On September 10, 2019, the Democratic Black Caucus of South Carolina (DBCSC) and the African American Caucus – North Carolina Democratic Party (AAC-NCDP) hosted a town hall event with Presidential Candidate Tom Steyer on the campus of Clinton College in Rock Hill, SC.
As Chair of the DBCSC, it was an honor to join AAC-NCDP President, Linda Wilkins-Daniels, in hosting the first collaborative event between the black/African American caucuses of the Democratic Party from both Carolinas. This made our town hall event with candidate Steyer historic in nature and the unanimity of concerns found to exist among African Americans in the Democratic Party in two states indicates the massive potential of a powerful national coalition of black Democratic Caucuses.
That potential revealed itself throughout the evening as Mr. Steyer stood before a diverse audience and made the case for his candidacy with candor, sincerity, and the intellectual insight of a man who has spent decades finding entrepreneurial solutions to some of the greatest challenges in business and in philanthropy.
He took pointed questions from myself and President Wilkens-Daniels on issues that are most pressing to black communities. He gave answers that were straightforward and well-informed; giving the impression of someone who had come to his answers after careful research and contemplation.
When asked about reparations Tom Steyer said, “I’m for reparations.” That answer alone would have been enough considering many candidates avoid word ‘reparations’ as if it were the new political third rail. But, Mr. Steyer did not stop there. He proceeded to demonstrate his understanding of the issue and why he is for reparations.
“If we’re going to come to terms with what’s happened and move forward in a way that deals with those problems, we have to be explicit about them and start telling the truth about them,” Steyer said. He said in order to make reparations, the public needs to understand a truthful history of the treatment of African Americans in the U.S. “We need to tell the truth about what happened, and we need to figure out the best way to do that,” he said. “Is it through specific educational programs? This is something where we’ve all got to come along on this and agree how to do it — not whether to do it.”
The question of bail was also addressed when President Daniels asked about the incarceration nation. “This is an incarceration nation,” she said, “And it’s shameful for politicians to continue promising to make changes.”
Mr. Steyer’s answer, “One injustice that disproportionately affects African-Americans in the criminal justice system is bail. “When you’re arrested, you can go to jail, awaiting your trial,” he said. “If you can afford bail, you don’t have to go to jail. If you can’t afford bail, if you’re poor, you have to spend months in jail, which, of course, is as if you were convicted of a crime. It’s discriminatory based on money, but it turns out, based on race as well.”
Another question was on extrajudicial executions – the slaughter (my word) of unarmed African American men, women and children at the hands of the police. Again Mr. Steyer’s answer was direct and unambiguous.
“There is nothing more upsetting and nothing more unjust than the idea of police killing someone unarmed based on the color of their skin,” Steyer said. “There is nothing that is more un-American than that.”
What most did not see – and perhaps was not recorded – and that Mr. Steyer might even deny –although I doubt it – is what I saw as I stood just a few feet from him – I looked into his eyes and saw tears welling up. It demonstrated to me not weakness but empathy. Tom Steyer not only gets it – he feels it!
The difference in empathy and sympathy is the difference between greatness and mediocrity. The president of the United States or any leader who cannot feel the pain and the passion of all of those he or: she seeks to represent is not fit to lead. He or she cannot be a true representative of all the people – rich and poor, black and white. People are suffering – some more than others. If you can’t feel our pain you can’t represent us! Why would we vote for a Democrat black or white who did not identify with us? if you can feel with our people you can fight for our people. If you can walk our neighborhoods and not be disdainful or afraid and speak our truth to a power that has always taken us for granted – you can fight for us and we will fight for you. We must have a seat at the table and power proportionate to our numbers in the population.
For those who still maintain that what is most important is selecting the person who has the best chance of beating Donald Trump, I offer the following observation. Mr. Steyer, along with Rep. Maxine Waters (D-CA) and Rep. Al Green (D-TX ) has been calling for the impeachment of Donald Trump for years. Moreover, Mr. Steyer has supported his Need to Impeach campaign to the tune of ten million dollars of his own money. Now the Democratic Party has come around and launched a formal impeachment investigation.
Curiously, Tom Steyer has called Donald Trump a liar, a fraud and everything but a child of God. Nothing unique about the allegation but what is significant is that for some reason Trump rarely ever responds and perhaps more importantly has not sued or even threatened to sue – his usual tactic. What this seems to demonstrate is that Tom Steyer is someone the Bully-In-Chief is afraid to tangle with.
Finally, so many people claimed that they voted for Trump because he is a businessman and not a politician. While I agree that business acumen and success in business can be helpful to a President of the United States – Trump is not a successful businessman. Tom Seyer is a successful businessman. As a successful businessman, he has learned the key to success is: hire the best and the brightest and then listen to them.
So in this election cycle, the onus is on us to hire the best and brightest and make sure that they’re ready to listen. It is time we demand that Democratic candidates who seek our vote address our issues with substantive policy proposals and exact strategies as to how those policies will be implemented –not with high sounding platitudes. Our collaborative success has proven that black and African American caucuses of state democratic parties and the constituencies they represent are positioned to get their attention and make them hear.