On May 26, 2018, former progressive Brandon Straka released a video titled, “Why I Left The Democratic Party.” The video has over 1.29 million views on YouTube (in two forms), and 2.6 million views on Facebook.
After the release of the video, Straka created the #WalkAway campaign, urging fellow progressives to leave the Democratic Party. In the following months, thousands have shared their testimonials on YouTube and elsewhere explaining why they are “walking away.” The Daily Wire’s original interview with Straka can be read here.
On March 27 and 28, Straka will host two #WalkAway town halls — one in Harlem and one at the LGBT Center in New York City. His stated goal is to interact with progressives in the African American and LGBT communities, exchange ideas, and perhaps change some hearts and minds.
[Just prior to publication of this interview, the LGBT Center caved to outside pressure, and cancelled Straka’s event at their venue. As of publication, the LGBT Center has, according to Straka, not even contacted him. He and his team are currently looking for a new venue for the March 28 LGBT town hall. Despite this, the substance of the interview is the same and will remain unchanged.]
The Daily Wire had the opportunity to speak with Straka about the events, and his expectations, as well as allegations that his movement is “astroturfed.”
DW: How has the campaign been going since we talked in October?
STRAKA: Things have been going really well. So, most recently I was honored to be able to speak at CPAC, and really get the message of the #WalkAway campaign out to the people who follow or attended CPAC, and I actually got to speak just hours before the president did, right on the same stage. Then the night after CPAC, I was Mark Levin’s guest for the full hour on “Life, Liberty and Levin.” That was incredible, and gave us a huge surge. We got thousands of new people. I mean, literally thousands more people that joined the campaign that week. It really sort of flooded our fundraising efforts.
So, with the money that we were able to bring in that week, we went forward full steam with a lot of these new initiatives.
Next week, we’re doing the LGBT town hall in New York City, and we’re doing a movie screening of our “documonial” the day before. So, things are great, and we’re feeling very proud of the way this is going, and, I think, the people that we’re touching.
Straka also said that he was contacted by Lara Trump’s office following his appearance with Levin, and they had a meeting. He added: “It looks like some really exciting things could be coming down the pipe in the future between #WalkAway and the Trump campaign.”
DW: What are these forums, and why are you doing them?
STRAKA: Yeah. Let’s start with why we’re doing them. As we say all the time in the #WalkAway campaign, the Democratic Party, among other things, really targets minorities, and sort of takes them for granted as an important piece of their voting base. That would be fine if it weren’t for the fact that I think they’re not being honest. I think they’re not being truthful. I think they’re manipulating fear and identity politics, and I think they’re creating an enormous wedge of division by using these tactics to essentially scare people into voting for them and continuing to vote for them.
I think that’s really problematic, especially when you look at certain demographics, like the black community, in which the policies that the Democrats are pushing forward, I think, have done enormous damage to the black community and to black lives in general. And yet, black people are continuing to vote Democrat at a rate of 90%.
Now, with the LGBT community, which votes Democrat at a rate of 80%, perhaps the policies aren’t so detrimental to the wellbeing of the people, as it is, say, in the black community, but I think what they do differently with us is really utilize their machinery, which is the liberal media, to constantly keep us in a state of fear and skepticism, I think, about the outside world, and people on the Right.
The average LGBT person seems to really hate Republicans, hate the president, hate people on the Right. What I found is that there’s absolutely no need for this. I mean, I’m a gay man who’s being hugely supported by the conservative movement. The #WalkAway movement is celebrated and supported by Republicans and conservatives. So, what we want to do is have an open and honest conversation within these communities to try to shatter some of the damage that’s been done by the Democratic Party.
The ways that we are going to accomplish this are, within the black community, we’re doing a screening of a movie that we created. We call it a “documonial” film, which is a testimonial documentary. It’s a 35-minute short film, documentary-style, featuring 20 of our #WalkAway testimonial videos created by black Americans, talking about why they walked away from the Democratic Party.
Straka added that it’s not simply a compilation, but features “supplementary footage,” and that when it was released on YouTube, it received a couple hundred million views over several days. “People were absolutely blown away by it, and saying that the whole world needs to see this.”
Straka thought that because the film was shaking things up so much, “we would just bring it to the people.”
STRAKA: The first place we’re going to start is in my hometown of Harlem. I rented out a 275-seat theater at the Magic Johnson AMC in Harlem. We’ve raised the money so that people can come entirely for free. All they have to do is show up on Wednesday, March 27th. Doors open at 7:00, and the screening will begin at 8:00 PM. There is going to be about 45 minutes of film, and then afterwards, we’re going to have a town hall style discussion right there in the theater.
We have a panel of amazing people – David Harris Jr, Angela King (that’s Martin Luther King Jr’s god-niece), Hotep Jesus, and a couple of local conservatives or #WalkAway people. We’re going to be engaging the audience in a discussion about what they saw in the movie, and why black people are continuing to vote Democrat at a rate of 90%. Is this good for their community? Could we be doing better? How can we change this?
Straka stated that this won’t be “an echo chamber” event because the primary audience is people who aren’t on the Right. There will also be voter registration tables with the hope that some participants will “change their voter registration” for 2020.
STRAKA: Then the very next day, on Thursday, March 28th, we’re doing a similar town hall style meeting at the LGBT Center in New York City, which is going to be the first ever #WalkAway LGBT town hall. While we’re not showing a movie at that one, we will be screening just a few #WalkAway videos. Afterward, we have a panel that will feature three gay men – myself, Rob Smith (who is a black, gay Army veteran), my friend Mike Harlow, who also walked away from the Democratic Party, and transgender YouTuber Blaire White, who has a huge following. She’s hysterical. She’s just like a really cool cat, and she’s a Trump supporter.
