Report from the March 7 DCDSC

Last night, the DC Democratic State Committee (DCDSC) held its March meeting, and it was a doozy.

This month marked the start of our new structure, which I outlined here, in which we have only one quarterly business meeting, while the majority of monthly meetings are devoted to an issue discussion/panel/presentation. I’m still trying to sort out how this works, but it appears that meetings devoted to an issue discussion/panel/presentation will share some space with old business, but no new business will be entertained. At least that’s how the agenda last night appeared to be organized.

The Evans Saga

Of course, this structure will face challenges in a dynamic political environment. New revelations over the last week regarding Councilmember Jack Evans, his misuse of public office for personal gain, his seeming admission to the allegations, and a letter signed by 24 DCDSC members calling on him to resign from his National Committeeman position, made it impossible to entertain no new business. Yet, the Evans issue was nowhere to be seen on the agenda. Instead, we skipped our usual “motivational moment” at the meeting’s start, and Chair Charles Wilson gave Evans the floor to repeat the apology he’s made several times this week. The sound isn’t great, but here’s some video of that moment:

Evans did not describe what he was apologizing for, and no questions were allowed. Then, Chair Charles Wilson took the floor.

Wilson appealed to committee members to reach out to him more often and chastised the two dozen committee members who signed on to the letter asking for Evans to resign as National Committeeman. You can see this in the video after Evans, around the 01:26 mark. Here’s a quick transcription of most of his remarks:

“So I also wanna say a few words. People ask me often, ‘what is the hardest part about being the Chair of the DC Democratic State Committee?’ And I always say, we have 90+ talented, energetic folks in the room, and how do you manage and focus that energy? That’s literally the hardest part.

What makes it easy is when folks come on board and say, ‘Hey, I wanna help. I’m willing to roll up my sleeves and get the work done of the organization.’

What makes it…difficult is when folks think, ‘You know what? I’m passionate about an idea. I’m going to do XYZ without consulting anybody.’ That makes it hard…It makes it hard not just on me, the Executive Committee, the officers, because we have to answer a lot of questions from not just the press but from a variety of folks.

I say that to say, one,  never hesitate to pick up the phone and call me if you have a question. Never hesitate. Because if you do that a lot of drama can be avoided. If you don’t wanna call me you can call anybody who is an officer…believe it or not, we talk all the time. Literally all the time…So, if there’s ever a question or concern that you have, pick up the phone and call me.

But at the end of the day, we cannot have what happened this week. We can’t. Because somebody else will do it. And it’ll start a precedent. And that doesn’t work for the organization. I got a lot of phone calls saying, ‘Hey, I didn’t know about this letter, why wasn’t I asked, nobody asked my opinion,’ and I have to answer those questions. And that’s not fair to me or anybody else. I’m going to leave it at that.”

Wilson made no comment about the allegations against Evans or the investigations underway. He did not offer any floor time to any of the 24 letter signatories. He did not offer any indication of the Executive Committee’s intentions regarding Evans, or how members might use the Party Organization and Function committee to resolve these issues in the future.

Wilson did introduce John Lazar and Eric Rogers, co-chairs of the Party Organization and Function committee, who noted that the DCDSC lacks a code of conduct. They informed the body that the Executive Committee had tasked their standing committee with developing one and bringing it to the larger body.

Inequity in Education

All of the preceding happened within the first ten minutes of the meeting. Then, we got down to the main event of the night, a panel on Inequity in Education, moderated by ABC 7’s Sam Ford. Panelists included:

Let me just say this was a rad panel, organized by the DCDSC’s Issues and Programming Committee. I didn’t expect it to go where it went, and where it went was so good. It ran 75 minutes, and I can’t possibly capture all of the questions, answers, commentary, critiques. But here is a selection of comments, as close to verbatim as possible:

Riddlesprigger: “Until people are willing to give up for the cause of equity, we’ll continue to have the same outcomes, to talk around the issue until somebody makes a really hard decision…just giving us the basics…isn’t enough and isn’t giving us the outcomes that we need. We have to do something drastically different to disrupt the system…that continues o have black and brown children not perform at the same rates.”

Lazere: “There are many examples of where our country has worked to focus on equity and it’s made a difference. We have a social safety net that lifts half of the people in this country out of poverty…we have policies like the earned income tax credit…to give more resources to people that can’t work or don’t earn enough…and we know that giving more resources to families reduces trauma. Just by having a little bit more money in their pocket, those children are more likely to graduate from high school…go to college…have higher earnings as adults.”

Gibson Hubbard: “We just have to stop thinking about what ‘might be white might be right’…what can we really do to highlight the excellence going on in the schools that we tend to think of as having a deficit?…I think oftentimes we don’t think about the assets but only the deficits.”

