The Democratic National Committee has conceded to demands from the #BlackLivesMatter movement, and Campaign Zero to hold a town hall meeting wherein presidential candidates will focus “on issues of racial justice,” even while it insists that no additional presidential debates will be held for the 2016 campaign schedule. This came in response from a petition posted at the iam.ColorofChange website that garnered just 5000 signatures.
 
At the BlackLIvesMatter website, a statement read:
 
“The #BlackLivesMatter network and our allies urge Democratic National Committee chairperson Debbie Wasserman Schultz to allow for more debates amongst Democratic party candidates leading up to the 2016 election, specifically for a #BlackLivesMatter themed Presidential debate.
 
It is not enough to poll the Presidential candidates on whether or not they think "Black lives matter" or "All lives matter" - we deserve substantive responses - including and in addition to criminal justice reform, what will the presidential candidates do to ensure that Black lives matter?”
 
Addressing #BlackLivesMatter leaders and activist DeRay Mckesson, the Democratic party invited the groups to host a presidential town hall similar to those currently being planned by other activist groups such as MoveOn.org.
 
DNC Chief Executive Officer Amy K. Dacey wrote, 'We believe that your organization would be an ideal host for a presidential candidate forum — where all of the Democratic candidates can showcase their ideas and policy positions that will expand opportunity for all, strengthen the middle class and address racism in America," according to the Washington Post. "The DNC would be happy to help promote the event."
 
When the BlackLivesMatter network reached out to the DNC on October 20, the group demanded that Democrats add more debates to the primary schedule, including at least one addressing race conflict. So far, Democrats have scheduled only six debates for the 2016 primary season. The next is scheduled for November 14. The petition (see here) argues that African-American voters “who (reluctantly) give our votes to the Democratic Party deserve more robust forums on issues of particular concern to our communities, at home and abroad.”
 
BlackLivesMatter references a Center of American Progress report that noted “in 2012, Black women voted at a higher rate than any other group, across ethnicity, gender and race.” According to the Center of American Progress report, President Barack Obama regained the White House in 2012 with 55 percent of the total women’s vote— while only 42 percent of white female voters chose him. The report found that minority women pull the lever for Democrats in off-year elections as well. It cited the election of Virginia Governor Terry McAuliffe, who won 91 percent of black women’s votes in 2013; in that case, only he captured only38 percent of white women’s votes. 
 
Some activists have expressed exasperation that race issues were accorded limited time during the debate and that “candidates did not offer specific policy proposals aimed at racial justice.” Writing at The New Republic, for example, Jamil Smith wrote “Black voters aren’t looking for inspiration on this issue as much as we are substance,” calling the debate a “squandered opportunity.” 
 
In a statement, Elle Hearns of BlackLivesMatter and GetEQUAL said, “What we’re demanding [from the candidates] is for more substance, not just rhetoric, because we know that a lot of the candidates are depending on black voters.” Among the issues that could be raised in the coming BlackLivesMatter town hall are issues such as “black trans women, incarceration rates, police violence, ‘economic disenfranchisement,’ and efforts to defund Planned Parenthood,” according to BuzzFeed.
 
In an interview with Washington Post reporter Wesley Lowery, Mckesson said that he is seeking to have all presidential candidates from both the Democratic and Republican parties to commit to town halls. Said Mckesson, "We want to bring together all of the candidates, not focused on either political party, to have a conversation centered on race and criminal justice."

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Spero News writer Martin Barillas is a former US diplomat, who also worked as a democracy advocate and election observer in Latin America. His first novel 'Shaken Earth', is available at Amazon.

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