Or, so they think.
Watch this can of worms FDP Chairwoman Allison Tant opened crawl out and bite her in the keester. I predict she will rue the day.
Wimes, founder and president of the caucus, got the tersely worded email notice — basically a cease-and-desist order — on Friday.
And guess what? She doesn’t care.
Said the notice, “This message is intended to inform you that on February 1, 2015 the Committee on Clubs, Organizations and Caucuses denied approval of the Democratic African-American Woman’s Caucus of Florida application.”
Beth McMillen, chair of the committee and author of the notice, went on to say, “This decision was based on the facts that it would damage the national standing of the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida, disenfranchising thousands of current members and that it sets a divisive precedent of sub-division and separation which would only serve to undermine the work our current Caucuses are presently undertaking.”
That wasn’t even the bottom line.
McMillen told her she had to “cease doing business as the Democratic African-American Woman’s Caucus of Florida” or remove the word Democrat in any form from the organization’s name. She even quoted the Florida statute that makes it unlawful to use the word without the party’s permission.
Again, Wimes doesn’t care” “I was prepared for that,” she said. “We have no intention of changing our name.”
Would the state party take her to court and risk a PR nightmare in the form of a national media circus? “Let them go right ahead,” she says.
Wimes is convinced Tant’s jihad against the DAAWC is racially motivated.
“She’s been going around behind my back for months trying to get other party leaders to stop me. Even when she knew the party needed African-American women to help get out the vote. She was the one who went to two other black women who she hoped would intercede to get us shut down because, really, she didn’t want anybody in the state of Florida to see just how racist she is.
“They talk about the Republican Party and how they don’t want black women,” said Wimes, “but there’s racism in the Democratic Party, too — especially here in Florida. When you look at the FDP, we have 67 counties — yet there are only five African-American chairs. Five! You have to ask yourself, why is that? And the reason is, in my opinion, they don’t want us to have any power, they don’t want us to have a voice. The only thing they want is our vote.”
Wimes has a point. So victimized by racism was the Escambia Democratic Executive Committee that some of its members reached out to Wimes. For 18 months a faction within the Escambia DEC has been “secretly” trying to oust one of the five African-American chairs, Cassandra McAway, and her African-American vice chair, Joe Horton.
In a signed affadavit, Carol J. Pepper, one of the members who at first was sucked into the plot wrote, “When I finally realized how … subversively racial it appeared to be with ‘stereotypical remarks,’ and that the plan was to unethically stuff the ballot box, I decided to remove my support.” The FDP has suspended Escambia’s DEC while it looks into the mess, and why the vote for the next slate of officers never took place.
“More and more, our caucus is a voice for African-Americans,” Wimes said. “It’s not easy to admit it, but we’re seeing examples of racism in Democratic leadership all over the state, not just in Escambia County. People affected are reaching out to us.”
Wimes says, “Look at the notice they sent me. They say the only reason they rejected us is because it will jeopardize the standing of the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida. Really? When you look at that club, it’s run by a bunch of old white women. Show me the black faces anywhere. Where are they? It’s an outdated organization, they don’t address our specific needs and black women don’t have a voice there. We jeopardize nothing.”
It’s highly doubtful the addition of the DAAWC, as McMillen says, would damage the national standing of the Democratic Women’s Club. All a club has to do to be part of the national organization is pay $250 a year.
Ken Evans, former chair of the Committee on Clubs, Organizations and Caucuses and McMillen’s predecessor, just resigned his post. But before he did, he posted a notice of his support for the DAAWC on his Facebook page: “Asking all new committee members for the FDP Clubs and Caucuses to do the right thing and support the new African-American Democratic Woman’s Caucus. They will be a fine addition to our party!”
I called McMillen Saturday and left a voice mail, but I never heard back. I wanted to ask her what prompted her to so disregard Evans’ advice, and if Tant was the driving force. Tant, incidentally, also failed to return my call. Her voice mail referred me to her assistant, whose number is an office landline.
I also wanted to ask McMillen about the last sentence in her email notice: “I hope your members will consider being active with the party in another capacity in the future.” Did she mean to invite just the DAAWC members to be active in the party — but not Wimes? And what did she mean by “in the future”? How long should these African-American women wait before they’re in the party’s “good books”?
Not all state Democrats on layers below the very top are dismissive of Wimes and the Democratic African-American Woman’s Caucus. Many applaud and admire her efforts.
Just Friday Joanne Sterner, corresponding secretary for the Democratic Women’s Club of Northeast Broward and the Democratic Women’s Club of Florida, invited Wimes to speak on Black History Month at the Broward club’s Feb. 18 meeting. “Let us know as soon as possible so we can get our PR out,” she wrote. Wimes accepted.
Carrie Comstock, a Miami-Dade County Democrat, said she long suspected Tant cultivated a racism within the party. “It has driven me further and further away,” Comstock said. “They have a racist mentality these days and I’m the wrong color. The new black women’s caucus gives me hope.”
Former gubernatorial candidate and state Sen. Nan Rich — just as “on the outs” with Tant as Wimes for failing to support Tant’s gubernatorial choice, Charlie Crist — said, “My view has always been the same. I say, the more the merrier. The party needs all the groups it can get working to bring us closer to our goals. And Leslie is doing so much to energize our base. She and these African-American women should be getting our help and thanks.”
I asked Janet Burnett of Sunrise, vice chair of the Broward County Democratic Black Caucus, if she agreed with party leadership that the DAAWC should dissolve.
“Absolutely not,” she said emphatically. “This wasn’t just a bad decision for African-American women, it was bad for the whole party.” Burnett, who was born in Jamaica, explained that to be successful, “no one should be marginalized.” The party has many different cultures that must overlap and be encouraged to fill the streets with energy, she said.
Leslie Wimes, meanwhile, hardly radiates a sense of doom since she received the caucus’ cease-and-desist order. Quite the opposite. “We have money in the bank, we have events scheduled, we have a DAAWC chapter in the three most Democrat-rich counties in Florida — Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach — and we’re working to establish a chapter in all 67 counties.”
Wimes blows off Allison Tant. “I haven’t got time for her racism — she will be dealt with in due course.”
Looking at the big picture, Wimes says, “Allison is a loser. We have to go on without looking back. We have to move to higher ground. To win the nation, Hillary Clinton must win Florida. And she’s going to need us to help make that happen.
“Along the way, we’re going to make our voices heard.”
Reach Nancy Smith at firstname.lastname@example.org or at 228-282-2423.
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