Reminder to Democratic Party, Black Lives Matter

This almost feels too important to write anything about, here. i.e., this is just my dumb blog with a maximum readership in the low fews; it almost feels like trivializing something as important as racial equality to post about it. That probably doesn’t make a lot of sense, though, so anyway a note on one or two recent observations.

Last week I attended a meeting of the Lakewood Democratic Club. Though a registered Dem, I’m not a member of this very small organization, and was only there because of a discussion related to Lakewood Hospital. It was interesting beyond that, though, as this same meeting included by chance a long-awaited appearance by the Ohio Democratic Party chairman David Pepper.

His presentation was mostly encouraging. The party leadership, at least here in Ohio, seems to have noticed its big problem with voters only showing up every four years. Doing something about it will be more difficult, but the program outlined by Mr. Pepper seemed like a credibly serious plan.

The only big problem that I noted was two-fold: 1) the suggestion that every important Democratic message ties into economic inequality, and 2) the fact that Mr. Pepper and, I think, everyone listening to him may be presumed to check “white” on the census form.

As regards point one, I could call to mind more than one issue that is not simply a subset of economic inequality, but the issue of systematized racism jumps to the fore. Even sitting there listening, I thought “um…!” I considered quickly that the absence of any reference to race may simply have been a consequence of point two, i.e. perhaps Mr. Pepper was just speaking to his audience… and maybe he was, but even if so, I have concluded since that this is still a problem.

Reading another article about Black Lives Matter, today, reminded me of this, and of an item that ran at Vox in between. In the first article, Opal Tometi is quoted saying that “I think the two-party system isn’t working for us. And it hasn’t worked for us for generations.” My first thought was that this goes rather far, as this Vox story seems to suggest in recounting how Democratic pushes for civil rights—typically in the face of Republican opposition—earned black support for the party.

Thinking about it further, though, I guess it’s worth asking “what have you done for me lately?” What was the last time that advancing African Americans toward equal rights was a major issue for Democrats? The Vox story doesn’t list anything more recent than 50 years ago. The only subsequent events mentioned are instances of Republican race-baiting, which may partly explain continued black affiliation with the Democratic Party, but doesn’t really demonstrate Democrats doing much to have earned it.

There may well also be any number of reasons why the Democratic Party has done little about this far-from-solved issue through this period, but never mind them. It’s been 50 years, now, and that’s a long time! I would say that actually is entirely long enough to back up Ms. Tometi’s reference to a failure of “generations.” Maybe the Vox recap glossed over some things… but how much? Let’s consider, “the civil rights era” was something well before my time, which I only learned about in history books, and I’m not exactly part of generation next at this point.

It also occurs to me that “the two-party system isn’t working for us” could be interpreted in a couple of ways, here. One might argue that even having one party that addresses your rights doesn’t really constitute a working two-party system, if the other party is pretty much openly a home for the people most enthusiastic about denying said rights. Unfortunately, I think that’s probably not a failing unique to racial policy; the number of issues in which our two major parties really compete to offer solutions is rather small these days.

In any event, that is what it is, and by itself I’m not sure what the Democratic party can do besides press for real solutions to important problems, regardless of what the GOP does. As Mr. Pepper said, the party needs to reconnect with this in its messages rather than just let so many people see politics as nothing more than a game that offers no relevance to their own lives. To which I would add, in doing so the party needs to address the systematic abuse and even murder of a segment of Americans simply because their skin is dark.

Again, never mind excuses; we’re past the point where this is at all a problem anyone should simply not have considered, certainly anyone active in politics. The raw numbers are too large, now, to frown and talk about regrettable “incidents.” America has an institutional racism problem on which the Democratic party has mostly been asleep for half a century. I don’t think that needs to mean that it’s hopeless and should be written off completely. But I do think that “Every major Democratic candidate for president has directly addressed the [Black Lives Matter] movement by meeting with representatives from the cause or releasing racial justice platforms” needs to be recognized as no more than a readying to get started, no matter how much worse the other party looks in comparison.

I have to suggest, furthermore, that subsequent meaningful steps need to go beyond candidates for president. Again, this was in general terms one of the very valid points that Mr. Pepper made last week. I think he and other Democratic leaders need to connect up these ideas, and start talking about this as a priority for the party, including and especially when talking to a mostly white audience at a suburban chapter meeting. Being aware of your audience doesn’t mean speaking only about things they are already interested in. In politics, it would seem that it quite simply can’t; you’ve got to build coalitions, and that means talking to people about more than their own immediate interests.

Given the long doze of the Democratic party when it comes to standing with black America, I would suggest that in renewing this coalition the party should be prepared to do most of the reaching out to address black lives, including reaching out to non-black audiences to address the importance.

For my part, I probably need to raise this point someplace other than here… suggestions welcome!

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