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The Burlington Free Press

How Bernie Sanders Can Win the Black Vote

No one should underestimate the ability of Bernie Sanders to turn skeptics into supporters.

Tavis Hall, a consultant for the Bernie Sanders campaign in Waterloo, Iowa, says Hillary Clinton fails to go far enough on key issues important to many African Americans. (Photo: Aki Soga/Free Press)

No one should underestimate the ability of Bernie Sanders to turn skeptics into supporters.

The race for the Democratic nomination will test Sanders’ ability to win over opponents as the contest moves beyond the early states. That’s especially true in states with a heavy concentration of black voters.

Hillary Clinton is seen as a heavy favorite among in the African American community. The former secretary of state has the endorsement. She has decades-long relationships built with her husband, former President Bill Clinton.

But Vermont’s junior senator has a track record of winning over one-time opponents by working on behalf of their interests.

At one time, Sanders’ anti-war stance earned him the animosity of the military community, the hostility often visible in Vermont among veterans.

Back in 1992, at an event in Vermont, a group of veterans stood up as Sanders took to the podium and turned their backs in protest.

Then he took up the cause of Vietnam vets who were being stonewalled when they tried to claim benefits for ailments related to Agent Orange exposure.


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Today, Sanders is among the strongest advocates in Congress for making sure the nation keeps its commitment to veterans.

He casts his opposition to war as standing up for veterans, a position he sums up on the campaign trail by saying, “If you can’t take care of your veterans, don’t go to war.”

Tavis Hall, a downtown redevelopment advocate in Waterloo, Iowa, and a Sanders consultant, also takes issue with what he calls the “mainstream narrative” that says Clinton has a lock on the black vote.

Hall says Sanders’ focus on social and economic justice hits on issues important to the African American community, and Clinton fails to go far enough.

“Bernie Sanders is talking about a minimum wage that keeps people above poverty, and Secretary Clinton is talking about a minimum wage that keeps people in poverty,” he said.

Sanders has already upset the “mainstream narrative.” Few people believed that a 74-year-old democratic socialist who has never been a member of the party could be a contender for the Democratic nomination.

Building a base among voters seen as beyond his reach would be just one more stop on Sanders’ improbable bid for the White House.

As Sanders has said many times, people should not underestimate Bernie Sanders.

Aki Soga

Aki Soga is the Reader Engagement Editor for the Burlington Free Press.

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