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Turner writes: "In choosing between the two Democratic Party candidates atop the polls, African American voters have a consequential decision to make."

Sen. Nina Turner. (photo: Glamour)
Sen. Nina Turner. (photo: Glamour)

While Bernie Sanders Has Always Stood Up for African Americans, Joe Biden Has Repeatedly Let Us Down

By Nina Turner, The State

16 January 20


n choosing between the two Democratic Party candidates atop the polls, African American voters have a consequential decision to make:

Will our community side with former Vice President Joe Biden, who has repeatedly betrayed black voters to side with Republican lawmakers and undermine our progress? Or will we stand with Vermont Sen. Bernie Sanders and a movement that has been fighting for racial and economic justice since the civil rights era?

This critical choice is illustrated by the key differences between Biden and Sanders – which began at the beginning of their respective careers. 

As a recent NBC News headline said of Biden’s time in the Senate: “Biden didn’t just compromise with segregationists. He fought for their cause.” The NBC report quoted the NAACP’s legal director saying that one Biden-backed measure “heaves a brick through the window of school integration.”

And Biden didn’t just vote for bills designed to prevent black students from accessing white schools: in a series of personal letters he actively courted pro-segregation senators to support the legislation

Sanders, by contrast, began his work in politics by organizing civil rights protests. As a college student, he helped lead a local chapter of the Congress of Racial Equality in its push to desegregate housing. Sanders participated in the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr.’s March on Washington and was arrested for protesting rampant school segregation in Chicago. In addition, Sanders has been pushing an education plan that supports local efforts to combat racial segregation. 

As a local elected official, Sanders also defied the political establishment by proudly endorsing Jesse Jackson’s 1988 presidential campaign; Sanders said that Jackson was a candidate “who has done more than any other candidate in living memory to bring together the disenfranchised.”

And the contrast between Biden and Sanders continued during the early 1990s. 

Biden facilitated the public degradation of Anita Hill, an esteemed professor already victimized by a powerful man.

Biden also fought alongside right-wing Republicans to pass so-called “welfare reform” that reduced financial support for low-income families. Biden echoed former President Ronald Reagan’s dishonest “welfare queen” language and wrote a column conjuring an ugly stereotype of “welfare mothers driving luxury cars and leading lifestyles that mirror the rich and famous.”

In contrast, Sanders vigorously opposed these punitive cuts. “What welfare reform did, in my view,” Sanders said, “was to go after some of the weakest and most vulnerable people in this country.”

Similarly Biden worked with segregationist Republican Sen. Strom Thurmond to pass “tough on crime” legislation that targeted black communities with punitive criminal justice policies while promoting mass incarceration and harsh punishment for nonviolent crimes. At one point Biden declared that every “major crime bill since 1976 that’s come out of this Congress, every minor crime bill, has had the name of the Democratic senator from the state of Delaware — Joe Biden.”

One of the leading dissenters to Biden’s “tough on crime” agenda was Sanders, who Vox noted was “an early critic of mass incarceration and punitive criminal justice policies.” 

The contrast between Biden and Sanders also extends to economic policies. 

Biden has repeatedly worked with Republicans to try to slash Social Security even though “almost three-fourths of African American beneficiaries rely on Social Security for at least half their income,” according to the National Committee to Preserve Social Security and Medicare. Sanders, on the other hand, has fought to block those cuts and has proposed expanding Social Security.

Biden did the bidding of his credit card industry donors by helping Republican lawmakers make it more difficult for Americans to reduce their debts in bankruptcy court. At one point, Biden split with then-Sen. Barack Obama and almost every other Senate Democrat to help Republicans kill an amendment to protect medical debtors from predatory lenders.

Biden’s bankruptcy legislation passed in 2005 over the objection of Sanders; 12 years later ProPublica reported that “black people struggling with debts are far less likely than their white peers to gain lasting relief from bankruptcy.”

And today the differences between Biden and Sanders remain stark. 

Biden opposes Democratic efforts to legalize marijuana. Sanders, on the other hand, is campaigning not only to legalize marijuana but also to root out institutional racism in our criminal justice system, outlaw private prisons, slash the prison population in half, end cash bail and hold police departments accountable.

Biden is opposing the Democrats’ push for Medicare for All, which would guarantee health care to all Americans and help address the disproportionately high maternal, infant and cancer mortality rates among African Americans. Sanders, on the other hand, is the longtime champion and author of that Medicare for All legislation.

Biden has refused to support Sanders’ bill to make public colleges and universities tuition free and cancel all student debt; this act alone would shrink the racial wealth gap between blacks and whites from 12-to-1 to 5-to-1. Sanders, meanwhile, is committed to closing that gap — and he believes as I do that this is one of the most pressing moral issues of our time.

All of these contrasts underscore the high stakes in this primary election.

By supporting a racial justice champion like Sanders — and his popular progressive agenda — black Americans will forge a multiracial, multigenerational working-class alliance that will generate the high turnout necessary to beat President Donald Trump.

In standing with Sanders over Biden, we will declare that we are not going backward — we are going forward into a future of empowerment and equality for all. your social media marketing partner
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