An Interview with Peta Lindsay
Over the past few months, we have been inundated with news about Obama and Romney -- especially about their policies in terms of women. But did you know that there's a woman running for president? You may not have heard of her, but Peta Lindsay is the 2012 presidential candidate of the Party for Socialism and Liberation.
According to the PSL website, Lindsay is a 2008 graduate of Howard University and currently lives in Los Angeles where she remains a leader and is currently pursuing a master’s degree in education from the University of Southern California with the goal of becoming a public school teacher. She has represented the U.S. anti-war movement and the Party for Socialism and Liberation at important conferences and mass gatherings across the globe. For over a decade, Lindsay has helped to lead countless demonstrations across the country against imperialist wars, racism, budget cuts, tuition hikes, police brutality, anti-LGBT bigotry, and in support of immigrant rights, women’s rights and the Palestinian people’s right to self-determination, and has been a tireless advocate for the rights of working people and for socialism.
Ms. Lindsay graciously took a break from campaigning to answer some questions for the FBomb.
When and why did you decide to run for president? Did you always dream of running for President or were your actions more a response to the political climate (etc)?
I have been an activist and organizer for a long time and I truly believe that it is the mass movement of the people – not the politicians – who make real change. If you look at everything that oppressed people have won in this country, from civil rights for African Americans to labor rights and women’s rights – none of these things were gifts from politicians. Every single thing that we have won, we have won by organizing and fighting back in our communities, in our schools and on the job.
I’ve been organizing since middle school. When I was in 6th grade I joined the Philadelphia Student Union, a citywide group fighting for more money for our public schools. We also did a lot of work against racism, particularly the institutionalized racism in our school system. In 1996, I helped lead a protest in which 2,000 students walked out of Philadelphia schools to advocate for increased public school funding. Since high school, I have been a leading organizer in the ANSWER Coalition, which stands for Act Now to Stop War and End Racism. In over a decade of working with ANSWER, I’ve been able to help to lead countless demonstrations against the wars, against racism, for immigrant rights and women’s rights, against racist police brutality, and more. Last year, we were main organizers in the Million Hoodies March in Los Angeles demanding justice for Trayvon Martin.
This campaign is a continuation of my work in the people’s movement. In 2004, I became a founding member of the Party for Socialism and Liberation, a socialist party that is dedicated to building and uniting struggles all over the United States. As a group, the PSL decided to run a political campaign for president and vice president. I was nominated as the presidential candidate, and Yari Osorio was nominated as the vice presidential candidate.
This is a critical time for socialists to participate in the elections. All over the world, people – especially young people – are taking to the streets against a system that produces huge profits for a wealthy few while increasing misery for the rest of us. In the past few years, we’ve seen powerful movements in Tunisia, Egypt, Greece, Spain, Italy, Montreal and elsewhere. Whether it’s youth unemployment, war or skyrocketing tuition that has brought people into the street, all over the world young people are waking up and fighting back, and the United States is no exception. The Democrats and Republicans have no real solutions to the problems that are facing young people right now because they are problems that are endemic to the capitalist system.
We entered this election to reach out to people who are looking for change and think voting for this or that politician will bring it. Our message is this: The elections are a sham. These politicians are bought and sold by the 1%. Their duty is not to the people but to protecting a system of inequality, racism and endless war. We are in the elections to expose the elections and to make demands for the real changes that working people need. We have a 10-Point Program (you can read it at VotePSL.org) that says things like “Make a job a Constitutional right,” “Make free health care, free education and affordable housing Constitution rights,” “Shut down all U.S. military bases around the world—bring all the troops, planes and ships home” and “Cancel all student debt.”
We want to reach people who are struggling and draw them into building a movement that demands these things, a movement that says: You know what? This is the richest country in the world. This wealth was built on our labor and this wealth should be used to provide the things that we need. Only by fighting for these things can true change be made. And only by fighting for these things can we actually win.
Considering that at 27 you are too young to become President (the age minimum according to the Constitution is 35), what do you hope to accomplish by running? What are your main goals?
Let’s talk about that issue, the Constitutional age requirement. There would have been a point in the history of this country when I wouldn’t have been constitutionally eligible because I was born a woman, or because I am Black. The Constitution has been changed and the only way that it was changed is because oppressed sectors of society refused to accept their marginalization and they fought to be included in the political process.
