Does Bernie Sanders Really Have A Black Voter Problem?
Tuesday, May 7, 2019
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Hi. I’m Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network. Last week, the Bernie-verse was abuzz with the news that black voters bashed Bernie once again. This was at the She the People conference, the first presidential forum organized by and for women of color in Houston, Texas. As the news was spread that black people booed Bernie again, anger toward black voters possibly being responsible for losing Bernie the nomination have once again resurfaced online and in the corporate media. But are people really getting the full context of what happened right? And are black voters and black voters’ issues being glossed over again? Here to talk about these issues with me today is a Anoa Changa is an attorney and the director of political advocacy for Progressive Army. She is also the host of the podcast The Way with Anoa. Thank you for joining me today, Anoa.
ANOA CHANGA Thank you for having me, Jackie.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN So you attended the She the People conference, and you were very actively involved in the Sanders campaign in 2016 and that’s important I think. So tell us how you were involved in She the People and then the Sanders campaign.
ANOA CHANGA Well, I’ll note because a lot of people misunderstand, my involvement was like for so many. Senator Sanders inspired an amazing effort of grassroots organizers and grassroots organizations that came together to lead the charge, to really build out what we now see as this amazing juggernaut of support. Now in this cycle, I was a lead with, it was then Women for Bernie, it is now Women for Justice. And originally, I started out as the Facebook admin administrator. We had close to all 50 states covered and Puerto Rico. And so, in that capacity, I helped oversee all the Facebook admin that we had in the very beginning where we’re building and driving. I think that started in around July, August, or September. Somewhere in like that late summer of 2015, I started doing that. I started off as a state page admin, and then as we continued to grow, there was a need for someone to corral in and really supervise all the other admin working with Bernie. I also served as our research team lead, which put me in leadership in the organization, so making sure that we had really sound talking points, that we thoroughly researched Bernie’s platform and speeches, that we could debunk misinformation where necessary, and we could lift up and highlight his record in other areas, and that we had good explanations for hard questions and concerns, and that, like I said, we had really good information and that we were clear, and making sure that all of our affiliates and chapters also had that information. And then, as a part of that, it’s actually how I started doing more forward-facing media. Before that time, I had done some blogging on my own, but at that time I started doing more interviews on behalf of Women for Bernie. There’s a video snippet that I did just on a humbug one morning, talking about why as a—this is a few years ago, so as a younger, approaching mid-30s, single black mother, I was supporting the senator over a woman who was running for the same office. That helped me really grow and hone my analysis and really think about what is important, and also starting to talk to people and become more politically involved in terms of progressive base building. And so, over the years, I’ve just continued at it in those conversations, really drilling down on capacity building, reflecting on the lessons that we learned. Not just doing that, but also with African Americans for Bernie, curating content and really trying to facilitate conversation and dialogue and build community, and driving participation for folks who were black like me supporting Bernie Sanders and that also led to Blackburner Coalition, which is another Facebook page that I help admin, which Blackburner was a term that was actually coined by my co-admin, Yamina Rolland. And we actually got some blowback at one point for using that from none other than Mr. Social Media-Justice Warrior-Twitter Hero himself, DeRay, who like some Hillary Clinton supporters blew it out of proportion and it was this whole long thing. Myself and Yami were getting attacked I think it was by that February or March of 2016. So there was a lot there and just still keeping in contact with people, still really learning and listening. And here we are in this post 2016 cycle, and instead of picking back up where I left off with so many folks, I really saw a different lane, this time in terms of being able to just build and really continue to do the commentary. During that time, I started doing the commentary with Benjamin Dixon in The Benjamin Dixon Show, which was at the time a four-night-a-week YouTube show. And coming to She the People, now I’ve had The Way with Anoa for quite some time now as a podcast. And I had the opportunity to build a relationship with the Editor-in-chief of Rewire, so I was asked to come and cover She the People, adding my voice to the commentary and discussions and dialogue from a black progressive lens. And that is something that I’m working on still, commentary and analysis from that event and other conversations that I’ve had. I’ve interviewed several of participants and people who are in attendance and will have content still streaming out of the rest of this month.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN So you have a clear understanding and foundation of not just progressive policies, but Bernie Sanders’s policies in particular— well maybe not in particular, but definitely. So the fact that She the People was a presidential forum where other candidates presented their case to this group of specific, potential voters— black and women of other color, Native women, Latinx women. This was important. So who else was there among the other candidates, and how were those other candidates received by this very specific group of people?
