The Nina Turner Show: The Urban-Rural Divide with Portia Boulger
At the 2017 People’s Summit, Portia Boulger discusses the upcoming Ohio conference Mobilize88, and argues that progressives can’t write off Trump voters
Nina Turner: Let’s get down to the real business of taking care of the people.
We can’t have a testimony without a test, and we are being tested whether we have courage enough, conviction enough, people power enough to stand up and do what is right for ourselves and generations yet onboard.
Nina Turner: Now to my progressive sisters and brothers, it is not enough for us to be right, we got to win some elections. Y’all hear what I’m saying? Cause politics, I know we an emotional group, and that’s alright. Baby, we feel deep. But politics is the art of the possible. Politics is about who has the power and how they wield that power. It is not enough for us to be right on the issues. We have to win elections. We have to take back the power and then use the power on behalf of the people and not for our own selves.
Nina Turner: Hello Portia, I am so happy to have you hear on the Nina Turner Show on the Real News Network. How are you doing?
Portia Boulger: I’m doing great.
Nina Turner: Portia is from Chillicothe in Ross County in Ohio. You are an activist Portia, and I know a lot of people saw you a lot last year fighting and feeling the burn for Senator Bernie Sanders as he was running for President of the United States. What made you get involved in his campaign effort?
Portia Boulger: Because for the last 50 years of my life, I’ve been fighting for the people and I watched Bernie Sanders way back when he was mayor of Burlington …
Nina Turner: In Vermont, yeah.
Portia Boulger: … because he was green. He wanted to save our environment. So that’s been a passion of mine all my life. It’s like, who is this fellow? What is he doing?
Nina Turner: So you’ve been familiar with him for a long time.
Portia Boulger: A long time. And then when I really keyed in on Senator Sanders is when Senator Sanders was running for the senate, and I knew that if he didn’t caucus with the democrats, we could really be in trouble. And so I was on needles and pins with that, and then just watching and getting more and more interested in this man, this white fellow from Vermont who got arrested way back. Did you know-
Nina Turner: He was a college student.
Portia Boulger: Yeah and one of the very first sit-ins ever in the United States of America because he was fighting back for the white … he was a white man fighting back for the brown and black people in Chicago and across this country, and that’s been a passion of mine as well, so everything that Bernie was doing, and I really mean that, everything that I know of that he was doing were things that I had been fighting for. Union strong, getting out there and walking the talk.
Nina Turner: We fast forward. We’re here at the People’s Summit right here in Chicago, and you’re here among 4,000 other activists and people who have a consciousness. What brings you to the People’s Summit? And then we’re gonna talk about your Ohio Progressive Alliance. But what brings you here this year?
Portia Boulger: What brings me here is because it’s a part of moving the revolution forward. It’s a part of doing more than Russia, Russia, Russia. It’s a part of bringing people together who are like-minded, who love each other, who are wrapping our arms around each other and saying, “We’re still here 12 months later by God and we ain’t going anywhere, and we will not yield. Now how we gonna put our feet on the ground tomorrow?” We have it. I think of this as like a revival.
Nina Turner: Yeah, I like that. I’ve been calling it a family reunion, but you’ve been calling it a revival. I love that. You know, I’m keynoting on Sunday, so I’m definitely gonna call it a revival. Which brings me to, so you have taken this passion of yours, that really has been there all along, but you were able to take it to the next level in supporting Senator Bernie Sanders, and as you said here we are one year later and you are involved in so many things. You have an organization you’re one of the founders of, which is Ohio Progressive Alliance. Tell me a little bit about that alliance, and what some of the goals are.
Portia Boulger: Okay, I need to preface it with the fact that I organized Appalachians Rising –
Nina Turner: Yes you did. I was going to get to that. [crosstalk 00:04:30] But that Appalachians goes first? Okay, that’s fine.
Portia Boulger: Yeah, kind of. And so I organized Appalachians Rising back in the fall and the Trump deal came down and people were fearful and not knowing what their world was going to be like, and particularly brown and black people, people of the Muslim faith. And so our very first event was a love unity rally. And we were telling the people of our community, and the people who came to our community, these are our folk and we will protect them. But it was through love. It wasn’t, it was love. And so to help build up, I have friend in Ross County whose child, her father is from the Middle East, and she looks very much and she was afraid to go to college. So we needed that strength and liftening within our own community. Then we had a sister’s march. In Chillicothe, if you get 50-75 people, that is a huge turnout. We had over 1000 people in the streets out at Chillicothe, Ohio.
