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Donna Edwards ends insurgent campaign by taking on Democratic Party orthodoxy, and supporters vow to continue the fight

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In Tuesday’s Maryland primary, out-going U.S. Representative Donna Edwards lost her insurgent bid against establishment Democrat Christopher Van Hollen for the party’s nomination for senate. Edwards has been one of the few lawmakers to take a stand for Palestinian rights, and would have been only the second African-American woman to serve in the senate.

In her concession speech Tuesday night at the International Brotherhood of Electrical Workers union hall in Prince George’s County, just outside D.C., Edwards slammed economic inequality, racial inequality and pay disparities for women, before letting her “friends” in the Democratic party have a piece of her mind over their support for her white male opponent.

“It is time for us to have our seat the table as women and workers, as black and brown people, as communities of color. We are no longer content to have you make the decisions for us, to have you set the table for us. It is time for us to get off the menu and to get around the table,” she said, after announcing it was time for Democrats to ask where marginalized communities fit in its “big tent.” She said that Democrats cannot show up to black churches before the election, sign a few tunes, and then expect to collect votes.

“For all of us who look a little different, who talk a little different…for all of us standing on the outside of the Democratic party, it is time for us to call the question,” she added before walking off the stage to loud applause from about a hundred supporters who chanted “Donna! Donna! Donna!”

Democrat Donna Edwards, a U.S. Representative from the 4th District of Maryland, giving her concession speech in her race with Rep. Chris Van Hollen. (Photo: Wilson Dizard)

Democrat Donna Edwards, a U.S. Representative from the 4th District of Maryland, giving her concession speech in her race with Rep. Chris Van Hollen. (Photo: Wilson Dizard)

Prince George’s County, where Edwards’ Fourth District is, sometimes gets called the 9th Ward, because of the overlap between voters living or working between P.G. and Southeast D.C. In the same way, upper northwest D.C. and Montgomery County sometimes seem to blend seamlessly into one another, economically and politically. Washington D.C. is remarkable in that it is perhaps one of the most unequal cities in the world. There’s always one person with the power to destroy all life on Earth, and somebody else out there saving up for a handgun. Its suburbs, meanwhile, are some of the most unequal suburbs in the United States.

Edwards, a black woman who brought a message decrying income inequality, will not be seeking re-election, and was snubbed by the Congressional Black Caucus, which has endorsed Secretary Hillary Clinton. Edwards received money from Emily’s List, which support female candidates for office, but one of Clinton’s pro-Israel pals, Haim Saban, poured $100,000 into Van Hollen’s campaign.

Van Hollen, using Saban’s money, massively outspent the progressive black candidate.

“She couldn’t even afford buttons,” said Gwen Moore, a representative from Wisconsin who went against most of her fellow lawmakers in the Congressional Black Caucus by endorsing Edwards. “Van Hollen called in every favor he had.”

In the end the status-quo candidate, the minority chairman of the House Budget Committee, prevailed.

Moore said that Edwards was the more qualified candidate, having a background in engineering and a law degree. But she lamented how the media rarely mentioned Edwards’ professional credentials, instead referring to her in most articles only as a single mother who happened to be in congress.

Edwards is one of several women of color who have been challenging establishment Democrats. Sanders’s campaign has been aided by Nina Turner, an Ohio state senator, Linda Sarsour, an Arab American community activist from Brooklyn; Erica Garner, daughter of police-choking victim Eric Garner, as well as actor Rosario Dawson. And while Edwards didn’t hitch her star to either Secretary Hillary Clinton or Sen. Sanders, by going out of her way to visit Gaza in 2009 and later standing up against AIPAC-backed resolutions she’s the kind of politician who falls by accident into a small category of legislators with audacity to challenge Democratic party orthodoxy on Israel — an orthodoxy that doesn’t consider Palestinian dehumanization and suffering when Israel says its safety is at stake.

Tuesday night was bad news for people who hope Bernie Sanders will be able to turn down-ticket dissatisfaction with the Democratic party. Most notable is the loss of Jon Fetterman, a Pittsburgh-area mayor who ran for the Democratic senate nomination. Fetterman’s anti-establishment rhetoric lined up with Sanders, but the Vermont Senator didn’t throw any cash his way, or even an endorsement, reports. Sanders, it would seem, could’ve gained a possible ally in the senate by throwing his support behind Edwards earlier on.

