Let's Rethink The Jefferson-Jackson Dinner By Kyle Leach

Let's Rethink The Jefferson Jackson Dinner By Kyle Leach

It wasn't until I was a town chair that I started to get many invites to dinners, fundraisers, and Dem socials. The invites were always there and I often saw that people I knew were going or saw marketing for the events. Most of the time I don't really pay attention to such things. I prefer to give my money and time to specific candidates and cut out middle men all together. That way the small amounts I do have to give will have the most impact. 

I recently received an invite to the "JJ" Dinner, hosted by the NHDP. This dinner stood out not for the substance or timing or notable figures, but by the name it holds. "JJ" stands for Jefferson- Jackson, as in Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson. On the surface they seem like solid historical figures to add a bit of flare to an event. Unfortunately, that is surface gloss and once you think about it just a little bit, these two white men, and I stress white men, don't really seem to represent our contemporary Democratic Party platform at all. 

Both men owned many people and used them as they would as slaves. Both made decisions that greatly harmed native peoples on this continent. Both held offices and made decisions that led to an untold number of injuries, forced relocations, and slaughter. For all the many great things they may have accomplished, those accomplishments do not make up for the horrors they perpetuated.  While they might have been instrumental in the establishment of the Democratic Party, their actions today, warrant a deeper discussion as to their value as representatives of the Party.

In the mid to late 20th century and the early portion of the 21st century Dems have been focused on civil rights and the expansion of human rights and dignity for all living things on the planet. Those ideals are the soul of the party and are worthy of expression and perpetuation. Having an event named after Thomas Jefferson and Andrew Jackson does not fit in with who we are at all. Neither seem to exemplify what we are trying to accomplish. They are leaders of an era quite out of step with ours. While they may seem like historical heroes to white folks of European heritage, they are closer to historical villains in the histories of those we wish to invite into our party as activists and contributors.

You might not think this is very important, after all it is just a name, but how we choose to identify ourselves is quite important. It establishes what we are and what people see first. Paring us with people who now seem like ancient relics of a past most of us would not wish to live in does not help us. It harms us. It makes us seem at best conflicted or incongruous and at worst locks us to a time no modern person can connect with. It makes us unwelcoming to those we wish to welcome and hypocritical to those we say we want to help.

It is important for us to remember our history and know our past, but it is equally important to look at the past and the people in it for all they were. They are representatives of their time, not ours.  We cannot afford to forget or to selectively look at the past. We cannot mystify or absolve horrible actions in history simply because they were commonplace.

The next time someone says to you that they cannot tell the difference between Republicans and Democrats there are often good reasons for that. It starts with the subtle cues of things like an event named after two old white men and extends to our opportunistic duplicity and "evolution" on many an issue. It's time to make our identity clear. It's time to tie our Democratic identity to the future and it is well past time to rename the "JJ" dinner after someone or something which makes us all feel welcome and proud

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