Jamal Bryant on Whether Bernie Can Break Through in Baltimore
Paul Jay speaks to Rev. Jamal Bryant about the upcoming Maryland Presidential Primary and why Sanders is not gaining more support from black voters in Baltimore
PAUL JAY, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.
Tomorrow, Tuesday the 26th is primary day. Bernie Sanders was here for much of the weekend and at many of his events out front was Reverend Jamal Bryant. Much of the I would say establishment church, both in Baltimore in Maryland and across the south has supported Hillary Clinton. But Reverend Bryant was out front supporting Bernie Sanders. He now joins us to tell us why.
Thanks for joining us.
JAMAL BRYANT: It’s a privilege.
JAY: So first let me say Reverend Jamal Bryant is the Pastor and founder of the Empowerment Temple at AME Church. One of Baltimore’s biggest most progressive churches. It’s a membership of 10 thousand, a weekly streaming cyber membership of 8 thousand, and a social media presence of over 1 million. That’s big.
BRYANT: Yea, we’re trying to meet as many Millennials as possible.
JAY: So tell me, as I said, most of the establishment black church has been supporting Hillary Clinton. You supported Sanders pretty early on, knowing that. Why?
BRYANT: I think that Hillary Clinton has a better wrapping paper but Bernie Sanders has greater substance. He’s been key on the issues since 1984 when he singlehandedly delivered Jesse Jackson’s state of Vermont. He only won 2 states, Vermont and South Carolina. As a college student being arrested as a part of Core. And his messaging before campaigning was really about uplifting the African American community which quite frankly his state does not reflect that. So he didn’t have to. So because of his consistent messaging and speaking directly to abject poverty is what Christianity is about and the kind of things we ought to be discussing.
Everybody seems to talk about the middle class. But nobody seems to give redress on how to eradicate poverty in this nation.
JAY: I’ve talked to quite a few people and today I’ve interviewed some workers who are supporting Bernie Sander but they’ve made a critique that I’ve heard others say which he hasn’t seen to be specific enough about the role of racism in poverty. Then when you’re addressing the situation in a place like Baltimore it’s not just about general economic inequality, there’s something quite specific here. What do you make of that critique?
BRYANT: I think that is about on point. The disconnect seems to be the messaging, not necessarily the messenger. Those who have had close intimate space get in. But how do we get that message out? Seems to be where the phone cord is disconnected. I’m hoping that in the ensuing weeks moving to Indiana that we’ll be able to let some clarity for those who really have 50 shades of gray.
JAY: The other critique or if it’s a critique, I hear a lot. I like Bernie Sanders more than Hillary Clinton but I’m more confident that Hillary Clinton can beat a Trump. I hear amongst African Americans it’s the idea that you could have someone who’s pretty close to an overt racist as President has more terrifying consequences and what do you make of that argument?
BRYANT: Every poll has shown that a Bernie verses Trump election, Bernie wins by a huge larger margin than the [bid] that Hillary Clinton steps in. So they really need to reevaluate it. She comes with so much baggage. More than BWI can handle, where Bernie’s only critique is his age. I want to remind people that Bernie is only one year older than Trump. So it’s really about the passion and the heart of the man rather than the aesthetics.
JAY: Now he’s significantly behind in the polls depending what poll you believe. In Maryland he could be as much anywhere from 10-15 or 20 points behind. Why isn’t that message that has resonated for you, getting through to more African Americans in Baltimore?
BRYANT: I’m hitting my head up against a cinder block trying to get that message out and I’m appreciative of you giving me the opportunity to do so and just when he was here this weekend I looked for larger numbers of an African American contingency who really are not getting the messaging. So we’re going to have to go the old fashion way, door-to-door, hand-to-hand to really try to get it out. I’m praying it won’t be too little too late before we get to the convention.
JAY: The number one thing I hear from people in Baltimore and it doesn’t matter whether the conversation starts about the extraordinarily high murder rate. Whether you’re talking about police abuse, schools but everything really comes back down to high unemployment, low wages, and chronic poverty. Senator Sanders said he’s going to have a trillion-dollar investment program. But it’s not entirely clear how that gets delivered and Baltimore does not have a very good experience with a lot of public money being thrown at infrastructure projects like the Inner Harbor. And not a very good experience in payback to the city. Meaning you don’t get that many jobs. In fact, something like 200 million dollars in the Inner Harbor Project that public money and still record high unemployment in Baltimore.
BRYANT: I think that the key is going to have to be job training. I’ve hosted at our church two of the largest job fairs that the city has ever seen and we kept being met with closed doors from corporations saying quite frankly there’s no reason to come to Baltimore. The people are unexperienced and under trained. So job training is going to be so vital and so critical to turn around the data that we’re seeing that’s quite frankly disheartening.
JAY: For job training to be really relevant you have to pay people while they’re getting trained.
BRYANT: Yea and I think that there are models of it that happen in pockets around the country. Almost like a job corps for adults needs to take place. If in fact we’re not raising a generation for a global competitive edge, then we’ll be subservient to the rest of the planet. But I think if America’s going to quote “be great again” then we’ve got to be cutting edge and do some innovative things and not play the same record.
JAY: I asked Senator Sanders when I interviewed him if he would support a direct federal job program. Directly federal government employing people, the way Roosevelt did in the 1930’s. He said yes to it. What do you think?
BRYANT: I think that the nuts and bolts of how that works out, whether that works in partnership, in tandem with a community college, he’s already in a high tax orbit with the pledge for free education. Many questions are bound on how does that get paid for. So I’d like to see the concrete details. But in theory I agree with it and think it’s overwhelmingly necessary.
JAY: And just finally if he isn’t the nominee of the Democratic Party, how does this movement keep going? This has quite spontaneously in many ways, risen up around his candidacy.
BRYANT: The presence of Bernie Sanders has bought some critical issues to the table that in his absence I don’t know would’ve been addressed. I’m a lifelong devote Democrat and will support whoever the party goes with. But am all the more alleviated in stress in knowing that Bernie Sanders has bought some critical germane issues to the fore that I think are going to have to be reckoned at the convention.
JAY: Alright thanks for joining us.
BRYANT: Thank you.
JAY: Thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.
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