Several prominent attendees at the Congressional Progressive Caucus’ annual retreat concluded that “the Democratic Party has a race problem”. I can draw from my own experiences, on this note, as recently as our San Francisco Assembly District Delegate elections. Our local party leaders and those hopeful to become elected to the state party as Delegates organized slates. From my perspective and after several disappointing conversations, I see problems around issues in political vision, race, class and privilege. These issues were not fun to discuss but are vital to overcoming the deeply seeded issues. If we are to become more inclusive and achieve true party unity we must take steps to address them head on.
As a gay, African American with Native American and Haitian ancestor and Muslim heritage represented throughout my family. I have become very vocal on these issues as they present themselves in how our party operates. My ethnic and sexual identities are not my politics. My history of overcoming hardship which includes repeated displacement from jobs through workplace discrimination and displacement from my housing through the related economic instability and subsequent homelessness at various points in my life. These are the issues that I seek to impact and improve upon for others. My political vision of change is rooted in those hardships.
My advocacy is toward creating solutions to the same issues that have impacted my life, but for everyone in our community. Using my personal experience as a platform to this end allows me to give voice to many people. I will use these positions to impact party policy in a way that would illustrate great empathy. This voice and my perspective influence people who share my experiences to become active in civic engagement and more importantly those who have never had to persevere through such problems to better understand the issues.
What lead to a Donald Trump presidency and the rise of the Republican Party and its deplorable values, vision, and character is symbolic of a deeper issue in our society. The “us against them”, “divide to conquer” mentality has led to ugly divisiveness in our country and Democrat-on-Democrat acts of physical violence — yes I have seen democrats physically assault other democrats. We are losing the war because our party leadership lacks a strong emphasis on the value of inclusivity and has become exclusive to only those who can afford to buy their way into the system or those who will compromise their values and “play along to get along”. Sadly, if you don’t have a seat at the table, you are usually on the menu.
The leadership structures of our party are out of reach to the new “average citizen.” Democrats of every flavor are earning a negative reputation of exclusivity and are often criticized for ignoring the needs and concerns of the most vulnerable in our communities by these same constituencies. This is because our vulnerable community can’t pay to play in the same ways that our political machinery has grown to operate.
The presidential election should be a wake-up call to us all. With our Presidential Election, tragically, illustrated that our country will not follow a Democratic leadership that isn’t directly engaging the communities and offering solutions to the problems of the 99%. Simultaneously, democratic leaders expected the growing number of people who are experiencing very hard times in this country to support our party endorsed candidates simply because they call themselves a Democrat (progressive or moderate).
The number of people who are vulnerable in terms of economics — housing security, job security etc. yet voted for Trump regardless of how the Republican Party agenda conflicts with our fundamental need to have a government that is responsive to the people to create accessible opportunities that support for all its citizens. This is indicative of the systemic issues inherent in a toxically exclusive Democratic Party.
U.S. citizens are losing faith in Democrats to be the “party of the people.” Voters that are registering as independent are surging in step with growing voter apathy and complacency is increasing at a startling pace. The exclusivity of our party has been driving us in this direction for far too long, resulting in the absurdity that is the Trump presidency. While we have been fighting among ourselves (the Bernie and Hillary divide), we took our eyes off the prize — which is growing unity and building our party’s strength in numbers in key constituencies.
As we gear up for the 2018 midterms and subsequent battles for control of our nation’s leadership, few of our future candidates seem to truly represent the experience of our people that are living with extreme hardship. Our party will continue to crumble if Democrats do not represent and engage the very people upon which this country runs — minorities, immigrants, and our youth. Those demographics that we often socially marginalize and that are often negatively economically impacted historically report feeling ignored by our party leadership. They are often never afforded a seat at the table without untenable self-compromise. Then what happens?
I became motivated to seek seats at different levels of our Democratic Party leadership because I feel that an important perspective is missing: the experiences of the foundation of our community which includes the suppressed, the impoverished, the homeless and the imprisoned. All of these groups also include different minority ethnicities. As a combined collective, they comprise the fastest growing segment of our society. Yet, as Democrats, we repeatedly fail to adequately engage and address the concerns of these people, until their central issues become so inescapable, economically privileged classes begin to agonize over the inconveniences that interrupt their pleasures — for instances homelessness and the idea that minorities are taking away jobs and opportunity from white men and women. That’s the ultimate slap in the face that drives people away from our party.
When and where it counts, we know that major decisions that affect our lives are being made by a chosen few who by comparison often enjoy very privileged life experiences. The growing majority — the voices, experiences, and lives of the impacted and marginalized simply don’t seem to matter as much in a society that prioritizes economics. We learned that a growing majority of our country may not have cared to vote because they believe our system isn’t built to include them. This is why large numbers of African Americans, Latinos, and other historically marginalized ethnic minority groups tend to opt out, especially those who are also locked into low-income communities.
Our systems are indeed built around individuals with economic privilege, access, and favoritism. The pattern of disillusionment because of the inequity that this causes repeats and it’s growing larger with each generation. While the issues and concerns of the wealthy and influential continue to be given preferential treatment by political elites, everyone else is literally left out in the cold.
If we hope to achieve victory it must be won through the inclusivity of our party. I believe that Democrats must focus on grooming representatives that aren’t a reflection of the same disparate social classes and economic elitism that has become so prevalent in our society. We must accept the hardest lesson of the 2016 presidential election: we cannot afford to continue to be so exclusive that our party suffocates.
If we want to grow our party, we must evolve to include and value less-privileged life experiences in our party leadership. These representatives will be better suited to help our us refocus our outreach efforts. These representatives will also be able to engage deeper into neglected communities because they know what neglect feels like and how it damages our communities.
This will result in a government that is appropriately responsive to the needs and expectations or our civilization. If we can accomplish this objective of becoming a party that is inclusive of these experiences in our leadership, people in our society will feel less abandoned because they will finally see someone that has walked in their footsteps. This kind of representative will better understand the barriers to active participation in civic engagement by people from communities that know hardship. This kind of representative can will have a great ability to break down the systems that exclude valuable people and their experiences.
The investments of the previous generations to protect, defend, and provide opportunities for our future are being dismantled. We must defend the defenseless, disregarded, and marginalized from the harm that Trump and his agenda seek to cause. We must also be prepared to counteract the negative impacts that bad Democratic policy will have on our society.
To create equity and stand for justice our party should switch gears and support leadership that is multicultural and capable of empathizing and understanding the experiences of the impoverished and communities of color that are negatively impacted by public policy that make it difficult to overcome issues such as poverty, homelessness, and gentrification. To represent the people in any official or elected capacity, your very presence must engender this ability to inspire the great masses of disenchanted citizens. This will be the true revolution of the people.