2017 Oklahoma Democratic Party Convention: What it means to Democrats of Color and their allies
The 2017 Oklahoma Democratic Party Convention was hyped to be the seedbed of change; 50 percent of the delegates were newly elected and unaffiliated with the establishment. The Party learned its lesson last November, we were told. An unapologetically leftist agenda is the best move forward and that Democrats were the party of diversity.
The night before the convention, during the Carl Albert Dinner, former Chair Mark Hammons asked all black people in attendance to stand and be recognized for eating dinner. It was similar to Trump’s “Look at my African-Americans over here” quip.
The Party boasted this year’s attendance as the highest in recent history. However, tickets to the Dinner were expensive and actually prevented many delegates from attending.
Unfortunately, this was not the only red flag. Only one of the three slates of candidates even included candidates of color. And the State Party requires the makeup of its officers to be gender-balanced, meaning that males may hold either the Chair or Vice-Chair position, but not both; the other position must be filled by a woman. The same balance is required of the other two elected officers, Secretary and Treasurer. There is no comparable balance requirement for race or ethnicity.
Anna Langthorn, a young Democrat at the age of 24, won as the new chair of the State Party. Leading into the vice-chair race, Sean Braddy, who was nominated last minute outside of a slate, surprised many by coming within 37 delegate votes of winning. Dave Ratcliff, incumbent ODP secretary, and Vice-Chair running mate of chair hopeful Sarah Baker felt it was wise to run for Secretary again. He won his reelection, which meant that all three positions voted on so far were now occupied by white people. The only candidates of color for the Office of Treasurer were both males, so they were now no longer eligible. So after the change-making 2017 Convention, we’re still left saying #ODPsoWhite
That hashtag led to:
What does diversity mean to the ODP? What is the role of white-passing People of Color (POC) in diversity and is their experience representative of the communities they represent? The answer to these questions must negotiate the fact that having a #whitewardly appearance does not intrude on the fragility of white comfort but does grant access to the benefits of white privilege. No one doubts that Vice Chair Brian Jones (of the Choctaw Nation) will do an excellent job but does his presence in leadership lay to rest the question of whether ODP leadership is diverse?
The President of the Oklahoma Young Democrats, Joshua Harris-Till, seems to be an opinion that it did and posted on Facebook:
“let me say this about the whole #ODPsoWhite stuff going around. Diversity exist outside of race. The chair is more than half the age of the former chairs and a woman. The vice chair is a young Dem with Native lineage. The secretary is in a happy interracial marriage of numerous years.”
Therefore being (1) young and white, (2) white-passing but of native descent, or (3) white but married to a POC all satisfy diversity. In effect saying, there is no diversity problem in leadership.
One precinct chair explained that while there is a Diversity issue, it stems from the fact that no POC stood up. This comment shows that false rationalizations are rampant among our so-called allies because by far the most contentious elections were those for the Affirmative Action (AA) Committee seats. At least 12 candidates ran for the Affirmative Action seats whereas the Chair election had 4. The AA committee has 19 members; 2 are elected from each congressional district, 4 are elected at-large, and 5 are appointed by State Party Chair Anna Langthorn. At the Convention, Vice-chair hopeful Sheri Dickerson (who is also the Executive Director of the Oklahoma Black Lives Matter) was elected at-large to the AA Committee. She was good enough for the AA Committee, but not to be Officer?
Solutions offered to address the lack of people of color in leadership roles in the State Party are immediately shot down: Mandatory proportionate representation is politically impractical and won’t hold up to court challenges. Eventually, the topic devolves into “just give it five years” or some other unit of time which never reflects the urgent need for political representation. Evoking a much-needed reminder, as late Rev. Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. observed, white moderates live “by a mythical concept of time.”
Rural Caucus Chair for the Young Democrats of Oklahoma Gregory Hardin II, “My proposal to solve the Oklahoma Democratic Party’s diversity problem is to create a resolution to encourage diversity in county party leadership. The resolution will include the adoption of a diversity outreach plan. The goal is to make sure that more people of color are active with-in the political process and are able to voice and vote in their best interest.”