Better World honoree Nelini Stamp remarks to the Better World Awards, 2016

Better World honoree Nelini Stamp

Remarks to the Better World Awards on December 11th, 2016

 

Introductions from Tsedeye Gebreselassie

Hey everyone.

There’s a lot of thoughts, and I am a person of many words, so I will try to keep this short.

I know a lot of people are afraid, wondering why this happened, wondering where we’re going back to, but I actually see that this moment has happened because we’ve moved forward so much.

Donald Trump and what has been happening – this backlash as I call it – is a backlash against how much our movements have won. From the “Not One More” campaign, saying that no person is illegal, that everybody should be here as a right, and we should not allow one more deportation to happen; the Climate Change movement that made sure they would get rid of Keystone XL, but has even come today with the water protectors that we have seen at Standing Rock; the movement for Black lives to make sure that everyone understands that Black lives do matter; Occupy Wall Street movement, that I was happy to be a part of; to the #Fightfor15; all of these movements deserve the credit where credit is due, and the reason why we have gotten fascism again is because these movements are doing their job. Every time that we see progress, we will see backlash.

I am not surprised. For too long, the folks at the center – neoliberal Democrats you can call them – have been telling the movement, ‘Just listen to us, we know what we’re doing. We’ll keep us in power, we can do this.’

But, after the banks crashed, nobody went to jail.

This is a problem, and a failure of our system to answer what people wanted. People wanted to know why their homes were being foreclosed upon. I wanted to know why I wasn’t able to go to college. So many people wanted answers, and the Democrats didn’t give us any.

So what now?

I just got back from spending eleven days in my grandmother’s home country. My grandmother’s name is Zenaida – tambien, si, es mi abuela – and I just went to Puerto Rico. In July, the United States imposed an economic dictatorship on Puerto Rico called PROMESA, where there are seven people who get to control the laws of the land – la Junta and no Puerto Ricans have any input on it. Their government has been fully taken away from them.

Last year I got to visit Palestine and the occupied territories, and there are three things that I learned: Resilience, Community Care, and that we’re in this for the long term. It’s the long view, it’s the north star we need to be reaching for. If people can live under military occupation, if people can live under economic dictatorship, we can live and we will thrive under this presidency. As much as hard as it is going to be, we will survive.

It’s funny, I have been checking in with folks that I have been blessed to meet in different countries in the world. They’re like, ‘Welcome to our world.’ They’re like, ‘Welcome to our table. Join the party.’ So I think that we – as much as there is a lot of fear; I cried a long time, I shed a lot of tears – I also know that this moment was coming. We were going to come to a cross-roads, we’ve been at cross-roads many times in the history of the United States and this is another one.

We see it in Trump’s cabinet picks. Every single cabinet pick is a test to our movement right now. The #Fightfor15 with the CEO from Hardy’s, Ben Carson as – sometimes I have to laugh –  as the director of HUD – these are exactly because of what we’ve been doing, and it’s like a little kindergartner being like, ‘na-na-na-poo-poo’ in our faces. I believe that we have the ability to fight back.

But how? Like I said, fascism is testing us, and here are some of my things that I think we need to do. We need to continue to build independent political power. The Working Families Party has been doing this, and we have learned a lot of lessons. It is really hard to work inside and outside, but I think a lot of spaces have been doing this. The Socialist Alternative, there have been lots of socialists who have been running for City Council, Mayors across the country, and we need to develop more independent political power spaces.

We also need our movements to be more accessible and more decentralized – movement spaces, movement activities. I say that with the caveat of knowing that the more open source, the more decentralized you are, the more vulnerability that you have for cops joining in, for agent-provocateurs. But, I do think that we need to be more accessible.

There are so many people who have been coming to me. I grew up in New York. I went to high school at Laguardia High School. I was a high-school dropout, got my “good enough degree,” my G.E.D., ‘cause I didn’t see a hope in my future at the time. A lot of my high school friends are like, ‘Nel, what do I do? What do I do right now? I’m really upset.’ All I can give them an answer to is, ‘Join an organization, go to this place.’

We need to have it more accessible. We need to figure out how we meet people where they’re at, who want to do something now, but also bring them along, so that we can develop a strong cadre.

We need to unite the Left. I don’t think that we actually have a defined Left right now. I know that’s a controversial thing to say, but we need to unite the Left.  Bernie did a lot for us on the class narrative, but we need to get a better and sharpened race narrative in this country. We can’t just simply list every single ethnic group and say that’s the way we’re gonna talk about race.

We need to come from a values-based center. We need to have values that go back for us. For me, I want to live in a country that is rooted in love, compassion, and solidarity, but that is also rooted in repair. When I say repair, I mean reparations: reparations for our indigenous community, reparations for our Black community, reparations for the occupied territories of Hawaii and Puerto Rico.

We also in this moment – and not to pull a plug for myself, because this is not about me – I think we need to follow Black and Brown women. We need to follow their leadership. Black women have been at the frontlines of BlackLivesMatter, of the #Fightfor15, of workers’ movements, and we will always be there. And, as my good friend Linda Sarsour says, ‘If you ain’t following a Black women, you need to re-evaluate who you following.’

