2008: the most unprecedented election since George Washington’s. With less than a week to go before a record number of citizens hit the voting booth, the world has already witnessed groundbreaking progress in the nation’s efforts to live up to the tenets of equality and opportunity for all. The first African American major party nominee for the president, the first female VP Republican nominee and, of course, who can forget Hillary Clinton’s undeniably powerful bid that arguably paved the way for a Sarah Palin to even exist as a candidate. But in this year of unparalleled public engagement and participation, racism, gender marginalizing and bigotry are still in play. No, not so much for Barack Obama or Sarah Palin, but against the other candidates—yes, other candidates..
Meet Cynthia McKinney and Rosa Clemente, the presidential and vice presidential nominees for the Green Party of the United States. One would expect McKinney, former congresswoman representing the Fourth CD of Georgia, and Clemente, community organizer, journalist and political activist, to be propelled onto the national stage with the same vigor shown at least to the other third-party candidates. After all, McKinney, who is African American, and Clemente, an Afro-Puerto Rican, are the first ever minority female ticket in U.S. history. So why is it in a time of ‘firsts’ and an election termed the most ‘diverse and progressive’ have so few Americans even heard of McKinney, Clemente or their platform?
“Because we’re women of color, it’s like a double whammy,” explains Clemente. “The corporate, mainstream media has whited us out, but then the so-called progressive media turns around and does the same. When they do choose to talk about a third-party candidate, they still turn to a white male [Ralph Nader]. I can’t explain it, except for the fact that these outlets are still run by white people who don’t give credence to a strong woman of color.”
In fact, coverage of these women’s campaign has been virtually non-existent. In an election cycle consumed with the two-party candidates and their every move, the media has virtually wiped out the notion of a third party. In 2000, consumer advocate and attorney Ralph Nader represented the Green Party and took home some 2.8 million votes or about 2.7 percent of the electorate. Blamed by many for taking votes away from Al Gore, Nader’s success could be tied to the notion that he in fact received decent coverage by both independent and mainstream media. Even today, running as an Independent after losing the Green nomination to McKinney, Nader has appeared on PBS’ News Hour, while Brian Williams has featured a Nader piece on his NBC Nightly News program. He’s been all over the progressive/independent media circuit, while McKinney and Clemente struggle to get their issues heard.
“I don’t expect CNN to do something on us,” says Clemente, who accepted the VP nomination at the Green Party Convention in Chicago in July. “But what has been utterly shocking is the indie media. Most of them have chosen their pick, which is usually Obama, and they end up blocking everyone else out and doing exactly what they say is wrong with mainstream media. In the non-profit world, Obama is progressive. Even if they believe that, they should at least talk about us.”
Reporting that she and McKinney have received more press outside of the country, Clemente highlights appearances the two have made in major outlets like the BBC, Al Jazeera and countless others in Australia, Germany, England, New Zealand and Sweden to name a few. She cites Amy Goodman’s Democracy Now! on WBAI Pacifica, The Truth with Jeff Johnson on BET and Laura Flanders broadcasts on Air America Radio as some of the few media organizations that have allowed her and McKinney to have their voices brought into this all-important election.
At a time when the first African American man is running as a major party candidate for the highest office in the land, could racism and sexism be at play at levels we haven’t even imagined? Are minority women still at the bottom of the totem pole? Or is it McKinney’s strong and vocal stance on controversial issues such as COINTELPRO, 9/11, the Bush administration and racism itself that has removed her from the conversation altogether?
Perhaps it’s a combination of all of the above. Even when corporate news does take note, it’s often in the context of painting McKinney as a left-wing conspiracy theorist out of touch with reality, as the Washington Post did earlier this week.
“Cynthia had a distrust for the mainstream media because of the way they portrayed her, and the Green Party for that matter, in the past,” says Clemente, who first fell in love with McKinney’s policies and advocacy six years ago. “But we’re not looking for endorsements at the end of the day. I don’t want you to endorse me, I want you to put up my bio and get to know me and what I stand for.”
True reformists and change candidates, McKinney, Clemente and their party cite 10 key values in their platform, which include ecological wisdom, community based economics, feminism and gender equality and non-violence. Seeking to actively break the two-party system, the Greens, who are on the ballot in 32 states this year, hope to receive 5 percent of the electorate votes in order to remain on the ballot in the future.
And as for the notion of a Green Party vote taking away support from the Democratic nominee, Clemente, who garnered her start as a hip-hop activist with the Malcolm X Grassroots Movement, says such accusations are merely ridiculous. She holds young people accountable for not questioning Obama enough and not critiquing some of his actions, such as the change in his stance on the FISA Bill authorizing unwarranted wiretaps.
“As the hip-hop generation, we analyze and question everything,” she says. “How are we just going to sit back and accept anything. If Cynthia were polling at 99 percent you would have to hold her responsible. And people who say we are going to take votes away from Obama, well I guess we were that big of a threat then.”
Not since Ross Pero, has a third-party candidate appeared in the presidential debate forum. In this year of cracks and crevices in the glass ceiling, a thick clear pane remains all-too-visible and sturdy. It is one that women of color in this country have pounded against from the days of slavery, to the days of domestic work, to the present day unequal pay and unequal job opportunity hierarchy.
“I represent womanism, not feminism,” adds Clemente in the final days of the election. “Feminism always had somewhat of a racist component in it. Even with Hillary’s run, I feel as if she was subconsciously only speaking to white women. I won’t take away from the fact that she did run a tough campaign … And for journalists and media who have refused to cover us because they think we’re not going to win, that’s a silly and lazy argument and they don’t need to be in this field. At the end of he day, you cover the other team; not both are going to win of course, but you let people make up their own minds.”By Nida Khan for The Women’s Media Center. Nida Khan is an independent journalist working in both print and radio. Her work has been published by the Associated Press, The Women's Media Center, Alternet, The Source and DUB Magazines, among several others. She's a regular contributor for WRKS 98.7 Kiss FM, and has appeared as a commentator and correspondent on Michael Baisden's nationally syndicated program.