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For Rosa Clemente, 2008 vice-presidential nominee for the Green Party and an active community organizer and hip-hop activist running for a seat in the New York State Senate, radicalism is the means through which to obtain change. Clemente stressed a radical approach during her emotional opening convocation lecture for Puerto Rican Identity Week, as students, professors and community members gathered to hear her speak on politics, race and gender in Salomon 101 on Wednesday night.

"The trajectory of American history is institutional racism," Clemente said. "The only reason we are here today is because people took over buildings. People didn't act in a comfortable manner. People weren't civil."

To Clemente, the history of the Puerto Rican people is one of the factors that led to this radicalism and explains their current situation, she said. "You begin to read this history, and you begin to get angry," she said. It is essentially through "knowing the history of my people being tortured, imprisoned, terrorized and sterilized" that movements for freedom and change are enacted, she said. "If young people know that history, it's empowering."

This is what pushes people to strive for revolution and independence in Puerto Rico and Latin America, Clemente said. There is a misconception that Puerto Ricans are "non-resistors," she said. "The people of Puerto Rico need to be allowed to have an independent nation."

The discussion brought up a vast range of controversial social, political and economic issues plaguing both Puerto Rican communities and American politics. An important feature is what she describes as "interethnic conflict" and problems with identity that currently affect society and politics in Latino communities in the United States.

"Elected officials who increasingly look like us are more detrimental than any previous white elected official that could have been racist," she said. "We're dealing with elected officials that have sold out their communities."

Clemente considered a range of concerns — including the current health care debate, immigration policy, the political response to Hurricane Katrina and Puerto Rican independence — through gender and racial lenses. "We, as women of color, have to always understand that race, class and gender are always going to interact in the political system," she said.

The key to change is moving beyond this and consider these issues honestly. "Unless we hold elected officials — especially those who say they represent us — accountable, we don't get any victories," Clemente said.  "All power does not come from a ballot. The vote is important. But the hard thing is what we do the next day after that vote."

To conclude the lecture, Clemente quoted Pedro Albizu Campos, a leader of the Puerto Rican independence movement in the early 20th century, "When tyranny is law, revolution is order."



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