Al Sharpton: Millions More, Democrats, Talk Show
FARAI CHIDEYA, host:
From NPR News, this is NEWS & NOTES. I'm Farai Chideya, in for Ed Gordon.
Reverend Al Sharpton is a master of re-invention. In 20 years he's gone from being a controversial activist to 2004 presidential candidate. Now Reverend Al is hosting his own television talk show, set in a barbershop. It's called "Sharp Talk." Ed Gordon talked with Reverend Sharpton about the new show and his long history in the public eye.
ED GORDON, host:
So many people talk about the, quote, "Sharpton baggage," and all that comes along with Al Sharpton, whether it be questions of being a, quote, "informant" for the federal government; there is always the Tawana Brawley baggage, which one would believe by now would have been put down. When you look at all of this, can you rightfully say that you could maneuver through all that and be viable?
Reverend AL SHARPTON: Absolutely. When you look at who I'm running against, when you look at the fact that we had people that were running that had done overtly unethical things, that had supported a war that was based on flawed information, and that had overtly abused power, and you call my baggage that I stood up for a young girl who said she was raped 20 years ago, and that whether or not I helped law enforcement get drug dealers in New York, that is clearly not baggage at all. You could put my stuff in a briefcase compared to who we're running against. I think that that is part of the insult.
What I would say to people--`Well, what do you have against me?' `Well, I didn't agree with you on Brawley.' Twenty years ago, a girl said she was raped. I stood up for her, as I stood up for how many police brutality victims before insisting I believed her like I did them? The courts didn't believe some of them; the courts did believe others. I had as many reasons to not believe Abner Louima, who--I won the case--than I did Brawley. So that doesn't wash when you got guys that are violating all kind of ethical rules, but--and supporting a war, and supporting Bush on welfare reform. `So really, what are you saying?' And they say, `Yeah, I never thought about it that way.'
And I think that the perception of baggage for blacks are always far more embellished than it are for our white counterparts.
GORDON: All right, Rev. Let's talk a little bit about your latest venture. You're coming in on my side of the table now, and that's hosting your own talk show on TV1. Talk to us a little bit about the concept of the show and why you decided to do it. There are those who will suggest that, because of the splash that you made in '04, that maybe in their minds you might be cheapening your image a bit. It is not the image that many people want to see of a traditional politician. One might argue you're not a traditional politician, but take that.
Rev. SHARPTON: Well, let me put it to you this way. I decided to do this talk show, and the concept is that one of the oldest traditional places to really find out what's going on in people's minds in the African-American community is the barbershop. I mean, people--I always tell people--people take polls; my poll is the barbershop. Barbershop, beauty shop in our community--find out what people are really thinking. So the concept was to have people come to the barbershop in Brooklyn where I--born and raised and talk about issues. And some people are prominent; some people are experts in areas. And we sat around the barbershop talking about very serious issues, like: What about health care? What about education? What about politics?
And the array of guests go from Kwame Jackson, who was on "The Apprentice," to Doug E. Fresh when I talked about music, to politicians. And I think that it is very good to have this kind of grassroots forum to talk and to keep that tradition going. And I might--to those that think it cheapens one's image, I remind people that--I think I'm probably most compared to my mentor, Reverend Jackson. He did a talk show after he ran for president on CNN. And so did Pat Buchanan, on the other side, so I don't know what the difference is because I decided to do it with TV1 in a setting that I think relates to the very people I hope gets involved politically, a grassroots setting. I'm trying to get those that are not in the process, not just trying to impress those that are.
GORDON: You will have weekly--three different guests? Is that the format?
Rev. SHARPTON: Right, every week three different guests on different issues. And it starts Friday, the 28th, on TV1.
GORDON: Let me talk about a number of things with you, but, first and foremost, I want to talk to you about the Millions More Movement. You were part of it, and you spoke. Many people waiting to see what is going to come out of it. What do you think we should best look for out of this?
Rev. SHARPTON: I think that people have to leave there, as I said, in Washington, by concentrating in the areas of expertise that they have. I'm clearly in the civil rights-slash-political lane of this big highway, and I think that we must concentrate on some of the mayoral elections that are just two or three weeks off, and the '06 midterm elections where you have a third of the US Senate up, all of the Congress and over 30 governors' seats. I also think that there are--there's the challenge of how to deal with the aftermath to Hurricane Katrina, and where we can unite different lanes, those that are in health care, those that are in education. We all ought to try and support one another. But I think the value of the march will be determined by the follow-up.
What made the '63 march historic was not just King's oration, "I Have a Dream," what made it historic is people went back down South and made the dream come true. They went back to Birmingham, and Selma and, therefore, we got the Civil Rights Act of '64, and then the Voting Rights Act of '65, and then the Open Housing Act of '66 and the war on poverty of '67. If we left Washington, and those in politics can win some seats and turn some Senate seats around and build toward '08, and those in health care can really come up with a health plan and get those that we helped elect to make that law, and education the same, then history will say we're successful. If not, history will say we had a big event that meant nothing.
