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Did Bernie Sanders Run a White, "Northern Liberal" Campaign in South Carolina?

February 29, 2016
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Kevin Alexander Gray

civil rights activist and community organizer in Columbia, South Carolina. He edited the book Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence and is the author of Waiting for Lightning to Strike: The Fundamentals of Black Politics.

As voters went to the polls Saturday for South Carolina’s Democratic primary, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton crushed rival Bernie Sanders, winning the primary with 73.5 percent of the vote and picking up 39 additional delegates, compared to 14 delegates for Sanders. African Americans in the state favored Clinton over Sanders by more than six to one, while white voters narrowly preferred her, as well. Clinton’s decisive win propels her into this week’s critical Super Tuesday voting, where a dozen states go to the polls and about 880 delegates are at stake. Examining the turnout for Clinton, South Carolina civil rights activist and community organizer Kevin Alexander Gray is critical of how Sanders campaigned in the state’s black community. "If you’re going to come down here and you’re going to run a Northern liberal kind of campaign, if you come down here and you talk about revolution and movement but your campaign doesn’t look like the movement you claim to represent, I think people go with the devil you know," Gray says.


TRANSCRIPT

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: As voters went to the polls Saturday for South Carolina’s Democratic primary, presidential candidate Hillary Clinton crushed rival Bernie Sanders, winning the primary by a staggering 73.5 percent of the vote and picking up 39 additional delegates, compared to 14 delegates for Sanders. African Americans in the state favored Clinton over Sanders by more than six to one, while white voters narrowly preferred her, as well.

Clinton’s decisive win propels her into this week’s critical Super Tuesday voting, where a dozen states go to polls and about 880 delegates are at stake. It’s the biggest day of the 2016 presidential election. Over the weekend, Clinton campaigned at two different predominantly African-American churches in Memphis, Tennessee.

HILLARY CLINTON: If you will join me on this journey, I know we can do it. And I need your help on Tuesday. The Tennessee primary is really important. So, please, if you will stand up and vote for me, I will stand up and work and fight for you, through this campaign and into the White House together.

AMY GOODMAN: Meanwhile, Bernie Sanders vowed to fight on and drew hundreds of supporters to a campaign rally in Oklahoma City. He told the crowd the current federal minimum wage is a starvation wage, and vowed to increase it to $15 an hour. Sanders also criticized his opponent, Hillary Clinton, and reiterated his call for her to release transcripts of speeches paid for by Wall Street, saying, quote, "If you’re going to get paid $200,000 for a speech, must be a pretty damn good speech. And if it’s such a good speech, you’ve got to release the transcripts, let everyone see it." Sanders also spoke to supporters at a rally in Minnesota.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: And you are a super super PAC, and I thank you for that. And I’d rather have you on my side a million times over than all the money in the world from Wall Street. Now, my opponent has a different position. She has a super PAC. And in the last reporting period, her super PAC, her major super PAC, received $25 million, $15 million of which came from Wall Street. She also received, you know, many millions of dollars in speaker fees. Now, she’s a very good speaker, I admit that. But to get $225,000 for a speech to Goldman Sachs, you’ve got to be really good. I don’t know that she’s that good.

AMY GOODMAN: The Democratic race now becomes a broader national contest. The 11 states, along with American Samoa, that will vote during Super Tuesday include six in the South with large nonwhite populations. Of the 880 delegates up for grabs, more than a third of those are needed to win the nomination.

For more, we go directly to Columbia, South Carolina, where we’re joined by civil rights activist and community organizer Kevin Alexander Gray. He edited the book Killing Trayvons: An Anthology of American Violence and is author of Waiting for Lightning to Strike: The Fundamentals of Black Politics.

Kevin Alexander Gray, welcome back to Democracy Now! Can you talk about the primary in South Carolina, its significance, who voted? Well, first, talk Democratic primary politics, and then we’ll talk about Donald Trump and his hesitance to disavow the Klan and David Duke’s support.

KEVIN ALEXANDER GRAY: Well, I’m glad that all the candidates are gone. I think people have reached that burnout stage. But, obviously, on the Democratic Party side, you—even expressed by that clip you showed with Bernie Sanders in Minnesota, Bernie Sanders went to Minnesota before the votes were counted here in South Carolina. And when—and before—the Friday before the election, CBS News led with a piece about the upcoming Saturday primary, where they showed Bernie Sanders in Minnesota surrounded by an all-white crowd and then Hillary Clinton in two locations in South Carolina surrounded by black people, surrounded by Jim Clyburn. And that’s been the story of Bernie Sanders’ campaign even here in South Carolina. It’s been a tour of colleges, a tour of black colleges, a tour of state colleges, but never any penetration into the black community, not even being able to go a block away from those colleges to actually go out into the community.

And when you look at the mailers that Bernie Sanders sent out, one particular mailer that comes to mind is the one that he sent with the young black male with—behind bars, with his hands behind bars, and one with a diploma. Meanwhile, Hillary Clinton is sending out mailers surrounded by black women, in particular. The electorate here in South Carolina, the Democratic electorate, is 60 percent black, and that electorate is 60 percent black women. So, you know, if you’re going to come down here and you’re going to run a Northern liberal kind of campaign, if you come down here and you talk about revolution and movement but your campaign doesn’t look like the movement you claim to represent, I think people go with the devil you know.

The other thing that people are not paying attention to in this huge victory that Hillary Clinton had over Bernie Sanders is the fact that so many people didn’t vote from 2008 to 2016. I would say that a lot of those people that didn’t vote didn’t vote because of their reticence to the Clintons and what happened between them and Obama and understanding that history.

