Community organizer, journalist and activist Rosa Clemente speaks at UMass for International Women’s Day

Clemente suggests ‘fixing the system’ as opposed to picking your battles


(Andrea Hanley/Daily Collegian)

By Andrea Hanley, Collegian Staff

University of Massachusetts students, faculty and members of the Amherst community dined and listened to poetry in celebration of International Women’s Day, with guest speakers on Thursday.

Rose Clemente, a “nominee for the green party in 2008… a doctoral candidate at UMass Amherst…and [a former] board member of Black Lives Matter”—as described by Hind Mari, director of the Women of Color Leadership Network Center for Women and Community—was the main feature of the seventh annual International Women’s conference.

Clemente kicked off Thursday evening’s event, in the UMass Student Union, with an hour-and-a-half long speech.

“I’ve been in Black studies all my life, and it has made me who I am,” Clemente said, “and I wouldn’t be standing here or done anything I’ve done if I had not, as an undergrad, taken my first Black studies class by a woman by the name of Doctor Vivian Verdell Gordon.”

According to Clemente’s website, Clemente is a “native of the South Bronx” but was raised in an upper-middle-class suburban neighborhood in Elmsford, New York. Both Puerto Rican and African-American, Clemente described her town as racially-diverse, yet she still felt isolated.

In high school, “the African-American community was a little more affluent than the white community, so my imagery, the pathology of the blackness was not something that I saw, [but] we were the only Latino family in the entire community,” Clemente said.

Often times when an individual gets involved with one movement, they consequently get involved with various other movements to not only learn, but to promote the very idea of activism, Clemente explained. Exemplifying this quality, Clemente has been involved with not only Black Lives Matter, but also with associations such as “the National Priorities Project, The Brecht Forum and the National Coalition to Abolish the Death Penalty,” according to the biography on her website.

“You just don’t join a movement and become an organizer,” Clemente said. “You can be an activist, but to be an organizer, you have to know your history, and we have to maybe come to the conclusion that the American project has been a failure since the beginning.”

Additionally, Clemente concentrated on the concept of “fixing the system,” the notion that a specific societal problem cannot be resolved until its members alter the mechanism that initially caused the uprising.

“There are three major problems within the electoral political system,” Clemente said. “First is the electoral college…second, if they don’t get rid of Citizens United that gives unlimited money now to candidates from corporations and third, there should be public financing of all campaigns, [which would then] also shorten campaigns.”

She added, “I think it is critically important that we share our stories, and often times, we are taught the history of oppression, but not the history of resistance, and not social justice and we need to pass that on. The reason that there is an Afro-American department or a gender and sexuality department, anything that is not the hetero-normative, Eurocentric academic discipline is because of students on a campus and the community outside.”

Andrea Hanley can be reached at [email protected]