#FeelTheBern Why We Bern Bright in the 2016 Election Cycle

Here we are – another presidential election season, with big choices to make. The battle is in full swing, with the candidates trying to build up support and solidify their positions. I am a #BlackBerner and I am with #Women4Bernie.

I sat down with the intention of writing a response to an article about why black people are not supporting Bernie.  But  I realized that what we really need is a conversation about how to engage in the political process this election season and beyond. Despite being a Black woman from a socially conscious family, I could not adequately articulate reasons for why Black people are reluctant to support someone whose platform coincides with many of the issues that have been long neglected in Black communities.  To me it is a no brainer. But everyone is different.  Like any other segement of the population we are not a monolithic group, following one supreme platform. While I have fully embraced being part of the growing grassroots movement to change the status quo, there are many people who aren’t “feeling” Bernie or they are “turned off” by his supporters. Others say he does not “know how to campaign” in Black communities.

That last one should be refreshing. It’s true,  Bernie isn’t well-versed in the practice of greasing palms, kissing rings, and invoking the black church pastor in his speeches. He is a straight shooter from Brooklyn. He pulls no punches when he talks, and doesn’t back down from speaking the truth not just what sounds good in that moment.

Some people find the incessant Bernie news, updates, and memes annoying; however, we have a message of change and progress, and it must be heard. Change is not easy, but it is absolutely necessary.

Gil Scott-Heron famously said, “the revolution will not be televised.” It also will not be published or recorded. This revolution is driven by the people and for the people, and with dollars from the people!

And it is not just Black voters who are wary or reluctant to #FeelTheBern.  Millions of people nationwide are discouraged. They see no reason to get politically active, let alone vote. Leaders in politics, business, and even some in the labor movement ignore the needs of the people and vote for their own interests. They have a vested interest in maintaining the status quo.  Certain members of state and national “leadership” are deeply entrenched in the political elite in general, and in the Democratic Party establishment specifically. They are comfortable working within that system. It has benefited them and, to a lesser extent, their causes.

But we have to be real. Those leaders have failed Black, Brown, and poor communities nationwide on issues such as wage inequality, public school quality, infrastructure development, Social Security, unemployment, domestic violence, police brutality, high interest rates, and high foreclosure.

This election cycle, we must move beyond the rat race of the past 50 years. We must be more critical than ever and make choices differently from how we did in the past. Change is neccessary to sustain and maintain “progress.” As we have seen with the rollback of voting rights in several places, most notably in Alabama, we cannot rest on our laurels or the laws meant to protect us! Yes, people might sound good and talk a good game, but can they back it up? What have they done when faced with the opportunity to make a positive, lasting impact? Have they done what was politically safe? Or have they taken a stand for what is right? Be sure you know your candidate and not just the public face put forward.

I believe there are three basic things everyone should do this election season to be better informed in the voting process:

  1. Figure out why you are “feeling” or not “feeling” a particular candidate. It is ok to not like someone.  But you should be able to clearly articulate why you feel or think the way you do about that person.
  2. Move beyond the sound bites. Move beyond that one headline you read, or that one article you skimmed through. Check the sound bites and “promises” against voting records. Go to the candidates’ pages and read their plans and proposals. Go to neutral websites to see where candidates stand on issues that matter to you.  See who donates money to them.  Read what other people are saying about those plans. Also quick check social media posts to make sure it is even accurate. Far too often we post, share, and tweet information that sounds good but isn’t accurate.
  3.  Figure out where your personal/moral political philosophy is, and nurture.  Find groups and candidates that are consistent with where you stand.  Can’t find one? Be bold, start a new group and invite others to join you.  Tap into existing social networks to help find others in your area who may see things the way you do.

Some people have expressed stressful interactions with Bernie supporters.  It has been said that we are annoying and condescending among other things.  For the most part, grassroots volunteers for Bernie are tired of the needs of the people not being met.  We are tired of politics as usual and we’re pushing ahead against a huge political machine that would rather silence us then see us win.  We do not simply need change we believe in, or hope, we need to revitalize the working and middle class and provide meaningful opportunities for all and not just the super wealthy.  It can happen if people decide that is something worth fighting for.  All movements have growing pains, but we need to the take time to reflect and evaluate strategies and messaging as we are moving along in our work.   No matter how righteous our quest, there is always space to adjust approaches and tweak messaging.  We can be passionate and committed without being condescending and judgmental.

