A tragedy took place this week, and it deserves insight, reflection and perspective.
Earlier this week it was announced that Randolph Voller, the chairman of what is clearly a divided NC Democratic Party which has been at war with itself since he took over the reins over a year ago, had fired the party’s executive director, Robert Dempsey.
No official reason was given, though subsequent reports suggest Voller wasn’t pleased with the job Dempsey was doing. It should be noted that none of our esteemed members of the major local media have bothered to look into the possible reasons, and never, apparently, asked any of their sources within the party about why Dempsey had to go.
So when word leaked about the firing, because little justification was given publicly, rand-and-file Democrats assumed it was unjustified.
Almost immediately, however, because of tweets from the Rev. Dr. Benjamin Chavis, and Chairman Voller over the weekend, by Monday it was determined that Dr. Chavis would be replacing Mr. Dempsey as party executive director. A press conference at NC Democratic Party (NCDP) headquarters was scheduled for Wednesday to make the official announcement.
That gave powerful forces in the moderate and conservative wings of the NCDP enough time to mount an effective counteroffensive, and devise a plot to smear Dr. Chavis with his past association with the Nation of Islam; with false allegations of his being anti-Semitic (meaning he hated Jews because of the NOI association); and also smearing Chavis with past allegations of sexual harassment from his days as executive director of the NAACP.
Yes, there were allegations, and yes, there was a court settlement. But no, nowhere in those court papers do you find an admission of guilt on the part of Chavis. And, in fact, he even says today that the allegations were false when they were made 20 years ago.
Chavis’ denial was never reported in any of the scandal-hungry local media when the controversy began.
By Tuesday, the controversy was full flame. Moderate/conservative Democrats were now using social media to further tar and feather Ben Chavis for allegations dating back 20 years. Local media were busy digging up, or being handed old articles and accusations to use to further build a case against Chavis being executive director. Jewish Democrats were declaring Chavis anti-Semitic and unfit – end of story. Emails from members of the Democratic Women of NC were referring to the negative articles about the man as justification for opposing Chavis. Party elders deliberately referred to Chavis as “Muhammad,” his former Muslim surname, as if to suggest he was still a member of the Nation of Islam, when in fact he had left the NOI almost ten years ago.
And Gary Pearce, who was once press secretary to Gov. Jim Hunt in the late 1970’s when Hunt refused to pardon Ben Chavis when he was in prison for a crime he didn’t commit during the Wilmington Ten case, got on his blog and called Rev. Chavis “…the most divisive, controversial figure” Chairman Voller could find to be executive director.
By the time Ben Chavis got off the plane in Raleigh Tuesday afternoon, he was facing a well-organized NC Democratic Party opposition that Chairman Voller had absolutely no control over, which was a huge mistake and gross miscalculation.
Virtually no one in the media, or as part of the NCDP, thought to look to see what Chavis had been doing for the past 20 years, or 10 years, or five year, or even within the past year, to balance the record.
Virtually no one in the media, or in the NCDP, thought to at least give Rev. Chavis the respect of due process…a chance to at least answer his critics and the many charges directly, before anyone voted on anything.
Virtually no one thought to do that, except anchor Pam Saulsby with WNCN-TV News. She caught up with Rev. Chavis soon after he arrived, and taped a sitdown interview with him, putting the tough questions to him, and giving him a chance to answer his critics. Of all of the so-called “journalists” this week, Pam Saulsby was the only true journalist to do her job – giving a controversial figure a fair opportunity to answer his critics…truly giving both sides of the story.
Chavis told Saulsby how he was no longer a member of the Nation of Islam, having left the group many years ago. He said that he was not guilty of sexual harassment allegations, and that sometimes, people target high profile leaders with those charges, knowing that that places then in untenable situations.
Saulsby gave Chavis some of the due process he deserved, but it was too late. By the time the interview aired, the Executive Council of the NC Democratic Party, in a raucous session, had already voted by teleconference to appoint an interim executive director for thirty days.
Chairman Voller, at the request of Ben Chavis, did not submit Chavis’ name given the uproar. Voller says he may still do so later, but that’s extremely doubtful.
NC Democratic Party members are now slapping themselves on the back fro keeping that “no good Chavis-Muhammad-sexual-harasser-fella from becoming executive director. After all, we don’t need a racist and sexual harasser running our party.”
Well, members of the NC Democratic Party, turn your radios up so I can give you some truth right about now. First of all, I am not pleased with the sloppy, ill-advised way Chairman Randolph Voller handled this whole affair. It was Mickey Mouse and unprofessional from the word go, and if given the opportunity, I’ll tell him that to his face, because in the interim, a good man and courageous leader was wounded and lynched this week… a man who has tremendous courage and dignity, and has a solid record of bring people, and especially young people of all stripes and backgrounds together, who could truly help what can only be described as a crippled NCDP so weak and directionless that long before Randolph Voller took over as chairman, it literally handed the Republicans control of this state for at least the next six years because its Democratic past Democratic speaker of the House and one of his lieutenants were convicted of corruption and sent to prison; and because its past chairman allegedly paid hush money to a former staffer who had been allegedly sexually harassed by the then party executive director.
All of this happened in just the past five years, and no Democrat enjoys having that nonsense thrown back in their face without a fair hearing, but those same Democrats were more than willing to convict a man for allegations dating back 20 years ago, without a fair hearing…without due process. Somehow, that doesn’t make sense.
