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Dirty politics, disrespect and voters: What's next for Democrats and Black America?

By Charlene Muhammad, Barrington Salmon And Nisa Islam Muhammad | Last updated: Nov 7, 2017 - 1:50:27 PM

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Donna Brazile, former vice chair of the Democratic National Committee and serving as interim chair until November, speaks on the floor of the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia, July 25, 2016. Photo: AP/Wide World photos

WASHINGTON—The latest crisis for the Democratic Party, sparked by former party interim chair Donna Brazile’s new tell-all book, harkens back to historical mistreatment by an entity that pretends to be a friend of Blacks, several analysts and activists said.

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In “Hacks: The Inside Story of the Break-ins and Breakdowns That Put Donald Trump in the White House,” Ms. Brazile speaks of feeling like she was treated as a slave, not being allowed to spend money she raised to do her job, and how she considered replacing Democrat Hillary Clinton with former Vice President Joe Biden after Ms. Clinton fainted on the presidential campaign trail.

Ms. Brazile has been met with attacks from within her party, some, including Blacks, telling her to shut up, to which she replied, “Go to hell.”

Revelations by DNC strategist Brazile may have startled some but many were not surprised, including Lauren Victoria Burke, who writes about Congress and politics from Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C. She is the managing editor for POLITIC365.COM.

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“It’s strange that she’s getting attacked for things people say in the background all the time about the DNC. The DNC is becoming irrelevant. People are starting their own campaigns, similar to what Barak Obama did with Obama for America. He knew the DNC favored Hillary Clinton and wanted to elect her,” said Ms. Burke. “What she (Donna Brazile) is saying is the type of thing that many have said for a long time about the DNC.”

Former Ohio state senator Nina Turner told CNN Nov. 3, that Ms. Brazile’s remarks are indicative of a crisis in Washington. “The fact that you have someone like Donna Brazile, who was the first African American woman to run a national campaign, a presidential campaign … ran Vice President Al Gore‘s campaign, 30-year relationship with the DNC and also the Clintons, and whether people agree with what she has done professionally in her life at certain points, the fact that she is pointing this out means that this is serious and that there is absolutely a crisis in the city,” said the former supporter of  Sen.  Bernie Sanders, who lost the Democratic Party’s presidential nomination to Mrs. Clinton. She lost the presidential race to Republican Donald J. Trump.

‘I’m not Patsy, the slave’

The book, and an excerpt published on Politico.com, revealed how the Clinton campaign raised money for a broke DNC and exerted control over spending, staffing and important decisions during the presidential primary. Opponent Sanders raised no money and had no such controls over the party.

Ms. Brazile details a crisis in the DNC that pitted her against Clinton campaign officials. In one fiery conference call, heaped with disrespect for her position as the DNC chair, Ms. Brazile told three senior campaign officials, Charlie Baker, Marlon Marshall and Dennis Cheng, that they were treating her like a slave.

“I’m not Patsy the slave,” Ms. Brazile recalls telling them, a reference to the character played by Lupita Nyong’o in the film “12 Years a Slave.” “Y’all keep whipping me and whipping me and you never give me any money or any way to do my damn job. I am not going to be your whipping girl!”

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“The question of this book’s contents is what does it imply for the Democratic Party in the future and what role Black people will play?” said longtime labor union activist Dwight Kirk. “Donna’s comments are consistent with what I’m seeing, which is disengagement of Blacks from the Democratic Party. She expressed betrayal with how the Democratic Party treated her. They thought that she was a loyal party operative and would just go along with the program. They were wrong.”

Mr. Kirk, a member of the Coalition of Black Trade Unionists, agreed that the Democratic Party has fallen short of putting action behind its words.

“The Democratic Party has squandered opportunities that has put Black people at bay,” he said. “(Democratic Pollster Cornell) Belcher said that Black people were given short shrift with promised jobs within the campaign. And potential Black voters are not targeted properly because the party is trying to capture the angry White male vote versus that of Blacks and other constituencies.”

“This Brazile thing to me is a distancing, disjointed thing going down with the party and Black folks.  What direction will the party take? Will it mobilize voters, turn out Black candidates or try to win back White blue-collar voters? If they not dealing with criminal justice, inequality and police brutality, they’ll fall short in attracting Black voter support.”

