Saturday, July 25, 2015

Sanders Campaign and Racial Justice

Sanders Forum;
Great event last night at the Sol Collective.

Report on Crisis in the Eurozone well received.
Eleven Theses on Bernie Sanders’ Campaign and Racial Justice
Joseph M. Schwartz

Whatever their opinion of the #BlackLivesMatter intervention at Netroots Nation, the incident should spur the Sanders campaign and its supporters to focus on the campaign’s major challenge:  broadening its appeal beyond the white progressive community. Given that thirty-five percent of Democratic primary voters are Black and Latino, even the most fervent of Sanders supporters cannot be complacent about this question.
Sanders has done a great public service by framing his presidential campaign as a crusade of the 99 percent against the one percent. But to broaden his coalition, he and his campaign staff must work to gain the trust of progressive activists of color and bring them into the heart of the campaign. Bernie will not get a hearing in communities of color if he does not develop partnerships with Black and Latino activists who can introduce him -- and vouch for him -- in communities to which the long-time resident of Vermont (a 95 percent white state) has few organic ties.

Bernie’s standard stump speech sometimes touches upon racial and gender justice issues, and immigrant rights. But the twelve point program on his website does not mention mass incarceration, police brutality, voter suppression, immigrant rights or reproductive rights. Nor does his standard fundraising letter.
When Bernie does touch on these concerns, he quickly ties them to issues of economic justice.  Economic equality is a necessary, but not sufficient condition for eliminating forms of oppression that cannot be reduced to class. Bernie needs to learn how to speak about these concerns in ways that connect with folks who have a gut sense that greater attention to economic inequality will not by itself fully redress racism, sexism, homophobia, and nativism.  
While national polls remain fairly imprecise at this point in a presidential run, none show Bernie doing better than nine percent among likely Democratic primary voters of color – and, at best, he  only polls at five percent among African-Americans. In contrast Bernie is hovering in the low-to-mid 20s among likely white Democratic primary voters and nears 50 percent support among white self-defined liberal or progressive likely primary voters. Hillary polls well over sixty percent support among likely Democratic primary voters of color.
One shouldn’t have to nail the following eleven theses to the door of Sanders national headquarters in the hope that all of us backing Sanders address them.
1. Some Bernie enthusiasts want to deny that the above problems exist.  Yet simply for reasons of electoral math Bernie has to take these issues to heart. Hillary's clear electoral strategy is to win among white working class women and self-identified liberal feminists and to clean Bernie's clock among Blacks and Latinos. The political capital of the Clinton brand has enabled her to gain endorsements from many Black and Latino Democratic elected officials. So what is Bernie’s counter-strategy? It must be to push his core activists to build local grassroots multi-racial coalitions. If Bernie can't build more of a rainbow campaign he may turn out to be the Howard Dean of 2016. Dean did well with white liberal college-educated middle strata in Iowa and New Hampshire and then died in multi-racial major states. It wasn’t “the scream” that killed the campaign; it was its monochromatic nature.

