The Power of “We The People” with Democratic National Committee (DNC) Press

a seminar discussion presented by the Journal of Law & Public Affairs

February 22, 2016


Nancy Zambrana, Comments Editor

On Monday, February 22, 2016, the Journal of Law & Public Affairs, along with the Wharton Public Policy Initiative, the Penn Law Gittis Center for Clinical Studies, and the Fels Institute of Government, hosted DNC Press Secretary Lee Whack for an important discussion on the power of “We The People.”

Mr. Whack began the discussion by sharing his personal background and path to becoming the Press Secretary for the 2016 Democratic National Convention. Mr. Whack graduated from Morehouse College with an international relations major and then obtained a Master’s in Journalism from Northwestern University. He worked as a local news reporter for the Chicago Tribune and as part of the TribLocal, which focused on community generated news and citizen contributions. As a news reporter, he was asked to cover a tea party rally in the Chicago area where he was exposed to political views that were quite different than his own. This experience taught him to describe the event objectively and without injecting a partisan viewpoint. Mr. Whack decided to enter government work because of his love for both writing and politics.

Mr. Whack spoke of the idea that there is a lot of thought that government is broken because of a heavily partisan political environment. However, Mr. Whack explained, he was not willing to subscribe to that perspective just yet. Despite the challenges presented, he believes that there is an opportunity to make changes together.

Referencing a 2012 public radio show broadcast from This American Life called “Red State Blue State,” Mr. Whack explained that a “hyper-partisan” environment can often affect relationships between family and friends. He stated that people become very passionate about the policies they care about and that this passion was certainly a positive outcome. However, Mr. Whack further explained, this passion often also has an unfortunate effect. Oftentimes, because people cannot see a common ground, they also cannot focus on finding solutions.

Mr. Whack encouraged the attendees to interact with individuals of different perspectives. “Diverse perspective can lead to understanding,” he reasoned. He argued that although people may not always agree, they can learn to respect each other and to work together towards finding solutions to common problems. An example of a common problem that impacts all people is student loans; he believes that individuals on both sides of the isle can come together to solve this problem. Mr. Whack believes that the current generation is where the power of “we the people” exists. This generation will have “big solutions to big problems” he contended.

Mr. Whack also encouraged attendees to become involved in politics in their own ways – whether that means simply voting or staying engaged through the media. He argued that a low level of community engagement can be perceived as a sign of broken government because there is a lack of accountability. He explained that one of the goals of the DNC is to increase voter turnout and involvement in the political process.

Mr. Whack emphasized the importance of the Democratic National Convention taking place in Philadelphia this year. It is a “very historic moment” he said and encouraged students to become involved as volunteers. He mentioned that council and caucus meetings held at the convection were open to the public and that students should attend so that they can observe and listen to what issues are being discussed.

Lastly, Mr. Whack encouraged students to “soak in” all that they can in law school. He emphasized the importance of finding something you are good at and passionate about. “If you find something you enjoy, it will feel less like work” he concluded.

Different Perspective

Marlon Amprey, Symposium Editor

Lee Whack, the Secretary of the Democratic National Convention delivered a shaking lecture in which he challenged all present to get involved in the political process in some way. After detailing his work history he revealed that following his passion is what allowed him to find his current work. As an international studies major and holder of a masters in journalism, his path appeared to fit an international perspective but he let his heart guide him to do press work for local politics and then national politics. He found that the individuals he worked for in the state and federal legislatures inspired him to continue his work in the press for the Democratic Party. As he journeyed through his career he found that assembling our differences to create solutions to the issues that we believe are persistent in our communities was the key to success of any political agenda.

Mr. Whack did his best to remain partisan, but his passion for his work would bleed through his attempts at times. He primarily discussed the need to engage the youth in this year’s Convention and elections. The convention plans to utilize social media and have separate special meetings that will be exclusively tailored to young voters. This strategy and belief could not be truer as we watched Obama make an historic run and re-election by utilizing the votes of the young. The turnout of this years Democratic primaries will display how much work the convention will need to do in order to ensure that a victory can be had November.

Outside of the youth vote, Mr. Whack detailed the need for the DNC to unify and utilize the diversity of party to create a larger turnout and excitement for the eventual nominee. One of the attendees pressed Mr. Whack on this issue as it related to Donald Trump. The attendee asked how the DNC should handle the issue of the xenophobic statements of Donald Trump. Mr. Whack alluded to the diversity of the party being a powerful force that can debunk the dangerous rhetoric of the likes of Donald Trump. The conversation in diversity also guided the discussion to an important discussion on party unity after a contentious primary season.

An attendee expressed that she was worried that the diversity of the Democratic Party was being divided by the nominees and that getting other groups to support the eventual nominee will be difficult to accomplish. Mr. Whack pointed to the amount of candidates on the Republican primary tickets as a more difficult hurdle to eventually create unity. The other great argument Mr. Whack made is the fact that the Democratic candidates are also closer in ideals and policies than the Republican counterparts. The proof of this statement was the 2008 election in which Clinton actually came to the DNC and ushered in the New York delegates in favor of Obama. This symbol of unity was powerful in ensuring the party was united going into the general election. The contention in this year’s Democratic primary appears to be less cantankerous and this should allow Mr. Whack’s theory to hold true.

In conclusion, Mr. Whack focused his conversation on involvement, unity and passion for your work. His passion was evident and his words and thoughts left a lasting impression on those in attendance. The DNC is definitely in good hands with Mr. Whack.

Sean Daru, Associate Editor

The Journal of Law and Public Affairs had the pleasure of hosting H. Lee Whack, Jr., press secretary for the 2016 Democratic National Convention, this past Monday, February 22,  2016. Mr. Whack spoke on a number of topics, including the preparations underway for the DNC here in Philadelphia this summer. He was most passionate though about government and civic involvement.

One of the key messages of Mr. Whack’s presentation was that government is not totally broken. While there may be gridlock in Washington and a never-ending stream of dirty politicking on the campaign trails, there is still much good being carried out by the government every day. It is easy to focus on how much goes wrong in politics, but if individuals were to focus on the successful governmental work that occurs each day then citizens would be more hopeful about government and our national prospects. This, Mr. Whack contends, is the key to the national tackling its problems and moving forward as one.

On the theme of hope, Mr. Whack noted that the lack of hope is what leads to low voter engagement, especially among younger voters. This, in part, was the reason for President Obama’s campaign: he was able to give people a sense of hope about their own lives and about the future of the country. Currently, though, a “lack of hope” is pervasive in politics. This can be observed in many areas of political life: the low voter turnout among young voters, the gridlock in Washington, and the success of political narratives that tout outsides. The citizens of this country want a change; they want something to be excited about.

Mr. Whack suggests that one of the ways we can regain a national sense of hope is to focus on what we hold in common and what we achieve together. Too much of political discourse today is focused on our differences, but even where parties or individuals disagree there is still a fundamental agreement on what needs to be done. Nobody disagrees that we all want strong schools or economic prosperity, but people do disagree about how to achieve these goals. By focusing on our disagreements, we lose sight of what we share in common: our shared dream for a better country.

Another source of hope Mr. Whack pointed to is that at the end of the day government, political parties, and civic engagement are all about “We the People.” When we are tempted to lose hope or to descend into partisan bickering we need to remind ourselves that this country is more than any institution; it is the people. So even if things seem bleak or we feel powerless, we must remember that together we hold the power. We must band together to use our voices to stand up for ourselves. When faced with hopelessness we can respond with apathy or with engagement. But if “we the people” decide to respond with action, then we can be confident in the future we are building for ourselves.