Since election night 2016, the streets of the US have rung with resistance. People all over the country have woken up with the conviction that they must do something to fight inequality in all its forms. But many are wondering what it is they can do. In this ongoing “Interviews for Resistance” series, experienced organizers, troublemakers and thinkers share their insights on what works, what doesn’t, what has changed and what is still the same. Today’s interview is the 65th in the series. Click here for the most recent interview before this one.
Today we bring you a conversation with Nina Turner, a former Ohio state senator and president of Our Revolution.
Sarah Jaffe: What are your thoughts about the national conversation on what has been happening since a whole bunch of various white supremacist groups descended on Charlottesville, Virginia?
Nina Turner: It is heavy. Lots of people are still very raw, and rightfully so… It just brought back all the ugliness in terms of the history of this country … 1865, I believe, was when the KKK was founded, right after the 13th Amendment to the Constitution, which set Black folks free from slavery [while] these types of terrorist groups terrorized African Americans throughout the south. So, to come face to face with that kind of legacy in the 21st century is haunting, disturbing…. It just raises so many emotions. This is a heavy time for our country.
I want to talk a little bit about the questions of building a really strong anti-racist left movement now, because it is obviously more important than ever when the president can’t bring himself to denounce neo-Nazis. I would like to hear your thoughts about the work that Our Revolution is doing, the work that other folks are doing, to actually build an anti-racist left.
Yes, that is so important. In Our Revolution, we have always had a social, political, economic, environmental justice screen through all of our work. In all of the work that we do, we are looking toward forming that more perfect union, but it is even more necessary now in the face of such overt racism…. We are going to continue to do the things that we have always done; whether it is Medicare for All, whether it is standing up to increase the minimum wage in this country to $15 an hour, whether it is talking about the private prison industrial complex that makes a profit off of keeping folks in prison…. But we are also going to have a deeper conversation about institutional racism in this country, probably in ways that we might not have touched upon so deeply. We have to talk about that, because as much as seeing neo-Nazis marching and KKK-inspired white supremacist groups marching in Charlottesville, Virginia, we still have systemic racism in this country. [It] is very much a part of Our Revolution’s work to work on changing systems that promote discrimination and bigotry in ways that hurt communities of color, particularly African American communities.
When you look at wages, for example, people might not see the $15 minimum wage as a racial justice issue, but when you look at wages in this country and the fact that African American women make about 63 cents on every dollar that a white man makes, when you look at the fact that most African American households are led by women, then there is an economic and racial and social justice component to wanting to raise the wage. Now, as we talk about those issues, we are going to talk about those through that lens.
It is bringing people together, too. We need some healing, too, because as bad as this is, we have always been a nation of progress. We have got to take the good, the bad and the ugly parts of our history. We are not going to let a neo-Nazi-KKK remix of the worst kind stop us from knowing and doing what we know it is we can do when we come together. We can’t allow ourselves to go backward.
That brings us to the People’s Platform. Looking at different countries, different places, things like the Vision for Black Lives platform where these kinds of policy platforms are becoming something that is more and more common, that progressives and leftists are putting out. I wanted to talk a little bit about just the idea of putting together a platform, a list of policies that we are going to push for.
It is important because people need to see it. They need to be able to hold it in their hands if they want to, whether it is on a tablet or a piece of paper. It is the affirmation … that our value propositions will be expressed through public policy and that is really what the People’s Platform is…. The beautiful thing about the People’s Platform and the coalition that we have of supporting organizations of the People’s Platform is that it is tangible, it is real. The Education for All bill has been introduced that will require the federal government to pay two-thirds of college. We know how important that is to make sure that we have a workforce that is highly educated and highly skilled. That is what this is about. It is about making that kind of investment.
Medicare for All, which is the signature, was the signature of Senator Sanders’s campaign. It is the foundation of what we do, which is affirming that we as a country can have Medicare for All, we can create an environment that doesn’t leave anybody behind, that is not attached to a job. To me, that kind of thing can spark an entrepreneurial spirit if somebody knows that their health care is not tied to a job and they can dream bigger and they can do things that probably ordinarily they would not do.
And what we are saying to Congress, but particularly to the Democratic Party, particularly to the Democrats that serve in the Congress is, “Here it is. Your members introduced these pieces of legislation. Sign onto them and let us show the people of this country, the folks of this country that this is what we stand for, this is what we are fighting for.” It is important to have all of these options, because for some people the environment might be the most important thing, to other people economic justice might be the thing, for other people racial justice. So, we have something in the People’s Platform for everybody.
You mentioned health care and Education for All bill. I think the Raise the Wage Act speaks for itself. Let’s talk about a couple of the other things on this platform, like the EACH Woman Act, because this has kind of been an issue of tension for a while, that Democrats are saying that abortion is not a litmus test for the party. I would love for you to talk about that particular one and the importance of saying, “This is, in fact, a foundational issue.”
