Bernie Sanders and women and people of color


One of the most common criticisms of Bernie Sanders by liberals and even by some people on the left is that his supporters are predominantly white and male (derisively referred to as ‘Bernie bros’) and that is because Sanders is locked into a white privilege mode and has not addressed issues of importance to women and people of color. This view is promoted by the Democratic party establishment and its media supporters, who backed Clinton during the last campaign and are backing Joe Biden now. It is true that Hillary Clinton seemed to have more support from women and people of color during the campaign for the 2016 nomination but the reasons for why that was so are not clear. Katie Halper writes that the current media narrative that Sanders lacks support fro those groups is false and deserves to be countered.

A recent CNN poll shows that among potential Democratic candidates in Iowa caucuses Senator Bernie Sanders has the highest approval rating from people of color. And the diversity of the Sanders-inspired left was on display at the Sanders Institute Gathering in Burlington Vermont earlier this month, which I covered on my podcast, The Katie Halper Show.

But empirical evidence has not stopped much of the corporate press—including many “liberal” or “progressive” outlets and commentators—from condemning the senator as having “a race problem.”

Most politicians could “do better,” when it comes to addressing and speaking about racial inequities, sexism, homophobia, transphobia and classism. But the claim that Sanders is exceptionally problematic is absurd, given, for example, that Biden opposed integrated busing in the 1970’s; mistreated Anita Hill during the confirmation process of Clarence Thomas; called Obama “the first mainstream African-American who is articulate and bright and clean and a nice-looking guy”; and said “You cannot go to a 7-Eleven or a Dunkin’ Donuts unless you have a slight Indian accent. I’m not joking.”

Sanders’ critics smear him as blinded by straight, white, male privilege. The mere mention of class gets Sanders and others condemned as class reductionists. The irony is that many of the most vocal critics attacking him for being insufficiently intersectional fail to address class altogether as an aspect of identity.

It’s cruel, immoral and politically disastrous to dismiss the experience of working class people of all colors and backgrounds. But even those who openly mock the concerns of the white working class, undermine their own alleged commitment to marginalized voices when they ignore the diversity of Sanders’ supporters. By ignoring the people of all ages, backgrounds, genders, sexuality, and ethnicity who support Sanders, they engage in the very erasure and marginalization of the women, people of color, LGBTQ people (and all the intersections thereof) that they claim to oppose.

The real story is very different, as I found at the Sanders Institute Gathering. Organized by Jane Sanders and David Driscoll, the 3-day event was more about the movement that Sanders helped spark than it was about the man. Though Sanders delivered the keynote and participated in several panels, the gathering focused on issues, bringing together leaders, thinkers, organizers and activists. Participants included physician and public health activist Abdul El-Sayed; San Juan Mayor Carmen Yulin Cruz; actor and activist Danny Glover; executive director of Good Jobs Nation, Joseph Geevarghese; Our Revolution director, Nina Turner; Presente.org’s executive director Matt Nelson; and many others. Over the weekend, the panels and roundtables addressed healthcare, climate change, criminal “injustice,” civil rights, immigration, Puerto Rico, the housing crisis, the international progressive movement, and other issues with attention to class, race, and gender.

Halper goes on to describe her conversations with the diverse attendees who had been energized by the Sanders campaign. She met eighty-three year old Gus Newport, former mayor of Berkeley, CA who is a great grandson of a slave and was the mayor of Berkeley from 1979-1986. Newport went across the country to Vermont to campaign for Sanders in 1972 and 1976.

Newport recalls that as the two campaigned in Burlington, a reporter asked Sanders, “Why does a Jew from Brooklyn, who’s a Socialist, invite Gus Newport, a former black nationalist and a socialist from Berkeley to campaign for him in a state that is 97% white?” Bernie’s answer was short: “Because we’re gonna talk about the issues.” After that, Newport explained, the reporters had no more questions. “I’ve loved him ever since,” he said.

Sanders would later appoint Newport to the Democratic Unity Commission in 2017 in the wake of Hillary Clinton’s loss to Trump. “I found out more than I ever wanted to know about the Democratic National Committee than I ever wanted to know,” he said, but “nobody in the Democratic Party has ever spoken to all the issues in the depth that Bernie Sanders has.”

