The 2019 CDP Chair race ended last Saturday. The CDP did not elect Kimberly Ellis to be the first Black woman to lead the party. The CDP delegates voted overwhelmingly to elect Rusty Hicks. What are we to make of this conclusion?
California or Calabama?
Among Black folks, California has earned the nickname “Calabama.” It means that far too often, Black people in California face the same deep racism they face in the South, in places like Alabama. As I watched the racial divide exposed in San Francisco last weekend, I was reminded of the struggle that Fannie Lou Hamer fought against the Democratic Party in 1964.
In 1964, Hamer helped co-found the Mississippi Freedom Democratic Party (MFDP). The regional Democratic party was racist and all-white. Hamer traveled with her delegation to the 1964 Democratic National Convention to stand as the official delegation from the state of Mississippi. Her plea to be recognized by the DNC went viral within a few days. It fell on deaf ears.
The DNC did not officially recognize the MFDP until the 1968 Convention.
At the CDP convention in San Francisco, I attended the Black Women’s Meet-up from 5-7. I don’t recall seeing any white women there. Later, from 10-12, I attended the New Girls Network reception. I counted less than 2 handfuls of Black women. I was greatly disturbed by how comfortable most of the white women appeared to be with the obvious absence of Black women. I’m not even sure that KE was invited to speak there.
Clearly, if every woman delegate had voted for KE, she would have easily won. But clearly, that did not happen. Full consideration of the culture of sexual misconduct and racial discrimination inside the CDP took a back seat to another agenda. That agenda was to preserve the privilege of white men in charge of the party. And it clearly appears that too many white women were ok with that. Much as they voted overwhelmingly for Roy Moore in Alabama despite the evidence that he molested teenage girls. What should have been a referendum on the white male patriarchy in charge of the CDP was weaponized against the Black male Chair candidate and otherwise ignored.
Who is Rusty Hicks?
Rusty Hicks seems like a nice fellow. But as I noted before the election, Rusty Hicks comes out of the same cesspool of sexism and white privilege that birthed Eric Bauman. Rusty is a longtime LA labor leader who worked closely with Bauman for the last 14 years. When Eric resigned in disgrace, it seems that his LA supporters came up with a replacement.
So now, Rusty Hicks is the face of the CDP. In his endorsement of KE, Jon Katz, the President of the Santa Monica Democratic Club, said “After extensive conversations with Mr. Hicks, I worry that his vision of the party would serve the protection of our elected officials above the need to push those elected officials to take bold stances and enact legislation that the grassroots of the party put them there to do.”
So How Did Rusty Win?
How Rusty won an election that seemed like it was KE’s to lose will be debated for at least the next two years. We know that the elected officials went all out in January to reclaim the ADEM seats. Some believe the defeat of progressive ADEM slates by hand-chosen surrogates for the electeds in January cost KE the election.
For the first time in recent memory, the CDP Labor Caucus endorsed a candidate for Chair – Rusty. The motion to endorse created a huge uproar in the Caucus. The Labor Caucus, like many other Rusty supporters, was blind to the implications of its conduct. In rushing to push Rusty into the chair seat, labor crushed the hopes of any woman who believes after 128 years, it is long past time to have a Black woman chairperson. Labor failed to consider that a woman is far better equipped to redeem the party’s reputation from the sexually predatory conduct of Eric Bauman than an Eric Bauman surrogate.
As CDP Chair, Rusty will have to reassure Black people that Black women do matter to the CDP and change the culture of sexual abuse allegedly tolerated by the Party leadership. We will tolerate no less than that. The real question is whether labor or the electeds will support him in that quest as vociferously as they supported him in the Chair race. How they answer that question may well determine whether Democrats defeat Trump in 2020.