There is much at stake. Sometimes it is good to take a step back and see the big picture. We are running a marathon not a 100-m sprint.  Whether we like it or not, as members of a grassroots movement, we are de facto representatives of our candidate.  We need to make sure we are communicating in a manner that is consistent with the campaign’s overall goals and objectives.  Know your audience and adjust accordingly.  Even if you are not officially aligned with the campaign, modeling the behavior of the candidate we support will go a long way in terms of building goodwill with potential voters. Arrogant condescending commentary will not help our cause.  From the hood to the hollers, we have to put forth our best efforts in the fight for 2016 and beyond.

In order to have real, meaningful change in our communities, we must use our networks to develop and nurture talent at the local and state levels. This isn’t some corporate shill campaign with a multimillion-dollar war chest. This is a people-powered movement. We are about people. Feedback, criticism, and input from other supporters and undecided folks is crucial — but it’s got to be constructive. Vague comments help nobody. Mere naysaying, without concrete feedback, hinders progress.

In addition, we need to work hard to organize and mobilize voters from underrepresented populations. People power is essential to ensuring the promises of equality for all. Although certain candidates may be more admired, or folks are nostalgic for a time long past, we need practical solutions and a commitment to dramatic change.  We cannot discount the value of interacting with others and helping them actualize the full potential of their power. Contrary to popular belief, VOTING IS POWER.  To people sitting on the sidelines…get involved. Help shape the policy and initiatives you wish to see addressed. Demanding that candidates do x, y, and z is great, but discussing why those initiatives matter and helping to shape policy is even better.  Demanding changes, without specifics, will leave you even more unsatisfied than when you first engaged in the process.

How much more are we willing to take before we stop accepting business as usual? How do we reach people who have been cheated out of their vote? Every election cycle we hear people say, “vote for the lesser of two evils.” In every election cycle, we see candidates who appeal to the fears and prejudices cultivated by years of misinformation and underdevelopment.  In both scenarios, hardworking people lose out, while big business and friends keep blossoming.

It is well past time to take our country back from the top 1%. Together we can overcome every obstacle and dismantle corporate America’s stranglehold on the nation.

I am all in with #Bernie2016 — but I know many people who either are not “feeling him” or are on the fence. Still others happily support different candidates.

Regardless of whom you support, I hope we can continue to motivate and engage new and old voters alike. Voting is only one of many ways in which we can create sustainable, positive change in our communities and country. Electing a president with a progressive platform is a lofty goal, but it can become reality when the people fully embrace it.

We need to step outside of our comfort zones, listen to what other people need, and speak up when we must.

Setting the Record Straight – Single Mothers and the BS of Not all Families are Equal

Contrary to popular belief, single mothers are not the bane of existence.  We are not just laying around having babies and collecting welfare. Single mothers and their children work hard, every single day, to create better lives and opportunities for themselves.  Maybe instead of passing judgment on what goes on in the inner workings of someone else’s household you begin to look at how you can get involved and help your own family and community.  Recently Ben Carson, yes he is the neurosurgeon with mouth diarrhea, made “comments” about single mothers and their children.  I say FUCK Ben Carson. My son, despite being born out of wedlock to a single mother, will be a better man, doctor, and human being.  Ben Carson is the latest right wing candidate spewing hate, to bring out the worst in us.

Like many conservatives, Carson feeds into the stereotype of single mothers as being a great evil of society.  A product of a single parent household, and having relied upon government assistance, Carson fails to acknowledge the various structural and economic inequities which create dire situations for some single mothers and their families.  As single households with only one wage earner, we are disproportionately impacted by low wage jobs, poor healthcare benefits, exorbitant child care cost, and lack of access to sick leave.  Without the needed protections, particularly ratification of the Equal Rights Amendment, single mothers are at a constant disadvantage.