While some smear Sanders for being a “single issue” candidate, Newport believes it’s the centrist “neoliberal” Democrats who deserve that label. “They are a single issue people,” he declared. “They do not work around other issues [like class or poverty]. They’re usually not a part of the working class. We’re looking for real people.”

Though people often consider the intersection of race, gender and sexuality—class and age are often excluded. A popular narrative which pits people of different ages against each other is that of the spoiled, entitled and lazy millennial. Newport has sympathy, empathy and righteous outrage for the bleak economic reality that millennials face.

Halper spoke to others as well who were angry at having the Bernie bros label applied to them.

Former executive director of National Nurses United and of the California Nurses Association/National Nurses Organizing Committee, Roseann DeMoro does not mince words when describing the dishonesty of the latter group.

“I was just talking to Susan Sarandon,” she explains. “We were all accused of being Bernie Bros. It’s to delegitimize us. It’s a lie. It’s a duplicitous, ugly, malicious, horrendous, calculated lie. It’s a calculated lie by the DNC. It’s a PR campaign masquerading as politics.”

DeMoro objected to prioritizing identity over policy and profits over people. “People are suffering across the spectrum,” she said. “They can’t take care of their families or of themselves. Their personal dignity is going down the drain. Ultimately, what we were supposed to do was to buy into a neoliberal paradigm to elect a neoliberal woman who didn’t share our values because she was a woman. Well, Margaret Thatcher was a woman.”

Halper also spoke with Maria Svart, the national director of the Democratic Socialists of America (DSA) about the ‘Bernie bro’ narrative.

“Look at Bernie Sanders,” Svart said, “the most popular politician in the country. And yet people that support Bernie are called Bernie Bros. You look at DSA. I am a Latina. I’m leading the organization. And there are many women of color in leadership, and yet we are characterized as a bunch of Bernie Bros.”

An ardent supporter for Sanders to run again in 2020, DeMoro is prepared for more of the smears which started in 2016 and never really went away. “They’re gonna throw everything at us, when it comes to Bernie, and we’re gonna be like Wonder Woman and bounce ’em right back. So put on your bracelets.”

All these people emphasized the important role that class plays in cutting across all the other distinctions. Sanders is relentless in his drive to use the energy that his campaign created to create a lasting progressive organization that will keep the important issues front and center. This was something that Barack Obama singularly failed to do after his electoral wins. He just allowed his organization to wither away once it had served his purpose of getting him elected.

Comments

  1. says

    I have to admit I don’t understand the Sanders love and from an outsider’s perspective there seems to be a cult of personality around him. Does he want some good things? Yes. Winning the presidency would be disastrous though. Either he’d face not just Republicans opposing him but a fair enough Democrats that he’d never get anything on his agenda passed, or he’d have to compromise and that would kill off much of his support’s enthusiasm. He works better as an agitator that helps push the Overton Window back at least to the center, and the Democrats not just to the center but maybe a little to the left.

  2. Mano Singham says

    Tabby,

    The reason for the Sanders enthusiasm is because he is progressive and a socialist. I am not sure why it is better for Sanders to be outside that in. The president can move the Overton window a lot, as we see with Donald Trump, where almost the entire Republican party shifted towards him once he became president, despite many opposing him before.

  3. consciousness razor says

    Winning the presidency would be disastrous though. Either he’d face not just Republicans opposing him but a fair enough Democrats that he’d never get anything on his agenda passed, or he’d have to compromise and that would kill off much of his support’s enthusiasm.

    Uhhh, okay … describe a Hillary Clinton presidency for me. And make it not “disastrous.”
    Here’s a possible difference: various things on her agenda that we shouldn’t want might be accepted by Republicans and establishment Democrats, while her supporters’ enthusiasm would hardly subside because many issues don’t actually matter that much to them. Hooray for centrism.

  4. lanir says

    Tabby has a point but it’s not the end of the story. A president who is all alone with no real support is not able to affect much. And while the Republicans are okay with falling into line behind a leader, I don’t see the Democrats doing the same.

    Which is why the political organizing even beyond the scope of electing Bernie really matters. Sure, it hasn’t been really done before, at least not recently, not quite like this. But it’s already working. Starting a week from now he’ll have a block of new allies in the House of Representatives. He lost the primary over 2 years ago but he still has real political organizing going on. Not just on his behalf but on behalf of the issues he put forward as well as new ones he adopted along the way.

