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!”
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, Philly.com 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.”
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.
“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.”
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.