The first Democratic primary debate, scheduled for late June in Miami, is less than four weeks away. I don’t know about anyone else, but I’m exhausted already. Maybe from the last two-and-a-half years of mayhem, maybe from being ever more increasingly offended by this administration’s tilt towards plutocracy, but I just can’t see my way out. Maybe it’s the barrage of campaign emails that I receive daily from the Democratic hopefuls (I’ve signed up for nearly all of them). Maybe it’s that, with each passing day, it seems that a new hopeful has jumped into an already massively crowded field. What are we at now, 23? 24? How many is too many?
So many candidates. So many detailed and not so detailed and totally nonexistent policy platforms. I want to do my due diligence; I want to really comb through each candidate’s background, voting record and vision for a future America that will, with their exceptional leadership, lead us back from four years of moral capitulation to a not-so-morally bankrupt version of the American experiment. But that’s a full-time job and I already have one of those. I fear we’ll lean toward embracing whomever is most popular at any given moment, whomever garners the most media attention. With so many people fighting to be heard, all substance tends to get lost, making it more difficult to really get to know any candidate.
One bright light that at least temporarily mitigated the paralysis of too many options was April’s She the People Presidential Forum. It was founded and organized by Aimee Allison, a veteran Democratic strategist and thought leader and it was, so far as I know, the first event of its kind. Eight Democratic hopefuls descended upon Texas Southern University, an historically black college in Houston, to make their pitch to women of color as to why they should for them. Imagine: a gathering of top contenders brought together to speak directly to women of color — a reliable, yet historically ignored, Democratic voting constituency. One in five primary voters will be a woman of color. And in Texas, South Carolina, Georgia, Florida and Arizona, women of color will represent no less than 25% of the primary vote.
Allison didn’t simply demonstrate that Black and Brown women are — and always have been — integral to the Democratic Party’s success. She’s building a movement. She has identified four key pillars central to this new mobilization: “to love our own and each other, to seek justice for all, to ensure everyone belongs, and to make sure that this American democracy lives up to its greatest promise.”
Initiating a frank conversation between presidential candidates — all candidates — and women of color is long overdue. She the People demonstrated — especially to those who have not thought deeply or at all — that issues of importance to the daily lives and to the future of women of color are, indeed, important to the success of the nation as a whole.
Who attended? Sen. Cory Booker, former HUD Secretary Julián Castro, Rep. Tulsi Gabbard, Sen. Kamala Harris, Sen. Amy Klobuchar, former Rep. Beto O’Rourke, Sen. Bernie Sanders and Sen. Elizabeth Warren. They all spent the afternoon fielding questions from Allison, MSNBC’s Joy Reid and an array of audience members representing just about every walk of life you can think of. Some candidates, like Warren and Harris, stood out by providing clear policy prescriptions to address some of the issues raised by the women in the room. Other candidates unfortunately stumbled, unable to provide a clear answer to the most important question of all: “Why should Black women vote for you?”
When Sanders referenced his participation in the 1963 March on Washington, the audience groaned. Had I been present, I would have groaned, too. Candidates need to stop speaking in generalities and start getting specific as to how they plan to help our mighty voting bloc. We are past the point of giving (or getting) credit for simply showing up: you have to tell us what you will do to improve the lives of people of color. Show us that you’ve done your homework; show us that you’ve thought deeply; show us that you’ve listened when we’ve told you what matters to us the most. Speak to our community of diverse women who have been taken for granted for too long as reliably blue while the Democratic Party spent years and decades courting the elusive white working-class voter.
I’m writing about She the People because it’s a month later and this forum still excites me. Recently, I attended a panel discussion at which Stacey Abrams (I’m a fan!) spoke about The New Georgia Project and Fair Fight Action, both of which she created to combat voter suppression — the same anti-democratic, disenfranchising forces that led to her 2018 gubernatorial loss in Georgia. Abrams isn’t even running and she’s willing to get specific. I want the candidates to clearly spell out how they will address the plethora of issues of importance to women of color, and, therefore, to the nation as a whole. I’m listening. We all are.