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What do top Democratic candidates Sanders, Warren, and Biden offer black voters in 2020?

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JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Hi. I’m Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network.

Bernie Sanders has good general policies, but he’s had problems connecting with Black voters on specific answers to particular issues that affect Black people. Elizabeth Warren, on the other hand, seems to literally have an answer for every issue that Black voters throw at her. Then there’s Joe Biden.

Well, today we’re starting the conversation about what Black voters have to choose from between these three seemingly strongest progressive candidates, and whether Black voters are getting the real story on any of them that they need.

Here to join me in this discussion are Anoa Changa. Anoa is an attorney and a director of political advocacy for Progressive Army. She’s also the host of the highly regarded podcast The Way With Anoa. Welcome, Anoa. And Jeff Cohen. Jeff is co-founder of, and the founder of the media watchdog group Fairness and Accuracy in Reporting. He’s also also the author of Cable News Confidential: My Misadventures in Corporate Media. Thanks for joining me also, Jeff.

JEFF COHEN: Great to be with you.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So let’s get into this discussion about these 24 Democratic candidates, now. There is a field of 24 candidates now vying for the Democratic nomination. Most of them have some type of outreach to Black voters that they know they have to do. Some are doing things like Pete Buttigieg having photo ops with Al Sharpton at Sylvia’s in New York, and others, like Kamala Harris, have thrown out cultural references to hip hop that maybe Black people will connect with. But listen, I have to ask you two, considering everything that most voters, all voters, have to consider, Black voters in particular have some tough choices to make, considering the Washington Post article that was recently published that highlights the disenfranchisement many Black voters feel going into 2020. Obviously there are some answers that Black voters are not getting. So let’s talk about Sanders first.

Anoa, obviously Sanders is the progressive favorite, right? At least online. But he does still have issues that he’s had connecting with Black voters. Are they holdover issues from 2016? We talked about it a little bit before, but is he still having problems connecting with Black voters when they ask him questions? And if he is, why? Why is that?

ANOA CHANGA: So it’s a really nuanced conversation, right. I think the senator and his team and everyone around him, I think they are doing a much better job this go round, particularly early on, and making sure that he’s engaging, he’s being seen in the right spaces with the right groups, et cetera. We’ve seen some really good sit down conversations in community town hall forum settings. We’ve seen, you know, he’s done the church thing. I mean, he was here at Ebenezer Baptist Church. Not this MLK, I think was last year he came and spoke here at Ebenezer Baptist Church. So I mean, he’s been doing the basic outreach. I think that is what is necessary and needed. And it’s a lot better, definitely, than what we saw in 2016. And that’s just because of strategy and what they chose to invest in.

But you know, his general platform message does resonate with people, because he’s talking about issues that everyone across the country, cutting across whatever groups, for the most part, are talking about. Particularly when you’re looking at Southern states. Even though our state legislators are voting and legislating a particular way, you will still find wide support for things such as expanding Medicaid. You will find support for things such as gun control legislation. I think you will find support for more liberal or progressive-leaning issues because people just want what’s best for their families, at the bottom line. However, there is this continued issue when you ask someone who grounds their work particularly in the legacy of Dr. King, and just other really deep, progressive, inclusive politics, when you do ask him more about, you know, steps, and how can his policies address continued disparities along race, address institutional and persisting racism, I mean, he’s launching some really great things, like you saw recently the public school platform he just put out.

However, these platforms these policies, you know, they’re great, but when we’re talking about implementation, we’re talk about actually addressing underlying issues in terms of, like, personal politics and where people stand, there is still a really significant gap. And I don’t know that he can’t, you know, bridge that gap or that he just doesn’t understand why it’s not–why is it necessary if he has all this other great stuff already proposed. And you know, just from my own personal experience, I do continue to be disappointed in the response from him that’s just like, well, I’m already really progressive, what more do you want? Well, dude, I want you to have a better racial praxis and analysis than what you do.