Nina Turner: Oh my goodness. During the Women’s March, which was the largest march in history.
Portia Boulger: And we made history in Ross County.
Nina Turner: Yeah, that is a beautiful thing.
Portia Boulger: And I’ve been an activist in my town where I was born and raised and still live, I’ve never seen that many people turn out. 27 counties in Ohio were there [inaudible 00:05:53]. Seven states were there. I know for sure two of them, Pennsylvania and West Virginia, people were actually driving in their cars to get to us. The other folks may have been passing through, they may have been visiting friends, we don’t know cause we couldn’t get to them.
Nina Turner: But there’s a synergy. I mean basically what you’re saying that there is an awareness out there among the people, hashtag stay woke. The people are awake. And I know that in some of our past conversations when you talk about … cause I remember seeing you put this out on social media, and I thought, “how wonderful.” Just even the terms Appalachias Rising. And I remember you inviting even people who actually voted for Mr. Trump.
Portia Boulger: Absolutely.
Nina Turner: Why did you do that?
Portia Boulger: Because I personally know people who I have lived with all my life in terms of my community, and I love them Nina.
Nina Turner: They voted, but they voted …
Portia Boulger: They are my people.
Nina Turner: … Ross county was one of the counties that went for Mr. Trump in Ohio.
Portia Boulger: Yes.
Nina Turner: Right? He won 70% of the vote in 30 counties. So we have 88 counties in the state of Ohio. He won 70% of the vote out of 30 counties, and your county was one of those. How is it that you can resist some of the push that’s coming from some people on the left to just write off people who voted for Mr. Trump?
Portia Boulger: How do I resist it? What I tell them is common sense tells me knowing how we win elections is we reach out to people and we pull them in with love and understanding and kindness. I had people that I have known all my life tell me, look me in the eye and say, “I’d have voted for your guy if the DNC didn’t screw em.” And so they were angry, they were not happy with Hillary, they didn’t trust Hillary, just like I didn’t trust Hillary, and the only reason I voted for her in the end is because the KKK endorsed Trump and I felt like I needed to push all that aside for my country, because the KKK could not be in the White House, and unfortunately it is. But as I talked to people, I know one thing. They care –
Nina Turner: So you see. Cause I want to make sure we clear this up. Mr. Trump as far as we know is not a member of the KKK?
Portia Boulger: Well I know that his parents were.
Nina Turner: But he is not a member of the KKK?
Portia Boulger: I don’t know.
Nina Turner: I said as far as we know, right? Cause I want to be fair here.
Portia Boulger: Okay, but what I know is Steve Bannon represents … maybe I should say white races.
Nina Turner: A lot of people believe that but I gotta be fair.
Portia Boulger: Okay, yeah I want you to.
Nina Turner: Sorry, I want to push back on that just a little bit. But I guess the premise of what I’m asking you, because it takes a lot that you decided to put out an olive branch, if you will, to people who are some are your neighbors, some are your friends, some are even strangers but they live in your community, who decided for whatever reason that they wanted to vote for Mr. Trump. I mean that’s a really big deal and I guess your hope was to try and unite based on what people have in common.
Portia Boulger: Yeah, and going back to your question about how do we pushback against people who say “forget them”?
Nina Turner: Yeah, and also people who call them … cause I’ve seen some, and I’m sure cause you’re on social media, too, writing them off or saying, “you get what you deserve” every time Mr. Trump pushes a bad policy, they’ll say to people like that, “you get what you deserve”. How is it for you that you have decided to use your organization to say, “No, I’m gonna seek to understand.” That Steven Covey once said, “seek first to understand and then to be understood.” Why are you doing that?
Portia Boulger: Well first of all, I was raised to follow the golden rule, Nina. And the golden rule says I do unto others as I would them to do unto me. And so that is my core. It’s not about necessarily a religion, but that’s my core. And so the folks who are going to suffer, they don’t deserve what’s coming down. They believed that Donald Trump would help them get jobs. They believed they had to hang onto something, because in my opinion, those votes were out of desperation. You look at West Virginia, Bernie pulled off 44 counties in the primary and West Virginia went Trump. Why? Because they heard jobs. So I’m reaching out for lots of reasons, but I care about the folks. They’re hungry too.