Sanders has hailed his campaign’s ability to bring in a diverse range of people into the Democratic party, people who’d been alienated or ambivalent toward party politics before — Muslims and Arabs in particular. If Sanders had stopped by the union hall that night, he would’ve found his own voters there. He would’ve heard rhetoric similar to his own from Edwards, whose words included challenges to the Democratic party elite. It’s possible Sanders doesn’t realize the kind of power he has, or he does and he’s not sure how to use it. Figuring out how to use political power and leverage has never been difficult for the Clintons. But if Sanders hopes to remake the Democratic party into something more progressive and less militaristic, more responsive to Palestinians and less subservient to Israel, he needs to learn how to play to his own strengths fast.

Life-long Democrats, confident Clinton-voters, relaxing in the sunny, air-conditioned parlors of Northwest Washington D.C. chuckle over their Paul Krugman columns and sparkling goblets of steamy organic coffee, reading about the desperate plight of Republicans, who are seeing their party ripped apart by the pro-wrestling-demagoguery of tall-building owner Donald Trump and the snake-handling fanaticism of Sen. Ted Cruz. But they should be wary of what’s happening under their own “big-tent.”

Mike Wilson and Tiffany Flowers, both Edwards supporters, find the candidate's positions on Israel to be particularly courageous. (Photo: Wilson Dizard)

Mike Wilson and Tiffany Flowers, both Edwards supporters, find the candidate’s positions on Israel to be particularly courageous. (Photo: Wilson Dizard)

Tiffany Flowers, 38, said she didn’t trust Clinton to carry out reforms she promises, and feels Clinton’s attempts to connect with African Americans are condescending and petty.

“I have serious doubts about what a Clinton presidency looks like for people like me,” Flowers said. “I am involved and committed in the movement for black lives. I come from a family that has a very deep connection to the American civil rights movement — and I just don’t know how we, in the lens we see the world, what her vision is and whether it fits with us. Showing up at the right places, hot sauce in your bag, all those things she says, she hits all those buttons.”

Flowers is an organizer with the United Food and Commercial Workers union, and so is her friend Mike Wilson, who lamented Edwards loss.

“I think Edwards is better on Israel/Palestine than Chris Van Hollen is. Because she’s been more interested in not just siding with the American Israel Public Affairs Committee,” Wilson said, saying the full name of the nation’s largest and most powerful pro-Israel lobby, which last month heard speeches from all the candidates, including Trump, who counts actual Nazis among his most ardent followers.

“I think she’s very courageous on that issue,” Wilson said.

Cynthia Dawkins, 55, and her friend Kim Harrison, 52, are both Edwards supporters. Dawkins says she trusts Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. (Photo: Wilson Dizard)

Cynthia Dawkins, 55, and her friend Kim Harrison, 52, are both Edwards supporters. Dawkins says she trusts Bernie Sanders over Hillary Clinton. (Photo: Wilson Dizard)

“I have to admit I’m not an expert on her stance on Palestine,” said Mary Melchiore, 55, who had helped the representative get elected in 2008.

“I think that a lot of politicians fall into the trap that to be a friend of Israel means to support whatever they want and I think sometimes we’ve got to give Israel some tough love. And that tough love is saying the Palestinians are your neighbors. If you can’t treating them this way, you’re never going to have peace.”

Cynthia Dawkins was standing near Melchiore in the IBEW meeting hall. She said she didn’t know enough about the Palestinian issue to comment, but said that she was for Edwards because she was a more authentic candidate.

“She seems to be somebody who likes to keep things real, she seems to be a more sincere individual. I don’t know the opponent,” Dawkins said. She’s supporting Bernie Sanders for president. Just hours before, Sanders lost the Maryland primary race to Clinton.

In 2013, Dawkins’ 24-year-old son Timothy became a victim of gun violence on the streets of Southeast Washington D.C., killed by a stray bullet. Although she knows Sanders has been challenged for his stance on gun control, she still feels he’s the best candidate.