But there are so many people, particularly older Black folks, around him who are perfectly fine with it. So it’s like, at some point I think the campaigns are going to decide who do they listen to and how do they value, measure it out. And the last thing I’ll say is I do understand or appreciate that there is a very intentional desire on behalf of the campaign to not appear as if they’re pandering. You know, to make sure that it is authentic. One the one hand, I can respect that, too. If it’s not authentic and it can’t come out authentic, then they’re not going to do it. However, I really do wish that there are questions and conversations that he could engage in and not come off so against the idea of really addressing race beyond just spewing various statistics and fact points.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: You brought up an interesting point about a generational issue. Older Black people who are fine with his messaging. Jeff, is this a generational issue iregard to this conversation that Black voters want to have, need to have with Bernie Sanders? Is it that he’s having to walk a tightrope between appearing to be pandering, and also listening to people who might be older and might not understand the specific generational challenges that need to be addressed?

JEFF COHEN: Well, generationally, Bernie’s got the great record of having fought for civil rights during the capital movement in the early 1960s. But you’re right. There was an issue, there is an issue, of connecting with black voters. I should say that if you look at the biggest polls, like the Morning Consult poll, he’s doing far better with African-American voters than in 2016. And in 2016 if you looked at voters of color under age 30, under age 35, Bernie was doing well. So I mean, there’s no doubt that there’s an issue. There will always be an issue. I’m a white voter. He’s a white candidate. But I think there have been great strides. And Anoa mentioned the education plan. It’s really significant. I encourage anyone to go and read it. It’s called the Thurgood Marshall Plan for Public Education. At the beginning of the plan and talks about combating racial segregation in schools. It talks about funding poorer school districts. It talks about rethinking the connection of property tax to the way, to the main way that public schools are funded.

So I think there’s great strides happening from the Sanders campaign. And you know, it’s a matter of time. Obviously there’s a lot of Black activists in the Sanders campaign; more this time than in 2016, because from the beginning there was more of a buy in of African-American activists to the Bernie campaign. So I’d say strides have been made. But again, I am not a Black voter, as everyone can see.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So I’m glad you mentioned the Thurgood Marshall Plan for Education, because I think we’re definitely going to delve into that. And that was an important piece, that is an important policy that he has put out, as we talked on a segment before about the continued disparity in education and segregation in education in America. So it does appear that Sanders is listening, and he is improving on this issue. But here’s my next question: Have people been paying enough attention to Elizabeth Warren, though? What has she been doing differently than Sanders? And let’s not even mention the other 22 candidates, because on these issues I don’t even think they matter. What has Elizabeth Warren been doing differently that the other candidates haven’t done? Anoa?

ANOA CHANGA: Well, I think part of the difference is that–and this has been a tactic that the Sanders campaign has been using since he announced. He’s like, well, I’ve already been doing this. It’s like a matter of approach and the way you talk to and engage with people. A lot of the black women, and some of the Black folks I talked to in general, who are, like, movement people, are really turned off with the I’ve always been doing this, or I was the first one to do this. And it’s like, really, though? You might have been the first mainstream politician to do this or say this, but we–you know, movement folks already know that Fight for $15 has been going on since, like, what, 2011, 2012 in its current iteration. So, like, some of that rubs people the wrong way, whereas Warren has this approach, like, hey, I have an idea. Let me come talk to you about it. Because even though I’ve had this idea for 15 years, or 10 years, or 5 years, I still want to talk to you about it. I still want to know more about what you think, and to make sure my idea is on the right track. Or you know, I have this idea and I have this great plan, and then people push back and give her feedback, and she’s like, oh, I have this idea and I have this great plan. But apparently the feedback I received says I’ve missed X, Y, and Z, and need to adjust.

It’s just a difference between the two of them in their approach, and how they’re actually willing to discuss issues. Like, Bernie really does still have this huge following that he has, but Warren is cultivating a pretty nice cadre of people; particularly, you know, you’re starting to see some of the more notable Black progressive women are like, well, what’s Elizabeth Warren talking about? Because, like, the way she’s just talking to folks. And we’re so used to people in politics talking down to us, or not talking to us, that it’s just very different the way she’s just talking. Like there was a tweet, I think, recently, that was just like, you know, people were joking around about Elizabeth Warren’s strategy of calling voters, right. But it could actually be paying off. There is a very sense of a personal touch from her campaign, and people like it.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So Elizabeth Warren is, herself, picking up the phone and calling voters and talking to them?

