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False Advertising: The Democratic Party’s Failure to Support Women of Color Candidates

The Democratic Party, despite its anti-racist claims, has consistently failed to support women of color candidates.

Lucy Flores sought election to the US House of Representatives in 2016 and enjoyed front-runner status — until she faced opposition from the highest echelons of the Democratic Party establishment. (Photo: Bret Simmons / Flickr)

Part of the Series

Modern mass marketing is all about manipulation. The Democratic Party product is no exception: It often does not come as advertised.

Marketing is how the purported “party of peace” has spent the past eight years, turning US involvement in two wars into involvement in no less than seven, strengthening the surveillance state and overseeing the militarization of police forces. It is how the publicized “party of racial justice” brought the 1994 Crime Bill, welfare reform and an administration that, in part, gave rise to the Black Lives Matter movement. It is how the professed “party of labor” constructed trade deals like the North American Free Trade Agreement and the Trans-Pacific Partnership. And it is how the presumptive “party of the middle class” removed Glass-Steagall, paid rather than prosecuted financial lawbreakers who crashed the economy, and introduced the lobbyist-written Dodd-Frank Act.

Now, the Democratic Party is running a marketing campaign presenting its product as the antithesis of the racism and sexism of Donald Trump. The falseness of the party’s claims is particularly apparent in its documented opposition to women of color within its own ranks.

The Democratic Party vs. Women of Color

Lucy Flores is a politician with a powerful and inspirational life story. Flores grew up in poverty as one of 13 children of a single father and “fell through the cracks,” as many do, when she dropped out of high school and became involved with a gang. But she turned her life around and earned her GED, a college degree and a law degree before she was elected as a Nevada State Representative. In 2016, Flores sought election to the US House of Representatives. With local as well as national popularity, she enjoyed front-runner status in the Democratic primary and seemed likely to join the only 6 percent of Congress members who are women of color. That is, until she faced opposition — what some would call “sabotage” — from the highest echelons of the Democratic Party establishment.

For more original Truthout election coverage, check out our election section, “Beyond the Sound Bites: Election 2016.”

“Not just [Hillary] Clinton, but [Harry] Reid lined up against me,” Flores told Truthout. Corporate donations poured into her nondescript opponent’s coffers while Bill Clinton actively campaigned against her — a curious level of involvement in a primary for a former president — and Flores was defeated.

Democratic establishment opposition to women of color is a phenomenon that seems to be repeating itself across the country. From Donna Edwards being subverted in her Senate primary race against establishment darling Chris Van Hollen, to Tulsi Gabbard and Nina Turner receiving “warnings” and “threats” for voicing their opinions, to the candidacies of women, such as Cori Bush, Cheryl Copeland and Joseline Pena-Melnyk being devoid of effective party support. It appears that Democratic Party leaders, as Flores asserted, “aren’t going to let their power and their perceived way of life be taken over by opinionated women of color.”

One woman with an intimate knowledge of this phenomenon is former six-term Democratic member of Congress Cynthia McKinney. Although she was popular with her constituents, she was vocally progressive within the party, and she consistently faced primary challenges from candidates more palatable to the establishment.

“The Democratic Party didn’t just start playing favorites,” said McKinney. McKinney left the Democratic Party and ran for president on the Green Party ticket in 2008, due in part to the belief that Democrats are “willing to abandon ‘democracy’ in order to make the outcome ‘right.'”

Of course, “right” is a relatively subjective term. For the Democratic Party, the term appears to mean an outcome providing, in the words of Flores, “button pushers who are dependent on their old model of ring-kissing and big-dollar fundraising.”

The party marketed as champions of racial equality and broken glass ceilings is, according to Flores, a party with a power structure that looks upon “effective, smart, courageous, independent women who don’t depend on the power brokers for money or permission” as “their worst nightmare.”

Rebranding the Party of the People

The key to a successful marketing campaign is understanding the psyche of the target audience. For the Democratic Party, this means utilizing the exploitation of what is called “Oprah activism” or, alternatively, “slacktivism.”

