Kristin Barber was a New Haven Republican for nine years, serving on the GOP Town Committee. On the busiest grassroots night so far in the 2016 presidential campaign, she joined crowds of New Haveners Wednesday launching local efforts to propel a socialist to the White House.
Barber, now a Democrat, was one of dozens of white—and a handful of non-white—Sanders supporters who showed up to watch a live broadcast of the Democratic presidential primary candidate’s speech at Pacific Standard Tavern at 212 Crown St. On Wednesday at 7:30 p.m., the Vermont senator reached tens of thousands of people (over 100,000 people RSVP’d) in about 3,500 organizing meetings nationwide—the start of an effort to build a grassroots machine to power his presidential bid. Time magazine called it the “biggest organizing event of 2016 so far.”
It was a big event in New Haven. Of almost 40 watching parties statewide, four took place in New Haven, the most in any Connecticut city. Besides the Pacific tavern party, three took place at the main public library branch and in private homes.
“Enough is enough,” Sanders said repeatedly in his speech, calling for a higher minimum wage, tuition-free public universities, single-payer health care system, and paths to citizenship for undocumented immigrants. An African-American woman, civil rights attorney Kemi Morton, introduced him in the video-transmitted speech.
Sanders, a U.S. senator from Vermont who usually runs for office as a third-party democratic socialist, has generated populist excitement across the country with his insurgent campaign, more than any other contender for the Democratic presidential nomination. He also faces obstacles as he prepares to face frontrunner Hilary Clinton in Democratic primaries. One of the most striking: his base is primarily white. Black voters, a major Democratic voting bloc, are unaware of his name or policies. He has been criticized for focusing on economic issues while ignoring their intersection with racial issues.
His primarily white appeal was visible at Pacific Standard Tavern Wednesday night. Almost all 50 supporters in the bar were white.
Paul Chhabra, a Shelton resident who organized the event, said Sanders “has gotten a pretty raw deal” and been unfairly targeted for his take on racial issues. “His record is perfect for human rights and civil rights,” he said.
At a liberal Netroots presidential forum in late July, Black Lives Matter activists rushed the stage and demanded Democratic candidates Sanders and Martin O’Malley directly address police brutality against black people. “If you don’t want me to be here, that’s OK,” Sanders told the activists, drawing criticism for failing to explicitly connect problems of economic inequality and racial inequality.
“They shouted him down,” Chhabra said of the incident. “That’s not fair because I consider him an ally. He had been speaking about those issues before and has spoken about them every since.”
Sanders’ problem, Chhabra said, is that he is “not known in the African American community. He comes from Vermont,” a mostly white state. “Not being known isn’t a crime. I wouldn’t like to see the waters poisoned before he gets a chance.”
Young people turned out for Sanders, who is using social media sites such as Twitter and Facebook to spread the word about his message. During the broadcast Wednesday evening, his organizers urged people to text the word “Work” to a campaign number to receive more information on how to volunteer. And Chhabra asked Sanders supporters to put up photos from the event on social media sites with the tag #Bernie2016.
James Geiser and Tim Cyr started reading about Sanders’ policies on social networking site Reddit, on which he is “one of the most up-voted politicians,” Cyr said.
Cyr, who is 26, is studying to be a civil engineer and works downtown. Geiser, who is 23, also works downtown.
“This is the first [campaign] that I’ve followed closely,” Geiser said. He thinks Sanders can win, especially once the media “starts to give him the limelight…He could rise in the polls.”
Cyr agreed with his friend. “I don’t think [President Barack] Obama had this kind of grassroots following this early on in 2008,” he said.
Julie Cook encouraged her employer and friend Sissy McGehee to head to the organizing event with her Wednesday. Cook, who lives in West Haven, works as an in-home nurse for McGehee’s husband in Durham. The Sanders events in their towns were full when they tried to reserve spots, they said.