2. Politics is about trust and social relationships; issue-oriented speeches alone do not recruit constituencies. Bernie needs to engage in serious consultation with progressive activists of color who can vouch for him in their communities. Bernie has yet to appoint a person of color (or woman) to a senior staff position. Hillary Clinton’s staff, meanwhile, is consciously multi-racial and gender balanced. 
3. Hillary has given separate, dedicated addresses on mass incarceration, police brutality, voter suppression, and immigrant rights. Those speeches only offered moderate neo-liberal solutions (e.g., more flexible sentencing guidelines). But she gave those addresses to Black and Latino organizations in part to distinguish herself from Sanders. (Bernie has given one speech primarily devoted to immigrant rights’, an invited address the annual convention of the National Council of La Raza). The Clintons are smart opportunists. It’s time for Bernie to give well-publicized addresses exclusively devoted to each of these topics to predominantly Black and Latino audiences. If the campaign cannot arrange such venues this says something serious about the limited scope of the campaign.
4.  Bernie’s campaign manager, Jeff Weaver, said a month ago that the campaign would add major staffers whose charge was to do outreach to communities of color. The Sanders campaign has recently appointed an outreach coordinator for the African-American community. But he has to do more. Only twenty-five percent of likely primary voters of color say they know enough about Bernie to make a political judgment about him; in contrast, over eighty percent of likely white Democratic primary voters say they know enough about Sanders to judge him.
5.  Bernie's core base of support is within the white progressive community; just look at the pictures from his huge rallies in Houston or Dallas, communities that are majority people of color. It’s great that many of his white supporters are young. This is a base from which to build. But expanding the base has to be Bernie’s primary concern. After New Hampshire and Iowa, he's on to South Carolina, where sixty percent of Democratic primary voters are African-American; and then Nevada, where forty percent of Democratic primary voters are Latino.
6. If whites in the Sanders campaign want to win, as well as build a stronger multi-racial left, they cannot afford to react defensively when activists of color—and white anti-racist activists—criticize Bernie for not being vocal enough about racial justice and immigrant rights issues.  Yes, Bernie touches on these issues in sections of some of his stump speeches. But addressing these issues head-on and admitting the campaign needs to reach out to voters of color is both morally imperative and politically astute.
7. Bernie has a solid track record on racial justice issues. But like many white socialists of his generation he frames racial justice issues as best addressed through economic policy. (The same is true of many white male socialists in regards to questions of gender justice.) His standard statement on mass incarceration cites full employment as the best way to decrease rates of imprisonment.  But Bernie should know that gender-and-racially segmented labor markets could lead to a full employment economy with Blacks, Latinos and women stuck disproportionately in dead-end, low-wage service jobs.
Bernie should openly state that racial justice issues relate to economic justice concerns, but cannot be reduced to them. To use the language of the academy, he needs to show that he understands that forms of injustice are “intersectional.” Three examples of this “intersectional” reality: 1. Working-class and poor Blacks between the ages of 18-30 are eight times as likely to be in jail or prison as are working class and poor whites. 2. Due to red-lining and mortgage discrimination, middle-class Blacks live in poorer neighborhoods than do poor whites (low-income whites tend to live proximate to working-class and middle- class whites). 3. African-American and Latino youth are subject to arbitrary violence by police infinitely more so than are whites of comparable class status. White skin privilege exists (though that’s cross-cut by class, as working class and poor whites confront police brutality far more than do affluent whites).
8.  Bernie should work to avoid seeming to be a "white social democrat wtih a racial blind spot.”  Yes, Bernie was active in the civil rights movement. But whites of that generation who were civil rights activists often were tone deaf to the rise of the Black and Brown Power movement, as well as the feminist movement  Many never came to fully understand the change in consciousness that took place among people of color and women as they moved from desiring integration to fighting for empowerment.
9. Most folks who have worked with Bernie would admit that he, like Jessie Jackson, is his own primary advisor and does not take advice from others readily.  So it will take concerted pressure from the grassroots to get Bernie and his staff to focus on building a more multi-racial campaign.  Bernie is not going to build a democratic movement out of the campaign for us; so it is the responsibility of  grassroots activists to build the local multi-racial progressive coalitions behind Sanders that can last beyond the campaign.
10. Bernie could radically alter U.S. political discourse if he explained to voters how both Republican and neoliberal Democratic policies on  crime and welfare aimed to appeal to working- class whites looking for an enemy to blame for  their downward mobility, while deflecting their attention away from the role of corporate power.  The issues of “welfare” and “crime” served as the ideological battering ram for bi-partisan neoliberal attacks on progressive taxation, public goods, the labor movement, and social rights. When Republicans talk about the "takers" and the "makers," they are dog-whistling to white working-class swing voters that the "takers" are people of color and the "makers" are hard-working whites.  Bernie should criticize President Clinton’s welfare reform policies and crackdown on minor drug crimes (both of which Hillary supported) as a continuation of Reagan’s attack on poor and working-class people of all races.

 11. Bernie is far better than Hillary on racial justice issues. But that message won’t get out there by (mostly white) Bernie supporters asserting this on social media. Bernie has to work with activists of color to introduce himself to communities to which he is a newcomer.  And he must learn to articulate his politics in a way that speaks to many people of color’s visceral sense that while economic and racial oppression are intertwined, racism plays an, independent role in the daily forms of oppression and degradation that they face.  That’s why #BlackLivesMatter.
If Bernie and his small, mostly Vermont-based senior staff are not willing or able to do this, then Bernie will fail to run a truly national presidential primary campaign. Vermont, New Hampshire, and Iowa are 95 percent white; the country is nearing thirty-five percent people of color.  To operate on that larger terrain, a campaign has to have a more diverse senior staff than Bernie does and must work to build trust among activists who can introduce you to communities who know little about you.  That’s the way politics works.

Joseph M. Schwartz  is a National Vice-Chair of Democratic Socialists of America and a professor of Political Science at Temple University. He is the author, most recently, of The Future of Democratic Equality: Rebuilding Social Solidarity in a Fragmented America. He played an active role in both Jessie Jackson’s 1984 and 1988 campaigns for president.

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