Sanders Must Change Language from Occupy to Black Lives Matter

Kamau K. Franklin and Lawrence Brown say Sanders must find a way to break through with Black voters if he wants a chance to win the nomination

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PAUL JAY, SENIOR EDITOR, TRNN: Welcome to the Real News Network. I’m Paul Jay in Baltimore.

On Tuesday night Donald Trump went further down the road of winning the Republican nomination. He won most of the races he was expected to win. He lost Ohio to Kasich. Missouri I don’t think has been called yet, but it looks like he’s going to win that as well.

And on the Democratic Party side Hillary Clinton won most of the races, some by a large margin, some very close. In Florida she won by 64 percent, Sanders 33 percent. She won North Carolina with 54 percent, Ohio with 56.3 percent. In Illinois the media has declared Clinton the winner, although it’s by a hair and they will essentially split the delegates there. In Missouri Sanders is, again a tie of, one poll, one result has him up a hair, the other one has Clinton up a hair. At the point of us recording these interviews it’s essentially going to be, again they’re going to split the delegates.

As we speak, Bernie Sanders did make a speech tonight, but according to Huffington Post all three major networks didn’t cover it. Fox, MSNBC, CNN decided to keep doing analysis. You have to put quotations around the analysis. And, as they’ve been doing through most of this campaign, mostly ignoring the Sanders candidacy which is kind of remarkable that Sanders has done as well as he has given that media treatment.

Well, we didn’t see the Sanders speech either because one, we’ve been doing interviews and two, we’ve been relying, unfortunately, on those three networks, waiting for the Sanders speech and didn’t realize we missed it. So, if you’re at the Real News site here, which I assume you are, we’re going to get hold of the Sanders speech and we’re going to post it so you will be able to see it.

Now we’re going to talk about what we hope Sanders might have said, at least what our guests hope Sanders might have said. And first of all, joining us from Baltimore is Lawrence Brown. Lawrence is, Dr. Lawrence Brown I should say, Lawrence is an activist, a global health consultant, assistant professor of public health at Morgan State University and he’s on our left as you look at the screen. On our right is Kamau K. Franklin. He’s an attorney who’s organized around issues such as youth development, police misconduct and creating sustainable urban environments. Thank you both for joining us.

LAWRENCE BROWN: Thank you for having me.

KAMAU FRANKLIN: Thank you.

JAY: Kamau, let me go to you first. If you were writing the Sanders speech that, and I guess if you had not many people would have heard it because the media wouldn’t have carried it, but at any rate, if you had been writing the Sanders speech tonight what would you have wanted him to say?

FRANKLIN: I would have wanted him to continue to hit hard on Hillary on the economic question, particularly around how US government resources, how federal government resources should be used, regulatory power, how that should be used. I think he’s done a really good job of hitting that message and that’s what has brought him up in the polls from starting off 30, 40 points back to where he’s winning and, in some cases, having close victories and/or close defeats, so I think that’s the message that he has to continue to pound.

He hasn’t really done much, I think, in the foreign policy department, but I would think that that’s an area where she would be most vulnerable at also because she’s proven herself to be a politician above all, someone who’s willing to take any side and say almost anything when it comes to keeping herself, I guess, electable as she would see it, and keeping a high profile and whatever issue she wants to come down that she thinks people will most be in favor of. So she doesn’t have any real sort of standard politics that I think she abides by. I think Sanders has been very strong in making sure that he has kept to his principles, and I think, as he probably did in his speech tonight, he should continue to echo those things.

JAY: Lawrence, what’s a speech you would have liked to have heard?

BROWN: I would really advise Senator Sanders to give much more of a Black Lives Matter speech. I think he’s been giving an Occupy Wall Street speech, which I think is slightly out of step with where the heart of the democratic base is, and that is with Black voters. And although he’s energized, to some degree, those young black voters, that’s really been in part because of the pressure that has been put on him by Black Lives Matter and Movement for Black Lives activists. I think he needs to do a much better job of engaging older Black people, especially in the South.

I think, strategically, he’s let, unfortunately he’s allowed Hillary Clinton to outflank him as the candidate that’s carrying forward the Obama legacy, and I think he needs to find the language that’s going to allow him to be able to speak to Black voters, especially in the South, and be able to say that he’s going to expand on the Obama legacy that, in fact, this nation needs a third Reconstruction.

