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Americans Who Tell the Truth :: Cynthia McKinney

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Robert Shetterly's portrait of Cynthia McKinney
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“In the fight against bigotry, we stand together, and we must. In the fight against injustice, we stand together, and we must. In the fight against intimidation, we stand together, and we must. After all, a regime that would steal an election right before our very eyes will do anything to all of us.”
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Cynthia McKinney
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State of Georgia Congresswoman, US Congresswoman, Green Party Presidential Candidate (1955— )

Cynthia McKinney has made a career of speaking her mind and challenging authority. She began on day one of her political life and hasn’t looked back. With her opinions, actions, and even her sense of style, McKinney has inspired both admiration and controversy.

Her political career began unofficially in 1986 when her father, Billy McKinney, a Representative on the Georgia State House, put her name on the ballot as a write-in. Cynthia McKinney was living in Jamaica at the time and did not take the matter seriously; still, she garnered a large percentage of votes without even trying. Two years later, McKinney ran for and won the seat, creating the first father/daughter combination to serve together in the Georgia State House of Representatives. Cynthia immediately began making her own mark, defying House dress codes for women by wearing trousers instead of dresses. She spoke out against the Persian Gulf War, and despite being in the House with her father, she often disagreed and voted against him.

In 1992, McKinney won a Democratic seat in the US House of Representatives in the newly created 11th district, drawn from Atlanta to Savannah. She was the first African-American woman to represent Georgia in the US Congress. McKinney again quickly established herself as a leader and an individual. She became Secretary of her Democratic freshman class, and was placed on both the Agricultural Committee and the International Relations Committee. Her gold tennis shoes and braided hairstyle became her trademark, and effectively gave her a higher profile on the predominantly white, male House floor. Though a Democrat during President Clinton’s tenure, she did not simply follow the Party line, as when she voted against NAFTA. McKinney did not forget her district while in Washington, working hard to improve its rural roads and help clean up pollution. As she said when elected, “Now we have people in Congress who are like the rest of America. It’s wonderful to have ordinary people making decisions about the lives of ordinary Americans. It brings a level of sensitivity that has not been there.”

During her second term, her district was re-drawn and re-numbered the 4th district. McKinney protested the new boundaries, but was still re-elected to the seat. She earned even more distinctive assignments with the National Security Committee and the International Relations Committee’s International Operations and Human Rights Subcommittee. She worked on foreign policy concerning Liberia and the Republic of Congo. She was a supporter of a Palestinian State in Israel-occupied territory, and sparked controversy by criticizing American policy in the Middle East, including President Bush’s policy regarding Iraq before 9/11. After the attacks, McKinney suggested the President perhaps had prior knowledge of 9/11. The criticism she received from these ideas may have contributed to her defeat in the 2002 election; however, she ran for the seat again and was re-elected in 2004.

In between terms in office, McKinney traveled the country and Europe, speaking against the Iraq war and about her 2002 defeat, which she attributed to Republicans being organized to “cross over” to vote against her in the Democratic primaries. Her career, including this episode of her defeat, was made into a documentary film titled American Blackout.

Once back in office, she continued her criticism of the Bush administration on the first anniversary of the 9/11 Commission Report by holding an all-day briefing. McKinney gathered victims’ families and intelligence experts together on panels to address the flaws in the report and critique its recommendations regarding foreign and domestic policy. For McKinney, this was another example of an excess of government secrecy. She also introduced legislation to release the documents related to the death of Tupac Shakur, and twice submitted a bill to release the sealed documents pertaining to Martin Luther King Jr.’s assassination. She feels the public has a right to know the information.

McKinney was very active in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina and a vocal critic of the government’s response. When Democratic Party’s leaders encouraged a boycott of a Select Bipartisan Committee to Investigate the Preparation for and Response to Hurricane Katrina, she chose instead to be a participant and submitted her own report.

Cynthia McKinney has never been afraid to speak her mind, and stand up for what she believes in. Late in 2007, she left the Democratic Party to bring her energy and ideas to the whole country by becoming a Green Party Presidential Candidate.

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See the full set of Robert Shetterly's portraits at www.americanswhotellthetruth.org.

Tools for Teaching: see the acompanying curriculum materials with suggestions on how to use the portraits and biographies of these American truth-tellers in your classroom.
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Americans Who Tell the Truth ::

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This beautiful coffee-table book is an eloquent collection of portraits and stirring words of these brave citizens from all walks of life.
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