ANOA CHANGA I think what people need to understand, approximately 1,700 women came together. Aimee Allison, President of Democracy in Color, who brought She the People together, originally it was a convening that happened last fall in San Francisco, and then this forum happened, wanting to really put in the room a lot of the leaders. But also it wasn’t just leadership of organizations and that’s actually really important to highlight and understand as well. But it was also people who were on the front lines, actual direct organizers, canvassers. You saw questions from restaurant workers and caregivers. I mean, multiple women from across the board line. Now, could there have been other people in the room who weren’t there? Sure, that happens with any conversation, any town hall, any event. But I think that people need to understand the intentionality that the Board of She the People, that the organizers— shout out to Jessica Byrd of Three Point Strategies and her team. The reason why I took up, not only was I happy to cover it, but I specifically wrote this article first. And so, people need to understand the people who are in the room, the women who put in their time, their talent and their labor into making this event happen, and also, understand the work that exists outside of the pro-Bernie world. I think, and I think the campaign knows and understands this, because you see so many people who have joined the campaign, who come and are colleagues of so many of the people who were in that room too. So there is an understanding in the campaign, but there is this broader grassroots space, whether it is large YouTube commentators that are predominately white and male, or just social media supporters who are just so intent on defending their person, which is understandable because there is a lot of misinformation or mischaracterization that happens. But the other candidates who are present, which multiple because it didn’t make news, you would not have known that Amy Klobuchar was present, and she got hissed at and shouts from the audience to answer the question, just get to the question—
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Wait, she was hissed at?
ANOA CHANGA I mean, there was hissing. So what folks need to understand is at the outset, which I don’t think was caught on the livestream—I think the livestream starts at the official beginning with Aimee Allison coming out, either Aimee Allison coming out or some point right before that. But at the outset, when things are getting ready to start, Jessica Byrd takes the stage. Jessica Byrd is a really great strategist and I think people need to be understanding about words like “strategist.” This doesn’t make someone somebody that you get to dismiss and not listen to. They’re really valuable people. I consider myself and I am considered a political strategist and a political analyst. These titles carry weight in these spaces and we don’t get to pick and choose who we get to respect who carries those titles. That’s just not cool. So she came out and she just set the tone for the audience that we were to be welcoming when people came onto the stage, but this was our living room. People were coming onto the porch to come sip tea and hang with us in our space that we were allowing them into. And so, Booker and Castro I feel— because it went in alphabetical order. It was a three-hour forum. At breaks, there is a dance party, there was a deejay, you had—shout out to Candice Weber who really kept the crowd hyped in the beginning. But so, I think Booker and Castro actually benefited from being first because I think people were just trying to feel out the crowd and build the boundaries and the lengths they can go to. So you had the two [inaudible], then you had Tulsi was present as well. Amy, she got a reaction from the crowd, from people in the crowd about Syria specifically. Like I said, Amy Klobuchar had some okay responses and here’s the thing, everyone was welcomed to the stage with the round of applause. Everybody when they left off the stage, got applause too, but there were moments. I mean, we’re in a call-and-response culture, and if things ain’t going the right way, people are getting challenged and held accountable. This is a very different space. This is not some sterilized CNN town hall with their fake butchered questions and stuff. This is a very particular space. And so you then had—and you saw this happening at other smaller forums in the 2016 cycle where the audience would get a little tense because these are community organizing folk. But you had Senator Warren close it out, Senator Sanders, you had Beto O’Rourke, Robert, who even though he got—you know, you had a lot of cheering. You did see people present with his shirt on. I mean, it was Texas. He has a presence there. But at the same time, people don’t know that there was a period in the audience where he got hissed at.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Really?
ANOA CHANGA You know what I’m saying? So there were different things with everybody almost. One of the women that I interviewed for my piece, Wanda Moseley, she said that actually she had wanted to boo Castro because she was annoyed with his answer on gentrification as if he had to give us gentrification 101. There were degrees of annoyance with everyone for varying reasons and it was just like, there were these moments. So why this became something for me to talk about though, was the mischaracterization and how it got blown out of proportion. It was like 10 seconds within the context of a 30-minute sit-down.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN So and that’s important to note, that there is a lot of context that has been left out of this conversation, that’s been framed in a lot of outlets as basically, black people hate Bernie and black people at this event were just out to get Bernie. But in your commentary in Rewire, and the commentary’s called Here’s How Bernie Sanders Missed the Mark at She the People, you make it clear that the question he was asked was a very specific one. But that’s not how that question was framed when people talk about the way he was responded to. So tell us what happened. Tell us what the question really was and tell us what really happened with the response to that question.