Even commentary about people being poor and criminals fails to acknowledge the fact that class, race, and family status play a big part in arrest and subsequent sentencing. Many people in jail currently are in jail for non-violent drug offenses. How many accounts have we heard of the person with the small amount of x drug who is in jail for life? Not saying that drug possession or sale is ok, but there should be proportionality in enforcement, prosecution, and sentencing. And we all know there is not.  Just because a greater proportion of people are in jail, does not mean they are inherently more “evil” or guilty of committing crime than others.  There are numerous reports and studies indicating that certain people are sentenced stiffer, and less likely to be offered probation and participation in divisionary programs etc.

Many people tell me I’m an exception, that I’m not the rule. Well I always respond that you are the company you keep. Despite where I have lived and who I have been around, I have always tried to be the best version of myself. I have sought out people with a similar work ethic and passion for family.  There are more of us around than you think.  Maybe you don’t see more strong examples of single motherhood, because you choose to only see the negative or you associate in a certain grouping of people.  Maybe it is time to upgrade your associations.  Anyone can find anything negative if they look for it.   Over the past 15 years I have met many women, young and old, who have overcome ridiculous odds to be where they are and have remarkable stories to tell and beautiful children to show for it all. From the block to the hollers, women struggle every day to do the best they can with what they have. No I cannot accept that I am an exception. I’ve seen the face of single motherhood and it is not the “ghetto welfare queen” alluded to so often on TV.  As a member of the access program I was one of dozens of women at The Ohio State University committed to raising my children in a positive and productive manner while completing my degree. Outside of my academic life I met women of all incomes and walks of life. The majority were 100% about their kids.  Once upon a time we had a greater focus on community and social supports.  However, the erosion of the working and middle class has plunged many of our families into stressful situations.  Things happen even to the best of people. And yes I’m sure you who may read this can think of x, y, z example of people doing poorly. But guess what none of us are perfect, but only some of us are scrutinized under the public moral microscope.

My personal passion, drive, and fear of failure helped me move from a scared 19 year old afraid of losing her scholarship pregnant with her first child, to a practicing attorney.  The lingering shame I felt, the family golden child, pregnant and unmarried was unbearable in the beginning. Through my friendships with other women I began to understand that it mattered how I viewed myself and the path I chose for my children and myself.  I am all for personal accountability and holding others accountable. But I believe that should be even handed and across the board.  When people like Ben Carson spew their vicious crap, it makes me sick. Yet it gives me something to write about and provides the reader with insight into another way of viewing things. Instead of attacking single mothers and their families, leaders should be offering solutions and developing opportunities for change.  We are only as strong as our most vulnerable families and communities.

As I sit here writing, I think about my son who wants to become a doctor and my daughter who has so many different ideas she cannot narrow it all down (leaning toward developer or engineer).  Anything is possible. We may have more to overcome than others, and a different time line, but DO NOT let anyone tell you who you are and what you are worth.  People like Ben Carson remind me that I am stronger than most and able to overcome otherwise insurmountable obstacles.

We have to stop allowing ourselves to be put into the stereotypes and vile characterizations of others. We are strength. We are excellence. And we have birthed, raised, and nurtured two presidents among many other wonderful people in the past 25 years. Let that sink in.

#HillaryClinton – “Because they look at what they think I can do for them.”

Still waiting to hear clear and developed plans to help American families and workers. I’m glad she has the support of people who think she can do “something” for them.  What she can do for her colleagues? What about the American people? This is not a good old folks club where the haves play around with our tax dollars and throw us some I’m voting for the candidate who wants to lead regardless of the perks. I’m voting for the candidate who does not take money from big corporate interest, from for-profit prisons, and the banking industry that nearly crippled our country. I’m voting for the Keep thinking she’s different.

The DNC has shown that it is out of touch with America. Coming off of another round of losses in 2014, the party is doubling down on business as usual instead of digging deep and making needed changes. Party leadership, union leadership, and current elected officials are looking out for themselves. They are not focusing on the people across the 50 states.  They are not reaching out and engaging disenchanted voters.  They are not developing solutions for real issues facing real communities. Bernie is the only one not on the take. It’s time to show them who is really in charge. One person, one vote mean something. Let’s make it count!

