Sanders Didn't Lose the Black Vote; He Never Had It
Yvette Carnell, speaking after the March 15 Super Tuesday voting. At 2:15: "This was our opportunity to go somewhere [other than to conservative Democrats] and to prove that you're going to [have to] treat us right ... this was our moment. So I'm not sure we're going to have another moment like this ... and we wasted it." She adds later, if blacks had split their votes 50-50, Sanders would be winning — in March (h/t NateRoberts at r/Kossacks_for_Sanders).
by Gaius Publius
Without understanding why the most left wing constituency in the US delivers its vote reliably to the most right wing interests in the Democratic party, Bernie wasn’t even knocking on the door of the black vote. He was knocking on the wall, unable to find the door.
–Bruce A. Dixon, Black Agenda Report
This is a bit of a postmortem, a look back as we start to look ahead. One goal of looking back is to learn what went wrong so we (or others after us) don't make the same mistakes twice.
With that in mind, here's Bruce A. Dixon of Black Agenda Report on what the Sanders campaign didn't do to attract black voters, especially Southern black voters, and what he could have done. He also adds a bit of what the "next Sanders" could do — and note, he considers that the "next Sanders" may be Green Party candidate Jill Stein. His advice, however, applies to anyone, with one caveat as you'll see.
Dixon (my occasional emphasis):
Sanders Didn’t Lose the Black Vote: He Never Had It, and Never Asked WhyAnd what was the mistake that meant he'd never have it? According to Dixon:
A Fusion article by Terrell Jermaine Starr titled “How Bernie Sanders Lost Black Voters” purports to explain why the Sanders campaign and its black operatives failed to make a dent in Hillary Clinton’s overwhelming black vote. The article blames the Sanders campaign for not throwing enough financial resources at “black outreach.” It also faults the candidate and his top advisors for not focusing clearly and publicly “...on the problems so many black voters wanted addressed: police brutality, white supremacy and the ways in which economic inequality is inextricable from race...”
While both those factors are significant --- the campaign certainly could have thrown more money and staff into “black outreach” and the candidate should have spoken more clearly and persuasively on issues important to African Americans they don’t begin to explain Hillary’s hold on the black vote or how it might have been shaken.
To unlock that particular door, the Sanders campaign or Mr. Starr would have to at least look for the key. They’d have to explore why how Hillary got that support, and just what were the power relationships which make that support possible. They’d have to ask why the most right wing corporate Democrat has the most left wing constituency in the Democratic party on lockdown.
They didn’t. Instead of asking those questions, the Sanders campaign and Mr. Starr’s Fusion article treated the black community as a kind of united corporate whole with no perceptible internal divisions or contradictions, all of it potentially winnable by just putting the right message in front of the right audiences, or throwing enough staff and money at the problem.
That was Sanders’ mistake and it’s the error of the Fusion article as well. Sanders didn’t lose the black vote, he never had it.
Both the Sanders campaign and Mr. Starr seem to assume some kind of level playing field exists or existed in which they had the opportunity to persuade the black vote away from those who had it, without the bother of questioning how and why their opponents DID have it, without mapping and taking into account the relationships of power and dependency which tie almost the entire cohort of black politicians, church leaders and traditional black leadership to right wing corporate Democrats.It's the central question, for Dixon, those ties. Later he writes:
The utterly unaccountable nature of traditional black leadership is why the Congressional Black Caucus mostly endorsed the militarization of cops, why it backs the arming and financing of apartheid in Israel, and doesn’t stand against gentrification or school privatization or the militarization of Africa, why it did not muster a peep of objection to the displacement of a quarter million black people from New Orleans and the Gulf after Katrina, or vote against the bailout of criminal banksters who sold predatory mortgages to black homeowners, stripping black America of 90% of family wealth in the 2007-08 housing meltdown.This is not about anyone being "stupid," no more than any of us who get "played" by those we support — Ron "TPP" Wyden, Oregonians? — is stupid. In every community where there's advantage-taking by supposed leaders, there are reasons why that advantage-taking works, and those reasons vary from community to community.
Without mapping out, acknowledging and questioning the lineup of forces arrayed against it, organizers of the Sanders campaign never even knocked on the door of black support. They were knocking on the black wall, unable to find the door. Behind that wall however, the black political class was able to produce an overwhelming black vote for Hillary, in keeping with its alliance to the most right wing and corporate dominated sectors of that party.
Yvette Carnell in the video above mourns her community's lost opportunity; she doesn't castigate its members for losing it. She, like Dixon, asks the same question (at 6:00): "How do we go forward from here?" Carnell doesn't have an answer (at least as of the making of that recording), but Dixon does:
The Sanders campaign is over now, except for the efforts of staffers to herd followers, activists and contributors behind Hillary Clinton. The campaign of Jill Stein and the Green Party is now the only one that even wants to build support among African Americans. To do that, Greens will have to do what the Sanders campaign was unwilling and unable to do. They and their black supporters will have to interrogate black allegiance to an entrenched black leadership that serves only itself. They’ll have to find and cultivate relationships with forces not tied to those leaders, and develop stands on issues with them.He then lists the numerous issues on which black establishment leadership is on the wrong side of the community they claim to serve — "drive to privatize education as a thing that hits black and brown communities first and hardest" ... "a complete demilitarization of Africa policy, and an embargo on weapons, resupply and military training" ... "forgiveness of student loans [which] will affect proportionately more black women than anybody else," among others.
Then he notes:
And most especially, Jill’s black supporters will have to openly break with traditional black leadership and their top-down methods, and openly question their right wing alliances. Jill Stein rightly says that you cannot build a revolution inside a counter revolutionary party. You also cannot expect a counter revolutionary elite to support your revolution. It’s not like any black mayors, CBC members or prominent black Democrats or black megachurch preachers are about to go Green.And there's his caveat — "Such a campaign can only be waged OUTSIDE the Democratic party and outside the bonds of fake black unity which prevail inside it."
To shake loose a good percentage of the black vote, Sanders would have had to go to war against black congressmen, black mayors and the entire black political establishment, all of the Democrats, in a Democratic primary election. That was never going to happen. Not ever, not ins[i]de the Democratic party. Such a campaign can only be waged OUTSIDE the Democratic party and outside the bonds of fake black unity which prevail inside it.
Can This Be Done from Inside the Democratic Party?
Is Dixon correct? Perhaps yes, perhaps no. But it's important in the long run to consider it. The Sanders campaign was issues-centered, not Party-centered per se. There's no doubt in my mind that Sanders, in 2016, had to run as a Democrat to achieve the truly phenomenal results he achieved. No doubt in my mind at all. But does it have to be so next time? Regardless of the answer, if you're an issue-centered voter, it's a valid question.
It's certainly true that breaking the hold of "unaccountable" leaders of any community is the only path to freedom for that community. One could easily say the same thing, for example, about working class white Democrats, many of whom are drowning in student debt, and the current leadership of the Democratic Party, which is predominately white, and which won't do much, if anything to alleviate that debt. Almost by definition, a party that gets billions in funding from the credit industry will never forgive debt to the extent needed by the people it purports to server. Never.
The Sanders campaign was, in large part, an attempt to break those bonds, between "leaders" and the led. It succeeded only partly, and it succeeded not enough. How to proceed next time?
(For examples from these pages of the loyalties of the CBC, the Congressional Black Caucus, as an organization — certainly not of each individual member — see here and the articles grouped here. Every community, in my opinion, that has strong Sanders backers within it should be having this discussion.)