By Bill Fletcher, Jr., NNPA Columnist
The emergence of the presidential campaign of Senator Bernie Sanders (I-Vt.) has reached the scale of “phenomenal.” What many mainstream pundits originally believed to have been a marginal effort, exploded around the U.S. as enthusiastic crowds responded to Sanders’s challenges to contemporary capitalism.
Yet in Black America, the campaign has yet to ignite a mass spirit. Sanders certainly has support within Black America, but it largely pales in comparison to the sentiment in favor of Hillary Clinton. The former Secretary of State has been quite shrewd and timely in responding to issues that are of concern to Black America. Even when, as in the case of her meeting with several activists from the movement for Black Lives Matter, she has handled matters in a way that has brought forward criticism, she still seems to be given the benefit of the doubt.
The Sanders campaign, which still holds the potential to shake up U.S. politics in very fundamental ways, has only a limited amount of time to reposition itself if it wishes to win the support of Black America and, I would add, much of Latino America.
This repositioning goes much farther than who is hired to work on the campaign, as important as that happens to be, and more than anything else revolves around the extent to which the campaign is understood to be embedded within our movements.
When John Edwards kicked off his ill-fated presidential campaign for the 2008 nomination, he did so in New Orleans. This was of tremendous significance. He aimed to talk about poverty and he did so by going to the city where race and class comingled in a demonstrable fashion in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. Sanders, on the other hand, has done nothing similar. While he has spoken out on some matters of race, he needs to be discussing the massive financial crisis in Puerto Rico which, along the lines of what transpired in Greece, is destroying the island and driving thousands to migrate to mainland U.S.A.
Sanders needs to sit down with key African American leaders in the cities of Michigan that, in many cases, have been disempowered by a racist, Republican state legislature. Sanders needs to visit Native American reservations to discuss land and environmental issues, not to mention, matters of economic development that go beyond the construction of more gambling casinos. And Sanders needs to add surrogates to his campaign to advance his message and to show the scope and breath of the campaign.
For the Sanders campaign to realize its amazing potential, it must rethink its role in U.S. society. This will necessitate tapping the sentiment for change in communities of color – including but not limited to Black America – and listening carefully to the concerns and advice from the leaders of these communities. The campaign must guard against the tendency to become overwhelmed by enthusiastic crowds, for such crowds can also be a siren’s song that leads the campaign to crash into the rocks. Crowds are great but depth of support is definitive.