By Kate Croxton
LOS ANGELES — Saying they felt taken for granted, a group of black women met with the leaders of the California Democratic Party Aug. 24 during the party’s summer executive board meeting.
More than 200 people, including newly elected party Chair Rusty Hicks, attended the forum in San Jose, where a panel of California black women discussed their continued disappointment in the party.
“Black women have been the most loyal and effective Democrats across the country for decades,” said Progressive Caucus Chair Amar Shegrill. “However, if we are honest with ourselves, the party has been taking that support for granted.
“The Progressive Caucus of the California Democratic Party decided to host this panel and invite our party leaders to listen because it is imperative that we renew our commitment to supporting and electing black women.”
Panelists included Democratic activist and two-term Richmond City Councilwoman Jovanka Beckles, San Diego resident and African-American Caucus Chair Taisha Brown and Los Angeles City Council candidate and Democratic activist Dallas Fowler, along with Democratic activist and political commentator Jasmyne Cannick, who served as moderator.
The forum started with Cannick admitting that, like many other black women, she had one foot inside the party and one foot out because of the party’s response to the fatal overdoses of two black gay men in the West Hollywood home of one of the party’s major donors.
“At the time of Gemmel Moore’s death, our chair was good friends with Ed Buck and because of that, this party said and did nothing,” she said. “I decided I didn’t want to belong to a party that doesn’t value our lives. But rather than leave, I decided to stay and get involved because the Democratic Party gets the majority of [black women] votes, and it’s time we discuss our return on our investment with our votes to this party.”
Another topic included the lack of support by the party for black women candidates with panelists agreeing that there is little support for black women when they run for office.
Cannick, who is running for Los Angeles County Democratic Party’s Central Committee in the 53rd Assembly District, which includes Boyle Heights; downtown Los Angeles; East Los Angeles; and Koreatown, talked about the lack of black women elected as party delegates if they are not coming from traditional black areas, as well as the lack of support from elected leaders who represent those areas.
“It’s racism,” said Beckles, who recently ran as a Democrat to represent California’s 15th Assembly District and received 46% of the vote. “It’s unconscious racism. I ran for Assembly District 15, and I found it so fascinating that there were literally signs in yard that said ‘Black Lives Matter,’ and yet they also had signs for my opponent — a white woman.
“We’re talking about the unconsciousness of racism. You can’t say ‘Black Lives Matter’ and not support a black woman who has been doing this work for a long time within your own community. You can’t say ‘Black Lives Matter’ and you don’t support those black women who are running for office.”
Brown then explained that black women can lead and represent areas that are not traditionally black.
“With gentrification, I don’t even think there are any black communities in California anymore — at least not in San Diego,” she said. “It’s very mixed. I happen to believe that black women can serve all-white communities, all-Latino communities, all-Asian communities. We’ve always been inclusive in everything we do. That’s just part of our nature to be inclusive.
“I feel that when Kimberly Ellis ran [for California Democratic Party chair] the first time, she was qualified,” Brown added. “She was way more qualified than Eric Bauman, in my opinion. But she’s a black woman, and that’s the one thing that people looked at and they judged her because she is a black woman.”
Ellis, an African-American progressive Democrat and Bay Area grassroots activist, lost her second bid for chair earlier this year to Hicks after first running and losing by 62 votes to Bauman, who ended up resigning amid sexual harassment allegations in November. If she had been elected, Ellis would have been the first black woman to serve in the state party’s executive role in more than 30 years.
Another issue discussed was the lack of black women employed in leadership executive positions by the party or as consultants.
“Black executive leaders and decision makers, that’s who we want to see in the party,” Fowler said. “I also want to see executive leadership in the party that looks like me. Executive leadership, decision makers — that’s who we want to see.
“When we talk about the contracts, the party spends over $100 million when it comes down to our mid-term and general elections. And when we look at the contracting to African-American … consultants, you’re only talking about $50,000, if that, of that money. So we have to really work on the supplier diversity of this party.
“We have an opportunity to do that, and it starts with these types of conversations. When we look at the contracts and the money that the party reports, we want to see diversity as opposed to some of these big shops that continue to get the contacts year after year after year and we don’t get the opportunities to lead,” Fowler added.
All the panelists thanked Hicks for attending the forum and listening to their concerns.
“Our party’s diversity is our strength,” Hicks said. “I’m proud of the progress we’ve made, including hiring experienced African-American women leaders in our executive team and more diversity in our standing committees, but there’s much more to do. We look forward to working with the progressive caucus to push for greater representation at all levels of our party.”
This article originally appeared in the Wave Newspapers.