WASHINGTON — Long before Donald Trump, Hillary Clinton, and Bernie Sanders dominated media stories, it was no secret that many Americans had negative views of Congress — with disapproval ratings as high as 58 percent, according to a 2015 Rasmussen poll.
The continued rancor and distrust for Congress and politicians has spilled over into the 2016 elections, and some are wondering if Washington, D.C., will ever find civility or if it will be business as usual.
A new group that aims to increase civic engagement among minority communities hopes to change the trend.
Vote It Loud is a national nonpartisan, nonprofit, D.C.-based minority voter initiative group. The group’s leaders believe politics in Washington, D.C. do not have to be business as usual, and that idea was showcased when the group launched its inaugural Multicultural Correspondents Dinner on May 26 at the National Press Club in downtown D.C.
Celebrities such as comedians Chris Spencer, Aida Rodriguez, and Alonzo Bodden gave the room plenty of laughs about the candidates of the 2016 presidential race. But all joking aside, organizers say the event can serve as a model for what politics around the Capitol Beltway should look like.
“Our vision for this dinner was to bring together multicultural leaders in the media and public-policy arena, to build bridges across sectors and ethnic groups and honor their dedication, leadership and contributions to minority communities,” said Sui Lang Panoke, advisory board member of Vote It Loud and founder/director of Women Politics Media and the RE-Think Tank for Women.
David Morgan is the founder of Vote It Loud, and along with close friend Aaron Manaigo, the two decided to bring people together in D.C. politics rather than drive them apart. Morgan is a long-time progressive leader among the Democrats, and Manaigo is a long-time conservative Republican.
“And somehow they have managed to foster and sustain one of the closest, most loyal and trustworthy friendships I have ever known,” said Panoke. “This dinner was a result of two friends with opposing political views getting together and having a conversation. This really speaks to the power of bipartisan friendship.”
This is the kind of friendship people need these days said Panoke, who was inspired to create a similar bipartisan friendship among women. Panoke is an international training consultant who has partnered with numerous women’s and multicultural organizations on both sides of the aisle.
“I am launching the Inaugural RE-Think Tank for Women on June 10,” said Panoke. “The RE-Think Tank will serve as a mind-strengthening social think tank.”
Panoke plans to bring together women of diverse personalities, backgrounds, cultures, professions, ideologies and faiths “for the sole purpose of challenging women to RE-Think how and what they think,” said Panoke.
Instead of arguing about whose policies are best for America with political rhetoric, the answer could be a true and caring friendship with the goal of taking the best from all sides and making decisions to benefit everyone. She sees that with Morgan and Manaigo.
“I can attest that their friendship is evidence of the possibilities that can become realities by bridging the gap between the two [political] worlds in Washington,” said Panoke.
The Multicultural Correspondents Dinner was also a reminder for many journalists of ethnic and racial backgrounds that the Congressional and White House Correspondents Dinners also lack diversity among staff. Organizers honored journalists for their work in covering stories that impact minority communities.
Some of the honorees included:
- Patricia Guadalupe, a writer for Latino Magazine, NBC News Latino & The Hill
- Blanquita Cullum, host of the Hard Questions
- Victor Shiblie, publisher of The Washington Diplomat
- Richard Lui, MSNBC & NBC News Anchor
- Cenk Uygur, host & co-founder of The Young Turks
Actor, singer and musician Jaime Foxx received a Media Icon award for his work in film, and New York Congressman Charles B. Rangel received the Lifetime Achievement award.
“I see this whole multicultural gathering as an extension of their [Morgan and Manaigo] friendship, and on a deeper and higher level, evidence of the process through which our society and other societies around the world can find a common ground to work together,” said Panoke. “Their friendship is evidence that there is hope for America.”