ANOA CHANGA: I mean, I don’t think she’s calling everybody, but she’s calling some folks. She is–yeah, it’s interesting.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So, Jeff, what do you think about Elizabeth Warren and what she’s doing differently?

JEFF COHEN: I think she’s run an amazing campaign. There was a stumble initially with her introductory video launch. But–you know, with the DNA. But her campaign in the last few months has been sterling. I say that as someone who’s known Bernie since the early ’90s, and is a very big fan of Bernie Sanders. But had Bernie–and it was authentic. Everything Bernie does is authentic. When he was saying I’m weighing whether to run again for 2020, that was authentic. And if he had decided not to run, I think we’d be having a very different discussion today. I think we’d all be saying, wow, Elizabeth Warren is knocking our socks off. Elizabeth Warren has a plan for taxing the rich. You know, the wealth tax on the 1 percent to pay for her expansive social programs. When she talked about canceling student debt she made sure to talk about how there’d be special funding for African-American students, for students from historically Black colleges, et cetera.

So she’s run an amazing campaign. She goes to Iowa and New Hampshire, and when people ask her about specific ways of helping working class people, and helping people of color, she says, well, I have a plan for that. And she rolls it out, and then she listens. And you know, she’s got a plan for dealing with the debt on the island of Puerto Rico. She’s got a massive childcare plan. It’s an amazing campaign that I think has been eclipsed because Bernie Sanders has built a huge movement with over a million volunteers, and he can raise so much money. But Warren has been raising money. I wish there was a way that Bernie and Warren could run as a ticket. And I don’t know who would be at the top of the ticket. That’s the problem with politicians. And Bernie and Warren have smaller egos than the typical politicians. But I just don’t know what to do about this issue, that if if there was just a Bernie, and especially just a Warren, I think Biden would be in deep trouble. Because I think the base of the party that wants progressive policies, and Bernie and Warren are enunciating those policies, Biden has nothing. Except bad history.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Oh yes. We’re going to get into that bad history in a moment. But I just want to give people a quick glimpse of Elizabeth Warren’s–what her appeal is. Anoa, we talked in a previous segment about the She the People forum, and Bernie’s stumble during that forum. We touched on Elizabeth Warren getting a rousing response from the audience and a standing ovation at that forum of mostly Black women. Here’s some of what Elizabeth Warren said.

ELIZABETH WARREN: Women of color, who are three to four times more likely to die in childbirth. And here’s the thing: Even after we do the adjustments for income, for education, this is true across the board. This is true for well-educated African-American women, for wealthy African-American women. And the best studies that I’ve seen put it down to just one thing: Prejudice. That doctors and nurses don’t hear African-American women’s medical issues the same way that they hear the same things from white women.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: I think that she did an amazing thing in that clip. She turned to the audience and spoke to them, which is, you know, that’s a very warm and endearing thing. But Anoa, also, Warren seems unafraid to address issues of race as issues of race that are separate from and in addition to issues of class, even, like Jeff said, as she stumbled on racial issues early on, herself. Is this unhesitancy on Warren’s part and her detailed responses to these questions of race and the policies she proposes to address these issues with, do you think they can propel her forward in this race above the other 22 contenders as it goes on?

ANOA CHANGA: I do think that her ability to communicate about the very serious issues and dire concerns of American people across the board, whether she’s in Kermit, West Virginia or in Houston, Texas, is resonating, and why we continue to see her steadily move up in the polls. And to Jeff’s point, Jeff actually made a really good point about how there was a stumbling block in the beginning with her launch video, as well as with, you know, all the stuff around, like, the DNA testing and her ancestry. And that’s actually something that folks are still demanding. You know, I see plenty of Indigenous women really still requesting that she adequately address, because I don’t know that that has actually been addressed, necessarily, to folks’ satisfaction. And so that’s just something to put out there as she continues to do well overall.

But I do feel like those stumbling blocks, that they learned–like, that’s the one thing I think is really valuable about Elizabeth Warren. Or not the only thing, but that is something. Is that those stumbling blocks, I think they made them learn. I also think that she probably read–there was some really good Demos research last year about how to talk about race and inclusive politics. And when she first came out, I was like, oh, they must have read that Demos research, because the language and the way she’s communicating, and talking about how to talk about these issues consistently across the board, regardless of what community she’s in.