    Taking on any political establishment really is impossible to do alone. But why would anyone think Bernie Sanders is fighting alone now much less if he won the presidency with two more years to organize?

  5. says

    Winning the presidency would be disastrous though. Either he’d face not just Republicans opposing him but a fair enough Democrats that he’d never get anything on his agenda passed, or he’d have to compromise and that would kill off much of his support’s enthusiasm. He works better as an agitator that helps push the Overton Window back at least to the center,

    I get what you’re saying, but I disagree. There’s a lot of power that comes with the presidency, not least the ability to send, or, I know it sounds crazy, refrain from sending US troops to murder people overseas.

    The Democratic party isn’t going to be MORE opposed to single payer health care under a Sanders administration, and the things that Sanders can do with executive power alone can have far larger implications than most in the power structure currently would ever admit. I would never say that the US deserves attacks against its military or its people, but I can say that it’s a real-world consequence of bombing the fuck out of dozens of spots around the world that some people who live in or near those spots feel like bombing the fuck out of you.

    Imagine if Trump -- who can do this without congressional approval -- shut down the Saudi embassies and consulates in the US after the Khoshoggi murder. What would the Saudi’s do in response? Their government used their own embassy to commit murder without accountability. There’s good reason to shut those things down and to meet with the Saudis only on the territory of a willing 3rd party country like Switzerland. And what could or would they do in response? The only thing that they can do: raise the price of oil. And what would raising the price of oil accomplish? Some sectors of the US economy would be impacted. It certainly wouldn’t be good for our economy short term. But oil is a global economy. It would hurt everyone equally and no one would get a competitive advantage, so there would be no long term consequences …

    …except that higher fossil fuel prices would hasten the transition to low-carbon/no-carbon energy sources, ending Saudi power for good and all while, by-the-by, contributing international impetus to solving humanity’s biggest current problem.

    Presidential thinking like this, and uses of presidential powers like this imagined one, can have incredibly positive effects whether or not congress is happy about it.

    I’ll have to look at the presidential candidates in 2020, but I wouldn’t reject Sanders out of hand, nor would I reject Sanders merely because Congress is likely to be unwilling to follow his leadership very far.

  6. Holms says

    You seem to have forgotten that Republicans just took a shellacking, and Dems are using their numbers to address the only thing maintaining Republican power at all -- gerrymandering. And he can still be an agitator as president. Disaster my foot.

  7. says

    As lanir pointed out, the Dems aren’t as likely to fall into line with President Sanders. For starters, most of them aren’t as authoritarian as Republicans. The Democratic establishment also isn’t as scared of their base as the Repubs are. Maybe if there are more AOC-style primary upsets, but the Democratic Socialists haven’t primaried as many candidates as the Tea Party did. Bernie Sanders may have made establishment Dems nervous, but he hasn’t terrified them yet. There is also the threat of left wing Dems overplaying their hand. Yes, the biggest opposition to Nancy Pelosi came from the right, but it seemed to me that a lot of the left under estimated just how much support Pelosi has and how popular she is with Democratic voters (and there is a blindness to how many people think that nobody likes Hillary Clinton -- a LOT of voters didn’t have to hold their noses to vote for her).

    Crip Dyke -- “There’s a lot of power that comes with the presidency, not least the ability to send, or, I know it sounds crazy, refrain from sending US troops to murder people overseas.”
    Congress hasn’t formally declared war since 1942, but I would be willing to bet that the odds of it happening again would go up significantly if Sanders was president.

    Holms -- “You seem to have forgotten that Republicans just took a shellacking, and Dems are using their numbers to address the only thing maintaining Republican power at all – gerrymandering.”
    Yes, they took a shellacking, but that was because of Orange Yeller and the Republicans falling in behind him. In addiction to getting Democrats energized, that helped drive the fabled centrist independent voters into voting for Dems. A Sanders presidency would energize the left, but likely not so much the centrist Democrats and independents.

