First, let’s start with the fundamentals of every campaign, both local and presidential, and everything in between. The first step is always, always, figuring out your base. Your base is the lifeblood of your campaign; your base will support you, make calls for you, knock on doors for you, and, most importantly, vote for you. When you’re in a primary campaign, (competing against an opponent in the same political party) your base is often the same as your opponent’s, and the primary becomes a race to see who can secure the base first. Ultimately, whoever secures the base wins the nomination and goes on to compete in the general election.
The base of the democratic party is, and has been since the late 1960s, black people. More specifically, we’ve seen that black women vote in higher numbers than any other demographic and, in 2012, this led to Barack Obama being elected for a second term. Inversely, during the 2008 election, Hillary Clinton’s lack of outreach to the base of the Democratic Party (read: black people) led to the demise of her bid to be the party’s nominee.
Bernie Sanders and his campaign seem to have missed the entire 2008 election. From the word ‘go,’ this campaign seemed determined to ignore black people in what has been a very futile attempt to attract white progressive voters. These white progressive voters can’t produce a win in any states other than those with large white populations (New Hampshire, Vermont, Idaho, etc.)
It’s not as though the votes of black people have been locked up by the Clinton campaign. Hillary has not done much more to secure the votes of black people than the Sanders campaign. However, Bernie and his campaign have had numerous opportunities to reach out to black people: The demonstrations at Netroots and Seattle and the Forum in Minnesota come to mind first. At these events, he doubled down and decided to leave and/or stand silently while security tried to remove demonstrators. He ignored the questions and demands being lobbed at him by black voters, and instead decided to talk about economics and raising the minimum wage as solutions for the problems addressing the black community.
This ignores the real problems. Sandra Bland didn’t die in a jail cell because she didn’t have a job. Mike Brown’s body was not left in the streets of Ferguson, MO for hours on a hot summer day because he didn’t have an education. The unemployment rates in black communities are not almost double that in white communities because the minimum wage is not high enough. However, listening to Bernie Sanders tell it, you’d think it was all because black people don’t get a fair shake from the millionaire and billionaire class.
The lack of fortitude to address real issues and to speak out against injustice directly contrasts the portrayal of Sanders that his supporters and campaign have worked to convey. The portrayal of Sanders as a relentless reformer and a principled politician that goes out of his way to fight for what’s right is not what his actions display. The message I’m getting from the Sanders campaign on racial issues can, ironically enough, be summed in a quote that his campaign surrogate Killer Mike used to describe Sanders’ opponent, Senator Clinton: “Hold on, wait a while.”
The Sanders campaign strategy has been akin to the Southern Strategy employed by Republicans: Center white people and their anger, and have them work to protect their entitlements despite the fact that no one is trying to take anything away from them.
Following Seattle, Bernie made an effort to name those killed by police in his stump speech. He started invoking Eric Garner, Sandra Bland, Tamir Rice and others. Although when asked about the cops that shot and killed Tamir Rice not being indicted he said he wasn’t familiar with the details of the case and could only say it was ‘disconcerting’. He released a racial justice plan, which was really just a list of things he thinks are bad with no solutions to those problems. He has, to this date, not released a comprehensive racial justice plan that includes a timeline or list of costs, yet he can release a timeline with costs for breaking up the banks, single-payer healthcare and making colleges free.
This has not been a campaign of political revolution, it has been a campaign of half-baked ideas, based in the idea that the issues affecting the black community can be addressed so long as the issues of white progressives are addressed first. The talking points that Bernie has been employing on the campaign trail about black people are just that — talking points. There has been no real action or plan from the campaign to do anything to address the plight of the very people who could be responsible for making him the nominee. It reeks of arrogance and shows a complete lack of understanding.
We’re currently in a position where Bernie has little to no chance of winning the Democratic Party’s nomination. A line can be drawn to this fact directly from his lack of black support. Bernie Sanders, his campaign and supporters have spoken often about the need for ‘political revolution,’ but listening to his deafening silence regarding racial issues in America leads me to believe that this revolution would not help the base of the Democratic Party. We’ve seen that ‘trickle-down economics’ doesn’t work, and I, for one, have never been interested in a trickle-down political revolution.
Organizer by day, organizer by night. LA native (really). I write to break through oppression and stupidity. Twitter: @oaverette
Share this post on Facebook below!