I had the great privilege of attending CPAC as a RedState contributor. It was my second go-round at the Conservative conference. The first time was in 2016 with my former channel Communities Digital News. I have to say, I was hesitant the first time because my impression of CPAC wasn’t favorable. From the Left’s constant skewering, and the Republican elite’s looking down on the “God, Guns, and Grassroots” vibe, I wasn’t sure it would be a place where I felt welcome.
Don’t get me wrong, I spend a good majority of my life being in places where am generally unwelcome — I live in liberal Los Angeles after all! But to spend money to fly to D.C., and spend money on food, hotels, etc. to feel like an outsider was another thing. However, I did go, and felt like it was a good experience, but there was not a whole lot of melanin present; not a whole lot of diversity in residence.
The major panel of Blacks was Senator Tim Scott (R-SC), and Rep. Mia Love (R-UT), and there was a Hispanic breakout session with Mr. Lincoln Project, Mike Madrid. So there wasn’t a huge amount of representation of anything that spoke to me as a Black Conservative.
The 2021 CPAC in Orlando, Florida has been vastly different. I got a chance to go with our RedState team of writers and editors, so already some built-in community.
But there has been a huge leap from 5 years ago to now. LOTS of diversity, not just of skin color, but of religion, culture, orientation. From the Jewish community, to the Log Cabin Republicans, to Turning Point USA, to Seniors for Trump, the Conservative movement could not be whitewashed or reduced to one image — and trust me, the legacy media tried.
I wrote an article about how diverse CPAC was this year, but all the Left wanted to see was Nazis and White Supremacists. Fixations on how the CPAC main stage was a not-so-subtle nod to the White Supremacist base, and Alyssa Milano calling for a boycott of the Hyatt for daring to host Nazis and not be apologetic about it.
But that din did not dint what was happening in the halls, and there was a lot happening. I spent a ton of time in the media area, but I got some opportunity to walk around and talk to people — as well as get some great swag. I saw two Black kids get all excited over seeing Buck Sexton (who is very white, last time I checked), and they asked to pose for a picture with him, for which he happily obliged. Sexton’s a cerebral guy, so I was fascinated by what kind of Zoomers would be drawn to him and excited to take a picture to share on their social media. So an interview was in order.
Jerris Johnson and Mackenna Davis were their names, and they were Californians like me! They were extremely excited to be at CPAC, Jerris said he had wanted to come since he was 10. He brought his friend Mackenna, and they were both having a great time. I’ll let them tell you why.
The panels also reflected greater diversity, and greater openness to challenge. One of the highlights was hearing some of my favorite Conservatives of Color helm a panel: “Please Check the Number and Dial Again: Doubt, Dysfunction, and the Price of Missed Opportunities”.
Maj Toure, the founder of Black Guns Matter, was the moderator, along with Sonnie Johnson of SiriusXM Radio’s “Sonnie’s Corner”, Congressional candidate Angela Stanton-King, Conservative columnist Adrian Norman, #WalkAway leader Shemeka Michelle, and radio host Rich Valdes.
Toure warned the audience viewing and streaming that they’d hear some,
“Truths that are going to make you very uncomfortable. This is the awkward part and the growing pains part of the conservative movement. This panel is going to deal with the issues on how we as conservatives failed at engaging the Black community and galvanizing the Black community and how it cost us an election.”
One of the thoughts highlighted by several of the panelists: All of the minority voices that are standing for Conservatism need to be highlighted, and not just the ones that people find acceptable. They didn’t name names, but I will. Just because Candace Owens is acceptable to White Conservatives, doesn’t mean that Black people will listen to her — and trust me, many don’t — especially Black men.
Sonnie Johnson brought the fire, as she is known to do. She talked about the stereotypes that are too often present in the minds of conservatives when it comes to Black men, and the fact that Republicans and Conservatives have failed to discard these canards is what keeps costing them the Black vote.
Adrian Norman agreed, and said,
“We have to change our messaging. Not what we’re saying, but how we’re saying it. Conservative principles work. This is the way society would thrive the best in the long term. We have to engage with African-Americans a little bit better in the way We’re leaving a lot of people by the wayside, but they don’t feel comfortable voting Republican because of the way they are talked to.”
Rich Valdes, who works with Fox Host and Radio personality Mark Levin as well as hosting his own radio show, spoke from the Latino perspective, and gave this challenge:
“I’m a conservative, I’m here. We’ve seen gains. President Trump made a difference. We need more of that. We need to be more active. It’s not about the Party. We’re about to take this Party over.”
I loved the diversity of presentation and thought. I loved the attitudes and insights. There were several other panels along these lines, but this one was the standout for me in expressing how CPAC has changed… for the better.
One final thought. Did you know that CPAC has spread to other countries? If you get a chance, search for it in a few days, as CPAC lags a bit in loading their current video offerings. CPAC has hosted conferences in Australia, Japan, and Korea. If Conservatism has shown us anything, it is that principles like free speech, freedom of assembly, and individual liberties translate to any language and resonate. It wasn’t without cost to mount these conferences, and in Australia, they came against opposition from the Parliamentary government and Antifa. So the fact that we can export our concept of freedom and liberty to other countries makes these ideals so much more precious to me, and makes me want to defend them more.
Conservative principles transcend race, color, faith, or orientation, and this was most clearly reflected in this CPAC 2021. I’m thankful I had the opportunity to witness it in real-time.
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