DETROIT — The Democratic National Committee held its third “Future Forum” at Wayne State University to introduce local Democrats to the candidates running for leadership offices at the national level.
The event opened with remarks from Democrats such as Rep. Debbie Dingell (D–Mich.) and Detroit Mayor Mike Duggan. The morning session was devoted to discussing issues considered relevant in Michigan, which would prove to be hot topics as the day progressed.
Speeches echoed themes of party unity, demand for labor, the importance of the younger generation and voter rights. Chuck Jones, the president of the United Steelworkers Local 1999, spoke about the demand for work.
“For the working-class people, jobs are what we are interested in — we’re not asking for handouts, we’re asking for an opportunity to work,” he said. “I’m asking you, I’m telling you, we need to get labor back in that boat.”
These speeches were followed by the forums for the candidates of treasurer and secretary, respectively. The second half of the day contained three forums: Vice chair for civic engagement and voter participation, vice chair, and chair.
Donna Brazile, the interim chair of the DNC, oversaw the Future Forum, and spoke about her faith in the party and its strength. Brazile set the tone for the forum, as many speakers would echo the theme of party unity and “rising up.”
“I believe in this party and I believe in its future,” Brazile said. “The comeback of the DNC is inevitable. We are going to come back, and come back now, we are going to win the seats back in 2018.”
Joining her, Dingell closed the first section of the morning session by delivering a concentrated statement about the necessity to unite the part under one common message.
“We need to unite under one goal and message,” Dingell said. “If we don’t, this country is becoming a country of billionaires and a country that people want to escape from, not come to.”
The forum formally began when Stephen Henderson took the stage to moderate the discussion between the two candidates for treasurer. Henderson, a University of Michigan alum and the Detroit Free Press editorial page editor, moderated the forum between all competing candidates.
Throughout their responses to questions on how they intend to rebuild the party, many candidates placed an emphasis on rallying behind the younger generation of the party.
One of the nine candidates for vice chair, Liz Jaff, who identified as a millennial, stated she believes that her generation is ready to be mobilized, but referred to needing a stronger sense of party-wide unity.
“We millennials already are here, and we are ready to go,” Jaff said. “We just need something to rally behind.”
All the candidates running were asked questions pertaining to the importance of funding and listening to college and young Democrats. One of the 10 chair contenders, Tom Perez, who was the secretary of labor under former President Barack Obama, was one of the many candidates who discussed how he believes the millennial perspective needs to be included in higher levels of the Democratic cause.
“We have to make sure we make not only financial investments to millennials,” he said. “But more importantly the attitudinal investment which says, ‘Not only do you have a seat at the table, you will always have a voice.’ When we do that we can turn this moment into the movement that it needs to be.”
Several college students in the audience said they felt hopeful that the new leadership that would be elected would hear their voices. According to DNC member Ellen Lindblom, the vice president of College Democrats of America and president of Michigan Federation of College Democrats, millennials are now the largest generation, surpassing the baby boomers.
“I think that the revolution is going to be led by the young people,” Lindblom said. “It’ll be led by the women, by the refugees, by the people who have been disenfranchised in many different ways in our society. It’s going to be a bright future, but we need the support on the DNC level.”
There are at most 10 candidates vying for each position, all with varying experiences and perspectives on what they believe is the way to lead their party. Within the crowd of about 100 was LSA junior Charlie Callis, who described what he felt to be a sense of unity despite this competition.
“Although people support different candidates for various positions,” Callis said. “We recognize that the most important thing is that we’re all Democrats and that we keep fighting for our values and sustain our energy moving forward.”
The president of the Detroit NAACP branch, Wendell Anthony, spoke independently of the feelings of many of the speakers and candidates. His words had a strong effect on the audience as he preached his felt importance of uniting people under the Democratic cause and the importance of having a clear perspective of context and accomplishment of the Democratic Party.
“Let’s stay ready, let’s stay focused because we have a lot of work to do.”
The DNC leadership office elections will be held on Feb. 25 in Atlanta by 447 members of the DNC.