Bernard “Bernie” Sanders was born September 8, 1941 in Brooklyn, New York. He attended New York City public schools and a Hebrew school. After graduating from high school, he attended Brooklyn College for a year in 1959-60 and transferred to the University of Chicago where he graduated in 1964 with a B.A. in political science. While at the U of C, he participated in campus demonstrations against segregated university housing and the Chicago Public Schools. He attended the March on Washington in 1963 and joined the ranks of the Student Non-violent Coordinating Committee, CORE, and Student Peace Union in solidarity with the anti-war movement.
After graduation, he married and bought a summer-house in Vermont and spent some time in Israel on a kibbutz. Sanders says that he is “proud to be Jewish,” but “not particularly religious.” His current wife is Roman Catholic and he often quotes Pope Francis on issues of economic inequality and climate change.
Sanders was first elected to public office in 1981, when he was elected Mayor of Burlington, Vermont, where he served until he was elected to the U. S. House of Representatives in 1990. Throughout his political career, he has always identified himself as a progressive and/or a Democratic Socialist. He was the co-founder of the Congressional Progressive Caucus in 1991.
After a very progressive tenure in the House, he announced a run for the Senate in 2006, and ran as an Independent. As an Independent, he established an agreement with the Democratic Party Senate leadership and gained their endorsement, just as he had while in the House. He agreed to vote with the Democrats and was assigned to the powerful Committee on the Budget, where he is the Ranking Democratic member, as well as, Committee on Environment and Public Works, Committee on Energy and Natural Resources, Committee on Health, Education, Labor and Pensions, and Committee on Veterans’ Affairs.
Given this progressive background and his stance on the major issues that Americans in general and African-Americans in particular are concerned about, one has to wonder why he hasn’t attracted more African-American supporters. His platform includes a position on economic issues such as income and wealth inequality, universal healthcare with a single payer, free public college and university education, raising the minimum wage, saving Social Security, paternity/sick leave and vacation time similar to that which is present in European nations like Denmark and Sweden. Further, he has adopted the concerns of the Black Lives Matter Movement, campaigned against the Trans-Pacific Partnership and the Citizens United decision by the U. S. Supreme Court that allows unlimited funding of political campaigns by corporations and billionaires.
According to Lynn Sweet of the Chicago Sun-Times, as of September 30th , “Illinoisans have donated $5,310,546 to 2016 presidential campaigns – $3,071,265 for Democrats and $2,239,281 for Republicans. Hillary Clinton $2,600,793, Jeb Bush $478,795, Bernie Sanders $360,903, Ted Cruz $324,395, Marco Rubio $283,520 and Ben Carson $252,359.”
Hillary Clinton is a native of Illinois, and the former First Lady of a president that was popular amongst Black voters. While she was defeated in the 2008, Democratic Presidential Primary, by Barack Obama, she is still considered by pollsters and election experts as leading amongst Black voters. Thus, Bernie Sanders is not considered able to come close to threatening her lead in the Black community.
However, there is a small but determined group of Black veteran political activists who are determined to bolster Bernie Sanders’ standing in the Black community. Since August, these activists have joined with Sean Niewoehner, Illinois Ballot Access Organizer for the Sanders Campaign to get Sanders on the Illinois ballot. Their first task is gaining ballot access. This effort was led by Mr. Bruce Crosby and his brother Will Crosby. They began in the 1st Congressional District with plans to do the same in the 2nd and the 7th. Unfortunately, Bruce Crosby made his transition this past Thursday morning. His death has set back this effort temporarily. However, Will Crosby will no doubt pick up the mantle and continue the effort.
“We have to win Illinois for Bernie – and that’s going to take our concerted effort to build an effective structure here. Further, we will be able to organize for state and local elections, and much more effectively promote a progressive agenda,” says the Crosby brother. He believe that the push for Bernie is seen as a catalyst for the promotion of progressive politics and policies in Chicago and throughout the state. Bernie’s ‘message’, they say, is powerful and reaches people, but, to accomplish these goals in the long-term, he needs us. It’s going to take a form of people-powered-politics we’ve never experienced before. It’s going to take good neighbors, strong communities, and a huge concerted citizen’s movement in all wards and communities to do this.”
As early as August, public intellectual and writer Cornel West endorsed Bernie Sanders in these glowing terms: “The American Empire is in decline. Our market-driven culture is in decay. The criminal justice system has failed us. And the political system is collapsing due to the weight of corrupt lobbyists and greedy capitalists. Only organized power of courageous and compassionate people can turn around these catastrophic realities. Social movements in the streets and jails over against the Establishment in both decrepit political parties are fundamental. And prophetic politicians – always with their faults and blind spots – who tell the truth about Wall Street, white supremacy, empire, patriarchy and homophobia, deserve our critical support. Yet even more important is the issue of integrity.”
Yet, in spite of the local organizing efforts and the high-profile endorsement for Sanders, nationally, Black voters have not gravitated towards him. Thus, while he is leading Hillary Clinton in virtually all white Iowa, when he moves to the primaries in South Carolina, Georgia, and the south where Black voters are in abundance, he will find these voters solidly behind Hillary.
Black activists in Chicago cite the fact that Bernie Sanders draws more attention from younger people. His crowds have been predominately young people. These activists have now begun to focus on young voters. They are especially focusing on those young voters who are savvy in social media and IT. Hopefully, these millennials will join Team Sanders and deliver the same kind of enthusiastic win that Barack Obama received in 2008 and 2012. At the same time, experts point out that younger Black voter turn-out dropped by almost 7 percentage points between 2008 and 2012 and a greater drop off in the 2014 election. Ms. Patti Guinn of University Park is still hopeful that the Black activists and organizers will succeed in raising the bar for Bernie Sanders in the 1st, 2nd, and 7th Congressional Districts. Guinn and her group are looking for the equivalent to Iowa’s Michael Beasley who has according to ABC news, “spent the last two months volunteering seven days a week in southeastern Iowa for presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. The 23-year-old is one of over 7,000 volunteers the Sanders campaign says is working throughout the state to reach out to potential caucus-goers leading up to the Feb. 1 caucus.
While these Black Activists are energetic and anxious, they will have to move past the Chicago Democratic Machine in order to make a strong showing for Bernie Sanders. The young and the progressives will support him, however, the majority of Black voters and organizers will support Hillary Clinton.