Dr. Cornel Ronald West has been a household name for several decades as the American author, philosopher, professor, progressive political activist and social critic who has worked on various fronts and in different capacities over the past few years.
After announcing his presidential campaign in June 2023, the public intellectual and candidate held a fundraising reception at Busboys and Poets on Tuesday, Oct. 3. The event included food and music, and was attended by several supporters and hosted by the CEO of Busboys and Poets, Andy Shallal.
The fundraiser consisted of a discussion of West’s vision for reshaping American policy priorities and the context of the U.S.’ significant military spending. West passionately led the beginning of the event with a talk about dismantling the U.S. empire and how that begins with cutting military spending.
“First and foremost, as a [victorious] candidate you must become head of the empire in order to have the ability to dismantle the empire,” West declared to the audience.
According to the CATO Institute, the U.S. currently has approximately 750 bases in 80 countries worldwide. In 2020, The Intercept reported that the U.S. has at least 29 operational military bases on the African continent, while the Military Analysis Network reported there are approximately 440 military bases in the continental U.S.
Two days after the fundraiser, West declared that he would run as an independent third-party candidate rather than seeking support from the Green Party, as reported by The New York Times.
“The 59th cent for every dollar of the discretionary bucket goes to the military. There has to be a massive investment in people’s basic social needs, and much of that will come from a massive cut in military spending, ” West said.
According to Statista, in 2022 the U.S. led the world in spending on its military with $877 billion dollars used to fund the various branches of the nation’s military. From a global perspective, that was nearly 40% of the total spending on militaries worldwide in 2022 based on Statista’s figures.
Marcus Board Jr. is an associate professor of political science and Chair of the Black Politics Committee at Howard University, who highlighted that empire is disastrous to the environment.
“I recognize that military and defense spending is the majority of spending in the U.S.,” Board said. “Empire is destructive to social goods and life itself, but the biggest challenge comes from corporations having too much power and control in this capitalist system.”
Board further emphasized the challenge of retaining national sovereignty while addressing global climate concerns, emphasizing the need for governments to compel corporations to adhere to climate policies.
Andre Barnes, HBCU engagement director of Numbers USA, an anti-immigration advocacy organization that seeks to reduce legal and illegal immigration in the U.S., also attended the fundraiser.
Barnes expressed support for West’s stance on reducing military spending. “He did a good job talking about how he would reduce our military spending budget because it’s a beast, and there are a lot of other things we can do with that money,” Barnes said.
Later during the event, West critiqued the two-party system in the U.S., drawing attention to the lack of political alternatives and criticizing both major parties for various issues.
“One of the problems of the Two-party system is what? There is no alternative. You are telling the American people there is no alternative,” West said.
“You are locked in choosing between a real fascist, Trump – who has hijacked the establishment of the Republican party in the name of big business and big military, scapegoating the most vulnerable rather than confronting the most powerful, xenophobic across the board,” said West.
“He is just a thoroughgoing gangster,” West said. “Then there is the Democratic party that has its own crypto-fascist elements when it comes to mass incarceration, dropping bombs on innocent people, surveillance and violation of individual liberties.”
“The two-party system is a reflection of how the system is set up. While I agree with West that the parties are this way, so are the people,” Board said, sharing his thoughts on West’s remarks.
“Duverger’s law talks about this. It’s like Coke and Pepsi [and] whittling down to two big challengers is pretty common,” Board said.
Duverger’s law is a theory in the field of political science that upholds that within political systems that have a single, winning party, two main parties usually emerge, while smaller, ‘minor parties’ split votes away from major parties that support similar policies.
“Both parties are organized around destructive, oppressive and overall violent politics. Whether or not we can work within this system to create a new one is an ongoing question,” Board said.
The event concluded with remarks about recognizing modern U.S. society’s connection to the broader context of history.
“We [must] remember that no matter how overwhelmed we are by the smaller picture, we are connected to [a] larger picture. You are connected to the larger picture when you have a sense of history, like the giants on this wall,” West said, referencing the leaders of social and political movements on the walls of Busboys and Poets.
“The sense of history that you are connected with enables you to have the energy, vitality and vibrancy to conceive a different teaching,” West said.
Professor Board added his perspective, highlighting that a deeper understanding of the world and history allows for more intentional action. He believes oppressed people shouldn’t be blamed for their oppression, and slightly disagreed with West while highlighting the significance of national and historical systemic issues.
“The fact that we live in a system where people get hurt and don’t have the support they need is all I need to know,” Professor Board said.“I think the type of world we need exists already, time will tell whether or not we can actually take over and dismantle the world we have today.”
Following the event, attendee Barnes shared his perspective on West’s fundraising reception and highlighted an emotional aspect of the event.
“West’s love [for society] stood out the most during the event. A lot of people talk about love, but you don’t feel it from them,” Barnes said.
“He has something new to offer and has flavor. I hope that if someone offers him a cabinet position, he will consider taking it,” Barnes said.
Copy edited by Alana Matthew