Criminal Justice Reformers Rally For Sanders

A day before Bernie Sanders drew over 10,000 supporters to a mass rally on the Green, some of his local backers held a small rally of their own to highlight theirs and the campaign’s call for criminal justice reform.

Criminal-justice reform activist Barbara Fair said she organized the rally outside the federal courthouse on Church Street Saturday to draw attention to the differences between Hillary Clinton’s and Sanders’ histories and approaches to criminal justice reform. Sanders and Clinton face off in Tuesday’s Democratic presidential primary in Connecticut.

“I went online and watched a lot of videos, and I found one where Bernie Sanders was talking about problems with the 1994 [federal] crime bill,” Fair said, reflecting on the key issue that drove her to volunteer for the Sanders campaign. “He was saying, if you’re going to address crime, you need to talk about the issues that breed crime: unemployment, drugs in the community, disrupted homes. And I thought, he’s really speaking my language. Then, when I heard about the Clintons’ response to crime, which was just to lock everybody up, I knew that I didn’t even need to think about voting for her.”

Sitting just a few steps away, New Haven State Sen. Gary Winfield pivoted the conversation towards campaign finance reform.

“If you’re at the barbershop, if you’re in the park,” he said, “too many times in our community, you hear, ‘Screw politics. They’re all corrupt.’ But if you’re not a corrupt person, you’re not going to be corrupted once you get into office.” For Winfield, that means that the problem with big money in politics is not necessarily that corporate lobbyists and big money interests have an undue influence on already elected politicians. The problem is that those interests get to pick who runs for office, and who wins office, in the first place. Sanders has made calls for campaign finance reform — and generally getting corporate and big-donor money out of politics — a hallmark of his presidential quest.

Echoing a sentiment that he has been expressing often since he and fellow Newhallvile State Rep. Robyn Porter came out in support of Sanders in January, Winfield cited Connecticut’s public financing system as instrumental to his own election to the legislature.

Looking to take their candidate’s message beyond the small group of Sanders devotees assembled outside of the courthouse, Fair and Winfield decided to walk over to the upper Green, where Jesse’s Homeless Outreach Project was hosting a free, afternoon-long clothing swap and concert. The two Sanders supporters worked their way through the crowd to pitch Sanders’ candidacy.

The next day, after getting in line for the official Sanders rally on the Green at 11 a.m. and finally getting home at 9:30 p.m.., Fair reflected on her candidate’s visit to the Elm City.

“To be honest, he said what I expected he would,” Fair said, without a hint of disappointment. “I felt he was genuine. He recognizes that we don’t need reform in this country. We need a revolutionary change, especially when it comes to criminal justice.”

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