by Matt Saldaña
2008 Green Party presidential nominee, and former U.S. Representative (D-GA), Cynthia McKinney was scheduled to deliver a keynote speech to the roughly 100 Green Party members who attended last week’s convention in Durham. Due to health issues, she instead spoke to the group about her recent brush with the Israeli Navy, and her involvement with the “Free Gaza” movement, via online video.
Audience members lined up to ask McKinney questions, but because of a communications mishap, McKinney only referred to Gaza-related questions from the video stream’s live chat. One question involved Hurricane Katrina, though she responded by talking about Palestine. In fact, other than a brief reference to her 2008 run (disparaging those who didn’t understand it), and general praise for the Green Party candidates who spoke at a live-streamed news conference Friday, McKinney made almost no mention of her party's gathering in Durham.
Last month, McKinney and 20 others were seized by the Israeli Navy after attempting to sail through a blockade to deliver humanitarian supplies to the Gaza Strip. The Israeli Consulate has said McKinney's group could have delivered humanitarian supplies by land, and accused the group of making a "reckless political stunt."
McKinney was scheduled to be deported immediately, but refused to sign deportation papers and spent a week in jail, according to the Atlanta Journal-Constitution.
“I spent seven days in prison because I wanted the children in Gaza to have crayons,” McKinney said in her video address.
McKinney compared the members of Dignity, a group she helped launch following another failed attempt to enter the Gaza Strip (on board a ship named "Dignity"), to Marcus Garvey, Malcolm X, Martin Luther King, Jr. and Tupac Shakur, as previous examples of leaders who worked toward "stopping the machine ... at great personal sacrifice that was not acknowledged publicly."
"It's clear, I think, that everyone is not prepared to do what it takes to get the result that we all certainly want," she said. "This little group of people who got together and formed this organization called Dignity are the kind of people who are not afraid to lend their talents to the cause of peace, justice, human rights and, in short, dignity."
McKinney said the group consisted of Green Party members, supporters of her 2008 campaign, and "a slew of people I have yet to ask to join."
She said humanitarian efforts in the Gaza Strip represent the group's "introduction to the growing [online] community," but emphasized the group is about "more than Gaza."
McKinney then displayed mementos from her recent time spent in a prison in Israel, following her second trip to the Gaza Strip with Free Gaza, including her cell phone, returned in a plastic bag with writing in Hebrew.
“I guess that’s my name, I don’t know,” she said.
She had souvenirs from that trip as well, including a discarded can of peanuts with a Hebrew label. The label was proof, McKinney said, that Israeli soldiers knowingly bombed an elementary school, and then ate peanuts to make their presence known. She also claimed to have seen a Star of David written in chalk on the school’s chalkboard.
“That was the signature left by Israeli soldiers, thanks to U.S. taxpayers, as they bombed an elementary school,” she said.
In addition to her thoughts on U.S. and Israeli policy (“U.S. policy should restrict money for the Israel killing machine,”) McKinney offered party members a reflection on Judaism.
“Zionism is a political trick that has hurt a lot of people, and has nothing to do with Judaism,” she recounted a rabbi in the Gaza Strip telling her.
In an interview after the speech, 2008 Green Party candidate Jesse Johnson said he “respects the work Cynthia’s doing.”
But, he added, “We have human rights violations taking place in Washington’s back yard, throughout Appalachia.”
Johnson, who received 4.5 percent of the vote in 2008 when he ran for governor of West Virginia, said the Green Party should look to mountaintop-removal mining as a “galvanizing moment” to address issues of human rights, health care and the environment.
“I think the Green Party of the United States needs to focus on what’s taking place here, because mountaintop removal is ground zero for global climate change and water pollution,” he said.
Johnson finished fifth among Green Party presidential candidates in 2008, behind McKinney, Ralph Nader, Kent Mesplay and Kat Swift.