Sen. Bernie Sanders first to take advantage of the opportunity
“An open-ended invitation” remains in effect for U.S. presidential candidates to visit North Minneapolis and speak to the community, say Neighborhoods Organizing for Change (NOC) officials after Democratic presidential candidate U.S. Senator Bernie Sanders spoke last week, February 12, at Henry High School February.
NOC Executive Director Anthony Newby said that last Friday’s community forum “was in no way, shape or form an endorsement of Bernie Sanders or any other candidate.” Democratic hopeful Hillary Clinton, who also was in town, was invited as well but didn’t make an appearance on the North Side, said Newby.
After being introduced by U.S. Representative Keith Ellison, who last year publicly endorsed him, Sanders drew cheers from the mostly-Black crowd. NOC officials estimated attendance at nearly 1,200 inside the Henry gym when Sanders promised to “end systemic racism” and do away with the militarization of police departments. “He wants to understand the concerns and needs of the people of this community,” Sanders Campaign staffer Roy Tatem told the MSR.
When the senator during his remarks made a reference to the “real unemployment” rate of Blacks, someone in the audience yelled, “That ain’t right!”
“That ain’t right at all,” Sanders responded.
“The devil is in the details,” said Newby later. He and five others sat on stage with Sanders and asked him questions on several issues. Newby beforehand asked Sanders “not to talk about idealist socialism…but talk about deliberate investment in the Black community in Minnesota and the Black community in America.”
Ngeri Nnachi asked Sanders about the incarcerated getting job training while in jails and prisons. She told the MSR afterwards, “He did answer my question. I was grateful to have the follow-up question on educational skills.”
Ann Haines of Cheyenne Butte, South Dakota afterwards said, “I wished I had more time” to speak to him. “But I did give him my business card.”
“No one person can do it alone,” said Sanders, who before rushing off to another event asked the audience to join him in a “political revolution. We will not be successful unless we come together as a people,” he said.
Tatem, who is the Sanders campaign’s African American outreach deputy director, briefly explained the candidate’s “democratic socialism” platform and stressed that “some re-education” is needed in this regard. “Most people don’t understand when we talk about democratic socialism,” continued Tatem. “All we’re talking about is making sure that everybody has something,” such as housing, employment, living wages and education. “Those are the things Sen. Sanders is pushing and pursuing.”
Tatem added that some of Sanders’ positions are similar to those of the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. “Dr. King in 1966 was fighting for decent housing [and] a livable wage. I think once Black America in particular becomes familiar with that, they’ll gravitate to what Sen. Sanders is all about, because Dr. King was talking about this in the ’60s.”
During a debate between Sanders and Clinton, Sanders said that U.S. race relations might be better if he is president than under President Barack Obama, the nation’s first Black president. Syreeta McFadden wrote in The Guardian that Sanders is trying “to connect with Black voters who are angry, alienated and outside the Black Democratic establishment or disappointed with Obama’s record.”
“[Blacks] wanted Barack Obama to address institutional racism and a lot of the systems that kept perpetuating themselves against our community,” said Tatem, who also worked on President Obama’s 2008 campaign. “I think our community was expecting a stronger voice than what they heard… Many Black Americans did not see Barack Obama as a strong voice for them.”
Asked if Sen. Sanders indeed could do more for Black s than President Obama, Black Lives Matter’s Mica Grimm responded, “I think Obama has done more for Black Americans in letting them see what we are capable of, what we are able to accomplish. But I think what Bernie Sanders is talking about [is] that as a Black man [the president] could not push as much [on] Black issues without turning White people off.”
Nnachi noted, “If he meant that, sure, because as a White man he can do anything in this country.”
Said Kamillah El Amin of Minneapolis, “I don’t know if that’s true or not, because he needs a lot more help in the Senate and in the House. I do believe if we can change the tide in the House and the Senate, then he could do more for all people — not just Black people — than our president has been able to do. It’s not him to make the change, but us.”
After Sander’s appearance last week the MSR talked to Newby and several other persons who were in attendance at Henry High School, not to ask if they intend to vote for Sanders in the upcoming March 1 primary caucus, but for an assessment of what they heard from the Democratic hopeful.
“I heard some aspirational goals today, but I think he was short on…the concrete, specific strategy for directing federal dollars to the Black community and POC (people of color) communities,” said Newby.
“What I heard is what I heard him say on TV and in other events,” said El Amin. “However, I personally know, and many of us personally know, that it takes more than just a president to make the type of things he’s talking about [happen].”
Lamont Jiggetts, Minneapolis, said he wished Sanders had been “more specific” in how he would govern if elected president.
Rev. Paul Slack of ISAIAH said he wanted to hear the candidate speak more on “targeted investments” in the Black community. “Everybody can talk about the high-level things we should be doing for African Americans, but at some point we really need to get to the specifics, because money doesn’t trickle down to our communities. If [he] can get elected, let’s see.”
Tatem advised all citizens, especially Blacks, to check for themselves the senator’s record. “The senator is really ready to deal with issues of police brutality, income disparities [and] economic opportunities within the community,” he stressed.
Asked if other presidential candidates should come to North Minneapolis as did Sanders last week, Grimm said, “I doubt they are willing to do that. If Donald Trump wants to have a Black forum and actually listen to Black people he didn’t pay, I’d be open to it.”
On Sanders’ visit to the North Side, “The senator showed that he [saw] first-hand the magnitude of the situation,” said Tatem. “No one has done this before. We definitely will be having conversations on how we can specifically address these things in the future.”
“He showed up and came in the hood,” concluded Haines of Sanders. “He took the punches and they weren’t too hard.”
Charles Hallman welcomes reader responses to firstname.lastname@example.org.
All photos by Onika Nicole Craven
Charles Hallman is a contributing reporter and award-winning sports columnist at the Minnesota Spokesman-Recorder.