LiveBlogging the Heartland Presidential Forum

By Jonathan Adams Dec 01, 2007

The Center for Community Change had an historic event on Saturday in Des Moines, Iowa. Five Democratic presidential candidates met with a forum of community leaders from across the country to talk about the issues most important to people living in this country. 2:37 We are welcomed to the the Heartland Presidential Forum with music and cheering that reminds me of a political convention. The energy is optimistic and there is a sense that something special is happening. As we are asked to consider our American values, it seems like they are immediately narrowed by a Christian prayer. I still have an open mind about this event. A Black man from Chicago emcees the event, but I have a feeling that the "Heartland" means something very specific for our politics and values that should be explored. 2:47 Deepak Bhargava, Executive Director of Center for Community Change, addresses the audience and asks us to remember that all our values, despite our race, are inextricably linked and reminds us that we will only have justice with a multiracial approach. 2:55 A scan over the audience doesn’t look representative of this. Where are the people of color? We have the same values, but are welcomed to the Heartland to share those values? 3:05 Cathy Hughes, owner of Radio ONE and TV One, is the moderator of this event. She is giving us the rules. Each of the five Democratic candidates present will have 20 minutes to speak. 3:10 John Edwards is introduced. The first question thrown out asks if America will support "our community values." I applaud conversations with real farmers who have real issues in the Heartland, but what are community values? Have we already defined those in previous conversations with people from the community? If so, who makes up that community? If we have come to these ideas through our organizing, then that should be clear. 3:25 A community leader introduces the ideas of environmental racism but her compelling personal story is diluted by a prepared question that thoroughly quenches the authenticity of a conversation between a community member and a candidate. These generic responses are not exciting. At least a debate format lends some friendly back and forth among the candidates. My mind drifts as Chris Dodd attempts to connect to the audience with his Spanish fluency. 3:39 A Latina community leader asks Dennis Kucinich what he plans to do about the way the United States terrorizes immigrants. 3:41 A Mississippi Poultry Project community leader addresses the way the government attempts to divide people along race lines even though despite their experience, all the factory workers are still making $5.30–not even close a living wage. 4:15 Hearing Hillary Clinton’s responses to questions about her position on immigrants’ rights, I am convinced that community organizers and leaders are much further along on connecting their values to actual policies than any of the politicians are touting at the Forum today. Senator Clinton did not appear live at the forum because of the hostage situation in New Hampshire, but the forum’s format actually didn’t require her appearance. Many of the stories that have been shared with the candidates are moving and some community members are visibly emotional, but after sharing their stories they ask rehearsed disconnected questions that do not push candidates out of the comfort zone of their well-rehearsed responses. 4:50 Senator Obama outlines his health care plan after a woman tells him how SCHIP kept her child from going blind. A crowd favorite, Obama doesn’t have to do much to impress the audience. His statements however, just like the candidates before him, were lukewarm at best. The Heartland Presidential Forum does connect faces and actual stories to issues like education, immigration, and health care, but the presidential candidates do not deliver answers that match the sincerity of the community. In hopes of creating a new frame for discussion in the Heartland, I am left with too many questions. Without articulating who the community is and what their values are, the vague responses from candidates are allowed to fly because there is no rubric by which they should be measured.