Nina Turner is one of the most energizing, sharpest, and effective figures representing the progressive movement. At a time when Republicans are waging a class war and the Democratic Party still seems intent on ensuring that the needs of Wall Street, the health care lobby, and its corporate donors are a priority, Turner is a loud clear voice on the left who fights for Medicare For All, a $15 per hour minimum wage, and other similar policies.
The Cleveland-born-and-bred former Ohio state senator (2008 to 2014) now heads up Our Revolution, a political action group born out of Sen. Bernie Sanders’ campaign that works to elect progressive candidates, push progressive causes, and get people involved in the political process. As Turner puts it, the organization exists “to reclaim Democracy for the? working people. For people who feel like they have been forgotten, and to ?take that energy, that synergy and create a political revolution.”
She’ll partake in several panels at The Women’s Convention in Detroit this weekend — including the Medicare For All talk — so we took the opportunity to catch up with her.
Tell me a little about why Medicare for All is the solution to our broken health care system. There are a lot of people who still aren’t on board with such an idea.
Yes, but I think the American people are really coming around. A lot of polls show that a majority of Americans across the political spectrum do believe that the government should run a system that helps us with our medical care.
We are the only industrialized nation in the world that does not have a Medicare for All type of program, and that’s an idea whose time has come. It is the morally right thing to do … as Dr. Martin Luther King said, ‘Of all the forms of inequality, injustice in health care is the most shocking and inhumane.’
This our health, and this is not about political affiliation or who somebody votes for or supports. This is really about our humanity and our moral commitment to one another, and how as Americans we want to best invest our money. We’re paying for people who are underinsured or uninsured right now. We just don’t see it because it’s indirect.
But to say as a country that we will invest our money to ensure that everyone has access to hospital services or ambulatory patient services, prescription drugs … well, I believe if we can go to the moon, then we should find a way to have a universal healthcare program in this country. It is vitally important for everybody.
Why do we need a women’s convention in 2017? Why is this important?
First, I commend the conveners. This is their convention — their first convention after the ?historic Women’s March, which was the largest single day march in the history of our country. That ?really tapped women — and men who support women — all across the? country.
I think it’s very fitting that the theme is “Reclaiming our time.” The ?headliner is Congresswoman Maxine Waters, and it’s a good time to have women? come together, reaffirm, uplift one another, and talk about the issues that matter ?to us. The issues that matter to women also matter to communities … and these issues have a ripple effect all ?across the country.
And the purist sense of the feminist tradition — feminism is not? anti-man. It is pro-humanity. And that is what I’m hoping will come out of the convention. That women get together to reaffirm who we are, what we? are, and why we are, and ultimately this is about humanity.
How have things changed since this last election for women? Is there more urgency to some of these issues that women face?
Oh, yes. Absolutely, but there always has been. But we have these moments in history that remind us that we ?have a lot of work left undone. You know, women not making dollar for dollar the same as a man is not new. It’s been that way since day zero, since the founding of this? country. And when you ?put African-American women and Hispanic women into the mix it’s even worse than ?that. The latest? revelations about Harvey Weinstein — not new. Women have always had to fight off ?predators … who treat them like they’re just a piece of? meat instead of with the respect that they deserve. That has ?been happening since day zero.
But we have these touch points and so now we are ?more of aware …. that we have work to do ?in the areas of racism, sexism, and I would even say ageism, too. Because I? think that is the new type of discrimination that’s around.
So, we have to, as a? country, be reminded that we have more battles to create a more equitable? and socially just society. The events that are happening over the last eight, nine? months — we’re just being reminded that we have much more work to do in the area? of social justice and equality, and we ?can’t leave this work undone. Until we advance the ball on these issues, we will always have moments where we are reminded that these things are happening.
How do you advance the ball at the political level? What are some of the solutions?
Passing the Equal Rights Amendment would be one great step, and the federal government certainly can implement ?policies, and we need state and local officials to do the? same thing.
