Conventions are (generally) a good time. An opportunity to see friends from all over the state, and make new ones. During business sessions, a chance to hone skills of working with other chapters for votes (a/k/a - whipping), and a personal endeavor to work with committees to better understand their product (without necessitating prolonged points of information).
Young Democrats of Washington have interspersed throughout the day various educational panels on topics ranging from Bridging the Urban-Rural Divide to The Politics of Indian Country. There are also the work panels which, by design, include representatives from each chapter (county chapters and University chapters).Throughout it all, we pride ourselves on being the inclusive and accessible organization we sometimes imply other Party organizations are failing to be. Not perfect, but working to get there.
Like any good convention, this included a dinner on the main night. And like any good Party organization, this also included a host of speeches and awards! Imagine my shock, however, when the program was eerily reminiscent of the 2013 Maggie Awards. Aside from the Chair, the speaking program that the committee put together was monochrome, and almost exclusively male. It was something that we were noticing at my table as the night wore on, and it was particularly troubling to me watching this unfold on the same day as a phenomenal panel on being a white ally included the need to make meaningful spaces for people of color.
So I posted on Facebook (as one does).
The swiftness of the response, and in particular of white men to defend themselves or try to deflect and change the subject was expected. Quite a few "well, what do YOU do" conversations were had (fun fact: I do things, and don't tell people when I'm doing them, because the point isn't for me to look good, it's to elevate voices and use my privilege and megaphone to do the same). There was also a fair amount of folks who saw my post was a condemnation of the YDWA President - a queer women of color.
Not as a condemnation of the mostly white committee that put the event together.
Not as a condemnation of the Congressman who, in his absence, sent another white dude to speak.
Not as a condemnation of the lack of diversity in the decision making panels that each had chapters send folks (hint: mostly male, even more mostly white).
Rather, the direct response was a belief that criticism of an almost all-white organization was critical of the President. To me, this is indicative of our race problem. We expect that the person of color in the room has a duty to tell us when we're doing a shitty job. We expect that when we elect people to the highest positions, that in itself is enough.
But it isn't.
We have an obligation as white people and as men, who have perpetuated institutional racism and sexism in politics, to proactively and affirmatively do better. When offered a microphone, we must look at who else is being offered a microphone, and be willing to step back, or hand our microphone to someone whose voice is not being heard. When put in a position to elevate voices that have a wildly different perspective than us, bust our asses to make sure those voices are heard. And through it all, we cannot idly sit by and expect that the woman of color has to be the one to correct us at all times. Asking LaKecia to do her (volunteer) job as President, and make reparations to errors made by a committee tasked with putting on an event for an organization that purports to be "better" than other Democratic Party organizations is fucked.
My hope is that, as an organization, we recognize our place in perpetuating white-centered power structures. And for the three months I have left before aging out, I will assuredly continue to call out where we can do better, and provide what support I can to ensure the future of our organization is one that is reflective, is self-aware, and is willing to make the tough and uncomfortable choices.