McGehee wore a shirt that read “Feel The Bern 2016” to celebrate having changed her voting registration from Independent to Democrat, so she could vote for Sanders in the primary. She said she was a “Hilary person” until Cook got her “hooked” on the progressive politician two months ago. “The more you get to know of him, you’re sold,” she said.
Cook said she believes in his stances on economic inequality, which she said is “backed up with 40 to 50 years of work.”
“I care for people who live in public housing to people who are living in mansions,” Cook said. “I see exactly how the game is rigged. I know how much pharmacies are charging patients. It’s disgusting. It’s rape of the people.”
When asked about the majority whiteness of his base of supporters, Cook said many people of color are likely to “dismiss him by what he looks like,” an old white man. “He’s from Vermont.”
“Bernie [Sanders] is the most apt person to be able to see everybody’s issue or put himself in everybody’s shoes,” she said.
Nick DeFiesta said he is unconvinced Sanders can speak to racial concerns effectively. He said he is “tentatively a Bernie Sanders supporter” but questions “how can he answer the immediacy of issues around race in America.”
“I used to be very Bernie-esque in my views,” DeFiesta said. He said he used to think “class was at the core” of most societal issues but has come to realize that race is at the center. DeFiesta, who is half Filipino and half white, said he was “raised very culturally white.”
Though Sanders’ record as an activist is strong, he likely “has authentically not had to think about” race, DeFiesta said.
In January, DeFiesta, a 2014 Yale graduate, hosted a “Ready for Warren” party to encourage Massachusetts U.S. Sen. Elizabeth Warren to run for president. Just eight people showed up, including a few of his co-workers, he said. Warren, the country’s leading critic of corporate financial misdeeds and income inequality, shares Sanders’ base of progressive supporters; she decided not to run for president.
DeFiesta is also excited about Clinton’s campaign and said he “respects Hilary’s experience. She “has spoken better on race that [Sanders] has,” he said. DeFiesta said Democrats have “two exciting choices,” though he said he is likely in the minority among Sanders supporters on that score.
Brandon Lawrence, who grew up around Edgewood Avenue, said he was one of just four black people at the organizing Sanders event at the main branch of the library. He said he agrees with Sanders that “economic issues are race issues” and that focusing on economic inequality “can lower racial inequality.”
Lawrence said many are not aware of Sanders’ long “civil rights history,” including his anti-segregation organizing in the 1960s. Sanders “put his money where his mouth is,” Lawrence said. “If anyone can do it, he can.”
The saucy but ill written headline implies a racist conspiracy amongst attendees rather than what is probably lack of outreach by the campaign.
posted by: THREEFIFTHS on July 30, 2015 7:39am
The reason why you do not see the room full of Black folks is that Sell out Black Judas Goat leaders sell the The Democratic Party as Hope to Black people.For me both parties are the same.The Republicans do the bank job,The Democrats drive the get away car.
Both political parties have betrayed the cause of justice. The Democrats have betrayed it by capitulating to the prejudice, and undemocratic practices of the Southern Dixiecrats . The Republicans have betrayed it by capitulating to the blatant hypocrisy of the right wing reactionary Northerners——-DR. KING
Our people have to become registered voters, but we first have to get a better understand of politics. We go into politics in a gullible way, an emotional way. When politics is cold blooded and heartless, we must first learn the science of politics, and we should not take sides with either party. We should not sell ourselves to either party——MALCOLM X (from his lecture at Harvard Law School , 1964
posted by: Theodora on July 30, 2015 8:04am
To both the author and whomever wrote this headline — what political events involving presidential candidates are African-Americans attending?
There is a lack of journalistic integrity if all you do is post an incendiary story and headline without further context.
Horrible job, NHI. Juvenile.
posted by: Theodora on July 30, 2015 8:06am
Got a quote from a leader in the last 50 years?
posted by: wendy1 on July 30, 2015 8:12am
There is a guy named Bernie Sanders who lives in my neighborhood. He and I are going to table for the real Bernie this fall maybe at farmer markets. I agree totally with 3/5’s.
