From Civilrights.org Feature Stories

Feature Story from civilrights.org
Jenna Wandres
August 26, 2008

Voters need to be wary of wedge politics, according to participants in a Leadership Conference on Civil Rights (LCCR) panel discussion held in Denver on August 24. The event was held at the “Big Tent,” with an audience of new media journalists, bloggers, reporters, and nonprofit leaders covering the Democratic National Convention.

Wedge Politics Panel at DNCNancy Zirkin, LCCR; Colorado State Sen. Peter Groff; Ellen Buchman, LCCR

Speakers on the panel discussed Republican attempts to use potentially divisive issues like same sex marriage, immigration, and equal opportunity to drive a “wedge” between different groups of people and increase their chances of winning key congressional races, and even the presidency.

“These wedge tactics have attempted to undermine our best efforts [to bring people together around issues],” said Nancy Zirkin, executive vice president of LCCR.

Joe Solmonese, president of the Human Rights Campaign, the nation’s largest GLBT rights organization, discussed how blatant anti-gay messages are used by candidates to distract voters from the issues that really matter.  “Voters should come to the voting booth thinking about their children’s education or their health care and jobs.  Instead, they are manipulated into believing that their number one concern is their neighbors’ marital status.”

Wedge Politics Panel at DNCHilary Shelton, NAACP; Arturo Vargas, NALEO; Joe Solmonese, Human Rights Campaign

Solmonese’s remarks were echoed by Arturo Vargas, executive director of the National Association of Latino Elected and Appointed Officials (NALEO), and Hilary Shelton, director of the Washington bureau of the NAACP.

“Our opponents pick issues where they can essentially prey on peoples’ weaknesses.  When the unemployment rate is high, it’s easy to blame immigrants for ‘taking all of the jobs,'” said Vargas.

“It’s ludicrous when community leaders are citing that a high unemployment rate for blacks is directly related to immigration,” said Ellen Buchman, director of field operations for LCCR, who offered several examples of opponents’ propaganda.  “Every poll done shows that African Americans and Latinos have more in common than not.”

While the overview of wedge issues was grim, the panel also emphasized the necessity of maintaining unity to combat wedge tactics.  Colorado state Sen. Peter Groff, who is president of the Colorado Senate, spoke of his work battling wedge politics in Colorado.

“When all of their rhetoric is stripped away, it is clear that our opponents strive to undercut or sabotage efforts to improve the lives of all Coloradans by pitting one group of people against another,” said Groff.  “We know their tactics firsthand and are now ready with a strategy to win the war. I believe that we’re ready and able to take on the opposition. We will be the generous, inclusive, democratic nation our forefathers envisioned.”

The panel, “Dividing Voters: Wedge Issues in 2008″,” was held in the “Big Tent” in Denver.  The Big Tent is a gathering of speakers and bloggers who discuss and distribute information regarding issues facing the candidates in this election and is not officially affiliated with the Democratic National Committee.  For more information and live video streaming through the end of this week, visit www.bigtentdenver.org.

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