The Women’s March last week proved an uplifting respite for many Democrats left dejected by President Donald Trump’s upset win and inauguration, drawing millions to marches across the country.
But with one exception, the people left to put back together the pieces of the party were nowhere to be found.
The Washington Free Beacon first reported Saturday that only one candidate for chair of the Democratic National Committee – South Bend, Indiana, Mayor Pete Buttigieg – attended a march.
The rest? They were at a retreat in Florida dedicated to the future of the party, hosted by Democratic activist David Brock for top donors and party members. To some critics, it was more evidence of how the party’s leadership has shunned its grassroots in favor of its donors.
Guy Cecil, the chair of Democratic super PAC Priorities USA, chided the candidates for failing to make it to a march.
Judging from the response, it looks like only 1 candidate marched in DC or at a sister march. Given all the talk about local organizing… https://t.co/XRxCoNGOZ5
— Guy Cecil (@guycecil) January 22, 2017
Yet there were certainly reasons for the candidates to be at the donor retreat instead of the march.
DNC chair candidates are selected by the 447 voting party members, whom the candidates court at private meetings like Saturday’s.
In conversations with Business Insider, officials with ties to several top candidates said that parts of the retreat, including the panel of DNC speakers, were open to the press and provided a platform for the candidates to get their message out to Democratic voters, top donors, and party members.
But privately, officials from multiple bids lamented that Brock’s retreat conflicted with the march, which was scheduled in November before the retreat. They said they didn’t feel it was appropriate, however, to back out as it became more apparent in the week leading up to the forum that the marches would be larger than initially expected.
Most of the candidates, in the end, paid lip service to the marchers.
Former Fox News analyst and Democratic operative Jehmu Green and Idaho Democratic Party Chair Sally Boynton Brown expressed their disappointment before the event.
— Jehmu (@Jehmu) January 19, 2017
someday we can have cyborg clones so we can be in two places at once
— Sally Boynton Brown (@SallyBSquared) January 19, 2017
Others like Perez did not participate in the full retreat. The former labor secretary flew in for the on-the-record portion and left shortly after, offering praise for the marchers.
“This weekend all across the country we saw hundreds of thousands of Americans make their voices heard and write our own history by taking on Donald Trump. The widespread activism on the part of everyday Americans is further proof that we will not be silenced by a bully in the White House,” Perez said in a statement to Business Insider.
He added: “We must keep up this energy and organize, organize, organize around our shared values of decency and equality while addressing the structural turnaround our party needs to support those efforts.”
Others met with activists and attended alternate protests in lieu of the women’s march.
Business Insider also learned that Rep. Keith Ellison, a frontrunner for the job considered close to many grassroots activists in the party, previously scheduled a meeting with a group of DNC members and activists in Florida before Brock invited the DNC candidates to the forum. Ellison left for the private meeting shortly after appearing at Brock’s forum.
South Carolina party chair Jaime Harrison attended a slew of rallies the previous week, including an Obamacare-support rally in South Carolina on Saturday and a civil rights rally in the state on Monday.
For his part, at Monday night’s Democracy In Color forum, Buttigieg subtly referenced his experience at the march in South Bend.
“The best answer that I’ve seen to the ‘salad bar problem’ is what I saw on Saturday, when I was in South Bend marching with the women of South Bend in solidarity with women around the country and the world. That was a women’s march, but it was a march for all of us,” Buttigieg said. “I think solidarity, not isolation, is how we move forward as a party.”
Lis Smith, a Democratic strategist working on Buttigieg’s bid, said the mayor didn’t participate in Brock’s event specifically to march in South Bend.
“He wanted to be back in his community and join South Bend residents in the Women’s March,” Smith said.