Mr. Kirk argues that continued exclusion, White privilege and inequality—if unchecked, will impede the Democratic Party’s efforts to become more relevant to a voter base that is becoming browner and younger, very different from the party of the past 50 years.

 There was concern among Democratic establishment circles of the timing of the book and its impact on Nov. 6 elections in Virginia and New Jersey.

“The timing couldn’t have been worse. It does us no good to hash out all this stuff,” former DNC chairman and Pennsylvania Gov. Ed Rendell told Politico of the financial arrangement at the center of Ms. Brazile’s recounting. “At this point, we should be looking to the future—what’s done is done,” he said. “There was no crime committed, but it would’ve been easy to avoid. [So] I don’t think it was rigged, I think what the DNC did was just awful.”

Trying to save the DNC?

Ms. Brazile said she promised Sen. Sanders that when she took over at the Democratic National Committee after the convention, that she “would get to the bottom of whether Hillary Clinton’s team had rigged the nomination process, as a cache of emails stolen by Russian hackers and posted online had suggested.”

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Debbie Wasserman Schultz
She said she found an organization in shambles because of the neglect of disgraced former DNC head Debbie Wasserman Schultz and then-President Barack Obama and the financial shenanigans by the Clinton campaign “that were keeping the party on life support.”

The Clinton campaign, she said, as leaked emails revealed, “was grabbing money from the state parties for its own purposes, leaving the states with very little to support down-ballot races.”

This weakness is what has hobbled Democrats, said Bill Fletcher, Jr., a racial justice, labor and international activist and writer.

“We need a shift of thinking on statewide strategies,” he said. “We have to look at these strategies more seriously. (Democrats) and many progressives have really ignored these elections but most of the damage is being done at the state level.”

Mr. Fletcher argues that Blacks need not abstain from electoral politics, but need to adopt a more confrontational yet strategic posture. “Every time that we get upset with White progressives or liberals, all we have to do is look at history for the patterns that have played out,” he explained. “There’s always been uneasiness. There have been points of moments of tremendous unity and the 1890s where there was complete splintering. It’s not if Democrats treat (Black people) well. We also have to understand as Frederick Douglass said, that power concedes nothing without a struggle. We can’t get anything from Democrats by kneeling or complaining. Winning means we need allies. It’s a question of if we want to win or merely register a protest. What we need to do is build alliances and win and push the party to its limits. I think a lot of us have gone on and not thought about winning but are inclined to accept glorious defeat.”

Self first instead of plantation politics?

Dr. Ava Muhammad, national spokesperson for Nation of Islam Minister Louis Farrakhan, holds an opposite view from Mr. Fletcher, arguing that neither Republicans nor Democrats are serious about integrating Blacks into the fabric of their parties.

“I don’t see a place for Black people in the Democratic Party,” the author, lawyer and talk-show host asserted. “A third party is absolutely needed. We’re dealing with effect not cause. It’s the effect of pre-existing cause which is the distribution of wealth and resources. Financial, educational and political institutions set up while we were still picking cotton. Closing the gap within these institutions is not feasible.”

“We cannot vote our way into equality. Black people were congressmen, governors, mayors, and the ultimate prize—president of the United States. President Obama was brilliant, and he emerged from two terms unscathed, untouched by scandal but substantively, as a people, we have not made progress. We need to be about Self. Self-identity leads to economic strength, which leads to political power. It begins with self-identity.”

“Black people have always known that they got short shrift from the Democratic Party. Black people have always known that the Democratic Party is the party of Rahm Emanuel, the party of endless Israeli wars, and if anyone chose to speak up for the U.S. interests, they were slapped to the curve and eventually out of the Congress,” said human rights advocate Cynthia McKinney. “That’s what happened to me, but, that is the position of the Democratic Party.”

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Cynthia McKinney

Ms. McKinney is a former U.S. congresswoman. She told The Final Call Ms. Brazile hasn’t told the whole story, and is repeating what the former Georgia lawmaker stated years ago. She spoke with The Final Call in a phone interview from Iraq.

