American dream elusive to blacks

"BLACK is Back" in the United States. Former US presidential candidate Cynthia McKinney is part of a new movement that will be launched in the US next month.

Sowetan recently caught up with McKinney in Cape Town, where she was a guest of the first Palestinian Struggle and Human Spirit Film Festival, hosted by Channel Four.

The 54-year-old ran as the Green Party's presidential candidate against US President Barack Obama last year, on a "power to the people" platform, eventually garnering about 150000 votes.

Before that the former university professor served six terms as the first African American congresswoman in the state of Georgia.

While she was a Democratic Party congresswoman, McKinney demanded that records relating to Martin Luther King's assassination be made public. She also called for an investigation into 9/11 and tried to have former US president George Bush, vice president Dick Cheney and secretary of state Condoleeza Rice impeached.

McKinney often voted against US measures to support Israel. None of this endeared her to conservative elements in her own party, who eventually ousted her in 2006.

McKinney then went over to the Green Party, later standing as their presidential candidate.

But these days she is a full-time activist, promoting justice for black Americans, and freedom for Palestine. She is also involved in a lawsuit against the army of Rwandan President Paul Kigame, for "genocide committed by him in Kivu in the Democratic Republic of the Congo".

Earlier in the year McKinney spent seven days in an Israeli prison after being intercepted by the Israeli military while trying to land a ship loaded with medicines and toys for children on the shores of the Gaza Strip.

This experience inspired her to join the Free Gaza Movement - a group of international activists who intend to march through the Egyptian border into the Gaza Strip on January 1 2010, breaking the Israeli blockade of the Palestinian territory.

At home McKinney works with a civil rights organisation, Dignity, and the "Black is Back Coalition", which will be launched in the US on November 7.

"The environment in the US is such that critique is not allowed. Now I am not going to stop my advocacy for peace just because there's a black man in the White House," she says.

Though she won less than one percent of the vote in last year's US presidential elections, with 25percent of black Americans supporting the civil rights movement, McKinney believes the coalition will get substantial support.

She reckons the time is ripe for a new black movement.

"The conditions for black people in America have not changed as a result of the election of Barack Obama. Obama was not selected by black America to run, but black America is overwhelmed with joy that he is the president," she says.

"It means that the black community in the United States has to determine what is important for it.

"Is it a black face in a position the goal of the civil rights movement or is a change in public policy towards a more fair and just society in the United States the goal?

"As a black person in the United States I would have to say that I am torn because I would love nothing more than to be 100percent behind my president. I hope but I refuse to be fooled."

McKinney says Obama has failed to come up with any new policies to help black Americans affected by the global financial meltdown.

"Those hardest hit with the loss of their homes, businesses and lives are black Americans."

She says her government's $12trillion (about R87trillion) bailout of the American banks does not mean the banks have stopped repossessing peoples' homes.

The South African government should not consider going the route of bailouts.

"People need education, healthcare, housing, jobs at a livable wage. The last thing they need is a bailout," says McKinney.

Her trip to Cape Town is the first she has made since the death of her beloved aunt a month ago, and it is clear that her aunt's tragic death has given her another reason to keep fighting for the rights of black Americans.

Explaining how black Americans get poor quality treatment from doctors, while whites are treated well, McKinney says: "My aunt became one of America's 83570 black statistics, who die unnecessary deaths every year because of disparate treatment after they walk into a doctor's office."