In the 2008 U.S. Presidential election, two women of color ran for office and nearly nobody knew their names. One of these women was Rosa Clemente, a community organizer, journalist, hip-hop activist, and Green Party vice-presidential candidate. When speaking at the University last Thursday, Oct. 22, Clemente made sure to address why this oversight occurred. Clemente discussed at length the racism faced by Afro-Latins, the Black Lives Matter movement, and the potential for new politics for a shifting generation with new demographics and majorities.
To begin, Clemente spoke to the audience about the University and the specific work being done on campus. She gave a piece of advice to the student-activists who have been working to make organizational changes to The Argus.
“[It is important to] make every site a place of resistance,” Clemente said.
She used this to begin speaking about the historically racist nature of elite institutions, such as the University, and the dynamics students of color have faced in the past and continue to face to this day. She referenced the way ethnic minorities have had to fight for their agency, ethnic studies programs on campuses, and space at elite colleges and universities.
“Let me make it clear, these institutions were not created for us,” she said.
Two students in particular in the audience felt this had resonated deeply with them and sought to unpack their roles as students of color at a historically white and privileged institution.
“Something that particularly struck me was her point about racial and ethnic studies at universities and how it was communities of color that took action and forced universities to implement these courses,” said Brenda Quintana ’18. “Her talk also made me think about what my responsibility as a student of color is to my community back home, as well as future students of color.”
Grace Wong ’18 further spoke the problems surrounding education.
“We are fully conscious of how corrupt education is,” Wong said. “So why are we in it? Why are we here if we know we aren’t going to follow that corporate line of getting a job and accumulating wealth? Why are we here working and studying? What are we doing it for? We have to re-think. We have to ask, ask, ask. Then listen, listen, listen.”
Although Wong critiqued these institutions, she also addressed the importance of students of color having access to higher learning for not only the educational value, but the building of one’s politics and becoming a multifaceted person within such systems.
Clemente spoke to her personal experiences working within these systems during her time at Cornell University, and how they allowed her to develop her own politics. She described the disbelief she felt as she learned in the safety of a classroom about the historical context necessary to understand her position in society. Along with her college experience, she referenced the time she spent in New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and Ferguson during the protests, which greatly impacted her policies and ideas on how to reform a broken political system.
“What we need is complete dismantling of white supremacy, capitalism, and patriarchy,” Clemente said.
She then elaborated on her ideas for an entirely grassroots movement. She believes that we need to focus on climate change, food accessibility, immigration reform, economic inequality, and a change in the way that society defines blackness. Clemente then commented on the the dichotomy in the discussion about who is black.
“Until we have a mass movement on racial consciousness, we will have people from the Dominican Republic who claim they are not black,” she said. “Why don’t they want to claim blackness? Because black gets you killed.”
She discussed that although public systems are being destroyed, groups such as Black Lives Matter are gaining attention, which is very important. She further explained that we are in an important time period and witnessing history in the making; people are building a movement where humanity is not being demanded, but taken. Clemente talked about her hopes for a brighter future and what needs to happen in politics for our changing society in order to make that future a reality.
“The people are awakening to something new and we are on the cusp of major political change, but there is hard work that is necessary to making this happen,” she said.
Clemente noted that sacrifice, organization, and passion are necessary components for success. More importantly, she addressed the need to be critical. Wong agreed with this statement.
“In order for activism to make real change, we all have to transform the way we think,” Wong said. “We have to reflect, and question, and grapple with everything we are a part of.”
Clemente stated that the process of thinking about ways for creating better politics for a modern America is never complete.
“You need to keep internally having revolutions within yourself,” Clemente said.
After the Q&A session, Clemente allowed her young daughter to take the stage. She led the audience in a few chants, starting with “I believe that we will win” and ending the event with another powerful statement.
“It is our duty to fight for freedom and win,” she said. “We have nothing to lose but our chains.”