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RootsAction.Org’s Jeff Cohen says Bernie Sanders can not just denounce corporate power without denouncing militarism

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JARED BALL, PRODUCER, TRNN: Welcome everyone, back to the Real News Network. I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. And welcome to another edition of As the Sanders Berns, where we here at the Real News continue to monitor and interpret the power of the nominally progressive campaign of Bernie Sanders. Just a few hours ago the influential political insiders’ news source the Hill said Sanders is now in fact the frontrunner for the Democratic nomination, overtaking Hillary Clinton largely due to his ability to rally large numbers in support of his campaign and Clinton’s existing and potentially worsening email and server scandals. Joining us to again look further into what Tom Hartman has called the political revolution of Bernie Sanders is Jeff Cohen. Jeff Cohen is media critic and lecturer, is founding director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, where he is an associate professor of journalism, and from where he joins us now. Welcome back to the Real News, Jeff Cohen. JEFF COHEN: Great to be with you. BALL: So tell us from your perspective what you think of Bernie Sanders’ campaign as it stands right now and this recent claim from the Hill that he’s in fact a frontrunner. COHEN: Well, I’m thrilled. I’ve known Bernie since the early 1990s when he first went to Congress. He was one of the members of Congress that approached us at the media watchgroup fair to talk to us about how we could work together on combating corporate mainstream media bias. So he’s a very unique member of Congress. The crowds are enormous. Compared to Donald Trump, who’s running a, sort of an appeal to racism campaign, the mainstream media has pushed Bernie into the margins compared to Trump. But even in the margins, Bernie Sanders is getting enough coverage, and certainly in independent media like Real News, he’s getting enough coverage that people are learning about this guy who’s the longest-serving independent member of Congress, whose background in the early ’60s was civil rights. He organized a protest over racial discrimination in the educational system of Chicago, which is where Bernie went to college. He was in a sit-in about racist housing policies. He was putting up fliers around the city to protest police brutality in Chicago. So Bernie is a very unique individual to be running for president, and then to be getting these crowds and passing Hillary in New Hampshire, I think if you’re a progressive you’re pretty excited about it. BALL: Well, but despite the civil rights record that you cite, he also supported the three strikes rule of the first Clinton administration. And he supported No Child Left Behind, and correct me if I’m wrong, also Race to the Top, which are policies that horrifically and negatively impact black and poor communities in terms of education and of course incarceration. I’d be interested in your thoughts about… COHEN: Yeah, I’m not aware of the three strikes. But you’re right, he has been too–sometimes he has supported President Obama or President Clinton more than he should have. He’s also polarized with those last two Democratic presidents on very important issues of class inequality and corporate power. So I mean, my point to you is this is a guy who, like Cornel West recently said, when this great African-American academic and activist Cornel West endorsed Bernie, and it was somewhat of a ringing endorsement, saying that even prophetic politicians like Bernie, who should be critically supported, they often have their faults and their blind spots. The thing about a political revolution or a social movement and the huge crowds he’s getting is that these activists that are supporting Bernie should demand things. Obviously Black Lives Matter has disrupted a couple events at which Bernie spoke. They were not Bernie Sanders events. And I think everyone agrees that the Bernie Sanders speech and the politics he’s putting forward have been improved because of that. Now there’s some of us, like you know, I’m the co-founder of Roots Action, we want Bernie to start addressing some of the things that had been wrong with U.S. foreign policy and militarism under President Bush, President Obama. And that’s what I think a social movement can do, is push a candidate like Bernie, who does come out of social activism and protest himself, I think he’s easy to pressure, cajole, persuade, to take a more encompassing view. And therefore some of those blind spots that Cornel West refers to, maybe Bernie will improve on some of those areas. BALL: Well, with all due respect to Dr. West, I mean, he also supported initially Barack Obama. And we see at least for some of us on the left where that has gotten us, or not gotten us. But that also was part of the question that I have here finally, just to wrap up this segment, is you’ve also in calling for Bernie Sanders to speak out on foreign policy you’ve encouraged a petition be signed that compares Bernie Sanders and what should be his foreign policy to Dr. King. And so even going back to this question about Dr. West previously supporting Barack Obama and now wanting to support Bernie Sanders, with these comparisons or allusions at least to people like Dr. King, I mean, King’s whole point was the Democratic party and the Republican party as institutions are incapable of producing the kind of social or political revolution that many are now attaching to Bernie Sanders, at least in terms of hopes, and previously to Barack Obama. So is there not a flaw in supporting the institutions for those on the left who want this kind of change? Can Bernie Sanders really within the institution of the Democratic party bring about the kind of change that you and others have attached now to Dr. King, and that Dr. West and others were hopeful for back with Obama and now again with Bernie Sanders? COHEN: Yeah, I’m not sure Cornel West had as much hope about Obama as a social reformer that he does with Bernie. I mean, I think Cornel West has known Bernie, as many of us have, for decades. He’s been a radical leftist, a socialist, his whole life. That’s very different from Obama, who is always retreating from the socialist label. But you’ve raised some good questions. If Bernie had decided not to run inside the first Iowa caucus, where voters will be able to decide between Hillary, Bernie, and the others, or in the New Hampshire primary, the Democratic primary, I don’t think he’d have crowds of any kind of size. The mainstream media would have him as a mere footnote. So I think in terms of tactics, and to me it’s just a tactic because Bernie is the longest-running independent who’s served in Congress. No independent has ever been elected and re-elected like Bernie has as an independent outside of the two-party system. But tactically, choosing to run inside the Democratic party caucuses and primaries I think is why he’s gotten the media attention that he has. It’s not enough, but he’s gotten some, and the crowds that he’s getting. But your final point, yes. There’s a petition, anyone can sign it. Bernie Sanders is great on corporate power, he’s great on inequality. But he’s now talking more about racial discrimination and racism and criminal injustice. He doesn’t talk about foreign policy and the militarism that Martin Luther King Jr. talked so much about in the last year of King’s life. So there’s a petition at saying Bernie, speak up. You can’t denounce corporate power without denouncing militarism. And we want to have Bernie explain how he differs from President Obama on these drone strikes and on these expanding wars. That’s the key. I think that’s a real blind spot. And if we have a big social movement we can push Bernie Sanders to be more comprehensive in the politics he’s putting forward. BALL: Jeff Cohen, thanks again for joining us here at the Real News. COHEN: Thank you, Jared. BALL: And thank you for joining us here at the Real News. For all involved, again, I’m Jared Ball here in Baltimore. And as always we say, as Fred Hampton used to say, to you we say peace, if you’re willing to fight for it. So peace, everybody, and we’ll catch you in the whirlwind.


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Jared A. Ball is a father and husband. After that he is a multimedia host, producer, journalist and educator. Ball is also a founder of "mixtape radio" and "mixtape journalism" about which he wrote I MiX What I Like: A MiXtape Manifesto (AK Press, 2011) and is co-editor of A Lie of Reinvention: Correcting Manning Marable's Malcolm X (Black Classic Press, 2012). Ball is an associate professor of communication studies at Morgan State University in Baltimore, Maryland and can be found online at IMIXWHATILIKE.ORG.