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From Palestine to Black Lives Matter: Alicia Garza and Phyllis Bennis on Issues Ignored at the Debates

Black Lives Matter cofounder Alicia Garza discusses what the major-party candidates should have addressed in their debate.

In our special broadcast of the final 2016 U.S. presidential debate, we asked Black Lives Matter co-founder Alicia Garza what the major-party candidates should have addressed in their exchange: “I want to see more conversation about what it is going to take to preserve the quality of life of black people in this country, who are being systematically murdered, incarcerated, and otherwise marginalized and disenfranchised.”


NERMEEN SHAIKH: Let’s go back to last night’s showdown in Las Vegas. This is debate moderator Chris Wallace.

CHRIS WALLACE: What I’m asking you, sir, is: Do you want to see the court overturned? You’ve just said you want to see the court protect the Second Amendment. Do you want to see the court overturn Roe v. Wade?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, if we put another two or perhaps three justices on, that’s really what’s going to be — that will happen. And that’ll happen automatically, in my opinion, because I am putting pro-life justices on the court. I will say this: It will go back to the states, and the states will then make a determination.

HILLARY CLINTON: I do not think the United States government should be stepping in and making those most personal of decisions. So, you can regulate, if you are doing so with the life and the health of the mother taken into account.

CHRIS WALLACE: Mr. Trump, your reaction, and particularly on this issue of late-term, partial birth abortion?

DONALD TRUMP: Well, I think it’s terrible. If you go with what Hillary is saying, in the ninth month, you can take the baby and rip the baby out of the womb of the mother just prior to the birth of the baby.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: After this last presidential debate before the election, we asked Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter, about Donald Trump’s comments.

ALICIA GARZA: You know, it’s hard for me to take him seriously, to be honest with you. He essentially says that he single-handedly is going to change the course of this country’s future. He continues to use really egregious, less than factual stories that stoke fear, that stoke anxiety, and that defy logic and reason. And so, whether it was, you know, the conversation around abortion, or whether it’s the conversation around immigration reform, or even if it’s this conversation that he continues to bring up around law and order but then says that he’s going to be the best friend to African Americans that we’ve ever had, I mean, honestly, it’s hard to take him seriously.

The thing that just strikes me is that he is speaking to a set of audiences that are scared. They’re terrified about the future of this country. They feel disenfranchised. They feel left out. They feel like they’re being left out of decision making. And that’s not going to go away after Trump. Thank goodness Trump will go away, but, unfortunately, that level of anxiety, that level of fear, that level of distrust will not go away.

AMY GOODMAN: Wait, you said that Donald Trump —

ALICIA GARZA: And so, we’ve got to really pay attention to that.

AMY GOODMAN: You said Donald Trump will go away? Are you sure? We just heard this discussion about he will leave the country in suspense as to what he will do, if he lost the election.

ALICIA GARZA: You know, he keeps saying he’s got these surprises, that somehow never materialize. Donald Trump, in my estimation, is not going to win the presidency. And if he does, then we’ve got a lot of reckoning to do. But the thing that I’m more concerned about, quite frankly, again, is the millions of people that he has galvanized, who feel like they’re on the outside. And that is something that both parties are going to have to address. And quite frankly, it’s something that all of us are going to have to pay attention to.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: And what would you have liked, Alicia, for the candidates to be asked, I mean, including Donald Trump with, as you described, some of his more outrageous positions and postures? What should he have been asked? What should they both have been asked to address?

ALICIA GARZA: I mean, I think they addressed many of the major issues that are facing our country, but, quite frankly, over these last three debates, I have still been wanting to see more conversation around criminal justice reform. I want to see more conversation about what it’s going to take to preserve the quality of life of black people in this country, who are being systematically murdered, incarcerated, and otherwise marginalized and disenfranchised. I wanted to hear more from each of the candidates about how these movements that have emerged over the last few years have influenced their thinking around how they want to bring America into its future.

And quite frankly, just talking about gun control doesn’t cut it. We have an epidemic in this country of police murders and police violence, and neither candidate is addressing it, because, clearly, it’s not politically expedient to address it. But what’s at stake here is the lives of our families. What’s at stake are mothers who are losing their children at astronomical rates. And also what’s at stake are the attacks that are coming in more form recently against folks who have disabilities or other illnesses. These are things that we need to pay attention to. It’s not just a crisis of whether a toddler gets a hold of a loaded gun. Quite frankly, every 28 hours in this country, a black person is murdered by police, vigilantes or security guards. And if it’s not by police, then it’s by policies that strip black people of our right to dignity, to respect and to living a full and good life.

We have black people throughout the South that are being denied medical care and being denied insurance. Donald Trump talked about how ineffective Obamacare was. And, in fact, we should stop calling it that, right? It’s he Affordable Care Act. He talked about how ineffective it is, but, quite frankly, he didn’t address the fact that thousands of black people lack access to that very healthcare because Republican governors and Republican senators refuse — refuse — to take funding to expand Medicaid programs.

Things like that are things that black folks across the country are looking to hear, and we’re not hearing it. And I’m hoping that in this last 20 days both candidates get a little less tone deaf, stop using us as bait, and instead address the issues that we care about.

NERMEEN SHAIKH: During our debate night special, we took questions via social media from our audience.

