 2008? President Nelson Mandela. We got to understand who we are dealing with, and that is what the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King was laying out for us.
So when we leave here tonight we got to renew our commitment. And we got to look ourselves in the mirror to ask the question: Are we really doing enough to be the change? Are we actually doing our part to honor the life and the legacy of a man who laid it down for this country and this world, and so many more of his contemporaries. What are we going to do for the cause? That is the question that we must ask ourselves. And then to get a deeper understanding of who the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King really really was and what he really stood for and what he was really fighting for: Decency for all of humanity, starting with black folks. Decency and liberation for humanity. That is what we should be fighting for.
So he laid out about how during the Vietnam War that we can send black boys and white boys to fight in a war against other brown people but when they get back home in these United States of America they couldn’t sit down at a counter together. And some of that stuff is still going on. There were articles just this week. How about black boys in particular who come from wealthy families, right now in the 21st century, not the 20th century, the likelihood that they will still be poor. The fact that black men and women and other folks are still being gunned down by a justice system that does not see their humanity. My husband was a former, he’s a retired police officer. Our son is in policing right now. So I get it from both sides. And wanting to make sure that my baby comes home safe every day. And that when he doesn’t have his badge and his gun he is another black man in America.
But how is it that we can have a system that doesn’t recognize the humanity of black folks, a very system that can walk Dylann Roof in, yeah, take the brother to Burger King. But then people like Eric Garner, people like Alton Sterling. Now, I’l tell you something in America. When some of the first few words out of a law enforcement officer’s mouth to a suspect, because being born black makes you suspect, the first few words out of that officer’s mouth to that man was for him to put his hands on the car before he blew or shot him in the f’n head. Now, if you don’t believe me go back and roll the tape. I got the receipts. So meanwhile back at the ranch while we’re talking about Stormy Daniels. We need to talk about the systems in this country, systemic racism, institutional racism in the United States of America, and not about some woman trying to make a buck or two.
We’ve got to get our priorities straight in this country. And we do have to realize that our law enforcement was socialized in the same country that we have been socialized in. That it is the system. It’s not just about individuals. It is about the system. And that was what the Reverend Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. was talking about. That is what he was fighting against.
But what he was fighting for was black, brown, white, yellow, and red folks to come together within the rainbow mosaic of humanity and to stand up. The poor people’s movement. And for this country to invest in the poor people in this country. As the urban poet Tupac said, we got money for wars but we can’t feed the poor. Something is wrong with that. We got money for corporate welfare, but we look down our noses on our sisters and brothers that just need a hand up. That we’re OK with bailing out Wall Street. Meanwhile, we leave main street to fend for itself. Something is wrong with that. Something is immoral about that. And guess what? These politicians will only get away with what we allow them to get away with.
So the question becomes what are we going to do for the cause? Man, I can keep going but I’m going to stop right here, because I’m feeling some type of way right now as I’m rolling the podium off the stage. I’m rolling the podium of the stage. Mr. Glover said don’t stop. But I came to bring you word today that all is not lost. And I don’t want you to get caught up on all that we see on TV and what we hear, because one thing that I know is that hope springs eternal. And as long as there is a God there is a way. But He works through people, sisters and brothers, and those people are us.
So I want to close, as Mr. Conway talked about, you know, how phenomenal black women are. Pretty women wonder where my secret lies. Quote me a little Maya Angelou. No, I want to, and just women by extension. But let us not get caught up in that. When Dr. King talked about love and that love is fierce, he also talked about that every man, every woman, deserves dignity. And those are even people that we don’t agree with. We can’t get caught up in hating folks. The Reverend Dr. King said that darkness cannot drive out darkness. Only light can do that. And he said hate cannot drive our hate. Only love can do that.
And it’s not a conditional, I only love the people who agree with me. Because if we continue to relitigate 2016 in a way that tears people asunder, tears them down or looks down at them, there’s something wrong when people start punching down at folks. We got to find some understanding what one another even if we do not agree. That is our call. So I want to end this portion of it with a quote from one of my sheroes, and I have many. One is my grandmother, but I’ma save grandma for later.
But I want to do, I want to talk about sister Harriet Tubman. And we know that she was a champion, she was a trailblazer. She put her life on the line, right, to free some other folks. I’m going to ask you, what are you going to do for the cause? Who are you going to free? And you ain’t got to put your life on the line to do it. Just some of your time, your treasure, and your talent, and let us get serious about being about our father’s business, the business of humanity. But when sister Tubman said these words, and I want you to wrap your mind around this. She said if you, if you hear the dogs, keep going. If you see the torches in the woods, keep going. If you hear folks hollering at you from the backgrounds, keep going. If you want freedom and liberty, keep going. Don’t stop. Keep going.
So my message to you tonight is that if you want liberty and justice for all, keep going. If you believe that we as citizens of these United States of America deserve to have a healthcare system that provides health care for all, keep going. If we believe that this criminal justice system should not be run or ran by for-profit prisons and treat black and brown folks differently from anybody else we must.
AUDIENCE: Keep going.
SEN. NINA TURNER: If we believe that the women of this country deserve their whole damn dollar, we must.
AUDIENCE: Keep going.
SEN. NINA TURNER: If we believe that people deserve to live with dignity and understanding , we must.
AUDIENCE: Keep going.
SEN. NINA TURNER: If we believe in a love that is fierce and that is strong and that can shake to the foundations hatred and bigotry, we must.
AUDIENCE: Keep going.
SEN. NINA TURNER: And if we believe in the mosaic, the rainbow mosaic of humanity, we must.
AUDIENCE: Keep going.
AUDIENCE: Never stop. God bless you.