Sen. Bernie Sanders’ very public meeting with Al Sharpton in New York City on Wednesday has distracted the media from examining his close ties to Sharpton over the past few years.
The establishment media has also missed Sanders’ close ties to Jesse Jackson, who used his progressive Rainbow Coalition to boost Sanders’ statewide victories in Vermont during the 1980s.
Sanders met Sharpton at a breakfast spectacle in the historic Sylvia’s Restaurant in Harlem, the morning after his dramatic victory in New Hampshire on Tuesday. The meeting, covered extensively by the media, is widely seen as an sudden attempt by Sanders to gain favor with African-American voters ahead of the Feb. 27 Democratic primary in South Carolina, where black voters reportedly account for more than half the state’s registered Democrats.
But Sanders and Sharpton have been close allies for years.
In April, Sanders was the featured guest at the annual convention of Sharpton’s National Action Network, which describes itself as one of the leading U.S. civil rights organizations. The group claims to be “committed to the principles of non-violent demonstration and civil disobedience.” Its longtime motto is “no justice, no peace.”
Fusion Magazine reported on Sanders’ “rousing” speech to the NAN:
He talked about issues on which he said he’d like to see Clinton and every other candidate get challenged—income inequality, unemployment, the minimum wage, pay equity, single-payer health care, and trade deals. He proposed pilloring tax havens outside the U.S. to help create millions of new jobs by rebuilding the nation’s crumbling infrastructure.
At the end of the speech, the audience reportedly chanted “Run, Bernie, run!”
In January 2011, Sanders introduced Sharpton at the annual pre-Martin Luther King Jr. Day celebration at Burlington’s Unitarian Universalist church. Sanders received one of two MLK Community Service Awards at the event.
Sanders and Jackson
While he has been close to Sharpton, Sanders has a far more substantial professional relationship with Jesse Jackson, the activist who ran for president in 1984 and 1988.
In fact, numerous media profiles have likened Sanders’ outsider presidential campaign to the style of insurgent, progressive campaigns run by Jackson.
Jackson last month told The Hill he is not planning to endorse any candidate in the near future. The issue may be tricky for him since Jackson has long maintained a close friendship with Bill and Hillary Clinton.
This reporter previously documented how Jackson’s progressive Rainbow Coalition was key to Sanders’ statewide victories in Vermont.
The story provides a window into the two men’s shared agenda of pushing the Democratic Party further to the left, and reveals how early progressive socialists specifically saw Vermont as fertile ground for testing their methods of utilizing the Democratic Party for socialist aims.
The details focus on the National Rainbow Coalition, a progressive, socialist-style organization that grew out of Jackson’s 1984 presidential campaign and worked to target voting blocs that Jackson argued would lose ground due to Ronald Reagan’s economic policies.
Rainbow sought to either create a third party or infiltrate the Democratic Party to push it closer toward socialist-style policies.
The Nation Magazine reported on the National Rainbow Coalition’s founding convention, held April 17-19, 1984.
In attendance were “white farmers and black farmers from the South; rank-and-file unionists and their ‘natural’ enemies, immigrant Haitians and Filipinos; black church ladies and lesbian activists; debt-ridden farmers from the Middle West who had foolishly voted for Ronald Reagan; urban leftists, tenants, preachers and college students,” reported The Nation in a May 3, 1986 article.
The forum was used to debate whether the Rainbow Coalition was “part of the Democratic Party, or is it a third party?” related The Nation.
“Jackson, with apparent conviction, and the activist delegates, with assurance born of experience, objected to the way the questions were framed,” the magazine reported. “What matters, they said, is drawing up a progressive platform.”
Vermont’s Rainbow Coalition was not founded by Jackson himself but by non-minority progressive leaders motivated by Jackson’s politics and his attempts to work within the Democratic Party to move it leftwards.
When writing his 1999 book, “Democracy Unbound: Progressive Challenges to the Two Party System,” researcher David Reynolds found the Rainbow Coalition in Vermont was central to Sanders’ successes in his early campaigns.
In 1986, (Sanders) declared his independent candidacy for governor and reached out to the Rainbow Coalition for key support. Rainbow activists were thus faced with a choice between supporting the incumbent Democrat, Madeline Kunin, who had managed to alienate and disappoint most of Vermont’s progressive groups, or supporting Sanders, an independent who authentically stood for progressive ideals.
In the end, the Rainbow risked the ire of the Democratic Party by supporting Sanders. Rainbow activists provided crucial support for Sanders’ unsuccessful campaign.
Rainbow again took a risk on Sanders in 1988, when the Vermont Rainbow Coalition picked Sanders over the Democratic candidate in his independent bid for U.S. Congress. The move paid off for Rainbow since Sanders won the race and became the longest-serving independent in congressional history.
In 1990, one segment of the Vermont Rainbow Coalition splintered off and merged with other progressive groups to create the Vermont Progressive Coalition. Another contingent of Rainbow merged into Jackson’s National Rainbow movement. That group in 1996 was incorporated into another one of Jackson’s groups, Operation Push, and is now known as the Rainbow/PUSH organization.
With research by Brenda J. Elliott.
Aaron Klein is Breitbart’s Jerusalem bureau chief and senior investigative reporter. He is a New York Times bestselling author and hosts the popular weekend talk radio program, “Aaron Klein Investigative Radio.” Follow him on Twitter @AaronKleinShow. Follow him on Facebook.