ANOA CHANGA And I think it’s really important to also understand, because one of the things that I saw that really bothers him—and I get people’s concerns with Joy Ann Reid. I have my own issues with Joy Ann Reid and the way commentary is framed. However, to completely dismiss something entirely because a different group of people may see value in someone that you don’t like, or have your own issues with, is really a problem. There are plenty of commentators, there are plenty of people in a space that are pro-Bernie— I won’t name names— who a lot of us who are activists, organizers, who are black women, who are femmes, who are queer, who are LGBTQ, have issues like serious not only issues but people who have done folks direct harm. And yet, they have very prominent roles in these spaces. So we’ve got to be balanced with this stuff if we’re going to completely attack. You need to be careful you’re casting stones. So the question, and I think it’s really also important to understand that Sayu [Bhojwani] asked that question in her capacity as the President and founder of New American Leaders, an organization that she founded I think it’s been 10 years now, with the purpose of making sure that new citizens and new Americans have a role in our government and our process— so working to get out the vote, doing Geo TV work, working to mobilize and engage voters, but also providing support. I’m looking forward to when they actually come down here to do a training— to do support for new leaders, new Americans who might want to run for office. And we’ve seen so many—I mean, one of our most, and where I just saw you, Ilhan Omar is someone who is a refugee, an immigrant, a citizen now, and a representative in Congress. But when you’re talking about particular groups and it’s important to understand like the framing and where the question was coming from, it wasn’t an attack or a setup. It was a question that was posed to him as someone who is a super progressive, who has these values, who we already know, we know the issues that Bernie is passionate about. We all know, pretty much probably everyone knows his stump speech. We know about the one-tenth of the top one percent. We know about his commitment to all these amazing economic issues, but it’s time to push beyond what we all already know and understand to be Bernie’s thing, and ask questions that are deeper. And what was really interesting was that her question, she grounded it in and she gave that specific context about her work. She provided context before she asked this question about, we just recently saw the arrest of the sheriff deputy’s son in the church bombings down in Louisiana. She talked about specifically the threat of white nationalist violence, its rise, and the impact on marginalized communities particularly speaking from an immigrant perspective. But just thinking as a whole about marginalized communities, and the rising threat of white national terror, and what would he do as president, as well as what did he see the federal government’s role was in addressing it, and that was the specific question. Now his first answer didn’t elicit any type of negative response, although it was kind of vague and not directly answering her question. Upon further prompting, he talked—well in that first response, I’ll say, he did mention Trump and demagoguery, but again, this is something that predates Trump. This is not simply a Trump only issue—
JACQUELINE LUQMAN And to be clear, he was asked specifically about policy. [She] asked specifically what he would do in regard to federal policy to address acts. So I have to ask you the question, because this is part of the criticism that people have of people who criticized Sanders on his response. They say that Sanders can’t do anything by himself to change or stop white supremacy or racism. So what’s your response to that when people say, these people are being irrational or immature because Sanders can’t do anything to stop racism or white supremacy? What do you say to that?
ANOA CHANGA I mean, quite honestly, he can’t by himself do anything that he’s talking about or proposing. By himself, he can’t end climate change. By himself, he cannot address the economic inequities of the top one percent and the one-tenth and the families at the bottom. By himself, he can’t do literally anything that he talks about. And yet and still, we have these excuses and excuses are the tools of the weak and incompetent used to build monuments of nothingness. Now, with that being said, it is a question that in my piece, I had a quote from Sayu. She notes that she doesn’t believe any of the candidates have a good answer on this, and that’s why it wasn’t about attacking him. It was about getting a conversation started. Senator Sanders very boldly and correctly has been talking about re-enfranchising incarcerated persons and their ability to vote. That is not something that he himself alone can do and yet, he’s out here campaigning it and talking about why it’s the right thing. To be clear, Senator Sanders has had commentary previously about the rise of white nationalism and the danger. In only a few days shortly after that, we saw the shooting, the tragic incident that happened at the synagogue in California. And then just six months ago, we had the shooting, the incident at the synagogue in Pittsburgh, which my former supervisor, that was her family’s synagogue. So we have seen an uptick. We have seen and there is a conversation to be had. A good answer or response is not that well, I can’t do anything about it alone. Literally, none of us can do anything about any of the things that we’re out to talk about. He literally alone can’t do anything about Medicare for All. It takes all of us to be engaged and involved. But as a leader, as a leader someone can set the tone and set the conversation on these issues. As a leader, even though he and his campaign cannot control everyone out there who is in the DMs, the mentions, or the comments or whatever, he can still set a tone from his campaign on these conversations. And just as when he was asked, I believe the first question he was asked was about gendered violence, which was a decent answer. He talked about changing culture