Dissident Vice-Presidential Contender Challenges “Genocide Joe” and Trump “The Devil”

Caption: Drs. Cornel West and Dr. Melina Adbullah at a campaign fundraiser in Los Angeles. Photo by Jarid Barringer.

Activist academic/BLM organizer Melina Abdullah discusses Palestinians, abolishing police and military budgets, the two-party system and her White House run.

In April, Dr. Melina Abdullah tossed her hat into the ring, becoming the running mate of independent presidential candidate Dr. Cornel West, the renowned scholar/author/public intellectual. Los Angeles-based Abdullah is a Pan-African Studies professor at California State University and Black Lives Matter co-founder. If elected, the longtime organizer, who calls herself a “socialist,” would be America’s first Muslim vice president.

Those who dismiss Abdullah’s third-party race for the second highest office in the land as a longshot, quixotic quest at best or spoiler at worst should consider that stranger things have happened. Who could have foreseen that political prisoners Nelson Mandela or playwright Václav Havel would have risen from prison to the presidency of South Africa or then-Czechoslovakia? In this interview conducted by phone in LA, Dr. Melina Abdullah elaborated on the Justice for All party’s peace program, defunding police, the Republican-Democratic duopoly and the West/Abdullah campaign for “truth, justice and love.”

Ed Rampell: Were you recently in Hawaii?

Dr. Melina Abdullah: I [went to] Honolulu [for] a National Conference on Race and Ethnicity, one of the most racially progressive organizations in higher ed. I was a speaker on several panels and also listened to some phenomenal representatives. There were lots of linkages made between the racial justice movement in the US and what’s happening globally, especially the genocide on Palestinians.

Corporate media has called you a newcomer to politics. This may be true regarding electoral politics, but you’ve been politically engaged for decades. Please tell us about your political involvement?

I always say that when I was born, I breathed in politics. Politics is defined as engagement with power structures, the way that power circulates in the world. I was born in the 1970s in Oakland – that’s an impossible time and place to not be political. I’m grateful for that early grounding.

I did some student organizing work. My brother and I handed out newspapers in the park with my socialist father, it gave us a grounding around how to talk with people and engage in politics. I’ve always been involved and understood that people are powerful and igniting people power is hugely important.

I became more formally involved in movement building when I was a college student at Howard University. When I moved to LA I attended hearings into whether the CIA brought crack cocaine into South Central LA.

I was involved since my teenage years in struggles for justice for Black people brutalized or killed by police, like Amadou Diallo, Rodney King and Margaret Mitchell. I’m one of the original organizers that formed Black Lives Matter. I’d been involved in organizing work with Patrisse Cullors prior to the formation of BLM. July 13, 2013, I was involved, first in the streets, the day George Zimmerman was acquitted in the murder of Trayvon Martin. Patrisse called many of us together to more deliberately organize for justice. We met and committed to building a movement – not a moment – which we called “Black Lives Matter.”

Do you think your candidacy can help the left make a national breakthrough?

I know that we already are. This is a moment when people are ready to look at electoral politics as another tool – not the only tool – as a struggle for real justice. The veil has been lifted on the two-party system. My children would never vote for “Genocide Joe” – what they call Biden – or Trump. It’ll never benefit us if we confine our votes to corporate-owned parties.

What platform are you and Dr. West running on?

Truth, justice and love. What that means is real justice, tangible justice, measurable justice. That means investing in housing for all. We talk about educational justice in much fuller terms that require a transformation of society. The two-party system is grappling with minimal student loan debt forgiveness; we talk about investing in public education, from pre-K to Ph.D., that’s quality and free, so you shouldn’t need student loans, because education should be free. We talk about healthcare justice, much differently even than the Democratic Party’s most progressive wing – it doesn’t just mean universal healthcare for all, it also means addressing things like medical apartheid and Black mothers and infant mortality.

The platform we’re running on says to get to the world we want, need and deserve, we have to be abolitionist and even radical in our thinking, willing to completely upend systems of harm and usher in systems that benefit us all. So nationally that means we have to stop spending 62 cents out of every [tax] dollar on the military. If we invested just a small piece of that we could house everybody. In California, that means divesting from prisons and police and investing in universal needs of people.