It is important. People want to call it a litmus test. It is really just a value proposition that women in this country should have equal access to abortion coverage within their health insurance. To me, this goes within Medicare for All, but we have a separate bill. It is a medical procedure. It is something that we settled in this country and this should not be up for debate. It is a medical procedure. We want people to see it through that lens, that women should have the right to have an abortion and it should be safe, it should be legal, they should be rare. I don’t know many people jumping up and down saying, “Abortions for all!”
Somehow, we have lost ground on this debate because I think we talk about it in ways that don’t allow people on the other side who might bend a little to fully understand this. It is a medical procedure. It is in that universe and the decision has to be made between the woman, her doctor, her family, whatever decision she makes, but it is a medical procedure and we have to protect women’s access to that.
Now, in terms of litmus tests, there are some Democrats that are pro-life. I get it. But they shouldn’t legislate that. I grew up in a very religious family. My mother was an evangelist. I was taught from a very young girl that abortion is murder. Some people have been socialized that way through their religion. I get it. I respect their view. What I don’t want to have happen is people who run for office and all of a sudden, they are going to legislate that way, they are going to take women back.
There have been people like Vice President Biden who is Catholic who has, at times, talked about this issue from a personal space, but also understanding that someone who holds the people’s power, that what we do with that power matters and we should not be doing things that hinder people’s abilities. Women have this right and it cannot be taken away. We have to affirm it. I see it through two different lenses. It doesn’t mean that a pro-lifer can’t run, but what it does mean is that I would want to see them commit to not legislating that way; that they believe that abortion, the right to have one or not have one, because women make lots of decisions … it should be up to the women. Yes, that is firmly in the People’s Platform.
The next thing on this list, again, brings us back to talking about what we were talking about around Charlottesville. Let’s talk about voting rights and the decimation of the Voting Rights Act, the attacks on the right to vote on all sorts of levels over the last several years that, among other things, helped put Donald Trump in the White House.
Let’s tell the truth that African Americans were terrorized just because they wanted to vote, just because they were fighting for liberation and equal rights in this country. It is just as simple as that. That is the stain on America….
You have elected officials who are systematically, since President Obama was elected, chipping away [at voting rights]. As a state senator, I served in the legislature in Ohio where my Republican colleagues introduced this piece of legislation, that piece of legislation, not to expand the franchise, but just chip-chipping away, and “by coincidence” these bills had a voter suppression impact on guess who? People of color, poor people, students [and] people who have disabilities. Imagine that. It just happened to be the people who tend to … lean Democrat.
It is a travesty for anyone who is elected to office, who serves in an elective office, to engage in voter suppression. We need to expand the franchise. That is what the Automatic Voter Registration Act is, just a simple, eloquent piece of legislation that just requires every state to enroll every voter when they go get their driver’s license. However, I would like to take that further — when people are born, let’s go and register them! Let’s get them registered there and then. How beautiful could that be?
Democracy is stronger, is better, is more robust when people participate. We should want to encourage that. In 2016, during the presidential election, too many people opted out. They decided that they weren’t going to do it, for whatever reason. I think the voter suppression bill has something to do with it, gerrymandering has something to do with it, people not believing that the system works on their behalf, they don’t trust politicians, whether they are Democrats or Republicans. They feel as though they have gotten a bad deal. And they are right. They are absolutely right….
I get why people are frustrated on all sides. There is a power class here within the Democratic Party and also the Republican Party that says, “We know better than you, Mrs. Jones and you, Mr. Gonzalez. We know better. We are going to tell you what to do and what to think. We are going to lock out Black, working class men and women across the spectrum.” And people are tired of it — so they opted out during the presidential election year.
[This should] cause shockwaves for anybody that truly cares about this democracy, that people are just saying, “I am over it and I don’t believe anymore.” That is when we are really in trouble. Saying to folks that their vote does matter, that their voice matters, and making it easier for them to access that ballot box — that is the way we should be going in the 21st century, not backward.
The one piece of the platform that is not actually an existing bill that has been introduced in Congress is the climate change bill. I would love for you to talk a little bit about some of the things you would like to see in such a bill.
My climate experts have said environmental justice is a bigger umbrella, but I know that Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard is working on introducing that bill. Hopefully, it will be introduced this week. Global warming is a real threat to our communities, to everybody, to everything. What is our obligation to make sure that we secure Mother Earth for ourselves and future generations? Within that bill we will address the issues of reducing emissions and making sure that we have renewable energy. That is just one start to that bill, but overall, I want to see Our Revolution continue to push for the reduction of global warming, which I believe that the congresswoman’s bill will tackle, that we should get there by 2034. That we should work to get there, that we should encourage our fellow neighbors and the world to do the same thing, because we certainly cannot take on something like this by ourselves…. Water is a part of that, too … [making sure] that everywhere in this country folks have access to clean water. We are going to keep pushing. We are going to do a whole umbrella, more than what this bill is going to do, but environmental justice is vitally important to the mission of Our Revolution.
