Addressing the role of women in her political rise and fall, as
well as the current political landscape in America, former U.S.
congresswoman Cynthia McKinney spoke to a Mills audience Monday
about 9/11, Bush, and the responsibility of everyone to take action
in their own communities.
“When we see a wrong, we have to right it – silence is consent,”
said McKinney, Georgia’s first African-American congresswoman, who
was denied a sixth term in office last year after she became
famously misquoted for her statements regarding the Bush
administration’s handling of investigations before and after 9/11.
“I have found people all over this country who are willing to stand
up for what they believe in.”
McKinney, whose speech at the Chapel Monday night was sponsored
by numerous groups on campus, spoke to the power of other women in
her political career.
McKinney said that when she decided to run for Congress in 1992
after four years in the Georgia legislature, she was given a book
of names to contact for support in her election bid but had great
difficulty getting meetings with any of the people until she came
to a realization that gave her a new approach.
“My observation was that all those big, powerful white men in
that book had women secretaries,” said McKinney, with a slight,
charismatic southern drawl. She said she found her way in through
these women, who gave her access to the powerful men she needed on
her side. “It was the sister connection that got me through,” she
But women also played a large part in the end of McKinney’s
career as a Georgia representative.
McKinney spent her first four years in office fighting a lawsuit
to dismantle the district she represented. She spoke of her
personal accomplishments in the district despite the constant
battle to keep her seat in government; helping all of the residents
get running water, moving people out of low-lying homes that
flooded with each rain, and getting medical care and relocation for
a man dying of arsenic poisoning from the land he lived on.
She had already been accused of being unpatriotic for
criticizing the elder Bush’s bombing of Baghdad in 1991. After
questioning the Bush administration’s handling of intelligence
information regarding 9/11, and having her statements grossly
misquoted and exaggerated by some media outlets, McKinney found
herself facing a strange candidate in the democratic primary of
2002: an African-American Republican woman crossing over to run as
Ostracized by her normal supporters, McKinney said, “even my
friends who knew me wouldn’t be seen with me.” Having consistently
received around 30 percent of the white vote in her previous
elections, considered impressive results for a woman of color in
the South, McKinney received less than ten percent in 2002, due in
large part, she said, to the unexpectedly huge crossover effort.
She said, “Now I understand that my race was far more important
than even I gave credit to.”
Regarding losing her re-election bid, she said, “We must address
the constitutional rights of democrats not to have their primary
hijacked by a Republican.”
She said she was active in addressing issues she felt were
important, adding, “I didn’t do anything but my job.”
Commenting on what she sees as one of the primary faults in the
current political structure, McKinney spoke of her support for
public campaign financing. “Both parties are pulling at the same
trough. That trough is dictating our public policy to the detriment
of our people,” she said, referring to the corporate funding that
influences much of today’s politics.
Born and raised in Georgia, McKinney also spoke of her efforts
to improve the lives of Georgia’s African-American residents,
including helping 50 other African-Americans get elected in 22 of
Georgia’s counties. “It’s the black belt, but there are very few
blacks elected in Georgia,” she said.
With constant murmurs of approval from the crowd throughout,
McKinney received standing ovations at both the beginning and end
of her speech, as she spoke to the crowd of about one hundred
Introducing McKinney, local Oakland councilwoman Desley Brooks
called her “the voice for the voiceless, the least, the last, and
the lost,” and thanked her for standing up alone in a sea of
“She is an amazing woman, and we are incredibly fortunate to
have her here,” said Margo Okazawa-Rey, director of the Women’s
McKinney has recently been offered a position as honorary
professor at Cornell University, and is currently being pursued by
the Green Party to run as their presidential candidate in 2004. She
is also considering running for the Georgia Senate.
McKinney’s speech was sponsored by the Women’s Leadership
Institute, Ethnic Studies, Women’s Studies, Public Policy,
Government, PLEA, the Institute for Civic Leadership, the Diversity
Committee of the Alumnae Association, and the Women of Color
Resource Center in Oakland.