Even as somebody who’s been in people-powered politics all my life and has a Ph.D. in political science, I didn’t realize how rigid the barriers were to ballot access. In California, for an independent candidate to get on the ballot, we have to register a new political party, so ours is the Justice for All Party. It takes 73,000 signatures to get on [California’s] ballot.

That ballot barrier to third party candidates is one of the few bipartisan agreements between Democrats and Republicans.

That’s right. Because both have a vested interest in making sure there is no real democracy, no real opportunity for you to vote for [another] vision or choice. Instead, you’re locked into voting for parties advancing the interests of the ownership class, capitalism and corporate greed. In fact, a two-party system is one of the most undemocratic things you can have. The idea that if you’re not a Democrat or Republican, you can’t even be a choice for consideration.

Democrats and Republicans also agree on US support for Israel. What would you like to see change if you were part of the executive branch?

Very clearly, immediately, there has to be no US funding for genocide! There has to be US support for humanity, for the Palestinian people. People see that for the past eight months, there is no war happening, a genocide is happening. It doesn’t just impact the now more than 40,000 people who have been genocided, the tens of thousands of children orphaned, the hundreds of thousands of folks injured, suffering famine, one of the worst crimes against humanity in human history. Even for a completely immoral person who doesn’t care about human beings, it’s still impacting you. Because those dollars going to the Israeli government aren’t going to education, healthcare, good jobs, housing here. The executive branch has the power to stop those dollars from flowing to Israel and to direct its foreign policy to oppose what’s happening.

What do you mean by “defund the police” and what type of public safety do you envision would keep Black and other people safe?

If we look at the budgets of major cities throughout the country, most spend about 50% of their general funds on policing. So, just like we looked at the federal budget and say that’s too much money for the military, if we look at local and state budgets, it’s too much money for police and prisons. Budgets are moral documents. If you’re spending that much money on police, you’re not spending to house your people.

When we started saying “defund the police,” it was take away the dollars from these violence workers who harm our community and invest in the things we know keep our communities safe. If we look at data for cities around the country, the safest neighborhoods are the ones with the most resources, not the most police. Defund the police is about divesting from things that harm communities and building the things that make safe communities.

That doesn’t mean abandoning public safety, it’s recognizing if everyone has what they need, you drastically reduce crime. And we invest in people who know their neighborhood best. We believe in community safety teams, where people are resourced to provide services to their own communities

What is your view of the Trump guilty verdict, campaign and MAGA movement?

Trump is the embodiment of the devil. He deserves everything he’s gotten – I’m saying this, even as an abolitionist. As long as there are prisons, people like Donald Trump should be the first one in them.

It gives light to the idea that investment in third party candidates is necessary now. We see who Trump is – but we also see who Biden is. The Democratic Party tried to sell a “lesser of two evils” argument. Data says third parties mobilize new voters, much more than they do take voters from other parties. If people don’t want to vote for Democrats or Republicans, it’s because they haven’t earned their vote. [With] Trump’s conviction there’s data around likely Trump voters dropping. Why are people so beholden, why are people being duped into believing they can only vote for a Democrat or Republican? Now’s the time to invest in a third party.

What do you think of the Joe Biden/Kamala Harris rule and campaign?

My children are right – he’s absolutely “Genocide Joe.” I don’t see how any righteous person could cast their vote for someone who is partially responsible for the genocide of tens of thousands. That’s not the only thing he’s done wrong – but that’s one of the most horrific things. I also know, as a Black person, that the filling up of prisons and over-policing of Black communities, he’s responsible for that, too.

For more info: https://www.cornelwest2024.com/.

Ed Rampell was named after legendary CBS broadcaster Edward R. Murrow because of his TV exposes of Senator Joe McCarthy. Rampell majored in Cinema at Manhattan’s Hunter College and is an L.A.-based film historian/critic who co-organized the 2017 70th anniversary Blacklist remembrance at the Writers Guild theater in Beverly Hills and was a moderator at 2019’s “Blacklist Exiles in Mexico” filmfest and conference at the San Francisco Art Institute. Rampell co-presented “The Hollywood Ten at 75” film series at the Academy Museum of Motion Pictures and is the author of Progressive Hollywood, A People’s Film History of the United States and co-author of The Hawaii Movie and Television Book.