News and Commentary

#WalkAway Campaign’s First Ever Town Hall In Harlem: A Pretty Successful Endeavor

On Wednesday evening, the very first #WalkAway town hall was held in the Harlem area of New York City.

For anyone unfamiliar with the campaign, #WalkAway was started by openly gay New York-based hairstylist Brandon Straka in May of 2018. After a lifetime of voting for Democratic politicians, including Hillary Clinton during the 2016 election, 42-year-old Straka began to feel increasingly uneasy about his political affiliation. This unease led to intensive research over the course of several months, after which Straka walked away from the Democratic Party.

On May 26, 2018, Straka released a video on social media detailing his #WalkAway experience, and asked others to join him. Over the course of the last ten months, the campaign has grown, with thousands of videos and written testimonials popping up across YouTube and other social media platforms, says Straka.

A cursory search of the “Walk Away” hashtag on YouTube brings up numerous videos in which people share their testimonies explaining why they, too, left the Democratic Party. Many of the testimonials feature African Americans and other minorities, who speak about how their affiliation with the Democratic Party was rooted in their minority status rather than in an alignment of political ideologies.

Straka rented out a large auditorium at an AMC theater in Harlem for Wednesday’s town hall, which was focused on the African American community. Outside the auditorium, Straka’s team set up a voter registration table.

Prior to the event, I spoke with several attendees (in order to protect their privacy, their real names will not be used).

Gloria, an older African American women who was first in line, told me that she was “absolutely ashamed of who the Democrats are, and what they have become,” adding that they “have turned into the most aspiritual, amoral group who do not have the well-being of their constituents in mind.”

She also castigated New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio, a Democrat who has openly spoken out against the idea of private property, for the way in which he’s running the city.

When I asked Gloria if she used to vote Democrat, she replied that she did, but made sure to let me know that it would “not happen again.”

Angie, a middle-aged African American women who works in the area, told me that she “walked away two and a half years ago.” Prior to that, she “voted for every Democratic president since Jimmy Carter,” and was even a big supporter of Bernie Sanders. After Sanders’ loss to Hillary Clinton in the 2016 Democratic primary, Angie said that she began searching for a candidate, and eventually landed on Donald Trump, of whom she is now a supporter.

Jack, a 20-year-old Hispanic man, said that he left the Democratic Party during the last presidential election despite not being old enough to vote at the time. Jack also noted that he used to be “extremely liberal,” and even “communist at some points.”

I was just indoctrinated to be like, “Oh yeah, socialism and communism, that’s good. Don’t question what it is that you think.” Once I started to question it during the 2016 election, before I supported Trump, I was like, “Marco Rubio, Ted Cruz, they’re not so bad when you listen to them.” Then people said, “No! What are you doing? Stop thinking! Bernie or Hillary.”

Jack said he was looking forward to seeing testimonials from people who shared similar experiences.

The event began with a 35 minute documentary-style film, which interwove twenty testimonials from African Americans who had joined the movement and uploaded their #WalkAway videos to YouTube. Following the film, a five-person panel introduced themselves, spoke about their own experiences leaving the Democratic Party or rejecting progressive politics, and answered audience questions.

Although some attendees asked the panel legitimate questions, others used the Q&A session after the film to tell their own “walk away” stories, or to promote their causes. In and of itself, this wasn’t a negative thing. However, the time they monopolized might have been better spent engaging the panel.

It was difficult for me to get a grasp on the political demographics of the attendees, but considering the multiple rounds of cheers and applause during the film, a large number of them seem to have come in support of the campaign.

That said, some of the attendees were indeed former Democratic voters. As noted above, I personally spoke with three people who left progressivism, and according to Straka’s team, as many as 12 African American attendees changed their voter registration to Republican or registered to vote for the first time as Republican following the event.

In a statement after the event, Straka said:

Tonight’s #WalkAway Harlem town hall was an incredible start to our journey of waking up America and #WalkAway’s mission to break the chains of the Democratic Party. We went into the inner city and spoke directly with the residents of Harlem and showed them our compelling film, “The Great Awakening: Breaking the Chains of the Democratic Party” in the Magic Johnson Theater, which is the story of 20 black Americans who have walked away from the Democrats. The atmosphere in the theater was electric, and the panel discussion following was flowing with open-heartedness and love.

On Thursday evening, Straka is hosting a second town hall focused on the LGBT community. The panel will feature YouTuber Mike Harlow, as well as Iraq war veteran and political commentator Rob Smith — both of whom are gay and walked away from the Left and the Democratic Party.

Straka says that during the LGBT town hall, he and his team “will stand strong in our message and mission to inform all minorities, including LGBT Americans, that you do not have to be a Democrat. The Democratic Party and the corrupt media that supports them do not care about us.”

Thursday’s town hall was initially supposed to take place at the LGBT Center in Manhattan, but following backlash from activists, the Center cancelled the event, forcing it to move to another venue.