“There are other issues that I believe that Sanders touches that I’m more interested. Not that I’m less interested in gun control. Just other issues like mass incarceration, which leads to more violence,” she said. “That’s why I prefer to see BS as president over Hillary Clinton.”

Dawkins feels that reducing poverty will go farther to reducing gun violence than simply writing more laws. She also feels that the voices of black women like herself have been discounted by Clinton characterizing opposition to her as coming from young white males.

“She’s been walking around with mothers that have been affected by gun violence — I think they’re being exploited. I think she’s using them to appeal to the black population and to mothers I don’t think she’s sincere based on her history and her past. Number one, when students tried to approach her to ask her about certain specific issues, she ignored them. If she’s ignoring them now, what’s she going to do as president? That’s how I feel,” Dawkins, 55, said, referring to incidents recorded on video.

“I don’t trust Hillary. She’s not willing to freely answer the questions they’re asking.”

Kamesha Clark, 25, who hopes to run as a Green Party candidate for the 4th District congressional seat being vacated by Donna Edwards. (Photo: Wilson Dizard)

Kamesha Clark, 25, who hopes to run as a Green Party candidate for the 4th District congressional seat being vacated by Donna Edwards. (Photo: Wilson Dizard)

Hours after Edwards’ speech, I got to talking with Kamesha Clark, 25, who is running for the Green Party nomination for the congressional seat Edwards will be leaving in November. Like Edwards, she’s an African-American woman who feels Palestinian rights are important. She’s a married mother of a two-year-old, who feels compelled to join public life.

It was nice to meet Clark, who was also born in Washington D.C., and see someone who is a stay-at-home mom determined to make a difference in her community. Quixotic or not, that’s a spirit neither Sanders nor Clinton should ignore.

“I’m fed up with the direction the country’s going,” Clark told me. “And I’m fed up with the politicians taking advantage of us. Today when I went out to the polls and I asked what characteristics people wanted to see in their representatives and they all said ‘honesty.’”

On Israel/Palestine, Clark said she said United States needs to step away and re-evaluate the relationship with Israel.

“We need to step back with our money as well,” she said. “We need to sway their government to lay off a bit.”

I wasn’t able to get Edwards on the record herself, as it was a long day. And her spokesperson was unavailable, until Wednesday. Understandable. But one of her volunteers offered his opinion.

Jeff Kaloc, 27, and his fellow volunteer Ann Nelson, 32, both said they weren’t experts on Israel/Palestine. Nelson supports her for her work expanding science education to children. Who could be against that?

Nelson walked away and Kaloc, a Maryland gentleman, offered his opinion:

“Sometimes, I worry that Israel could become an Apartheid state,” Kaloc said with an honesty and innocence one rarely hears on the campaign trail, such as it is.

Whether Israel is an Apartheid state is a question for the comments section below, but it does show that the phraseology is swimming around the heads of the people greeting Edwards fans outside the union center in the office park off Route 50 in Lanham, Maryland.

Both Nelson and Kaloc would only say they worked “on the Hill.” I could have pressed them on what and who and how, but in Washington, it’s kind of a jerk move to do so. Do you really, really want to know what your neighbor does for the C.I.A.? No, you actually don’t.

Or even on the Hill? I’m sure it’s boring or depressing. And making someone have to stick their boss’s neck out on their behalf is just not something you do, unless it really matters. In this case, it didn’t.

And these two had already been gracious enough to speak to me, with Kaloc offering his gem of a quote, so I left it at “on the Hill.”

In almost any other human-language-speaking town, that would be complete gibberish. But this is D.C.

About Wilson Dizard

Wilson Dizard is a freelance reporter and photojournalist covering politics, civil rights, drug policy and everything else. He lives in Brooklyn with his bicycle, camera and drum set.

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17 Responses

  1. Marnie
    April 27, 2016, 12:03 pm

    I like your style Wilson – thanks for giving the much needed attention to this story –

  2. pabelmont
    April 27, 2016, 12:18 pm

    All of us who look a little different, who talk a little different…for all of us standing on the outside of the Democratic party, it is time for us to call the question,” she added before walking off the stage to loud applause from about a hundred supporters who chanted “Donna! Donna! Donna!”

