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DNC chair candidate speaks on Democrats’ new direction

Tom Perez, the former U.S. Secretary of Labor who is running for DNC chair, spoke at event hosted by the College Democrats Tuesday evening. Jack Borowiak | Hatchet Photographer
Tom Perez, the former U.S. Secretary of Labor who is running for DNC chair, spoke at an event hosted by the GW College Democrats Tuesday evening.

In the midst of his campaign to be chair of the Democratic National Committee, former Labor Secretary Tom Perez met with GW students in an event organized by the GW College Democrats Tuesday night in the Elliott School of International Affairs. Members of seven Democratic student groups, including those at George Mason and Georgetown universities, were also in attendance and co-sponsored the event.

Here are some of the highlights from the night:

1. New direction for the DNC

The former secretary of labor addressed many of the concerns he said Democrats are currently expressing about the party’s ability to reach out to voters.

“The election didn’t turn out as we thought. We can talk about James Comey and the Russians, but what we also have to do, if we’re honest, is to talk about our own shortcomings,” Perez said. “The Democratic Party has talked the talk but we haven’t walked the walk. Republicans have made long-term investments and we haven’t done that.”

Perez added Democrats need a more grassroots strategy, focusing less on data analytics and more on reaching a broader base, particularly in rural areas.

“I’m running for the chair of the DNC because we have to make sure that we’re speaking to every person from every zip code. We are not just electing a president, we are working in partnership with our states and territories to elect people from the school board all the way to the senate,” he said.

2. Millennials’ role

With grassroots campaigning also comes the need to mobilize citizens in every county of every state, Perez said. He added that millennials play an important role in passing legislation and impacting the areas where they live.

“I think the party needs to engage in what I call an attitudinal adjustment. All too frequently we say to millennials, ‘Here is a seat at the table, but shut up and only speak when spoken to,’” he said. “Diversity is getting invited to the dance. Inclusion is being asked to dance. And we don’t ask enough millennials to dance the foxtrot.”

Millennials were instrumental in the fight for the Defense of Marriage Act, often standing against older generations and family members who may not share their progressive stance, he said. Perez added that the “energy and perspective” of younger generations has positively impacted public service.

“Public service is one of the main ways to leave the earth better off than when you found it. It’s very exciting to see so many of you that are going to be serial activists for life,” he said. “That’s what we need. I’m fired up because I know it didn’t work out like we hoped for in November, but we still have incredible opportunity.”

3. The current political climate

Perez came down hard on some of the tactics currently being used by the Republican party, saying that the so-called “alt-right” are most consistently aligned with President Donald Trump’s platform.

“We have to be very mindful of a force that has been with us for a while called voter suppression. It is a staple in the Republican playbook,” Perez said. “When they suppress voter turnout, they win.”

Republicans target groups, such as Planned Parenthood, not only for ideological reasons but because such organizations play a role in the grassroots infrastructure of the DNC, he said.

Perez ended the event by making a plea to revitalize the Democratic party in unity during political turmoil.

“We cannot normalize alternative facts and the ethics breaches that we see,” Perez said. “It is amazing what we can do when we come together in coalition and when we say very firmly, ‘Donald Trump, you do not stand for American values. You are not making America safer and you are not making America greater.’ That is how we build a nation that we can truly be proud of.

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