Notwithstanding the fact it’s way too late, and criminal conduct was engaged in, and more details exist, it’s good Ms. Brazile spoke up, but it’s nothing new, argued Ms. McKinney. Ms. Brazile has said Clinton’s control of the DNC was unfair but no crimes were committed.

The Democratic Party savior could not have Senator Sanders, because he supported many of the Israeli wars, said Ms. McKinney. The long-time Independent Party politician from Vermont failed to beat Ms. Clinton in the 2016 Democratic Party presidential primary.

“This is not change! This is at best face change. It is not regime change, and the Democratic Party needs regime change,” Ms. McKinney added. Barack Obama was face change, but still, too many Blacks do not understand the difference between the two, she said. “They don’t understand the difference between being a slave and being free and dying for your freedom.  They don’t understand that yet, and so Barack Obama represents just a different face of the same plantation.”

Dr. Gerald Horne, Moore’s chair of History and African American Culture at the University of Houston, said, “On the one hand the concerns of Donna Brazil resonated with me in terms of being treated like a slave—those are her words by the way—in terms of the general atmosphere of racism that she had to confront at the highest levels of the Democratic Party.”

While it dovetails with what he already knew or suspected, the revelations may be too little too late, Dr. Horne continued. “It may be an attempt to provide juicy headlines to sell a book,” he said.

“The Democratic Party has a fundamental contradiction that many do not want to confront. On the one hand, it is a representative of big business and bosses; and on the other hand, it seeks to speak for those who work for big business and bosses, particularly the Black community. So the Democratic Party is trying to run with the hares and hunt with the hounds,” Dr. Horne argued. “It’s trying to be all things to all people or to most people, and inevitably, that leads to rifts.  Inevitably, that leads to convulsions.  Inevitably, that leads to tell- all books that, apparently, Donna Brazile has written.”

Part of the dilemma is many feel there are no alternatives to the Democratic Party except Donald Trump and the Republican Party and they say Democratic unity must prevail. Dr. Horne and others warn Democrats not to take the Black vote for granted.  “That, I think, would be a fatal error,” Dr. Horne stated. While Democrat Hillary Clinton received Black support, she won fewer votes than Mr. Obama and failed to energize Black voters.

Dr. Melina Abdullah, chair of the Pan-African Studies Department at California State University Los Angeles, and organizer with Black Lives Matter Los Angeles, said Ms. Brazile shows again why Blacks need to critically probe their relationship with the Democratic Party. 

“We need to recognize that both major parties represent White supremacist capitalism, and neither really advance Black Liberation,” she told The Final Call.

Black Lives Matter doesn’t buy into Democratic Party politics, and certainly has not been part of the Republican regime, she said. The educator urged Blacks to consider third parties, and ways they can engage in public policy reform outside of traditional politics.

“I think it’s really important that we understand the limitations of electoral politics, that you’re never going to vote yourself into freedom, and so it doesn’t mean that we don’t vote, but it means that we can’t rely primarily on voting as our primary liberation struggle,” Dr. Abdullah said.

In a letter published November 4 on Medium by Jesse Ferguson, Democratic strategist and former press secretary, 100 Hillary Clinton aides expressed shock that Ms. Brazile considered replacing Ms. Clinton and her running mate Tim McCain. Voices 4 Hillary dubbed the book “Brazile fiction,” saying they “do not recognize the campaign she portrays in the book.”

Jasmyne Cannick, Los Angeles-based political consultant and media commentator, warned against Democrats going too hard against a party stalwart. “Ms. Brazile is a highly respected Black woman. The DNC’s relationship with Blacks in America—who by and large still continue to vote Democrat—is rocky at best.  Going after and defaming Donna Brazile to try and save face in light of these truths coming out will not bode well for the Party—and they know that,” she said.

“Basically the Democratic Party is yet to change, so they will always be treated as an afterthought, as a transaction,” predicted Ms. McKinney  “Let’s spend $24 million on election day and make sure the Black community is flushed with money on one day, but let’s not give them any public policy. … That’s what the Democratic Party does,” she said.

Ms. McKinney likened the Black predicament politically to a toddler. “If we are not at that stage and we are still looking to mama to put us up on her shoulders, and that means the Democratic Party, then we will never ever walk on our own two feet,” she said. Ms. McKinney, who was critical of Democratic policies while in Congress, served as a Democrat.

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