Davis: “The bar has been raised for students in DC….but the scaffolding to help students reach that bar hasn’t been put into place. The academic achievement gap..the term itself is actually quite racist…It gives the impression that there’s an incapacity for black and brown students to learn…That’s why I refer to it as the opportunity gap…The opportunity gap will close when we have policymakers, legislators, mayors, councilmembers who will have the political will to understand that we simply cannot hand money over to a school district and say we’ve done our part without oversight and accountability, without actually exploring the realities of what we’re dealing with in the school system.”

Things got a little heated when moderator Sam Ford appeared to question parent involvement and the reasons for it, suggesting a lack of volunteerism or interest. Panelists bristled at the framing, starting with Lazere.

Lazere: “Every parent loves their children and wants the best for their child. Parents aren’t showing up at school because they have two jobs and can’t afford childcare, because they’re worried about paying rent…I don’t accept that parents aren’t interested in their children’s lives. I think that’s classist and racist.”

Davis: “I heard the myth that the parents didn’t care enough to organize a PTA. When I met with parents, they said they were never allowed a space in the school…I know some parents, based on race and class, who have a greater voice in advocating for their children. Technically a lot of parents have been locked out of engagement…it’s as if your voice doesn’t matter, so be quiet.”

Hubbard: “If families aren’t showing up, we have to ask why….I have the luxury of showing up. I don’t even wanna go to my son’s PTA meeting. Some of the conversations that happen there aren’t the way parents want to connect…I think it’s really trying to reorient our way of thinking of what we expect of parents…They’re telling us exactly how they want to engage in schools and we’re not even opening up the buildings in order for them to do so…We can’t just expect them to show up with no meals, no childcare, no consideration for other times of day or topics parents want to engage.”

Riddlesprigger: “I think I also question this idea that going to a PTA meeting is engagement. I fundamentally disagree with that. A PTA meeting many times is listening to whoever has the strongest advocacy platform or the loudest voice…I think when we talk about parent engagement, it can’t just be showing up at a meeting…We look at the way we redefine parent engagement. We created a new system when parents come in and live the live of their student…at pre-k 3, we had 76% of parents involved…even in higher grades we had 40% and 35%, which is a long way from where we were six years ago. That’s because we value parents’ voices…You’re not sitting and getting.”

There was also your usual back-and-forth about charter transparency, with most arguing that charters need to be held to the same standards of transparency and accountability as public schools, and the charter voice claiming that they are, that we shouldn’t make it an us vs. them debate. Panelists touched on teacher retention, the injustice of the modern testing and evaluation systems for students and teachers, and more. But you get the gist. The panel was good!

Returning Citizens Constituency Group

After the panel, Ward 8’s Stuart Anderson introduced a resolution to create a constituency group, with two representatives seated on the state committee, for Returning Citizens. You can read the resolution here.

There was some debate, not on the merits but on the process. It gets into some real minutiae for those of you not on the committee, so I’ll spare you. Ultimately, a motion was made to approve the resolution for full consideration at our next DCDSC meeting in April. If we approve the resolution in full there, it would mean we’re amending the DCDSC constitution to formally create a Returning Citizens Constituency Group, after which two people (for gender parity) would be elected from an existing external returning citizens Democratic group to represent them on the State Committee. This would add two more State Committee members to our total.

Moving the DC Democratic Primary

Last, but certainly not least, came the long-awaited final recommendation on whether to move the DC Democratic primary. You can see my notes on the past two “discussions” of that matter here (Feb) and here (Jan).

If you would’ve asked me last month, I would’ve told you (as I did in this post) that I favored moving the primary to April but wanted to see a commitment made that it not be changed again for at least a decade. I also did not want Ward 2 Councilmember Jack Evans, who himself is on the primary ballot in 2020, leading the discussion given the obvious conflict of interest.

In the weeks since that meeting, however, other committee members and Democratic activists have made a pretty compelling case for moving it a couple weeks earlier, but ultimately keeping it in June.

Ward 3’s Beau Finley got the discussion moving in a productive direction Thursday night by introducing a resolution to move it to the April 28th. While the April 28 date would give DC a larger number of delegates through the DNC’s absolutely absurd and overly-complex delegate bonus system, it would also mean that the petitioning calendar would be interrupted by Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s, and that early voting would take place during a testing period in DC schools.

It’s difficult to justify moving it to April with that many potential headaches for campaigns and voters alike. While well-funded, big-donor campaigns might be able to weather the disruptions, grassroots campaigns, which are already at a disadvantage in this rigged system, would be especially burdened.

The alternative, moving the primary to June 2nd, would take DC out of the dreaded “last place” slot, maintain a healthy delegate number, and cause no major calendar disruptions. A third idea, to move it to June 7th in line with Puerto Rico and call it the “Statehood Primary,” caught a lot of attention, but that’s a Sunday, so yet another set of complications that would take weeks to sort out.

Ultimately, Ward 6’s Chuck Burger moved that we change the DC Democratic Primary from June 16 to June 2. I seconded the motion, and it passed by overwhelming voice vote. Now, the DC Democratic State Committee’s recommendation will be submitted to the DC Council, which makes the final call.

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