State Democratic Party leaders address Truman Day diners

By Colin Willard, Advocate Staff Writer
Posted 4/17/24

FREEBURG — More than 60 people gathered in the basement of American Legion Post 317 in Freeburg last Thursday in observation of Truman Day, a tradition of both Missouri and the United States …

This item is available in full to subscribers.

Please log in to continue

Log in

State Democratic Party leaders address Truman Day diners


FREEBURG — More than 60 people gathered in the basement of American Legion Post 317 in Freeburg last Thursday in observation of Truman Day, a tradition of both Missouri and the United States Democratic Party honoring Harry S. Truman, the only U.S. president from Missouri. During the evening, attendees shared a meal and listened as Democratic candidates in this year’s elections and state party leaders spoke about the party’s goals for the year.

The Democratic committees of Maries and Osage counties organized the event and brought the speakers to the area for the evening. Among the group were Missouri Democratic Party Chair Russ Carnahan and Missouri Democratic Party Vice Chair Yvonne Reeves-Chong.

Reeves-Chong spoke earlier in the evening. She said Maries County Democratic Party Chair Bud Schulte had invited her to the dinner to speak about voter misinformation. She began by asking the crowd if they expected to see a lot of it in the coming election cycle, and the crowd responded affirmatively.

“You ain’t seen nothing yet,” she told the audience.

Reeves-Chong told a story about a recent Facebook message she received from an anonymous account that had messaged her with things she believed untrue.

“What he posted and sent me was a message that said, ‘Can you explain to me why, as a progressive Black woman, you would support a Democratic Party that actively works to destroy your community? Arrest your young men, abuse your children…’” she said. “I reached out to some of my friends, other Black people in my community and around the state. Many of us had received the exact same message.”

Next, Reeves-Chong asked the attendees to consider where misinformation is originating. She said it comes from places other than cable news channels and social media. As an example, she asked the audience about the topic of the first trial of former President Donald Trump, which began on Monday. A few people in the crowd answered with “hush money.”

“Hush money,” Reeves-Chong repeated. “Okay, we all agree. And we’re all wrong. That’s actually misinformation. It’s a campaign finance violation. Trust me, the law does not care if you pay a porn star hush money.”

Media coverage of the former president’s legal trouble has given the case, which alleges 34 counts of falsifying business records in violation of election laws, refers to the case as the “hush money” trial to differentiate it from the three other cases pending against him. By doing so, the coverage has muddled the story in the eyes of the public.

“(Trump) is not the first (charged in violation of election law),” Reeves-Chong said. “He won’t be the last. But what is new is that virtually every one of us in this room —Democrats, well-educated people that stay abreast of the issues — we already bought the lie. So if you bought that one, what’s happening to your neighbor?”

Another example of recent misinformation that Reeves-Chong cited was in the aftermath of the collapse of the Francis Scott Key Bridge in Baltimore last month. In the weeks following the collapse, she had heard conspiracies that either illegal immigrants or diversity, equity and inclusion policies had caused the incident.

“You have to understand what it is they’re doing so that you can stop it,” she said about people spreading misinformation. “Because just like it gets them, it will get you.”

One of the tips Reeves-Chong gave to the attendees was to be mindful of the information they hear or read that plays to their emotions. Things they read that they might characterize as “incredible” or “outrageous” could be misinformation.

Reeves-Chong encouraged the audience to challenge lies that they hear or read.

“A lie never becomes the truth,” she said. “But listen to me carefully: it can become your reality. A lie unchallenged will become your reality.”

She asked the crowd what they grew up hearing was the cause of the Civil War. Some said slavery. Some mentioned states’ rights. Someone said, They didn’t cover it.”

“Slavery or states’ rights?” Reeves-Chong asked. “Because if you let that lie of states’ rights, that will be the reality of your next generation.”

Then, she asked what happened on Jan. 6, 2021. Some said it was an insurrection. Some said it was a riot.

“An insurrection,” Reeves-Chong said. “It was not a riot. It was not a protest. And if you do not challenge that lie, it will become your children’s reality.”