    Her supporters called it right. I am “white” and I admit I look a little different from Donna. And I talk a little different from Donna, I expect. She should not be talking about herself looking and talking “a little different” unless she means from the Party Bosses, The Oligarchs, the Managers of the BIG Money. America has a lot of “accents” and “colors”. Nothing to “admit” but something to be proud of. And Congress should look and sound a lot more diverse.

    Maybe Donna’s supporters will join the Sanders folks who will not agree to vote for Clinton (and thus for the Oligarchy, for Endless War, for Banks TBTF with CEOs TITJ). It appears that pro-Sanders Americans (actually or very nearly) outnumber pro-Clinton Americans (to say nothing of pro-Trump Americans) because of Sanders’s support from independents; — and if Clinton wins the Dem nomination in spite of all this, then the Dem Party needs to hear from its FDR/Sanders branch VERY LOUD AND VERY CLEAR — WE ARE TIRED OF THIS PARTY OF THE OLIGARCHS.

    And if not now, then when? So, Donna, tell all Americans, tell all the rainbow, tell all the black and brown supporters of Clinton, that there is — that there must be –another way.

  3. Kathleen
    April 27, 2016, 2:38 pm

    What a shame that Maryland voters could not see through o who owns Van Hollen. Interesting that Clinhton came out in support of Edwards and the Black Caucus did not. What is up with the Black Caucus.

    Bernie being able to put a dent in Clinton’s more war plans is going to be almost impossible. She is a diehard neocon.war hawk. No need for Cheney any more, now Clinton is there

    • CigarGod
      April 28, 2016, 9:19 am

      I think it was here, we first read about the Black Caucus making an all expenses paid pilgrimage to Israel.

      • Kathleen
        April 29, 2016, 11:26 am

        Keep wondering what happened to the legislation that was passed to keep these types of all expenses paid trips for Reps by special interest groups. Legislation passed after the Ney hanky panky buy him scandal

  4. JWalters
    April 27, 2016, 7:07 pm

    “the media rarely mentioned Edwards’ professional credentials, instead referring to her in most articles only as a single mother who happened to be in congress.”

    Stunning! A key step in ousting the oligarchy is to teach Americans that the establishment news media is part of the rigged game. It simply can NOT be trusted. Look at it for sports and weather if you want, but not for who is rigging the system and how. And therefore DEFINITELY not for information on candidates and issues. In these times people need truly independent, internet news outlets. Mondoweiss, Consortium News, and Common Dreams are good examples, covering a spectrum of key facts and analyses the establishment dictatorship tries to keep hidden.

  5. silamcuz
    April 28, 2016, 7:23 am

    The Democratic Party is a white supremacist take on liberal politics. It does not represent the enlightened values of the progressives at all, because it is the other face of the more visibly white supremacist entity, the Republican Party.

    Donna Edwards is from the older generation, whose political consciousness were limited to the narrow scope of the two party system. She has yet to come to the realization that there can be no end game favourable to her playing in this rigged system, built on top on genocide and slavery.

    The entire establishment need to be dismantled and all remnants of the white supremacist entity must be destroyed. Come on Ms. Edwards, please wake up and realize the are bigger things we need to work for in order to secure our collective liberation. We do not achieve liberation by co-signing with the very systems that oppresses us and our children. Those who threaten the wellbeing of our children, i.e the government of the USA, must be fought with the utmost fierceness and without rest. We need to resist them, and win Donna. Not sit and hold hands with them while they drag us all towards our demise.

    • Sibiriak
      April 28, 2016, 9:39 am


      1) “Those who threaten the wellbeing of our children.…must be fought.”

      2) “I reserve all my love and energy to my people, and my people only

      A person whose love and energy goes–emphatically and vehemently– to “his people” ONLY can hardly be trusted to be genuinely concerned about–let alone fight for– “our children”.

      Your brand of extreme tribalism does not represent enlightened progressive values– at all. Stop posing, please.

      • Mooser
        April 28, 2016, 5:43 pm

        “Your brand of extreme tribalism…”

        Is completely phony, to begin with. “Silamcruz” is still unable to state what his tribe is!

        I think he’s ashamed of it, so he won’t say exactly what it is.

