In an election year that saw women of color seize power in state and federal government, what has the Democratic Party done to facilitate that change in Massachusetts?
Nothing, a panel of newly elected women said on WGBH’s Basic Black this week, in what came off as a warning shot to party leadership at the state and national level amid soul-searching before the 2020 election.
Among them was Jamaica Plain’s Nika Elugardo, a Democrat celebrating her election to the Massachusetts’ House of Representatives this month—no thanks to the party, which she says discounted her campaign and boosted her incumbent opponent during the primary, and which she calls “straight-up racist.”
“What needs to be said in a very straightforward way is that the Democratic party is straight-up racist,” she said on the program Friday night, in comments that were publicized by the State House News Service on Tuesday. “The structural racism that we’re talking about dismantling is in the party.”
Elugardo says she won in the 15th District by listening to the concerns of voters who weren’t as interested in Republican “scapegoats” as they were about education and affordable housing policy. Her frustration escalated during the party’s celebration after results rolled in on Tuesday night, which featured “speeches made about Republicans dividing the country” rather than ones that took a closer look at the direction of their own party.
“Here’s the thing: You have thirty minutes of a speech. Thirty percent of it is bashing people. Thirty percent of it is talking about why we’re unifiers and then the rest is rhetoric with a couple of sentences thrown in I could actually clap for, legitimately,” she said. “The Democratic Party has not been leading.”
She raised concerns about a party that hasn’t done enough to fix mistakes from the past, saying she felt “sick to her stomach” voting for Bill Clinton in the 90s, when he pushed a tough-on-crime crackdown, and later joined the party only begrudgingly.
“If you think it’s time to change the face of leadership, get out of the way,” she continued. “That’s what has to happen because the leaders who have been leading it have led us down the wrong path.”
“The Democratic Party is straight up racist!
The structural racism that we’re talking about dismantling, is in the party.” #BasicBlack
WATCH MORE: https://t.co/vsJPWMH44K@NikaElugardo @massdems @dnc @wgbhnews pic.twitter.com/FmmtERB1Gh
— Basic Black (@BasicBlackWGBH) November 13, 2018
Joining her on the program were Yvonne Spicer, who won Framingham’s first mayoral election, newly elected Suffolk District Attorney Rachael Rollins, and State Rep. Liz Miranda.
Rollins complained that members of her party assured her she couldn’t beat a better established candidate like assistant DA Greg Henning, in a five-way primary in September. But she won, after pitching an explicit criminal justice reform agenda that included vows not to put people in jail for a list of several crimes, and later beat a Republican challenger 80-20. There were other sleights, she says, including when MassDems asked her to hand out party literature on the campaign trail, which did not include her photo. Instead, she says, it had “eight white people and Ayanna,” referring to then-Congressional candidate Ayanna Pressley.
“What’s so beautiful about this moment, nobody did anything to help, at least me, get here,” Rollins said on the show. “We don’t owe anyone anything. I report to the voters. … They said resoundingly they want me to do this and all of the people that were not supportive, they know that they weren’t and they need to really look around and see the changing demographics. We aren’t going to ask for permission, we’re just going to take it.”
Rollins’ message for Democrats in the campaigns to come: Speak to the issues that actually matter to people.
“We didn’t hide the ball from people like a lot of political people do and speak in vagaries,” she said. “I said specifically, ‘There’s mass incarceration, there’s massive wealth and race-based disparities, women are ignored and treated terribly in the criminal justice system.”
For his part, MassDems President Gus Bickford says he is “thrilled” with the Democrats elected to office this year and defended the party’s efforts to promote candidates of color. He responded to criticism about lack of support when it mattered by pointing to a policy that prohibits party leadership from interfering in primaries.
“We are working every day to build a more diverse and inclusive Party in Massachusetts, and we always welcome constructive feedback on how we can do that better,” he said in a statement to the State House News Service. “While Party bylaws prohibit us from actively supporting candidates in primary elections, we are thrilled with the slate of candidates who were elected on Tuesday, and look forward to working with them to continue fighting for the rights of women, the LGBTQ community, communities of color, and working families here in the Commonwealth.”
— Basic Black (@BasicBlackWGBH) November 10, 2018
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