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“A Stupendous Victory”: Bernie Sanders Wins Nevada After Heavy Organizing in Latinx Communities

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Senator Bernie Sanders scored a decisive victory Saturday in the Democratic presidential caucuses in Nevada, riding a wave of support from young voters, union members and Latinx voters, who strengthened his status as front-runner. His win shows the potential for the nation’s largest minority group to reshape the next stage of the Democratic presidential race. In the next four weeks, six more of the 12 states with a large Latinx population will vote in the Democratic primary. On Super Tuesday, Texas, California and Colorado go to the polls. Arizona, Florida and Illinois will vote on March 17. We speak with Erika Andiola, chief advocacy officer for RAICES Action, the advocacy arm for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services, and Cristina Beltrán, associate professor and director of graduate studies at New York University’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis. Her latest book is “The Trouble with Unity: Latino Politics and the Creation of Identity.”

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

AMY GOODMAN: Senator Bernie Sanders scored a decisive victory Saturday in the Democratic presidential caucuses in Nevada, riding a wave of support from young voters, union members and Latinx voters, who strengthened his status as Democratic presidential front-runner. In the third state to vote in the Democratic primaries and caucuses, former Vice President Joe Biden finished second place, with former Mayor Pete Buttigieg of South Bend, Indiana, in third and Senator Elizabeth Warren trailing in fourth place. Senator Sanders addressed thousands of supporters at a campaign event in San Antonio, Texas, Saturday night, after he was declared the winner in Nevada.

SEN. BERNIE SANDERS: We are going to win across the country, because the American people are sick and tired of a president who lies all of the time. They are sick and tired of a corrupt administration. They are sick and tired of a president who is undermining American democracy, who thinks he is above the law.

AMY GOODMAN: Entrance polls showed Senator Sanders picking up the most votes across many demographic categories, in particular among Latinx voters, where he received over half the vote. His win shows their potential to reshape the next stage of the Democratic presidential race. In the next four weeks, six more of the 12 states with a large Latinx population will vote in Democratic primaries. On Super Tuesday, Texas, California and Colorado go to the polls. Arizona, Florida and Illinois will vote on March 17th.

For more, we’re joined by two guests. In Phoenix, Arizona, Erika Andiola, chief advocacy officer for RAICES Action, the advocacy arm for the Refugee and Immigrant Center for Education and Legal Services. And here in New York, Cristina Beltrán is with us, associate professor, director of graduate studies at New York University’s Department of Social and Cultural Analysis, author of the book The Trouble with Unity: Latino Politics and the Creation of Identity.

We welcome you both to Democracy Now! Cristina Beltrán, let’s begin with you. Talk about the level of organizing that went on in Nevada and the significance of this win, with Bernie Sanders — the corporate media has been saying he doesn’t have the support of communities of color — winning more than half of the Latinx vote.

CRISTINA BELTRÁN: Yeah, it was a stupendous victory for the Sanders campaign. And I think that, you know, as — I’m a political scientist by training and study Latino politics, and we have been talking about the issue of the way the Democratic Party treats Latino voters in terms of mobilizing Latinx populations in a very instrumental way, where they sort of talk about wanting this electorate, but they never put in the resources, they never put in the time. It is so — they typically kind of drop people in to do stuff at a very quick level.

And so, one of the things that’s so amazing is, this is one of those experiments of, like: What if you actually did the things that organizers and political scientists who think about mobilization and turnout — if you actually did what people have been talking about? Which means that they went into grassroots organizations; they didn’t just hire Democratic Party folks. They actually went into groups like Mijente. They went into groups like Take the Road — Make the Road. And they actually drew out those activists to tap into the political energy of these communities. And they put in the resources. I mean, they — I think something like every Democratic registered Latino was texted or emailed. They knocked on thousands and thousands of doors. So, that kind of mobilization, I think, was just so critical.

And I think the other thing that’s really important about it was the youth element of this, is that young Latino voters, Latinx activists were able to talk to their families and parents. And I think that also was really critical to creating this sort of multigenerational turnout, was you had voters who were actually also really talking to their families and having a collective conversation — the kind of Tamales for Tío Bernie, the soccer events. They did this on sort of just a broad-based level that took seriously the activist and organizing energy of the community, not just seeing them as in an instrumental way, but as seeing them as activists and organizers themselves.

AMY GOODMAN: So, let’s talk about that, that idea of investing in organizers, that the DNC has had so much trouble with.

CRISTINA BELTRÁN: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: We’re going to have Chuck Rocha on the show tomorrow, who is the Mexican-American main organizer of the Bernie campaign in Nevada.

