I’d like to talk today about where to go from here and what’s at stake in changing our politics beyond voting.
Back in the anti-apartheid days, I used to start my speeches by saying “Amandla,” “Power.” But some people have enough power.
We ought to be talking about power to the people who are for justice, peace, freedom, and a love for all humanity.
That’s what progressive politics is about.
That’s what we ought to be about.
And we ought to be talking about peace not in terms of quiet. In Ferguson, we saw a lot of people parachuting in, and they talked about peace, but they were really talking about quiet.
We don’t need quiet in our country, where our politics is so guided by violence, and war, and killing, where we saw a President get on TV the other night and talk about American exceptionalism, like that was any different than Manifest Destiny or God’s Chosen People or somebody’s chosen people. But other people aren’t chosen. Other people have to give up their lives, their land, their labor.
We’ve got to move in a new direction in this country. It’s got to be more than voting for people who don’t reflect our values, be they black, be they white, be they whatever.
Look at President Obama, who looks a lot like George Bush, who looks a lot like Bill Clinton, who looks a lot like Richard Nixon. They all shared the idea that every President has to take this country to war.
We can’t give anybody a pass. We ought not think that President Obama—black guy, he’s got a nice wife, and a nice family, and they look good—he might do better, he might understand something.
Well, I know a lot of black politicians who believe that money is power, who believe they’re put in power for Wall Street, that they’re put in power for the people who have the money and the control.
We’ve all heard the comment, “We do better when we all do better.”
It’s time for this country to be about doing better.
It’s time for this country to be about protecting everybody, and looking at the people in the past who we’ve wronged.
Now you want to talk about Scott Walker?
I picked up the paper this morning and I looked at this voter ID law, and I also saw that Wisconsin, like South Carolina, is limiting Medicaid funding.
It’s politics based on keeping the niggers from getting something.
Keep them from voting.
Keep them from having health care.
And let the police shoot them down in the streets because they’re nothing but animals.
We’ve got to talk about changing the violent nature of our national politics and our local politics.
We’ve got to start putting people in power who aren’t about killing people.
It’s about equal rights, equal protection, and equal treatment for everybody.
And it ought not be about whether education is affordable; it ought to be about education being free.
Consider this: A tour of duty in Afghanistan and Iraq costs $1.5 million per person per tour, and these kids come back and they kill themselves at astronomical rates because war affects you. Killing people affects you.
And while we’re spending $1.5 million per soldier, we can’t find money to pay for education here at home. We can’t find that elusive peace dividend.
We’ve got to do better in this country.
And so to have a President who talks about going to war, a President who decides every Tuesday who is going to die, that President has no moral authority.
This country lost its moral authority a long time ago with all these wars. We’ve killed around thirty million people since the end of World War II, and yet we want to go around the world talking about American exceptionalism, about America’s great role.
It isn’t even about self-defense.
It’s about killing for power.
It’s about killing for money.
It’s about killing so corporations can steal people’s land, resources, lives, and labor.
We’ve got to demand that politicians, locally and nationally, give us something to vote for.
I’m never going to tell anybody not to vote. But we ought to be able to vote for some people we believe in. We ought to be able to vote for politicians who will end this culture of violence.
Someone asked me, “Did you go to Ferguson?”
I said, “No, we had thirty police shootings in South Carolina last year. I don’t need to go to Ferguson to learn about what police will do to a black person.”
And I’m not so sure about putting both of my hands up as a sign of rebellion. I’m still a fist-raised-in-the-air kind of a person: Power to the people. I don’t think putting your hands up is power to the people. I think that’s surrender.
We’ve got to start holding government, holding police, holding ourselves accountable.
We’ve got to be conscious of who we are as progressives. I’m looking out at this predominantly white crowd, and we’ve got to understand what skin privilege is, and what that means.
You might have heard about the police officer who was fired after some young guy asked him what his name was, and the officer said, “I’m officer Go Fuck Yourself.” Then the kid said, “Hey, Officer Go Fuck Yourself, where are you going?”
I knew that must have been a white kid because there is no black kid in America who is going to respond that way because that kid would be killed. That’s the way that would go. In South Carolina just last week a man going into his car for his wallet got shot by the highway patrol.
It’s either death by cop or death by Stand Your Ground. We’ve got to start developing strategies to combat this stuff. If it’s Stand Your Ground, we’ve got to fight it here in Wisconsin, just as we’ve got to fight it in Florida.
If we’re against the death penalty, we ought to be against the death penalty by cop, where a cop gets to decide to be judge, jury, and executioner often for crimes that if they were adjudicated, that person wouldn’t get the death penalty.
It’s all about “Stop or I’ll shoot.” And that’s not just a sadistic cop. That’s the government talking. “Stop or I’ll shoot, stop or I’ll kill you. Do what I say, at the point of this gun, or I will kill you.”
It’s about extending the death penalty.
We’ve got to organize locally to fight back.
We’ve got to organize citizen review boards that have the power to bring people to court and punish people who are sadistic, who kill people because they can.
It’s tough when you’re pulled over for a police stop and your life is in danger because you have a busted tail light, or your life is in danger because you made an illegal U-turn, or your life is in danger because somebody thinks a nigger is an animal and I can kill him and get away with it because no one’s going to say anything.
The police are always right. We send the police out to investigate the police, and 99 percent of the time the police come back and say it was a justified killing.
When we go out this fall we ought to demand that politicians revisit this idea that it’s always “Shoot to kill.” We need to take that power from the police.
At the national level, we ought to demand that politicians not be so quick to take us to war.
We ought to hold all of them accountable.
If we have to go to general strikes and sit out working, if we have to do like the people in Ferguson did and block the interstate, if we have to fight back against the police and stand and say no more, let’s do it.
We were so proud of you all in Wisconsin for going down to the state capitol to protest against Scott Walker and to sing in the rotunda. That brought a lot of hope to a lot of people. Wisconsin means something to somebody from South Carolina, who lives in the heart and soul of the Confederacy. We were proud to see the people of Wisconsin stand up and lead the progressive movement.
I want you all to continue to lead the progressive movement, and I invite you to be side by side with this movement we’re going to build together.
It’s movement time in this country.
It’s movement time.
It’s time to get back in the streets.
It’s movement time.
It’s time to rebuild multiracial coalitions.
It’s movement time.
It’s time to build multi-issue coalitions.
It’s movement time.
Power to the people.
Kevin Alexander Gray was Jesse Jackson’s South Carolina campaign manager in 1988 and Tom Harkin’s southern campaign coordinator in 1992. He is the past president of the ACLU of South Carolina, where he still lives. A frequent guest on national radio programs, Gray is the co-editor of Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence, recently published by Counterpunch. This piece was adapted from a speech he gave at Fighting Bob Fest on September 13 in Baraboo, Wisconsin.