New Voice on the National Political Scene
Addresses Tribute to Black Women's Luncheon - Denver
by Annette Walker
"There is a crisis of conscience in this nation," said Nina Turner, keynote speaker at the Colorado Black Women for Political Action's recent luncheon. "I am here to wake your conscience," she exclaimed as she left the podium to walk among the hundreds of persons present.
This new voice on the national political scene has her own ideas about communicating with people. She removes the traditional physical distance between the speaker and the audience. Therefore, much of her talk was delivered as she moved around the room.
Turner is at once an active Democrat as well as a Board member of Bernie Sanders' Our Revolution Movement. The former Ohio State legislator has been politically engaged with both Bill and Hillary Clinton. In 2014 Bill Clinton supported her in her unsuccessful run for the position of Ohio Secretary of State. Last November, however, she decided to endorse Bernie Sanders for the Democratic Presidential nomination.
In a post-luncheon interview with the Urban Spectrum, Turner outlined her reasons for her preference for Sanders.
"Bernie has been consistent in his beliefs for social justice since the 1960s," she said. "We agree upon some of the most prominent issues facing this country." She mentioned the following: 1) A wealth gap in which income increases go to the top 1%, making the rich even richer; 2) The wealthy do not pay their fair share of taxes; 3) The electoral campaign system and politics in general are corrupted by big money. 4) Health care should be a right, not a privilege.
Turner pointed out that there are 29 million persons who still do not have healthcare insurance, and even more remain underinsured.
She indicated that Sanders worked with CORE (Congress on Racial Equality) when he was a student at the University of Chicago and has been a constant champion of civil rights.
She agrees with Sanders that a political revolution is needed in the United States. This concept places them outside mainstream thinking in the Democratic Party.
"The time is up for establishment politics," she said.
Turner has joined with other African-Americans in supporting Sanders. Among them are Congressman Keith Ellison, a Democrat from Minnesota and the first and only Muslim in the U.S. Congress; Ben Jealous, former Executive Director of the NAACP; Dr. Cornel West, scholar and activist; Danny Glover, actor and activist; Spike Lee, film director; Erica Garner, daughter of Eric Garner who was killed by policemen in 2014 in Staten Island, New York (her mother supported Hillary Clinton); and a variety of state legislators across the country,.
During her talk at the CBWPA luncheon, Turner referenced other African-Americans who are independent thinkers. She repeatedly displayed profound admiration for Shirley Chisholm, the U.S. Congressional Representative from Brooklyn who, in 1972, became the first African-American woman to run for President. Turner pointed out how Chisholm perceived herself.
"Chisholm said that her candidacy was not about being a Black person or a woman." Turner emphasized. "She was neither locked into any special interest groups, nor did she have any big name endorsements. She said she was the candidate of the people of America, and she considered herself 'Unbought and Unbossed'."
After graduating from high school Turner did not immediately enroll in college. She worked in fast food and retail businesses. This gave her a close-up view of workers' issues, such as the need for minimum wage increases and workplace fairness.
Upon graduation from Cleveland State University, she entered the political arena as a legislative aide first in the Cleveland Mayor's office and then in the Ohio Senate. Turner then held several state and federal positions and eventually won a City Council seat. In 2008 she was appointed to fill a seat vacated in the Ohio State Senate, and in 2010 ran unopposed.
While in the Senate Turner sponsored legislation designed to give women more control over regulations about reproductive health. She also served on the Commerce and Labor, Education, Transportation, and Judiciary Criminal Justice Committees.
Turner currently teaches history at Ohio's Cuyahoga Community College and is an occasional commentator on MSNBC-TV.
She is in a unique situation regarding law enforcement. Both her husband and son are employed in criminal justice. "My son may be in danger when he's in uniform with a badge, and equally in danger when he's out of uniform because he's a Black man," she said. Her son accompanied her to Denver for the CBWPA event.
Although Turner never mentioned Donald Trump's name, she did comment on his current call for law and order. "There can be no law and order without justice and transparency," she said.
She pointed out a significant contradiction in U.S. society. "This is a nation of progress, but it is a nation founded on racism," she said. "This can be overcome, but first it is necessary to admit that racism exists. Some people only talk about this at election time or at special events."
Regarding the current political and social climate, she acknowledged that many people feel unsettled and there are good reasons for this. Turner also posed a few questions that people need to ponder in order to resolve some issues facing this country. 1) Who is going to stand up for what's right? 2) What price are you willing to pay?
Although she did not lay out a specific plan of action, Turner left much 'food for thought'. 1) "We are our brother's keeper. 2) We cannot ask others to do more for us than we can do for ourselves. 3) Remember to use what her grandmother called 'motherwit', that is common sense. She said that her grandmother often commented about people that she considered 'educated fools'. 4) The 3 Bones: the Wishbone which makes use of hope and prayer; the Jawbone which grants you courage to speak truth-to-power; and Backbone which gives you the strength to proceed.
Turner has published a 3 Bones Journal (www.ninaturner.net) in which she encourages people to document and write about their experiences and engage in flashbacks in order to take stock of their lives.
Turner encourages people to remember that "The Struggle is Forever".
This article appeared in the November 2016 edition of the Denver Urban Spectrum.