CRISTINA BELTRÁN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: But this idea of investing in organizers almost will have parents be proud if their kid says —

CRISTINA BELTRÁN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — when they say, “What are you going to be when you grow up?” “An organizer.”

CRISTINA BELTRÁN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: But what that means to organize on the ground?

CRISTINA BELTRÁN: Right. I think it means really understanding the variety of issues — right? — in a kind of lived way. But I think it’s also understanding — you know, often I think one of the biggest problems for Latinx communities is that they get described as monolithic. They get described as if they’re all one thing. They get described — and so you hear these characterizations that they get targeted for just around the question of immigration, when it’s really important to think about immigration as a solidarity issue, because voters obviously have citizenship. So, you’ve got to talk about that as a solidarity question around mixed-status families. So I think that organizing people really does involve people on the ground who have a deeper sense of the issues that affect these communities, people who really have a deep sense of those questions.

So, I think a lot of it is about recognizing that there’s a deep history of labor organizing in these communities, the labor movement historically in this community. And we don’t talk enough about the long history of Latino and Latinx labor organizing, from people like Luisa Moreno in the pecan shellers’ unions in the 1930s, all the way to Cesar Chavez, to auto workers. There’s just a long history of deep — and having activists who understand and know that history, and then can mobilize it, is deeply powerful.

People need to feel like they’re seen in all their diversity, in all their difference, in all their practices. And I think, you know, the Sanders campaign understood that, and they didn’t try to, I think, micromanage that. One got the sense that they actually let organizers think on the ground with what they thought made sense in terms of how to reach out to communities, and so both trusting organizers and mobilizing organizers. And it takes money and resources to turn nonvoters into voters. Right? So you have long — and you have big chunks of Latino, Latinx communities who have been voting, but you have a lot of new young voters. It’s a young population. It’s a population that is a more working-class population. Those are communities that take real resources to turn into voters. And it takes multiple touches to do that. And they did that.

AMY GOODMAN: And also, you have a kind of bucking of the leadership of the culinary union —

CRISTINA BELTRÁN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — which represents thousands of service workers. I think Senator Sanders took something like seven of the eight casinos. And we’re talking about thousands —

CRISTINA BELTRÁN: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: — and thousands of workers, that the rank and file disagreed with the leadership, who didn’t endorse anyone.

CRISTINA BELTRÁN: Right.

AMY GOODMAN: It’s not like they endorsed Biden, for example. But they did say they weren’t for Medicare for All.

CRISTINA BELTRÁN: Right. And I think that —

AMY GOODMAN: Because they provided a healthcare — they provided health insurance themselves.

CRISTINA BELTRÁN: Right, right. There’s good union healthcare there, and there’s a debate about what that means in terms of what could get lost and what could be gained. I think what they don’t understand, and I think this is something that Sanders has been really successful at, is he combines an ability sometimes, at his best — right? — to talk about very material, concrete things that people need, alongside a social justice agenda. Right? And that combination is powerful.

And so, I think two things happened. One, I think, is that you have a lot of culinary workers who are thinking about things beyond their healthcare. They’re thinking about college education. They’re thinking about mass incarceration. They’re thinking about the deportation regime. So there were a lot of other issues to mobilize those voters and to make them feel like that was the candidacy they wanted to support.

I think the second thing is, a lot of those union workers have a lot of family who are in nonunion jobs and have really precarious healthcare. And so, I think there was a sense that it isn’t just about the kind of narrow self-interest of protecting one’s own quality healthcare, but a larger sense that there’s a healthcare crisis beyond themselves, and trying to think about what’s going on with their children, their cousins, their grandchildren, you know, and all the people around them. So, again, it’s a combination of a kind of interest group and solidarity politics that I think he tapped into, that allowed people to ultimately vote in a broader way than people might have imagined.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to bring in Erika Andiola and ask you about the protests that erupted at the end of last week’s debate in Las Vegas. This was Wednesday night, just as former Vice President Joe Biden was giving his closing remarks. Erika, you and Lucia Allain, both of RAICES, shouted at Biden, “You deported 3 million people!” — a reference to the record pace of deportations under President Obama — and “No kids in changes [sic],” as well as “Don’t look away!” — “No kids in cages!” as well as “Don’t look away!” as you were escorted from the auditorium. I wanted to play the clip of you that night, Erika Andiola, just after the protest.

ERIKA ANDIOLA: We decided to interrupt. We’re not sorry. The immigration debate today — immigration became the last issue that they talked about, and they didn’t even have time to talk about the issue. This is not OK. We are being the most attacked by the Trump administration, and we deserve a conversation about how our lives are going to look like if any of those people get elected.

