Hip-Hop Fridays: Davey D's Exclusive Interview With Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney
It has been a long time coming but finally there appears to be a member of the United States Congress who is prepared to represent the better interests of the Hip-Hop generation, community, culture and industry (which provides economic sustenance for so many people not in the majority population in America.) Congresswoman Cynthia McKinney, more than simply seeking to have photo opportunities with Hip-Hop's multi-platinum stars, is actually working to represent the concerns and interests of the Hip-Hop generation, actively taking the time to learn about the issues championed by the Hip-Hop community - from its fans to its artists to its independent retailers. The result, among other things, is a full and credible Hip-Hop component to her legislative and campaign agenda. To the best of our knowledge it is the first time that a national political leader has included a Hip-Hop plank in his or her platform.
Hip-Hop opinion leader Davey D. recently interviewed the Congresswoman from the 4th district of Georgia in a discussion that focused as much on culture as politics. It is by far the best interview we have seen of the Congresswoman this year. Enjoy.
Davey D: Congresswoman, how have things been for you since the controversy over your September 11th remarks?
Cynthia McKinney: Davey, as you know, I am concerned with freedom and justice and the truth and I try to raise questions that others are hesitant to. When I asked the question of what the Bush Admininstration knew and when did it know it, I received nothing but criticism. And the criticism sunk to personal attack. But since then, as you know, the White House, the CIA, and the FBI are reeling from revelations of what they knew and when they knew it and what they did about it.
Davey D: Even some prominent members of your own political party living in the state of Georgia, like U.S. Senator Zell Miller, criticized you and called you names for saying something before it became popular and legitimate. How did that make you feel?
Cynthia McKinney: It's a free country. Zell Miller can say what he wants to say. However, it's important to remember that this is the same Zell Miller who came to me and personally asked me to help him win election as the junior Senator from Georgia. He is the same Zell Miller who went all around black Georgia asking for support. That typifies the state of black America and its ballot power. We continue to vote and vote for people who forget us when we need them. That's Democrats and Republicans. We must do something to turn that around.
A CNN episode of Inside Politics revealed that of the 50 Democratic Senators in Congress today, had blacks not voted at all in 1996, 1998, and 2000 -- the years that the current Senate was elected -- the number of Democrats in the Senate would drop to about 32. If we have that much ballot power, what does our community get for it? And why are our babies still dying before their first birthday at twice the rate of white babies? Why do our children have the highest risk of asthma? Why is it that our nation's black belt have some of worst records of unemployment, ideas, and education? I'm pleased that the Georgia Association Of Black Elected Officials (GABEO) defended me and authored a resolution asking Senator Miller to repair the damage he has done in the community by speaking about me the way he did. You can read their resolution at http://www.gabeo.org/urgent.htm. The criticism smacked of the same double standard that we have seen historically with COINTELPRO. But one thing is clear, I will not sit down and I will not shut up when I see injustice or a chance to make a difference.
Davey D: Many people in the Hip-Hop community are fond of you, what do you think it is that makes you popular with that crowd?
Cynthia McKinney: I love the Hip Hop Generation and I love Hip Hop culture. I think they see in me what is in themselves. I am honored by their support of me. The Hip-Hop community is a fearless and candid community that is intensely concerned with issues of justice. I am a lot like that. In addition, I am a "Hip-Hop mom" so to speak. My teenage son is a huge fan of the music and he writes about what the culture means to him. And I listen and learn from him and we have frank discussions about the role of Hip-Hop culture in solving political problems. I accept the challenge to bring Hip-Hop and politics together. I have endorsed the Hip-Hop Summit Action Network's 15-point National Agenda and am looking forward to working with Russell Simmons more closely on the issues that the community is concerned about. I admire what he has been able to do in New York, especially in terms of the education issue, which is so important. My constituents in Atlanta know of my commitment to the Hip-Hop generation and culture.
In 2000 I convened a Hip-Hop Powershop 2000, which was a forum that addressed the various political, economic, and social issues affecting today's youth. In 2001 I participated in the Hip-Hop Summit in New York City, hosted by Russell Simmons. In addition, many of the progressive grassroots organizations and activists that I regularly work with are active on the issues and concerns that many rap artists champion - reparations, political prisoners and things like COINTELPRO, which, as you know, I talk about frequently. And finally, I, like so many in Hip-hop have been inspired by the life of Tupac Shakur who offered so much to us in his lyrics and life which was filled with important lessons. But most importantly, for myself and I think for young people, Tupac, in many cases, spoke truth to power. He and artists like Public Enemy, KRS-One, Queen Latifah and Big Daddy Kane, years ago, and Common, Talib Kweli, Dead Prez, Nas and Mos Def, today, say the things that everyday Americans think and feel. But most importantly, they speak for the disenfranchised and the hopeless who feel that the system works against them in so many ways.