    Sanders leaving the Democratic Party again right after losing the primaries (which he would have lost even without any shenanigans from the Dem establishment) isn’t going to help him convince centrist Dems to vote for him either. Again, I’m an outsider but this would make me even less likely to vote for him if he ran in the Democratic primaries again as it smells like opportunism to me and there are a lot of Democratic voters who likely feel the same way.

  8. Holms says

    “Congress hasn’t formally declared war since 1942, but I would be willing to bet that the odds of it happening again would go up significantly if Sanders was president.”
    That’s a fairly ridiculous statement.

    “Yes, they took a shellacking, but that was because of Orange Yeller and the Republicans falling in behind him. In addiction to getting Democrats energized, that helped drive the fabled centrist independent voters into voting for Dems. A Sanders presidency would energize the left, but likely not so much the centrist Democrats and independents.”
    And would engage the youth vote beyond what even Obama saw.

    “Again, I’m an outsider but this would make me even less likely to vote for him if he ran in the Democratic primaries again as it smells like opportunism to me and there are a lot of Democratic voters who likely feel the same way.”
    Opportunism is a politician campaigning for values they have never espoused until they became popular. Sanders has been campaigning for his current crop of issues since the seventies.

  9. says

    “That’s a fairly ridiculous statement.”

    What, that the military industrial complex wouldn’t let a little thing like an anti-war president get in their way as long as the constitution grants declaration of war powers to congress? I don’t think they’d declare war against, say, Iran during his time in office, but I wouldn’t bet against it either (especially if there was a second term). It’s not ridiculous to look at a country that has been in a constant state of war for almost this entire century and think that the people profiting off it won’t want the gravy train to end. Declaring war against Iran would also make Israel and Saudi Arabia happy and unless Russia or China have more investment in the country than I know of, they probably wouldn’t think it worth escalating to defend Iran. Hell, probably the only reason Iran hasn’t already been attacked is because the US’s western allies want nothing to do with it.

    “Opportunism is a politician campaigning for values they have never espoused until they became popular.”

    It’s also a lifelong non-Democrat joining the party to run for president then leaving immediately after losing, then joining again to run a second time. I do see how it’s a failing of the current system where you have to be a member of one of two parties to have even a remote chance, but people aren’t rational. There are plenty of Democrats who are pissed by what Sanders did and his going back to being an independent didn’t help matters.

  10. Mano Singham says

    Tabby @#10,

    Unlike in many countries, party affiliations in the US are very loose and Sanders met the minimum requirements. I hardly ever hear any concerns about Sanders that he is not a lifelong registered Democrat. It just does not seem to matter to people what label he adopts. It is the policies that matter.

  11. says

    Mano, it may be because a lot of the sites you read and most of your commenters are pro-Sanders, but there are Democrats who aren’t happy with him on this, or at least aren’t letting it go without comment.

    https://www.wonkette.com/hillary-clinton-casually-suggests-bernie-sanders-not-messiah-which-is-just-fucking-rude

    https://www.theroot.com/with-great-power-comes-less-responsibility-how-new-1828876975

    Yes, many of his policies matter to people, but it’s not coming without a lot of side-eye. Leaving the party again after losing the primaries really didn’t help him.

  12. Mano Singham says

    Tabby,

    I think this is one of those cases where people who like what Bernie stands for don’t care about his party affiliation status while those who favor other candidates will try to use this issue against him.

    How many people are thinking “I really like what Bernie represents but I cannot support him because he has not been a lifelong Democrat”?

  13. says

    Tribalism has a strong pull, even with people who want good things. It can be overcome -- look at Donald’s hold over the Republican Party despite not always being a Republican or his hold over evangelicals despite never showing any sign of ever being a Christian, but in a case like that it was done by appealing to their other senses of tribalism like being American, white, conservative (or even more importantly, not liberal), etc. For a lot of people who are Democrats, having a non-Democrat come in and lecture them while trying to take the nomination away from a Democrat wasn’t something that went down well.

    If Sanders runs for the Democratic nomination again in 2020, it’s going to get ugly, especially as people start leaving the race and if it gets down to him vs. someone who isn’t a white man, and especially especially if it’s down to him vs. a woman because there will be plenty of Democratic women who haven’t forgotten about the misogyny Hillary Clinton faced in 2008 and 2016 (noting that Barack Obama faced a lot of racism in 2008, it was an ugly, ugly primary season).