Vermont Black Leaders Felt “Invisible” to Sanders
[dropcap size=big]R[/dropcap]egardless of your feelings toward representative democracy, anyone who agrees to hold public office as a representative should actually represent the people of their district, state, or country. In the case of progressives, the interests of marginalized groups should be of the utmost importance. After all, the left has a long, rich history of claiming to stand up for minority groups. It’d therefore be expected that the one of the farthest left politicians in the election cycle, Vermont Senator Bernie Sanders, would care the most for the needs of underprivileged racial groups. However, according to prominent activists and other such figures in Vermont’s African American community, Bernie was less than sympathetic to their issues.
Executive director Curtiss Reed, Jr. of the Vermont Partnership for Fairness and Diversity, a civil rights group in Sander’s home state, discussed in an interview with The Daily Beast how Sanders came off to him.
“[Sanders] was just really dismissive of anything that had to do with race and racism, saying that they didn’t have anything to do with the issues of income inequality…
He just always kept coming back to income inequality as a response, as if talking about income inequality would somehow make issues of racism go away.”
In addition, Reed felt Sanders treated his organization with “benign neglect,” which Reed felt was inappropriate given that his organization is a state-wide entity that represents many voters of color.
Reed isn’t the only local black leader to have problems with Sanders. Sha’an Mouliert, founder of the African-American Alliance of the Northeast Kingdom, recounted receiving the cold shoulder from Sanders when she approached him at a state fair. Mouliert asked him about a bill that would examine reparations for ancestors of slaves, but she claims he was “dismissive” and she felt “invisible.” When invited to speak at her organization, Sanders was unable to attend due to weather and never attempted to reschedule.
Sanders has also lost the support of corporate lawyer and local African American community leader Vaughn Carney, who consistently voted for Sanders but is now backing Clinton.
“I think Bernie tends to run away from racial and ethnic issues,
Racial profiling is a fact of life here. Vermont incarcerates people at the fourth highest rate in the U.S., but no one talks about that. I have been beating on that drum for a while now, and I hoped that Bernie would up that mantle, but he has not. He is like a lot of Vermonters who like to congratulate themselves on how progressive they are but sweep these issues under the rug.”
Carney did manage to meet with Vermont’s other Senator, Patrick Lahey, but claimed Sanders was unresponsive to his efforts to discuss his concerns.
This sentiment was also shared by Curtis Reed, Jr., who said Lahey was more helpful when Vermont was in danger of losing it’s charter to the US Commission of Civil Rights.
“We put out an all-points bulletin to our congressional delegation. Leahy responded and was instrumental in drawing attention to it. We got no response back from the other senator’s office, which was an indication that civil rights was not his top priority.”
Sanders does have supporters in the African American community in Vermont, however. Patrick Brown of the Greater Burlington Multicultural Resource Center said Sanders regularly attends their events, and has even received an award from Al Sharpton. Regardless, Sanders’ campaign has struggled with the issue of race since it’s conception. From clashing with Black Lives Matter at a speaking engagement, to John Lewis claiming he never saw Sanders during the Civil Rights Movement, Sanders still has a long way to go if he is to get the African American vote from Hillary and Trump.