Find a way to get involved. Organize a debate watch party! Pass out info flyers.  Every little bit helps.  I know many of us are busy between work, school, and family commitments but look up events near you! Take along the kids, it might count as volunteer hours for school. Need more information? Still not too sure about Bernie Sanders? Check out FeelTheBern!

“But the fact now that I have so many of my Democratic colleagues, present and former, in the House and the Senate, out in state Houses who are lined up to say, you know, ‘This is the person we want to see as president,’ is very gratifying,” she said. “Because they look at what they think I can do for them.” (emphasis added). 

With just two weeks to go until the first Democratic debate, Clinton tells MSNBC’s Chuck Todd that Democrats have lined up behind her, not Sanders.

Source: Hillary Clinton’s not-so-subtle message to Bernie Sanders | MSNBC

The DNC – “This Organization is Powered by You!”

Our country is at a crossroads.  We can either continue down this path of dismantling the backbone of our society (the working and middle class) or we can change course and rebuild opportunities for American families to thrive. As we exist in a two party system, both groups vie for the attention and support of the average American.  No matter how much certain special interest spend on votes they still need YOU to show up and vote.  Often people are heard saying they are voting for a lesser of two evils. But what if you didn’t have to? What if you could vote your conscience and not against your interest? The National Democratic Party positions itself as being of the people, for the people, by the people.  During a twitter exchange, I was pointed to a “preliminary report”[1] released in February 2015 by the Democratic National Committee (DNC) that examined why Democrats were losing.  The report was authored by the Democratic Victory Taskforce, as group appointed by DNC Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz.  Although primarily focused on mid-term election losses in 2014, the report looked at historical trends affecting voter motivation and participation.[2]

The national Democratic Party must never allow itself to become a party of Beltway consultants who routinely recommend cookie-cutter campaigns that are detached from the concerns of the people we hope to represent, at the city, state, and federal level. In order to consistently win on every level, we have to reconnect with the reason we want to win—and that reason is the people. The national party must work with and help grow state and local parties, to empower the people to participate in politics, while recruiting and training the next generation of office holders. Democrats must stand for the right of all eligible Americans to be able to register, to vote, and to have their vote counted fairly and accurately. The Democratic Party must field candidates everywhere to ensure our message is heard everywhere. The national party needs to strengthen our state and local affiliates, revitalize our grassroots allies and broaden our appeal to stakeholders and others who assist us in elections. Our focus is not just on the presidential election cycles, but also elections for the US House and Senate as well as state and local offices, including midterm and special elections.  We need to speak directly, in ways that make sense and move people to action, addressing the broad, diverse group of Americans that are receptive to the Democratic Party’s message of shared opportunity and prosperity for all Americans. We know that our message is powerful because our opponents are trying to steal it. Income inequality and the resulting middleclass economic stagnation have become so extreme that even the Republicans are giving lip service to economic fairness—even as they advocate policies that would undermine it.

So why am I talking about a six month old “preliminary report”? In the current dash to the nomination, it seems at times as if DNC leadership has already picked its tribute for the general election.  However, the issues and ideas developed in the “preliminary report” suggest the need for a completely different course of action than the one currently employed by DNC leadership.  The alleged values and political philosophy endorsed by the report’s authors, coincide with one of our current candidates for President.  And it isn’t the presumed frontrunner.  These people handpicked by Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz, wax on poetically about the need for strengthening grassroots activism and engaging a broad spectrum of constituents on multiple issues.  “We believe that both prosperity and political power thrive best when they grow organically from below instead of being imposed from above.” How can the party claim to want a bottom-top movement on the one hand, while seemingly dictating outcomes on the other? Two areas the Taskforce identified needing improvement were in the party’s ability to engage, motivate, and mobilize voters and in its ability to create an accessible and open party.  I don’t know if this plan has been completely scrapped and it’s still business as usual, or if people at the top really think they have made some changes.  What is clear is that there is a serious disconnect between the DNC elite and rank and file membership. People need to be motivated and engaged on a new level and the existing DNC structure seems incapable of doing so.