By the way Bernie Sanders’s fundraising guru is married to an ex-NewHavenite. They recently had a baby.
posted by: absolutmakes on July 30, 2015 8:20am
The headline made me click on the article but then I couldn’t get past the second paragraph.
The demographic makeup of this crowd may be relevant, but could have been addressed by discussing Bernie’s polling numbers or some other way.
Is the NHI going to start leading all of it’s stories with statements about the majority-race present?
posted by: CT DRV on July 30, 2015 8:51am
I’m the guy looking down at his phone in the headline photo, texting. (I’m white.)
The headline what essentially the first thing I said to my partner as we walked in. We discussed how he/we needed to a better job of engaging people of color in both the platform and the on-the ground operations.
On the volunteer form I filled out before the televised speech, I wrote there needs to be more people of color involved with the campaign- I think Bern hit the nail on the head with his simulcast address when he talked about Sandra Bland, but it’s up to him and his campaign apparatus to make good on that.
Bernie should fully embrace #blacklivesmatter in a matter that speaks to the issues facing people of color- without co-opting it.
There’s voices and faces missing here, and I look forward to that not being the case with this campaign.
posted by: Walt on July 30, 2015 8:52am
Would never vote for either Clinton or Sanders
Not excited about any of their opponents but at least their opponents never supported the disastrous Obama regime as they did.
—And please do not cry racism again, 3/5. I would say the same re white guy Carter, formerly the worst, most incompetent President, of my lifetime .
posted by: Dwightstreeter on July 30, 2015 9:05am
Alternative headline: 100,000 people turn out in 3500 house parties for Sanders. The media, and I guess the NHI is part of that, has tried to marginalize Sen. Sanders, but has failed. The next step, as his grassroots movement grows and threatens the duopoly of the Dems and Reps, will be to demonize him the way the Dems demonized Ralph Nader and blamed him for their loss in Florida. Subsequent investigations by independent journalists outed that lie a long time ago, but it persists. Fact is, Sanders broke thru the media and spoke directly to 100,000 people last night and they are ready to get to work. Whether its students, the new “indentured servant” class weighted down by long term debt and low paying jobs, middle class people who have experienced an erosion of their finances by the reckless gambling of the banksters, or seniors who are frightened at the loss of their privacy, all will turn up in a powerful coalition that will prove (again) what idiots the talking heads are. Not one of them got the last presidential election right and they’re still jabbering away. But people have stopped listening. The grassroots passions has been unleashed by a passionate man with a vision that millions share. I suggest your reporter knock off the snarky headlines in the future. Don’t make this valuable community resource a tool of the booboisie!
posted by: JohnTulin on July 30, 2015 9:23am
What a desperate headline, article.
So because he is from Vermont, and white, he can’t stop this rash of police violence aimed at African Americans? Or is it because his supporters, like the overwhelming majority of supporters at all political rallies, are white? What has our black president done to stop the violence?
The suggestion that he focuses too much on class and not race is so ridiculous, as the two are so intimately linked.
Class first, then everything else…how many African-Americans have died as the hands of police? 150/day? Nope, but that’s how many workers die on the job. Class first.
African-Americans in prison is a major problem - linked directly to privatization of prisons, also to race but to big biz primarily.
Decaying urban schools affects minority mostly, but is driven by attacks on cites, the poor, and labor.
Class matters (more).
posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on July 30, 2015 9:23am
Why a qoute from a leader in the last 50 years? Does truth have a timestamp on it?
If you want to question the relevance of the King/Malcolm qoutes, you should do so with some information that proves them outdated based on the present day facts. But, merely pulling out qoutes from these media manufactured contemporary “leaders” (very different from the organic leaders that King and Malcolm were) adds nothing of substance to the discussion.
posted by: CT DRV on July 30, 2015 9:24am
The person who wrote this article is a person of color. It’s a common (and justified) critique of the Bernie campaign. It’s factually accurate, and Aliyya followed up with the people at the event, and other people of color. Did her due diligence to the dynamic of the event and the context it operated in.
