Will Poverty, Inequity Sway Black Wisconsin Voters Toward Sanders?

TRNN visits Milwaukee on the eve of the Wisconsin primary to learn about issues critical to the area’s African American community and understand how they will be voting

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JAISAL NOOR, TRNN: The story of race in the Democratic Primary so far has been about supposed deep ties between Hillary Clinton and black voters in the South, but as the campaign has turned north and west the narrative has begun to change. Sanders made inroads of black voters in Michigan last month in an upset victory and polls show he’s gaining ground with them in Wisconsin, where the race is now neck and neck. Part of that new support comes from the state’s largest city, Milwaukee.

In the city conditions are worse for African American residents than almost any other municipality in the country. It is here where the Real News set out to learn on the eve of the primary if the hardships faced by black residents would influence the vote. Milwaukee is roughly 40% black and is possibly one of the most segregated american cities when it comes to the housing, education, and criminal justice. The racial achievement gaps between whites and blacks leads the nation. African American students are suspended at some of the highest rates in the country. More than half the city’s black men have served time in prison.

I started off by visiting a Hillary Clinton event where former President Bill Clinton was scheduled to speak.

DR. ALICE BELCHER: One of the most paramount issues for African Americans here in the city is the unemployment rate, the underemployment rate, the high crime rate, and the high family and domestic violence rate that’s in our city.

NOOR: We caught up with Dr. Alice Belcher, for the Milwaukee Commission on Domestic Violence and Sexual Assault, who wanted to hear what the former president had to say about uplifting the city’s African American community.

BELCHER: Well all of those issues and concerns are linked, grounded in the lack socioeconomic educational inequities that exist for African American populations in this community. No one seems to really want to address those issues singularly outside if attaching them to other culture’s issues. The African American vote is a lot for Hillary but we have an African American Youth Culture that is really Pro-Bernie. I think Bernie appeals to the African American youth issues of the socioeconomic that I spoke to earlier, the inequities, and how strategies that he’s bring forth they believe he can bring them to pass. They want him. They want that.

NOOR: He’s presenting some radical ideas.

BELCHER: And they are at a radical point. So what you have with African Americans, you may have the older of us who are [inaud.] Hillary but we have a lot of our African American Youth. They are Bernie supporters and that’s where you’re seeing that split in Wisconsin.

NOOR: As the start of the event neared I was asked to stop doing interviews. So I got in a car with Democratic State Rep. Mandela Barnes, who has not endorsed either candidate, to learn about issues critical to African American voters and learn how they view both candidates. I asked Rep. Barnes which presidential candidate, either Clinton or Sanders, local elected officials have endorsed.

MANDELA BARNES: So there was a huge block of my colleagues who came out to publicly support Hillary Clinton last week. I got a lot of phone calls about it. I got a lot of people asking me to get on board and I also got a couple phone calls about supporting Bernie Sanders. I want to say there were two of my colleagues who came out to support Bernie Sanders, which is, you know, it’s a bold thing to do when so many people, so many allies are supporting Hillary Clinton but it’s the same thing. A lot of my friends are in support of Bernie Sanders. A lot of my supporters are very supportive of Bernie Sanders.

NOOR: Hillary Clinton has sort of promised some continuity with President Obama’s policies whereas Bernie Sanders has proposed more radical solutions that some criticize for being too high in the sky and not really realistic. Which sense do you get from your constituents? Which side, obviously you haven’t endorsed anyone, but what do your constituents want to see? Do they want to see more of a continuity?

BARNES: I think we are very proud of President Obama’s achievements and I think he has taken us so far in the last eight years but we were so far behind with the George W. Bush Presidency. It set us so far back that people are looking for the big bold agenda. People are looking for the dynamic shift because the load that President Obama had to lift was tremendous. I mean it’s almost a miracle to take us from the level of employment we saw under the Bush presidency to where unemployment is not across the country.

There still are so many communities that are suffering, still are so many communities that are left behind that a big bold agenda is what the people want now because we’ve gotten to a place, we’ve sort of gotten out of this slump, theoretically, or effectively I should say. Now we want to do more. We should always be wanting to progress and go even further, especially when so many people have still been left behind.

NOOR: On Tuesday, Milwaukee’s African American community will choose between two candidates. One promising incremental change and one a big bold agenda. Their choice will have a significant impact on who wins the state of Wisconsin and will help determine the Democratic Nominee for The White House in 2016. With Stephen Janis, this is Jaisal Noor from Milwaukee.

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DISCLAIMER: Please note that transcripts for The Real News Network are typed from a recording of the program. TRNN cannot guarantee their complete accuracy.