Davey D: Do you think that feeling of disenfranchisement and hopelessness contributes to young people not wanting to vote?
Cynthia McKinney: Absolutely and with good reason, especially in minority communities. And it all is connected with government policies, one way or another. I have said some very blunt things regarding this problem as it particularly affects Black males. And I don't think the way it plays out is an accident, if you look at the facts and statistics.
In Georgia, where I represent the Fourth Congressional District, a convicted felon loses the right to vote until his or her sentence has been completed and that convicted felon must no longer be serving probation or parole, owe no fines. It should come as no surprise that Georgia has a disproportionate number of black males incarcerated for felony convictions.
In a state with traditionally low voter turn out and where one in four registered voters is black, it is evident that every possible vote counts and every black voter can make a tremendous difference in who gets elected. Between August 1, 1997, and July 31, 1998, 6,765 persons lost the right to vote because of felony convictions. Of this number, 3, 087 -- half -- were black males. Georgia, in my view, is practicing vote dilution and vote denial.
I must point out, that in the United States between 1985 and 1995 the number of prisoners with sentences of more than 1 year rose by over 600,000. The number of black males in prison increased by 143 percent and the number of black females in prison increased by 204 percent. On December 31, 1995, an estimated 3.2 percent of all black males were in prison, compared with less than half of 1 percent of all white males. In 1995, black males were seven times more likely to be in prison than white males. Many arguments are advanced as to why such glaring disparities exist in incarceration rates between black and whites. Public policy which produced a "war on drugs", disparities in legal representation, and harassment by the law enforcement authorities are perceived to be large contributing factors.
To sum it up, in my view, the United States is practicing vote dilution and vote denial.
If 51 percent of incarcerated persons today are African American males, then we must also look close to home for a solution. Why does 12 percent of the total United States population represent 50 percent of the national prison and jail population?
Is this what my brother Tupac Shakur was singing and rapping about? Was he trying to send us a signal? Was he trying to reach out to us?
I think he was.
And he was speaking to our young people who are the ones increasingly being victimized by these laws which rob them of their present and their future.
Davey D: So, what do you say to people who agree with all of that and who say that voting, altogether is a waste of time? What do you say to them?
Cynthia McKinney: Just look at what happened in Florida in 2000, rich and powerful people got together to thwart the effectiveness of our vote. Why? Because they recognize the power of our vote. Then, shouldn't we?
The drug sentencing disparities, broader juvenile justice issues and economic policy are all public policy products ultimately shaped by voters and elected officials. If you place your vote and financial resources behind candidates and policy prescriptions that solve problems and change laws you increase your power. If you don't it is a guarantee that others will shape public policy for you.
Davey D: How is your campaign going?
Cynthia McKinney: We have gotten off to a great start and our website is up and running at http://www.cynthia2002.com/. I encourage all of your viewers to visit the website and e-mail me and learn more about the issues and how they can help us, if they choose. I am an avid Internet reader and would love to hear from all of those in your network, Davey. I have a track record before my constituents in the 4th District of Atlanta that I am running on. We have worked to bring in resources and opportunities, and solve problems in our district and throughout Georgia, and I hope to do even more through an additional term served in Congress.
On issues like civil rights, healthcare, transportation, juvenile justice, housing, education and the environment I think I have demonstrated clear leadership and a track record that my opponent can't match. And I will continue to be a voice that will speak truth to power, inside the 4th District and across the nation and our world. My Democratic primary is on August 20th and we are planning a major Hip-Hop focused event on August 10th, in my district. I hope that you Davey, personally, and many of your viewers can participate. We will be providing you with more information on that event and will post updates regarding it on our website at http://www.cynthia2002.com/.
Davey D: What is the state in your opinion, of the Black vote?
Cynthia McKinney: To be honest, it should be much better. I want to share with you something that appeared in the April 25th, 2002 edition of CNN's Inside Politics. On that show the following discussion took place:
WILLIAM SCHNEIDER, CNN SR. POLITICAL ANALYST: Judy, how dependent are Democrats on the African-American vote?