Also, when the government awards ?contracts, we need to make it explicit that they? must pay a living wage, that they can’t pay any less than $15 an hour,? for example. And I want to say depending on what the industry, it should be higher than that. But because it is the tax payer’s dollars,? we can mandate that, we can make that our rules of engagement.
Paid family medical leave is also something that we need. So many working poor in this country will lose their ?job if they get sick, or if they have? children and their children get sick. They can’t afford it. That’s inhumane. These are the types of things policy makers can push.
Who are some of the women taking on leadership roles that you’re excited about and why?
Well, I’m excited for Stacey Abrams, who is ?running for governor in the great state of Georgia. We both served in the legislature at the same time. She excites me because she is taking on the challenge of running? for governor and … there has never in history been an African-American woman elected governor. That might be hard for people to ?believe, but it is true. So, I just really respect the fact that she’s willing ?to take this risk for a greater good.
Other women? that I admire, many of them are no longer with us. But when I think about why ?I fight so hard, I think about people like Fannie Lou Hamer, like Mother Jones. You know, all of these women didn’t have fancy ?titles but they had a commitment that was bigger than themselves … and they both put?things on the line to make this country and their communities better.
And even closer to home — my grandmother, who I talk about all the time. Again,? nobody with a fancy title, but she just really had a pure energy and a pure? commitment that continues to push me to this day. For that, I am just absolutely? obligated to use my strength and my abilities to make this world a better ?place. And although she is not here, I would like to think she is proud that I? am doing just that.
Last week the DNC purged some of its more progressive members from key leadership positions and replaced them with lobbyists for oil companies, Citigroup, Fox News, and so on. What’s your take on that and the DNC’s drift?
The purge was short-sighted and it’s going to do more harm than good. I mean, if they want to talk about unity and bringing people together, that’s not how you do it — by purging people. All of whom had some link to either Senator Sanders or Congressman Keith Ellison — so it’s just wrong to do that. That makes it harder for progressive folks like me to try and pull other progressives into the party.
You take out somebody like Dr. James Zogby, who has committed his life to this party? Who has a lot to give, who also represents the Arab-American community, who worked for reverend Jesse Jackson’s campaigns in the ’80s, trailblazing at that time when the establishment Democrats didn’t even want reverend Jesse Jackson running.
You take out [Barbra Casbar Siperstein], the DNC’s first transgender? person, as well, just because she supported Keith Ellison’s candidacy? That is ?short-sighted and harmful … and won’t bring unity to the party.
We saw leading up to the 2016 election that progressives were dismissed by centrists as “Bernie Bros.” That always seemed a little bit insulting to progressive women, but at this point in 2017 it seems even more inaccurate than it was last year. It seems like there’s a more diverse crowd on the left, but maybe I’m wrong. You’re out there traveling the country, what do you see when you look at the party’s more progressive wing these days?
You’re not wrong about that. It’s unfortunate that we were maligned so in 2016 for political expediency. You know, I just got back from a five-city tour in Texas. I went to five cities in three days — 900 miles — to Austin, Dallas, Houston, San Antonio, and Tyler. You know, bright red Tyler, Texas? And at each one of these gatherings, it was a mosaic of humanity. There are people of all walks of life gathering to reaffirm that they are on the right track and that they are doing the right thing. So, if that’s what people want to call “Bernie Bros,” then have at it. Ninety-four-year-old women to 26-year-old millennials — we span the gambit. So it’s unfortunate that that label was put on people who were in support of Sen. Sanders … because nothing can be further from the truth.
What I see are people who care about their families, I see people who care about their communities. And they just want to know what can they do. Some people really feel helpless … in this environment. Unfortunately, they have to be reminded that they’re not powerless and that they’re not helpless. That they have to gather together and be prepared and get out there to vote, to vote for mayor, to vote for members of the state legislature, to vote for members of Congress and to vote for the presidency. It’s coming in 2020, but we have to be prepared today.
All of the great social justice advances that we ever had in this country have come not from people with big titles and not from people at the top, but just from everyday people getting together saying “Enough is enough. I’m going to change this, and I’m going to get involved, and I am going to be engaged.” So I hope — as we move forward — that those labels will go away.