  6. for-peace
    April 28, 2016, 10:59 am

    The entrenched two party political establishment in the U.S. , the inertia of which can be so frustrating for me and apparently many others on this site, is not the result of a conspiracy. It is the predictable outcome of the constitution which governs the political system and 250 years of maturation of that system.

    The U.S. constitution specifies a “winner take all” method of elections. This basic rule dictates that, change to a political movement must come from within. Temptation to start a third alternative borne out of this frustration is the temptation of self destruction. Any new breakaway movement hurts the preceding movement that is closest to it by dividing support and elevating the movement farthest from it in relative terms, which determine who wins the election. To move from the abstract to the concrete: we can thank Ralph Nader and the Green Party being that third alternative in Florida in 2000 for 8 years of W and the consequences that entailed for the world, not to mention the suffering of the people of the Middle East.

    Ms. Edwards and Bernie have pursued their goals, many of which I share, in the smartest and most effective manner. I am disappointed that they were not able to win their nominations this time around but they have won substantially in shaping the political discourse. Ideas and principles are important, perhaps more than the personalities. Change will come driven by ideas, information and demographics. In a country of 300 million people, it will be slow and difficult to take notice at the moment, like the earth moving in space. For those who notice signs over time, the movement is clear as the sun and the stars make it for the movement of the earth.

    Being presented a choice between Trump and Hillary in the general election will be a cruel joke for me. Luckily she will not need my vote to make sure Trump does not win my state.

  7. Citizen
    April 28, 2016, 12:04 pm

    I made this comment link yesterday but it vanished, so here it is again:

    Pro-Israel billionaire Haim Saban drops $100,000 against Donna Edwards in Maryland Senate race by @ZaidJilani

  8. Boo
    April 28, 2016, 12:42 pm

    It doesn’t look as though any of the commenters above are Marylanders as I have been since ’97. I have a somewhat different perspective on this campaign to share.

    There’s no question that Edwards has strong progressive values and, given her race and gender, represents the progressive goal of increasing minority representation in positions of political power. But those are not the only criteria.

    What’s arguably more important is the ability to deliver actual results that advance the progressive agenda, and that seems to be Edwards’ weak spot. She hasn’t produced any significant legislative victories or initiatives, and has been persistently perceived as less than effective in addressing the needs and concerns of her constituents — who point to the staff in her Congressional office as nonresponsive. It’s not unreasonable for voters to weigh those perceived shortcomings against her acknowledged progressive principles in deciding whether to promote her.

    The portions of the article that focus more on Sanders, Clinton and Kamesha Clark are peripheral to this Senate race, so I won’t go into those. But the issue of financing bears a little closer look, because the article paints a somewhat lopsided picture:

    “Edwards received money from Emily’s List, which support female candidates for office, but one of Clinton’s pro-Israel pals, Haim Saban, poured $100,000 into Van Hollen’s campaign. Van Hollen, using Saban’s money, massively outspent the progressive black candidate. ‘She couldn’t even afford buttons,’ said Gwen Moore, a representative from Wisconsin…”

    Saban’s $100k doesn’t go far in the pricey DC Metro media market. And it pales in comparison to the $2.4 million spent by EMILY’s list on Edwards’ behalf. Also of note was the $1.6 million spent on her behalf by a labor union PAC, “Working for Us”, of which $600k came from S. Donald Sussman, a centrist Israel supporter who’s perhaps best described as being of the “false equivalency” persuasion.

    Total money raised by the candidates outside of PACs in the six months prior to the election was roughly $3 million for van Hollen vs. $2 million for Edwards — not outrageously lopsided, and Edwards could surely have afforded to have some “buttons” printed out of her share of those contributions.

    I’m not going to use this race as symbolic of any of the larger issues in US politics — as some are doing — nor am I claiming that a van Hollen win was an unalloyed victory for MD progressives or Palestine. But to paint Edwards’ loss as a loss for local progressives and a defeat for Palestinian rights is to ignore much of the history and complexity of this particular contest.

    • for-peace
      April 30, 2016, 10:32 am

      Thank you for the very relevant factual details, Boo. I am far from Maryland and found your post very helful and informative.