And how he can, as a candidate, move this nation forward, not only by addressing issues on Wall Street but addressing issues in disinvested, red-line Black communities, and I think that’s going to take, I think, a political pivot that I’m not sure he’s willing to take because his speeches and his whole ideological approach right now, up to now, has been much more geared towards white disaffected workers, white middle class and white youth who are disaffected. Again, targeting much more of that Occupy movement sort of demographic as opposed to a Black Lives Matter, civil rights demographic.

JAY: Kamau, what do you think of that?

FRANKLIN: I don’t disagree, necessarily, that he should add that kind of element to his speech. I think, in terms of my viewing of Sanders, that he has tried to reach out to a younger Black audience. I think, for Sanders, he’s an unknown quantity in the Black community, and I think given sort of the time in terms of him jumping into this race and running it, that he hasn’t necessarily appealed, particularly to an older Black, older Black women. I think that’s a constituency that’s been firmly in the camp of Hillary Clinton. I think the endorsements that she got from the Congressional Black Caucus served her well in making sure that she kept that constituency on lock.

I think Sanders has done things to reach out to that community. I think he actually, early on, after being protested by young people in Black Lives Matter, actually adopted most of that platform, but I think that sort of the resources that he’s probably put in and the time that he’s had [has] not been able to shape the support that she had coming into this race as someone who’s, for whatever reason, still has the loyalty, particularly, of the voting Black public.

JAY: Lawrence, if you were writing this speech, excuse me, what would you have him say to all the young people who have been excited by him, and certainly it does include some younger Blacks, but I take your point, certainly not predominantly, and he’s had trouble there. But in terms of this, what’s coming, it’s not over yet, and I think it’s possible that he could still break through in some big states and, you know, make a competition of it, but certainly it’s looking like it’s going to be a Clinton nomination.

What do you say to the people who’re in that movement who have been excited by the words political revolution, who have been excited by the words democratic socialism, who are going to be, you know, extremely, what’s the word, fearful, angry, opposed to a Trump candidacy and a Trump potential presidency. What do you say to them so that they don’t get absorbed into the, [inaud.] said in an interview, into the Democratic Party Borg, do you must be assimilated?

BROWN: [laughs] Well, you know, I think once again there’s a large portion of American society that is really disaffected by the type of things we’ve seen happen on Wall Street, the type of bailouts, the type of economic corporate welfare that’s been received, even the influx, due to Citizens United, the influx of corporations being able to influence elections. So I think, while that’s certainly true, he has to broaden his message. He has to reach the Obama coalition, which is a winning coalition but which is comprised mostly of African-Americans and Latino voters voting at a very high percentage for Democratic candidates.

And I, again, I think he’s done a great job of reaching out to white voters. I think he would do a great job in the general election reaching out to white voters, but he has to do a better job of focusing and targeting on people of color, and I think the best way you do that is to really begin talking about a third Reconstruction, how we can extend the gains that we’ve obtained under the Obama administration. We can move forward with affirmatively furthering fair housing. We can address totally reforming and reconstructing the way policing happens in America. We can continue to desegregate our urban areas. We can finish what it is that Dr. King actually puts forward with real economic justice.

And if I were him I would say Nina Turner, the state senator out of the state of Ohio, she is my running mate. And I would begin to allow her to begin to assume a much more prominent role in his campaign. He needs Black women’s support but he has to have someone like State Senator Nina Turner to begin to, I think, make the vision of how other people will be included in his campaign much more visible.

JAY: Kamau, [isn’t] Sanders kind of between a rock and a hard place here? And what I mean by that is, I think Hillary Clinton is the legitimate heir to the Obama legacy. She is the standard bearer for neoliberal economics, you know? They were in it together when they intervened in Libya. She’s been part of the Obama foreign policy in Afghanistan and Iraq. I’m not entirely sure what the great gains have been for African Americans under the Obama administration. My understanding is people are worse off now than they were when President Obama was elected.

