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VOL. 132 | NO. 127 | Tuesday, June 27, 2017

Freedom Fund Luncheon Speakers: Democratic Party Must Change

By Bill Dries

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Former U.S. Rep. Harold Ford Jr. says if voters can make the big change they made last November in the White House they can do it again.

As one of two keynote speakers at the NAACP Freedom Fund luncheon Saturday, June 24, marking the centennial of the Memphis Branch NAACP, the former Memphis congressman said he is optimistic, even though he disagrees with much of what President Donald Trump has done since taking office six months ago.

“I’m not as down on him as some people are. Hear me out,” Ford said prompting murmurs in a ballroom of 800 people at the Hilton in East Memphis.

“If we can make that kind of massive change, from electing Obama to electing Trump in eight years, we can make massive change in a year and massive change again in three years,” Ford said of 2018 congressional mid-term elections and the 2020 presidential race.

“There has to be a real reason for running. It can’t be, ‘It’s my turn,’” he added.

That was a reference to Democratic presidential nominee Hillary Clinton, although Ford was quick to add he supported Clinton then and applauded her record.

“He has radically changed the party structure in this country,” he said of Trump, and he also talked about Clinton’s rival for the Democratic nomination, Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders.

“Folks, he and Bernie Sanders basically ran as independents. … He and Sanders both demonstrated, I think, a powerful message to the political parties, to the political constituencies across the country that people want change and they want it now,” Ford said.


Wake Forest University professor and former MSNBC host Melissa Harris-Perry told the group that the nation’s problems can’t be fixed “simply by changing personnel.”

And like Ford, she said it is not enough for Democrats to work on changing who occupies the White House and the majorities in the House and Senate in Washington.

She pointed to the most recent quarter of fundraising for the Democratic Party nationally, which was the lowest since 2003.

“That’s what you call not understanding where you are in a social and political moment,” she said. “That’s what you call being fully and completely out of touch and not open to criticism.”

Harris-Perry was invited to speak at the centennial of the Memphis Branch because of her May 30 op-ed in The New York Times calling for the national NAACP to either make itself more relevant or retire itself. In the process, she pointed to the controversy and relevance of the Black Lives Matter movement.

“I know I wrote a difficult op-ed,” she told the Memphis group. “Not every critic is a hater. … Any group of people who do not stay open to criticism become Donald Trump or the current Democratic Party.”

She termed the Black Lives Matter movement “a hard sell.”

“There is no doubt and all of us know that black lives matter,” she said before reading a lengthy roll call of African-American men, women and children killed by police . “And yet it is our grief – it is our anger that is defined as the trouble. We are going to need courage.”

Ford made the case for focus.

“We have to be so focused on what happens as change comes,” he said. “Even though we have Trump. Even though we have other extreme things happening in politics, I think every 15 or 20 years the political system in America needs a big jab. Granted, we got a big one. We’ve got to be daring and we’ve got to be not afraid of change.”

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