The strategy Reeves-Chong encouraged for combating misinformation was to challenge the lie but not repeat it. Repeating lies helps to reinforce them. As an example, she referenced an urban legend that spread a couple of years ago about schools allowing students to use litter boxes instead of restrooms.

“What I say is ‘Oh, dear Lord, that was so stupid that it ought to have made your head hurt when it came through,’” she said. “I didn’t repeat it. I did not say ‘There are no litter boxes in the classroom.’ I am going to say ‘That’s ignorant. You really think the same school board that doesn’t allow spaghetti straps has litter boxes in the classroom?’”

When concluding her address, Reeves-Chong once again encouraged attendees to stand up against misinformation whenever they see or hear it.

“You need to recognize it when you hear it,” she said. “Catch yourself when you have got it. And then you better bring the stomp and put it down.”

Later in the evening, Carnahan addressed the crowd. He spoke fondly about the slate of candidates at the dinner and the enthusiastic audience for that evening and other party events around the state.

Carnahan talked about his origin in politics. He recalled being 8 years old when his father, former Missouri Governor and U.S. Senator-elect Mel Carnahan, was running for the Missouri Senate. He said his mother Jean made the campaign materials and they were “the coolest thing ever.”

“We had red straw cowboy hats,” Carnahan said. “We had campaign stickers on the front. We had brochures to hand out. We had a flatbed Chevrolet truck with an upright piano on it and loudspeakers. They went through town to town and gave speeches and they would leaflet the town.”

He said that as he got older, he realized what captured his attention as a child.

“Politics, it should be fun,” Carnahan said. “It should have a lot of energy. It should get us all motivated. But there is so much at stake.”

Carnahan said is proud to be the chair of the “rebuilding” Missouri Democratic Party. He said the state was better and people were better off when it had strong Democratic leaders.

“But the Democratic Party is only as strong as its people and its network,” he said. “The party is supposed to be supporting local Democrats and campaigns.”

Carnahan outlined some of the work the party has done to support candidates since he took over leadership. Last year, the state party hosted the Democratic National Committee in St. Louis for the first time in decades. It held a Truman Day dinner and fundraiser and paid off all the party’s debts to start this year debt-free. The party also hired staff to improve communications and data.

Candidates attended a training program called “Camp Carnahan” that Mel Carnahan started as governor. The party has also worked to recruit candidates to ensure as many races as possible around the state offer a Democratic option to voters.

“Last election cycle was really awful with not having enough Democrats on the ballot,” Carnahan said. “This year, there’s not been a year since 2008 that we’ve had this many Democrats on the ballot in Missouri.”

Carnahan turned his attention to the Republican Party. He said it is no longer the party of Ronald Reagan and George Bush. He sees it now as Trump’s party.

“They’re all about taking control and attacking your freedoms and your rights so they can keep power longer,” he said. “Because they can’t compete on ideas. Their ideas are bad. They’re old. They’re backward.”

Carnahan pointed to labor rights, campaign reform and women’s rights as causes the Republican Party had worked against. He mentioned the efforts of Republican legislators to reform the initiative petition process to amend the state constitution because “they know they’re going to lose.” Activists were at the dinner to collect signatures for a petition currently circulating to propose an amendment to restore the right to an abortion in the state.

“I want to have somebody make the political ad of the voter walking into the voting booth and they see ‘Should I give away my voting power on issues to Republican politicians in Jefferson City?’” Carnahan said. “And you need a box for ‘Hell no.’”

Carnahan said he was optimistic about the future of the state Democratic Party.

“There is an energy here that I have not seen in Missouri politics in over a decade,” he said. “We have to capture that. We have to build that ship and get that sail up and catch that wind because we know it’s coming.”

Carnahan said the party needs to reach people who do not vote. He said a statistic that surprised him was that even though Trump won Missouri by 15 points in the 2020 Presidential Election, Missouri had more eligible people who did not vote than it had people who voted for Trump.

“We have to get them on the playing field,” he said. “And when we do, we change the political landscape in the state.”

In Carnahan’s conclusion, he said he was pleased by the expansion of the party on a local level and the opportunity local Democrats provide to voters who want alternative options.