According to a recent study, Tennessee ranks 40th in the nation in voter registration and last in voter turnout. Former Ohio state Sen. Nina Turner is coming to TSU on Saturday, to talk about getting people to be active participants in government, both at the ballot box and as candidates.
Turner is the president of the progressive national organization, Our Revolution, which has recently formed a local branch, Our Revolution, Nashville/Mid-Tenn.
“Progressivism means you are not satisfied with the status quo,” said Turner, “that you are willing to go against the grain, that you are willing to be a visionary, that you are willing to see the unseen, and that you are willing to make the impossible, possible.”
It’s fitting that she should speak at a local HBCU during Black History Month, because as she says: “Our entire struggle in this country has been one of liberation. Progressivism started with us.”
“You have a group of people who were brought to a country that treated them like chattel in slavery. They were property, less than second-class citizens. There was no way to get out of that condition but by fighting against the establishment of that time, bucking the system of that time,” said Sen. Turner. “The entire existence of Black people in this country has been one of liberation and liberation itself is progressivism.”
Our Revolution, the group she leads, was inspired by Sen. Bernie Sanders and his 2016 election campaign. According to Turner, Sander’s campaign “sparked the imagination of the American people and that they especially deserved better than what they were getting and that if conscious minded folk united, we could demand more from the political class in this country.”
Turner, often times described as a Bernie Sanders surrogate during the campaign, says that she decided to support Sen. Sanders primarily for two reasons: his views on healthcare and education.
Turner, the eldest of seven children in a single family home, faced a crisis when her mother passed away while she was a sophomore in college.
“She died on the system of welfare,” said Turner. “I was 22 years old and my baby sister was 12 and my mother did not have a life insurance policy. She did not have any money in the bank. She died poor.”
Turner was able to overcome her mother’s death and get a college education, giving her the ability to break the cycle of poverty.
“And so to have a candidate like Sen. Bernie Sanders come along and talk about why it’s important for everybody in this country to have access to college and Medicare—that touched me deeply. I knew I had to support Sen. Sanders.”
Our Revolution currently has about 550 groups all across the country, seven of which are international.
Turner’s message is one of grass roots. She believes that if change is going to happen, it will not necessarily be because of Washington, but through local efforts.
“If we are ever going to have a progressive America, we have to do it one community at a time. It’s going to happen because of school boards, city councils, mayors and governors.”
Our Revolution has had success with grass roots candidates such as Randal Woodfin and Chokwe Antar Lumumba, both winning their respective mayoral elections in Birmingham, Alabama and Jackson, Mississippi.
Like in those elections, Our Revolution plans to change the voting habits of Tennesseans by pushing for policies and progressive candidates that will strengthen the community.
“If there are candidates that people are excited about, then they will come out to vote,” said Turner. “People are not going to vote for more of the same. They are going to vote because there is a candidate that inspires them and is keenly aware of their respective community and will use the people’s power to make their lives better—not by artificially telling them that they owe somebody their vote. Every elected official has to earn their vote every single time, and they earn that vote by listening to the people and addressing their needs.”
Turner explained that Our Revolution is built on the roots of Martin Luther King, Jr.’s Poor Peoples Campaign, which demanded economic and human rights for poor Americans of diverse backgrounds.
“Before his assassination, we know he was working on the Poor People’s Campaign, which included poor Black, Brown and White people. He understood that was the coalition that was necessary to change this country.”
Our Revolution also has influences from Franklin D. Roosevelt’s (FDR) new deal for America.
“One of the things [FDR] worked on is the economic bill of rights, and within that economic bill of rights he talked about education, making sure people had jobs, and making sure we have a system in place to take care of people who couldn’t take care of themselves.”
For the 21st century, Our Revolution adds things to that such as the environment, criminal justice reform, and economic opportunity.
“We know that particularly in the African American community, inequality is a big deal in relation to criminal justice reform,” said Turner.
“We know that African Americans are in prison at higher rates than they represent in the population.”
Turner also pointed out that if we continue on the same economic trajectory, it will take over 220 years before there is income equality between African Americans and Whites.”
“It’s not just about individuals,” she said. “The system itself has to change about the way it addresses systemic racial and class inequality within it. That is part of what Our Revolution is fighting for, a more equitable America within the lanes of the political and economic system.”
Turner will be at TSU’s Kean Hall on Saturday, February 24th at 12:00pm. The event is free and open to the public.