Maybe we should listen then, eh? Including missing voices is a key to winning, not an obstacle.
posted by: HewNaven on July 30, 2015 9:53am
White people are sooooo annoying
posted by: robn on July 30, 2015 10:02am
The headline is inflammatory because it implies discriminatory and exclusionary action by the attendees. Don’t you think it would be peculiar and similarly inflammatory if the NHI used a headline “Black People Cheer on Harp” ?
posted by: the1king on July 30, 2015 10:12am
I am no ways a Bernie Sanders supporter but the article name is out of line. I know NHI is a demcrap Hillary Malloy and Harp supporter but wow he is a democraper too. I know that a republican would get equal or non bias coverage but now you are turning on your own. Get back to being a real reporter
posted by: kbarber on July 30, 2015 11:28am
Well obviously the reporter had an agenda….she left out lots I talked about in the interview regarding Sander’s position on demilitarizing police forces and addressing institutionalized racism. And obviously she did not listen to Sanders who talked about not letting racisim, or gender divide us as a grass roots movement fighting for income equality and taking back our democracy.
posted by: Theodora on July 30, 2015 11:33am
If the basis of a criticism of a particular party comes only from people who have been deceased for nearly five decades, then I’d say that they are timestamped and dated.
Thanks for your input.
posted by: darnell on July 30, 2015 11:33am
“White People Cheer On Bernie”. The headline described the event well, it was full of white people who cheered on Bernie. It’s the truth. National polls show that Bernie is not gaining any traction in the Black community. In order to take on Hillary, he’ll have to energize both the Black and Latino communities, as well as continue his climb in the white.
This is a sad testimony to the state of our country. Class matters, and for Whites, Blacks and Latinos, we should all be working together to improve opportunities for all. Because, in the end, aren’t we all Americans. I’ve had my DNA analyzed. I am 56% African descent, 44% Caucasian. So am I supposed to pick a side?
The fact is that since I am identified as a Black male, I have faced prejudices that non blacks have not faced. But I have also on occasion been identified as white or Latino. Even though class is a very important issue to address, and Bernie does it well, unfortunately race matters also. How many white women are dragged out of their cars for failure to signal, jailed for several days, and end up dead in a prison cell? How many white men fleeing the police for a traffic violation are shot in the back multiple times? How many Black mass murderers are taken to Burger King on the way to the jail?
Black people can pass as white and folks consider that normal and smart. A white woman passes herself off a black and she is described as being mentally ill.
posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on July 30, 2015 11:47am
Perhaps you’ve misdefined the implicit “basis of the criticism” in 3/5ths. comment, which is, of course, that the statements and criticisms made over 50 years ago are sadly still relevant today.
By repeating those five decade old statements, he is showing that the the criticsm is not coming ONLY from then, but is coming for NOW.
Kinda like those some of those other statements that are still relevant today but are 100s of years old. We call them scriptures.
King and Malcolm tend to be African-American Scripture for some of us.
As far as my “input”...ANYTIME.
posted by: Dwightstreeter on July 30, 2015 11:54am
The old strategy of “divide and conquer” has started. Sanders’ record as a progressive who has accomplished change can easily be checked out. His record on civil rights is there too. Don’t accept this polarization along class or racial lines. The middle class has lost big time while the billionaire banksters who watered down bankruptcy relief at the same time they increased the legal limits on credit cards continue to thrive. Wake up! Sanders in on OUR side; not the billionaire’s
posted by: poetbum on July 30, 2015 12:01pm
Another possible headline for this article would be, ‘Black people fail to turn up for Bernie’. Also slanted, but at least it identifies the problem.
