After Super Tuesday, many progressives are puzzling over why blacks—typically the most progressive element in the Democratic Party—are backing Hillary Clinton over Bernie Sanders.
There are a number of reasons, and Sanders has to take responsibility for some of them.
Here in South Carolina, where I live, and throughout the South, much of the black political establishment has connections, including financial connections, to the Clintons. The Clintons, meanwhile, have backed a lot of policies that have done real damage to the black community.
Still, people are sticking with the devil they know. Plus, the Clintons have delivered some things: The last public housing in the South was built in the late 1990s.
Sanders has been in Congress for thirty years, but hasn’t developed meaningful relationships with many black elected officials and activists. The way he approached South Carolina was largely to bring in outside black, northern intellectuals—all men—who have made a habit of denouncing President Obama. And Killer Mike—a rapper. Women are 60 percent of the black electorate here, and you are hard pressed to find a black voter who does not feel strongly supportive of the first black President. Sanders might have missed the reality on the ground, since he held his events at the colleges. That isn’t a serious bottom-up strategy for getting to where working people in the community really are.
When Sanders appeared at the Brookland Baptist Church in West Columbia (and was mocked by The New York Times and the Washington Post for failing to get much applause) he showed up late for the lunch after the service.
After losing big to Hillary, who put on a serious ground game in South Carolina and other Southern states, Sanders seemed dismissive of the black voters who didn’t show up for him, heading back North to Vermont and Minnesota where the “smart” voters are, as he put it in a speech.
Bernie talks about his campaign being a “revolution.” No. Cuba had a revolution. Haiti had a revolution. Sanders is not succeeding at building a lasting movement because he is not bringing people of diverse backgrounds together like Jesse Jackson did with the Rainbow Coalition. This is a campaign run by some white guys in D.C. and Vermont with some Black Lives Matter talking points as soundbites thrown in. That just doesn’t cut it.
Black folks like some of what Bernie says about Wall Street and tuition-free public colleges, but it's clear he's not really thinking about historically black colleges and universities.
Most historically black colleges and universities are in heavily in debt and many of their students wouldn’t be accepted to public universities because of their test scores or grades. These institutions have been neglected in the Obama years. They are already at risk, and they would be even more at risk under a free public university plan.
This is just one small example of how black folks are at best an afterthought in the Sanders campaign. It’s the same situation with critical issues like gerrymandering and the Voting Rights Act.
I certainly won’t vote for Clinton, but Sanders isn’t really doing what he needs to do. We need real movements that are built not just in election cycles, but over the long haul. Those movements are not built by people looking to be the great new leader. They are built by reaching out to people at the grassroots, listening to them, and following their lead.
Kevin Alexander Gray is a Progressive contributor and author of many books.