AMY GOODMAN: One of the questions came into us from Twitter just now: “Do you support the ongoing MSM [mainstream media] self-imposed blackout on reporting on apartheid and Israel’s inhumane treatment of Palestinians?” I want to ask this to Phyllis Bennis, but first to Alicia Garza, because in the Black Lives Matter movement’s many-point plan, you address the issue of Palestinians.

ALICIA GARZA: Yeah. I mean, I think what’s important for folks to understand here is that there is lots of common cause between African Americans and Palestinians, and that is not a new relationship. That’s a relationship that has been forged over decades as a result of very similar feeling conditions that folks are existing in. And so, I think that it’s important that we open up these conversations to really address the concerns and the issues that are important to all of us. I think that what’s happening in Palestine and I think what we’ve seen through the Movement for Black Lives policy platform, certainly, is that there is a desire for social movements to connect to movements around the world and to support movements who are struggling and fighting for self-determination, as many of the movements here are, as well.

AMY GOODMAN: And, Phyllis Bennis, you’re a longtime observer and activist around the issue of Israel-Palestine. I don’t think there’s been a time recently where it’s been talked about less than in these last few months. Talk about the situation on the ground and what you think has to happen right now. We actually just recently had Ann Wright onDemocracy Now!, the colonel, the former American diplomat, who attempted to get to Gaza to challenge the naval blockade there with a group of women from around the world. They were taken into custody at Ashdod, the Israeli Navy, and she was sent back to this country.

PHYLLIS BENNIS: You know, I think it’s very important to keep in mind both the situation on the ground and the situation of the discourse here in the United States. What Alicia was just talking about is crucially important, the rising focus of the Movement for Black Lives on this connection, as Alicia said, a long-standing connection, but one that is getting new attention with the black community in the United States looking at the question of Palestine and the links of solidarity with Palestinians, something that emerged so sharply and so powerfully at the time of the uprising in Ferguson, when Palestinian activists were tweeting instructions for the — for their comrades and colleagues in Ferguson about how to deal with tear gas, because the tear gas used by the Israeli military against Palestinians is made in the United States. It’s the same tear gas. So they had a lot of experience with it. And that kind of immediacy made it rise to a new level.

But what we’re seeing is a scenario where we have an extraordinary shift in the public discourse on this question in the last five years, 10 years, really 15 years, where things that had never made it before to public discourse is now talked about quite normally. The question of Israeli apartheid was anathema a decade ago. Now it’s even talked about by top Israeli officials, who say — they differ on the timing: We say it’s already there; they say that if we don’t do something different, we’re going to face apartheid. So we have this massive shift in the discourse; a significant shift, not quite there, but a significant shift in the media coverage; only a tiny shift in some political discourse. The decision of 60 members of Congress to skip the speech of the Israeli prime minister this past year would never have happened before. But on the ground, the situation gets worse. So, it’s this dichotomy, the new challenge that we face to transform that discourse shift into a real policy shift, where we don’t see — instead of ending U.S. military aid to the 23rd wealthiest country to use for its consistent violations of international law and human rights, we see the Obama administration escalating the annual amount of aid, so that Israel will now start each year with almost $4 billion, with $3.8 billion a year of military aid coming from our tax money to support its military, without any restrictions on how it makes — how it uses that money, what weapons in the U.S. it’s able to buy.

So, we’re having a moment when, as we saw in all of these debates, the question of Israel, the relationship of Israel and the United States, did not come up. It didn’t come up again tonight. But we do see that there has been this extraordinary shift in the public discourse. The fact that it was addressed as, for Bernie Sanders’ campaign, the main foreign policy issue that he took up, that was then reflected in the debate over the Democratic Party platform. It didn’t end up well; the platform was as bad or perhaps worse than in 2012. But the fact that it was made an item that had to be fought for was very, very different. So I think there’s something to recognize the power of social movements here, but also recognize how far we still have to go, similar to the situation that we’re facing with — with refugees.

We heard tonight this claim from Donald Trump that Hillary Clinton had let in, as he said, tens of thousands of refugees from Syria who were all tied to ISIS. Wrong on all fronts. The fact that the U.S. government was proud of allowing in only 10,000 Syrian refugees in an entire year, in a period where for months Germany was taking in 20,000 a day during the height of the refugee crisis, was one more example. We don’t have a refugee crisis here; we have a racism crisis here. And the kind of Islamophobia, the ISIS bashing that we were hearing from Trump about these refugees, what that says about how far we have to go, the kinds of movements that we need to build, linking the antiwar work with the refugee support work in this country to transform how refugees are treated, so that they are welcomed, not grudgingly accepted — “Well, OK, if we have to take just 10,000 in a whole year, I guess we can” — but to say we welcome people. Young people should be demanding the right to go to school with Syrians. You know, we weren’t hearing any challenge to this sort of mainstream assumption that the refugees are inevitably dangerous, possibly violent, need to be vetted more than any other country in the world even imagines vetting. We heard no challenge to that tonight, and I don’t think we can assume that we will hear leadership from the candidates. It’s going to have to come from our movements.

AMY GOODMAN: Phyllis Bennis is a fellow at the Institute for Policy Studies. She’s written several books, including, most recently, Understanding ISIS and the New Global War on Terror. Thanks also to Alicia Garza, co-founder of Black Lives Matter. To watch our full three-and-a-half-hour debate night special, that includes the full Trump-Clinton showdown uninterrupted, go to Also, today we did a special two-hour extended broadcast. Just go to our website, as well. Mark your calendars for November 8th, for our five-hour election night special broadcast. You can follow us on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat.