BLACK CAUCUS DISCUSSES STRATEGIES FOR DFL ACCOUNTABILITY

Community members want more than talk — they’re ready for action

 

By Charles Hallman

Staff Writer

 

All DFL candidates should “represent” Black issues, says a member of the DFL African American Caucus, one of 14 recognized special-interest groups by the Minnesota DFL Party. The group meets on the third Saturday of each month.

However, according to Hollis Winston, who joined the Black caucus nearly two years ago and was elected treasurer last year, most Black Minnesotans who tend to vote Democratic in local, state and national elections are too often taken for granted.

Hollis says the group must be more visible and expand its membership base, especially among community folk. “Now that I have gotten involved, more and more I am realizing we need to connect with the African American community, all African Americans — not just the professional class or the middle class.”

(l-r) Marika Pfefferkorn, Hollis Winston, Frank Brown Photos by Charles Hallman
(l-r) Marika Pfefferkorn, Hollis Winston, Frank Brown
Photos by Charles Hallman

Last week’s open meeting at the Lowry Library was attended by 30 persons who listed education, law enforcement and economic development as three key issues of concern. They then broke up into small discussion groups. “I’m ready for an action group,” says Lisa Dean, one of the attendees.

Frank Brown said he has been with the caucus for four years: “I am just in my first term [as chair]. My goal is number one to start seeing things change and building our power within the party, so we can move the party to do for our community what they are supposed to be doing.”

Marika Pfefferkorn joined the DFL Black Caucus earlier this year. “Hollis asked me. I showed up and I have been here ever since,” she said, adding that the group should work toward becoming “a power bloc” within the DFL. “I think we need to get more people involved… A number of our priorities benefit the entire DFL. We are a large voting bloc within this DFL party, and that needs to be representative in the outcomes we get.”

Ron Harris joined the caucus a year ago. “I ran for state director of the DFL in September of last year and ended up winning,” he said. “Thefront_dfldonkey common misconception of the party is people expect the party to do more than what it is there for. The purpose of the DFL party is to elect Democrats. Their purpose is not to do all these other things. [Therefore] as a caucus…we can decide what kind of Democrats we want to elect — there are different types of Democrats — there are Iron Range Democrats, there are City of Minneapolis Democrats and everyone else in between. The state party is not going to do what the state party is built to do.”

Brown said caucus membership currently is around 70 — “When I first started with the caucus, there were about 25 members. We have tripled the numbers.” The caucus’ endorsement vetting process includes a questionnaire sent to the prospective candidate, an in-person interview, then a majority vote from the group is needed to endorse or not endorse, explained Winston.

“I never felt like elected officials took African Americans seriously,” he said in a MSR interview prior to a September 4 caucus-sponsored event at the Lowry Library in North Minneapolis. “We are the [winning] margin [in elections] — if African Americans don’t vote, Al Franken [wouldn’t have gotten] elected [in 2008].”

Winston doesn’t see DFLers in general respect Blacks and other people of color. “I don’t expect a politician to passionately understand all of the issues that’s important in my community, but I want them to speak to them, and [we should] hold them accountable.” Whenever he attends party functions, “I don’t see that same respect or awareness” for Blacks and other persons of color.

The MSR last week contacted DFL Executive Director Corey Day, one of two Blacks on the 22-person party administration staff, for comment but as of press time received no response. The Somali DFL caucus, according to Winston, “is getting a lot of traction” in terms of getting the party’s attention, but he doesn’t know if that will improve. He strongly suggests that the group stay on top of DFL officials’ seemingly current lassez-faire attitude towards all Black Minnesotans.

The DFL Black Caucus nonetheless should “have a place where we can advocate for the things that matters the most for us,” said Harris. “I firmly believe that having politicians, elected officials and people in power who represent us are going to represent our best interests. We can’t continue to vote for people who do not have our best interests at heart, and the outcomes will not be favorable for us.”

“I don’t want to meet, march or rally, but to take some action,” added Kelis Houston, an attendee of the meeting. “I’m ready to move.”

However, some attendees at last week’s event primarily wanted to discuss the Ferguson, Missouri shooting incident and subsequent protests.

“I thought we were going to be talking about Ferguson and the comparison of what is going on in North Minneapolis… I am not worrying about the caucuses, the DFL or the Democrats,” said Sister Billie Mae Bolden, as she was speaking to the MSR and referring to the flyer during a break. The flyer billing the event mentioned that the meeting would have some focus on the events surrounding the death of Michael Brown. However, caucus members said their intent was to connect with the community.

“The main purpose of this meeting is not to build for the caucus but to discuss the issues so that the caucus is moving in a direction that we are going to get more involved in the community and community issues,” said Brown unapologetically. “People are welcome to leave and I apologize if I wasted anyone’s time.”

Two persons in fact — both White — did leave. The meeting “is meant to be a conversation among African Americans because the solutions must come out of the African American community. We are here to talk about issues that affect us,” noted Winston.

“Everybody came and voiced their opinion,” said Thomas Berry of Brooklyn Center afterward. He is not a member of the caucus. “Now it’s all about what we do next — what’s the follow up? Are we going to have this discussion [again]?”

He said that he wasn’t disturbed as some were about the meeting’s supposedly true purpose:  “We at the tables talked about police brutality. Ferguson wasn’t the main topic. I know a lot of those folk were let down, but we still talked about what we need to do here in this community, and that’s more important.” When asked if he felt misinformed about last week’s meeting, “No, not at all,” said Berry.

Last week’s meeting is what the DFL Black Caucus, or for that matter, the Minnesota DFL party must regularly hold, stated Winston. “We don’t have the relationship with the rank-and-file, or in general connecting with the African American community as we need to, where they are,” he said, suggesting that Democrats must “come down from our ivory towers and shake people’s hands, hearing people’s stories and fears” and do a better job connecting with state Blacks. “We need to get more people to the table.”

“The DFL Caucus really exists to help elect officials that support African American issues. We also want to gain influence inside the party, and help push elected officials in the right direction,” concluded Winston. “We need African Americans to hold the DFL party accountable — not just vote for them, not to give blind loyalty to one party or the other party, but hold them accountable. Make them accountable for your vote — or we look for other options.”

Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to challman@spokesman-recorder.com.
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One Comment on “BLACK CAUCUS DISCUSSES STRATEGIES FOR DFL ACCOUNTABILITY”

  1. I was one of the white people who left. This article does not state that I was asked to leave. It went down like this: 1) one of the first persons to speak made some statement to the effect that the meeting should be about attended only by the the African-American community. But his wording was not as a demand. 2) We then began to introduce ourselves. A young white women introduced herself and said we would leave if asked. When it came my time to introduce myself I also offered to leave if asked. 3) at the end of introductions we were asked to leave and did so.

    The bottom line as I see it is no harm no fold. It seemed to me to be a case of miscommunication. I can understand the African-American community wanting to discuss race issues amongst themselves on occasion and would never consider not respecting that desire. In my defense I thought the meeting was for the entire Minneapolis community to discuss Ferguson.

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