Why was there low black turnout? Because Bernie is racist? Because his supporters are racist?
Of course not. It’s for lack of outreach. The campaign and his supporters need to go door to do, extend invitations, and transport people to events if they don’t have transportation.
It’s not rocket science, just simple logistics. The good news is, it’s still early. Hope to see progress with this matter, which has to do with naivete, not racism. Btw, how many were at the Clinton gatherings?
posted by: Bradley on July 30, 2015 12:26pm
Sanders’ failure to gain traction with people of color is a bona fide political issue, and the article’s treatment of it is fair. But the headline is simplistic.
Let’s move beyond a debate over the author’s choice of headline.
To Reverend Ross-Lee and anyone else who is a member of a demographic group that was un/underrepresented at these events; did you attend one of last night’s organizing events for the Bernie Sanders for President campaign? If so, why, if not, why not?
Sincerely, Nick Gauthier
posted by: darnell on July 30, 2015 12:56pm
I like what Bernie is saying. I like that he is independent and can not be bought. After Obama, I would not handicap any candidate again (I liked him but didn’t think he had a chance in “he double hockey sticks”).
I didn’t attend because frankly I didn’t know about it. Can’t blame that on Bernie or his campaign, it is totally my fault.
posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on July 30, 2015 1:02pm
Wow Mr. Gauthier,
I was unaware that I’m required to answer questions such as your’s concerning my political activities and/or the reasons for them.
You should note, however, that I’ve made NO statement about the headline, which you suggest everyone should “move beyond”. A debate, considering some of the points made, I happen to think is very usueful and necessary. But even if I didn’t think so, I wouldn’t try to tell others what they should or should not debate/discuss. (Or ask relative strangers for for personal information, especially in a public forum.
Your 11th hour entry into this discussion coupled with your instructions on what should and should not be discussed seems just A BIT arrogant to me. (Sarcasm Intended).
posted by: OneCityManyDreams on July 30, 2015 1:50pm
Well, well it is time to re read my copy of Atlas Shrugged. The Shrug is coming. Last one to leave please turn out the lights.
With my question I am not expecting that anyone is “required” to answer. I am trying to engage in an open dialogue over the important issue at play here, to which the article’s headline alludes.
The reason I noted you specifically in my original comment is because I respect your opinions and perspective and would love to better understand them as they pertain to this event as well as understand the perspectives of others who did and did not attend. I am sorry that this was the improper way to engage in such a discussion and hope that you can forgive my error as I seek better ways in which to engage our New Haven community over the issues raised during this Presidential campaign season.
posted by: vc man on July 30, 2015 2:13pm
“Your 11th hour entry into this discussion coupled with your instructions on what should and should not be discussed seems just A BIT arrogant to me. (Sarcasm Intended).”
Rev., please tell me that you sensed the irony in posting that because that seems to be the tone of most of your didactic posts.
posted by: Samuel T. Ross-Lee on July 30, 2015 3:42pm
Again, I’ve made NO comment on the merits of this particular article, its title, or the event on which it reports. So, I’m confused as to why you’re asking ME about it, why I did or did not attend, or why others did or did not attend. There is no indication in my remarks that I may or may not support Sanders, Clinton or Trump.
I merely read the comments here and responded to one I found “interesting”, said comment being actually tangential to the primary discussion.
But, I suggest that your desire to initiate the discussion you wish to have might be better off as an open-ended invitation and let the voices chime in as they so desire. Calling people out by name seems a bit authoritative, where no such authority has been given.
posted by: cupojoe on July 30, 2015 4:51pm
People under white lights with white teeth, white bandages, white Ts, white phones, and white note card, or white straps and white buttons in front of white window frames cheer on Bernie!
posted by: TheMadcap on July 30, 2015 4:55pm
I’m super whoite and I support Sanders, so much I’ve already donated to his campaign twice. I’m also not blind and realize, as does Sander’s campaign, that his support is overwhelmingly coming from white progressives at the moment, AMD his name recognition in the black community is still pretty low.
posted by: octangle on July 30, 2015 5:03pm
New Haven Independent, is this really how you want to cover a community event in your city? If you wanted to run an article criticizing Bernie Sanders or Bernie Sanders’ campaign for somehow not being inclusive enough, then go ahead and do that in an editorial or op-ed. This piece masquerades as coverage of an event and then spends all of its time insinuating something about Bernie Sanders and race. This is simply dishonest.