And then the problem for Sanders is, if you say these things, if you critique the Obama record, and in order to differentiate yourself from Clinton, well then you’re at the hard place versus the rock, because for most African Americans, if I understand it correctly, Obama is the Black president, and if you critique him you’re attacking one of ours, and it’s very difficult to get past, you know, get into the policy issues for people. You know, most African Americans love President Obama and they consider him, you know, as more than an icon, [inaud.] you know. It was a great achievement, and it was.

FRANKLIN: [crosstalk, inaud.]

JAY: [interposing] How does Sanders, then where does Sanders go with that?

FRANKLIN: Well I think Sanders has actually an interesting position, similar to Jesse Jackson. I think he can demand, when Jesse Jackson ran in the 1980s, I think Sanders is in a position to demand much at this particular stage, and the question is whether or not he will just fold and go for getting a primetime speech at the Democratic convention and consider that a victory that he continues to be able to espouse his speeches, his rhetoric on economic changes that need to happen, or even talking about a political revolution as he has been talking.

But I think he’s in a position to demand much more. He’s in a position to demand some say in who Hillary Clinton potentially picks as a running mate. Even though Hillary Clinton is winning these primaries, she is not bringing out sort of enthusiastic voters the same way that Sanders is, and I think that’s going to be something that, if this trend continues and we get to the general election, she’s not an exciting candidate. She’s not someone who is bringing together the Obama coalition in the numbers that Obama brought them out. And so she, depending on who she picks for her vice president and other policy stances that she takes, can either, in essence either excite the electorate or bore them to death.

And I think Sanders is in a position to push her, but even much more than that I think Sanders is in a position to use this election cycle to go outside the Democratic party at some point and to start establishing something that could be, potentially be, a third party. I think he’s reached a certain level of just bringing out people’s, young people, bringing out people’s desire to see real change happen as much as they can sort of articulate what that could be, and I think he’s in a position to take that energy, to take that strength and move it someplace else. Now the big question for him is whether or not he is willing to do that and/or whether or not he will settle for a primetime speech, as most other candidates do, and then go about his business supporting Hillary Clinton.

JAY: Right. Lawrence, just to sort of continue the point I was making, he’s made a big issue with Hillary Clinton, that she should pledge not to appoint any Wall Street people to be her financial team, something she’s refused to do, yet he praises President Obama for his handling of the financial crisis in ’07-’08. Except President Obama, number one, did it with a financial team from Wall Street, and two, did it in a way that benefited Wall Street greatly. We know that, you know, no bankers went to jail. We know the Fed piled, with quantitative easing, piled money for no interest at all into the big banks.

I mean, it was a Wall Street, excuse me, it was a Wall Street bailout, but because he’s so concerned about this Obama legacy and not critiquing the Obama administration, he’s kind of got his [hands tied] on really going after these kind of issues when he goes after Hillary.

BROWN: Well, that’s certainly the case but again, you know, as an academic, as a critic, I can raise a lot of the issues. I don’t have a constituency I’m trying to build. But if you’re Bernie Sanders you’re a politician. And if you’re trying to win the presidency within your own party, so the primary, the Democratic primary, then I think you have to begin to think about, how do I not allow Hillary Clinton to continue to outflank me when it comes to the Obama legacy?

Because I think what you have is a situation where Democratic voters already made history in the last couple of election cycles. In some sense Hillary Clinton can allow Democratic voters to make history again in electing the first female president of the United [crosstalk] States.

JAY: [interposing]–Although Bernie has a good counter to that, the first socialist would be a pretty big deal too, so.

BROWN: [laughs] Oh, well, I think President Obama somewhat took the sting out of that word because he’s been referred to derisively over the past eight years as a socialist, so I think Senator Sanders ought to thank him for taking the sting out of that word. But I think that what Senator Sanders has to do is to think about, again, how to pivot in a way that would allow him to say, I’m the one who’s going to move this country forward from where President Obama has brought us from and take this country to another level. And I think something like using the language of a third Reconstruction would help us to go there, because I think what he’s hoping is that he can get to the general election where he can reach some of the Trump voters, but he has to win the Democratic base over first, and I think that’s where he’s not winning the way that he should.

JAY: Right. All right, gentleman, thank you both for joining us tonight.

FRANKLIN: Thank you.

BROWN: My pleasure.

JAY: And thank you for joining us on the Real News Network.

End

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