Cornel West Announces Fellow Academic and BLMer Melina Abdullah As Running Mate

Aaron Pellish, CNN

*(CNN) — Independent presidential candidate Cornel West announced fellow academic Melina Abdullah as his vice presidential nominee in an interview Wednesday on “The Tavis Smiley Show.”

“She has a record of deep commitment and investment in ensuring that poor and working people are at the center of her vision,” West said of his running mate. “I wanted to to run with someone who would put a smile on the face of Fannie Lou Hamer and Martin Luther King Jr. from the grave.”

West’s selection of Abdullah, a Muslim Black woman and a member of the board of directors for Black Lives Matter Grassroots, could further advance his outreach to Muslim Americans and Black Americans disenchanted with President Joe Biden.

A pan-African studies professor at California State University, Los Angeles, Abdullah said she enthusiastically agreed to join West’s campaign and was drawn to his platform of “truth, love and justice.”

“I regard (West), and many of us regard him as one of the most brilliant people to walk this earth, and so I’ve been following him and had been really enthusiastic about his candidacy,” Abdullah said on Smiley’s show shortly after she was announced as West’s running mate.

Melina Abdullah (Valerie Macon-AFP-Getty Images via CNN Newsource)
Melina Abdullah (Valerie Macon-AFP-Getty Images via CNN Newsource)

“He and his wife, Annahita, asked and immediately my heart just soared,” she said. “I said ‘yes’ immediately. Like, shouted ‘yes.’”

Abdullah said she hopes joining West’s campaign and forming a ticket with two Black people would encourage more voters to consider alternatives in political leadership.

“I think that both of us want to disrupt the narrative that you have only two choices,” Abdullah said. “The world tries to tell us that we’re tethered to certain ideas that we don’t have to be tethered to. We can be expansive and imaginative.”

Abdullah, who was raised Baptist, said she believes her religious background ties into the core themes of West’s campaign.

“People of faith all want the same thing. We want peace, we want truth, we want love, and we want justice,” she said.

A contrast with Biden

West’s choice of a Muslim running mate accentuates his push to appeal to Muslim American voters who are dissatisfied with Biden’s handling of the Israel-Hamas war. West has met repeatedly with pro-Palestinian activists across the country, including in the battleground state of Michigan, and regularly describes Israel’s military actions in Gaza as “genocidal.”

West used the recent police shooting of Dexter Reed in Chicago and the Israel-Hamas war to draw a contrast between him and Abdullah and Biden and Vice President Kamala Harris.

“Biden and Harris right now are tied to vicious forms of lies that are hiding the crimes. You just had Lloyd Austin say that there’s no genocide taking place,” West said. “That’s a lie. The same is true when it comes to Chicago on the South Side. You’re gonna have the police saying police didn’t violate the law. No, that’s a lie that hides crimes. We’re tired of lies. We’re tired of crime.”

A spokesperson for the Democratic National Committee responded to West’s vice presidential announcement by dismissing his pathway to victory.

“Despite Cornel West announcing a running mate, our view remains the same: only two candidates have a path to 270 electoral votes, President Biden and Donald Trump,” DNC spokesperson Matt Corridoni told CNN in a statement. “The stakes are high and we know this is going to be a close election – that’s why a vote for any third party candidate is a vote for Donald Trump.”

Abdullah, who graduated from Howard University with a degree in African American Studies before earning a Ph.D. in political science from the University of Southern California, said she “will never step away from” Black Lives Matter Grassroots, a branch of the movement that helps organize local Black Lives Matter groups across the country. She said she hopes members of the organization will support West’s campaign.

“I will never step back from that. I will never step back from saying we must end state-sanctioned violence against Black people and work towards Black freedom,” she said. “That said, Black Lives Matter does not endorse candidates, right? So Black Lives Matter will not be endorsing me. People within Black Lives Matter, my prayer and hope is that they’ll come with us. But the agenda, the Black Lives Matter agenda of ending state-sanctioned violence, of building a world where our children and our people can live and walk freely, comes with me into this race.”

Abdullah downplayed concerns that her affiliation with Black Lives Matter would potentially hurt West’s campaign, saying that her experience organizing local chapters around the country may be an asset.

“I think some people might see it as baggage, but I actually see the work and experience of organizing in the kind of authenticity of our work is being something that actually fuels this campaign,” she said. “I’ve been organizing a long time. So, you know, we’ll bring those skill sets as well as that vision.”

This story has been updated with additional information.

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