We need to put a vision. Another reason why I think the Left has failed or we are in this situation, is because there was a vision on the right, there’s been a vision. The Tea Party had a vision, Donald Trump had a vision. It’s not the vision that I’m aligned with; it’s not a vision that I want. I don’t wanna go back.

He said, ‘Make America Great Again.’ What is our vision? Bernie had a vision – ‘A future we can believe in.’ We need a vision that’s going to outlast any single one candidate. We need a vision that can galvanize millions of people in this country to say, ‘This is our north star, and we are going to this.’ We can do it in many ways, but this is our North Star.

A last couple words I’ll say is that we also need to make sure that we are defending our communities, but also going on the offense.

Anybody like football in here? We could play a really good defense game, and we’ve been doing that for a really long time. We’re going to need to be doing it. We also need to play an offense game, which means that we’ll lose a couple, but I think in the long term we will gain a lot. The Tea Party lost a lot when they first started. They lost on healthcare. But, they gained the fact that Donald Trump is president now. This is eight years later from when they started.

I think that we need to expand things like sanctuary. Sanctuary should not just mean sanctuary for immigrants. Sanctuary should mean that yes, Bill de Blasio will allow no immigrant to be deported, but will he allow Black people to stop being killed in this city? I want to know that.

I believe that we need an American remix. A lot of people are like, ‘How do we use the word ‘America? How do we use it now when so many people never felt it.’ I do believe that we need a remix. We need to remix our values, we need to remix who this country was made for, and we need to remix what our economic system looks like because we can no longer deal with this.

I’m going to leave with three – I learned this again; I always learn things; I’m a student for life, I like to say, but the MPL, which is a political party in Chile, says this thing: “;, Sin el estado, Desde el estado, or contra el estado” which means “with the state, of the state, against the state, and from the state.” I think that that’s the way we need to be. We need to have people that are building alternatives whether it be community gardens, economic cooperatives, we need to have people who are running for office, who come from our movements, and not hand picked by the political operatives, and we need people who are actually inside the system who can tell us what’s going on. We need – we cannot afford to shun one strategy or another right now. We need to think about what those strategies are and where they take us to.

I do fundamentally believe that we will win. I don’t know if anyone’s into astrology – this is going to be really corny – but my sentera […] told me that in 8 years aquarius is entering pluto. Aquarius is the sign of revolution. One of the last times aquarius was in pluto was during the haitian =, french, and american revolutions. And she’s been apparently been saying this for a really long time we just met a couple months ago, but I do believe that revolution will come even if it’s up to the stars.  

I think that – I’m always inspired by the song, “Ain’t gonna let nobody turn me around,” which I’ll probably end with because I love ending with song. If I haven’t let the cops turn me around, if I haven’t let any mayor turn me around, if I haven’t let  – I love you all, but – baby boomers turn me around, if I haven’t let anybody who’s ever tried to come to my pathway from when I was a little child, till I was a teenager, to now as an adult – I’m a young one still, I got a long adulthood ahead of me – I can’t let anybody turn me around, whether it’s Trump and his cabinet. And, in terms of – I always like to do a call to action of course – but I do believe that we cannot take these cabinet picks lightly. I think that we need to do everything in our power for the next two months, because fascism tests you. It tests how far, how much space they are going to have, and if we don’t do everything possible to stop any and all of these cabinet picks, even if we do lose  – with the notion that we know we might lose – but we have to lose well, because they are testing us. Because after these cabinet picks, they are going to do everything in their power, all of the powers  that be. Jeffrey Beauregard Sessions the 3rd – whatever his name is – he will use everything in his power – we have used the DOJ for years right now doing Civil Rights cases on police, and investigations on police departments – he will do everything in his power to reverse all of that and come for us, for folks in this room, for folks on the front lines. And so we need to do everything in our power and I know people are like, “I’m tired, let’s not burn ourselves out,” but let us see this as our first fight. So I am going to ask everyone – we’ve put a call out to action every Tuesday for folks to go to their US Senator or representative offices every single Tuesday until the cabinet picks and confirmation hearings are solidified. Go, take your friends, take your small community, go by yourself, and demand that they do not approve any of these cabinet picks. I don’t care if it’s Senator Gillibrand who’s already fighting back, or if it’s Schumer who will give us a lot of lip service – go. Make your voice heard, make your community voices heard, and do everything in our power to stop this cabinet, and I will end in song, because I think it’s something we can all use to heal:

Ain’t gonna let nobody

Turn me around

Turn me around

Turn me around

Ain’t gonna let nobody

Turn me around

I’m gonna keep on walking

Keep on talking

Marching on to freedom land

Oh!

Ain’t gonna let no Trump

Turn us around

Turn us around

Turn us around

Ain’t gonna let no Trump

Turn us around

We gonna keep on walking

Keep on marching

Marching on to freedom land

Thank you, everyone

Nelini Stamp Bio

 

Comments from Zenaida Mendez

Wow, she really deserved this.

This is powerful, and, like this young lady’s saying, today, more than ever we have each other’s back, and this call for action is serious. Put it in your calendar, every Tuesday. You call, you fax, you email, you do what you need to do to be heard, and our senator, who we pay our tax dollars, he’s working and she’s working for us. Remember, they work for us, and we are more than they are. Are we? People forget that we are more. It is critical.

Continue to Amina Baraka’s stirring poetry recitations