Like, I heard her down here in a northwest suburb of Atlanta that’s a rapidly diversifying environment. And her talk, and her commitment and her conversation, it’s been consistent every time I’ve heard her speak somewhere. And she’s being asked questions directly that she’s not shying away from answering, or even if she doesn’t necessarily agree–because she didn’t have the greatest response on reparations, either. But she’s just understanding how to navigate difficult issues, and try to be as genuine and thoughtful as possible when she’s responding.

So, Jeff, is this an issue with other candidates’ homework and the ability to pivot when they’re challenged? Because it seems like that’s what Elizabeth Warren is very good at.

JEFF COHEN: Yeah, I–I think that there is the issue of authenticity that helped Bernie so much in 2016, it’s helping Warren so much this time that a lot of the other candidates look like empty suits. They look like politicians. And Bernie’s strength in 2016, and continuing to today, and Warren’s strength, I think is they seem like they listen. They seem like they care. They care especially about working class people and oppressed people. And they seem authentic. And especially with young people, authenticity matters. I feel when we get closer–and you know, some of these other candidates that have, sort of, careers as corporate politicians or centrist politicians that started embracing the Bernie agenda of $15 minimum wage, free public college, Medicare for All, they have authenticity problems because they weren’t for these things a few years ago. And that’s an advantage that Warren and Bernie have that there, as since they’ve been politicians they’ve been consistent.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So let’s–I’m glad you brought up corporate empty suit politicians, because now let’s talk about Joe Biden. Recently, Ebony magazine, the premiere publication geared toward African Americans in the United States, published this–I don’t know what you would call this. It’s obviously a slick black voter outreach campaign by the Biden campaign. And let’s admit that it’s clever. But I have to ask you, Anoa, is this Black voter outreach staff, this Black staff matters social media blitz that the Biden campaign has created, launching in Ebony magazine and on Twitter, nonetheless, what’s this going to do for his chances with Black voters? Is it going to help?

ANOA CHANGA: So, most Black voters aren’t even on Twitter. So that’s just a whole another story. Well, you know, it’s gross, in my opinion, because you know, Joe Biden is only considered viable because of his proximity to Black excellence, right, and Black political excellence. I mean, despite all the different issues that we have with Barack Obama in terms of the political world, he’s still viewed in a very particular lens. And you do have, like, traditional Dem supervoters, which tend to be Black voters, particularly if you’re talking about the South in the primary. You know, they look at Biden and they see the Obama legacy and the Obama White House in that nostalgia people have. So that’s, like, the one thing. Because Joe Biden has ran twice, and I think he was, like, maybe in ’84 might have filed in a state or something like that. But he’s never been a contender, really, before. Now–and he’s only consider by his proximity to blackness. And so to have the positioning of a Black staff like this to uphold Joe Biden with his atrocious record is really, it’s really gross, for lack of a better term.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: So let me let me continue on the track of proximity to Obama, and “Black excellence,” and the Obama legacy. Jeff, how can Black staff matter when senior adviser Symone Sanders makes this kind of comment about the destructive 1994 crime bill?

SYMONE SANDERS: Look, I think many people will tell you across the country, Black folks included, that the–that the crime bill and their reaction to what was happening in the early ’90s–I was only about three or four, but I’m a student of history. What was happening in the early ’90s, the reaction was an overcorrection to a very real issue.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: Jeff, was the ’94 crime bill just merely an overcorrection of a real issue? What was really the impact of that legislation?

JEFF COHEN: Well, the impact has been devastating. It was a major contributor to mass incarceration. Everyone knows it, including Symone Sanders.

