It’s Labor Day in Hampton Roads and we are in Virginia. The Commonwealth where political campaigning is practically a year-round sport. We are unlike most states, where we have pretty significant elections every, single year. Of course, the even numbered years there are congressional elections and the attention-grabbing presidential race. But in the odd numbered years, we don’t just have random special elections every once and then, but we elect our governors, state senators and House of Delegates on those years. So with that in mind, our state’s longest serving member of Congress, Bobby Scott has held an annual Labor Day Cookout in Newport News and he’s held this event, successfully since the mid-1970s.
For 42 years, this cookout, which is held by one of our state’s most prominent politicians, months before our annual election day, you can imagine is attended by an insane number of political leaders, activist, volunteers, staffers and candidates for office and they have come from across the commonwealth, and sometimes across the nation. Yes, the event is held in the deep reaches of the 3rd Congressional District, but it is extraordinarily uncommon not to see candidates from across the entire region in attendance. Even if your district or constituencies or prospective voters that could vote for you are not in the district, the event is so well attended by the party-faithful that candidates still come to be seen, to be heard, if not to have their voters, who do attend, see them and greet them, but to possibly meet donors, supporters who will work for the campaign and volunteers who will commit time. It’s almost a one-stop shop for progressive campaigning.
So, I can’t help but to wonder where were some of Virginia Beach’s most prominent candidates? Granted, again, I know this not in Virginia Beach and I’ll readily accept the fact that it’s very possible that with the hundreds of people there, I could have just missed them. It’s possible that they were there and had further commitments and left early. But if I’m not wrong, these two candidates skipped out of one of the biggest and most well attended political events of the state, then I could not have been the only one to have noticed.
And I can’t help but to wonder why.
Admittedly, I have my suspicions and my ego is well enough for me to assume why. It’s possibly they did not know, which would be troubling. That tells me they’re rather strongly disconnected from local progressive politics or disconnected from certain communities that drive such an event. Or both. But putting the cards on the table, Bobby Scott, who is the most prominent African American politician in Virginia, represents a heavily black district with a event that is deep in the heavily black district. I can see how such optics and surroundings can make certain folks uncomfortable and less likely to attend. It’s to be expected. But while that may be a valid reason for typical guest(it really shouldn’t be), that reason fails for a candidate for public office.
So to put it bluntly, if Ben Davenport does not have at least one black voice around him or in his campaign to tell him, “hey, you might want to attend this” then that is a problem. It’s the same sort of problem of privilege of being able to ignore minority voices at your convenience. Whether it’s purposefully or as a matter of happenstance, if you can’t filter in voices to tell you things like this to keep your ear connected to groups you are not a part of but still have to represent, then you’re doing yourself as big of a disservice as you will be the rest of us if you get elected.
This goes double for Aaron Rouse. Ben Davenport may have the convenient excuse of being disconnected from the minority community. Aaron Rouse is a African American. How he could miss out at the largest gathering of African American political activist in the state is jarring to say the least. Now, unlike Ben who’s run for office before, Rouse is new. But I know he doesn’t have “new” voices around him working on his campaign. If they don’t know better to have their African American candidate at events like this, then I can’t help but to question his sincerity. If not his awareness. Both of them.
Now, I just want to reiterate again, that I’m not saying they weren’t there, or that they even had to be there. I was not there for the entire event, but I was there when most of the other recognized candidates, elected officials and party leaders were. The organizer in me is okay with them not being at events outside of their district. Particular if there are events in their district with voters that will certainly be voting for them. But with two candidate, where there are already plenty of progressive voters validly questioning whether or not each of these candidates actually care about progressive issues, it sure would have gone a long way to assuage our fears.
So do they know there are those questioning their sincerity? Or do they not care?
Thanks to their lack of presence, the question deserves to be asked.