We’re very excited to engage the LGBT community in this conversation, too.
Let’s talk about the liberal media, and the way that they’re spreading fear and division and hatred and lies in our communities to manipulate us. Let’s talk about what the Democratic Party has actually done for us. If you ask the average LGBT person, they’ll probably tell you Barack Obama gave us gay marriage. Well, that’s not true. The Supreme Court gave us gay marriage – and that’s only from a legal standpoint.
It’s really gay activists who, for decades, were doing all of the hard work of changing hearts and minds, and getting us to a point to where, once the acceptance of LGBT people was well past the 50% tipping point, Democrats just sort of swept in and said, “Ah, we’ll make this our issue. It’s perfectly safe now. The majority of people agree with us at this point,” and then they just made public policy on some of these issues. But it wasn’t the Democrats that changed. These are the conversations that we want to have. We’ll have voter registration at that event as well.
DW: What are your attendance expectations? Do you expect a lot of pushback? Do you have security?
STRAKA: We will have armed security at both events. I anticipate that we’ll have pushback, although I can’t tell you exactly to what degree or what that will look like. I actually kind of hope that we do. I would like it to be a spirited evening. Both events I’d like to be emotional, passionate, and spirited.
Straka says that despite his pessimism regarding attendance, the LGBT event has registered 110 tickets as of this interview, and the movie theatre has registered approximately 75 tickets with half a week still left to go.
DW: There are accusations that the #WalkAway movement has been astroturfed. The particular astroturfing that some are talking about is that the movement may not be as large as people think it is, or as prolific, or that it’s being propped up by conservative media, and that Russian bots are using it as a cudgel against the Democrats (per CNN).
STRAKA: Let’s break it all down. So, if we’re talking about the numbers and the membership being actual human beings, the #WalkAway campaign started on Facebook, and that’s really still, at this point, our home base. We’re in the process of building a new website, which we’re going to roll out for our anniversary in May. We will be completely autonomous, and that’s where we will eventually move everybody to.
But for the time being, our home base is still the original Facebook group where it all started, which, at this point, we’re now over 200,000 members on that group. Those are real human beings who joined our group. We vet the members before they come in. Everybody has to answer questions so we can understand if they’re actual people, and what their motivations are for coming into the group. We have very few troublemakers that way, which is great. But we have over 200,000 in that group.
Also, it’s a video testimonial campaign. They can literally just go on YouTube, or go on Facebook, and they’re going to find that we have thousands of written and video testimonials on social media. These are real people, making their real testimonials using videos.
In terms of astroturfing from the point of view of it being financed or anything like that, I personally started this campaign on May 26th, completely on my own. I had $350 in my savings account, and to this day, we have never had a large sponsor.
When we were doing our march on Washington in October, we did a huge funding push leading up to that. We received three $10,000 donations, and those are the largest single donations we’ve ever gotten. The typical donation that we get is around $20 or $30. Occasionally, we’ll get $100 or $200, which is amazing.
And when I say “we,” I’m talking about me and my core team of five people, who came on board after I started the campaign. These are volunteers, and they don’t get paid. That is the #WalkAway campaign – myself, a team of about five, and then we also have sub-teams. We’ve developed 50 state groups with state leaders. They’re also volunteers. I do have a Patreon account, and I get paid to do public speaking events, but I don’t draw a salary from the #WalkAway campaign. There is no George Soros, or anyone paying us to create this movement. This is an organic movement, and it’s very real, and the numbers are real, and the people are real.
DW: What are your hopes for these forums?
STRAKA: First and foremost, we want to open people’s hearts and minds, awaken people, and get them to start thinking differently about how they’re traditionally voting, and understand that perhaps it’s time for a change, perhaps they need to see that their vote does matter, that this is important, and that the way they’re currently voting is not serving them or their communities.
Another thing that’d I like all people to see, I think, is just an example of how these conversations take place. I believe it’s a completely false and erroneous belief that black people will only listen to black people. I mean, that just takes us right back to where we started, with this inability to engage with one another and really create change in that way. I have no apprehension about going into that theater. If I’m the only white person in that theater all night long, I have absolutely no apprehension about having a conversation with the people coming to see this movie, and engaging in this dialogue. I think that’s important for people to see.
Republicans, traditionally, have been a disaster at outreach to minority communities, particularly racial minority communities. I’ve actually heard some of these people say, “Look, we want to do well by these communities. We wish they would vote for us. We wish they would see that our policies are better, but they’re not going to listen to us. They’re not going to listen to white people.” So ridiculous.
I’m going to show everybody that black people love good ideas and good policies just as much as anybody else. But, we, of course, do have a lot of people of color on the panel as well. I think it’s going to be an amazing conversation. I want to show that this is a conversation that we all need to be having, that we just need to push past the discomfort and confront these things and address these issues.
According to Straka, a video crew has been hired for the events with the hopes that segments or exchanges can be clipped and “go viral” in order for more people to “see what our campaign is about.” Additionally, Straka wants to take this concept across the country, hosting town halls in Detroit, Los Angeles, San Francisco, etc.
STRAKA: And not just for the black community, not just for the gay community. It’s really all people, period. But I think a lot of these communities, like the Jewish community, now, is coming up quite often in the news, that people are very afraid and uncomfortable with what the Democratic Party is starting to engage in. The language and the conversations that are really bordering on anti-Semitism. We want to engage all different types of communities in different ways. We’re kind of just getting started here.
The Daily Wire would like to thank Brandon Straka for speaking with us about his event. Expect coverage of both events coming soon.