By Larry West
I don’t know what to tell my constituents.
My name is Larry West, and I am a Republican Committee Person in the 22nd Ward. I was just elected to my seat in 2014, and in that time I’ve provided constituent services by listening to, and addressing, some of their concerns. I’ve spoken out against Mayor Kenney’s Soda Tax at City Council meetings, and when I found out that notices informing people in my division that our polling place was being moved arrived only 5 days before the election, I personally made and handed out non-partisan flyers to every neighbor I could to make sure that they would come out and vote, regardless of party.
During the primaries I found a candidate to support in John Kasich. As I talked to my constituents about the upcoming primaries, I was able to frame him as a moderate and, while they may not have agreed with him on everything, they did warm to the idea. I would do my best to talk to my friends and neighbors and campaign for him. Unfortunately my Ward Leader, who later would admit he was a Trump supporter after becoming a Republican Delegate, never sent me materials to help campaign for the Republican Governor of Ohio. John Kasich would go on to lose my division by only 3 votes, but win my Ward by 11.
I wanted to give you that background so you know where I’m coming from when I say that supporting our current President-Elect during this past election cycle has been the toughest thing I’ve had to do as a Committee Person.
I initially saw him as a moderate or, at the very least, someone who would be Center-Right. I disregarded his initial racist statements and even his comments saying that John McCain “was not a war hero” as nothing more than a ploy to get people to listen to him.
On December 7th, 2015, that changed. He rung a bell that could not be unrung. He went on stage in front of hundreds of people and proudly called for a ban on all Muslims entering the United States. Not just Muslims from countries with possible extremists, not just Muslims who were known Islamic-Extremists. No, it was a ban on ALL Muslims, including U.S. Citizens! The Center-Right Candidate had now rejected main-stream Conservatism and gone to its extreme to adapt the ideals of the Alt-Right.
The First Amendment, among other freedoms, guarantees the right to religious freedom. For someone running for President to ignore the most basic tenets of not just our Constitution, but the very foundation upon which this nation was founded on, and not be considered instantly disqualified for that office, nor for them to be shouted down from the rafters of the highest office holders in this party, shocked and disgusted me. The local party was silent. Yet I, too, must be included in this admonishment because I did not speak out.
Once Trump received the Republican nomination, I realized I could never advocate for this man. How could I defend the things he said and done? How could I defend the hatred and racism that was at his rallies to my constituents? How could I promote the man who advocated banning Muslims to my Muslim neighbors? How could I go out and stump for a man who had the public and very vocal support of David Duke, the KKK, and even had brought on Steve Bannon of Breitbart, the same site that said Obama wasn’t an American, on his payroll as his Chief Executive?
When the allegations of sexual abuse and assault came out, I was done. I was fuming with anger and disgust that the nominee of my party could do such a thing! I heard from other Republicans who honestly thought the 12 women accusing him were lying about it, or that “they had it coming to them,” that they “were asking for it.” Then everyone heard Trump say, “you can even grab them by the pussy.” Yet all of this was ignored by the Philadelphia GOP. How could I promote a candidate who bragged about committing sexual assault to victims of sexual assault?
When all the events I’ve mentioned happened, I did not speak out, nor did I write to this party, or the press. I did not condemn the vile bigotry and racism at his rallies that he spewed. I did not condemn him when he proposed the Muslim ban or registry, or the public endorsements by the Klan and David Duke. At my lowest moment, I did not speak out when he admitted to sexual assault a month before the end of this election. I did not admonish this man in public, leaving myself instead only to complain to my friends. I did not speak out, and I have every problem in the world with that. I am now on a mission to correct this and undo some of the damage that has been done.
One day after the election, knowing my neighbors were scared, I made a “free hugs” sign. Within 2 minutes I had two different middle-aged women hug me, one of them sobbing. I couldn’t explain to them what happened, all I could do was be there for my Ward.
Then the hate crimes started. Swastikas painted in South Philly with “Sieg Heil Trump 2016” on a wall, “Trump Rules” painted on a black woman’s car, “Your pussy is ours now” on a woman’s car at Villanova. Black students at the University of Pennsylvania were sent group message’s called “Nigger Lynching.” These disgusting and reprehensible hate crimes are just a sample of what has happened in and around Philadelphia and this nation in the wake of Trump’s win.
The Philadelphia Republican Party was asked to either remark or condemn these actions on Friday, November 11th, 2016, by a reporter on Twitter. The reaction seemed to border on contempt. As if asking the Philadelphia GOP to react to actions done on behalf of its nominee within this city’s borders was either obnoxious, annoying, or even unnecessary. Later that day, the official Philly GOP Twitter account tweeted, “It is reprehensible but tell us again what this has to do with us?” They then tweeted: “Handy statement on all future racism unrelated to us so you don’t publish us as ‘not having responded’: We don’t support it.”
When other concerned citizens of Philadelphia asked about those remarks, the responses via Twitter were, “Huh guess the increase in POCs voting Republican this year would dispute that liberal media narrative,” and “Once again ‘redacted’ speaking for all the POCs who voted Republican this year. Whitesplaining or libsplaining, or both?”