So I mean, I think there’s an issue. Norman Solomon wrote a great column on this, about the dogwhistle. Biden was a dogwhistle racist. And the Democratic Party claims to be a party that opposes dogwhistle racism. And Biden was a practitioner. In the ’70s and ’80s he worked with segregationist politicians against–came out against school integration, school busing for racial discrimination purposes. And then you have the crime bill in 1994, which Biden would say this is the Hatch-Biden crime bill. And you know, there’s a video going on law around social media, Biden versus Bernie on the crime bill. And you know, I’m sure you’ve already played excerpts, and people will keep playing excerpts where Biden is going on and on about there are left wing members of my own Democratic Party who want to talk about the disadvantaged upbringings. I mean, it was more than dogwhistle racism. It was stone cold racism and let’s put these people behind bars.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And in regard to his proximity to the Obama administration in particular, Anoa, we’re talking about an administration that had eight years to address the legacy of this particular piece of legislation specifically, which has been particularly disastrous for poor Black communities, and poor–other poor communities, also. The Obama administration didn’t do it. The DOJ was headed by Eric Holder. There was no substantive issues, no substantive change to any of the impacts of this legislation that came out of the Obama DOJ. Even with Obama’s commutation of over 700 sentences for people of for non-violent drug offenses, and his signing, I think, legislation that reduced the disparity between crack and cocaine, there still has been nothing done by the Obama-Biden administration to address the legacy of Joe Biden’s signature crime bill. Why should Black voters consider Joe Biden as a viable choice? Why would they, I think is the better question.

ANOA CHANGA: Well, I mean, it’s really early still, right. Like, even though we’re–we keep saying it’s really early, but the time is ticking. I mean, I think the debates will show themselves. I think we really start having people out here knocking doors and really engaging and talking and building. I mean, when you talk about the issues that matter, and you talk about who actually deserves and should be, you know, the nominee, it’s not Joe Biden under any measure. I mean, it’s actually–I need to get another word besides ‘gross’ today. But [inaudible] running for president. And he’s, like I said, he’s never been a viable candidate before. And it’s not just the crime bill. When you look in the ’80s, as Jeff was talking about earlier, when you look in the ’80s and you see how he worked with Republicans, Reagan Republicans, to pass drug legislation, I mean, he’s also very deeply entrenched in the war on drugs as we know it, right. So I mean, he helped create the functionality that became known as our drug czar.

So there is a lot with Joe Biden. And those are just–that’s just like the one, that is one issue. Because you still have bankruptcy and student loans, you still have so many other things that are really bad. So I think his positioning, because the only way that Joe Biden is going to be able to stay “viable” is by continuing the position as I’m not going to say anything bad about my Democratic friends, because they if they control the narrative that civility and respectability is the way to go, and he’s taking the high road because he knows his record is just so atrocious, and everybody across the board, hands down, like, has a problem with his record, this is the only way.

So if the other candidates want to be viable, particularly Bernie and Warren being in such great positions–I don’t really pay much attention to favorability polls, because that literally has nothing to do with how they’re going to engage and support turnout. But building coalitions to win, actually being able to engage with voters and turning out new voters, bringing voters into the party, doing what Stacey Abrams here in Georgia, and being consistent in the messaging and talking to everyone, and impressing on folks why they can’t just wait till the general to vote, why helping to choose a nominee in the primary is the way to go.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And, Jeff, I’m going to give you the last word.

JEFF COHEN: Yeah, I just agree with everything Anoa just said, that it’s very early. Many voters are not aware of Biden’s record. When the debates begin, I know that Elizabeth Warren is going to bring up Biden’s role in the bankruptcy bill, which hurt poor people. And other people are going to bring up Biden’s role in the crime bill when these debates begin, to the degree that people understand Biden’s record. Even though he has the eight-year connection to Obama, I think Biden will be heard among voters of color. I think it’s a matter of time.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: We’ve got a lot of work to do, and we certainly appreciate your input on parsing these issues out. We’ll continue to do that as we march toward 2020. A field of 24 candidates to wade through. Thank you so much, Jeff Cohen and Anoa Changa, for joining me today.

JEFF COHEN: Thank you.

ANOA CHANGA: Thank you.

JACQUELINE LUQMAN: And thank you for watching me. This is Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network in Baltimore.

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Anoa Changa is an electoral justice staff reporter for Prism, a nonprofit media outlet elevating stories, ideas, and solutions from people whose voices are critical to a reflective democracy.

Jeff Cohen was the director of the Park Center for Independent Media at Ithaca College, and he was the founder of the media watchdog FAIR. He is the co-founder of