because how do you actually, how do you stop or prevent violence in the home? Like when we’re talking about what he can and can’t do, there are a lot of things that we demand people respond to, but when it comes to people of color, when it comes to black people, when it comes to our [inaudible] in addressing whiteness or white supremacy, there is a lot more leeway given to people not actually doing anything, standing up, or having to fix. And what he could have said in response to that question very simply, particularly when it’s something that they need to research and learn more about and understand better, because there are real considerations about saying things about having increased FBI surveillance and things of that nature because of other issues and concerns we all have as activists. So it is a very, it is an issue that needs to be navigated properly. What he could have said, when he talked about ending gendered violence, he talked about changing the culture and being able to stand with them and say, this is not acceptable and naming it. That’s paraphrasing but that’s basically what he said. He could have simply said the same exact thing about white nationalist violence because having a president, having a national leader who can very clearly and specifically name it and say this is not acceptable, that we need to stand against it, goes so much further than what we have currently and what we had in the past. All these nice euphemisms and in segwaying and talking once again about economic issues and concerns—white nationalism is on the rise not because people aren’t getting their health care. Let’s just be clear. This notion of still trying to make excuses for why we have white supremacist violence, why we have certain things happening, is not because all of the sudden we make everything equitable, which is still not going to be equitable with universal programs because universal programs in a racist society are going to have disproportionality within them. But that’s a whole other conversation.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Well actually, I think that’s a good point though because this is the other criticism that we receive from people who have criticism of those who are trying to hold Sanders accountable. They say that of course he talks about economic justice because— and this is what people say, economic justice will end racism and sexism. But I think this goes to the teachable—
ANOA CHANGA But that’s not so.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN But that’s not so and I need you to explain why that’s not so because this goes to the teachable moment that you raised in your article. Why is that not so, that economic justice will end racism and sexism?
ANOA CHANGA Well it’s not, it’s not so one, because everyone who’s sexist or racist isn’t like economically challenged or somehow being deprived by the system of repression. People, when you have these -isms, and really at the heart of it all is white supremacy. White supremacy operates in a mechanism, in a way that further subjugates particular groups and lifts up others, and then uses the proximity or belief that one can get proximity to something better by holding other people down. So women not making as much as men, doesn’t necessarily alleviate. Putting things in place for wage equity based on women making the same as men, does not in and of itself— even though people will acknowledge the statistics when they speak about disparity— having a race-neutral, colorblind gender pay increase does not address the disparity within gender for women. That alone does not make sure that Native American women, that black women, that Latinx women, that Asian American women, are all on par with their white counterparts. And when I say Asian American women, that is such a huge grouping. You have some women and you have some men who are Asian American who might make more than their other counterparts, but then you have some groups like Filipinos. You have some groups who are all categorized as Asian American, who are actually making significantly less, more in line with black, Latino, and Native American counterparts too. So just having these, like when we acknowledge disparities in health care—Yes, Medicare for All is a life- saving game changer across the board for so many, but alone, having race neutral policies does not address the issues within the system when we look at a system, when we look at a country, that was specifically founded not only on racial oppression and segregation—I mean, it’s codified in the Constitution. Whiteness was freedom; blackness was property and non-human. I mean, maleness was freedom and in all these other things, and womanhood was a different degree of property and not quite the same level of freedom depending upon your racial background. And so, to actually dismantle and undo these things takes really targeted, anti-racist, anti-patriarchal— we can’t continue to look at things through a heteronormative, patriarchal lens that just thinks that if we just make everything better, don’t talk about these other issues, everything will be fine because you still have people within these spaces that continue to build the same types of barriers to opportunity, equity, and justice that we see and experience within establishment and mainstream spaces.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN Those are some really, incredibly great points that— I mean, that’s a whole nother several shows. But the issue of economic equality, solving all of these issues, I think is in encapsulated in this one example that I always have in my head. You know, we can have economic justice across the board in this country, and that would not change the views of Robert Mercer, one of the richest white men in the world maybe, who is also a white nationalist who is funding far-right, white nationalist political and social organizations that are on the rise in this world. So I have to ask you as a last question, does it seem like other groups of people get to demand of candidates that they have to earn their vote but black people, and especially black and other women of color, don’t get that luxury? I’m going to let you have the last word on this.