I have to ask, who in the Philly GOP thought this was a good idea? In what way is this encouraging more people to join the GOP, encouraging political discourse, or in any way helping my constituents feel better about their future President or the country that he wants?
When the party did release a statement condemning the actions on November 15, 2016, our Director of the Philadelphia Republican Party Joe DeFelice said, “Moreover, let’s remember this: despite the media narrative that Trump’s campaign was entirely racist, he improved his vote counts among Latino, Black and Asian-American voters.”
Mr. DeFelice, this was the written equivalent of shrugging your shoulders and going, “Well, some of my best friends are black.” This statement was tone-deaf at best and ignorant at worst. Having the support of minorities does not negate the overtly racist policies he has advocated that have clear repercussions for non-whites.
I first publicly spoke out with my displeasure with the President-Elect’s Administration the next day, November 16, 2016, in an article that Mr. DeFelice, 22nd Ward Leader Calvin Tucker, and myself had contributed to for Philadelphia Magazine entitled, “What Philly Republicans Think of Steve Bannon, Trump’s Alt-Right-Hand Man.” Initially I didn’t want my name released, but I changed my mind after realizing that if I was going to say that those within my party had to stand up against bigoted, racist, and hateful positions coming from the President-Elect and his administration, I had to live up to my own expectations and lead by example.
In the article, when Mr. DeFelice was confronted with Bannon’s anti-Semitic comments, he said, “I’m not happy with those types of things,” and I want to thank the Philadelphia Director of the Republican Party for publicly acknowledging that anti-Semitism isn’t acceptable. This is the type of step we need to make as a party.
What we don’t need is what I’ve seen from my fellow local Republicans who have spent the past few days praising the persecution of another religious minority in this country. Kris Kobach initially proposed the National Security Entry-Exit Registration System in 2002 to register illegal aliens. He then presented that concept to the Trump administration as a way to register Muslims. My party was actually praising this instead of condemning it and calling it the reprehensible concept that it is!
I don’t know what to tell my constituents. I don’t know what to tell my friends and neighbors.
I had a friend verbally abused by a Trump supporter on her way to work and told “I hope your stuff is packed up and you’re ready to go back home, you damn spic!”
I had middle-aged female constituents cry in my arms because Trump won.
I had my 40-year-old black male neighbor tell me he’s afraid of being shot by the police because Trump won.
This is why I consider the responses from the Philly GOP tone-deaf!
This is why I am so furious about the reaction from the Philadelphia Republican Party establishment about its response to these hate crimes! To the Muslim Ban! To the Trump Campaign itself!
This is why I don’t know what to tell them. I can’t tell them not to be afraid, not when I’m afraid myself.
I am ashamed to admit this, but I want you to fully understand where I am personally coming from. On the Thursday after the election, I contacted a friend that I had spoken to the day before about the election, our fears, the fears of our friends. That morning those feeling of dread and fear swelled and hurt me in a way I can’t put into words. I said to him, “I hate to say this, and I can’t believe I’m saying this, but… I’m afraid of being black.” And then I cried at my desk.
I’ve never been afraid after an election, and I’ve never seen so many people terrified in my life after an election. I don’t know how to help them, how to console them, or how to make them feel better. And as an elected official, that makes me feel powerless.
In closing, I want you to know that I shared all of this because I want the best for the Philadelphia Republican Party.
Our party was founded on the abolition of slavery, it has fought for civil rights, it helped create the National Parks system under Teddy Roosevelt, we created NASA under Eisenhower, and under Nixon we created the EPA. Donald Trump won on banning and registering Muslims, racist statements about Mexicans, expanding the role of government, denying climate change, ignoring the First amendment, and destroying the civil rights for countless millions. How can we as a party, as Americans, simply say nothing?
Donald Trump did not win because of racism alone. He won because he spoke to the fears and concerns that many us in the middle class in this country have. He won because he actually ran on issues related to things such as bringing jobs back to America, limiting the role of government in the lives of Americans, and ending bad trade deals. But we can not dismiss things like building a wall with Mexico, deporting Mexican immigrants, and registering and banning Muslims as being massive factors to his victory as well, and that is where I believe the Philadelphia GOP and the citizens who are afraid of Trump disagree.
I’m calling on you, the leaders of this party, as well as every Ward Leader, every Committee Person, and everyone who is registered in the City of Philadelphia as a Republican to speak out against the bigotry, sexism, and xenophobia we’ve seen both from this campaign, and in the hate crimes that have happened in its wake. I am calling for acknowledgment that this party has failed locally to address these issues in a proper fashion, and that we must take steps to correct them immediately!
Most importantly, I am calling on those who voted for Donald Trump, and those who support him, to do one simple thing:
Please, tell me, and the people I know, why we shouldn’t be afraid of our President-Elect. As easy as it may be to dismiss this sentiment, and to dismiss even this question, realize that I am not alone in this fear. People in your own family may feel this way. Some of your co-workers may feel this way. Even some of your friends might. The people marching in the streets do. My neighbors feel this way. My friends feel this way. And I don’t know what to tell them.
I don’t know what to tell my constituents.