If you look at the problems that are facing our society today, I think one of the biggest issues is unemployment and underemployment. In the United States, youth unemployment – that’s unemployment for those between the ages of 18 and 24 – is the highest it’s been since the government began recording those statistics. The gap in employment between the young adults and all working-age adults is the widest in recorded history. Unsurprisingly, poverty rates are higher for this segment of the population as well.
Skyrocketing tuition, cuts to education on every level and massive student loan debt are also huge, huge problems right now. And again, the situation is far worse for young people than any other segment of the population. I live in California, where the tuitions have shot up 316 percent in just the past 10 years! Nationwide, student loan debt for last year’s graduating class was the highest in history – but tuition still goes up every single year.
Think about the issue of age this way: According to the Constitution, Congress is supposed to declare war. Well, the average age of a Congressperson is close to 60. The average age of a soldier fighting in Afghanistan is 19. So those who declare war are more than three times as old as those who have to do the fighting, and are well protected by that fact.
Given that we are so disproportionately affected by the policies of this government, why do we, young people, just accept our exclusion from any role in shaping these policies? Why is it okay to keep us out of this process? I believe the age requirement is arbitrary.
And more than that, it ties into my earlier point about how true change comes from the movement. In all of the great historical struggles in our country – the powerful movements of strikes, protests, sit-ins and building takeovers that have made real change – the leadership has always been young people, it’s always been young people at the forefront of these struggles. So I think policies like the age requirement, or even telling young people they have no political voice until they’re 18 and can vote, is a way of denying young people their historic role as the agents of real change in our society.
But like I said, we’re not in this to win the election. My age is not the reason that I won’t win the election. I won’t win because I’m not a pro-capitalist candidate. I am not the candidate of the big banks or corporations. But this campaign has given us wonderful opportunities to travel, to meet people, to speak with student groups, community groups, high school and college classes. It has given us a platform from which to raise consciousness and build the struggle. Lots of people pay attention to the elections. It’s in the news 24 hours a day. We can’t just sit on the sidelines when that happens. We have to get in there too.
With 150 million people in poverty or low-income right now, a lot of people are angry. We are running a presidential campaign to call for real solutions. Through this campaign, we’ve been able to hit the streets and let people know that we don’t have to just get angry, we can get active and we can make change.
What do you think are the most important political issues for our generation? Do you feel that millennials are apathetic about the political system or do you feel that we are mobilizing around these issues?
There are many important political issues of our generation. Education is functionally being denied to thousands of us through budget cuts and increasing costs of tuition. Student debt is a burden we are set to bear for the rest of our lives, and that our families bear. We have seen a massive growth of the prison system and increases in racist police brutality at a time when unemployment for young people has skyrocketed. Last year, the official unemployment rate for youth aged 15 to 24 was almost 15 percent – something the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development said would have a “scarring effect.” Often the only job available to young people is to be sent to fight in wars and occupations abroad, killing and terrorizing our innocent brothers and sisters around the world.
Many young people do feel apathetic about the current political system. Many of them cannot vote and feel their needs are not represented by the politicians in positions of power. But that is different from being totally apathetic or immobilized. My experience, and the experience of the PSL, has been that young people are taking on leadership roles in building movements across this country. Young people are fighting for immigrant rights and the DREAM Act. Young people have led marches against the racist murders of Oscar Grant, Sean Bell, Trayvon Martin and countless others. There are those who stand with their teachers and fellow students against the attempts to privative education, the veterans and soldiers who have come out against the imperialist occupations of Afghanistan and Iraq, and so on.
These are all examples of a generation that is mobilized and beginning to recognize the need for action to make their rights a reality. Each of these is an example that is repeated and magnified through different struggles, despite many young people being disenfranchised, and despite facing deep crises in access to education and work.
Do you identify as a feminist? Has running for President as a black woman impacted your feelings about gender and/or race in society today?
I have identified as a feminist for as long as I can remember. I think it’s so ridiculous when women say they’re not feminists. I’m like, “But you wear pants. You have a job. You vote. …” It’s crazy, people completely take for granted what the struggles of our foremothers have brought them.
That isn’t to say that there aren’t problems with the feminist movement, historically. For one thing, the current leadership of the movement often spends much of its resources supporting the Democrats, who do have a better position on women’s rights than the Republicans, but often don’t hesitate to bargain away our rights. Like when President Obama was trying to settle the budget with House Speaker Boehner and said, “I’ll give you abortion in D.C.” Just like that, giving away access to abortion for low income women in the District of Columbia.
