NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Essence Festival draws thousands of spectators to New Orleans every summer, making for a large platform for those scheduled to speak. This year, representatives said they’re offering the microphone to a handful of candidates running for the Democratic nomination in the 2020 election -- as well as the former First Lady, Michelle Obama.
While music and art take the forefront at Essence, the political lineup is a welcome addition, according to vendor and local makeup artist Stanisha Jackson.
“Michelle Obama, bringing her down, that drew people even more. They were like, ‘I have to see her,’” Jackson said.
Jackson said she spent most of the day Saturday (July 6) preparing festival goers for Obama’s sit down with Gayle King. And while the former First Lady has not announced any intention of running for office, several of Essence Fest’s other featured speakers have. Five of the 24 Democratic candidates running for president are set to address audiences over the weekend.
Latisha Pike said she was already planning on coming to Essence before knowing the political lineup, but Pike said she’s happy to have the opportunity to hear from the candidates.
“I was very excited about it,” Pike said. “I was able to watch the debate and I just wanted to hear more about what they were going to do for the African American people.”
According to Essence Festival’s website, the presidential spotlight is an opportunity to hear directly from candidates on issues that matter most to the festival’s targeted audience -- black women.
The website goes on to tout the festival as a powerful platform to reach a diverse group of influential voters who have historically high turnout at the polls. And attendees like Tracy Hart said they agree.
“It’s important for the candidates to appeal to all the masses and not just certain groups, so this is a chance to see different ethnicities here and get a chance to get their platforms heard,” Hart said.
As for the 21 other presidential candidates who are not speaking at Essence, festival goers said they’re missing out on an important audience.
Senators Kamala Harris, Cory Booker and Elizabeth Warren spoke Saturday, along with former Representative Beto O’Rourke. Mayor Pete Buttigieg is scheduled to speak Sunday.