Activist Rosa Clemente offered students advice on how to be effective grassroots organizers and shared lessons from her 30 years of advocacy experience during a virtual event hosted by AUSG Women’s Initiative Thursday.
Clemente, an independent journalist, scholar-activist and community organizer, was the first Afro-Latina vice presidential candidate in United States history, running on the Green Party ticket alongside Cynthia McKinney in 2008.
The conversation was moderated by School of Public Affairs sophomore Kaniya Harris, the president of Women’s Initiative. Harris asked Clemente what insight she could give to young activists as they try to transition from using their voices on social media platforms to organizing in the real world.
Clemente said that, while acts like “doing a hashtag or signing a petition” are important, community organizing is the key to initiating change.
“Organizing is a skill,” Clemente said. “Not everybody has it, but those that do, at least, I think … are always willing to grow.”
When it comes to putting together activism-related events, Clemente advised students to be sure that they are aware of “who [they] are politically” and take pride in those values, even in the face of challenges.
“When you do an event, the most important thing I learned early on is never worry about who didn’t show up — worry about who did,” Clemente said.
Clemente also encouraged young people to “have a little more humility” as they pursue activism. She underscored the importance of reading works by revolutionary organizers, specifically recommending titles such as former Black Liberation Army member and political exile Assata Shakur’s autobiography “Assata” and “Unbound” by #MeToo movement founder Tarana Burke.
“Actually read books,” Clemente said. “Not just 300 words on Twitter.”
Elaborating more on the benefits and drawbacks of social media as it relates to activism, Clemente described these platforms as “a tool.” While she said that it can be helpful for raising awareness for events and making contacts, she also reminded viewers that “in order to organize, things can’t always be public.”
In addition to her organizing work, Clemente recently served as an associate producer for the 2021 award-winning biographical drama film “Judas and the Black Messiah,” which is based on the betrayal of Black Panther Party Illinois chapter chairman Fred Hampton by FBI informant William O’Neal in the late 1960s. According to Clemente, she is “still processing the fact that [she] was part of” this project.
Clemente urged students not only to watch the film, but also to use it as a jumping-off point for further research into the Black Panther Party and its legacy. She told viewers that members of the Black Panther Party are largely responsible for what is now referred to as mutual aid, mentioning the free breakfast programs that the group put together for children in their communities.
“I want mad people to have these stories,” Clemente said.
Clemente encouraged the American University community to fight against the issues that she described as “indications” of impending fascism in the U.S., including the restriction of reproductive rights, police brutality and the ongoing public health threat of COVID-19 across the country.
“We have to understand that the United States of America is the most violent nation in the world,” Clemente said.
Clemente encouraged young activists to work on establishing cultural institutions as a means of combating these injustices.
“We need spaces that are about us, unapologetically run by us and that serve our communities,” Clemente said.