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Women's Political Committee Bash: Dem Keynoter Talks Strategy for Confronting Right-Wing Extremism

A prominent Democratic operative urged a crowd of politically active women in Santa Barbara last Friday to "stop sugarcoating" the dangers posed by the right-wing extremist movement formerly known as the Republican Party.

Sarah Leonard Sheahan, a veteran Democratic strategist who most recently worked for newly elected Los Angeles Mayor Karen Bass, offered a tough-worded analysis of the current toxic political climate, in the keynote address to about 150 members and allies of SB's influential Women's Political Committee.

The congregation, stocked with a Who's Who of South Coast political luminaries, and packed like sardines into the stage set room of Soho, gathered for the WPC's annual Presidents' Circle Luncheon, an anniversary observation that is one-third feminist mixer, one-third mongered gossip and one-third strategic seminar.

"I don't believe we can be polite anymore," Sheahan told the audience, declaring that "right-wing extremism has taken on a whole new tone" and warning of a "growing level of political violence."

"Let's stop sugarcoating it," she said. "Let's just call it what it is -- it is racism, it is sexism, it is anti-Semitism."

Karen Bass case study. Using the campaign of Bass, who is Black, as a case study, Sheahan said the new mayor faced multiple challenges based on "misogyny and racism" during her winning effort, both in the primary and in the run-off against developer Rick Caruso, who spent over $100 million in his losing effort.

For example, she said, rival campaigns used attack ads that darkened Bass's skin; alleged she would be mayor only for Black and low-income neighborhoods, and charged in radio spots that she lacked the "strength" to be mayor.

"It seemed like nothing to her, to face the misogyny and racism she faced," Sheahan said. "She never got in the dirt with these guys."

While encouraging Democrats to confront directly the most extreme leaders, attitudes and behavior on the right, Sheahan by contrast also offered some self-criticism: she said that progressives for too long failed to take seriously the economic and cultural concerns of rank-and-file conservative voters, defaulting to feelings of self-righteousness rather than seeking "ways to find common ground."

She pointed to Bass's core message -- "Getting hard things done" -- as the type of pragmatic sensibility and concern about the day-to-day, real-life challenges of real people that is necessary for Democrats to build broad coalitions by attracting voters from across the political spectrum.

"In order to be successful we can't be mad," Sheahan said. "We need to transform it into kindness."

Madame President. Before Sheahan spoke, current WPC President Paula Lopez told the audience that "women -- particularly women of color -- are underrepresented" in political offices at every level, reminding them of the organization's foundational mission to elect women who support the group's feminist agenda.

P.S. As always, indefatigable photographer and community treasure Marian Shapiro energetically produced a visual record of the event, which you can find here.


Images: Sarah Leonard Sheahan at the podium at Soho; Current WPC President Paula Lopez (R) with past president and former SB Mayor Helene Schneider (L). (Marian Shapiro photos).



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