The people who went to this event are participating in the political process, something most Americans unfortunately do not do. They should be commended for that. At the very least they should get coverage that is objective and fair. They are not politicians or public figures. When you cover their event with a headline like this you are maligning them in an incredibly unfair way. It is perfectly reasonable to note that the crowd was mostly white as part of a broader story but the headline and tone do something more than that. As robn said in this comment thread, “The headline is inflammatory because it implies discriminatory and exclusionary action by the attendees. Don’t you think it would be peculiar and similarly inflammatory if the NHI used a headline ‘Black People Cheer on Harp?” I quote that here because I couldn’t have said it better myself.
I think you should think more carefully about how you choose to cover community events. The people at this event took the time and effort to participate in their democracy. To deride them with this headline is shameful.
posted by: octangle on July 30, 2015 5:21pm
What is the author of this article trying to accomplish by insinuating that Bernie Sanders has a “race problem”? Is she trying to ensure that Clinton will be uncontested for the nomination? Because that is the only motivation I can see driving insinuations like these. This is unwise. We need a debate about the issues that Sanders is talking about regardless of our race.
Bernie Sanders protested segregated housing at his university 50 years ago. At the time Hillary Clinton was campaigning for Barry Goldwater. He has also been talking about institutional racism and criminal justice reform in his speeches since he began his campaign, long before he was shouted down at Netroots. On another civil rights front he has been talking about gay rights for 40 years.
Most of us remember the racial dog whistles that Hillary used in her 2008 campaign. I particularly remember Bill Clinton’s sneering statement about Jesse Jackson winning the South Carolina primary, a mere 7 years ago. Hillary came out for gay marriage in 2013 when it was the absolutely safe thing to do. How could anyone see her as the better champion for African Americans or for anyone who is fighting for their rights?
Sanders’ problem in the African American community is that he’s unknown. Clinton’s name recognition is 100%. That does not make her a champion for civil rights. Nor is it a reason to shut down any possibility of a debate this primary season.
Why smear the most progressive candidate in the race before he has a chance to be introduced? Sanders is the only candidate who will actually fight to raise taxes on the rich, rebuild our infrastructure, raise the minimum wage to $15, provide health care for all and yes, fight institutional racism. Democrats need these topics debated.
If you prefer Clinton, fine. Go ahead and say so. Tell us why in policy terms. To instead participate in a dishonest whisper campaign against Sanders, suggesting that he is something he is not, is unproductive at best.
posted by: poetbum on July 30, 2015 9:48pm
At this point in the Democratic primary of 2007, African Americans overwhelmingly preferred Hillary Clinton to Barack Obama; it wasn’t until the Iowa caucuses, in the winter, that a majority of African Americans became Obama supporters. At the early Obama meet-ups in this area, it was mostly white people doing the ‘cheering’. Again, none of this has to do racial allegiance or disloyalty, just trust and eagerness to back a winner, i.e. not get burned by false hopes. Just a little history for context.
posted by: wendy1 on August 1, 2015 7:38am
The organizer was an Indian American. If I got that wrong, excuse me, I’m still studying “the partition”. I sat next to a young Muslim woman and even though the bar was very dark inside I saw Afro-Americans, Indians, and Asians there too. The best news for me was that there were mostly younger people instead of old “radicals” and ex-Greeners like myself. I have hope that Bernie could win the primary.