Without black voters, the 1992 and 1996 presidential elections would have been virtually tied, just like the 2000 election. Oh no, more Florida recounts!
(voice-over): What would have happened if no blacks had voted in 2000? Six states would have shifted from Al Gore to George W. Bush: Maryland, Pennsylvania, Michigan, Illinois, Wisconsin and Oregon. Bush would have won by 187 electoral votes, instead of five. A Florida recount? Not necessary.
Right now, there are 50 Democrats in the Senate. How many would be there without African-American voters? We checked the state exit polls for the 1996, 1998, and 2000 elections. If no blacks had voted, many Southern Democrats would not have made it to the Senate. Both Max Cleland and Zell Miller needed black votes to win in Georgia. So did Mary Landrieu in Louisiana, Bill Nelson in Florida, John Edwards in North Carolina, and Ernest Hollings in South Carolina.
Black votes were also crucial for Jon Corzine in New Jersey, Debbie Stabenow in Michigan, and Jean Carnahan in Missouri. Washington state and Nevada don't have many black voters, but they were still crucial to the victories of Harry Reid in Nevada and Maria Cantwell in Washington.
Nebraska and Wisconsin don't have many black voters either, but Ben Nelson would have lost Nebraska without them and Russ Feingold would have lost Wisconsin, too, in both cases by less than half-a- percent. Bottom line? Without the African-American vote, the number of Democrats in the Senate would be reduced from 50 to 37.
SCHNEIDER: A hopeless minority. And Jim Jeffords' defection from the GOP would not have meant a thing -- Judy.
WOODRUFF: We know the Democrats are aware of this. Bill Schneider, thanks very much.
Look at the power of the Black vote and I might add what we do not get from that power. It reminds me of what Malcolm X said in his magnificent message The Ballot or the Bullet on the potential power of the ballot.
Davey D: Do you think the Democratic Party takes Blacks for granted?
Cynthia McKinney: Yes, I do.
Davey D: Do you think there is a "Hip-Hop" vote?
Cynthia McKinney: Yes and no. The most potentially powerful voting bloc in the black community is the "Hip Hop vote." We all must make that power a reality. And that reality must change the conditions of our community.
Davey D: What do you think of Michael Jackson's comments about the music industry being racist?
Cynthia McKinney: I think Michael knows what he is talking about. He had his own personal experience that he is now educating us about. But Michael Jackson isn't the only one. Many people know that the contracts in the music business are unfair and do not adequately reward the creativity of the artists. R&B and Hip-Hop artists are quite often the lowest paid. This has to change. That is why I have a Hip-Hop component to my agenda that would address the compensation problems inherent in standard recording contracts. I stand with recording artists who want to reform these contracts that in some cases amount to little more than slavery. Hip-Hop just accepted the standard music recording contract with a few aspects added that make things worse for the artists. And the problem isn't just in the music business, I see it in terms of race and gender, and have fought against it in my own district and across the nation. For example, I was the original cosponsor of the Equal Pay Day Resolution to address the wage gap between men and women. For every dollar a man earns, women only earn 73 cents of that dollar. The wage gap is even higher for minority women. African-American women earn 63 cents and Hispanic women earn 53 cents on the man's dollar. We need fairness and equality in wage and salary compensation throughout the U.S. economy.
Davey D: Are you concerned about the violent images directed towards women in Hip-Hop lyrics?
Cynthia McKinney. Davey, I am. Especially as a mother. And I'm concerned that those are the lyrics and TV videos that get air time. But the politically instructive messages of other artists are virtually ignored. And I'm concerned that our children are being herded into thinking of themselves only as sexual objects and not real competitors on the battlefield of life, in economics, in politics, in academia.
I also think that it is important that we consider the interests of Independent and "Mom and Pop" retailers who depend upon this culture for a living. They are part of the Hip-Hop community and many artists would not be successful without these stores.
Davey D: Is there anything else that you would like to say?
Cynthia McKinney: I am a regular visitor to your wonderful website and I am on your listserve. You are in the vanguard of one of the greatest socio-economic movements in decades and I hope to serve as a trusted political bridge for the generation to travel across in order to make laws that improve the conditions that we live under. I not only want, but need your support as I continue to fight on behalf of freedom and opportunity for all of us.
Friday, August 9, 2002