GORDON: Do you have to have a black clearinghouse to do so, though? I mean, part of what we saw out of Million Man March, and, I think, people hoped for, quite frankly, and some of what I think people are still looking for is a place where they can look in one spot and see leaders doing just as you suggested.
Rev. SHARPTON: I think it would be good to have a leadership kind of collective way of appraising and monitoring and reporting, a clearinghouse or whatever. I don't care about the term. But I think if all of us can come together for one event and make speeches, that we ought to periodically sit down and analyze where we are and report to the community in a collective. And I think that that's why in the '60s, as I studied it, King, Dr. Martin Luther King, and Whitney Young of the Urban League, and Roy Wilkins of the NAACP, and Randolph in labor, and others, you should periodically sit down and come forward with what is going on. I think that we have not seen that done in the last decade or more and I think that that's what we need to do.
GORDON: Part of the dilemma, many would say, is that you--the leadership has not done so behind closed doors. We've seen a lot of gatherings. Often, many people say, for the cameras, and there has been no follow-up. In these meetings, do you want to see it kind of off, behind doors?
Rev. SHARPTON: I think it has to be off radar, so to speak, or below radar. And from my studying, you know, I came after the '60s, but I was raised in a movement by the guys that ran the '60s. There was not as many unity meetings as we like to romanticize and...
GORDON: Yeah, and very little unity often.
Rev. SHARPTON: Absolutely. But so I don't think that that necessarily means there's a difference. The difference was, though, that everyone mastered and was committed to their lane and made it happen. And I think that's what has to happen today.
GORDON: Rev, talk to me a bit, if you will, about Democratic politics. So many people looking at the Democratic Party and suggesting with all of the faux pas that we've seen from the right and all of the trips and this administration really in free fall, quite frankly, that Democrats should be seizing the moment. Many people are suggesting they aren't.
Rev. SHARPTON: The Democratic Party has lost its way. And when you lose your way, it doesn't even matter if the other side fumbles, you still can't score because you're not clear on where your goal line is. We have abandoned a commitment in the Democratic Party toward the principles that I think the Democratic Party became--what it became: pro-labor, pro-civil rights, pro-women. We've kind of, like, tried to have it both ways. And I think that that is why we need a defined leadership and a defined political ideology, which is why I ran. I mean, to think that we had all of the Democrats that was running on the Republicans' foreign policy platform and in many cases domestic platform is why we're sitting here now with Bush absolutely at our mercy, and we can't figure out how to take advantage of it because half of who we have projected as leadership agrees with Bush. So how are you the opposition party if you don't oppose anything?
GORDON: Let me ask you this as one who ran in '04, a candidate that perhaps did not see the traction that you wanted to. As you look to '08, is that a viable option for you, and, more specifically, when we hear what many people--or who many people suggest will be the front-runner right now, at least, and that, in many people's mind would be Hillary Clinton, how realistic would it be for us to assume that America will vote for a female today?
Rev. SHARPTON: Well, I--first of all, I think that we don't know. I think that we're going to have peculiar circumstances in '08 and I've not ruled out '08, but I think that when we start seeing the Republicans begin raising the profile of a Condoleezza Rice, and flirting publicly with putting her on the ticket, A, that raises different questions in terms of the African-American vote. They're running a black in Maryland for US Senate, the Republicans. They are running a black for governor in Ohio, possibly. So I think this whole assuming and taking for granted of the African-American vote dynamic may change in '08 and a lot of it because a lot of blacks feel abandoned and the Republicans are playing a window-dressing cosmetic relationship with the black community that would be insulting if the Democrats hadn't started doing the same thing.
GORDON: Let me ask you this, as it relates to what you would want to do, if you can paint the Al Sharpton scenario for the next five, 10 years.
Rev. SHARPTON: To play a role in the '06 midterm elections, and '08, in some way, if I run or not, in terms of clarifying the issues and raising what needs to be done with the Democratic Party. So in many ways I see my role as continuing in my generation what happened in the '60s and in the '80s and now we're in the year 2000. And I think that there are some of us that are committed to the same movement principles that must bring them and make them alive and viable in this generation, and that's what I'd like to see myself be at the forefront over the next five or 10 years.
GORDON: Reverend Al Sharpton--the television program, "Sharp Talk with Al Sharpton" debuts on TV1 Friday October 28th at 8:30 PM Eastern, and, as always, Reverend, you will remain on the front line and vigilant as we have known you to be for some time. Thanks for joining us.
Rev. SHARPTON: Thank you. Good to talk to you, Ed.
CHIDEYA: This is NPR News.