Less than eight months ago, a white supremacist gunned down in cold blood nine people, pillars of the Black community, as they prayed in their Charleston, South Carolina church. Is it any wonder that the Black community is afraid of Trump? Is it any wonder that they would vote for the person that the media has been telling them – rightly or wrongly – all along has the best chance of beating Trump? For white progressives, Trump is a clown, a buffoon, a fascist who threatens to make us sick or move to Canada if he wins. For people of color, Trump threatens their very lives.
Bernie Sanders isn’t leading the revolution. His campaign is an essential component of it, but Black Lives Matter is leading the revolution. Nowhere was this clearer than less than a week ago Ashley Williams disrupted a fundraiser for Hillary in that very same Charleston, South Carolina, asking her to apologize for mass incarceration and for her remarks calling Black youth “superpredators who need to be brought to heel.” While BLM doesn’t endorse candidates, this action was clearly supportive of Bernie Sanders campaign and at a pivotal moment. That South Carolina didn’t pivot merely suggests that our revolution has a long way to go toward making Black people, not just revolutionaries, feel safe enough to support it.
All of which means that if the revolution is to be victorious, it needs to make the defense of Black lives the central focus in the campaign and beyond the campaign.
Back in November, I was in Greenville, South Carolina, when they had just opened the Bernie Sanders office. My wife and I canvassed door to door in the Black community for about an hour and a half. We met maybe ten people, two of whom were leaning Bernie, but most not paying any attention to the presidential race at all. When asked what the most important issue was, at least eight of them said health care. I puzzled about this, since like didn’t we just pass Obamacare? Then I realized that South Carolina and 24 other states have refused to implement the one component of Obamacare that most affected the Black community: the expansion of Medicaid. In states that did expand Medicaid, there are still 17% uninsured, but in states that didn’t expand Medicaid – like South Carolina and just about all of the other southern states – there are 36% uninsured. There’s no question that that 19% difference is overwhelmingly people of color: See http://www.urban.org/research/publication/racialethnic-differences-uninsurance-rates-under-aca
I won’t second guess the Sanders campaign as to why this approach wasn’t used in South Carolina except to say that from the beginning the campaign has emphasized general economic inequality without sufficiently addressing racial inequality. If this revolution is to succeed, this needs to change. A strategy that connects the failure of the racist southern legislatures to expand Medicaid to the need for Medicare for all could begin to reverse the dynamic. Just look at the map.