Flip the Script on the DNC Debates

(I’m writing something everyday for #100days. This is post 1/100.)

In one week, over 25,000 people have supported a call for the Democratic National Convention (DNC), and specifically for Chairwoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz to add one debate, to focus on issues that in particular Black communities face. Wasserman has already faced criticism for the limited number of debates during the 2016 Presidential election.

On September 25th the DNC passed a resolution “affirming ‘Black lives matter’ and the ‘say her name’ efforts to make visible the pain of our fellow and sister Americans as they condemn extrajudicial killings of unarmed African-American men, women and children.”

During the first debate, candidates were asked: Do Black lives matter or do all lives matter? The candidates spent a total of four minutes discussing the issue.

Here’s why its important this debate happen and why its important for the movement to continue to pressure for it: The party (and its candidates) courting the votes of Black people need to put their money where their mouth is. It is not the time for false compromise. Its time to build movement and power. Pushing for this is, of course, not the ultimate objective, but its one that provides room to do both.

To say that there simply needs to be more engagement and inclusion, especially in an alternative format obfuscates the reality of structural exclusions and disenfranchisement of voters. The ability to ask questions does not change that. Forcing the DNC to to reckon with these critical issues inside of their own organization to create a platform with all of the seriousness it merits for the Black community is the least it could do. Policy fixes alone will not ensure that Black Lives Matter. There needs to be structural and culture change. Why not apply that to the political party that claims to represent the communities interests?

Here’s the thing. Once you succeed in getting the attention of a person or institution that has the power to do something you want them to do they want to get you out of the way as quickly as possible, and, as painlessly as possible. Those with something to conserve — power, position, privilege or otherwise will quickly move to placate and stifle the energy of those seeking change. That’s why this is an important fork in the road. Its not the end all be all, but it sets a tone. The political establishment would love to be able to check the box and move on. The DNC’s response shows they’re watchful and want this to go away.

For non-Black communities, this is strategic as well. It is critical to actively support this demand. In a debate themed around issues impacting Black people, rest assured it will cover the multitude of issues that impact other communities of color, low-income and marginalized communities.

This election could be simply more political theatre where new characters just say the same things. If the DNC wants to demonstrate serious intent to tackle these issues, they must go beyond resolutions and talking points. The activism and organizing of so many has lifted this issue to the point where this is even a consideration. Debbie Wasserman and the DNC must seek to match the leadership of the movement, because political theatre is not enough for the real-life crisis we face.