A primary example of the entrenched thinking within the DNC is the chairwoman’s refusal to address the issues and alleged biases in the established debate schedule. During the DNC summer meeting, the chairwoman said the debate schedule was within her sole purview and essentially there was no recourse for those who objected.  This combined with an exclusivity clause, thus preventing candidates from engaging in debates other than the sanctioned six limits the public’s exposure to other candidates that could be more appealing to the target voter base.  While I’m sure the chairwoman is content with her little Marie Antoinette moment, it does not sit well with average rank and file Americans the DNC needs to motivate.  Being told who to vote for, and who is “acceptable” only further alienates those core constituencies you are trying to energize.

“The circumstances that led to the series of devastating electoral losses did not develop overnight. Instead they have been building over decades as the political system has been irrevocably changed by the passage of McCain-Feingold and the Citizens United decision.”

Despite lofty statements to the contrary, the DNC is not operating as if it is a party of the people.  It does not operate as if it is a party concerned about the damage done by McCain-Feingold and the erroneous Citizens United decision.   The base is not galvanized nor inspired…at least not by traditional leadership and their handpicked choice for nominee.  Instead of worrying about individual political points and personal positions of authority, DNC leadership should be acting in service to the people it is supposedly set up to represent.

In order to win elections, the Democratic Party must reclaim voters that we’ve lost including white Southern voters, excite key constituencies such as African American women and Latinas, and mobilize the broadest coalition of voters possible to not only recapture state houses but also Congress. In order to better understand how to bring this large coalition together, the Task Force recommends – in tandem with the National Narrative Project – that the DNC’s research delve more deeply into the barriers that keep people from identifying with, and supporting, Democratic candidates. This also includes working to better understand drop off and independent voters

In this 50th year since the passage of the VRA we should not be looking for new ways to deny voters full participation in the process. By failing to have meaningful participation through debates and fair dealings with all candidates, the DNC under Chairwoman Wasserman Schultz is effectively suppressing the vote of millions of Americans before the polls even open.  There is nothing open or accessible about a party that disenfranchises those who it claims to fight for.  There is nothing open or accessible about a leader whose basic response is “my way or the highway.”  That is not how positive sustainable change occurs.  If we as a party are to reclaim what has been lost over prior elections, there needs to be a quick course correction regarding messaging and transparency.  Regardless of who we support for the Democratic nominee, we need to make sure our party is staying true to the meaning of its creed and not just being business as usual.  Stop being the supposed lesser of two evils, and start being a positive choice for the people.  Mean what you say.  If this is truly a party “powered by the people”, then listen to what those people are saying.  Being in charge, doesn’t make you automatically right.

I recently received a lovely offer from DNC HQ.  If I donated any amount, I would be entered in a sweepstakes to meet President Obama. Sounds nice enough right? My response was no. I will not donate any money to this entity because until we have real meaningful debates. Why should I donate money for you to turn around and support a candidate that isn’t of the people’s choosing? By failing to have meaningful debates prior to the start of primary voting, the DNC is effectively putting its need for entrenched power and maintenance of the status quo ahead of the people it claims to represent. This is voter suppression. “This organization is powered by you”? All I could think was really? Do you people not see the disconnect between your alleged message of greater inclusion and your actions? Yeah let’s placate the little people while we do whatever we want. No thank you.

Bottom line the alleged values of the DNC are completely out of alignment with the current actions being taken by leadership on a day to day basis.  We cannot hope to reclaim what was lost by continuing to say one thing while doing another. It’s time to come down off the lofty moral high ground the DNC allegedly occupies and get with the people to build a movement for change from the ground up.  Cream rises to the top…and so shall the best person for the position as Democratic Nominee and next President of the United States of America.

[1] http://thehill.com/sites/default/files/democratic_victory_task_force_preliminary_findings.pdf

[2] The report further indicates that a final report would be released in May 2015. It is unclear if the final report was completed or was postponed indefinitely.