I couldn’t help but think how Hillary Clinton must’ve felt when Bernie Sanders threw his hat in as a presidential candidate and started to draw record crowds to his events. The self-assured Clinton saw an open path to the U.S. presidency when she ran in 2008 only to have a black male with the non-American name of Barack Obama dash her dream of becoming the first women president. Now comes an old, white, male socialist whose campaign could threaten Hillary assuming an unencumbered path to the throne.
As the 2016 presidential race heated up, all that came up for me was dread that the public would have to hear from a lack-luster pool of candidates for the next two years. Hillary Clinton and Jeb Bush, both from political dynasties who had a family member in the Oval Office, hardly moved the needle of voter excitement. And the cast of characters who make up the Republican circus ring either make you cringe or laugh out loud.
Are we allowing Hillary to ride the wave of her president-husband who somehow received the undeserved and unearned title of “black” president because he played the saxophone on the Arsenio Hall Show?
I think it’s accurate to say that the GOP is not that into black folks. Add to the list brown folks, poor folks - well, just about anyone that is not rich and white. On the other hand, the Democratic Party has prided itself on being the voice of the voiceless, the disenfranchised, the economically oppressed, etc. The Party has done a piss-poor job at this representation and advocacy.
When it comes to policy and behavior, most times the difference between Dems and Republicans are indistinguishable. For example, the St. Louis mayor and Board of Alders self-identify as Democrats. The St. Louis County has a Democratic County Supervisor and majority Democratic County Council. Missouri has a Democratic governor and attorney general. Most times it’s hard to tell that poor folks and people of color have allies in these powerful and influential positions. Just recently we had to fight like hell for a little increase in the minimum wage in the City of St. Louis.
For years, I have urged black folks to not just hold the Democratic Party and its emissaries accountable (both black and white, male and female) but to also consider establishing an independent party. This has largely fallen on deaf ears - until now.
When reps from the #BlackLivesMatter movement started showing up at political events, storming stages and commandeering mics, candidates seemed surprised, even hurt, that their most loyal subjects were taking them to task. Their facial and verbal expressions said “Why, we’re Democrats - the Party of the People.” Yeah, but you ain’t been acting like it.
Bernie Sanders comes from the second whitest state in the union, Vermont. Blacks are a mere 1% of the population and whites are 95% so one can accurately say that Sanders has little experience dealing with daily realities of black people. Sanders is the longest-serving independent in the U.S. Congress and has never hidden his anti-capitalist politics since he started his political career as the mayor of Burlington. He has been vocal on the negative role of corporations in politics and the public policies that have been eroding the gains of the middle and working classes. Still, he’s got a lot of work to do to connect with African American voters who play a pivotal role in presidential races. Just ask President Obama.
Since the confrontation at the annual Netroots conference where he and others on the Democratic dais were forced to listen to members of #BlackLivesMatter, Sanders has scurried to figure out what he should be doing to reach out to black voters. He hired Symone Sanders to serve as his national press secretary. Symone, young and black, is the national youth chair of the Coalition on Juvenile Justice and a purported activist in #BlackLivesMatter.
A recent Gallop polls shows Sanders’ favorability rate among African Americans at 23% compared to Hillary Clinton’s 80%. In my opinion, this is undeserved and unearned favorability. Why? Are we allowing Hillary to ride the wave of her president-husband who somehow received the undeserved and unearned title of “black” president because he played the saxophone on the Arsenio Hall Show? President Bill Clinton severely altered black lives with his crippling welfare and criminal justice reforms that will impact black families for generations.
Hillary Clinton must face scrutiny and pressure for her past and proposed policies that affect blacks and working families. Doing the Nay Nay dance shouldn’t get her automatic entrée into black communities or unconditional support by black voters.
Every black person doesn’t see the electoral area as a viable place to spend our time and efforts. This is especially true of some young people in #BLM. For those of us who know that this is the place where decisions are made about our standard of living and our future, we must be more sophisticated about our participation in electoral politics.
In addition to looking at candidates past practices, votes and programs and holding them accountable for their track records, black folks can’t afford the luxury of being lulled into a false sense of inclusion with Democrats or Independents because progressive-sounding campaign promises roll off their tongues or because candidates take a piece of black culture to appropriate. We must fight for real power, for real representation and for real transformative change. This is a struggle for true democracy not just to advance the Democratic Party.