Nina Turner: And how is that gonna put … can you give us one exam- … so some of the people that you talk to on a regular basis basically said they voted for Mr. Trump, not just because the problem with the primary, let’s put that out of the way, but they really did believe that he was going to help bring jobs to the community.
Portia Boulger: They did. And even if they didn’t, their hearts wanted to because they’re desperate, they’re hungry. I mean, when I say hungry, they’re hungry for food, their babies are not being fed nutrition. But going forward past that is that if we want to win elections, we need to reach out, not close in.
Nina Turner: Do you think that some of the people that voted for Mr. Trump in 2016 are reachable?
Portia Boulger: Absolutely. When you look at Ross county and you compare the statistics between the 2008 campaign with Obama and 2012, out of the all 88 counties in Ohio, we didn’t take it for Obama in the county, but we increased the percentage votes more in Ross County.
Nina Turner: You closed the margins.
Portia Boulger: We are not a red county. We are a swing county. Just like the state of Ohio. Ohio is not red, Ohio is not Trump territory. They can say it till the moon drops out of the sky. Ohio is a state that wants to thrive. And so do the Trump voters, and so do the Hillary voters, and so do the people that didn’t stay in –
Nina Turner: Bernie [inaudible 00:11:28] everybody.
Portia Boulger: We all just want to thrive and we want to go to bed at night knowing that my babies are going to do better than me. And that we’re gonna push that prosperity forward through the generations.
Nina Turner: Well I gotta commend you for it. As soon as I saw it, I thought it was wonderful. And actually what you’re doing when you called me up to talk about how do we bridge the urban rural divide, it reminds me of what Reverend Jesse Jackson was trying to do in the nineties when he was traveling the country talking to people who live in urban areas and talking to people in rural areas, to say to us we have more in common and let’s work on those things that we have in common. So now we move from … and you still have your Appalachians Rising, but you have taken it a step further with the Ohio Progressive Alliance. In our remaining moments here, I want to talk about Mobilize88. So 88 counties in the state of Ohio. You decided amongst other organizers, cause it takes teamwork to make the dream work, to really try and pull in people from all 88 counties. You’re doing a big conference in July. Why are you doing that?
Portia Boulger: Well Bernie passed the baton to us last year, didn’t he? And he said, “This revolution isn’t about me, it’s about you.” And he gave us some serious challenges, and one of the most important ones he gave us, he said, “Run for office.” And so our goal is to mobilize the progressive moment across Ohio into other states, and focusing on not only on Appalachia but connecting rural with urban. And every state in our country has rural and urban, and we’ve got to connect those voices, because just like we said a minute ago, we all really want the same thing, but we have to learn how to talk to each other. And we need to stop … I love it, go hard on the issues, soft on the person. That’s just … so we’re bringing folks together.
On the first anniversary of the DNC in Philly, that’s a very significant date, and we need to claim to power that we had. So many people were so sad about what happened, I am too, but let’s talk about the positive. What we did is break history in this country like nothing’s ever happened, in my lifetime anyway. And so we need to take whatever people’s emotions are and help them understand that you’ve got to put your feet on the ground. And we’ve got to help them understand what that means. So we’re bringing them together. And thank God you’re gonna be available.
Nina Turner: Looking forward to it.
Portia Boulger: I am so exited because our lineup of leadership are all powerful black women.
Nina Turner: Black women.
Portia Boulger: So don’t you tell me Democratic party that the black women in my country aren’t leaders. Don’t tell me you can’t do it. You’re not doing it because you’re racist.
Nina Turner: Well we’ve never won, they’ve run some black women but no one is elected, absolutely.
Portia Boulger: Well, they’ve never elected them, right?
Nina Turner: Well Portia, I just want to thank you because you are what leadership looks like. You’re putting together a coalition and you deliberately sought out black women. Portia thank you so much for your leadership, and we will fight on. I’m Nina Turner, and you’re watching the Nina Turner Show on the Real News Network.
Nina Turner: You know resistance is really good, but we have to take that resistance to action. Because anybody can put the problems out, anybody can talk about the challenges, but it takes a little more to go deeper and to be able to talk about the collective solutions, the things that will move us to action so that we really get to see and feel the change that is needed to advance our cities, our states, and this nation. If you believe in the mission, subscribe. If you believe in the cause, donate. If you believe in the change that we are pushing here at the Real News Network, we need you to watch and to share. The Nina Turner Show.