Oh, and racism…Ben Chavis is (supposedly) an anti-Semite because of his past association with the Nation of Islam in the 1990’s? I might remind the NCDP that back in 2006, you were forced to apologize to the African-American community of this great state for the fact that in 1898, white supremacist leaders of your party decided Democrats could no longer tolerate black economic and political progress, and, employing the Ku Klux Klan, ravaged the mostly black city of Wilmington, NC in November 1898, shooting black people on the streets, chasing black businesspeople from their homes and properties at gunpoint, and taking over the city government by force, ushering in the era tat became known as Jim Crow.
Why is Cash Michaels bringing all that up? The 1898 massacre was a long time ago. Well so was Ben Chavis’ membership in the Nation of Islam, if there was anything wrong with it, as well as those sexual harassment charges. After all, I don’t recall NOI members…I repeat…NOI members…on orders from NOI leader Min. Louis Farrakhan, EVER going on a murderous rampage of white people.
But I do remember that it was only within the past one or two years that the NCDP finally, after many, many decades, changed the name of its annual big fundraising dinner named after two white supremacist Democratic governors – Zebulon B. Vance, a well-known slaveholder; and Charles Brantley Aycock, a man who, according to the News and Observer, was responsible in part for “…widespread violence, voter intimidation, voter fraud…and even the [overthrow] of Wilmington in 1898.”
And yet, isn’t it peculiar that despite the racist histories of both men, they not only have statues on the grounds of our State Capitol, but also had a major Democratic fundraising dinner named after them until recently, when someone in the Democratic Party woke up and said ‘Heck no’? Vance and Aycock even have their likenesses up in the US Capitol.
And yet, a Rev. Ben Chavis can’t even get a fair hearing today…something you’d expect in the simplest of job interviews…about who he is TODAY, and what he has done TODAY, to bring people together TODAY!
The same way Rev. William Barber of the NCNAACP is bringing people together with his Moral Monday movement outside of the NCDP – and make no mistake, the NCDP is in such poor shape, it literally needs Rev. Barber, even though he can’t have anything to do with it – Ben Chavis has the skills to bring people together inside the NCDP. A man of over 50 years of civil rights experience, who led his first civil rights demonstration in his hometown of Oxford, NC at the age of 12.
At age 23, Ben was in Wilmington working with the black student boycott of the racist New Hanover County Public School System then.
In 1995 when he was with the Nation of Islam, Ben convened the historic Million Man March. When he left the NOI years later, Chavis partnered with music legend Russell Simmons to create the Hip Hop Action Network, working with young people in the music business.
He travels this nation, visiting college campuses, and speaking with students. Chavis has his own online educational company working with historically black colleges and universities. He’s also involved in diamond mining in Africa, and an energy company.
And yet, through all of that, Ben Chavis was willing to come back home to North Carolina, and help the NCDP take back the state from Republican control.
You see, and think about this…Democrats don’t necessarily win when blacks vote. Democrats win when blacks that don’t normally vote, do. That was the strategy employed by the Obama campaign in 2008 – to excite the base beyond normal capacity. In 2012, President Obama didn’t lose North Carolina because black voters failed him. Blacks came out in even stronger numbers than in 2008. Obama lost North Carolina by 100,000 votes because Democratic white voters failed to keep their end of the bargain.
So the NCDP would have a job on its hands during this fall’s midterms even if none of this Chavis controversy ever happened. Doing what they did to Rev. Chavis clearly doesn’t help, and without Barack Obama’s name on the ballot the only hope the NCDP has now is Rev. Barber’s Moral Monday movement, and that hasn’t proven it can deliver votes yet because it just started last spring.
So Democrats in this state need someone exciting and dynamic to excite the base beyond Moral Monday. Someone who could fine-tune the NC Democratic message.
Too bad they told Rev. Chavis to get lost, and tried to destroy his reputation in the process.
So who do you have now, NC Democrats? You hate your chairman, the big money bags have stopped giving cash to the party, your reputation has been in shambles for at least the past five years, you’ve lost control of the Governor’s Mansion an the General Assembly with no real hope of getting it back, you’re fighting each other more than you’re fighting Republicans, you’ve now lynch mobbed a man without due process… and you wonder why more and more people are disgusted with both you and the Republicans, and changing their political party registration to NO political party registration?
Well, I’m joining them!
My core value system is freedom, justice, equality and truth. Anything or anyone I’m associated with has to reflect some, if not most of those core values. And when I find out, without question, that those values are not reflected in my association, I cut ties, because I will not cast a blind eye to hypocrisy.
I was convinced this week that the way the NC Democratic Party mistreated Rev. Benjamin Chavis, is the way it would treat me if it found cause – false allegations with no due process, despite its own very checkered history of racism, sexual harassment and official corruption…much of it just in the past five years.
I am better than that, and so is Rev. Chavis. Yes, I may still vote for those Democratic candidates who I believe are worthy of my vote. And those I don’t, I won’t.
The question is, if the NC Democratic Party continues with this clown show and lynch mob party, then how many others are you going to send away from your ranks?
And if any of what I’ve just said you think was wrong or unfair…well, now you know how Ben Chavis feels.