Interview with Nina Turner conducted by Anoa Changa at the DNC winter meeting in Atlanta Georgia, Feb 24, 2017. Watch
Anoa Changa: How are you feeling today, after all the different talks, panels, and just thinking about where we are going next?
Nina Turner: I do feel encouraged. I think you have to feel encouraged. You do have to hold out hope because hope is what motivates us as human beings. Once we lose hope, it’s all over. It’s not a frivolous emotion, it is a real one that keeps pushing and driving us to continue to be better and do better and I am feeling that. Now, the proof will be in what happens tomorrow. It will really define the direction of this party. And not just for the members, not just for the 447 people who get to cast a vote, but for millions of Americans in this country who are counting on the Democratic Party to be a counterbalance to what some, not all, but the overwhelming majority, of Republicans and what they are doing that are trying to take us backwards in the country, unfortunately.
Anoa Changa: There are still so many people who are reluctant, or concerned about the Democratic party, regardless of what happens, even if Keith does prevail, are still concerned about the Democratic party and its ability to address the needs and concerns of the people, not just those who were part of the Bernie Sanders wing, but all of those who have been left out of the process, historically, for so long now. How do we help drive change and get back to our basics of talking to the people and representing the people?
Nina Turner: It’s ok for them to be concerned and there are days when I’m concerned. People should be honest and authentic about that. Electing one great, amazing chairman or chairperson is not going to change everything overnight. We’re talking about a system that has been created over time and it is going to take a little time to turn the ship around, to rebuild the integrity that the Democratic Party lost in 2016 during the primary election. So, having some concerns and fears is healthy, but I do want people to believe that that type of change is possible and that with the right leadership — That leader cannot do it alone. They need people within that structure and outside of that structure. I think there is an African proverb that says that “many hands make for light work” and we need many hands and we need everyday people that feel as though their voices are not heard or they don’t count, to get involved. To get engaged, because that change only happens through the grassroots and if we just look at our history as a country, all of the great movements happened not because of titled people and not because of people on high. Titles are good, but purpose is better and we need more people with purpose and you don’t need a title to have that. But all of the great movements in this country — It’s still Black History Month, right? Let me give a shout out to Black History Month, which is America’s history. But, if you look at people like Fannie Lou Hamer, one of my sheroes. She didn’t have a title, she was a sharecropper in Mississippi who decided she was going to register to vote. She was gonna vote, but not only that, she was gonna get involved in that movement that was going on in her great state and she lost a lot. It’s people like her, like Cesar Chavez, even Mother Teresa, who said I’m gonna give a damn about the poor. Of course, Mother Teresa didn’t curse, and, oh my God, President Nelson Mandela for God’s sakes, who had been in prison for 27 years. He went to prison at the age of 46 years old, did not get out of that prison till he was well into his 70s. He kept fighting for equality and justice for Black Africans in South Africa and he did in a way that both put South Africa on notice, but also in a way that brought the white Africans together. We must do this together, but you must be held accountable for what you have done wrong. And then he became President for God’s sake. So if President Nelson Mandela can do it, if Fannie Lou Hamer can do it, if Mother Teresa can do it, then other even lesser known folks, who — just everyday people put a little extra on their ordinary to make extraordinary things happen — then doggone it, we can do it too!
Anoa Changa: I love it. There is so many of us out there, almost two years now that have been involved in this progressive wing, this grassroots process. We’re doing it on top of working full-time jobs, folks are taking care of sick and elderly parents, raising kids, and what you just said, it gives so much value and purpose to what we have already been doing and it helps motivate the masses. So I was just wondering quickly, cause I know it’s been a long day so far, what are a few things people can do, to not just be involved on the national level or focusing on 2020, but what can we start doing on the local level? Because that local map, we need to change that, and that state map, county map. We have so many things in between. Betsy DeVos is bad, but what’s going on at the local level school board level?