ANOA CHANGA Oh absolutely. And I think one thing to note is that I am very sympathetic to folks. I do lose my patience with people because they don’t listen very well and reading comprehension is a lost art in many spaces. I am sympathetic though to the way in which narratives are framed as if the senator has this huge, colossal issue. There is a problem or there are issues or challenges that do exist that still linger from the prior campaign, but I think to blow them out of proportion or to act like it is only his problem— we’ve just seen the rollout now with Joe Biden over the past year. I mean, not past year—oh god, past week.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN It has seemed like a year, hasn’t it?
ANOA CHANGA Which is so beyond tone deaf and gaslighting across multiple fronts, right? And to sit here and to critique and criticize, and you’ll notice that I go way hard on Biden, Beto, Buttigieg, so many people— my criticism and critique at Sanders actually if you all pay attention, has a very different tone. And I do think that women of color in general, black women specifically, are expected to just— that the people don’t have to earn our vote because they know that we are solidly Democratic. And part of the concern that I have going into this cycle, not just for the Sanders campaign but for all the campaigns because my thing is—and I do agree with people that he’s really great on certain issues. Senator Warren is really good on other issues. There is a need to push them both further and some of them in similar ways, some of them in very different ways. But I do think that we need to make sure that we are actually building in community and relationships and supporting and lifting up the work that people are doing, and recognizing who the strategic partners actually are, to build the coalition that’s going to win, not just this nomination but beyond in the general. And worrying about the DNC and all this other stuff like—shhh, pish-posh. Black folks, we have had the entirety of white supremacy and the federal government working against us our entire existence in this country, and we have still been able to achieve the things that we’ve may have achieved. The same with people of other backgrounds and stuff. Like Japanese people in internment, when we look at different movements that various folks within Latinx spaces have been through, the Chicano movement, there’s just tons of different things. So I think we really need to understand about building in capacity and listening, because critique— what did we say when in 2016 with Hillary? Facts were not attacked and we’re even saying it now. Facts were not attacked, critique is not fatal. It is May; it is May 3rd, 2019. There’s so much time and opportunity to get this right, to do what needs to be done, to make sure that we’re investing and building in communities because that’s really what I want to see. I want to see people put the best foot forward, and I don’t want to see a repeat of 2016 when we have a candidate that is not investing in communities, that is not making sure that people have the resources they need to turn out the vote, because we have seen that when we invest, when we build with communities, when we talk to people about the issues that matter—And I know folks will say, Bernie does that. He does that to an extent and with the people, when he goes into communities, when he goes into conversation with people who already have heard what he had to say before, he needs to be open and willing to have a next level of conversation, a deeper dive. Because when you’re in a room like She the People and all these candidates should’ve understand that if they didn’t know this, then they know now. That room, you have organizers from across 28 states. You have people in that room who are the ones who are driving efforts— like I do work here as a consultant with New Georgia Project from time to time, and they have had, I can’t remember it’s like twenty-some thousand voters already registered. I mean—
JACQUELINE LUQMAN That’s impressive.
ANOA CHANGA Right? And they didn’t start until the end of February. And so that was only in like two and a half months. You have organizations out here doing massive text-based operations. And these are the people in that room who are bringing out black, Latino, AAPI, indigenous voters, who are in organizations like the ones I’m talking about are also going out and doing the work in rural communities, which is black and white and other backgrounds because rural is not just white. So these are people who are doing the groundwork, who are doing the organizing, who are driving the conversations, who are having the conversations, who are doing the trainings, who need the investment and support to build. They’re not just sitting here on Twitter pontificating about Marxism or whatever else it is that people feel that needs to meet their standard [inaudible]. So we need to expand our understanding and knowledge of what it takes to win. This doesn’t mean that you have to settle on what your core beliefs are but listen to other people when they’re speaking because now is the time. If we’re going to get a candidate that has a better racial justice, social justice lens understanding about dismantling white supremacy, this is the time right now to make sure that we can get that person and we can push them. Bernie is somebody we can push. It happened in 2015, it can happen now.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN And there is no better way to do it than to get a candidate or several candidates in the room, and critique what they have to say about the issues that people throw at them, that are important to them.
ANOA CHANGA And I critique Bernie because I care.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN And there is that.
ANOA CHANGA I don’t critique if it’s not worth critiquing them.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN And there is that and unfortunately, we have to leave it there. There is never enough time to have all of these conversations fleshed out the way we want to. But like you said, it’s May of 2019. It’s early still. We have a lot of race left. We have a lot to talk about coming up, and I’m sure we will talk again. Thank you and Anoa for joining me today.
ANOA CHANGA Thank you.
JACQUELINE LUQMAN And thank you everyone for joining me. I am Jacqueline Luqman with The Real News Network in Baltimore.