You famously took this platform to the Democratic Party and they didn’t treat you very well. I want to ask you about that.
No, they didn’t. I don’t know why. We had communicated with them three weeks earlier that we were coming. We let them know, “We are going to deliver the platform.” We had a press conference earlier that day near the Senate. We had Congressman Ellison speak, Congresswoman Jayapal spoke, Congressman Grijalva spoke, Congresswoman Tulsi Gabbard spoke. It was a beautiful thing and we just kind of went on a progressive stroll, so to speak. It was very calm, just kind of walk over to the DNC and to be greeted with barricades, to have security guards out there…. It was just stunning.
It didn’t have to go that way. The People’s Platform is really about the people and many of those bills were talked about in the progressive [DNC] platform that was passed last summer. It very much encapsulates what the Democratic Party said that it stands for. What happened there was truly unfortunate, but I hope beyond that moment, that day, that the Democratic Party will partner with the organizations who have signed on to the People’s Platform to both push and lobby all Democratic congress members who sign onto those bills so that we can make that progressive platform real and not just some pretty words that we got all excited about last summer at the convention.
We can take those words and turn them into actions. This is really what people are looking for. It is bigger than what happened. It was unfortunate what happened at the DNC, but I want to take that and invite the DNC to join us on the People’s Platform. We had a little over 115,000 signatures on those petitions. People from all walks of life all over this country saying, “We want a People’s Platform and here it is. This is our will. Here it is. Join us in this effort.”
I hate to say it, but it seems sometimes like the resistance to signing onto this stuff is not because people are opposed to the policies, but that they don’t like being pushed.
Well, my God. How do we get change if not by pushing? Women would have never gotten the right to vote without a fight, a push. My ancestors would not have been freed without a push. Let’s just think about what status quo has meant generation to generation to generation. All the great changes that we have ever had in this nation, for the most part, 99.9 percent of them came because people were pushed. People with the power were pushed. The status quo was pushed to change the environment by which people have to navigate. So, they might not like the push, but that is what they signed up for.
They also signed up to listen to the voices of the people and hear what the people have to say. That power is temporary. It belongs to the folks in Ohio, it belongs to the folks in California or Michigan or Mississippi. The power does not belong to the person that holds the seat, whether it is local or federal. It belongs to the people. What we are saying is that we want the Democratic Party to reflect that, to be willing to put something on the line for the citizens of this country. They might want to call it a push. We want to call it a policy agenda. It is the People’s Platform. They should embrace it and fight for it.
What are the plans going forward to organize people around this? Are there lobby days planned? Are there actions or anything like that?
We have had some lobby days. The members are on recess right now. So, we have had lobby days across the country. Folks going and making phone calls. We are going to continue making calls. We are going to continue to visit offices and we are preparing for when the members are back. But we do have our membership all over the country making those calls, visiting the local offices. If their members are having any type of town halls, visiting their members there and expressing why the People’s Platform is important to pushing our nation forward in a very progressive way.
This is not a platform, even though it is being pushed by Democrats, it is not just for Democrats. It is for everybody. The overwhelming majority of Americans, if you take the label off and you just talk about the issue, they agree with these things, they want to see these things. I really very much want the Democratic Party to be the party that will have the bold agenda and that is also willing to push this agenda forward, because if the Democrats won’t do it, then who will do it?
We must continue this fight. That is what Our Revolution is about. We are about pushing issues, pushing progressive candidates, and transforming the Democratic Party, holding the Democratic Party accountable to the value proposition. Progress is not always pretty. Sometimes it is a little messy, but at the end of the day, if life is made better, if we can lift anybody a little higher, it is well worth the fight. That is what we do every single day.
I hate to call it a slogan, but one of the things that really motivates us with Our Revolution is we’re just really happy that Senator Sanders had the vision to call upon Americans in this country to stand up and create a revolution across this country to take back their voice. Campaigns end, but revolutions endure. This is a generational proposition, that all of us have an obligation to make this space better for the next generation coming after us, and that this cycle repeats again. That that next generation also has a moral obligation to push and make this country and this world better for the next and should be continued and continued and never end. The People’s Platform is our way of doing our part to push not only the Democratic Party, but to push the conversation in the political sphere about what it means to make this country better for everybody.
How can people find the People’s Platform and get involved with this?
They can go to www.OurRevolution.com. When they go there, the People’s Platform landing page pops right up. There is also summerforprogress.com. They can find it there, as well. Please, I want everybody to get involved. Take whatever part of the People’s Platform that matters most to them and push for that. Collectively, if we are working toward this end, we are going to see things change in this country. I really do believe it. We can’t do it without the people. Join us. We want them to join us.
Interviews for Resistance is a project of Sarah Jaffe, with assistance from Laura Feuillebois and support from the Nation Institute. It is also available as a podcast on iTunes. Not to be reprinted without permission.