AMY GOODMAN: So, that’s Erika Andiola on Wednesday night. Erika, you’re back in Arizona, also an extremely significant state, but you were in Nevada, organizing there, as well as protesting. Talk about the response to your protests, and why you were there protesting in the Democratic presidential debate.

ERIKA ANDIOLA: Yeah, of course. I mean, one of the biggest reasons why we were there is because there has been a growing frustration among a lot of us who have been organizing around immigrant rights for a really long time, and even within the community, that immigration doesn’t come up as one of the issues that is debated or that is really hashed out as far as like what the policy should look like, what candidates want the policy to look like, at a time when we have news from the Trump administration almost every week about a change that has happened that’s going to affect the community. And to us, I mean, it’s scary, just because we have had a Democratic president — before Donald Trump took office, we had a Democratic president who was promising immigration reform, who was — you know, his slogan was ”Sí, se puede,” or “Yes, we can.” And at the end of the day, you know, he deported a record number of people.

And many people said after the protest, “Well, why don’t you go to Trump? Why don’t you go protest Trump? He’s the one doing all these things to kids, to families.” Well, we have been fighting against Trump for four years, almost four years now. We’ve been really fighting against him. But in this particular occasion, we have the ability to change the debate on immigration within the Democratic Party. And what Bernie’s win showed in Nevada is that you can talk about a moratorium to deportations — he’s one of the candidates who has that in his platform — and you can still win. And that’s one of the things that the Democratic Party has been really pushing back and really telling candidates and not really allowing for candidates to talk about the issue, because they’re so afraid that talking about immigration is going to be a losing strategy for Democrats. And we don’t think that that’s the case. You can win. Bernie showed it in Nevada. And I think it’s important that we continue to organize the community. And I completely agree with your other guest that it’s about organizing. It’s about talking to people on the ground and not taking Latino voters and immigrant voters for granted.

AMY GOODMAN: I wanted to ask you about this report in BuzzFeed. “On Thursday,” BuzzFeed wrote, “Bernie Sanders’ campaign reversed one part of his immigration platform: a blanket moratorium on deportations pending a policy audit. Instead, Sanders’ campaign manager Faiz Shakir argued that while the moratorium on deportations 'would affect 99% of the people living here,' it would not be absolute. The moratorium, he said, would not apply to 'violent criminals' and that some people serving time in prison would have a deportation decided 'on a case by case basis.'” If you could respond to that, Erika?

ERIKA ANDIOLA: Yeah, I was actually in the room when that happened in Nevada, when all the surrogates and Tom Steyer were there, you know, to talk about the issue. And first of all, it was — you know, again, it was disappointing to see that the only — you know, one candidate showed up, and the rest of the folks were surrogates. No candidates decided to show up. And there hasn’t been a real conversation about the issue again. Whether it’s at the debates or whether it’s outside of the debates, there hasn’t been an actual policy discussion within the candidates of what this issue should look like. And really, the devil is in the detail. This is exactly what we need to hear from the candidates, what they actually will do on immigration. And, you know, it’s easy to say we want a moratorium on deportations, we want no kids in cages. Right? Like, there’s things that are easy to say, but if we don’t hear policy, you know, if we don’t really hear what the plans are, it’s hard to know what that’s going to look like.

I hope — I hope that we are able to continue to hear from the Bernie campaign of how — you know, how that looks like and that we’re not coming back again to the same narrative that Obama had, that, you know, you had felons versus families, because our criminal justice system is also broken. And so, we can’t just continue to say that without really giving the details of how that’s going to look like. Who are those folks that they’re calling criminals, if it is people who have actually done really violent crimes or if it’s people who really just have a criminal record because they crossed the border or because they did something 20 years ago and it’s still on their record, even though they have changed their lives. So, yeah, we need to hear more details, and that’s why RAICES Action is continuing to pressure. And that’s why we disrupted the Democratic debate, because we need an actual debate on immigration from all the candidates.

AMY GOODMAN: Well, I want to thank you both for being with us. Also adding that when it came to the African-American vote in Nevada, Vice President Biden got 39% of the vote; Sanders, 27%; and Steyer, 16%. Going into South Carolina, this is extremely significant, because 60% of the Democratic voters in South Carolina are African-American. I want to thank Erika Andiola, chief advocacy officer for RAICES Action, speaking to us from Phoenix, Arizona, and Cristina Beltrán, associate professor and director of graduate studies in the Department of Social and Cultural Analysis at New York University.

When we come back, we host a debate on Bernie Sanders and democratic socialism. We’ll be joined by two economists: socialist economist Richard Wolff and the Nobel Prize-winning economist, New York Times op-ed columnist and economist Paul Krugman. Stay with us.

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