Nina Turner: You better say that! I am so glad that you brought that up. Every school year there is an election. There is no such thing as an off-year election. People have to get involved and they have to vote. But, our progress starts before you get to the ballot box. The ballot box is the end of the process, it’s not the beginning of the process. So get involved, find a cause or find a candidate that you believe in. If being inside the political thing is not your thing, make sure you vote no matter what, but also adopt a school, mentor some kids, walk a block, help a neighbor. But there is always something we can do for the mosaic of humanity to advance the cause. None of us have the right in this country, we are blessed people, even the people who are the most distressed. We have almost 50 million people living in poverty and another 50 on the brink. We have a lot of work to do, to lift people, to give them opportunities, but there is always, always something we can do. But, we can’t advocate our responsibility to be a part of the process. Mayors and city council members and township trustees members, school board members matter just as much as electing a great President. Every single election year. No such thing as an off-year election. We gotta be on and poppin’ every year. Hashtag “the struggle is real,” hashtag “vote every year,” hashtag “stay woke!”
Anoa Changa: I love it, I love it. One of the good things I’ve gotten to do across this campaign is that I’ve gotten to meet wonderful people from all across the board. The past few months I’ve been working for Marcus Farrell at MPACT and we’ve two trainings so far, one in North Charleston and another one in Birmingham, Alabama, another one in Chicago, Baltimore. People are stepping up, being the change we need to see at the lower level. I know you know this, I know you hear this, you just speaking your truth and saying, “this is my heart and soul agreement, this is what I’m representing.” It resonates with people all over the place.
Nina Turner: I want to give a shout out to MPACT and Marcus, his leadership, and the team, and thank you so much for working with them. Marcus certainly worked for Senator Bernie Sanders. But to go in and train everyday people, not special folks, but folks that are on a mission to change their communities, is a beautiful thing and the fact that MPACT is focusing in, not on, Presidential elections, not on congressional elections, but focusing in on the local and state level really, really matters, because there are very few groups that are doing that in a concentrated way and also touching the very people that we need to come out to vote every year — not every four years, not every time you want them to come out to vote. That is what happens to the communities of color in particular who are treated like side pieces and I, for one, as a woman of color, African-American, say it loud, I am Black and I’m proud. I am a woman of color, I am quite disturbed at the Democratic party, at times. They have treated African-American community, and other communities of color, like the side piece. We want to be the main date, we want to get the ring, we want to get engaged, and we want to get married, so that means you have to talk to us every single year.
Anoa Changa: I love it, I love it. You just said it perfectly, you want to change things and not be in the society of fear and all this resistance is great, but unless we are actually getting there on the ground with the people in the communities from the hood to the holler, really actually talking and engaging folks, we are not going to move the needle.
Nina Turner: And you are so right about that and I want to close by saying, I know that some people are in fear right now, probably many of the people who watch what you do and the other progressives. They probably didn’t vote for Mr. Trump and I get it. Our everyday waking moment cannot be about Mr. Trump. We need some people focusing in on that, but the sun will come out tomorrow. If you have a job I’m sure the next day you are blessed enough to go and work that job. So, this really has to be about, first, having a consciousness about what is going on, but a commitment to make the change necessary to get a different result in the future. Right now and into the future. I am a spiritual woman and I do believe that there is a higher power and that no man or no woman is greater than that higher power. What am I saying? I am saying that we cannot live in fear, you have to get up with purpose every single day to make a difference and that the best is yet to come. There is promise in this problem and that if we want a different result — because elections have consequences and politics is about power and who wields that power. If you are not satisfied with the result, get to work right now to change that result. No more pity parties and no more blaming Mr. Trump for every little thing. We lost over 1000 seats since 2009, we being Democrats. That is well before Mr. Trump hit the scene.The Flint water crisis. Well before Mr. Trump hit the scene. There are over 3000 municipalities in this great country who have lead levels higher than Flint. All of that was before Mr. Trump. What I am saying, is that we have to hold elected officials accountable, whether they are Republican, Democrat, Libertarian, Green Party, no party. Hold them accountable for serving the people, because the power belongs to the people and so often people are made to feel they owe elected officials something. Take it from Senator Nina Turner, you don’t owe elected officials anything. It is called running for office, that means they need to run every year and they need to earn your vote every year, but ultimately the power is in your hands. We are a nation of overcomers. So if you are not happy with what’s happening right now, get out there and do something. My last African proverb says that “one should never build their shield on the battlefield.” It is shield-building time.
Transcription by Andre Roberge