  9. Linda J
    Linda J
    April 28, 2016, 2:22 pm

    for-peace sez “we can thank Ralph Nader and the Green Party being that third alternative in Florida in 2000 for 8 years of W.”

    This bit of sophistry is very wrong. “#3) So why did Gore lose to Bush? Democrats.

    there are two other Florida constituencies that cost them more votes than Nader did. First, Democrats. Yes, Democrats! Nader only drew 24,000 Democrats to his cause, yet 308,000 Democrats voted for Bush.”

    Endlessly repeating this erroneous information about Nader undercuts our work of challenging the corrupt duopoly by generating third party efforts.

    • for-peace
      April 30, 2016, 11:31 am

      Linda J, I agree that the real world is more complex and more than a single factor determine the outcome of events. My way of dealing with that complexity is looking at one factor at a time while putting the others aside. I didn’t mean to say that the one factor I am focused on is the dominant factor contributing to that event.
      That one factor I was focusing on here was the question: ” If I am discontent with the corrupt duopoly of political ideas in the U.S. system and want to effect change, am I likely to be more successful pursuing my ideas as a third party or should I pick the lesser of the two evils and pursue the change I desire from within?” My contention is that the answer to that question is very clearly laid out against third party movements by the basic rules of the U.S. Constitution. Beyond basic logic I tried to follow, numerous actual examples bear that out including the one I referenced.
      Looking at that particular example more generally, taking other factors that contributed to the result, Nader’s candidacy was not the dominant factor. I agree with you on that. It was Gore himself. I still shake my head after so many years “How could you lose an election to W after those 8 years of the Clinton era…”
      After we agree on that fact, I still ask the question “Was Nader’s third party candidacy effective in bringing the change it advocated?” I think the answer is still clearly no. Out of the 24,000 votes he got, I would expect the difference favoring Gore vs. Bush would have been larger than Bush’s eventual margin of victory of a couple hundred votes. So, with the best intentions of well meaning Green party enthusiasts, instead of the climate changing,book writing Gore, we got W who needs no description. It is an extreme, symbolic example but a valid one nevertheless.
      Perhaps a more convincing example is what the Tea Partiers have been able to do to the GOP. Had they started an actual Tea Party instead of taking the fight from within the GOP, they would have undoubtedly split the vote in many districts in favor of the democratic candidate and prevented their own agenda achieving such a prominent national platform. Fighting from within, they have been able to hijack the GOP practically in many critical turns.
      I empathize that pursuing a principled political cause in the purity of a new political movement is much more appealing and energizing than having to associate with the legacy of one of two tired old choices, but the U.S. Constitution clearly favors the latter approach in effectiveness. This is not the case in parliamentary democracies in effect in many other countries in the world.

  10. traintosiberia
    April 29, 2016, 9:53 am

    LONDON — In the face of mounting criticism over inaction on episodes of anti-Semitism in the Labour Party, Jeremy Corbyn reversed himself on Wednesday and suspended a party lawmaker for endorsing anti-Israel posts on social media before she became a member of Parliament.
    ‘n 2014, before being elected, Ms. Shah endorsed a Facebook post displaying a graphic that showed Israel’s outline superimposed on a map of the United States. The map was under the headline, “Solution for Israel-Palestine conflict — relocate Israel into United States,” with the comment, “Problem solved.”

    while in another setting-

    “Adelson is a prominent Republican moneyman, notorious for bankrolling GOP presidential efforts. Republican candidates are compelled to go through the so-called “Adelson primary” if they hope to win their party’s nomination. They are also expected to adopt Adelson’s hard-line foreign policy views. The billionaire is a die-hard Israel supporter, going so far as to claim the Palestinians are “an invented people,” and has called for a preemptive nuclear attack on Iran.”

    and then this – a man trying to get into Las Vegas

    ” Ban all Middle Easterners, but not Israelis — says GOP Senate candidate in Florida

    Many media reports failed to highlight that Carlos Beruff made an exception for Israel while one-upping Trump
    Ben Norton

  11. michtom
    April 29, 2016, 4:43 pm

    AIPAC … “which last month heard speeches from all the candidates”

    Sanders did NOT speak to AIPAC.

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