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Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor: Bernie Sanders Would “Transform the Lives of Poor and Working-Class People”

StoryOctober 22, 2019
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Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, an assistant professor at Princeton University, has just published a book about the racial wealth gap and falling rate of homeownership by African Americans. Her book is titled “Race For Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Home Ownership.” Taylor speaks with us about the 2020 presidential candidates’ platforms, including Senator Bernie Sanders’s proposed wealth tax. She says Sanders’s policies bring “to light the connection between the systemic forces that drive inequality and the impact that they have in people’s lives.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: This is Democracy Now!, democracynow.org, The War and Peace Report. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. We’re continuing our conversation with Princeton University professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, author of the new book Race for Profit: How Banks and the Real Estate Industry Undermined Black Homeownership. Michelle Alexander said of your book, “A horror story of racial capitalism.” So I wanted to turn to 2020 presidential candidate Bernie Sanders. A massive turnout this weekend, the biggest of any rally this year for president, a “Bernie’s Back” rally in Queensbridge, New York. Twenty-six thousand people came out to Queens. But last Tuesday, when he was in the debate, CNN host Erin Burnett questioned Sanders about his wealth tax proposal.

ERIN BURNETT: Senator Sanders, when you introduced your wealth tax, which would tax the assets of the wealthiest Americans, you said — quoting you, Senator — “Billionaires should not exist.” Is the goal of your plan to tax billionaires out of existence?

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: When you have a half a million Americans sleeping out on the street today, when you have 87 people — 87 million people uninsured or underinsured, when you have hundreds of thousands of kids who cannot afford to go to college and millions struggling with the oppressive burden of student debt, and then you also have three people owning more wealth than the bottom half of American society, that is a moral and economic outrage. And the truth is, we cannot afford to continue this level of income and wealth inequality. And we cannot afford a billionaire class whose greed and corruption has been at war with the working families of this country for 45 years. So, if you’re asking me, do I think we should demand that the wealthy start paying — the wealthiest, top one-tenth of 1%, start paying their fair share of taxes, so we can create a nation and a government that works for all of us, yes, that’s exactly what I believe.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Bernie Sanders. Professor Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, your response to his wealth tax and not only his plan for housing and the connection between wealth and homelessness in this country, the vast inequality that is only growing here, the plans of other candidates, as well?

KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: Yeah, I mean, that is — that is why Bernie Sanders has, you know, 26,000 people coming out to hear him speak. That is why, despite the strange media brownout of Sanders, the underreporting on the significance of his campaign, he continues to raise more money, from many more donors, most of whom are the working-class people that he was referencing in his response on CNN. He is absolutely right. Billionaires are an obscenity in a society that experiences the crushing, crushing amount of wealth inequality within this country, that is absolutely inexcusable in the richest country really in the history of the world. And Sanders’ campaign continues to be buoyed, I think, by continuing to come back to this point. And it’s not — you know, it’s not just the question of the wealth tax, which I think is incredibly important and is at the root of so many of our issues, the absolute reluctance and fear of elected — the entire political class, regardless of party, of taxing the rich, of taking back our money, that goes to line the pockets of the rich, to use for the social needs, the desperate social needs, across this country. And for him to come out and say that forthrightly is why people are so attracted and drawn to his campaign, his willingness to accept the anger and hatred of the billionaire class on the behalf of the working and poor people in this country.

And it’s not just on that issue. If you look across Sanders’ platform, these are policies, if implemented, that would transform the lives of poor and working-class people, a disproportionate number of whom, I might add, are African-American and Latino. And so, I think that this is, you know, bringing to light the connection between the systemic forces that drive inequality and the impact that they have in people’s lives. And so, for something like housing, I think it shows how Sanders’ connection to the social movements, to the people on the ground, then get reflected in the policies that he proposes. Sanders is the only candidate who mentions — within the Democratic field, who mentions, in any meaningful way, ending segregation, housing segregation, as a political objective. No one else talks about that. I mean, people accept the segregation in our cities almost as a natural phenomenon of life, almost as an expression of nature itself. And Sanders, repeatedly, through his housing plan, talks about the crisis of segregation and the policies that need to be implemented to actually begin to grapple with this issue, that deal mostly with rigorous, aggressive enforcement and a ruthless punishment for those within real estate and banking who continue to engage in these practices. And I think that kind of forthrightness, that kind of clarity exist throughout Bernie Sanders’ platform.

And the other part of it, which I think is so critical, is his understanding that we actually need more than a plan. Plans are good. It’s good to have an analysis. It’s good to understand why this inequality exists. And it’s good to call it out, as he and Elizabeth Warren have done. But it’s not enough just to have a plan. We need a social movement. And I think Bernie Sanders understands that more than any other candidate that’s running. That’s what he means when he talks about the political revolution. That’s what AOC means when she comes out and endorses him and says that she wants to be a part of the political movement that can make these plans, these platforms actually come to life, because we know and Bernie Sanders knows he could be elected president tomorrow, and if we don’t have a mass movement on the ground to actually force the Congress, that is full of millionaires, that is full of people who have gotten fat and lazy on the status quo — if we don’t have a mass movement to force them to listen to us and to implement new policies that actually will improve the quality of life —

AMY GOODMAN: Five seconds.

KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: — for people on the ground, it won’t happen. And so, this is a critical —

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have to leave it there.

KEEANGA-YAMAHTTA TAYLOR: — intervention that Sanders is making. Sure.

AMY GOODMAN: And we thank you so much for being with us. We’re going to do Part 2 about five years after Black Lives Matter. Keeanga-Yamahtta Taylor, her new book, Race for Profit. I’m Amy Goodman, with Juan González. Thanks so much for joining us.

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