The seven leading candidates to run the Democratic National Committee spent Monday night talking through issues of diversity and racial justice, all of them agreeing that their party needed to do more for non-whites. At the Democracy in Color forum, every suggestion that party elites had grown out of touch got a vigorous assent.
“I need schoolin’ so I can go school the other white people,” said Sally Boynton Brown, the executive director of Idaho’s Democratic Party. “We need it.”
The forum, hosted by MSNBC’s Joy Reid, was the fourth DNC forum in just nine days. Boynton Brown was joined by Rep. Keith Ellison (D-Minn.), former secretary of labor Tom Perez, New Hampshire Democratic Party Chairman Ray Buckley, South Carolina Democratic Party Chairman Jaime Harrison, Democratic strategist Jehmu Greene and South Bend, Ind., Mayor Pete Buttigieg. Earlier in the day, Ellison had been endorsed by civil rights activist Jesse Jackson, and Perez had been endorsed by the PAC of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus.
All of the candidates, save Buttigieg, had missed Saturday’s National Women’s March for a forum at a Florida donor retreat — a fact used in conservative media to needle the other candidates. But the Democracy in Color forum didn’t waste much time pushing the candidates to restate their platforms. Reid asked for concrete ways that the DNC could change its relationship to young voters and non-white voters, and got clear answers.
Every candidate agreed that the DNC needed to dialogue with, and support, the Black Lives Matter movement. “Black lives will matter if I’m DNC chair,” said Harrison. “I’ve been a black man all my life.”
Ellison was just as full-throated in his support for activists, but suggested that his DNC would help them find their way in the political process.
“The demonstration has to end in legislation or you end up with a lot of frustration,” he said.
Greene, the third black candidate in the race, said that her experience as a Fox News commentator trained her on how to rebut conservatives who claimed that supporting civil rights activism meant being anti-cop. She previewed her response to the media: “You gave us this nightmare in the White House and we’re not going to take it any more.” Buckley recounted a phone call he’d had after the election with a black member of his family, who was so worried about the Trump administration that she considered moving.
Perez and Buttigieg, meanwhile, spoke concretely about how the end of the Obama administration would require more robust activism from the DNC. Buttigieg praised the former president’s Department of Justice for intervening against police abuse, and worried that the arrival of a Trump DOJ “makes the job of every mayor so much harder.” Perez talked about his own time in the administration, denouncing — in English and Spanish — the idea that to ask for fairer policing was to oppose law and order.
“Any law enforcement officer will tell you, the key is community policing,” said Perez. “How do you help the Latino community if you don’t have Latino officers? Kind of hard in my opinion.”
But later, when asked how the DNC should deal with Trump from a political standpoint, Buckley suggested that the forum was getting away from the actual role of the DNC. That led to questions about how the organization could increase diversity among activists on the ground.
“They need to get the same resources the white consultants have gotten,” said Greene.
“If we stop spending money on corporate media, we’ll have the money to hire thousands of young Latinos,” said Buckley.
Ellison went further, saying that the DNC should and could engage in a specific project — a plan to turn Texas blue.
“That would send a statement to the Trumps of the world that the Democratic Party is on the side of inclusion and empowerment,” he said.