Editor’s note: The following open letter was written as an immediate response to the June 24 All-State Progressive Leadership Meeting.
June 25, 2017
To the Democratic Party and the leadership of Indivisible/Together We Will/Pantsuit Nation, and any other newly formed progressive groups that have sprung up in the aftermath of the 2016 election:
You are on notice.
Yesterday, I attended the June 24 ‘All-State Progressive Leadership Meeting’ organized by Together We Will — Maryland. I was there to represent Emerge Maryland, but I was also there in a personal capacity as the president of the Columbia Democratic Club here in Howard County. I went in with an open mind and ready to work. I was hoping for strategy, collaboration on organizing, and determining a path to victory in 2018. What actually happened was more of the same “our party needs to do XYZ,” but without actually doing XYZ. Five women from TWW leadership around the state had a 45-minute introduction to the four-hour long event during which they spent part of the time giving lip service to diversity and inclusion.
Mistake #1: All five women on the agenda who introduced themselves as leaders and organizers were white, including one who apparently has assumed the role of Director of the Maryland Democratic Party’s Progressives Leadership Council, one of the most recently formed Diversity Leadership Councils. Seriously?
Mistake #2: There was ONE woman of color, an Asian American woman, on the organizing committee. She explained in our break out session that during the planning stages, she brought up the fact that yesterday’s meeting would fall on the eve of Eid, a sacred Muslim holiday. She was told that the event was too far along in the planning stages to have the date changed. So this is the party of inclusivity but only when it’s convenient?
We organized by region into our first breakout session of the day; the first question asked by the moderator (a different white woman) was along the lines of, “What are you struggling with in your community groups or what can be changed?” My dear friend Deeba, the lone Muslim woman in the room, was the first to call out the organizers when she stated: “This room is a prime example of what’s wrong…” and from there, the gloves were off. I went on to explain how the room was a microcosm of the issues the ‘big tent party’ are having right now. Well meaning, but problematic liberals not understanding because they’re too busy talking, taking up all the space, and not trying hard enough to listen and truly diversify. How on earth was this gathering organized without men and women of color at the table? I asked how earnestly the organizers reached out to organizations of color and why the room wasn’t more inclusive. Relative silence. Roughly 100 people attended and there were less than 12 people of color (and I’m being generous). Those numbers are not representative of Maryland or Howard County. I have witnesses and receipts that members of our group responded defensively, and actually said the following:
“Well, where do we find them?” (meaning people of color)
“We want them to step up, but they just don’t!” (a lie from the pit of hell as my grandmother would say)
“Should we just show up in Black churches?” (as if Black people are the only people of color)
People of color are not hidden under rocks. We are not elusive unicorns. Active, progressive women (and men) of color are all around. You know how I know? I’ve seen them work. Emerge Maryland is a six-month leadership program that trains Democratic women to run for office. When Emerge held interviews for the 2017 class, I actually sat next to Kathleen Matthews, the new chair of the MD Democratic Party, and interviewed brilliant progressive women ready to take Maryland by storm in 2018. The 2017 class was more than 65% women of color who were ALREADY leaders in their communities and have decided to run for office. They are not anomalies in the communities from which they hail, THERE ARE SO MANY MORE OF ‘THEM’.
If I sound angry, it’s because I AM. If you’re feeling criticized, it’s because you should. If I sound defensive, it’s because I am very aware of the time myself and other people of color devote to this cause. This cause of progressive politics in which we all do better when we all do better. The fight for black and brown lives to matter, for women’s rights, equitable education, affordable housing, services for our most vulnerable community members, immigrant justice, indigenous justice, LGBTQIA justice, disability justice, reproductive freedom, religious freedom, ending mass incarceration, environmental justice and providing opportunity for all. The cause of electing better leaders to write more inclusive public policy that promotes these values.
The event was yesterday, and my blood is still boiling because it was not an isolated incident. Part of the reason I and the women I attended yesterday’s event with are so upset is because we have sat in countless rooms with those claiming to have Democratic and progressive values yet, fail to authentically cultivate diverse representation in leadership roles.
People of color are fighting on two fronts. We’re fighting against Republicans who literally want to return to the ‘great again’ years when laws actually declared that anyone who wasn’t a white man was a second-class citizen. And on the second front, we’re fighting with well-meaning white liberals who when called out (or hear a perspective different from theirs), get defensive, don’t listen and retreat or change the subject entirely.
I wrote most of this letter yesterday afternoon and decided to sleep on it before posting it. I thought maybe a good night’s sleep would help change my tone. I thought maybe a good workout would help my anger subside. Well, I slept 8 hours last night, ran the Baltimore Women’s Classic 5k this morning and practiced yoga this afternoon. 24 hours later, I’m still pissed off, yet I’ve debated all day whether or not to post this.
I was asked yesterday by a TWW leader/organizer of the event for feedback. Here it is. I have taken time to write this letter because I WANT you to do better. The 2018 midterm primary is now less than a year away. There is too much at stake to not get it right. To those who consider themselves leaders in this movement, it is your duty to get it right. The party, much of the progressive movement, and this ‘resistance’ has taken people of color for granted far too long.
Mistake #3: Thinking you created the resistance when in actuality, YOU ARE LATE TO THE PARTY. People of color have been here: organizing, advocating and fighting since long before 45. We. Are. Tired. And yet, we are still here. If you’re not finding us, it’s because you’re not looking hard enough and doing your due diligence.
For those doing it right, thank you. But for the others: if your resistance is not intersectional, it is nothing.
TLDR version: Stop ignoring and/or taking people of color for granted. Get it together or else people of color (including 94% of African American women and 68% Latina women that reliably vote democratic), will take our activism/leadership skills elsewhere and resist in our own way. People of color are the future. Do better.
Maureen Evans Arthurs
(an angry Black woman and progressive currently questioning why she is loyal to a party that disregards people of color)
PS: If you need a lesson in how to digest this letter, read this.
Maureen Evans Arthurs is a Legislative Director in the Maryland General Assembly and is actively engaged in the community where she was raised. She currently serves as the President of the Columbia Democratic Club, President of her Community Association, and member of the Board of Directors of several nonprofits. Arthurs is a 2015 graduate of Emerge Maryland. She previously worked in higher education and has always been committed to empowering students, women, and families. When she’s not attending community meetings, you can find her on the sidelines at her son’s soccer games. You can follow her on Twitter @mevansarthurs.
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