Black Votes Matter: Understanding Why Bernie Lost in Missouri
Dear Bernie Sanders supporters:
It looks like Bernie will narrowly lose Missouri by less than a percentage point (as well as another close defeat in Illinois). He will end up splitting those delegates but it was more about the symbolic victory that he needed that he did not get. That being said, the race is not over despite what CNN and Politico will tell you. But, it is certainly an uphill battle as long as Bernie continues to do poorly with the Black vote. If that does not shift he will not be able to win the Democratic nomination. However, this must be put in proper context because I continue to see this being misunderstood and I believe that Missouri is a powerful example of why things are the way they are.
While it appears Black folks (that voted) in St Louis county overwhelming supported Hillary Clinton, there’s several things that should be examined more closely. One year ago, as Shaun King and others have pointed out, Bernie Sanders was virtually unknown in the region. Clinton on the other hand has been a household name nationally for decades. While Bernie’s been working quite effectively as an Independent legislator in DC, he’s been primarily focused on his quest to help the working man, Veterans, and to curtail Wall Street corruption. His virtual tie with Hillary in Missouri and Illinois is certainly impressive, when you contrast the fact that he’s literally running as David vs the Goliath sized Clinton machine. Even though he didn’t pull off huge upsets on Tuesday he did score a lot of delegates and the bulk of the race outside of the South and Midwest is still to come.
But it must be said that Bernie Sanders and his campaign are unknown in the St Louis region for other reasons too. Had Sanders spent some real time there (Ferguson and St Louis), with Black leaders in the community, college students, and disaffected youth over the past couple years, he would have more than likely won Missouri by a healthy margin (he lost the State by only a thousand or so votes). I’m not saying that Bernie should’ve been in the streets with rapper Tef Poe during the Ferguson uprising, but at some point Cornel West was there, Rosa Clemente was there, Talib Kweli was there, and Bernie could’ve have been there. That’s at the very least what it would’ve taken to make the necessary moves to defeat the Clinton machine.
“When you see the kind of force that’s been used in
Ferguson, it really does make it appear that the
police department there is an occupying army in a
hostile territory and that is absolutely not what we
want to see in the U.S.” – Aug. 2014
But, understanding what’s going on in Missouri is a lot more complex than just assuming Hillary gets the Black vote by default because Bernie wasn’t in the trenches or because people know the Clinton name. Some Black folks are simply not voting at all. This is in part because the top of the Democratic party in the state is a joke and quite uninspiring. Look no further than the DA there, Bob Mcculloch, who is a Democrat. A man who did everything in his power to ensure Darren Wilson avoided a trial… he was just re-elected! While other crooked DA’s were rebuked and defeated in Chicago and Cleveland, he managed to survive. As DA, Mcculloch has not only been a staunch supporter of the Police union that backed Wilson, but a Ferguson Police department that was sued by the Justice Department for “a pattern and practice of unconstitutional police conduct.” The point being, the very party that Progressives are asking Black folks in Missouri to rally behind for their nominee as President, is the technically same party in that state that worked to exonerate the man that killed Michael Brown. Not even a trial. Therefore there’s not much trust in the process. Tef Poe infamously stated in a PBS town hall called ‘America After Ferguson,’ that he “voted for Barack Obama twice and still got tear gassed.”
So, while Bernie Sanders believes in policies that would certainly be better for communities of color than a Neo-liberal agenda, some Black folks just don’t believe in the process. Whether we like it or not they have good reason to feel that way. Because the Democrats in St Louis and in DC, for decades have helped to push “Conservative” Drug policies that literally KILL the Black community. Thus, when White Progressives say “How could ‘they’ vote for Hillary?” understand that it’s a lot deeper than what we are seeing.
The same goes for Trump supporters!
Although Racism and bigotry is often the overriding catalyst for the fervor we see at a #TrumpRally, the bulk of Trump’s base are working class, undereducated Whites that have continually supported a Republican Party that has never worked for their best interests. Many of these people are dumbed down, and broken down by a system that’s never delivered their American Dream (or perhaps took it away), and they have good reason to be upset. Sadly, they’re focusing their rage, as well as their allegiance, toward the wrong people. It’s the Trump’s, and the Koch Bros, and the corporations that fund Hillary, that have been screwing them over, not the darker skin boogiemen that they rally against. If they were going to build an effective Wall, it would be one around Washington DC and Wall Street to use as a jail to lock the crooks inside. This is not to allow Racists or White supremacists a pass for their rhetoric and violence. Getting screwed by the political system isn’t an excuse to scream “Fuck those dirty beaners” and “Kill the Protestors” at rallies. But, if we want to decrease the odds of Fascist right-wing Demagogues being elected, we may want to pay closer attention to these people. Perhaps delve into a little more empathy. It’s not exactly sympathy for the devil unless you are crying tears for the puppet masters pulling their strings.
We have a lot of work to do… and it’s much bigger than one election cycle!
Although I will continue to push Bernie to the convention and beyond if necessary, it doesn’t begin and end with a single candidate. Especially if we turn around and go home after Election Day. As Van Jones has pointed out, “yes We can” quickly turns into “yes He can,” when we disengage. And when we leave it up to a single person to make magic happen in a corporate controlled system, we create a false messiah figure and the results are almost always less than what we hope for. Indeed, if Hillary ultimately becomes the nominee, most Progressives will likely rally behind her rather than allow a silver spooned goon (favorite son of Neo-Nazis and Klansmen) to become the next President. But upon her election, no matter what she has promised Bernie and his supporters, she will predictably veer right, right back to where she’s always been. Right back to where the Military Industrial Complex lay in waiting, and right where her Wall Street money comes from. Until we get the corporate-special interest influence out of the election process, or in all likelihood, until we finally decide to tear down the two-party system, this maddening process will continue. Even if we elect Bernard Sanders as Killer Mike calls him, if we do not continue to push the rest of the system forward, he will be held captive by obstruction and crony-capitalism much like President Obama.
Note: My hope is that the candidacy of Bernie Sanders (regardless of the outcome), a campaign without a Super PAC and without Wall Street money, a campaign that’s been able to change the entire narrative of the Democratic establishment during the primary, opens the door for future Progressive leaders. One’s that will be younger, perhaps less white, and less male. More representative of the future of this nation.