Roe v. Wade was upheld and Title X was passed under Nixon, a notoriously racist, sexist pig of a president. But that’s because it was the late 1960s and early 1970s, there was a fighting feminist movement in the streets who forced those concessions from the government. And in the absence of that movement, we’ve lost a lot of ground on those rights.
As a Black woman, I think it’s also important to point out that historically, the leadership of the feminist movement has often refused to recognize the struggles of working-class women and women of color. It’s so important that we understand that while abortion rights are important, they are not the beginning and end of women’s rights or women’s issues. Access to affordable healthcare is a women’s issue. Ending mass incarceration and racist police brutality is a women’s issue. Full rights for undocumented workers is a women’s issue.
I am very active in a new group that just formed this past summer: WORD, which stands for Women Organized to Resist and Defend. WORD is dedicated to rebuilding that fighting feminist movement that I’m talking about. Our demands are fourfold – you can find more info at DefendWomensRights.org – but what we’re calling for is access to reproductive health and information; defense of women in the workplace, including equal pay; an end to the budget cuts and slashing of social services that punishes poor women; and equality for all, an end to racism, anti-LGBT bigotry and exploitation. We are building this movement independent of any political party and our focus is to be active in the streets. We want women and their allies to remember that “No politician gave us rights, we took them!”
But getting back to the experience of running for president as a Black woman: I am honored to be continuing the tradition of fighters like Shirley Chisholm. And I am amazed at how far the struggle against racism and sexism in this country has come. I can see it in the way our campaign has received such widespread support from so many different kinds of people. I believe that this is a deeply, deeply racist country. It was founded on the genocide of the Native Americans, the theft of their land and the massive and brutal exploitation of African labor. I believe that racism continues to serve the interest of the ruling class. It keeps poor people fighting each other instead of struggling against the ones who made us poor. But I do believe that racism can be overcome through struggle.
We’ve come a long way and we have a long way to go, but ultimately we will never have the society that we deserve unless we unite and fight for it together. I think that working people are realizing that our interests are fundamentally the same. This campaign has been a blow against the racism that divides us. I will continue the struggle against racism. It’s the most important work of my life.
You have spent a lot of time campaigning and speaking to young voters. Have you interacted with anybody (or groups of people) who specifically left an impression on you?
Wow, I have met so many amazing people in this campaign, I wouldn’t even know where to start with this question, really. My favorite speaking engagements are always at high schools. High school students say the most amazing things. It’s great to engage with them about the reality of how history is made, how it’s people just like them who got fed up and got active and built movements that changed our country for the better. They teach you to think about history in a certain way in school. They don’t tell you that you can be a part of it.
We’ve had a great time doing outreach at college campuses. Students are really feeling fed up with a system that has so little to offer them. We’ve had so many students tell us that they really like socialist ideas but didn’t know there were other socialists out there, didn’t know there was a socialist movement in the United States. That’s great, that’s why we’re doing this campaign. I’m like, “Nice to meet you, sign up here!”
Recently, we had a very profound meeting with a small group of individuals in one of the poorest areas of Buffalo, New York. The entire Upstate New York region has been so devastated by deindustrialization. Under this system, we have political rights, we get to vote for a Democrat or Republican every four years, but we don’t have economic rights. When a factory is going to close down in an area of Buffalo and devastate the people who live there, do they get a say, is there ever a vote over whether the factory stays and they get to keep their jobs and the neighborhood gets to keep thriving? Of course not. Only the owners, the capitalists, make those decisions. And the result is that cities like Buffalo are all over the United States, were thousands of people, millions of people, were left out in the cold because our system prioritizes profit over people’s lives.
So we had a great meeting in Buffalo. They understood the reality of capitalism. They understood the reality of racist police. Like I said, this campaign isn’t about fundraising or about votes, it’s about reaching the most oppressed and building the struggle against that oppression.
Any advice for young women hoping to go into politics?
Get involved! There is no reason why each and every one of us shouldn’t get involved.
As young women, we are facing multiple crises. It is tough to find a job when we need to. It is nearly impossible to fund our educations. The middle and high schools we attend are seeing their budgets slashed every year. We have limited or no access to health care while there is a concentrated effort to deny us our right to make decisions about our own bodies. And the list goes on and on.
Young women have the potential to play a leadership role in building a people’s movement that is capable of putting forward real solutions to the problems we face. That’s what the Lindsay/Osorio Campaign is all about it. As I tell the high school students every time I speak, don’t wait for permission to struggle – you’ll never get it. Get out there now and get involved!
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