An Oprah activist is someone who watches an episode or a video on Facebook in which a particularly moving social justice issue is discussed, and, feeling empathetic or upset by the topic, believes this internal reaction constitutes tangible activism.

The Democratic Party markets itself to these people, enabling a vote for a Democrat to imply activism and to elicit the appropriate self-satisfied internal response in the voter, regardless of the actions of the party.

This allows the party to be broadcast as the party of progressivism and social justice, while simultaneously acting as a party of war, oil, big banks and big corporations.

It is weakly engaged, self-aggrandizing slacktivism that facilitates the Democratic Party as, in the words of McKinney, “a rogue’s gallery of everything the people must reject if they want public policy to actually reflect their needs.”

What Does It Mean to Be “With Her”

Now Hillary Clinton runs for president with a curious base of support. On the one hand is a group of self-defined progressives using the mantra of “stop Trump” to prove their social justice credentials. On the other hand, Clinton is funded and backed by a who’s who of big corporate donors — fossil fuel and finance industries, military contractors, pharmaceutical and private prison companies — and conservatives from the Bush family down through representatives of the administrations of both Presidents Bush.

It is a situation described by McKinney as one where “neoliberal Republicans throng to the Democratic Party to support Hillary Clinton because, the way it looks to me, she is with them — the war party, bankers, torturers and war criminals — more than their own party standard bearer is.”

It is interesting that this group of corporate donors and conservative luminaries are able to see Hillary Clinton as a representative of their own ideology, rather than the ideology implied by her Democratic Party affiliation, in a way many in the general public are not.

There are, however, many Americans who never imagined themselves sharing a political ideology with the billionaires or the Bushes, and who are now asking what can be done when neither of the two major political parties represent one’s values.

Seeking New Representation

Meet Kamesha Clark.

An intelligent, engaged and entrepreneurial 25-year-old woman, Clark seeks to positively impact her community through participation in the political process and is running for Congress in Maryland’s 4th district.

Though her political ideology aligns with the advertised values of the Democratic Party, what Clark sees when she looks around her community, and the country in general, is something quite different. Clark describes how “decades-long disproportionate inequalities in finance, energy, health, housing, labor and education have long plagued minority communities, most of which [happened] under Democratic leadership.” Thus, she will not be running for Congress as an energetic young star of the Democratic Party, but rather under the banner of the Green Party.

In the United States, Americans are asked to deal with complex issues through a choice between the options presented by only two nationally represented parties. Canada has five nationally represented political parties. France has 24; the UK, 11; Germany, 14; and Australia, 13. Kamesha Clark, like many Americans, does not see an avenue for change on issues that are most important to her in either the Republican or Democratic Party, two organizations funded and overseen by the same infrastructure.

When Clark looks at agricultural policy and the “low nutritional content of food options in [her] district,” the possibility for change becomes effectively zero through a political party funded by Big Agriculture.

In considering environmental policy, specifically for Clark with regards to “air quality, water quality [and] natural resources,” again, effecting change is nearly impossible within a party funded by the fossil fuel industry and big polluters.

And when Clark seeks to “open doors of opportunity for my peers” such a possibility is denied within a political party that, in the words of Flores, “keeps women of color away from the table, and on the menu.”

Thus, for Clark, the situation is a simple one. She said it would be absurd for one to assume the Democratic Party can deliver for those in need.

Whether she is to win or lose her election, Clark has already opened a door of opportunity for her peers and Americans in general. Specifically, the door exiting the bubble of mass marketing manipulation. It is a bubble in which millions of Americans vote for, and thus support, ideologies that stand in direct contradiction to those that they purport to hold.

The momentum generated by Clark and so many former liberals newly initiated into the progressive left must be used to hold political representatives accountable for their actions rather than their words, build viable third-party options and back candidates who hold the issues of peace, sustainability and equality to be of fundamental importance.

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