But while Bernie Sanders—I hate to say it—while he’s talked about a movement campaign, he hasn’t run a movement campaign. He’s just run a campaign. And if he’s talking about something long-lasting to build out in the communities, well, he hurt himself here in South Carolina. He left South Carolina like the first defeat of the North in Bull Run. And to not be with his people in defeat, that went out and did the best they could, lets you know what he thinks about black voters, in some people’s minds. I think it’s going to hurt him tremendously in the South, moving forward.

AMY GOODMAN: According to ThinkProgress, "More than 33,000 people in South Carolina are behind bars, and 62 percent of the prison population is black. Most of those people are not eligible to vote. In 2012, the [South Carolina Legislature] took voting rights away from state residents on parole and today, more than 48,000 South Carolina residents in prison, on parole, and on probation are disenfranchised by felony or misdemeanor convictions. African Americans [make] up 64 percent of South Carolina’s disfranchised population, even though they comprise only 27 percent of the state’s voting age population. One out of"—

KEVIN ALEXANDER GRAY: Let me say something, Amy. Let—

AMY GOODMAN: —"every 27 African American voters is disfranchised in South Carolina, compared to one out of 65 South Carolina voters." Your thoughts on this, Kevin?

KEVIN ALEXANDER GRAY: Let me say this, Amy. Let me say this, Amy. First of all, that’s a problem in and of itself, that the discussion on black politics starts talking about criminal justice issues and prisons. Black voters want the same thing that white voters want. They want to be able to pay their house payments, to pay their mortgages, to pay their rent, to pay their utility bills, to pay their taxes, to educate their kids. And when you think that the whole foundation of black politics is just about talking about criminal justice and crime, well, that’s playing a stereotype in and of itself. And while there are a lot of black people in jail in South Carolina disproportionately and we understand the effects of structural racism, we still have a million, close to a million, eligible black voters in South Carolina and probably close to 600,000 to 700,000 registered voters. And when you look at the results from 2008 to 2012 and the number of people that didn’t vote, that are registered to vote, that says something about the Democratic Party. That says something about someone telling them that they are waging a revolution, and it’s not a revolution.

If you want to talk about building and building a progressive movement, build a progressive movement, but do not come into South Carolina or anywhere, where basically you’ve got the same kind of campaign that Hillary Clinton got. You’ve got white men on the top running it, and you come into the state, and all your surrogates are men. You have a program in Greenville, South Carolina, with Danny Glover, and everybody on the program is a man. And those kinds of things matter. But to start out just talking about crime, just talking about police and using Black Lives Matter talking points, well, the black community, I believe, is more sophisticated than that. And if you’re running a progressive campaign, you ought to have sense enough to know that you have to talk to people and tease out the issues a whole lot better than you did.

Hillary Clinton is a neoliberal Democrat. The purpose of the Jackson campaigns in '84 and ’88 were a counter to Bill Clinton and Hillary Clinton and the rise of the DLC, the Democratic Leadership Council, which Jesse called the Democratic Leisure Class. And Bernie Sanders is supposedly running a campaign in that tradition, bringing people together, bringing coalitions of people together. I'm not seeing that. I’m not seeing the nuclear activists and the peace activists and the Arab-American community and the labor community and the black community have a real say in defining a platform that makes some sense.

Now, Bernie has done—Bernie Sanders has done some wonderful things in his campaign. He’s brought young people into the process. I hope he keeps them energized. But if the only mission is to say that you’ve pushed the Democratic Party to the left at the end of this process, then what have you accomplished? If we’re talking about building something long-lasting and really changing the nature of politics, which means that you have to change it on the local and the state level, you have to tackle these state legislatures, you have to be prepared to tackle reapportionment and gerrymandering, so that you can vote better people into office to move on to Congress, so you can actually change things. But if you’re not going to do that, you’re not—you have to have agents of change. You can’t simply be an agent of change by yourself.

AMY GOODMAN: Who are you going to be supporting?

KEVIN ALEXANDER GRAY: I don’t know yet. I might—you know, I support third-party candidates. I could possibly support a third-party candidate from the Green Party in the general election. I haven’t supported the Democratic Party in a national ticket since 1992. I was in the room with Jesse Jackson and the Rainbow Coalition when Bill Clinton pulled a Sister Souljah. I was here in South Carolina as Tom Harkin, Southern political director, marching in a public housing project with Jesse and Harkin, when Clinton called him a backstabber. I worked with Harkin and wrote those ads with Adolph Reed, who now supports Bernie Sanders, to call Bill Clinton out on the execution of Ricky Ray Rector, a brain-damaged young black man in Arkansas.

So, you know, I’m not supportive of neoliberal politics. If Bernie Sanders would tell people, explain the difference between what a progressive is and what a neoliberal is, which is what Hillary Clinton is, someone that supports war, that supports Wall Street, that supports privatization, a lot of things her husband did, like NAFTA and CAFTA—these are things that have almost decimated the middle class and increased the wealth gap. So, those are things that neoliberals support. Some of the things they support are the same things that neoconservatives support. It’s just about who’s running it.

But Sanders also has to be against the idea of empire, if he’s going to raise up Martin Luther King’s name and talk about marching with Martin Luther King. Martin Luther King said a threat to justice anywhere is a threat to justice everywhere. And that goes for Palestine and Israel. And neither of the candidates, to include the progressive candidate, has dared step on that rail in this campaign. How am I to think that a so-called progressive candidate is really right on race and ethnicity and the value of all humans and respect for human rights, if he can’t stand up for Palestine? That’s important to me. But, you know, I don’t want a so-called progressive campaign—for me, the foundation of that campaign has to be right. How it’s constructed has to be right, if you claim to be a progressive.

AMY GOODMAN: So—

KEVIN ALEXANDER GRAY: It can’t just be about people at the top vying for power within the Democratic Party.


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