Politics

Here's What Black People Are Saying About Bernie Sanders

Coming off his resounding victory in New Hampshire, one of the biggest questions facing presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders is his ability to win over black voters.

The Vermont Senator faces a particularly hard climb in South Carolina, where he trails former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton among self identified African Americans by a 17-74 margin. Clinton, meanwhile, recently secured the endorsement of the influential Congressional Black Caucus PAC.

Bernie Sanders responds to a question at a forum for Black Americans

Sanders' effort to overcome those odds kicked off with his attendance at “A Community Forum on Black America,” in Minneapolis, Minnesota.

In front of an audience of more than 1,000, Sanders faced questions about his specific plans to address the Black community’s grievances. At times, Sanders responses, which included a mixture of specific and universal policy points, were not enough for some in attendance. Questions about reparations were brought up again and again, and Sanders' responses were repeatedly followed up with the question “How?”

The forum became tense when panelist Felicia Perry stated shortly before her question on how Sanders would enact specific policy that would lead toward reparations, "I know you're scared to say 'Black,' I know you're scared to say 'reparations...'"

Felicia Perry

Sanders responded to Perry's question, admitting that there may be some disagreement between them, that Latinos and even poor whites in rural areas deserve to be invested in as well. Sanders said the time was "long overdue" for America to start investing in poor communities, Black communities in particular. However, his use of the term "African American" in that moment prompted a challenge from the audience to which he replied, “I’ve said 'black' 50 times. That's the 51st time. What I want and what I believe we should do is to invest most heavily in those communities most in need, and when you have 35 percent of black children living in poverty...those are exactly the kinds of communities you invest in."

Bernie Sanders speaks at a forum on black community issues

Clinton declined Minnesota Neighborhood's Organizing For Change's invitation to the event.

ATTN: spoke to Sanders supporters and skeptics in attendance and heard range of opinions. Here's what they had to say:

Kamari White, potential college student

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"I really want to go to college and I kind of want to go out of state, so if he actually makes [public college] free, I can do that."

Marcus Harcus, Minneapolis resident

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"I'm here to support him. I'm here to hear him talk about issues that specifically or disproportionately impact the black community. I think [his racial justice platform] is alright. I think it's better than the others. It seems like he generally wants to emphasize economic issues and I get that's more politically feasible with the general electorate. I'd like to see him propose some more specific racial equity policies. I support him though. Ninety-nine percent!"

Mel Reeves, North Minneapolis community leader and activist

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"Both parties have always sold us out, and continue to sell us out. I definitely like the single-payer thing, but he still is within the framework of capitalist society. He's not kicking that out. Even though he's talking about political revolution he's still a part of the establishment. He's saying some good things. He's got people thinking. Most of us working-class people want to see an end to police brutality. We want to see an end to mandatory minimums and mass incarcerations. We don't think people should go to jail for non-violent crimes. Barack Obama sounded good eight years ago. Jesse Jackson sounded good about 20 years ago. It all sounds good, but when the smoke all clears we're still here catching hell."

Mike Griffin, organizer with Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC)

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"I believe him when he says he's looking for a political revolution, and I've said before I've been looking for that revolution my entire life. In fact, my people have been looking for a political revolution for 300 years. So I'm encouraged by what could be, that [it could] actually come to fruition.

Michaela Day, local activist with Justice4Jamar and Black Lives Matter

Michaela Day

"His stance on racial justice, and justice for marginalized groups in the past, before he was campaigning, that's what actually does speak to me. I don't feel like he's just feeding us a line of complete B.S., because he hasn’t flip-flopped the way Hillary has. If you look at his stance 40 years ago, 30 years ago, 20 years ago it's pretty much the same as today. [It's] as radical then as it is now, but it's sad that this is what they consider radical."