Oft scorned by both their constituencies, three DIY political activists from Philly discuss what it's like to be long-shot conservatives.
Harris: I caught all kinds of negative comments [for saying I respect Obama]. I had to go off and checkmate everybody in the building. I’m older than half of them; they’re as young as my son. And you’re going to tell me how to think? ... We believe in politics and we believe in our platform, but let’s keep in mind we’re all part of the human race and we’re all Americans.
Spence: He’s still our commander-in-chief.
Mansfield: President Obama is still our commander-in-chief.
Spence: He [refers to Sgt. Mansfield] made an oath. He made an oath between him and God.
Mansfield: That’s why I try not to disrespect the commander-in-chief by referring to the Affordable Care Act as “Obamacare.” It’s not Obamacare. Why are we disrespecting this man like this? … Republicans would tell me, “We’re not voting for you because you don’t stand for the repeal of the Affordable Care Act.” I’m sorry. Don’t vote for me. But they’re contradicting themselves by chastising Chairman Harris for making a cursory comment about respecting the first African-American president. You’ve gotta understand, most of my heroes don’t appear on no damn stamp. It’s a reality. W.E.B. Dubois, Fredrick Douglass—if you want to know a real Republican, he was the—
Spence: That’s number one.
Mansfield: —he was the ultimate black Republican. So if I had to distinguish myself between a Frederick Douglass Republican and a Ronald Reagan Republican, I would be a Frederick Douglass Republican.
PW: Let’s look at the state legislature in Pennsylvania. There are a lot of minority representatives in the Democratic Party; there are only two in the Republican Party. How do you think the Republican Party in Pennsylvania can add more minority representation up there?
Spence: If you want to run an individual black, back him. Stop pulling out at the last minute and saying it’s a waste of money, and back that man like you would any other candidate.
Mansfield: I think we have to learn to do what Malcolm X said. Malcolm X said go out into the field and rap to the people. I think if Malcolm was here today, he’d probably say go out into the field and rap with the people. We have to speak with them, and not to them and not at them. We have to stop that. I hear a lot of people in the Tea Party say they don’t understand why minorities don’t become Republicans [considering their social values], and … first of all histrionics don’t matter. No one cares about Martin Luther King being a Republican. They don’t care about that.
Spence: Half of them don’t even know that.
Mansfield: They don’t know and don’t care. The other thing is, they’re tired of white Republicans talking from Washington, talking from Harrisburg, but they don’t come to the neighborhoods and speak with these people ... It’s important that we, as Republicans, one, focus on recruiting and speaking with our neighbors and getting the word out. Two, we as Republicans need to show up at some of these community meetings. They don’t see us in the neighborhood, we don’t exist. And finally, we as African-Americans need to understand that we’re dominant in football, we’re dominant in basketball, we dominate the rap world, hip-hop. What I don’t understand is, why is that we have an open door in this city to take over a political party and yet we just sit there and cuss at the light. We need to stop cussing at the light despite the dark. We have to ... if the door is open and you can take over a political party, then take over. I hear people tell me that Republicans don’t reach out to you. I didn’t have to wait for the Republican Party to come to me. It was suggested by Dr. Danjczek. In this day and age now, in 2013, if I want to be involved with the Tea Party, go show up at a Tea Party meeting. Go show up at a Republican ward leader meeting.
America needs statesmen, not politicians. I was at a change of command at a military base yesterday. And those [soldiers] said we need more statesmen than what we have. We have to do better. They’re destroying the military, in a sense, with all these social issues. And the Army is only as good as the community from which the people come from. To join the Army, to join the Marines, when I joined the National Guard in 1996 and I went to basic training, the Army didn’t have to give me my values, they validated my values. Today, the Army has to give these young people coming into the military service their values. And if you don’t have those values before you get there, you’re not going to get them. You’ll become corrupt. You’ll become easy to corrupt. And when you send a young person off into a war zone, you need to know that they have a set of values that will put the country first—not your government, because governments come and go. Your country is here. It’s a mainstay. So, I didn’t have to have the Army teach me values, and I was grateful, because those values kept me alive in Iraq, and there were some very dark moments. Those values need to be there.
America needs statesmen, not politicians. Not “My way or the highway, I’m not compromising with him because he’s a Democrat” or “I’m not compromising with him because he’s a Republican.” It’s OK to be a Republican, it’s OK to be a Democrat, but you need to compromise. You don’t need to compromise your principles, but you need to come to the table. The art of legislating is about compromise. But today, the fringe elements of both parties reward you for being stupid.
PW's Summer Guide 2015