Blacks scarce at DFL state convention

At least one first-timer found inspiration

Harris Team members (l-r) Ron Harris, Chris Seymore, Sam Ndely, Amber Jones, Amanda Koonjbeharry and Profit Idowu.
Harris Team members (l-r) Ron Harris, Chris Seymore, Sam Ndely, Amber Jones, Amanda Koonjbeharry and Profit Idowu. Charles Hallman/MSR News

A political party convention is typically loud rah-rah speeches, constantly bashing the loyal opposition at every opportunity amidst waving campaign signs. The 2016 Minnesota DFL State Convention last weekend at downtown Minneapolis’ Orchestra Hall, for the most part, wasn’t any different from past gatherings.

It was Amber Jones’ first state convention. Earlier this year she ran for state delegate at her district convention but left after almost 12 hours of bickering back and forth.

“A lot of people had been leaving throughout the day,” Jones recalled of her 11 pm departure time. “Hopefully the next time around it won’t be as contentious. Then maybe I can be a delegate at the state level.”

The MSR talked to 23-year-old Jones from Minneapolis while she took a welcome break. She was on the convention floor whenever possible as she lobbied for her friend Ron Harris, who sought one of four open Democratic National Committee (DNC) slots for Minnesota.

“They [DNC members] really shape our national party direction within the party structure,” Jones explained. “I have floor access, so I can go on the [convention] floor when they are not voting and talk to delegates and persuade them to vote for Ron. I canvassed the entire Orchestra Hall to make sure people have the information.”

Her efforts along with other “Harris team” members proved successful as Harris, one of three Blacks out of 13 persons seeking a slot, was elected to the national committee for a four-year term, beginning this summer.

“I put in a lot of work about five or six weeks ago, making phone calls, sending out mailers and talking to delegates,” Harris told the MSR before results were announced. “I’ve traveled to each district in the state, went to fundraisers and dinners.”

“Conventions are long. It is nerve racking,” noted Jones. Add to this the fact that many people, especially Blacks and other people of color, are unfamiliar with the somewhat tedious process, and this becomes a deterrent for them to get involved.

It is very noticeable that the majority of the delegates are White.

“If more people knew about it, people would get involved, and that’s an opportunity to change,” added Harris. “The reason why [it is] the way it is [is because]…actually a select number of people [are] setting the rules, the agenda and the platform. If more people knew about this, they could take over the state.

“You look around, you see White folk,” he pointed out. “We need more of us to come in with new ideas, open up this party and make it more relevant. Politics and government was built on exclusion. The reason why it works so well for few people [is] because of exclusion.”

DFL Chair Ken Martin, however, told reporters, including the MSR, during a convention break that the state party has become more diverse in recent years. When we pointed out that the convention still looks as White as ever, he admitted, “I think it is a fair criticism. We have to be intentional when we talk about inclusion in our party.”

Chris Seymore of Bloomington, who lost in his bid to attend the DNC national convention later this year as a Bernie Sanders delegate, argued that “real affirmative action” is needed in the Democratic Party.

Charles Foote of Minneapolis and Selena Bergin of Golden Valley also were first-timers at last weekend’s convention. They passed out literature to delegates as they arrived at Orchestra Hall.

“I’m learning to make sure that I make the right vote” in this year’s presidential election, said Foote.

Party conventions and their importance in the American political process aren’t being taught in school, said Jones, but they should be. “We have more high school students coming of age and knowing these things and how to navigate… If people knew how to build power, you’ll have a completely different society.

“It is our rightful place at the table as Americans, as citizens and residents of this country and this community,” continued Jones. “It is so important for folk like us to keep reaching out to young people. It is really important for me to create access for young people, to articulate and to learn how to navigate the system and make something great out of it.

“I think the state convention is a good experience,” Jones said in assessing her first DFL state convention. “I’ve had a good experience.” More importantly, she said, is that it’s up to persons like herself, Harris, and other Blacks who are involved “to make sure we create more access for poor people who aren’t at the table [to] have voices [that represent] them. As a young organizer…I’m excited.”


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